Period 3 - 1687-1694

The murky lens of Birch's History and the private letters of those involved reveal a struggle within the Royal Society over its direction.

A temporary solution was to have a paid clerk who would be responsible for the Society's correspondence, finances, and publications. After several ballots, Edmond Halley, from the mathematics-oriented researchers favoring physical sciences, was elected. He beat 27-year-old Hans Sloane, from the naturalist-oriented researchers favoring biological sciences.

Halley was busy doing other things, chiefly helping Isaac Newton, and as shown on the table below, he neglected Philosophical Transactions for years at a time. On the other hand, the "salary" of this astronomer was paid in copies of books about the biological sciences that the Society had on hand. At the meeting of July 6, 1687, Birch wrote:

The question being put, whether Mr. HALLEY should have fifty copies of the History of Fishes instead of the fifty pounds ordered him by the last meeting of the council, ... it was determined by ballot in the affirmative. ...

It was ordered, that Mr. HALLEY receive a gratuity of twenty other copies of the History of Fishes, in consideration of his arrears in the last year ending January 27, 1686.

So Halley had a stack of 70 copies of a book about fish to show for keeping the Society's notes and finances and editing Philosophical Transactions.

The table below summarizes these eight years of Leeuwenhoek's scientific career, through the spring of 1694. Edmond Halley was the editor for volume16 (Nos 186 to 191). After a six-year haitus, Ric Waller took over for volume 17. He was succeeded the following year by Hans Sloane.

Letters in Period 3

  AdB # # ltrs
# ltrs
AvL # # ltrs
w/ figs
# ltrs
# ltrs
RS sci
# arts
# ltrs
1687  97-105 * 9 8 53-60 8  76 8 8 16 186-191 0 Vervolg - 8
1688  106-111 6 5 61-65 5  76 5 5 none   0  
1689  112-114 3 2 66-67 2  23 3 2 none   0 Tweede - 7
1690   0 0  0  0 0 0 none   0  
1691  115-116 2 2 68 0  0 1 1 none 0  
1692  117-124 ** 8 7 69-75 7  83 7 7 none   0  
 1693  125-129  5 3 76-77 2  30  4 2 17 192-206 7 Derde - 8
 1694  130-137  8 6 79-83 4  27 8 6 18  207-209 2 Vierde - 8
    41 *** 33  31  28  315 36 31     **** 9 31
  • AdB #: the letter numbering in Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters.
  • # ltrs AdB: the number of letters written by Leeuwenhoek in Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters.
  • # ltrs sci: the number of letters with scientific observations.
  • AvL #: Leeuwenhoek's letter numbering.
  • # ltrs w/ figs: the number of letters with figures.
  • # figs: the total number of figures in all the letters written during that period.
  • # ltrs RS: the number of letters sent to the Royal Society.
  • # ltrs RS sci: the number of letters with scientific observations that Leeuwenhoek sent to the Royal Society.
  • PT vol and no: Philosophical Transactions volume and numbers.
  • # arts PT: the number of articles by Leeuwenhoek published in Philosophical Transactions.
  • # ltrs Dutch: the number of letters that Leeuwenhoek published himself in Dutch.

* - the ninth is a "letter" addressed to King James of England. It was the first written in 1687 and was used as the dedication for the Latin translation of 19 letters from Periods 1 and 2 collected in Anatomia Seu interiora Rerum, published in that year.

** - the eighth is a "letter" addressed to Queen Mary of England. It was the last written in 1692 and was used as the dedication for Derde Vervolg in 1693.

*** - the difference between the 33 letters with publishable scientific observations and the 31 letters Leeuwenhoek printed are Letter [67a] of September 18, 1691 (AB 115) to Antonio Magliabechi and Letter [76a] of October 27, 1693 (AB 127) to Pieter Rabus that Rabus printed in De Boekzaal van Europe.

**** - only one letter written during this period was extracted in Philosophical Transactions. The other eight were written during Period 2.

Over these seven years, Leeuwenhoek wrote 36 letters, addressing 27 of them to the Members of the Royal Society, and one each to Robert Boyle and Richard Waller after he became editor. None of them was addressed to or published by Edmond Halley (left, in 1687 at age 31) in volume 16 of Philosophical Transactions.

Three were addressed to Antonio Magliabechi in Italy. One was addressed to Daniël Papenbroek and another to Melchisedec Thevenot. Finally, two of them were addressed to English monarchs.

King James and Queen Mary

Leeuwenhoek wrote a dedication on, March 1, 1687 (AB 97) to James II, still King of England, for his volume of letters in Latin, Anatomia seu Interiora Rerum, which had sixteen of the letters in the five Ontledingen en Ontdekkingen pamphlets. Before he had begun his short reign, Leeuwenhoek noted in the letter of August 6, 1687 (AB 102), James visited Leeuwenhoek at his home in Delft. The only time James spent in the Low Countries before his ascension was from March to October of 1679, the year before Leeuwenhoek was elected to membership in the Royal Society.

The final letter in this period was dated September 23, 1692 (AB 124). The dedication to Derde Vervolg der Brieven (Third Continuation of the Letters), it was addressed to Mary, Queen of England. She was James' daughter, who at age 15 had married her cousin William of Orange, stadthouder of the Dutch Republic. He and Mary became King William and Queen Mary of Great Britain in 1688, so she probably tried to visit Leeuwenhoek during those years. The note on p 173 of volume 6 of Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters indicates dates this attempt to early 1689, the last time Mary was in Holland. In the letter, Leeuwenhoek writes:

Your Majesty, when still in this Country, was pleased to vouchsafe to my insignificant Person to come personally to the City of my residence, in order to behold my discoveries, which were never so highly valued by me that they should be allowed to appear before the Eye of so great a Queen; although Fortune was then so ill-disposed towards me (which will and must be lamented by me all my life) that owing to my absence from the city I was not allowed to enjoy the honour of serving Your Majesty with everything that had been in my power, and revealing them to Your Majesty's most keen-sighted eyes.

Why was Leeuwenhoek not published?

The Society tried to keep Halley as editor, but he didn't seem to want to do it. In 1812, Thomas Thomson published The Royal Society, From Its Institution tо the End of the Eighteenth Century. He recounts the travails of Philosophical Transactions' editor's position (p. 7):

It appears, from the registers of the Society, that Dr. Edmund Halley, who had been appointed Clerk to the Society in 1686, offered, on condition that the publication should he renewed, to furnish one fourth of the whole out of his own private stock.

Looking at the list of article titles in volume 16 shows that most of the articles were about astronomy, chemistry, and mechanics, including 13 of Halley's own articles. Only a handful of articles were about biology, botany, or medicine. None was about microbiology. After Halley, the most published author in volume 16 was William Molyneux, older brother of Thomas, whose visit to Leeuwenhoek is noted in Period 3.

His not publishing Leeuwenhoek was a matter of stated policy. In the first number he published (title page on right; click to enlarge), he began with what he called an "Advertisement" but today we might call an editorial. It begins below that table of contents and goes on to the next full page. In it, Halley wrote (my emphasis):

The Royal Society have therefore thought it fit to order, that Care be taken for the future, that such Accounts shall be published in these Transactions Monthly, as may answer their expectations: Wherein will be contained not only several Experiments, Invented and tryed by divers of their own Body, but also such other useful Discourses or Relations concerning Physical, Mathematical, and Mechanical Theories or Observations as shall be communicated by their Correspondants for that Intent.

Physical, Mathematical, and Mechanical and no Biology or Botany. Physical obviously meant Astronomy, too.

Thomson continues:

It would appear that Dr. Halley was editor of the 16th volume, comprehending the numbers between 179 and 191 inclusive, and published during the years 1686 and 1687.

After the publication of this volume there was an interval of three years without the appearance of any thing more, owing obviously to the deficiency of materials.

The publication was again revived in 1691, and though Dr. Halley was not the ostensible editor, he appears to have been actively concerned in superintending the publication till the period of his voyage to the southern hemisphere in 1698. For there is an order of council, Passed about that time, on record, enjoining Dr. Tyson, Mr. Hart, Dr. Sloane, Mr- Waller, and Dr. Hooke, to assist Dr. Halley in drawing up the Transactions, it is impossible to say how much each of these individuals contributed to the labour of editing; though there is reason to believe that the greatest share of the drudgery fell upon Halley.

Volumes 17 and 18, consisting of the numbers between 102 and 214 inclusive, and published during the years 1691, 1692, 1693, and 1694, were ostensibly edited by Mr. Waller, who had been elected Secretary on the 30th of November 1687.

Waller, along with Thomas Gale one of the Society's two secretaries, agreed to edit volume 17 early in 1691, but didn't get serious about it until 1693, when he began publishing letters from Leeuwenhoek that had been lying around for thirteen years, since 1680. (See Period 5.) With the exception of 1710, he was a secretary for over a quarter of a century, until Halley's return in 1714.

The ostensible editor of all the volumes from the 19th to the 28th inclusive, comprehending from number 215 to number 337, and published in succession between the years 1695 and 1713, was Sir Hans Sloane, who had been chosen Secretary on the 30th of November 1693.

It was Sloane who would begin publishing everything that Leeuwenhoek sent him.

Of the 30 letters that were eventually published, three were published by Waller in Philosophical Transactions, in volume 17, and one by Hans Sloane in volume 18, 1694.

Did you know?

From May 1686 to April 1997, eleven years, Leeuwenhoek wrote 93 letters, about a quarter of his total. Only three were published in Philosophical Transactions.

Self-published volumes

The rest, Leeuwenhoek published himself.

Vervolg der Brieven - the 8 letters from 1687
Tweede Vervolg - 7 letters from 1688-89
Derde Vervolg - 8 letters from 1691-92
Vierde Vervolg - 8 letters from 1693-94

Bibliographic notes:

Samuel Hoole selected and translated into English pieces from almost all the self-published letters of this period and scattered them through his two volumes. The complete letters from this period were not translated into English until Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters in the late 20th century.

Dobell includes the eight letters (#53-60) written in 1687 in the second self-published volume. Cole includes these eight letters in the first self-published volume.