The Inspirational Father of Modern Science in England?
a man lived who gave more to modern science yet - possibly through the action and ill-will of at least one of his
contemporaries - has remained largely unacknowledged, it must be Robert Hooke: inventor,
microscopist, physicist, surveyor, astronomer, biologist, artist...
An unattractive man, disfigured,
orphaned at 13 years of age, robbed of credit for his greatest inspirations and ideas, with many of his creations
almost certainly willfully destroyed or lost after his death in 1703; only now after 300 years, is his life and
extraordinary achievements beginning to receive the just recognition they so truly deserve.
Most people have never heard of Robert Hooke. Those that have, probably still do not realize the magnitude of his
contribution to modern science. From the publication of his Micrographia (the world's first comprehensive illustrated
book on microscopy), to his work on clocks, springs, gases, his inventions, his ideas on fossils, weather, gravity,
and light, through to his rebuilding of London with Christoper Wren, this extraordinary man helped to shape our
Who was he and why has the general
public never heard of him?
In writing this short article, drawn mainly from the books of a few excellent researchers who also believe his
place in Scientific History has been largely overlooked, I would like to begin an area on Mic-UK entirely dedicated
to his work and life. I invite you, the reader, to send me details, information, research, or anything you believe
might illuminate Robert Hooke's work further. It is high time far greater public recognition be given to a man
who should probably be described as 'The Inspirational Father of Modern Science in England' and the 'Father of
July 18th 1635
July 18th 1635 - the day a genius
was born at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England, as the son of a clergyman. It is said that much of what we become
in life is as a result of our childhood and the trials and tribulations encountered when we are young. Most of his early life was spent as a sickly child too weak
to receive regular schooling but his keen instinctive interest, and his natural curiosity in his surroundings,
ensured the development of his mind through the process of self-learning.
The Isle of Wight is an island with rich fossil contents, exposed cliffs, and a variety of habitats. Undoubtedly,
his early years in such an environment would have provided much insight and thought-provoking questions to a young
man of his intellect.
His father died* when Robert Hooke was thirteen, leaving only a moderate
inheritance of 40.00 pounds to Robert. 1
(*Added Dec. 2011 and Sept. 2013. See footnotes on incorrect citations stating that his father hanged himself and that Robert Hooke had smallpox as a child.)
It is possibly an early sign of his intelligence that Robert was able to combat both emotional and physical scarring,
irregular schooling, and the effects of becoming orphaned at an early age. Sent to London, it is surprising to
learn that a man who would become one of the most significant scientists of the last 300 years sought to develop
first - his artistic skills by studying under the artist Peter Lely. A brief experience as he realized his inheritance
would be better spent on a more comprehensive education and decided to use the sum to lodge with Dr. Richard Busby
and attend Westminster School.
His intellect and interest in mechanical things were noted and greatly encouraged by Dr. Busby who was known to
be one of the finest headmasters in England at the time. The opportunity for the acquisition of knowledge and learning
and its eventual application to the advance of science, owes much to this master's teaching. Within his first week,
Robert worked through the first 6 books of Euclid's geometry - impressing Dr. Busby and winning him the honour
of unsupervised access to the Doctor's library.
First Achievements - the Boyle / Hooke connection.
Later, Robert Hooke worked his way as a chorister at Christ Church, eventually
graduating from Oxford University with a masters degree in 1663, aged 26 years. During this period as a student
at Oxford he formed a friendship with Christopher Wren - a pupil with shared interests. They were to become life-long
friends and - unknown to them at the time - would ultimately become the 'team' instrumental in the design and rebuilding
of London after the great fire in 1666.
During his period in Oxford, Hooke also met and worked for Robert Boyle,
the Irish Physicist whose name went down in Scientific History as the definer of "Boyle's Law": a natural
law stating that the pressure of a given mass of gas at a given temperature is inversely proportional to its volume.
That is, if it is compressed to half its volume, its pressure will double; if it is allowed to expand to three
times its volume, its pressure will fall to a third; and so on.
Footnote added Dec. 2011 by Micscape Editor, David Walker on behalf of the author Maurice Smith: To date we have stated that Robert Hooke's father John committed suicide by hanging. This is also widely stated by other online resources and in some printed works, but is incorrect; it was Robert Hooke's brother John who hanged himself. The noted science historian Allan Chapman in the book 'Robert Hooke
and the English Renaissance' discusses the likely original source for this inaccuracy; see Google Snippet of book and the relevant page. Also see the 'Isle of Wight History Centre' 'hookeWEB' suite on their website which discusses the circumstances of his brother's
death in detail as well as presenting other fascinating aspects of the life and times of Robert Hooke. http://freespace.virgin.net/ric.martin/vectis/hookeweb/start.htm
Footnote added Sept. 2013 by Micscape Editor, David Walker on behalf of the author Maurice Smith: To date we have stated that "Robert contracted smallpox as a child, surviving disfigured and scarred." This is also stated by some other online resources and in some printed works, but is incorrect. There is no evidence that this is the case. Thank you to the Robert Hooke Society for checking this in their resources.