Restoring Robert Hooke

Part of the Science Networks. Historical Studies book series (SNHS, volume 39)


In 1947, in the wake of World War II, the Royal Society of London established the Wilkins Lectures in the history of science in honor of John Wilkins, one of its founding members and its first secretary. Wilkins himself was the subject of the first lecture, in 1948, but when Edward Neville da Costa Andrade delivered the second Wilkins Lecture the next year (on 15 December), his subject was Robert Hooke. At this point few knew anything of Hooke, except for his Micrographia, published at the start of his career and of his service to the Society. Thus it might be said that it was Andrade’s lecture which caused Hooke to be taken seriously again after nearly three centuries.


Royal Society Natural Philosopher Instrument Maker Parish Church Religious Career 
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  1. 1).
    Robinson and Adams (1935); R.T. Gunther (1930), Vols. VI, VII, VIII, X, and XIII, 1930–38.Google Scholar
  2. 2).
    Andrade (1950), ‘Espinasse, 1956. The latter work clearly fails to reflect modern studies and to some extent modern historiography. But by the same token, /it is fresh and original, influenced not at all by current fashions.Google Scholar
  3. 3).
    For details of Robert Hooke’s early life, we are mostly dependent upon the Life offered by Richard Waller in 1705 in his collection of Hooke’s unpublished works, The Posthumous Works of Dr. Robert Hooke. This was in turn based on a “History of my own life” which Hooke began in 1697 but never completed. While only a brief summary of his early years will be given here, the reader can consult Waller’s Life, appended to The Diary of Robert Hooke (Robinson and Adams, 1935). Gunther’s The Life and Works of Robert Hooke, published in two parts (Part I in Vol. VI and Part II in Vol. VII of Gunther (1930–38) in 1930 is actually the most detailed recounting of Hooke’s life, concentrating, of course, mostly on his science, quoting extensively from Waller and Hooke himself. John Ward’s Lives of the Gresham Professors (1740) also contains a short biography of Hooke, as does John Aubrey’s Brief Lives (Dick, 1949), pp. 165–6. Other sources include the final chapter of ‘Espinasse’ biography, (‘Espinasse 1956’), Andrade’s 1949 Wilkins Lecture (Andrade, 1950), and the introduction to Drake’s Restless Genius (Drake, 1996). Now we have biographies by Inwood (2003) and Jardine (2004). Hooke had an older sister Katherine and an older brother John, who eventually hanged himself.Google Scholar
  4. 4).
    “... very imfirm and weakly...” is how Richard Waller described him. (Gunther, 1930, Vol VI).Google Scholar
  5. 7).
    Beier and Finlay (1986), pp. 10, 15 (and references therein).Google Scholar
  6. 10).
    Aubrey said that “at school he was very mechanicall, and (amongst other things) he invented thirty severall wayes of Flying.” He went on to say that “He was never a King’s Scholar, and I have heard Sir Richard Knight (who was his school-fellow) say that he seldome saw him in the schoole.” Brief Lives, O.L. Dick, ed., 1949, p. 165. “In schoole” did not refer to the premises of Westminster, but only to the large common room known by that name.Google Scholar
  7. 12).
    See Gunther , VI, p. 12, n. 1. Hooke overlapped with John Locke at Westminster School and went up to Christ Church, Oxford a year or so after Locke, three years Hooke’s senior, who matriculated at Oxford in 1652.Google Scholar
  8. 19).
    Waller’s Life in Gunther (1930), vol. VI, p. 8; PW, p. iii.Google Scholar
  9. 20).
    Boyle, New Experiments.Google Scholar
  10. 24).
    It has been suggested that in view of his unprepossessing appearance, Hooke may have been reluctant to sit for a portrait. He does not seem, however, to have had much vanity, and there is little doubt that the Society did have a portrait. When Zacharias von Uffenbach visited the Society in 1710, he reported seeing portraits of “Boyle and Hoock.” (Espinasse, 1956, p. 13; Chapman, 1996). Although Jardine (2004) has claimed the discovery of a portrait of Hooke in London’s Natural History Museum, previously thought to be of John Ray, it now seems that the portrait is of Jan Baptist van Helmont.Google Scholar
  11. 28).
    See “Hooke and Bedlam,” (Heyman, 2006) in Cooper and Hunter (2006). Another Hooke structure was the Montague House, which burned in 1686, but whose facade survived and which was later the first home of the British Museum.Google Scholar
  12. 29).
    On the Hooke churches, see Jeffery, 1996.Google Scholar
  13. 30).
    Apparently only one of the public houses frequented by Hooke survives, the George and Vulture. See the information on taverns and coffee-houses mentioned in Hooke’s Diary, in Robertson and Adams (1935).Google Scholar
  14. 31).
    See Jeffrey (1996), who wrote (p. 176) that “without Hooke, or someone of his calibre, Wren could not have entertained the task of rebuilding the churches.” As many as 23–24 churches have been attributed in whole or in part to Hooke, some in partnership with Sir Christopher, but others mostly alone, so that while almost all other evidence of Hooke’s time on this Earth has vanished, hundreds of tourists every day look upon his works with awe, never knowing who the architect really was.Google Scholar
  15. 32).
    Nichols (1999), Jardine (2002). Hooke evidently had this possibility in mind, though one should not think of the Monument as essentially a laboratory. There is today a wooden cover in the entrance level of the Monument that, lifted, allows one to see into the lower area from which zenith observations would have been made.Google Scholar

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