Hooke was born on 28 July 1635 (18 July Old Style) at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, the son of a churchman. He was educated at Westminster School and, thanks to a scholarship, at Christ Church, Oxford. He worked as an assistant for the scientist Robert Boyle between 1657 and 1662, and then became curator of experiments at the Royal Society. In 1663, he was made a fellow of the Society. In this mid-1660s period he was lecturing on subjects such as mechanics and geometry, and publishing books such as Micrographia with elaborate drawings of objects viewed through a microscope, and Cometa on the nature of comets.
After the great fire in 1666, Hooke was appointed one of three surveyors of London to supervise rebuilding works, and he himself designed some new buildings, such as Bethlehem Hospital. He was great friends with Christopher Wren, and they collaborated often, for example, on St Paul’s Cathedral, whose dome uses a method of construction conceived by Hooke. In the 1670s, Hooke seems to have been at odds with other scientists, including Newton and Huygens; and he and the Royal Society were the subject of Shadwell’s satirical play The Virtuoso. In 1677, Hooke took over as secretary of the Society. The following year he published Lectures De Potentia Bestitutiva or Of Spring, which described the law of elasticity, later known as Hooke’s Law. He was also responsible for a variety of other important scientific understandings, including phenomenon of diffraction.
In the 1680s, Hooke was involved in a further dispute with Newton over the latter’s Principia which was published without any recognition of Hooke’s contribution to the theories on planetary motions. Hooke never married, but he did have mistresses, including his niece whom he had cared for since she was 11. (In fact, Hooke recorded his sexual activity in the diary - see Felicity Henderson’s blog post for more on this. ) Hooke died in 1703. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Royal Museums Greenwich, Westminster School’s Robert Hooke website, Felicity Henderson’s blog on Hooke, Rob Martin’s Isle of Wight pages, City of London website, or UCMP’s page on Hooke.
Robert Hooke began keeping a journal (or memorandum book) on 10 March 1672, and continued until May 1683. It’s considered the most important record of Hooke’s life, and is held by Guildhall Library, London. The manuscript was transcribed and published by Henry W. Robinson and Walter Adams as The Diary of Robert Hooke (Taylor & Francis, 1935). The editors explain that the diary has a somewhat tortuous (and partly unknown) history.
For most of the first year, the entries are mainly concerned with the weather, but these give way to more general entries recording notable events and the author’s own activities. Each entry becomes, in fact, a dense record of Hooke’s movements and meetings, often difficult to interpret without further contextual information. By 1679, his stamina in recording the busy days begins to wane, and the entries become noticeably shorter, sometimes just one or two lines. The entry for Monday 28 June 1680, for example, reads: ‘Spent most of my time in considering all matters.’ The editors note that the diary is replete with chaotic punctuation (a full stop after every two or three words, as if, they add, Hooke had rested his pen on the paper while thinking up the next words to write).
Well over 100 taverns and coffee houses are mentioned in the published version of Hooke’s diary, all listed at the back; and there is also a biographical index with around 2,000 names. Dr Felicity Henderson, of Exeter University, who is currently editing the diary for a new edition to be published by Oxford University Press, has already made available, with the Royal Society, an annotated collection of Hooke’s diary entries which were omitted from the Robinson/Adams edition, i.e. from March to July 1672 and from January 1681 to May 1683.
Here are several samples of Hooke’s diary style, taken from the 1935 publication.
18 May 1675
‘At Sir J. Mores. Player and Oliver Dogs. at Holburne conduit. - in quest of Sir Chr: Wren at Lords house. Mr. Colwall walked with Titus. Gave Grace chocolatt. Discoursed with Sir Chr: Wren. Noe money but to contribute towards his losse by wells and account. Dind with Boyl. Walkd with Scarborough in the park. Met with Montacue. Told Sir Christopher my Longitude inventions. Met the King in the Park. he shewd watch, affirmed it very good.’
25 May 1675
‘At Dr. Busbys. With the King and shewd my watch with a magnet with which he was well pleased and Invited me to come to him. Dind at Busbys. At Dr. Hameys £10. At Dr. Whitakers. Fine children. Mayer and his wife at Storys. Went home. Severall Disputes with Tompion urged him forward with watch - the rest of the week I forgot but I received the Double pendulum Sea clock and had a box made by Coffin for it, I hung it by strings. I shewd it Tompion upon Sunday when I drank Dulwich water. And upon Monday I went to the King. I was introduced by Colonel Titus. The King very well pleased I knew not what to ask. He went into his closet. Tompion and Harry with me I shewd it Sir Chr. Wren. Sir Chr. Wren unwilling to let me have any money though Woodroof had £50, unwilling I should have any room in Gallery at Whitehall, would have thrust me into the park.’
17 June 1675
‘At Mr. Montacues and at the ground with Mr. Russell and Montacue. Noe councell. Society Read Dr. Grew. Outlandish physitian. Oldenburg a Rascall. I propounded my theory about the digestion of liquors, about Putrefaction, about the parts of Liquors working one upon another etc. Received from Brounker order for receiving from Chest. Received it from Collonel Richards. Received also Hay Grains his bowle of silver from him. Gave J. Clay 5 shill.’
23 August 1675
‘R. Smith here about Dr. Hamey. With Andrews to Sir Ch. Wren about sand and rubble for Paules. Delivered back to Martin, Simsons book and Hobbs de mirabilibus Pecci. With Sir Ch: Wren to Lord Mayors to Bedlam. To Physicians Colledge. To Paules wharf. Coles at Hearnes. At Mrs. Mayors. Heard of Bloodworth’s sicknesse at Garaways.’
16 August 1677
‘Smart here about Hold, a note to be at East India house tomorrow. To founders in Bedlam for 2 ballances. Sent Tom to Scowen. At Sir Chr. Wrens. Passd Mr. Marshalls bill for Coleman street. Dind with Marshall and Oliver. to Rowlisons at Miter. At Home, Henshaw, Hoskins, Hill, Hawk, Whistler, Aubery. At the Crown, Sir Christopher told of killing the wormes with burnt oyle (elsewhere mentiond) and of curing his Lady of a thrush by hanging a bag of live boglice about her neck. Discoursed about theory of the Moon which I explained. Sir Christopher told his way of solving Keplers problem by the Cycloeid.’
10 August 1678
‘Received a note from Tillotson to Direct masons at Paules, the Bishop of Londons kindnesse. Directed Lamb about universall map. Calld at Lever Pits to fetch back a bad globe. at Gerrards, Goldsmith at Holburn bridge, Bloomsberry, Sir Ch. Wrens, to Paules. at Childs with Sir Ch. Wren, told him my designes of mapps, my equation of springs. took of Pit book of Education 2sh., borrowd Sansoms 43 mapps. Haak here. Grace bound Bocconi and Oughtred. Began introduction to Atlas from Lamb 4 sheets of the North Col. hemisphere. ill and melancholy.’
The Diary Junction