Thursday 18 November 2010

Hanging Hooke ....

What are they hanging, who are they hanging, why .. and when? Good questions you might ask! This is a three hundred and fifty year old mystery, where tantalising pieces of information have been found within the annals of history, and where suddenly another surprise comes to light ... if you like dusty folios of the unexpected?

This is a post of two halves .. the first a play, also in two halves, then the background to the whys, whens and wherefores ... it is a murder .. but of a person’s reputation .. not of a man; it is a research of today for that man’s rightful place in society, correcting the historical records.

Hanging Hooke - A new play by Siobhán Nicholas: “Christopher Wren loved him; Isaac Newton loathed him”.
A reworked detail from a painting of Lucas Cranach [ Adam and Eve]; Siobhan advises that she asked Ken, their graphics designer of Good Dog Design, to find them a tree from the Garden of Eden: the apple referring to knowledge, curiosity and the Newton story.

The play opens in 2006 with the countdown of the auctioneer’s gavel ... knock on wood ... on wood ... on wood ... the booming voice announcing “Sale of Lot 189 at the reserve price of £1,000,000”, an air of expectation, the auction room chatter ceasing, everyone looks around ... who are the likely bidders ... will this important Folio be lost to the nation?

We, the audience in 2010, also wait in eager anticipation to see a new play, written by Siobhan Nicholas, put on by an innovative theatre group “Take the Space”, inspired to find out more about Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703), this man they call “The English Leonardo”.

An auctioneer's gavel

The stage is set ... the central square displays Hooke’s writing – taken from his Folio – a few props .. easels with pictures, some stacked up, a microscope, a telescope, tables with ‘treasures’, a small travelling chest... depicting the sparse times of the 1600s.

A play of two halves – where the youthful Hooke’s guardian gives us the background on his childhood, his illness and the political upheaval of the times; young Hooke’s total engrossment in learning about all facets of life from an early age ... his schooling, while having the freedom to roam his island (the Isle of Wight)– the whole of nature .. the sky, the sea and shore, valleys, fields and meadows with all its flora and fauna.

We are introduced to his early ‘play’, experimentation and research – where he spent hours looking at rock pools .. both for their beauty, the invertebrates, crustaceans, pebbles and rock formations, the refraction of the water, the tidal movements ... and then he recorded and drew all he saw. He experimented with clock-making, woodwork, and all things mechanical too .. searching to find more about the heavens above and the earth below.

Tidal Pool

This young fertile mind was ready for more .. so on the death of his father, he used his inheritance, at age 13, to buy an apprenticeship in London – the centre of learning. Here the actor changes from the ‘guardian’ to the misshapen Hooke – reminding us of his ‘broken’ body ... reminding me of the hunch-back of Notre Dame ... not so hunchback, but hobbling and lopsided: disfigured.

Chris Barnes, as Hooke, puts on a convincing performance, as he goes about his days as curator of this eminent group of scientists. We now begin to see his irascibility appear – this genius, who could apply himself to so many disciplines and experiments, as well as record his research within the auspices of the fledgling Royal Society.

Chris Barnes: performer for Hanging Hooke

The brilliant scientists were often overwrought keeping up with Hooke, justifying their results against Hooke’s brilliant mind, which would come at the problem from a different perspective. These men included Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle .. to a man: polymaths, scientists various, philosophers diverse ... a challenging time for all.

Hooke wondered aloud who his friends were – were they true – in those times of switching allegiances, or the powerful and rich demanding sworn loyalty .. men having no choice but to conform.

We see Hooke’s friends waiver under these demands, but such were the signs of the times – disagree with the mighty and they would be thrown into society’s wilderness of sleaze and poverty, their access to funding, to equipment, to like minds would be removed at an instant.

The auctioneer’s gavel beating down at the start of the play ... the countdown to the auction of the Hooke Folio ... the announcement that Lot 189 was for sale for £1,000,000 ... reminds us that three hundred years after his death we know very little about Robert Hooke and his works, other than a few references and deductive thought that there must have been more to this man.

The Royal Society records show that Hooke played a full part as Curator of Experiments and early on as the Secretary, keeping the Minutes of all experiments held and recorded: not as we would do today in a separate Corporate Secretarial Meeting held round a Board table.

Hooke's Microscope

He was appointed ‘Curator by Office’ for life, where his role was to demonstrate experiments from his own methods or at the suggestion of members. Amongst his earliest demonstrations were discussions of the nature of air, the noting of the difference between venous and arterial blood; experiments on the subject of gravity, the measuring of barometric pressure and many more.

Instruments were devised to measure a second of arc in the movement of the sun or other stars, to measure the strength of gunpowder, and in particular an engine to cut teeth for watches, much finer than could be managed by hand, an invention which was, by Hooke’s death, in constant use.

In 1663 and 1664, Hooke produced his microscopical observations, subsequently collated in the published work Micrographia in 1665, which Samuel Pepys (yes, the Diarist), announced that Micrographia “is the most ingenious book that he had ever read in his life” – some endorsement.

Title page of Micrographia

We know of Hooke through Hooke’s Law - the law of elasticity; we know he worked at the Royal Society – but there was little else, some references, the beginnings of an autobiography – but who was this invisible man? What happened, why was he no longer represented historically, where are the portraits .... Going, going NOT GONE ... but where did the Folio come from and what happened to it? AND more importantly what will we find out about our Hanging Hooke? I leave you gently swaying for part two ......

Dear Mr Postman – do you think I’ve been too unkind to my readers? My mother will laugh when I explain what I’m doing .. she would appreciate the joke. She had a treat this week and she was awake fortunately .. her daughter (me!) dressed in Medieval costume, pretending to play the Mandolin?! – fortunately our replacement therapist, Susie, while Janice travels to Brazil, Australia and California .. lucky for some! – can play and gave Mum a short recital .. I hope we have more .. and I shall feature them on here.
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Take That Space - home
Take That Space - Theatre Group - people
Take That Space - Theatre Group - plays
Robert Hooke - Wikipedia - please contribute to Wikipedia .. small amounts much appreciated!
Wikipedia for many other links and useful information.


Deborah Ann said...

Wow, quite the history lesson here! You are one smart cookie...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Deborah Ann .. great to see you - I just loved the story and have set it out my way here! It fascinates me .. that we can still find out these things and more (see part 2) after 300+ years ..

Thank you - really appreciate the comment .. Hilary

Arlee Bird said...

Hello-- sorry for my long absence as I've been absorbed in NaNo and other nonsense. Things have been a bit busy of late.
Interesting story of this man with whom I was not familiar. I guess he was more of a scientific muse, a behind the scenes guy, who doesn't get the credit now for the influence he must have wielded then.

Tossing It Out

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Arlee .. Blog tours and Nano are certainly valuable and take time - as we all expect. Thanks for the thought though .. things happen!

Hooke is really fascinating .. and he certainly seems to have been written out of history - until now .. He definitely was a science buff .. just constantly working ..

Great to see you - thanks for coming by .. Hilary

Talli Roland said...

I've never heard of Hooke and what an interesting post you've written here, Hilary - thank you! It is amazing how history has been adapted and changed, depending on who was writing it!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Talli .. Delighted that you enjoyed the story .. I'm so pleased that the Folio came to light. As you say - history depends on who is writing it and how much research has been made - and how much more can be done. I so enjoyed the play & then the writing of both posts ..

Thanks - enjoy the weekend .. if the weather is kind to us .. cheers Hilary

The Exception said...

Hillary –
This reminds me of Ian Pears’ first book. I can’t recall the title right now, but something about a Fingerpost?
The play sounds wonderful – and the show you created for your mom – I am sure she found it delightful and priceless. What fun.
Here’s to a great weekend!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi TE .. I'm not sure re Ian Pears' book - but now having looked it up - An Instance of the Fingerpost .. set in the 1660s .. same time - but I can't see if he wrote it before the Folio was discovered or not. It's a murder at Oxford University ..

So very similar .. but this is about Hooke ..

I haven't had a chance to talk to Mum about our 'show' .. but I'm sure she enjoyed it .. the staff did!!

Here's to your weekend too .. Happy days .. Hilary

Southpaw said...

i hadn't heard of Hooke either. Interesting post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Holly - nor had I - but my enthusiasm is spreading obviously!!

Great to see you - have a good weekend .. Hilary

Patricia said...

Medieval indeed - me thinks you are delighting us in keeping us at sway

What a neat post and there is a play- by golly sounds good...

We just watched a movie about the fellow who abolished the slave trade in UK...that was a fascinating story too

Keep on keeping on - this is grand

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. thank you - I enjoyed the play and the post too .. and swaying towards part 2, which might be part one actually?!

I thoroughly enjoyed it - as did the audience by the comments on the way out. It was really interesting and stimulating ..

Your movie sounds intriguing .. I'm pretty bad at watching tv movies - fortunately I only have terrestial tv & so only see some of the dramas and documentaries .. My guess is the man's name is Wilberforce?

Part two coming up .. delighted that you think it is 'grand'!! Cheers me up no end .. have a good weekend .. Hilary

Helen Ginger said...

How very interesting. I'd never heard of Hooke. He clearly had a great mind.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Helen .. as you so rightly say - he had one great mind .. I just love these things! Have an excellent weekend and thanks for stopping by .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

Very interesting story here. I can appreciate looking at tide pools. I take out kids to see local tide pools and they are fascinating. Have to arrive early in the morning though as the sea gulls will eat as much of the trapped sea critters as possible.

There is a volunteer group of young people who give infomration about the sea critters and rock formations and such to anyone interested. Its quite a learning experiences.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Steve .. I'm honoured by the visit - thanks .. I know you're exhausted .. Ruby's diner - sounds good .. with the little ones too.

I loved it .. and the thought of so much learning coming from the sea shore as a kid .. tide pools are wonderful; but the gulls do love their easy pickings, don't they.

How wonderful that the volunteer young are available to give interactive talks about the pools and sea creatures .. good for them .. and obviously you learnt a few things?!

Enjoy your family supper - and have a good catch up (brief) time .. cheers Hilary

Theresa Milstein said...

I don't see plays very often, but when I do, I often find them moving. We took the 8th-grade students on a field trip to see Little Rock 9, which was very well-done.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

hi Theresa .. nor do I - but this one I wanted to see because the 'man' intrigued me so much - someone described as 'England's Leonardo' was enticingly interesting & seeing how someone else interpreted his life made sense?!

Love that you took your kids to see a theatre .. I recently took two youngsters to see a local Flanders and Swann show that I posted about in September .. they'd never been to a theatre .. so were bemused - but loved it. Loved the music, the lyrics .. and as it was a small theatre - involved.

Great to see you .. thanks for visiting when you've got so much on.

Relax a little if you can?! .. Hilary

vered said...

Sometimes I wonder, if those who leaved back in the 17th century could see us now, what would they think?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Vered .. I think they'd probably be amazed - as no doubt we will be in 300 years time .. One presumes that Hooke would be pleased his papers were found at this time - when they can be made available on the net .. for us all to peruse.

Interesting thoughts .. thanks - have a great week .. Hilary

Meredith said...

Was Robert Hooke the one who called microorganisms 'wee beasties'? (Or was that Leuwenhook?) Anyway, that's the one cute detail I remember from 7th grade biology class. ;)

Looking forward to the follow-up.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Meredith .. I went & searched .. & van Leeuwenhoek 1632 - 1723 .. same time as Hooke, but in Holland. However he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society .. for his microbiology! Incredibly observant man apparently .. see Wiki!

Hooke was the man who coined the word 'cell' first .. and all van Leeuwenhoek's work would have passed via Hooke as Curator of the Society ..

If you read the Wiki page on v Leuwenhoek .. you'll see that they've found his original specimens perfectly preserved ..

Meredith - thanks for bringing this up - really interesting ..and perhaps I'll bring it in to the next post ..

Great to see you & glad you're feeling better ... have a good week .. Hilary

Soul Dipper said...

Fascinating post, Hilary. I love having some obscure character uncovered and spotlit. Look forward to the next edition!

In my mom's post-stroke years, I'd dance and sing for her. Believe me this is not my forte...but she laughed so hard. It was the only time she laughed after the stroke so I enjoyed making a fool of myself. :)

Sibyl - alternaview said...

Hilary: As usual, you are educating me :) I had never heard of Hooke ... very fascinating story. Thanks for sharing your passion and passing it along. As always, I really enjoyed it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Amy .. it is isn't it .. and I'm looking forward to posting it .. but perhaps need to add one or two things based on Meredith above and your comments over on your blog.

My Mum just bursts out laughing at me sometimes - but I'm usually laughing anyway .. as what else can you do. She says 'outrageous' things completely unexpected from someone who's been in bed all that time & doesn't watch tv or listen to the radio - she's still got the comments absolutely spot on!

Now we get smiles mainly .. but that's great .. if I dance and sing the whole of Eastbourne would be in uproar .. it's so ridiculous!! Can do neither!! It is good that we and they can laugh together ..

Thanks - lovely that we can share our mothers at this stage of their lives .. and I'm lucky my Mum is still with me .. but you have happy memories and I will too.

Great to see you - thanks so much and for your own blog comments .. enjoy the week .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sibyl .. thanks so much: me too .. ie I'm educating myself at the same time ..

Hooke is fascinating isn't he .. and delighted you're enjoying my passion as much as I am .. it is great this learning like this!!

Wonderful to hear from you .. have a great week .. Hilary

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I had not heard of Hooke, but he is wonderfully fascinating. This reminds me of how many interesting and talented people I know of which will never be known by the masses.

Lesson? The "not so ordinary" people we know are just one moment away from being and doing something that could be recognized. It all depends on opportunity and luck.

Have a great week.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. yes you're right we all do know many talented people .. and some will rise to the fore, some will just quietly do their thing.

Our lesson .. as you say .. opportunity and luck and perseverance and just keeping on doing ..

Hooke is amazing - one of those polymaths .. a man with a great mind ..

You too - have a wonderful Thanksgiving week .. with pastures new ahead .. have fun - Hilary

TALON said...

Fascinating learning about Hooke. I hope we do get to see the recitals - sounds so fun!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Talon .. thanks .. it's great that everyone is fascinated by Hooke .. so pleased I wrote about him.

Yes - obviously I must organise something re the recitals!!

Thanks so much .. it will be fun .. and everyone will laugh - that's the main thing .. have a good Thanksgiving .. Hilary

J.D. Meier said...

I like the way you can dig back through time and bring things back to life and to light.

Beautiful job. Well done!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD .. I loved the sound of this man .. when he came into 'my life' possibly a year ago .. and then I found out about the play & thought - here goes!

I loved writing this post - and it's thanks to the play and the finding of the folio ..

I love the interlinking that I can do with the information that we can tap into now-a-days via the net ..

Delighted you enjoyed it .. thanks so much - appreciate the comment .. Hilary

Davina Haisell said...

Hi Hilary.

I loved the Medieval flavour to this piece. And I enjoyed how you started with "now" and then took us back to tell us the story that lead up to this point. You weave stories quite nicely. I can't wait to hear what your mom thought of your costume :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. thanks - I enjoy the mix! I'm not sure what Mum thought - I'll have to show her - but it's one thing at a time now-a-days ..

So I'll get Susie to bring the Mandolin in again & play her something .. & show her the photos and the video ..

Thanks - it was fun to do & Susie is certainly talented!

Enjoy the day - unless you've got snow like everyone else .. ours is coming on Wednesday I'm led to believe! Cheers - Hilary

Patricia Stoltey said...

What a mystery. These people who seem to have dropped through the cracks make interesting characters for plays and novels because the author has an enormous amount of freedom in creating character and dialogue as he fits the story into the correct physical and historical setting.

Sara said...


I like how you wrote this post, combining the play, the history and the promise of more to come.

I enjoyed learning about Hooke and I am curious about his Folio and the Hanging Hook. I can't wait for Part Two....:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Patricia .. it is part mystery, part solved detective work .. with some missing pieces - but the main part coming to light.

The creation of the play .. I think must have been a fun process .. because as with all good novels and plays - there was a surprise that she (Siobahn Nicholas & everyone else) didn't know about & couldn't know about.

The setting, working and way the play was put on .. was so interesting .. as you mention those settings are so important for authenticity .. and it worked so well.

It is huge fun - as it's brought to light so many interesting aspects of that period.

Thanks Patricia - lovely seeing you here .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. thank you - as you say - I realised I couldn't fit in all I wanted to say easily into one post & the play seemed an excellent start and a good first half of two posts ..

He is a fascinating character and brought together so realistically for us - in an era when life was difficult for most people.

Part two coming up! Thanks so much for the comment - good to see you here .. Hilary

Tristan said...

Huh! Really interesting stuff, Hilary! I like that every time I come to your blog, I learn something completely new that I'd probably never learn otherwise!

I'm off to Google to find more about this English Leonardo!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tristan .. great to see you again .. part 2 coming up - that will tell you (most) of what you need to know re this English Leonardo!

Fantastic - that you feel so inspired to go off and Google him .. Wiki has quite a lot .. per my links at the bottom.

That's great - fantastic comment .. thank you!! happy hunting on the hanging Hooke ..

See you for part 2?! Have a great week .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

And here I thought I was going to read about Peter Pan and the tick tocking alligator (or was it a crocodile?). I had never heard of this chap before in my life. I think he would have been a difficult person to be friends with, but clearly a genius nonetheless.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tony .. good point .. no tick-tock crocodile snapping at his hanging feet! I love the story of Peter Pan too .. it was the Pantomime we always went to see ..

He seemed to have some very good friends who were faithful to him .. but he had such an unfortunate life through disease and death of his beloved relatives .. very rife at that time .. but he definitely was a polymath - extremely clever.

Thanks - great to see you back .. Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Fascinating tidbits for reflection. You always do entice your readers, capture attention- 'hook, line and sinker...'

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. always appreciate your comments and thoughts - which you've captured completely .. hook, line and sinker = yes!!

Thanks so much - have a great weekend .. cheers Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Hilary, your fascinating topics could only ever 'hook' the reader. As you set your intention at a certain energy vibration, the universe can only ever respond in sync. Its pure cosmic synchronicity.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thanks so much .. the topics amuse and offer to lead the reader on - while providing hooks to find out more, if so desired.

Exactly what my mother and I would do as I visited her in hospital .. chat about subjects and then I'd end up with a list of other things to find out .. and bring up for my next visit.

Thanks .. cosmic synchronicity - I love that phrase! Have a good weekend .. Hilary