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Robert Hooke
Micrographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses
London 1665
fol: p 2 A 2 a–g 2 B–C 2 D–Z 4 2A–2K 4 2L–2M 2 (with 38 engraved plates)
Ashm. 1712

Plate 18 from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia – seeds of thyme as viewed with the assistance of a microscope. Micrographia was illustrated with many large folding plates of magnified objects, which Hooke used to demonstrate the power of his microscope and its possible role in restoring to contemporary man the perfect sight of Adam. From catalogue no.26.

full size (66 K)

Robert Hooke (1635–1703) came up to Christ Church from Westminster School in 1653. By 1655, he was attending meetings of the Oxford group of experimental philosophers. Later, he made experiments on the use of wind power, on springs, and on artificial ways of supplementing the power of human muscles. He explained these to John Wilkins, who gave him a copy of his book, Mathematicall Magick (catalogue no. 19), in which such topics were discussed. In the late 1650s, on the recommendation of Thomas Willis, Hooke began to assist Robert Boyle, redesigning the air-pump of Ralph Greatorex, which Boyle subsequently used in his famous experiments on the vacuum. In 1662, Hooke was appointed Curator of Experiments by the newly-founded Royal Society, before whom he was soon required to demonstrate a number of microscopical observations. The findings of these were printed in 1665 as Micrographia.

In Micrographia, Hooke argued that instruments might help to make up for mankind’s loss both of sensory perfection and Adamic knowledge, which was a consequence of the Fall and of original sin. Hooke’s plates showed that many things existed in nature which were invisible to the naked eye, and that the microscope could disclose many new appearances. He took the opportunity provided by his examination of the seeds of thyme to rhapsodize on the stupend ous variety and beauty to be found among minerals, vegetables, and, above all, animals. He argued that Adam might have been able to name the plants and creatures of the earth (Genesis 2:19–20) from contemplation (such as that which could now be achieved with the aid of the microscope) of ‘the nature, or use, or virtues of bodies, by their several forms and various excellencies and properties’ (p.154). Findings made using new scientific instruments might help to restore what had been lost in Eden, and assist human beings in fulfilling the potential which God had given them: ‘And who knows, but the Creator may, in those characters, have written and engraven many of his most mysterious designs and counsels, and given man a capacity, which, assisted with diligence and industry, may be able to read and understand them’ (p.154).

Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of Dr. Robert Hooke (Oxford, 1960), pp.18–23; R.T. Gunther, Early Science in Oxford (14 vols, Oxford, 1923–45), vols. 6 &7, The Life and Work of Robert Hooke, vol. 6, pp. 4–10 & 126–220.

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