A week in the life of Robert Hooke: Sunday 30 March to Saturday 5 April 1673

The weather this week in 1673 was about the same as the weather in 2013 – terrible. Hooke reported cold, rain, frost, and snow during the week. The worst day was 3 April:

a continual snow from 6 in ye morn till late at night when ye wind rose stormy in ye north. Th[ermometer] all day 2. The like day not knowne for cold & snow.

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A week in the life of Robert Hooke: Sunday 23 March to Saturday 29 March 1673

Hooke’s feverish illness continued this week – if you’ve been following his tweets on @hookeslondon you’re probably finding his complaints a bit tedious but don’t worry I’m sure he’ll perk up again soon. And haven’t we all had the same experience of getting our hair cut, failing to put on a warmer cap, and getting a cold head? Sadly in this case ‘upon keeping my head warmer my head recouered [but] my losse of smell was rather worse & my ill tast [ie. in his mouth] continued.’ You always know things are bad with Hooke when he starts writing in Latin: and he followed this with ‘alia tentanda est via. Deus prosperat’. My Latin is a bit rusty but this seems to translate as ‘another way must be tried. God prospers’ – which suggests that this time Hooke was looking on the bright side and reminding himself that God helps those who help themselves.

Despite his various maladies Hooke soldiered on and pursued his experiment on ‘penetration’ – this was the mixing of spirit or oil of vitriol (sulphuric acid) and water that the Royal Society had requested last week. Hooke performed this experiment a couple of times at home before demonstrating it at the Royal Society’s meeting and reading a lecture about it. The Society’s minutes of this meeting record:

The Curator [ie. Hooke] made an Experiment of mingling Oyle of Vitriol and Common water together, thereby shewing, that these two Liquors were so incorporated, by entring into the pores of one another, that they took up lesse room when mingled together, than they did both being a-part.

This seems a little bit unlikely to me – but my chemistry is even worse than my Latin. Perhaps any chemists reading this might like to comment . . ?

At the same Royal Society meeting, the Italian/French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini’s discovery of two of Saturn’s moons was announced and his book presented to the Society for their library. Hooke’s note that ‘Old[enburg] kept ye book’ could be read (more generously) as a reminder to himself, because he was the Society’s librarian and was meant to keep track of these things, or (less generously) as a note to check up on whether Oldenburg was keeping books actually meant as gifts for the Society. Hooke himself ‘deliverd Rhedis and Marchetti Books’ back to the Society – these were works by the Italian philosophers Francesco Redi and Alessandro Marchetti. Just for the record, all three volumes are still in the Society’s collection, so we shouldn’t accuse either Hooke or Oldenburg of neglecting their duty to the Library.

Hooke was also busy as usual with City business. He attended the Commissioners of Sewers at the Guildhall on Monday 24th, and on Thursday he took a ‘view at fleet Ditch’ and ‘set out Oliver & Avis’. The river Fleet, which rises on Hampstead Heath and flows (now underground) to the Thames, had by this time become clogged with silt and rubbish and Hooke’s post-fire project was intended to return it to a navigable state up to Holburn Bridge. The vision was grand – installation of new quays and warehouses along a newly-dug canal. Hooke, Wren and others spent a long time on this expensive and complex endeavour, and Thursday’s ‘view’ may have been something to do with the construction work, as John Oliver was another surveyor and Avis was a master builder. The Fleet Canal was finally completed in autumn 1674, but the problems of silting and illegal dumping of rubbish and (apparently) dead dogs did not go away, and it was eventually covered over in the 18th century.

That’s all for now, but tune in next week for all the news about a snowy start to April 1673, and an eventful chemical demonstration at the Royal Society!

And if you want to find out more, I suggest the following:

The article in the Philosophical Transactions announcing Cassini’s discovery of ‘two New Planets about Saturn’ (Philosophical Transactions vol. 8 (1673), pp. 5178-5185)

A week in the life of Robert Hooke: Sunday 16th to Saturday 22nd March 1673

Hooke’s London was experiencing typical spring weather in mid-March 1673: that is to say, a mixture of sun, rain, wind, and clear skies (but no snow, unlike mid-March 2013). Hooke’s weather record for 18 March gives a good feel for this: ‘cleer for ye most part all day but some flying great clouds sometimes intercepted ye Sun’. Despite the generally good weather, Hooke wasn’t feeling entirely well, suffering from feverish symptoms. He felt ‘Guiddy’ on the 18th, for which he took Elixir proprietatis (a well-known medicine made of aloes, myrrh and saffron that was apparently still in use in the 20th century!). On the 19th he ‘went shivering and hazy like an ague to bed burnd about 2 [am?] & sweat much after’. From his diary entry it sounds as though this had resulted from taking Dulwich water (ie. mineral-water from Dulwich), and a ‘spoonful of Andrews’ (possibly spirit of angelica) – but he may have taken these because he was already feeling ill. It’s difficult to say whether cutting his hair ‘short wth scizzers’ was a response to feeling feverish, or just routine maintenance – possibly the latter, given that he’d sent his periwig ‘to be curled’ the previous day. If you look at the portraits of some of Hooke’s Royal Society colleagues (Robert Boyle, for example) you’ll see how luxuriously curly their periwigs were.

The changeable weather and a slight indisposition didn’t slow Hooke down, and he recorded a busy week of work (with, of course, some visits to Garraway’s coffee house). In terms of official work for the City, he visited the Guildhall ‘commissioners’ on the 17th (possibly the Commissioners for Sewers?); produced a certificate for ‘Mr Calmedy’ (the results of his survey of a ground plot); and took a ‘view’ (that is, made a survey) in Queenstreet. The entry for 22nd March is intriguing: ‘at Guildhall wth townclark Gresham Writings Burnt’. Were these ‘Writings’ the records of Sir Thomas Gresham’s legacy? I’m not quite sure why Hooke would have been interested in this, except that about this time planning had begun for the Royal Society’s return to Gresham College, its original meeting-place. Since the Great Fire in 1666 the Society had been meeting at Arundel House on the Strand, so that Gresham College could be used as a temporary Royal Exchange. Could there have been some question as to whether the Royal Society should be allowed back? The only other evidence from Hooke’s diary comes a month later, in an entry for 23 April:
at Guildhall searcht ye Hustings book for Sr Th Greshams house. found he purchasd 2 houses in Broad Street. An[no] 10 Elizabethæ. & one in Bishopsgate Street. An[no] 3o Elizab[ethae] Quere
It’s not clear why Hooke looking into the affairs of Thomas Gresham, but another possibility is that it was linked with some work going on at or near Gresham College at this time. The entry for 18 March says that an unnamed ‘cornchandler broke downe part of Gresham Coll wall. promised inclosing house of office, and yard. made a chimny out of ye Room equall to my Repository’. This is a bit mysterious but perhaps had something to do with a neighbouring property. The ‘house of office’ was a common euphemism for the privy. I guess the room ‘equal to’ the Repository meant the room opposite or next to the Royal Society’s Repository (collection of museum artefacts).

Hooke’s scientific work this week involved a couple of experiments, a meeting of the Royal Society at Arundel House on Wednesday, and some manual work constructing scientific apparatus. The ‘experiment of burning’ had been ongoing since mid-February. The minutes of the Royal Society meeting on 19 February recorded a failed experiment ‘to find, whether the Air increases or decreases by burning’, and according to the minutes Hooke’s apparatus apparently let him down again on 5 March. Hooke himself was convinced that the air decreased with burning and read a lecture to the Society presenting these results on 19 March. Having successfully settled that question, he moved on to an experiment about ‘the penetration of spirit of Vitrioll & water’. Again, the Fellows were curious about whether the mixture of ‘Oyle of Vitriol’ (ie. sulphuric acid) and water would result in a larger or smaller volume than that of the separate liquids. (You’ll have to wait until next week for the results!) The Royal Society also received Dutch microscopist and biologist Jan Swammerdam’s ‘cutts of a frogs Lungs’ – that is, drawings of dissected lungs. They are still in the Society’s archive (along with Swammerdam’s drawing of a cute little rhinoceros beetle).

Drawing of frogs' lungs by Jan Swammerdam, 1673. Copyright The Royal Society.

Drawing of frogs’ lungs by Jan Swammerdam, 1673. Copyright The Royal Society.

Hooke seemingly also spent some time this week working on his ‘arithmetick engine’ or calculating machine. Gottfried Leibnitz FRS had shown such a device to the Royal Society earlier in the year, and Sir Samuel Morland FRS had also produced a working model (Hooke’s judgement? ‘very silly’). Hooke’s engine, of course, was intended to be more elegant and yet more powerful than either of these previous examples. It seems likely that the lathe he bought this week, and the ‘Engin for cutting wheels’ he borrowed from a Mr Bell, were connected with this project. On the 20th Hooke recorded that ‘Mr Stanton shewd me his module of Arithmetick engine’. This was presumably the model of Hooke’s design that he had requested from Stanton earlier in the month.

It was also a good week for books. Hooke borrowed the ‘Description of Ceylon’ from Mr Chamberlaine, which was possibly a Dutch work by Philippus Baldaeus. He also noted that he had seen a German book ‘of mineralls’ that belonged to Henry Oldenburg, the Royal Society’s secretary. He did make one purchase, a fascinating and very beautiful book called An embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China (London, 1673), which he bought for twelve shillings. This was a translation by John Ogilby of a Dutch volume. I haven’t seen the Dutch edition, but the English translation was illustrated with lovely engravings showing details of Chinese life. You can see a digital version of the book here.

That’s all for this week – if you have any questions let me know and I’ll do my best to clarify.

And if you want to find out more, you might be interested in the following:
For more on 17th century medicines see this very interesting article about a medicine chest presented to a young Scottish nobleman by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

For the minutes of the Royal Society meetings at this period see Thomas Birch’s The History of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge (London, 1756) – free online via Google Books.

To find out more about Hooke’s surveying activities, I recommend Michael Cooper’s ‘A More Beautiful City’: Robert Hooke and the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire (2003).

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.

Printing with Tallow . . . ?

While editing Hooke’s diary this week I came across the following nugget of information in an entry for 27 January 1673:

Dr Pell told me that somewhere in Porta was a way deliuered of stamping letters & figures in Sallow and afterwards plaining them almost out then steeping or boyling them in water wherby the letters would swell outwards and be fitt for printing or ye like or be embossed wth heads or the like.

Hooke and the other Royal Society Fellows were extremely interested in mechanical processes, and Hooke mentions new ways of printing or engraving quite a few times in the diary. Unfortunately Dr Pell’s rather vague reference ‘somewhere in Porta’ hasn’t yet helped me to track this particular suggestion down. Giambattista della Porta was a prolific Italian Renaissance author whose best-selling book ‘Natural Magick’ contains lots of interesting information about useful things you can do with science, including sections ‘on counterfeiting precious stones’ and ‘on beautifying women’. You can read the English translation online here  – but please don’t try the white lead cosmetic preparations at home.

What caught my attention was the fact that in the 1935 printed version of the Diary, the section quoted above had come out as ‘a way delivered of stamping letters and figures in tallow and afterwards plaining them almost out then steeping or boyling them in water’ . . .

Now, tallow, as we all know, is a kind of fat, and therefore probably not much use if you intend to boil your letters before printing with them. Whereas sallow is a willow plant – much more suitable for stamping, planing and boiling. Why did Hooke’s 1935 editors print ‘tallow’ for ‘sallow’? Probably because Hooke’s initial ‘s’ looks a bit like a ‘t’ in the manuscript, and tallow is a more commonly used word than sallow (or at least it was in the 20th century – I guess neither is particularly common now), and they weren’t thinking very hard about what they were writing. It’s easy, as an editor, to see the words that you expect to see, especially in Hooke’s rather cramped lines of text. I was pleased to find this, of course, because it reminds me that the mammoth job of re-editing the diary is actually worthwhile! But it also confirms with me again the importance of going back to the manuscript, even when there’s a printed text available. How many readers of Hooke’s diary over the years have scratched their heads over this section and wondered what on earth Hooke could have meant? (Well, okay, probably not that many since it’s never exactly been a best-seller.) As readers we’re used to assessing the quality of the text in front of us, whether Wikipedia entry, newspaper article, or scholarly tome, but it’s sometimes harder to decide whether an edition is a faithful representation of the original text or not, especially if you’re just dipping into it. Of course we can’t all go rushing off to the manuscript whenever we spot something unlikely in a printed text but if it’s the crux of your argument then it’s worth having a look.

While I’m on the subject I should add that going back to the original manuscript doesn’t just allow you to spot errors like this one, or omissions. A printed page, with its neat rows of type, each letter formed in exactly the same way, can never convey as much information as the manuscript. I always feel as though I know an author better when I’ve seen his work written in his own hand. Hooke’s meandering lines of tiny script with their many insertions of extra text squeezed in above a line tell, better than anything else, that he didn’t plan on other people reading his diary. All the more important to get the printed version right!

Watching the weather

Hooke started the first entry in his diary with a weather report: in fact it’s possible that recording the weather was one of the reasons for starting the diary, or memoranda, in the first place. Hooke’s first weather report was for Sunday 10 March 1672:

[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

Instead of writing the words ‘mercury’ and ‘moon’ (transcribed in square brackets here), Hooke depicted them with their astrological symbols ☿ and ☽ as a kind of shorthand. For me, the interesting thing about this entry is that Hooke’s own life seems inextricably linked with the weather – he inserts a comment about his cold in the middle of his very first weather report. I think this is a clue to interpreting the weather reports, and thinking about why they appear in what quickly becomes a very personal (and messy, subjective, ‘unscientific’) document and not, for example, in a separate log book (which is what he had advocated to the Royal Society in a paper in 1663). Hooke, and his colleagues in experimental philosophy, had very little way of knowing what information was going to be useful for their scientific endeavours; and they couldn’t predict what sorts of things might influence other things – the effect of weather on human health, for example. One way to get around this was to record as much detail as possible when making observations, so that patterns might begin to appear. So perhaps having the weather reports in a place where they were easily comparable with other happenings (such Hooke’s health, or the moon’s apogee) would be more useful than keeping separate tables.

Hooke had several instruments for recording the weather, but the one he mentions most often in his diary is the barometer. Originally an intriguing instrument for making experimental demonstrations about the nature of air and vacuums, the glass tube filled with mercury gradually transformed into a device for measuring atmospheric pressure, named ‘barometer’ by Robert Boyle in 1663. Hooke described his own barometer at length in the Preface to Micrographia. Micrographia of course is mostly (and rightly) famous for its arresting illustrations of microscopic objects, but the text is also fascinating. In his Preface Hooke makes it clear that one of his hopes for science is the improvement of the human senses – all of them, not just sight. For Hooke, the barometer is not merely a device that measures something, it is a way of enhancing human perception of the effects caused by
those steams, which seem to issue out of the Earth, and mix with the Air (and so precipitate some aqueous Exhalations, wherewith ’tis impregnated) . . .
something of this kind I am able to discover, by an Instrument I contriv’d to shew all the minute variations in the pressure of the Air; by which I constantly find, that before, and during the time of rainy weather, the pressure of the Air is less, and in dry weather, but especially when an Eastern Wind (which having past over vast tracts of Land is heavy with Earthy Particles) blows, it is much more, though these changes are varied according to very odd Laws.

He published a drawing of his wheel barometer in Micrographia.  The ‘J’ shaped glass tube is filled with mercury, and has a sealed bulb at the top but is open at the other end. In the bulb a vacuum provides enough suction to prevent the mercury from flowing out of the tube. At the open end of the tube a ball floats on the mercury. This float is attached to the pointer on the dial by a length of string. If the air pressure rises the mercury is forced up into the bulb and the level of the mercury at the open end drops. As the float drops too, the pointer moves. Hooke's wheel barometer

Hooke eventually stopped incorporating detailed weather reports in his diary entries, but he retained a strong interest in the subject. He wrote a treatise about naming clouds, suggesting a standardised system, and he invented an integrated automated weather-recording device that would punch a scroll of paper recording data about temperature, wind speed and direction, and atmospheric pressure. He also continued to note particularly significant weather happenings in his daily entries. On Saturday 11 January 1690 he wrote:

this night about 1 & 2 of the clock was a most violent Storm or Hurrican which blew down trees houses chimny &c. it blew down part of my parlor chimny. vntiled much of my Long garret. broke windows &c. the B[a]rometer was very low vizt horizontall to the right. vpon the falling of Snow between 2 & 3 in the morn the wind ceased it blew at North. N. W. & N. E. the rest of the night and all next day cleer calm cold & frosty

Hooke and his colleagues were setting the tools in place to enable predictions of rough weather on land and at sea. Unfortunately, we’re not able to interpret Hooke’s data because we don’t know enough about his instruments and scales – or at least, I believe that’s the case but if anyone out there knows differently please get in touch!

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!).