Michael Hunter, an authority on the natural philosopher Robert Hooke, describes his excitement at the recent discovery of an unknown manuscript in Hooke’s hand. He explains its significance and why every effort should be made to keep it in Britain.
Robert Hooke’s star is currently in the ascendant. The latest book on this scientist and polymath, which came out in March, is the seventh such work to be published in little more than three years. At last, Hooke is receiving the attention he deserves for his wide-ranging contribution to many facets of science – from his extraordinary mechanical inventiveness to his epoch-making Micrographia (1665) – thus overcoming the neglect that he has suffered as a result of his run-in with Newton, which not only meant that he was airbrushed out of the story of the discovery of universal gravitation but also led to his being assigned a lesser place than he deserves in the history of science as a whole.
During his lifetime, Hooke (1635-1703) published only Micrographia and a selection of the lectures that he gave under the terms of an endowment provided for him by Sir John Cutler, but many other important writings by him were brought out by his admirers after his death. Others have been published in the twentieth century, notably his extraordinary and voluminous diaries, though there is still some unpublished manuscript material in various repositories, notably the Royal Society, the institution that he served for a significant part of his life as Curator of Experiments, Cutlerian Lecturer and, more briefly, Secretary.