Halley and Post-Restoration Science

Not just 'the Comet man' - Halley's achievements as a polymath testify to the breadth and vigour of English scientific enquiry and experiment in the years after 1660.

Among men of science in the post-Restoration period, it would be difficult to find one more talented than Edmond Halley. For diversity of scientific interests he was the equal of Robert Hooke. For practical inventiveness he could rival Wilkins, Petty or Wren. His grasp of the theory of gravitation and his ability in calculating the motions of the heavenly bodies was second only to that of Isaac Newton, whilst in his understanding of the wider implications of gravitational theory and in the boldness of his adventurous spirit, Halley surpassed them all. His eventful career stirs the imagination and yet his genius and contributions to science are not well known and he is remembered today only for the comet which bears his name.

Born about 1656, the son of a soapboiler in the City of London, Halley was educated at St Paul's School. Whilst he was a pupil there he made his first recorded observation on the variation of the magnetic compass needle from true North – a subject which was later to lead him into some of his most remarkable adventures. In 1673 he entered Queen's College, Oxford, and whilst still an undergraduate his first three scientific papers, all on astronomical subjects, were published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Two of these were in collaboration with his friend John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal.

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