Saturday 27 November 2010

England’s Leonardo .. our hanging Hooke?

Skulduggery or Restoration – which one will out? This irascible, somewhat deformed man, whose incredible mind had led him as a child from the Isle of Wight to London, to the scientific community and through sheer hard work and brilliance had shone through and been accepted as assistant to a number of leading scientists, before becoming the Curator of Experiments to this coterie.

The age of global exploration had occurred, now – the 17th century - was the turn for learned minds to record new things and experiment with all things ... yet political and royal intrigue would influence the rise and fall of men.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519): self-portrait in red chalk c 1512 - 1515
Unrest was stirring, Royalty was loved or hated, the Parliamentarians were on the rise ... clans and families were divided in these uncertain times. Oliver Cromwell rose to the fore as Protector of England (1651 – 1658), Charles I was beheaded at the climax of the English Civil War 1649, before Charles II, after exile on the Continent, was restored to the throne in 1660.

These were the times into which Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703)was born. He was the weak youngest child, of the local Royalist curate and schoolteacher, who showed prodigious interest in observation, mechanical works, and drawing (making his own materials from coal, chalk and ruddle (iron ore)) ... writing journals, illustrating them and keeping records: showing an early scientific mind.

He was sent to London, aged 13, to take up an apprenticeship, purchased out of a legacy from his father on his death in 1648, with Peter Lely, a Dutch portrait painter to the English Crown, before being accorded recognition, as a child with an energetic mind, by the scholarly headmaster of Westminster School, Dr Busby, who accepted him into his group of students.

Young Hooke quickly mastered Latin and Greek, made some study of Hebrew, and mastered Euclid’s Elements, while continuing his study of mechanics. The Elements is a mathematical and geometric treatise consisting of 13 books written by Euclid, a Greek mathematician, in Alexandria circa 300 BC. It has proven instrumental in the development of logic and modern science.

Busby had other illustrious pupils, including Christopher Wren, Robert South and John Dryden. In 1653, Hooke obtained a chorister’s place Christ Church, Oxford after taking twenty lessons on the organ! He was employed as a ‘chemical assistant’ to the natural philosopher Robert Boyle, who was constructing, operating and demonstrating his ‘new fangled’ air pump.

The Invisible College was the precursor to The Royal Society, consisting of natural philosophers (scientists) including Boyle, Hooke and Wren. (1646/7)

Hooke’s time at Oxford cemented his life-long passion for science, while his tutors and the friends he made were of paramount importance to him throughout his career. This was a time, the 1650s, when the Royalists were acutely conscious of the turmoil and uncertainty of the times: there was a sense of urgency in preserving the scientific work they perceived as being threatened by the Protectorate. This scientific group went on to form the nucleus of ‘The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge’, or as we know it today The Royal Society.

When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 – he became a patron of the arts and sciences, founded The Royal Observatory, and supported The Royal Society, whose early members included Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, and Sir Isaac Newton.

Charles II was the personal patron of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who is credited with the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666, and the Royal Hospital Chelsea (Chelsea Flower Show location), which Charles founded as a home for retired soldiers in 1682.

The silk on a spider's web forming multiple elastic catenaries: The application of the catenary to the construction of arches is due to Robert Hooke, who discovered it in the context of the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral.
Hooke, whose great friend Sir Christopher Wren always supported him, was appointed Curator of Experiments to the Royal Society in 1662 and his agile mind originated much, postulating scientific achievements, recording each and every experiment for the Royal Society.

He was a genius amongst men – he was an Architect, Surveyor, Engineer, Chemist, Horologist, Physicist, Astronomer, Painter ... if his darting mind had time to complete his thoughts, and if he was not recorder for the Royal Society, we would not be so enriched today – nor would we have his story to tell.

Remains of the Cathedral after the Great Fire of London (1666) drawn by Thomas Wyck, c. 1673
The play, the play ... I am reminded I need to tell you the story and reason for the script (see my previous post: Hanging Hooke) ... as extraordinary as the man himself. The play opens with the booming voice of the auctioneer – One Million Pounds ... going, going ..... "Ah! Ladies and Gentlemen, there has been a development, Lot 189 ...... "

Why? Lot 189 was Hooke’s long lost Folio, found in the back of an old cupboard that had been casually handed to the auctioneers’ appraiser as he was leaving a Hampshire country house! Three hundred years later the evidence as to Hooke’s potential as a scientific genius was to hand.

The excitement at the find of the dusty Folio has been palpable – the Royal Society keen to preserve the papers under their auspices and the thought of that knowledge being lost again to some private museum was too much to think about.

Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait of Isaac Newton(age 46)("Newton the unscrupulous" - perhaps? - he loathed Hooke)

Going, going and not gone ... the auctioneer’s voice boomed out ... “Lot 189 has been withdrawn”. Expectant gasps within the hall heard that after negotiation Hooke’s folio was going to back to the Royal Society where it belonged and from where it could be studied - the three hundred year old puzzle would finally be pieced together.

His time had come – Robert Hooke could take his place in the annals of English history at The Royal Society as only we can do in 2010 making his papers available for us all to peruse – via the wonderful technical device of ‘turning pages’.

What exactly happened to Hooke’s papers, his drawings and any portraits that would have surely been painted at that time before his vilification we shall never know; however Sir Isaac Newton’s abhorrence of Hooke is well known and when The Royal Society looked for new premises in 1710 after Hooke’s death ... is it possible that all semblance of records were destroyed then ... ?

The Royal Society in the 20th and 21st centuries however had other ideas and in their reconstruction of the Minutes of the Experiments and Meetings of that time – left stubs ... so that if the papers should ever come to light, they could be restored to their rightful place: forward thinking!

Sir Christopher Wren (aged 68) in Godfrey Kneller's 1711 portrait; (Wren was always a good friend to Hooke)
So Hooke hung for a while ... now he is being rewound and reconstructed... his papers have been found, his first burial place is known – but his remains and others were removed and reburied; two sites have been identified and if his remains can be found then the forensic anthropologists may be able to conduct facial and skeletal reconstruction – as they did for the Sir John at Stirling Castle.

So Hooke will once again be hung in pride of place amongst The Royal Society’s eminent Fellows, his papers restored to their rightful place, appropriate commemorative plaques have been installed in Westminster Abbey, at St Paul’s Cathedral and at the Monument will all remind us of our ‘English Leonardo’ – the man who for twenty years was one of our fathers' of modern science.

Finally rest in peace Robert Hooke – your time has come ... your story is being told (even if we have to decipher your coded papers!), which will be held within the annals of history forever.
As no contemporary portrait of Robert Hooke seems to have survived from the seventeenth century, this one is a reconstruction from the descriptions by his colleagues Aubrey and Waller. It shows him with a spring, pocket watch, fossil and map of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

He helped to survey and plan the rebuilding. The sky on the left indicates his interest in astronomy. The original is an oil painting on board by Rita Greer, history painter, 2004. This was digitized by Rita and sent via email to the Department of Engineering Science, Oxford University, where it was subsequently uploaded to Wikimedia.
Picture extracted via Wikipedia - Robert Hooke

Further References:
The Royal Society - Hooke Folio
Bonham's (Auctioneers) Press Release - with picture of folio & Hooke's writing
Oxford University - Department of Science ... List of Hooke's achievements
Hanging Hooke: the play - Take the Space - Theatre Group

Dear Mr Postman – it’s been a quiet time .. my mother does come too and has enjoyed Susie’s company and Reiki practise; Sussex is now getting the white stuff! flurries of gentle flakes are falling ... Britain doesn’t like snow much! Snow in November is rare .. my mother said she was warm and cozy – I just want to jump in too!!
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


vered said...

Snow in Sussex... I've never been to Sussex. Been to London years ago. I'm glad your mom is comfortable!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vered .. yes we had about an inch and a half .. and it's still lying - so it will be a freezing night - but should warm a little tomorrow.

Sussex is due South of London .. and yes Mum is as she says cozy! We've had quite a lot of snow since she's been ill - at all times of year!

Thanks - enjoy the rest of the weekend .. Hilary

Karen Jones Gowen said...


Interesting info about Hooke, who isn't familiar to me at all. I already follow your very unique blog, but had missed this post! I always enjoy your comments on my blogs. Thanks for visiting.


Helen Ginger said...

We have the better-known thinkers of our day, but I wonder, in the generations to come, who will look back and find thinkers and doers who are amazing that we've overlooked.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

We have had a few flakes, but no accumulation. I'm happy about that. I always say that if we only had snow the week between Christmas and New Years, that would be plenty for me.
: )

Glad that your mom is cozy!

Soul Dipper said...

So very interesting, Hilary. I hope that Hooke receives his full due! You have put together the available facts so very well. He must be smiling over you, dear woman!

TALON said...

It's nice to be warm and toasty when it's snowy outside. So glad your mother is comfy, Hilary.

We got a couple of inches of snow today...and I do like how it makes a night bright.

You make history come alive. Enjoyed learning about Hooke. Thank you.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Karen .. great to see you .. I'm pleased I've highlighted Hooke .. thanks for the comment re uniqueness.

I thought you followed this blog - but couldn't spot your avatar .. so seeing the giraffe again and your goal .. asked the question - thanks for coming over! I love the title too "Coming Down the Mountain..." .. and your other blogs - busy lady!

Have a great week ahead.. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Helen .. I think you're right .. I'm sure there are plenty of secretive men and women with amazing minds who've written and researched quietly in the background & whose work we may not see.

Whether they generations ahead will have the interest and the inclination to look ...? The time of history - does seem to join the dots though ..

I hope they're readers and appreciate our work!! Cheers - enjoy today and the week ahead .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susanne .. thank you - that period must have been amazing and quite frightening to live in - so much going on ..historically and philosophically .. probably being engrossed in work would be a good thing!

We haven't had any more snow overnight but it's still here - the clouds look heavy .. but they were saying it would warm up a little! Yes - that sounds a really good idea .. a white week of Christmas ..

Thanks re my mother .. Have a good week ahead .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Amy .. thank you - Hooke seems to finally have been recognised as the genius he was .. and now his papers are restored, the plaques are up for the public to see .. and the records set right.

Thanks so much .. if someone's smiling over me that's great!!

Have a happy week ahead .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Talon - lovely seeing you .. and as long as my Mama is happy in this weather then I'm fine!

We haven't had any more since yesterday - & will see what today brings .. but they've had over a foot (16 inches) in places during the night ..

Delighted that you enjoyed the history .. rather a lot here - but this period played such major part in our development.

Have a great week - love your pictures .. Hilary

Talli Roland said...

What a brilliant story - I love the drama of the folio about to go on sale, then it being rightfully withrawn for the Royal Society. Thank you for sharing that!

It's freezing in London, but no snow - yet!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Talli .. now being a Londoner! .. you understand these eras .. and the Royal Society. Thanks so much - it's a typical 21st story in some way .. a play ready to be written - which fortunately Siobhan Nicholas wrote for us to see & to bring Hooke's story to life.

We'll wait to see what the day brings! .. London doesn't often get snow - but is just plain cold! Wrap up warm in your choccy blanket with lots of coffee and chocolate to hand .. happy Sunday .. nearly there with the WebSplash!

Here's to an excellent week .. happy days ..Hilary

Unknown said...

Hi Hilary Very glad that you enjoyed the performance of my play at Chichester Festival Theatre earlier this month. I thought you might be interested to know that the auction in itself was not in fact my impetus for writing HANGING HOOKE. The events were far more surreal: in July 2005 I acquired a Hooke biography completely accidentally [at a birthday party!];whilst reading the very first page I had an overwhelming albeit instinctive
response. That night I made two decisions immediately: it was to be a solo show and I wanted the actor Chris Barnes to play the ingenious man.So actually I began my research Autumn 2005. The finding of the folio in 2006 was in my view a beautiful act of fate; God given to a playwright with a massive challenge. With thanks and good wishes, Siobhan [Take the Space is a theatre company committed to creating and touring new work]

Mason Canyon said...

An interesting post. I'd never heard of Robert Hooke before. You always have interesting and informative post.

Glad you Mom is warm and cozy. I don't even want to think about snow. We are beginning to have cold nights (26 degrees last night) and warm up only into the upper 50s during the day. I know before long we'll have the white flakes flying here (in Georgia) too. Stay warm and have a great week.

Thoughts in Progress

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Siobhan - what a pleasure to see you .. thank you so much for coming by.

I sort of knew all that - but was trying to keep the post relatively short - completely failed here! - the previous post on the play itself was better - did you get a chance to read that?

I love your story though .. how incredible about acquiring his biography .. and how right you were.

I'd spotted him when I was looking through Wikipedia for some other info & thought - this must be a post one day ... then my school newsletter came out (Headington school, Oxford) & I spotted that one of the forms had been down to Jesus College to see your play!

Now I wanted to see the play - then I saw you'd had it here in Eastbourne .. but I'd been rather busy in the summer .. and completely missed it - otherwise I'd have been in the Eastbourne audience.

So as it was in Chichester .. I couldn't resist .. and I think I was sitting next to you - as I think you were in the lighting booth?

The play was very well done & beautifully written .. I loved the story and your take on it .. and now the added little snippets of interest.

Your instinctiveness to write the play was a brilliant stroke of genius! I loved the transition from the guardian telling the story, to Hooke as the dishevelled shadowy genius as you call him.

Talk about fate with the discovery of the Folio - an amazing find - the scientific world and The Royal Society must have been staggered.

Wonderful to have your full story here and thank you so much for coming over to comment - brilliant to see you.

Keep in touch .. all the best Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mason .. thanks so much - I hope you caught Siobhan's (the play's author's) comment?

It is not pleasant here - but we could have inches of it .. for the moment it's skirting us by.

Continental weather is always so different .. I hope this snow doesn't get stuck in (as they're threatening) .. we just seem to have had a lot in the last few years!

You too keep warm and have a good week - Hilary

Davina Haisell said...

I liked the drama about the revealing of the folio, too. And quite a nice-looking chap that Hooke, if that picture is accurate. Not surprising that he looks introspective, given the history you've shared. Thanks, Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. it's been such fun finding out about this amazing man & if we can find his skeleton - will he turn out to be different to this picture .. if the forensic anthropologists can work it out for us.

How right you are summing up his character .. I'm sure the playwright, Siobhan, would agree ..

Isn't it great to have the record put straight for us .. by the person who actually wrote the play script - lucky me!

Fun .. I'm loving the learning ..lovely seeing you here - have a great week .. Hilary

Tristan said...

Hilary, I SWEAR I left a comment on this post, but it's not here. Hmmm...

Anyway, I really enjoyed this post and right after I read it I was of to Google to find more information on the guy.

And things like coded notes have always intrigued me! I remember getting books from the library when I was a kid about treasure hunters. The stories of the people who cracked codes to find buried treasure were always my favorites! I wonder what kind of proverbial treasure Hook is hiding!

Thanks for an awesome and enlightening post!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tristan .. you did .. it was on the previous post where I described the play that's been written on Hooke - but you've picked up some of the new stuff - ie the coded notes etc.

This gives a glance at the history of the period .. and some of the other players involved - the King Charles', Cromwell, Newton, Wren etc

It will be interesting to see if they can piece together all the puzzle (or most of it) from Hooke's papers ..

Thanks - delighted to see you here .. enjoy the week .. Hilary

Sara said...


I really enjoyed these posts on Hooke, who I knew nothing about until you "enlightened" me:~)

It will be interesting to see if his remains can be found because it's amazing what forensic anthropologists can do regarding reconstruction. This is the area that my youngest is studying:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. thank you! I needed to be enlightened first .. but caught the bug!

I hope his remains can be found and authenticated .. because as you say - what the forensic anthropologists can do is quite amazing.

Is your youngest really studying that - how wonderful .. gosh an amazing resource you have at your fingertips .. or should I say knee!

I'd love them to come over and comment occasionally promoting their work .. it'd be great ..

Thanks so much .. lovely to see you .. happy week - Hilary

Joanne said...

Isn't it amazing how sometimes it takes so much time to pass, centuries even, before significance and influence, are deservedly recognized.

You've gotten more snow than we've gotten yet. We've only had a dusting here in "New" England :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joanne .. it's an interesting era - and to have things come back in their entirety to be 'sewn' back in to the Minutes of over three hundred yeas ago - I do find extraordinary. Let alone as you say so rightly say .. the significance and influence these folio papers will bear on history past .. finally that deserved recognition - so true.

We probably haven't down here .. but tonight? perhaps!! Certainly the north, the east and the west country are affected .. our little island has its quirks!

So far .. ours really is a dusting too - but it takes its' toll ..

Have a good week .. Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

I like the parallel of the spider Web to the design in the cathedral arches.

It seems that some of the best appealing designs follow patterns in nature.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. thanks .. I loved the word 'catenaries' .. and when I found it tied in with Hooke and his achievement re St Paul's arches .. it had to go in!!

You're so right .. the best designs probably follow nature .. because even in nature we get split levels and lines ..

Catenaries and Fibonacci .. interesting thoughts ..

Great to see you here - Hilary

Mark said...

Thank-you for "hooking" us up with this knowledge! You do stretch my knowledge and I appreciate that you do.

Anonymous said...

Hooke sounds like the DaVinci of his time, gifted in so many areas. I hope he gets his just reward of recognition someday soon. As always, thanks for the informative and interesting historical post.

Patricia said...

Oh Hilary,
I am so glad I was able to get by and read the rest of this post. What an amazing fellow and story and then to have the author of the play come by and comment - what intrigue

I love these history lessons and come to life adventures and they do not seem too long - just right for all the keen information sharing.

I am with JD about the spider web information.

We are very cold too here - unusually so - but the snow is gone. Our nephew had a giant fir tree fall, slowly on his house, in the wind storm the other night, and we have several huge ones down in our neighborhood. Lots of chain saw action on the dry parts of the day today.

I am glad you mum is cozy and doing okay - you stay dry and warm too.
Thank you for your splendid comments on my Spite and Malice post. I think of you both when I write about my mum. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. delighted to know you're learning .. much as I am! It's a good way of putting it .. stretching ourselves & learning on the way through .. Thanks - great having you here .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Stephen .. Da Vinci seems to have met his English match here in Hooke & that recognition has been coming along very slowly - but with the finding of the folio - has cemented his rightful place as an acknowledged polymath in that period .. in the ranks or beyond of Newton, Wren, Boyle ..

Thanks - I've loved finding out about Hooke and his history .. wonderful having you comment here .. as you've got so much on at the moment ... have a great week ..Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. thank you & wonderful seeing you here. I know it was kind of Siobhan to drop by and give me a little more background to the story.

Thanks .. this one is a little long - but the history of the period is quite tumultuous, while their achievements at the start of the Royal Society need to be set into some form of context ..

Thanks - isn't the spider's web idea gorgeous & now everytime I see an arch .. I'll be thinking spiders!

We had a flurry of snow overnight .. and the clouds are more menacing today & the winds are due to pick up - so what was cold will be colder .. but compared to many others in Britain - we are well off. I hope your nephew and his house is ok .. not a good thing to happen at this time of year. Thank goodness for chainsaws!

Mum is fine .. and I toddle along! I too remembered the days when we used to play card games and games for hours on end .. I must have played Spite and Malice .. and did look it up in Wiki - but it doesn't trigger any bells!

I think a few of us remember our parents as we comment around the blogosphere - when we mention our mothers and families .. It's great having others join in our thoughts .. you did an amazing job for your Mama .. with love and thoughts at this time .. Hilary

Deborah Ann said...

Hilary, I hope you are a history teacher. You really have a knack for teaching, but more than that it's clear you have a real love for our predecessors!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deborah Ann .. no just a regular person wishing to entertain my mother and my uncle (though his knowledge was prodigious!) .. but I'm highly grateful for the complement.

I just love the way everything's changed over the years .. and love showing the tie ins .. because we so often forget or don't realise the whys and the wherefores.

Enjoy the week .. Hilary

Theresa Milstein said...

Interesting lesson on Hooke. I'll be teaching this period of time in a few weeks, so maybe I'll check back on this post!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Theresa .. wonderful & that will be really fun to know if you do use some of this post ..

he was brought to life in the previous post - "Hanging Hooke" .. so perhaps you can read that one too .. and glean a bit of tensional history?!

Hope you'll let me know .. have a great week .. Hilary