Robert Hooke

Antony's: 
most important supporter
Baptism date: 
July 28, 1635
Burial date: 
March 3, 1703

Undoubtedly, Isaac Newton was the towering intellect of the beginnings of science in Europe in the 1600's. His countryman and fellow member of the Royal Society Robert Hooke was next. Hooke did important early work not only in microscopy, but also in what we now call astronomy, paleontology, and physics, especially gravitation and mechanics. In addition, his extraordinary illustrations show that he had the hand-eye coordination and sensibilities of an artist. Hooke's mind seemed to work more like Leeuwenhoek's in that he was an experimenter and observer and less like Newton's, which was able to synthesize ideas into stunning and crucially important insights.

Hooke called Newton's ideas about gravity "the greatest discovery about nature since the world's creation. It was never so much as hinted by any man before." That was in September 1689, and he could have said the same about Leeuwenhoek's work. Perhaps not the greatest but not far behind and definitely never so much as hinted at before.

Robert Hooke was the most important person in Leeuwenhoek's scientific career. They never met, but they corresponded. Hooke was three years younger than Leeuwenhoek and died twenty years earlier. While Leeuwenhoek was still a linen merchant and civil servant, Hooke was making important contributions to a number of burgeoning scientific (called philosophical) lines of inquiry. Where Leeuwenhoek apprenticed with a linen wholesaler in Amsterdam, Hooke apprenticed with Thomas Willis and Robert Boyle.

Also like Leeuwenhoek, Hooke had a civic career, as a surveyor after the Great Fire of 1666 among other things. They enabled him to pursue tasks as the Royal Society's Curator of Experiments at the epicenter of science at the time. For example, it wasn't until he was able to replicate Leeuwenhoek's observations of microbes for the members of the Royal Society that they accepted Leeuwenhoek's discoveries as true. This peer review is one of the cornerstones of today's scientific method.

Leeuwenhoek's first letter extended several of Hooke's observations from Micrographia. Hooke pushed Leeuwenhoek's election to the Royal Society. When Philosophical Transactions was suspended after the death of its founder, owner, editor, and publisher Henry Oldenburg, Hooke published five of Leeuwenhoek's letters in his short-lived journal Philosophical Collections. A decade later, Hooke wrote an assessment of microscopy at the end of the 17th century, and praised Leeuwenhoek as its "only living votary".

Leeuwenhoek addressed the fifteen letters listed below to Hooke.

Hooke addressed three letters to Leeuwenhoek that have survived:

  • 1 February 1677
  • 18 April 1678
  • 10 March 1682

No portraits of Hooke survive.

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