Micrographia

  • Susan Goldhor
  • Published 1963 in The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine

Abstract

In three more years Micrographia will celebrate its 300th birthday, and while a desire for neatness might have urged Dover to postpone the publication of this facsimile edition until the tricentennial, our sheer, informal delight in the book should cause us to rejoice at these few extra years of reading pleasure. To devote to Micrographia a standard review would be similar to an argument as to whether Harvey's De Motu Cordis was worth publishing. The nearest we can come to reviewing is to quote Hooke's contemporaries; for example, Samuel Pepys who, we are told, called it "the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life",' while Newton, no friend of Hooke's, praised Micrographia highly, and admitted that there was much in it "concerning the colours of thin plates, and other natural bodies, which I have not scrupled to make use of so far as they were for my purpose."1 Essentially, Micrographia is what its name would lead us to believe: a compilation of writings and exquisite drawings (it is said that as a boy Hooke was apprenticed out to a well-known painter but left because the smell of the paints affected his head) which illustrate fifty-seven microscopic and three telescopic observations. The Royal Society had become fashionable after the Restoration, and the number of member scientists was much reduced relative to the gentlemen and peers. Since it seemed a good and necessary thing for the Society to discuss scientific matters (that being its ostensible purpose) at its weekly meetings, Hooke was appointed Curator of Experiments in 1662 and charged with furnishing experiments for each meeting, and it is basically these experiments which form the contents of Micrographia. A less creative man might have found it difficult to carry out the work; Hooke supplied the Royal Society with its experiments and still found time to accept other positions-he became the City Surveyor, the Cutlerian Lecturer in Mathematics and a Gresham College Professor of Geometry. If it is amazing that Hooke did all of this, it is almost unbelievable that he did it all superbly well; that he played a large part in the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire, and was the architect for a number of well-known, but unfortunately later destroyed buildings (some notable examples being Bedlam Hospital, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Merchant Taylors' Hall), several of which later generations were to absent-mindedly attribute to his contemporary, and close friend, Sir Christopher Wren. He improved every sort of optical instrument then extant, and invented the basic meteorological instruments we still use today. Hooke also invented several different kinds of clocks and watches. made the first successful air-pump (for his friend and mentor, Robert Boyle), and published on topics ranging from earthquakes to the geography of Northern Europe. The ease with which invention came to Hooke is shown by the following entry in his Diary, for 1674:

Cite this paper

@article{Goldhor1963Micrographia, title={Micrographia}, author={Susan Goldhor}, journal={The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine}, year={1963}, volume={35}, pages={439 - 441} }