Much has been made in a few recent
books about controversy between Hooke and Newton. The only real contention registered by Hooke was in regard to
Newton's published work on Planetary Motion.
Hooke wrote a letter to Newton in
1679 explaining his theories on planetary motion which he considered to be a force continuously acting upon the
planet and diverting it from a straight path. Newton wrote back explaining his theory of the Earth's rotation,
providing a sketch showing the path of a falling object spiralling towards the centre of the earth. Hooke replied
that his (Hooke's) theory of planetary motion would make the path of the falling object an ellipse - providing
a sketch to demonstrate his argument.
Newton admitted his own drawing was wrong but 'corrected' Hooke's sketch based on his (Newton's) theory that the
force of gravity was a constant (it isn't). It is important to note here that Hooke wrote again to Newton stating
that he (Hooke) considered gravity to involve an inverse square law and was not constant!
It appears that Hooke's contemporaries may have had difficulties in grasping this concept for in 1684 Wren, Hooke,
and Halley discussed at the Royal Society, whether the elliptical shape of planetary orbits was a consequence of
an inverse square law of force depending on the distance from the Sun. Halley wrote that Robert Hook says he has
the answer but would not publish it for some time so that others (Newton?? - author) trying
and failing might know how to value it.
Newton's Principia prepared April 1687 and sent to Halley for publication caused Hooke to claim priority over the
realization of the inverse square law of gravity. Newton had made no mention in his first edition of Hooke's contribution,
but did made some amends in the second edition. Newton tried to prevent the publication of the third edition in
reaction to these claims. Fifty years later, after the death of Hooke when Newton wrote his own recollections of
these events, the account he gives disagrees with the historical facts and records surviving this period. These
records are available for inspection today.
It is also interesting to note that Newton became the President of the Royal Society in 1703 - the year Hooke died
- and his duties would have involved the responsibility of the society's repository, including the various donations
by fellows of the society. Many of Hooke's contributions have been lost or dispersed without record as to what
happened to them.
Hooke's design for a marine chronometer was rediscovered only in 1950 at the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge.
His fossil collection which he regarded as important for students - lost! The only known portrait of Hooke which
resided originally in the society President's office - lost!
It would be conjecture only to suggest that Newton acted deliberately in losing many important works. Many other
causes could have contributed to the loss of these items although it might be considered that Newton had motives
to imply culpability.
The failure of greater acknowledgment for Robert Hooke and his contribution to science is probably due more to
his own diverse and intense activities. Being involved with so many projects, experiments, explorations, and activities
- it is likely that he often failed to culminate much of his work through to published form.
Rather than concentrate on who really
should have proper claim to aspects related to Hooke and Newton's work, it would serve far better to focus on Hooke's
real and major contribution to science:-
He was an experimental scientist, a man who laboured intensively to open up new ideas and promote questions in
others concerning our natural world - often providing the right 'doors' in the early maze of scientific exploration
for others to enter.
Each 'door' was the starting point to a 300 year journey of discovery, proof, and advancement down separate paths
which many great scientists then travelled; each path - a discipline of scientific research. It was Robert Hooke,
in his role as curator of experiments for the Royal Society, who prepared each pioneer for his journey. He brought
each to a new door he discovered. He provided each with a rudimentary but accurate map, contributed the torches
to light their first critical steps... then guided his fellows as they entered the darkness!
If we are to do justice and recognize Robert Hooke for the extraordinary and gifted genius he was; if we are to
ensure he is remembered for the wealth of knowledge and example he provided us with; there is no need to put doubt
on the work of other great scientists alive at the time or thereafter. All we need do is understand precisely who
Robert Hooke was: founder
of English Microscopy, English Biology, English Meteorology, Earth Sciences and Geology. England's first experimental
scientist... natural philosopher of science... and inspirational father to the foundation of scientific inquiry
and discovery in England!
by Comments to the author sent via our contacts page quoting page url plus : ('micuk','')">Maurice Smith - Feb / March 2000
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