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Robert Hooke, Curator of Experiments for the Royal Society.

The Emergence of Natural Philosophy. (1685–1706)

The struggle over an adequate description of natural change.

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his life | science | faith | geology | Royal Society | Fire of London

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Robert Hooke (1635-1703)

The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.

Lisa Jardine, author.              (Jacob Bronowski’s daughter)


Born on the Isle of Wight, an Anglican clergyman’s son

b.         18 July 1635
d.         3 March 1703                       67.5 years old

Micrographia (1665)

Oxford educated, Secretary of the Royal Society, collaborator and partner of Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, and associate of Edmund Halley, and public antagonist of Newton, Huygens and Hevelius (Danish astronomer).

A laboratory assistant to his Oxford peers: Willis and later Boyle

Professor of Geometry at Gresham College

"The truth is the science of Nature has been already too long made only a work of the brain and the fancy: It is now high time that it should return to the plainness & soundness of observations on material and obvious things."

Robert Hooke, MICROGRAPHIA, (1665). {1635-1703]

"In a number of his lectures and papers, particularly those delivered in the 1680s and 1690s, Hooke is eloquent in his expressions of belief that order and beauty of nature bear witness to God's providence and care for mankind."

Lisa Jardine, p. 90.

"Hooke's fascination with and dedication to uncovering the breathtaking diversity and detail of the natural world was consistent with a profound belief in its maker, as architect of the grand design."

"On 17 September (1662) the King formally granted the coat of arms, with the motto, 'Nullius in Verba,' – 'take no man's word for it'. Evelyn was once again behind the symbolism as well as the graphics. Nothing could have better summed up Hooke's approach to and attitude towards 'natural knowledge'. The early Royal Society and Robert Hooke were entirely of one temperament."

p. 97.

"Hooke had served Boyle [Sir Robert Boyle] since he was in his teens....Hooke remained in Boyle's salaried employ...until August 1664. His appointment to the Gresham professorship of Geometry in March 1665 entitled him to to permanent accommodation within Gresham College, where he remained for the rest of his life."

p. 100

While Hooke continued as general intellectual factotum for Boyle, the Royal Society expected Hooke to attend weekly and to supply each meeting with experimental diversion.

p. 102.

"It was not simply that Hooke was required to make the air-pump work effectively in the presence of foreigners – he alone possessed the necessary experimental brio and showmanship to captivate and delight dilettante visitors, combining technical virtuosity with a keen sense of theatre."

p. 105

"The joint observations of the path of the 1664 [31 March] comet and the subsequent discussions of the generalised motion of comets were part of a cross-Channel collaboration, comprising Wren, Dr. John Wallis, and Hooke in London, and two astronomers, Adrien Azout and Christian Huygens (both in Paris)."

p. 107.

Samuel Pepys wrote of Hooke that he was one of the two "most worthy persons as are in England, I think,or the world." Dr. Wilkins founder of the concept of the Royal Society was the other man to whom Pepys referred. Wilkins, the Gresham College Professor of Astronomy, was one of Hooke's three mentors: Dr. Richard Busby, Dr. John Wilkins who introduced him to Thomas Willis and Sir Robert Boyle. For both men Hooke was a laboratory assistant or manager.

p.130, pp. 57-74.


Founding of the Royal Society:

"Dr. John Wilkins convened a meeting of the virtuosi (28 November 1660) ...at which he proposed to found 'a college for the promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning'."

p. 91

13 August 1662, King Charles II founded "The Royal Society for the improvement of naturall knowledge by experiment"

p. 96.

During the plague year in London he returned to the Isle of Wight.

"The fossil-rich chalk cliffs around Freshwater Bay, on the south-west of the island, where he had spent his boyhood were the perfect place to pursue his interest in geology in fossils, and theories of rock formation. In 1667, in the earliest of his Discourses on Earthquakes, Hooke notified his readers that it was during his trip to the Isle of Wight the previous year that he assembled the substantial collection of fossils on which his lectures were based."


"Hooke proposed that rock formations had once been matter in solution which' in tract of time settled and congealed into...hard, fixt, solid and permanent Forms', no longer soluble in water."

p. 121.

"This is Hooke at his most immediate and enthusiastic. His perception seems to sharpen, as he affectionately engages with the natural surroundings which kindled and continue to illuminate his keenly inquiring scientific mind.

p. 123.

Fire of London:

Sunday, September 2 to Wednesday, September 5, 1666

"In a state of deep shock, Londoners contemplated the sheer extent of the final devastation – more than 12,000 homes destroyed and an estimated 65,000 inhabitants made homeless, in addition to the loss of public buildings and places of worship."

"Hooke – the leading figure in many of the important post-Fire decisions – was the only man involved who did not already have an official connection with the Corporation. Five months after he had been sworn in to the team charged with formulating building regulations and determining street-widths for rebuilding, he was appointed to the post of City Surveyor, at a meeting of the Court of Common Council held on 13 March 1667, and ordered to begin the onerous work of pegging out each individual site for rebuilding."

p. 141.

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his life | science | faith | geology | Royal Society | Fire of London

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