Sex and the single Restoration scientist

Those of you who are following the daily Twitter feed of Hooke’s diary may have found today’s tweet a little surprising. For those who aren’t following, the full entry reads:

Sun 2. morn cloudy & like to rain. W[ind] N[orth] brisk. Th[ermometer] 6. [mercury] 170. A[fternoon] W[ind] E[ast] strong. air cleer sun set behind a cloud. sky cleer blew but some high thin white cloudes moving from ye North at [sun] set. there appeard a great redness which by & by vanish but at 8°. 40′. the under sides of some Lower cloudes were intensly blood read. which was vanisht in 5 or 6 minutes.
Godfrey. cade walk. DH. drank milk very diuretick recouerd much. walkd. Garways. read de Aphthis. [ejaculation]. drank milk which began to agree very well & to remove ye ill tast.

The first part of the entry, obviously, is Hooke’s daily weather report. Incidentally this description of the clouds is quite interesting given Hooke’s scientific paper on naming cloud formations. The second part of the entry is all about Hooke’s day. It’s also fairly straightforward, if unexpectedly intimate.

Why would he record this ‘ejaculation’ in this way? In fact, the eagle-eyed reader will have spotted that the word ‘ejaculation’ is written in square brackets, meaning that it has been supplied by the editor (in this case me). What actually appears in the diary is a symbol that looks a bit like this .

This was interpreted by Hooke’s first editors in 1935 thus:
‘Pisces, the twelfth sign of the Zodiac. Used by Hooke to indicate orgasm, probably because of the association of Venus and Cupid in the legendary origin of the symbol.’

Obviously they didn’t decide that Hooke used the symbol to mean ‘orgasm’ from this entry alone, but from other entries where it appears in a context that more obviously suggests sexual activity (ie. there was a woman present). I’ve followed more recent scholars in using ‘ejaculation’ instead. Why make this change? To answer that, we need to think about why Hooke might have recorded his orgasm/ejaculation in his diary. In quite a few instances there was seemingly no-one else involved, so we can rule out things like recording sexual conquests, keeping a record in case someone got pregnant, and so on. In fact I think the answer that makes most sense is that Hooke was in this, as in all things, a scientist, and he was just doing what he always did, making observations. In this case the entity under observation was himself. As Diary followers have already seen, he recorded information about his own health regularly and a bit obsessively – but when you think about the Restoration medical facilities available (rudimentary at best), you can’t really blame him. He would certainly have been interested to see whether there were any patterns in whether he felt better or worse afterwards, or slept more or less soundly. So the word ‘ejaculation’, which has a slightly more clinical connotation than ‘orgasm’ seems to be more appropriate here. I’ve checked the Oxford English Dictionary and the word was indeed used in this sense in the seventeenth century, although another possibility might be ’emission’ which was also in use at the time. It would be very interesting to know of any other diarists from the same period who recorded their bodily functions in a similar way. I don’t know of any but if you do, please let me know.

Unfortunately I’m not going to get around to talking about sex so the title of this post is a bit misleading – sorry. I’ll do part two when Hooke starts sleeping with his housekeeper.

1 thought on “Sex and the single Restoration scientist

  1. Pingback: Giants’ Shoulders #48 » clerestories

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