Academy, in foreign countries an institution for the promotion of one or more of the arts and sciences, corresponding to such English societies as the British Association, the Royal Society, the Statistical Society, etc. The first academy is said to have been founded by Ptolemy Soter at Alexandria, and the collections of books and art treasures formed by the members were the origin of the famous Alexandrian library. Academies for various purposes existed during the Middle Ages, and the revived interest in learning and literature at the time of the Renaissance led to the establishment of many, especially in Italy. The famous French Academy was founded in 1635 by Richelieu, and from the beginning may be said to have taken the French language under its charge, whether for good or for evil is a much vexed point. It has now developed into the Institute of France, subdivided into five sections, each of which is called an "academy." The Imperial Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg is almost equally well-known and is justly celebrated for its contributions to the knowledge of the vast Russian Empire, and of Oriental religions, languages, and customs. It is obviously impossible to attempt to give a list of the academies of science, literature, history, the fine arts, archaeology, medicine, and surgery which exist in every civilised country, but mention should be made of the Rogal Academy of Arts in London, founded in 1768, with Sir Joshua Reynolds as the first president. It is a self-governing, self-supporting body, maintaining a school of art in which education is given free to all who can pass the necessary examinations, and opening an exhibition of the works of living artists every summer, and of the "old masters "every winter.
The term academy is also applied to a place where the arts and sciences are taught, and though in England the word in this sense has been degraded to the use of second- and third-rate schools, in Scotland and elsewhere some of the best educational establishments are called academies. It may also mean an institution for training in some special art, as a riding or dancing academy, and with this meaning the military college for training officers at Woolwich is called the Royal Military Academy.
The word itself is derived from the name of a garden near Athens, the original possessor of which was said to have been Academus. a contemporary of Theseus. The Greek philosopher Plato taught his disciples there for nearly fifty years, and hence they were styled the Academics, and the system of philosophy the Academic.