Society of the Muses: The First Decade

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


The importance of the Royal Society in the early scientific revolution is reflected in the detailed studies of its activities during the first several years of its existence which have been written, centering on the kinds of investigations that were carried out, how they were writnessed and registered, and how they supported, or were interpreted in terms of the mechanical philosophy. In this chapter we summarize the activities and challenges of the new Society during these early years, always keeping in mind the fact that our particular interest is in Hooke and his role in it, even though we will devote our attention to the Society itself, rather than Hooke per se. The central issue of Hooke’s science and how it was facilitated, or sometimes hindered, by his position as Curator, will be the subject of a subsequent chapter.


Philosophical Transaction Simple Pendulum Mechanical Philosophy Hard Body Pendulum Clock 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3).
    Birch , 1, 53.Google Scholar
  2. 8).
    Beginning as early as 9 March 1673/4. See the footnote in Birch , 1, 391.Google Scholar
  3. 10).
    When the meter was defined in France in 1791 as the ten-millionth part of the distance from the equator to the pole, the result was very close to the length of the “seconds pendulum” (sensu Hooke), and in fact the meter was first defined in 1790 as the length of a pendulum with a period of 2 seconds. This arises from the fact that g2 (MKS) is very nearly unity. The period in the modern sense is \( 2\pi \sqrt {l/g} \), so that T=1 sec implies l=(1/4)(g2), or about 1/4 m (9.8 inches). But the “period” of the “seconds pendulum” was being measured by Hooke (and most others) from one extreme to the other, that is, one half the period in the modern sense, hence l=T2(g2) m, since T=2 s and l=39.15 in. Hooke obtained the value 39.05 inches (.99 m)in Decembvr 1664 (Birch , 1, 511) in an experiment performed at Lord Brouncker’s residence. In 1660 Huygens settled on the value of 91/2 inches (translating to 38.0″ sensu Hooke) for the length of the seconds pendulum; he was thinking of the full period. In a letter to Boyle in 1664, Hooke described a 180-ft pendulum erected in St. Paul’s cathedral as performing “each single vibration” in 6 seconds, which, again, is one-half the period; the latter he described as a “turn and return.” (Hooke to Boyle, 25 August 1664; see Hunter, et al. (2001). The calculated value is 7.4 seconds. Although the second was 1/86,400th a mean solar day, the mean solar day is not an empirical quantity. Before Huygens’ pendulum clock there could be no standard for the second, and even with the pendulum clock, the definition is thoroughly circular. That is, the second is one-half the period of the seconds pendulum, whose length is a meter, which was defined in terms of the seconds pendulum. The situation was resolved when the French defined the meter in geographical terms.Google Scholar
  4. 13).
    For details one should consult M. B. Hall (2002). Oldenburg’s job was especially difficult in the dangerous years of the mid 1660s, when correspondence with Europe might be suspected of containing political intelligence, and indeed such a suspicion did fall on Oldenburg at one time or another.Google Scholar
  5. 16).
    On 7 August 1665 Pepys passed through Durdens on the way to London. He reported that “I found Dr. Wilkins, Sir William Pettit, & Mr. Hooke contriving Chariots, new rigges for ships, a Wheele for one to run races in, & other mechanical inventions, & perhaps three such persons together were not to be found elsewhere in Europ, for parts & ingenuity.” Boyle also spent about a month there with Hooke. See Jardine (2004), pp. 113–117. On 21 March 1665/6 Hooke lectured on gravity experiments he had done in a deep well “near Banstead Downs” in Surrey. Hooke found his attempts to detect any variation in the weight of an object were defeated by the smallness of the effect, but dicussed using a pendulum instead, and the analogies between gravity and magnetism. Birch, 2, pp. 69–72.Google Scholar
  6. 18).
    Indeed, Oldenburg wrote to Boyle on 10 August that he was putting his affairs in order. Hunter, et al. (2001), v. 330. Brouncker apparently also had a residence in Covent Garden (Pepys’ diary for 5 January 1665/6).Google Scholar
  7. 19).
    Westfall (1980), Chapter 5.Google Scholar
  8. 20).
    In has been been claimed that the fire was largely responsible for the end of regular plague irruption in London. There were other factors, of course. The City was rebuilt in less than a decade. One accessible account is Milne (1986).Google Scholar
  9. 23).
    Charles was the younger brother of Henry Howard, who became Duke of Norfolk in 1677. He made the offer on 19 September (Birch 2, 114). The Society began courting Henry Howard at least by late November and elected him a Fellow on 28 November and to the Council two days later. In turn, he offered the Society his library on 2 January, “to be disposed thereof by them as their property,” and on 4 January, the Council accepted Howard’s offer to meet at Arundel House. Howard offered the Society land adjacent to Arundel House (near the Strand, where Arundel St. now is) upon which it intended to built its “College.”Google Scholar
  10. 25).
    Oldenburg told Wren that if his proposal had been submitted to the Society for its ratification, it would have given the Society “a name, and made it popular, and availed not a little to silence those, who ask continually, What have they done?” Oldenburg to Boyle, 18 September 1666. Quoted in Birch 2, 115.Google Scholar
  11. 29).
    Birch , 2, pp. 131–2. To repeat, passages like this one are extracts from Birch, which are more or less verbatim transcriptions from the Journal Book of the Society. Hence, it is the secretary, in this case Oldenburg, who is paraphrasing Moray’s remarks.Google Scholar
  12. 30).
    Birch 2, 265.Google Scholar
  13. 32).
    Hooke had discovered Jupiter’s “Great Red Spot” in 1666 as well. See Birch , 2, p. 98.Google Scholar
  14. 33).
    Negotiations, principally over legal issues, dragged on into December, but once the Society had the property, nothing was done to improve it, despite much hand-wringing. The Society only received the Royal patent in April 1669 Birch 2, p. 363–71: “The new patent from his Majesty, dated April 8, 1669, granting Chelsea College to the society, together with some additional privileges and powers was read.” (13 May 1669) Charles II eventually changed his mind and decided to put it to a different use. In 1672 it was proposed to use Chelsea College as a prison. (Birch 3, 42).Google Scholar
  15. 35).
    Birch , 2, 202, 204. Lower’s experiments on dogs continued unabated.Google Scholar
  16. 38).
    This important insight was ventured at the meeting of 29 October 1668. Birch (2, 316) says that “Mr Hooke moved, that experiments might be made to see, whether all hard bodies, that rebound, do not so upon account of having springy particles in them...” Furthermore, “He conceiving, that if there were to be had a body absolutely hard, dots it would not rebound at all.”Google Scholar
  17. 39).
    Birch 2, 315, 316, 318, 320.Google Scholar
  18. 40).
    Three years earlier, a skeptical Spinoza had written to Oldenburg about his countryman Huygens as follows: “As for his treatise on motion, about which you also enquire, I think it is vain to expect it. It is so long since he began to boast that he had discovered by calculation laws of motion and laws of nature different from those of Descartes ... yet so far he has given no example of this.” Spinoza to Oldenburg, fall 1665 (CHO, II, p. 541).Google Scholar
  19. 41).
    Volume V of Oldenburg’s correspondence (CHO) contains a series of letters, mostly, between Wallis and Oldenburg and between the latter and Huygens on the similarities among the theories of Wren, Wallis, and Huygens. An indirect exchange, via Oldenburg, between William Niele and Wallis on the laws of motion, is represented by several letters in the same volume. These continue into Volume VI. While some of Neile’s notions were clearly wrong, and noted as such by Wallis, others, especially those involving the motion of systems of particles, are quite interesting. For example, the letter to Oldenburg 1 June 1669 (Letter No. 1197, Vol. VI, CHO).Google Scholar
  20. 42).
    Wallis’ contribution was published in the Philosophical Transactions vol. iii, no. 43, p. 864, 11 January 1668/9; Wren’s paper immediately succeeded it, on p. 867, while Huygens’ was in vol. IV, no. 46, p. 925.Google Scholar
  21. 44).
    Huygens letter, in Latin, was published in PT No. 46, 12 April 1669.Google Scholar
  22. 45).
    Birch 2, 424.Google Scholar
  23. 48).
    Or “that the force in moving bodies is in a duplicate proportion to their celerities, so that there is required a quadruple weight to double to velocity.” This idea he presumably got from Huygens. It was William Willughby who introduced “ye summe of ye Q of ye Velocities” into the discussion. Willughby to Oldenburg, 21 June 1669 (CHO, Vol. VI, pp. 63–4.).Google Scholar
  24. 49).
    Three trials were made with weights of 2,8, and 32 oz. The lengths of the fiber supporting the masses were, apparently, in the same ratio 1∶4∶16. This resulted in frequencies in the ratio 1∶2∶4 (12, 24, and 48 vibrations in a fixed time). Hence the velocities were in the ratio 1∶2∶4, showing that “there is required a quadruple weight to double the velocity.” A very nice experiment. In the other experiment, it was found that “the falling water was to be raised four times the height to run out with double the celerity.” Birch , 2, 339.Google Scholar
  25. 50).
    We note that this period was during what is sometimes called the “Little Ice Age,” a five century long period of unusually cold winters associated with a prolonged minimum in solar activity. See Fagan (2000). The Thames froze over several times in Hooke’s lifetime, including 1663, 1666, 1677, 1684, and 1695. There was an especially notable “frost fest” on the frozen Thames in the winter of 1683/4. See Evelyn’s diary.Google Scholar
  26. 52).
    Birch , 2, 427, 429, 431–2.Google Scholar
  27. 53).
    Birch , 2, 350, 354–6, 359–360, 372, 374.Google Scholar
  28. 56).
    Birch , 2, 394. He had two data points at this stage. See Chapters 7 and 11.Google Scholar
  29. 58).
    Birch , 2, 398.Google Scholar
  30. 61).
    Described in a Journal Book entry for 9 February 1670/71.Google Scholar
  31. 62).
    Birch , 2, 469, 470.Google Scholar
  32. 64).
    That is, Seth Ward Birch , 2, 501.Google Scholar
  33. 65).
    It was apparently the first to be constructed, but barely, and far from the first proposed. Newton got his idea from James Gregory’s Optica promota of 1663 but the concept of a reflecting (“catadiotrical”) telescope was considerably older, perhaps going back to Leonard Digges in the sixteenth century. On the other hand, the particular design, which we call “Newtonian,” was original. Newton’s may have been the first functioning instrument, but Hooke may have been the first to build a Gregorian telescope. See Corresp I, 151–2.Google Scholar
  34. 66).
    18 January 1671/2; Corresp . I, 82; Birch, 3, 5.Google Scholar
  35. 67).
    Corresp. , I, 92–102.Google Scholar
  36. 68).
    Westfall (1980), p. 237.Google Scholar
  37. 69).
    For which the author was “solemnly thanked ... for this ingenious discourse ...” Birch , 3, p. 9.Google Scholar
  38. 70).
    Hooke to Oldenburg, 15 February 1671/2, Corresp . I, 110–114.Google Scholar
  39. 71).
    Hooke to Brouncker, June 1672, Corresp , 1, 198.Google Scholar
  40. 72).
    Huygens, PT, no. 86 (19 August 1672), 5027–30.Google Scholar
  41. 73).
    Shapin and Schaffer (1985). Readers of Leviathan and the Air-Pump will strive in vain to find any hint of the actual (which I do not put in quotes) explanation of this phenomenon, thereby being left to choose between the theories of Huygens, Wallis, Brouncker, and others. It cannot be irrelevant how closely, or distantly, seventeenth-century observers approached the explanation we now know to be correct.Google Scholar
  42. 74).
    Wallis to Oldenburg, 2 and 5 October 1672, CHO , Vol IX, pp. 275–80.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag AG 2009

Personalised recommendations