an extraordinary discovery

This may not be of interest to most of you, being arguably outside the normal remit [*ahem* – Ed] But it’s too amazing for me not to note, spotted by btw – who helpfully noted this link, and this one – Robert Hooke’s handwritten minutes of the Royal Society from 1661 to 1682, and his correspondence as Secretary of the Society from 1677, found in a cupboard in a private house in Hampshire during a routine valuation by Bonham’s auctioneers. Colour me stunned. It’s expected to reach a price of over £1million.From the press release by Bonham’s

Lisa Jardine CBE, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and biographer of Robert Hooke commented on the manuscript, saying: “This find constitutes a missing link some of us have been searching for for years. It is the most exciting Royal Society related discovery for a generation. These documents contain crucial new evidence concerning Robert Hooke’s on-going feud with those in charge of the early Royal Society. There are vital items of lost evidence relating to his priority disputes and patent applications.”

Michael Hunter, Professor of History at Birkbeck College, London, adds: “This is an extraordinary discovery, filling a gap in the documentation of the early Royal Society and including details of discussions at various meetings that have hitherto been unknown. Hooke’s draft minutes from 1677 to 1682 are significant in their own right, but equally interesting is his extensive transcript from the minutes of the Society’s earlier years, interspersed by acerbic comments which illustrate his sense of grievance about how he was treated by the Society’s officers and how his ideas were plagiarised by other scientists.”

Bonhams’ Manuscript Consultant Felix Pryor says: “Even a non-scientist must be moved to read in Hooke’s own handwriting of how he peered at bacteria through a microscope for practically the first time in history, or how he debated with Isaac Newton about the nature of gravity and the movement of the planets. Even though Hooke and Newton were to become bitter rivals, it was to Hooke that Newton addressed the famous words, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ These were heroic times, and this manuscript encapsulates the revolution in scientific understanding that marks the beginning of the modern world. It is an extraordinary privilege to have played a part in discovering such a thing.”

Seriously, Hooke was hugely important.. not only in his role as Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society – in effect the first professional 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..

Robert Hooke’s most famous work, Micrographia is available online.. other links to Micrographia here

A brief list of recommended reads, for those who are still here..
London’s Leonardo: The Life and Work of Robert Hooke – Jim Bennett, Michael Cooper, Michael Hunter, Lisa Jardine
The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London – Lisa Jardine
The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke, 1635 – 1703 – Stephen Inwood.


  • Joe

    This is an awesome find. I can’t wait until they are published.
    I can highly recommend “The man Who knew too much. I read it about 6 months ago and couldn’t put it down. An awesome scientist who, because of his arguments with issaac newton and generally disagreeable nature, got written out of the history books soon after his death.
    Woo Hoo.

  • micheal

    “Even though Hooke and Newton were to become bitter rivals, it was to Hooke that Newton addressed the famous words, ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’”

    I had thought that it was precisely because they were such bitter rivals that Newton addressed Hooke in this way. Wasn’t the whole point that Hooke was a bit vertically challenged.

  • Pete Baker


    Slight of stature.. and with a slight stoop.. but not necessarily vertically challenged. The reference to classical texts would have been well known then, and should be regarded as being a compliment to the person addressed.

    I can also recommend the excellent John Gribbin’s excellent The Fellowship about the foundation of the royal Society.. and Hooke too.


    The disagreeble nature you mention is generally considered to be part of the writing out of Hooke from history.. he had many friends, including Sir Christopher Wren.. a not inconsiderable figure in society.. he was generally highly regarded.

    Although time, and his [not unusually for the era] habit of self-medicating, and [perhaps more unusually] experimenting, with cures for ailments, real or imagined.. probably affected him in later life.

    It’s more the not writing in of Hooke that caused the problem, rather than the writing out, IMO. Newton’s first biography was written by his nephew… and similarly Wren’s by a close relative. Both sought to emphasise their subject’s genius, not to relate the more complex inter-relationship with others.

    And both loom large in the history of the time.. probably to the detriment of Hooke’s reputation.