Robert Hooke (1635–1703) was not only a scientist, he was a mapmaking pioneer, architect, astronomer, biologist and ingenious experimenter. He was a founding member and ‘curator of experiments’ at the Royal Society, an academy at the cutting edge of scientific discovery in Britain.
This book, Micrographia, was the first important work on microscopy, the study of minute objects through a microscope. First published in 1665, it contains large-scale, finely detailed illustrations of some of the specimens Hooke viewed under the microscopes he designed. At the end of the book, there are observations of the stars and moon as seen through a telescope.
By changing our perspective, Hooke gives power and beauty to things that might otherwise be dismissed as disgusting or trivial – the surface of frozen urine, the eye of a grey drone-fly, a piece of moss, the body of a louse, an ant or a flea. Alongside the engravings, he writes entertaining accounts of his observations. Hooke is witty and even poetic, using similes to help us imagine the world he sees through his lenses.
The drunken ant
At times, Hooke gives us a glimpse of the struggles he faced getting creatures to pose for their portraits. The ant was so ‘troublesom to be drawn’ (p. 203) that Hooke sedated him with ‘Brandy’ which ‘knock’d him down dead drunk, so that he became moveless’ (p. 204). It was only after ‘an hour’ that the ant ‘suddenly reviv’d and ran away’, blowing out small bubbles (p. 204).
This book includes Hooke’s famous and astonishingly detailed illustration of a flea – an image which fills a huge fold-out page, 43x33 cm. The text celebrates the ‘beauty’ of this tiny wingless insect, ‘adorn’d with a curiously polish’d suit of sable [black] Armour’ and ‘multitudes of sharp pinns, shap’d almost like Porcupine’s Quills’ (p. 210). Hooke also describes the parasitic powers of ‘this little busie Creature’ which sucks ‘out the blood of an Animal, leaving the skin inflamed’ (p. 211).
- Full title:
- Micrographia, or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, with observations and inquiries thereupon.
- 1665, London
- Book / Folio / Illustration / Image
- Robert Hooke
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- Renaissance writers, Poetry
John Donne's work includes passionate and explicit love poems and intense religious meditations. Andrew Dickson explores the poet's many identities, from Catholic child to Protestant adult, from womaniser to devoted husband, and from trainee lawyer, secretary and Member of Parliament to Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Politics and religion, Language and ideas
The Enlightenment's emphasis on reason shaped philosophical, political and scientific discourse from the late 17th to the early 19th century. Matthew White traces the Enlightenment back to its roots in the aftermath of the Civil War, and forward to its effects on the present day.
- Article by:
- Aviva Dautch
- Poetry, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Language, word play and text, Renaissance writers
The suitor in 'The Flea' enviously describes the creature that ‘sucks’ on his mistress’s skin and intermingles its fluids with hers. Here Aviva Dautch explores images of eroticism, death, guilt and innocence in John Donne's poem.
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