Robert Hooke (1635-1703)

Robert Hooke (1635-1703)

Image: Floor tile dedicated to Robert Hooke in Westminster Abbey, unveiled in 2005. The inscription is carved from one of the black marble tiles in the floor beneath the Lantern, near the pulpit. This is most appropriate as Hooke was responsible for the laying of this floor. Source: Rita Greer via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Commentary. No known portrait Hooke survives, a fact which has been attributed by some to his long-running dispute with the President of the Royal Society, Sir Isaac Newton. Newton, or one of his supporters, has been accused of destroying or 'losing' the portrait of Hooke at the Royal Society that had been described by German antiquarian and scholar Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach in 1710: 

“Finally we were shown the room where the Society usually meets. It is very small and wretched and the best things are the portraits of its members, of which the most noteworthy are those of Boyle and Hoock.” (for the original German, see here).

It has been claimed, in Newton's defence, that Uffenbach may have mistaken a portrait of Royal Society fellow Theodore Haak (1605-1690) with that of Hooke, and as such there was no portrait for Newton and his supporters to destroy. 

Robert Hooke (1635–1703) -- a pioneering microscopist, cartographer, architect, astronomer, biologist, an extraordinarily ingeneous experimentor, Gresham Professor of Geometry, and Surveyor to the City of London after the Great Fire of London -- was the most versatile early Fellows of the Royal Society. Even before the foundation of the Socieyt, as a member of Wadham College in Oxford and an ardent Royalist, Hooke had acted as assistant to Thomas Willis (1653) and to Robert Boyle (1655-1662), for whom he built the vacuum pumps used in Boyle's gas law experiments. 

A founding member of the Royal Society in 1660, he was named the Curator of Experiments in 1662. As a member of the Society's council and the only Fellow to draw a salary from the institution he had a central role in many of its more successful undertakingts whereafter.  Setting to work immediately, between 1663 and 1664 he made the microscopical observations that formed the basis of the Micrographia
Apart from this masterpiece, Hooke is credited with many inventions and discoveries, such as the law of elasticity (Hooke's law), the iris diaphragm for cameras, the universal joint, and the first observation of a biological cell. He also worked on gravity at the same time with Sir Isaac Newton, and was involved in a protracted dispute with him over the inverse square law. Jealous of his own claims to priority, Newton is now charged with damaging Hooke's reputation after his death.

Fuller introductions: ODNBThe Galileo Project.

Credit: Georgiana Hedesan (June 2018)