The Cambridge Apostles, also known as the Cambridge Conversazione Society, is an intellectual secret society at the University of Cambridge founded in 1820 by George Tomlinson, a Cambridge student who went on to become the first Bishop of Gibraltar.
The origin of the Apostles' nickname dates from the number, twelve, of their founders. Membership consists largely of undergraduates, though there have been graduate student members, and members who already hold university and college posts. The society traditionally drew most of its members from St John's, Jesus, King's, Christ's and Trinity Colleges.
Activities and membership
The society is essentially a discussion group. Meetings are held once a week, traditionally on Saturday evenings, during which one member gives a prepared talk on a topic, which is later thrown open for discussion; during the meetings, members used to eat sardines on toast, called "whales". Women first gained acceptance into the society in the 1970s.
The Apostles retain a leather diary of their membership ("the book") stretching back to its founder, which includes handwritten notes about the topics each member has spoken on. It is included in the so-called "Ark", which is a collection of papers with some handwritten notes from the group's early days, about the topics members have spoken on, and the results of the division in which those present voted on the debate. It was a point of honour that the question voted on should bear only a tangential relationship to the matter debated. The members referred to as the "Apostles" are the active, usually undergraduate members; former members are called "angels". Undergraduates apply to become angels after graduating or being awarded a fellowship. Every few years, amid great secrecy, all the angels are invited to an Apostles' dinner at a Cambridge college. There used to be an annual dinner, usually held in London.
Undergraduates being considered for membership are called "embryos" and are invited to "embryo parties", where members judge whether the student should be invited to join. The "embryos" attend these parties without knowing they are being considered for membership. Becoming an Apostle involves taking an oath of secrecy and listening to the reading of a curse, originally written by Apostle Fenton John Anthony Hort, the theologian, in or around 1851.
Former members have spoken of the lifelong bond they feel toward one another. Henry Sidgwick, the philosopher, wrote of the Apostles in his memoirs that "the tie of attachment to this society is much the strongest corporate bond which I have known in my life."
Ten former members of the Apostles are all buried in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge : Henry Jackson, classicist (1863); Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, classicist (1859); Desmond MacCarthy, newspaper critic (1896); Sir Donald MacAlister, physician (1876); Norman McLean, Orientalist (1888), G. E. Moore, philosopher (1894); Frank P. Ramsey, philosopher (1921); Vincent Henry Stanton, Professor of Divinty (1872), Arthur Woollgar Verrall, Classicist (1871), and Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1912). These ten members were from Christ's, King's, St. Johns College and Trinity.
John Maynard Keynes invited Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1912) which both Russell and G. E. Moore had joined as students, but Wittgenstein did not enjoy it and attended infrequently. Russell had been worried that Wittgenstein would not appreciate the group's unseriousness, style of humour, or the fact that the members were in love with one another. He was admitted in 1912 but resigned almost immediately because he could not tolerate the level of the discussion on the Hearth Rug; they took him back though in the 1920s when he returned to Cambridge. (He also had trouble tolerating the discussions in the Moral Sciences Club.)
The Apostles became well known outside Cambridge in the years before the First World War with the rise to eminence of the group of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. John Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey and his brother James, G. E. Moore, E. M. Forster and Rupert Brooke were all Apostles. Keynes, Woolf and Lytton Strachey subsequently gained prominence as members of Bloomsbury.
Cambridge spy ring
The Apostles came to public attention again following the exposure of the Cambridge spy ring in 1951. Three Cambridge graduates with access to the top levels of government in Britain, one of them a former Apostle, were eventually found to have passed information to the KGB. The three known agents were Apostle Guy Burgess, an MI6 officer and secretary to the deputy foreign minister; Donald MacLean, foreign office secretary; and Kim Philby, MI6 officer and journalist.
In 1963, American writer Michael Straight, also an Apostle, and later publisher of The New Republic magazine, admitted to a covert relationship with the Soviets, and he named Anthony Blunt, MI5 officer, director of the Courtauld Institute, and art adviser to the Queen as his recruiter and a Soviet spy. Confronted with Straight's confession, Blunt acknowledged his own treason and revealed that he had also drawn into espionage his fellow Apostle Leonard "Leo" Long. Straight also told investigators that the Apostle John Peter Astbury had been recruited for Soviet intelligence by either Blunt or Burgess. Leo Long confessed to delivering classified information to the Soviets from 1940 until 1952.
Writers have accused several other Apostles of being witting Soviet agents. Roland Perry in his book, The Fifth Man (London: Pan Books, 1994) makes a circumstantial case against Victor Rothschild, 3rd Baron Rothschild, who was a friend to both Burgess and Blunt. The espionage historian John Costello in The Mask of Treachery (London: William Collins & Sons, 1988) points a finger at the mathematician Alister Watson. Kimberley Cornish, in his controversial The Jew of Linz (London: Century, 1998), makes the rather extravagant claim that Ludwig Wittgenstein was the "éminence grise" of the Cambridge spies.
In the 1930s when Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt were elected the membership was mainly Marxist. Documents from the Soviet archives included in The Crown Jewels (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), by Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, indicate that it was Burgess who seduced and led Blunt into the Soviet underground. As the Queen's art adviser, Blunt was knighted in 1956, but was stripped of his knighthood in 1979 after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher publicly named him as a spy — his confession having been kept secret before then.
- Partha Dasgupta, emeritus Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics at St John's College, Cambridge
- Geoffrey Lloyd, emeritus professor of classics at Cambridge; Master of Darwin College, Cambridge (195?)
- Sir Jonathan Miller, knight, physician, comic, member of Beyond the Fringe, theatre, opera and film director (1957)
- James Mirrlees, Nobel prize winning economist
- Garry Runciman, 3rd Viscount Runciman of Doxford
- Amartya Sen, Nobel prize winning economist and philosopher
- Quentin Skinner, historian of political philosophy (196?)
- David Wootton
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Members of the Apostles include (with the year they joined in brackets, where known):
- Noel Annan, intelligence officer, provost of King's College, Cambridge, provost of University College, London, vice-chancellor of the University of London, member of the House of Lords (1948)
- Thomas Ainger (1820)
- Ferenc Békássy, Hungarian poet (1912)
- Julian Bell, poet (1928) killed in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War
- Francis Birrell, critic and journalist (?) query
- Anthony Blunt, art adviser to the Queen, MI5 officer, KGB spy (1927)
- R. B. Braithwaite, philosopher (1921)
- Rupert Brooke, poet (1908)
- Oscar Browning, educator (1858)
- Charles Buller, barrister and MP (1826)
- Arthur William Buller, judge of the Supreme Court, Calcutta (1828)
- Guy Burgess, MI6 officer, KGB spy (1932)
- Arthur Balfour (186?)
- Francis Maitland Balfour (1875)
- Gerald William Balfour (1872)
- Theodore Beck (1881)
- Hugh Blackburn (1844)
- Joseph Blakesley (1827)
- John Butcher, 1st Baron Danesfort (1873)
- Samuel Henry Butcher (1871)
- Arthur John Butler(1865)
- Henry Montagu Butler (1853)
- D. G. Champernowne (1934)
- William Dougal Christie (1836)
- William K. Clifford (1866)
- Arthur Clough (1883)
- Erasmus Alvey Darwin, brother of Charles Darwin (1823)
- Hugh Sykes Davies (1932)
- Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, historian and philosopher (1885)
- James Hamilton Doggart (1919)
- James Duff Duff (1884)
- Julian Fane (diplomat)
- James Farish
- Charles Fletcher-Cooke
- Hugh Fortescue, 3rd Earl Fortescue
- E. M. Forster, writer (1901)
- Roger Eliot Fry, art historian (1887)
- Arthur Hallam, poet (1829)
- Sir William Harcourt, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1847)
- Joseph Hardcastle (politician)
- William Vernon Harcourt (politician)
- G. H. Hardy, mathematician (1898)
- Douglas Denon Heath
- Dunbar Isidore Heath
- Arthur Helps
- Eric Hobsbawm, historian (193?)
- Francis James Holland
- Alan Lloyd Hodgkin (1935)
- Fenton John Anthony Hort, theologian (1851)
- John Hopkinson
- George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle
- Douglas Heath, last of the early members
- Henry Jackson OM, FBA, Regius Professor of Greek (Cambridge), Classicist, Vice-Master Trinity College, Cambridge 1914–1919, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1863. [2D47]
- Lal Jayawardena, economist, diplomat (19??) query
- Sir Richard Jebb OM, MP, FBA, Regius Professor of Greek (Cambridge), Classicist, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1859 [4I2]
- Harry Gordon Johnson (1951)
- William Ernest Johnson
- Anthony Kelly (physicist)
- John Mitchell Kemble, historian (1826)
- Benjamin Hall Kennedy, Latinist (1824)
- John Maynard Keynes, economist, member of the House of Lords (1903)
- Walter Leaf
- Gordon Luce, scholar (1912)
- F. L. Lucas, writer and critic (1914)
- Gordon Hannington Luce
- Henry Lushington
- Vernon Lushington
- Sir Donald MacAlister, Vice-Chancellor Glasgow, Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge and Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1876. [2D47]
- Sir Desmond MacCarthy, Literary and drama critic, Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1896. [1H2]
- Norman McLean FBA, Orientalist and Member of the Cambridge Apostles from 1888, Master Christ's College, Cambridge 1927 to 1936.
- J. M. E. McTaggart, philosopher (1886)
- Frederick Denison Maurice, theologian, Christian socialist, founder of the Working Men's College (1823)
- James Clerk Maxwell, physicist (1852)
- Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton
- George Edward Moore OM, FBA, Philosopher, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Professor of Philosophy, Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society from 1894. [1H1]
- Kenneth Macaulay
- Malcolm Macnaghten
- Henry Maine
- William Thackeray Marriott
- Edward Howard Marsh
- Charles Merivale
- Karl Miller
- Robert Monteith
- John Fletcher Moulton
- Arthur Thomas Myers
- Robert Monteith
- Lionel Penrose (1920)
- Derek Prince (1938)
- Philip Dennis Proctor
- Sir Frederick Pollock, 3rd Baronet
- John Henry Pratt
- Marlborough Pryor
- Frank P. Ramsey Philosopher and mathematician, Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1921. [2C48]
- Dennis Robertson, economist (1926)
- Victor Rothschild, financier, member of the House of Lords (1933)
- Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, social activist and logician, member of the Royal Society, Nobel prize winner, member of the House of Lords (1892)
- Dadie Rylands (1922)
- J. T. Sheppard, classicist, provost of King's College (1902)
- Peter Shore, Labour politician (1947)
- Gerald Shove, economist (1909)
- Henry Sidgwick, philosopher (1857)
- Vincent Henry Stanton, Rev., Regius Professor of Divinity, member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1872, (2D50)
- James Kenneth Stephen, poet, tutor to Prince Albert Victor (Eddy) and suspect for Jack the Ripper (1879)
- John Sterling, writer and poet (1825)
- Lytton Strachey, writer and critic (1902)
- James Strachey, translator of Freud
- Saxon Sydney-Turner, civil servant (1902)
- W. J. H. Sprott
- [George Shaw]
- [George Simpson]
- [John Simpson]
- Arthur H. Smith
- James Parker Smith
- James Spedding
- Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby
- [John Stanning junior|John Stanning]
- James Fitzjames Stephen
- [James Stuart]
- Michael Whitney Straight, American magazine publisher, member of the Whitney family, Presidential speechwriter (1936)
- Alfred Tennyson, English poet, member of the House of Lords (1829)
- George Tomlinson, Bishop of Gibraltar (1820) He was founder of the Cambridge Apostles.
- Richard Chenevix Trench, Christian writer, Archbishop of Dublin (1827)
- G. M. Trevelyan, historian (1895)
- Robert Trevelyan, poet and translator (1893)
- [James Talbot]
- Charles Henry Tawney
- [Alfred Taylor]
- [Thomas Taylor]
- [Henry Thompson]
- Stephen Edelston Toulmin
- George Stovin Venables
- Arthur Woollgar Verrall, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Classicist, Member of the Cambridge Apostles from 1871, King Edward VII professorship of literature, literary scholar. [2B33]
- Sir Ralph Wedgwood, 1st Baronet
- Brooke Westcott
- Leonard Woolf writer and publisher (1902)
- Spencer Walpole
- James Ward (psychologist)
- Alister Watson
- William Grey Walter (1933)
- A. N. Whitehead, OM, mathematician, logician and philosopher (1884)
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosopher, Professor of Philosophy, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1912. [5D31]
Appearances in literature
- Avenging Angel, a murder mystery by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah
- The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
- The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster
- The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt
- The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst
- The Philosopher's Ring by Randall Collins
- The White Garden by Stephanie Barron
- W. C. Lubenow, The Cambridge Apsotles 1820-1914, Cambridge University Press, 1999, page 27.
- McGuinness, Brian. Wittgenstein: A Life: Young Ludwig 1889-1921. University of California Press, 1988, p. 118.
- "Interview of Professor Quentin Skinner - part 2". YouTube. 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
- The Times obituary, 8 June 1984.
- "A Cambridge Necropolis" by Dr. Mark Goldie, March 2000, for the Friends of The Parish of The Ascension Burial Ground
- Henry Jackson at Find a Grave
- Sir Richard Jebb at Find a Grave
- Sir Donald Macalister at Find a Grave
- Sir Desmond MacCarthy at Find a Grave
- Norman McLean at Find a Grave
- George Edward Moore at Find a Grave
- Frank P. Ramsey at Find a Grave
- The Times obituary, 18 August 1947.
- The Times obituary, 11 May 1967.
- Norton-Taylor, Richard (9 January 2004). "Obituary: Michael Straight". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-10-03.
- Arthur Woollgar Verrall at Find a Grave
- Ludwig Wittgenstein at Find a Grave
- Allen, Peter (1978). The Cambridge Apostles: The Early Years. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-21803-0.
- Deacon, Richard (1986). The Cambridge Apostles: A History of Cambridge University's Elite Intellectual Secret Society. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-11820-4.
- Levy, Paul (1980). Moore: G. E. Moore and the Cambridge Apostles. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 978-0-03-053616-8.
- Lubenow, W. C. (1998). The Cambridge Apostles, 1820-1914: Liberalism, Imagination, and Friendship in British Intellectual and Political Life. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-57213-2.