This prologue provides an overview of the Athenæum, looking at Ballot Day 1892, a worked-up drawing of the club members by J. Walter Wilson. The selection of members and the way in which they are portrayed offer clues to the composition and ethos of the Athenæum in the 1890s. Ballot Day 1892 presents to the viewer figures from the intellectual stratum of what would now be called the 'British Establishment'. Membership of the Athenæum and a fellowship of a learned society often go together: in 1884, 290 Athenians were fellows, mainly of the Royal Society, in whose rooms the Athenæum's first committee meeting was held sixty years earlier. Under the unwritten rules of the Athenæum, public rather than private life dominates the agenda. Even those engaged in the arts tend to have some kind of public role as well as a more private creative life. This book identifies and describes the club's ethos and 'aura', demonstrating the persistent continuities, even as the club adapts to irresistible change, and showing how its members, amenities, and values relate to British society and its evolution, up to the present day.
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