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!).

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