“for the promoting of Experimentall Philosophy”

The Royal Society has cracked open its archive again, although they’ve left the doors on their hinges – unlike the last time. In fact, there are only a handful of articles, 60 from over 60,000 in the archive, available to download on the Society’s Trailblazing site to commemorate its 350th anniversary in 2010. Although you can access more once you get into the archive proper – such as Dr Edmund Halley’s observations of the 1715 total solar eclipse “Made before the Royal Society at Their House on Crane-Court in Fleet-Street”. The audio slideshow on the BBC site is also a bit sketchy on the early years of the Society, prefering instead to get in a quick mention of its most famous President, Sir Isaac Newton. Newton’s 1671 “New Theory about Light and Colours” is there – it was his first public appearance as a Natural Philosopher. But Newton didn’t become President of the Royal Society until 1703, after he had successfully reformed the Royal Mint and 43 years after the Society was formed.The Society’s foundation meeting took place in Gresham College – there’s a tangential post related to that here – on Wednesday 28th November 1660, when “The Lord Brouncker, Mr Boyle, Mr Bruce, Sir Robert Moray, Sir Paul Neile, Dr Wilkins, Dr Goddard, Dr Petty, Mr Ball, Mr Rooke, Mr Wren, Mr Hil” held the first formal minuted meeting. Although they, and others, had been meeting informally for some time.

Through “Mr Boyle”, the Honourable Robert Boyle – born at Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford, on 25 January 1627, son of the first Earl of Cork – the Society gained the services of Robert Hooke.

Hooke might not have been present at the foundation meeting, but he became essential to the success of the Royal Society and his observations are included in the very first volume of Philosophical Transactions in 1665.

From page 3, The Ingenious Mr Hooke reports observing a spot on the biggest of the 3 obscurer belts of Jupiter.

As well as “An Account of Micrographia” also by Robert Hooke, his best known work, and also printed by the Royal Society – available online here.

As I mentioned on the discovery of Robert Hooke’s handwritten minutes of the Royal Society from 1661 to 1682, and his correspondence as Secretary of the Society from 1677 –

Hooke was hugely important. Not only in his role as Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society – in effect the first professional experimental scientist – but also in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Hooke was principal among those responsible for surveying London after the fire, assessing claims and disputes among residents, and working as an architect in the offices of his friend Christopher Wren, as well as operating as project manager for much of the rebuilding work, and new building work.

Then there are his inventions.. and improvements to scientific instruments, and his belief that those instruments could, and should, be improved even further.

Not to mention proposing the inverse-square law of gravity to Newton.. and, arguably, the universality of that law..

And he had a long rivalry with Newton, beginning in 1671 with a dispute over Newton’s “New Theory of Light and Colours” – Hooke favoured light travelling as a wave, Newton suggested light was made up of a stream of tiny particles.

When, as Secretary of the Society, Hooke saw an early draft of Principia Mathematica, published 1687, he suggested, via Halley, that Newton should mention in the preface that Hooke had proposed the inverse-square law in relation to gravitational attraction. Newton subsequently removed almost every reference to Hooke in the manuscript – the original amended version survives.

Hooke made his last recorded contribution to a Royal Society meeting on 19 June 1702. He died on 3 March 1703.

Newton, who had avoided getting involved in the proceedings of the Society while Hooke was alive, was elected President of the Royal Society in November 1703.

Recommended reading: The Fellowship – John Gribbin.

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  • Reader

    Fictional work, also recommended (by me) – Neal Stephenson’s Baroque cycle – first book, ‘Quicksilver’ – a high spirited romp through 17th century science in England – among other things that make it a wee bit more on topic here (King Billy, Seamus Akaka)
    I bet someone is going to tell us the correct Irish spelling for akaka now…

  • Pete Baker

    All well and good, Reader.

    But the topic is non-fiction.

  • Reader

    Pete Baker: But the topic is non-fiction.
    And since reading ‘Quicksilver’ I have launched into reading Biographies of Newton and Pepys. Since I can keep the distinction in my head I find that relating fiction to history is stimulating and rewarding.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Newton subsequently removed almost every reference to Hooke in the manuscript ‘

    Could this be the ultimate origin of the phrase ‘by hook or by crook’ :)?

    So scientists are human too :)?

  • Pete Baker

    “So scientists are human too :)?”

    Even Newton, Greenie.

  • Mick Fealty

    Love the story/// Two guys arguing the other was wrong when in fact (as Einstein proved generations later) they were both right…

    Remind you of somewhere?

  • Pete Baker

    Wikipedia has a good accessible article that covers the history of wave-particle duality.

  • Pete Baker

    I should also point out that Hooke objected to Newton’s “New Theory about Light and Colours” – which had clearly used his work in Micrographia as a starting point – on the basis that, whilst it was a working hypothesis which required further testing, it was not the only possible explanation of what had been observed.

  • Pete Baker

    Can I recommend, again, that wikipedia article.