The lives of others

Robert Hooke FRS started writing his ‘Memoranda’, as he called his daily entries, on 10 March 1672. There’s no clear statement about why he started this project, just the terse entry ‘Memoranda begun’, followed by some characteristically abrupt notes about the weather and so on. It’s worth reproducing the whole of his first entry here:

Sun. 10 [mercury] fell from 170 to 185. most part of ye Day cleer but cold & somewhat windy at the South. [I was this morning better with my cold then I had been 3 months before] [moon] apogeum. It grew cloudy about 4. [mercury] falling still.

I told Cox how to make Reflex glasses by Silver and hinted to him making them by printing. Hewet brought me £10 from Brother John Hooke. News of 3 empty Dutch ships taken by ye montacu frigat

Despite Hooke’s lack of explanation about his motivation, I think this entry is revealing. His weather notes and barometric readings  were part of a long-running project to investigate the weather with a view to predicting it in advance. He kept these records as part of his memoranda for over a year, but then stopped (maybe he started recording them elsewhere). At the same time, his first entry signals other reasons for keeping a record of his activities. He noted a conversation with Christopher Cox, a scientific instrument maker; a financial transaction; and a piece of news. Throughout the diary these types of records come up again and again, and I think this is why he began with the word ‘memoranda’ – that is, things to remember. The diary is primarily a record of Hooke’s daily transactions during an incredibly busy period of his life, when he was surveying London building sites, designing instruments, doing experiments, lecturing, catching up on the news at coffeehouses, meeting friends, arguing with his maid, trying out new medicinal preparations, buying books, and occasionally getting paid for his work. It’s no wonder he felt that he needed some way to keep track of things.

This is emphatically not a diary written for others to read. It’s a raw account of everyday life in Restoration London, including the mundane and repetitive. It’s often incomprehensible unless you have some idea of what’s going on – who Hooke is meeting and why. I’ve embarked on the project of re-editing it primarily because I want more people to be able to read and understand it so they can get to know Hooke and his world for themselves. I don’t have all the answers yet by any means, but this blog will be a way of sharing my adventures in Hooke’s London (and maybe getting some advice from readers who know more than me about various things!).

6 thoughts on “The lives of others

  1. First of all I want to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was curious to know how you center yourself and
    clear your thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Appreciate it!

    • Thanks! And sorry for the delayed response – I’ve been writing an article recently and it’s taken up all my spare brain-power 🙂
      To answer your question, I guess I only start writing a blog post when I’ve had an idea that I want to share, so I start with that and see where it takes me. As you may have noticed I haven’t posted for a very long time! So I guess I’m not a very good blogging role model… Good luck though!

  2. Hello. Little late finding this nice little blog of yours here… 🙂 But: I remember reading somewhere (which I unhelpfully forget, though perhaps Michael Cooper’s piece in London’s Leonardo?) the suggestion that he got into the habit of keeping a notebook to jot things in while he was a city surveyor. He was doing a million things a day, especially money-related things, and needed to record to remember them. But he never handed his survey book back to the city like the others – maybe it had become too personal? Plus Waller notes that Hooke wanted to write an autobiography. Not that anyone needs a good reason to start a diary, but I agree with you that the particular topics he jots down seem telling.

    • Hi, and thanks for your comments. Yes I think you’re remembering Michael Cooper – his book ”A more beautiful city’: Robert Hooke and the rebuilding of London after the great fire’ is really interesting and I think that’s where I remember that story about the survey book/s that didn’t get handed back. But I think that was his official surveying records? I’m sure you’re right though, that it had either become too personal to hand back, or perhaps just that he thought it might come in handy?

  3. Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely feel this web site needs much more attention.
    I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!

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