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 Christ's, St John's, Jesus, Trinity and King's Colleges.
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.
The usual procedure was for members to meet at the rooms of those whose turn it was to present the topic. The host would provide refreshments consisting of coffee and 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 on which each member has spoken. It is included in the so-called "Ark", which is a cedar chest containing 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."
Eleven former members of the Apostles are 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, economist and philosopher (1921); Gerald Shove, economist (1909); Vincent Henry Stanton, Professor of Divinity (1872), Arthur Woollgar Verrall, Classicist (1871), and Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1912). These eleven members were from Christ's, King's, St. Johns College and Trinity. A twelfth member Benjamin Hall Kennedy is buried in the Mill Road Cemetery, Cambridge.
Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore joined as students, as did John Maynard Keynes, who invited Ludwig Wittgenstein to join. However, Wittgenstein did not enjoy it and attended infrequently. Russell had been worried that Wittgenstein would not appreciate the group's unseriousness and style of humour. 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.
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 book 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.
Members of the Apostles include (with the year they joined in brackets, where known);
Arthur Hamilton Smith (1860–1941) was a British museum curator and archaeologist.
His brothers were civil servant Henry Babington Smith and MP James Parker Smith. All three attended Trinity College, Cambridge and were members of the Cambridge Apostles.Smith was Keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum from 1909 to 1925. In addition, he served as President of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies from 1924 to 1929 and Director of the British School at Rome from 1928 to 1930 and in 1932.Arthur Woollgar Verrall
Arthur Woollgar Verrall (5 February 1851, Brighton – 18 June 1912, Cambridge) was a British classics scholar associated with Trinity College, Cambridge, and the first occupant of the King Edward VII Chair of English. He was noted for his translations and for his challenging, unorthodox interpretations of the Greek dramatists, such as his commentary on Agamemnon; his detractors found his readings contorted and too ingenious, too often overlooking obvious explanations in favour of the convoluted, and his published work is nowadays not highly regarded. After his death, admirers M. A. Bayfield and J. D. Duff edited Verrall's Collected Literary Essays. Classical and Modern and Collected Essays in Greek and Latin Scholarship 1914. Among his publications, Euripides the Rationalist was highly influential. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret society, from 1871.Ascension Parish Burial Ground
The Ascension Parish Burial Ground, formerly the burial ground for the parish of St Giles and St Peter's, is a cemetery in Cambridge, England. It includes the graves and memorials of many University of Cambridge academics and non-conformists of the 19th and early 20th century. The cemetery encapsulates a century-and-a-half of the university's modern history, with 83 people with Oxford Dictionary of National Biography biographies. Among those buried here John Couch Adams, the astronomer, is unique in also having a memorial in Westminster Abbey.Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club
The Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club, founded in October 1878, is a philosophy discussion group that meets weekly at Cambridge during term time. Speakers are invited to present a paper with a strict upper time limit of 45 minutes, after which there is discussion for an hour. Several Colleges have hosted the Club: Trinity College, King's College, Clare College, Darwin College, St John's College, and from 2014 Newnham College.
The club has been highly influential in analytic philosophy because of the concentration of philosophers at Cambridge. Members have included many of British philosophy's top names, such as Henry Sidgwick, J.M.E. McTaggart, Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and several papers regarded as founding documents of various schools of thoughts had their first airing at a club meeting. Moore's "The Nature of Judgment" was first read to the club on 21 October 1898. Frank P. Ramsey's "Knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description" was presented to a meeting in 1911, and in 1926 became Truth and Probability. Russell's "Limits of Empiricism" was read in the Michaelmas term of 1935, Friedrich Hayek's "The Facts of the Social Sciences" was read in the Michaelmas term of 1942, and Moore's paradox was first read in Michaelmas 1944. Almost every major anglophone philosopher since the Second World War has delivered a paper to the club.It was during a meeting of the Moral Sciences Club in October 1946 that Wittgenstein famously waved a poker at Sir Karl Popper during a heated discussion about whether philosophical problems are real or just linguistic games.Desmond MacCarthy
Sir Charles Otto Desmond MacCarthy FRSL (20 May 1877–7 June 1952) was British born and the foremost literary and dramatic critic of his day. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1896.Donald MacAlister
Sir Donald MacAlister, 1st Baronet of Tarbet (17 May 1854 – 15 January 1934) was a Scottish physician who was Principal and Vice-Chancellor and, later, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles intellectual secret society, from 1876. From 1904 to 1931 he was President of the General Medical Council.Donald McCormick
George Donald King McCormick (11 December 1911 – 2 January 1998) was a British journalist and popular historian, who also wrote under the pseudonym Richard Deacon.
After working for Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, McCormick was a journalist for the foreign desk of the Sunday Times, at one point working with Ian Fleming. In his prolific output as a historian, McCormick was attracted to controversial topics on which verifiable evidence was scarce. He wrote on the Hellfire Club, Jack the Ripper, the Cambridge Apostles and rather extensively about spies. He wrote histories of the Russian, Chinese, Japanese, British, and Israeli secret services, and biographies of Sir Maurice Oldfield and Ian Fleming.Erasmus Alvey Darwin
Erasmus Alvey Darwin (29 December 1804 – 26 August 1881), nicknamed Eras or Ras, was the older brother of Charles Darwin, born five years earlier. They were brought up at the family home, The Mount House, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. He was the only other son besides Charles, the fourth of six children of Susannah (née Wedgwood) and Robert Darwin, and the grandson of Erasmus Darwin and of Josiah Wedgwood, a family of the Unitarian church. He was a member of the semi-secretive Cambridge Apostles society, a debating club largely reserved for the brightest students.Frank P. Ramsey
Frank Plumpton Ramsey (; 22 February 1903 – 19 January 1930) was a British philosopher, mathematician, and economist who made major contributions to all three fields before his death at the age of 26. He was a close friend of Ludwig Wittgenstein and was instrumental in translating Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus into English, as well as persuading Wittgenstein to return to philosophy and Cambridge. Like Wittgenstein, he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1921.Frederic Farrar
Frederic William Farrar (Bombay, 7 August 1831 – Canterbury, 22 March 1903) was a cleric of the Church of England (Anglican), schoolteacher and author. He was a pallbearer at the funeral of Charles Darwin in 1882. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles secret society. He was the Archdeacon of Westminster from 1883 to 1894, and Dean of Canterbury Cathedral from 1895 until his death in 1903.G. E. Moore
George Edward Moore (4 November 1873 – 24 October 1958) was an English philosopher. He was, with Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and (before them) Gottlob Frege, one of the founders of the analytic tradition in philosophy. Along with Russell, he led the turn away from idealism in British philosophy, and became well known for his advocacy of common sense concepts, his contributions to ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, and "his exceptional personality and moral character". He was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, highly influential among (though not a member of) the Bloomsbury Group, and the editor of the influential journal Mind. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1918. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the intellectual secret society, from 1894 to 1901, and the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club.George Tomlinson (bishop)
Right Rev. George Tomlinson (12 March 1794 – 6 February 1863) was an English cleric, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar from 1842 to 1863.Henry Sidgwick
Henry Sidgwick (; 31 May 1838 – 28 August 1900) was an English utilitarian philosopher and economist. He was the Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Cambridge from 1883 until his death, and is best known in philosophy for his utilitarian treatise The Methods of Ethics. He was one of the founders and first president of the Society for Psychical Research and a member of the Metaphysical Society and promoted the higher education of women. His work in economics has also had a lasting influence.
He also founded Newnham College in 1875, a women-only constituent college of the University of Cambridge. It was the second Cambridge college to admit women after Girton College. The co-founder of the college was Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
He joined the Cambridge Apostles intellectual secret society in 1856.John Fortune
John Fortune (born John C. Wood; 30 June 1939 – 31 December 2013) was an English satirist, comedian, writer, and actor, best known for his work with John Bird and Rory Bremner on the TV series Bremner, Bird and Fortune. He was educated at Bristol Cathedral School and King's College, Cambridge, where he was to meet and form a lasting friendship with John Bird. He was a member of the semi-secretive Cambridge Apostles society, a debating club largely reserved for the brightest students.Language game (philosophy)
A language-game (German: Sprachspiel) is a philosophical concept developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein, referring to simple examples of language use and the actions into which the language is woven. Wittgenstein argued that a word or even a sentence has meaning only as a result of the “rule” of the “game” being played. Depending on the context, for example, the utterance “Water!” could be an order, the answer to a question, or some other form of communication.Marlborough Pryor
Marlborough Robert Pryor DL JP (16 October 1848 – 24 April 1920) was an English businessman, described in his Times obituary as a "savant, business expert and scholar" who was "a many sided man who devoted to business capacities which might have won him fame in science", while Nature described him as being "well known in scientific circles at Cambridge"He was the eldest son of Robert Pryor. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge (as had been his father, and younger brothers Frank and Selwyn). He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles.On 7 April 1875, he married Catherine Alice Hammond Solly, daughter of William Hammond Solly, of Serge Hill, Hertfordshire. Their son was the soldier Walter Marlborough Pryor. They also had six daughters; his wife died on 7 February 1901.
Walter Marlborough Pryor DSO* DL JP (1880-1962).
Ellen Catharine Pryor (1876-1951), married 1897 (div. 1919) Thomas George Sowerby.
Frances Alice Hammond Pryor (1882-1935), married 1909 Philip Corbett Turnbull OBE.
Elizabeth Mary Pryor (1884-1929) married 1908, Henry John Fordham (died 1926), married 2ndly Edward Exton Barclay, father of her brother-in-law Maurice Barclay (see below)
Caroline Hilda Pryor (1885-1973), was unmarried.
Margaret Eleanor Pryor (1887-?) married 1916, Maj Maurice Edward Barclay CBE.
Hannah Mary (1890-1960), married 1916 Eric Cecil Guinness DSO.In his business career, he was a merchant in Southern Africa, and later worked for the Sun Life Insurance Company.
He was also Deputy Lieutenant of Herts and a Justice of the Peace.Ralph George Hawtrey
Sir Ralph George Hawtrey (22 November 1879, Slough – 21 March 1975, London) was a British economist, and a close friend of John Maynard Keynes. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles, the University of Cambridge intellectual secret society.
He took a monetary approach towards the economic ups and downs of industry and commerce, advocating changes in the money supply through adjustment in the bank rate of interest, foreshadowing the later work of Keynes. In the 1920s, he advocated what was later called the Treasury View. He also advanced in 1931 the concept that became known as the multiplier, a coefficient showing the effect of a change in total national investment on the amount of total national income.
It was his view that the botched attempt to restore the international gold standard led to the Great Depression. He had played a key role in the Genoa Conference of 1922, which attempted to devise arrangements for a stable return to the gold standard.Sir Ralph Wedgwood, 1st Baronet
Sir Ralph Lewis Wedgwood, 1st Baronet (2 March 1874 – 5 September 1956) was the Chief Officer of the London & North Eastern Railway for 16 years from its inauguration in 1923. He was chairman of the wartime Railway Executive Committee from September 1939 to August 1941.Wedgwood was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1917, and was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1918. He was knighted on 10 July 1924 and created a baronet on 20 January 1942.Wedgwood was born at Barlaston Lea, Stoke-on-Trent, the son of Clement Wedgwood and his wife Emily, daughter of the engineer James Meadows Rendel. His elder brother was Josiah Wedgwood, 1st Baron Wedgwood. He married Iris Veronica Pawson, daughter of Albert Henry Pawson on 24 October 1906 at St. Margaret's, Westminster. They had two children who survived to adulthood; John Hamilton Wedgwood (1907–1989), second baronet and Cicely Veronica Wedgwood (1910–1997), historian. A second son, Ralph Pawson Wedgwood was born and died in 1909.
He was educated at Clifton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became a member of the Cambridge Apostles. He was close friends there with his second cousin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, who later dedicated two of his works to him, "In the Fen Country" and "A Sea Symphony". Ralph Wedgwood was an executor of Joseph Conrad's will in 1924.An A4 Class locomotive, 4469 Sir Ralph Wedgwood, was named after him but it was destroyed by bombing during World War II. His name was later given to A4 Class 4466.Vincent Henry Stanton
Vincent Henry Stanton (1 June 1846 – 8 June 1924) was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University.
He is buried in the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge; he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles intellectual secret society.