History

The Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country and Europe

MONTSERRAT GÁRATE OJANGUREN
Amiga de Número de la Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País

The relation between the Royal Basque Society and Europe can be considered in two ways. Firstly, in the influence that foreign societies and academies exercised on the founders. Secondly, the inclusion of many European figures in the Royal Basque Society as distinguished members.

The count of Peñaflorida, founder of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country, knew of the existence and organization of various European societies and academies. His education and trips abroad were instrumental in promoting the creation of the Society. The idea of "uniting a number of zealous patricians to promote the interests of the nation" as Bernardo Ward put it in 1762, was fundamental to the creation of scientific corporations in Ireland, Sweden, France and Tuscany. Their aims, amongst others, were to improve agriculture by applying the results of experiments and observations of its members. Following these examples, the idea of Peñaflorida in creating the Society was precisely to succeed in making it a temple of wisdom to achieve all kinds of benefits to the country, through the cultivation of literature and fine art.

But if the ideas of the European Enlightenment (above all French ideas which had an impact on the immediate environment and social and economic utilitarianism), adapted to fit the circumstances of the country, had an influence of Peñaflorida's project in 1764, the exchange of ideas and knowledge with Europe took place above all in two ways: the trips of the Society members abroad, and the inclusion of leading figures in the institution's list of members.

In the first group, we can highlight the Elhuyar brothers stay at the University of Upsala, after being accepted as members of the Society in 1778, and that same year becoming teachers at the Royal Seminary of Bergara. In their travels around Europe, they studied at the School of Mining in Freiburg, and later toured around several European countries where they visited foundries and mines. Like the Elhuyars, other members of the Society went travelling in Europe, such as Ramón Mª de Munibe, or attended higher education centres as students with scholarships where they could learn about advances in metallurgy and other fields the Real Society of the Friends of the Country would be interested in. The aim was to complete their education abroad. Among the students with scholarships were: Antonio Mª de Munibe, son of the Count of Peñaflorida and Javier Mª de Eguía, son of the Marquis of Narros, cofounder and lifetime secretary of the Society. Jerónimo Mas, who taught mathematics in Bergara was also sent to Paris to perfect his knowledge of chemistry, physics and mathematics. And a clockmaker, Roque de Prada and a linguist, Martín Ramírez were also sent to Europe as commissioners of the Society. The former travelled to Geneva in order to learn the trade of clockmaker. When he wrote to notify them of his studiousness, he also informed them of some iron factories that were established there. Martín Ramírez, for his part, went to London for the purpose of "instruction in the English language in order to then teach it in the Seminary of Bergara". The observations and reports sent from abroad by students and travellers were recorded in the Extracts of the Basque Society.

The other aspect, the European members, makes for a long list and not only in number but also the quality of the people. The largest group was the French members. Within this section there were mostly scientists, although there were also military, politicians, lawyers etc.

It appears that the recruitment of the first French scientists or savants to join the Society, was the work of Antonio Mª de Munibe and Javier Mª de Eguía. Among them – although in some cases it is difficult to classify them only as scientists – were men like P.C. Grignon, who was awarded a prize by the Society for his contribution of barquines or bellows for smelting furnaces; H.M Rouelle, chemistry professor with work on diamond combustion; J.D'Arcet, author of a report on the experimental results of the different states of iron and its conversion into steel; L:J:M. Daubenton, editor of various articles for the Methodic Encyclopedia; L:B: Guyton de Morveau, author of Elements of chemistry and collaborator of Lavoisier and Fourcroy. It is said of him that he was a magistrate out of reason and scientist out of passion; A.F. Fourcroy, chemist and teacher, as well as politician; N.L. Vauquelin, chemical analyst and founder together with the afore-mentioned of a reagent establishment in Paris; or P. Bayen, pharmacist with work on coal and metallurgical methods of iron. Not forgetting the figure of L. Proust, pharmacist, chemist and teacher at the Royal Seminary of Bergara.

Members whose principal activity was politics also excelled in different fields of knowledge, as is the case of J.F. de Montégut, the King's advisor in the parliament of Toulouse, like B.J.J de Cérat, or L. d'Epinay, an advisor in the parliament of Navarre; the inspector of mines of Baygorri, Chabeaussière, who wrote a report on the copper mines of Orbaiceta, etc. as well as José Gerónimo Lalande, another interesting character. This multifaceted man studied law and was a practising lawyer. But he also trained as an astrologer. His abundant written work clearly shows his knowledge in different fields. His work on the art of paper-making, as practised in France and Holland, in China and Japan, in 1761, was known by the Real Society of Friends of the Country, who tried to recruit him to join the Society.

Outside France, there were also foreign members in Sweden (the director of the ironworks), Scotland, England and Saxony. If the foreign members were important, what was no less important was the relations that the Society maintained via them with the most prestigious European societies and academies in 18th century Europe. The exchange of ideas, the students and teachers who were educated abroad were the best spokesmen for the most innovative knowledge of the Enlightenment.

 


Bibliography:

Román Polo, Pascual, "Los elementos químicos, su descubrimiento y la Bascongada", lección de Ingresos, Nuevos Extractos de la RSBAP, Bilbao, 1996.
V Seminario de la RSBAP. La Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País y Europa, Madrid, 1999.

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DIRECTION OF THE ROYAL BASQUE SOCIEY OF THE FRIENDS OF THE COUNTRY

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