Robert Hooke, Indefaticable Genius: Hooke and London

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


The enigma (or enigmas) of Hooke, perhaps more than any other figure of the Scientific Revolution, raises the question “Who was Robert Hooke?”2) For if there is still much to learn about Hooke, we do know that he was not a person who aroused feelings of indifference. He was lionized by many as ingenious, honest, and generous, while others dismissed him with contempt or hatred as mean, irascible, and, worse, one who claimed the discoveries of others. Even today, despite an explosion of writing on Hooke, no clear view of him emerges, and the situation is not so different from three centuries ago, with partisans showing near reverence for him and detractors finding unworthy motives in almost everything he did. If he was held in high regard by important scientific figures like Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, and Edmond Halley, revered by such men of the world as Samuel Pepys, major church figures like Seth Ward and John Tillotson, and by his chroniclers John Aubrey and Richard Waller, he also made important enemies. Among these, eventually, were Henry Oldenburg, long-time Secretary of the Society, and Viscount Lord Brouncker, its president for a decade and a half, as well as major continental scientific figures like Huygens and Leibniz. And, of course, Newton. In part, simple rivalry or jealousy was involved, but Hooke was at the very least “touchy” as Andrade, a Hooke admirer, called him, and there is no doubt that he was vigorously protective of his discoveries and reputation. Hooke was not always easy to get along with, and to some extent the same is true today.


Royal Society Diary Entry Astronomical Observation Planetary Motion Society Meeting 
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  1. 3).
    Little (1975), p. 91; Maddison (1969), p. 135.Google Scholar
  2. 4).
    Jardine (2004), p. 151.Google Scholar
  3. 5).
    Notwithstanding Hall’s “Why Blame Oldenburg,” (Hall and Hall, 1962a), as we shall see.Google Scholar
  4. 6).
    Brounker was, however, an important mathematician. See, e.g., Stedall (2000).Google Scholar
  5. 7).
    Samuel Pepys, Diary. It is unfortunate that Pepys’ failing eyesight forced him to terminate his diary at the end of May 1669, long before his deep involvement with the Society. His final entry contained these words: “And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journall ... And so I betake myself to that course, which [is] almost as much as to see myself go into the grave — for which, and all the discomforts that will accompany my being blind, the good God prepare me.” (The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1976, Vol. 9, 564–5.) Pepys would die 34 years later, in the same year as Hooke, having put his name on the frontispiece of the Principia, as President of the Royal Society. John Evelyn, in his own diary, recounted on 4 August 1665 (in the midst of the plague) that he “called at Durdans, where I found Dr. Wilkins, Sir William Petty, and Mr. Hooke ... perhaps three such persons together were not to be found elsewhere in Europe, for parts and ingenuity.” (The Diary of John Evelyn, 1901, Vol. II, p. 8.) Evelyn, an original fellow of the Society, and Pepys, eventually became presidents. Both, however, were largely bystanders to the scientific revolution.Google Scholar
  6. 8).
    Newton to Hooke, 5 Feb. 1676, Corresp., 1, 416.Google Scholar
  7. 9) ‚Espinasse (1956), p. 140.Google Scholar
  8. 10).
    Cooper (2000, 2003).Google Scholar
  9. 11).
    Feingold (2006).Google Scholar
  10. 12).
    Lord Thanet wrote him that “Your lodging [being] like an enchanted castle, being never to be found out, I shall in the future direct my Letters to Mr Hooke’s chamber in Gresham Colledge, as you desire ...” Thanet to Aubrey, 19 April 1675, in Anthony Powell, John Aubrey and his Friends, London, 1988Google Scholar
  11. 13).
    Lord Brouncker was a noted womanizer. See Cook (1998), p. 45. Among other things, Hooke provided for the education of his boy, the orphan Tom Gyles.Google Scholar
  12. 15).
    Diary I, p. 300 (8 July 1677). Often we can cross-check the Diary with the Journal Books or Birch to see what experiment was referred to.Google Scholar
  13. 16).
    In Waller’s introduction to his compilation titled Posthumous Works of Dr. Robert Hooke (1705). The Posthumous Works was dedicated to Newton (as well as to the Council and fellows), who was in his second year as president of the Royal Society. Manuel (1968) sees this as adding a “posthumous insult to the injuries Hooke had endured during his lifetime ...” Hooke no doubt would have seen it that way, but the dedication would have been entirely proper.Google Scholar
  14. 17).
    John Aubrey, Brief Lives. O.L. Dick, ed., pp. 165–6. On Aubrey himself, the introduction to the latter work is especially useful, and for a fuller study, Hunter (1975). Aubrey was an extraordinary character of the widest possible interests, above all an antiquarian. Among other things he called attention to Avebury and what are now called the “Aubrey stones” and made a detailed survey of Stonehenge, resulting in a ring of filled holes known as the “Aubrey holes.” He describes climbing Silbury Hill in Wiltshire with Charles II. Once landed gentry, he was reduced to borrowing small sums from Hooke, and in 1686 left his papers on Wiltshire to Hooke in case he died before returning to London.Google Scholar
  15. 18).
    To many, science was inherently masculine, and others have written, in this context, of “homosociability.” See, for example, Schiebinger (2003). Perhaps things are not so different today.Google Scholar
  16. 20).
    Waller (1705). The Life of Dr. Robert Hooke.Google Scholar
  17. 21).
    According to Halley, Hooke broke with Hoskins over an incident following the presentation on 28 April 1686 by Dr. Vincent of a copy of the first part of the Principia to the Society. Halley’s account appears in his letter to Newton on 29 June, where he says that Hoskins, who as vice-president was in the chair, said of the Principia that it was “so much the more to be prized, for that it was both Invented and perfected at the same time.” According to Halley, “this gave Mr Hook offense that Sr John did not at that time, make mention of what he had, as he sd, discovered to him [Newton]. Upon which they two, who till then were the most inseparable cronies, have since scarce seen one another, and are utterly fallen out.” Halley to Newton, 29 June 1686; Corresp. II, 442–3. The evidence from Hooke’s later Diary is equivocal. Before March 1689, Hooke and Hoskins meet several times at Jonathan’s, but on 6 March (meeting) Hooke writes that “Hoskins belged me, as he does every time.” Again, in March 1692/3, after a long period of neutral entries recounting coffee at Jonathan’s with Hoskins among others, Hooke writes “HM. and Aubery, Hoskins tools.”Google Scholar
  18. 22).
    See, for example, the list of over 100 coffee-houses and taverns cited by Hooke in his earlier Diary, given by Robinson and Adams (1935).Google Scholar
  19. 25).
    Robinson and Adams (1935). The preface to this work describes in greater detail the disposition of the Diary during those two centuries (pp. v–viii). Written in Hooke’s crabbed hand, the Diary is sometimes nearly, or indeed actually, illegible. But a remarkable document nonetheless.Google Scholar
  20. 26).
    It forms the bulk of Volume X of Gunther’s Early Science in Oxford (Gunther, 1930–38).Google Scholar
  21. 27).
    For Saturday, 19 December 1674, Hooke inserted the following order from the “controuler:” Sir You are forthwith to pay to Mr. R. Hooke Surveyor of New building out of the moneys arising up by the Impositions layd upon Coles the sum of one hundred pounds in full satisfaction for his frequent Directions and attendances at and in Relation to Fleet Channell and the publique works of this City for the space of three years and upwardsGoogle Scholar
  22. 28).
    Cooper (1998a) p. 30, and Cooper (2003).Google Scholar
  23. 30).
    Five volumes of this work (Gunther, 1930–38), VI, VII, VIII, X, and XIII, are devoted to that Oxford man, Robert Hooke; they were published between 1930 and 1938, bracketing the tercentenary year of Hooke’s birth, 1935. Volume VI contains Waller’s Life of Hooke which he appended to the edition of Hooke’s Posthumous Works he published, as secretary of the Royal Society, in 1705. Extracts from John Ward’s Lives of the Gresham Professors (Ward, 1740) and Aubrey’s Brief Lives have been interleaved. The rest of Vol. VI is a summary of Hooke’s scientific work up to 1672 drawn from Birch and from Derham (1726). Gunther’s Vol. VII continues this chronology to Hooke’s death in 1703. The Cutlerian Lectures are reprinted in Volume VIII, while Volume X is devoted mainly to the second Diary (Diary II) 1688–93, but also contains Hooke’s early work An Attempt for the Explication of the Phaenomena, in facsimile. Finally, Volume XIII contains a reprinting of the Micrographia, in facsimile.Google Scholar
  24. 32).
    In addition to the published diaries, there are several small fragments, October 1681 to September 1683, and 1 June 1695, in MS. Sloane 1039, covering about three months of 1695. These are found in Gunther, Vol. VII, pp. 577, 591–2, 600–602, 605?, 622, and 759 (Sloane MS 1039). The Diary entries from 1681–83 (all except the last one) were found on narrow slips of paper. They resemble the earlier Diary in their laconic character, as do those in MS. Sloane 4024, from 1688–93. The individual dates are 25 Oct. 1681, March 1682, 18 July (bday)-1 November 1682 (13 entries), 27 December 1682, 22 September 1683. The final fragment (VII, 759) for June 1, 1695, just before Hooke’s 60th birthday, is in a much more fleshed-out narrative style, e.g., “I stayd with Mr. Blount and Mr. Hally from 8 to neer 12 a’clock, then went and dined at the Roman in Queen Street, with Sir Christopher Wren, Mr. Blount, and his cozen Mr. Aldersey ...”Google Scholar
  25. 37).
    Referring to freinds Alexander Pitfield, Richard Waller, Godfrey Copley, and Francis Lodwick, all F.R.S. On Lodwick, see Salmon (1972). The “o” implies nothing of interest happened at Jonathan’s Coffee-House.Google Scholar
  26. 43).
    Garaways Coffee-House was in Exchange Alley, Cornihill. Exchange or “Change” Alley is still there in the Cornhill area, between Cornhill and Lombard Streets, close by the Royal Exchange. Jonathan’s, also in Exchange Alley was also visited almost daily, and in the second Diary, covering 1688–93, it was the favored venue. See below. See also the section on taverns and coffee-houses in Robinson and Adams (1935), and Gunther’s comments in the preface to vol X) (Gunther , Op. Cit.).Google Scholar
  27. 44).
    Boyle lived with his sister (Katherine, Lady Ranelagh) in fashionable Pall Mall. Maddison lists some of Boyle’s neighbors, including Nell Gwyn (p. 133). In the Diary, Boyle is always “Mr. Boyle”, and Wren is “Dr. Wren” or “Sir Ch. Wren,” showing — even in his private diary — a respect for the stations of his friends Wren and Boyle, in stark contrast to some of the wilder claims made about Hooke, namely that he violated the gentleman’s code when he used terms like “knave” or “cur[r]” to describe people like Oldenburg or Cutler, who he felt had treated him falsely. He seemed to respect social niceties without resentment or any puffery.Google Scholar
  28. 45).
    Collins to Gregory, 26 December 1672, Corresp. I, 255 n. 17. Westfall also says that Hooke was suffering from consumption and was not expected to survive, but this is based on the letter from Collins to Gregory. The Diary begins, in August 1672, and Hooke is indeed unwell, as he often was, but he was vigorously active and it seems that Collins was mistaken as to the seriousness of Hooke’s latest malady, although they had seen each other in October.Google Scholar
  29. 55).
    Lisa Jardine has suggested that neither “formed a lasting relationship with any other person,” a statement which one might want to modify somewhat in Hooke’s case, but is nevertheless substantially true. Much has been written on Wren’s architecture of course, but a compact source of information about him and his works is Wren by Margaret Whinney (1971).Google Scholar
  30. 56).
    As one of the City Surveyors, as Wren’s partner, and in his own architectural projects. He was Wren’s colleague on the Commission which oversaw the rebuilding of the City. The Court picked Wren, Pratt, and May as members of the Crown Commission and the Corporation of the City of London chose Hooke, Mills, and Jarman. The commissioners appointed by the Rebuilding Act of 1670 were Wren, Hooke, and Edward Woodroffe. Woodroffe died in 1675. Evidently Wren and Hooke were the most active and effective members of the Commission and Wren would soon become Surveyor General. Wren and Hooke both offered radical plans for a new London, and Evelyn offered his own. None of these plans was adopted, tradition and commercial and political considerations holding sway; most of the chaotic plan of the old City was retained. On Hooke’s role in designing and building these churches, see Paul Jeffrey (1996). Between 1671 and 1684, Hooke was apparently working on an average of 8 churches at any given time.Google Scholar

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