Part I. 1. Robert Hooke’s library and its context

‘Nullius in verba’, from ‘Nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri’, was the motto chosen by the Royal Society of London (est. 1662): ‘no longer required to swear in the words of the master’, a declaration of independence from former authorities, although itself an elliptical quotation from the Roman poet Horace (Epistles 1.1.14). It became a minor topos for some experimental philosophers in the seventeenth century to style themselves as men whose originality depended not just on freedom from what one reads in books, but freedom from having read many books at all.

Both historians of science and bibliographers are aware that most of the prominent figures associated with the rise of experimentalism were however rather bookish. In part this was because most of these men – and a few women – were either educated, financially comfortable, or both; and the accumulation of often sizeable libraries was something that such people could hardly avoid. The surviving booklists of such figures – for instance John Evelyn, Isaac Newton, Henry Oldenburg, Samuel Pepys, Henry Power, John Ray, and Francis Willughby – also remind us of the persistence and vibrancy in such libraries of the texts of traditional humanistic erudition. If some polemicists even at the time were trying to force an ‘ancients’ versus ‘moderns’ schism on the world of learning – the forerunner of today’s ‘arts’ versus ‘sciences’ polarisation – then most of the libraries of the period provide a check to such a reductive view of intellectual history.

A particularly rich and complex case is furnished by the library of the experimental philosopher Robert Hooke (1635-1703).1Studies and biographies of Hooke include: Margaret ’Espinasse, Robert Hooke (London: William Heinemann, 1956); Ellen Tan Drake, Restless Genius: Robert Hooke and his Earthly Thoughts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Stephen Inwood, The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke (London: Macmillan, 2002); Jim Bennett, et al., London’s Leonardo: The Life and Work of Robert Hooke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Lisa Jardine, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London (London: HarperCollins, 2003); Michael Cooper, A More Beautiful City: Robert Hooke and the Rebuilding of London (Stroud: Sutton, 2005); Collections of essays are: Robert Hooke: New Studies, ed. Michael Hunter and Simon Schaffer (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1989); Robert Hooke: Tercentennial Studies, ed. Michael Cooper and Michael Hunter (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006). The standard bibliography is Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of Dr. Robert Hooke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960). Hooke was arguably Britain’s first professional scientist, receiving a salary from the Royal Society for the express purpose of demonstrating experiments at their weekly meetings. His surviving journals reveal an obsessively active life, as Hooke dashes around London between coffee houses, workshops, building sites, and meetings of the Royal Society in Gresham College, where Hooke himself kept lodgings that doubled as his laboratory, observatory, repository, dormitory, and library. As his friend John Aubrey remarked of Hooke, he was the greatest ‘mechanic’ of his age – meaning here a man of technological knack, a maker of instruments and contrivances, an experimenter. And yet the same journals also reveal that Hooke was of all the first-rank Restoration virtuosi the one perhaps most engaged with the book trade in later seventeenth-century London. He enquired after, borrowed, bought, lent, discussed, copied, and reviewed books obsessively, and if for a moment we allow an artificial divide between Hooke’s work and his leisure, then frequenting the bookshops and scouring the second-hand book market was Hooke’s chief source of pleasure outside his various paid employments. Giles Mandelbrote has well observed of Hooke’s own book-buying, ‘To judge from Hooke’s diaries, the pursuit of books was his main recreation and an activity that took up much of his time and money’.2Giles Mandelbrote, ‘Sloane’s Purchases at the Sale of Robert Hooke’s Library’, in Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections, ed. Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor (London: British Library, 2009), pp. 98-145, p. 103. Hooke maintained close relations with a string of London bookmen, including printers, publishers, and sellers on the first- and second-hand markets. After Londoners discovered the device of the book auction, of which the first was held in 1676, Hooke became a devotee of this new means of acquiring books, and it is thanks to Hooke that we know of several auctions of which no other record has survived.

Robert Hooke moved into London’s Gresham College in late 1664, initially as a lecturer on the history of nature and art, a new post endowed specifically for Hooke by Sir John Cutler. Hooke had stood for the older Gresham foundation of Professor of Geometry in that year too, but had not been successful; in 1665 Hooke challenged the decision against him and prevailed after a close vote. As a Gresham Professor, Hooke lodged permanently in the college, and indeed he never moved out, dying there in early 1703. This too was the venue of the Royal Society’s own meetings; and it was also the site of their collections, as well as the living and working spaces of the other Gresham Professors and several private citizens who rented chambers in Gresham’s spacious quadrangle. Hooke also built an astronomical turret on the top of his own corner of the quadrangle. Hooke therefore lived in his work, and his library was one of several in Gresham College. Notoriously, the other professors – in divinity, physic, law, rhetoric, music, and astronomy – were often absentee post-holders, and several also appear to have sub-let; but there were significant men around Gresham over Hooke’s four decades there, including Jonathan Goddard (Physic: 1655-1675), who lived and died in Gresham; John Woodward (Physic: 1693-1728), who also died in post and in Gresham; Richard Pearson (Law: 1667-1670), who was additionally appointed Royal Librarian in 1662; William Perry (Music: 1681-96), who was the Royal Society’s own librarian; Walter Pope (Astronomy: 1661-87); and George Gifford (Divinity: 1661-1686), sometime president of Sion College and benefactor to its library after the Fire.3John Ward, The Lives of the Professors of Gresham College (London: for the author, 1740). The impression one gets when considering all the residents of Gresham in the round is that the college must have been awash with books, and presumably the professors borrowed from one another now and then. The impression of Gresham as the home to several considerable private libraries all in one quad is heightened when we widen the residency to include tenants, here specifically the wealthy London merchant and FRS Abraham Hill, who acted as Treasurer to the Royal Society, and also maintained an extensive correspondence with several continental virtuosi. Hill’s extensive series of manuscript commonplace books shows that he too assembled a large library (along with a renowned coin collection), and as Hill routinely keys his quotations to shelf-marks, it is in theory possible to reconstruct a great deal of the contents and organisation of his collection.4R. E. W. Madison, ‘Abraham Hill, F.R.S. (1635-1722)’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 15 (1960), pp. 173-82; Abraham Hill, Familiar Letters, ed. Thomas Astle (London, 1767); British Library, MSS Sloane 2891-2902. It is possible that this was true of several of Hooke’s other neighbours over the decades too. Other extensive libraries that we can associate with Hooke’s milieu include those of his friend the merchant, linguist, and FRS Francis Lodwick, who indeed appears to have collected two huge libraries housed in two separate locations.5Felicity Henderson and William Poole, ‘The Library Lists of Francis Lodwick FRS (1619–1694): An Introduction to Sloane MSS. 855 and 859, and a Searchable Transcript’, The Electronic British Library Journal (2009), article 1. As we shall see, Hooke borrowed books from Lodwick, and perhaps the favour was reciprocated.

As we have noted, several of Hooke’s contemporary experimentalists might be classed as book collectors too. Such men usually lived in the capital, but several lived rurally and had only intermittent contact with the urban centres of power, and in this connection we might think of the three northern experimentalists and collectors Henry Power, Richard Towneley, and John Webster. In the universities scholars interested in the new sciences might house significant collections in their rooms, and gradually institutional collections in the universities grew up around scientific centres too, notably the library attached to the Savilian Chairs in Astronomy and in Geometry in Oxford (est. 1619), and the libraries of the new Ashmolean Museum (est. 1683), the larger located in the lecture hall, the smaller next to the chemical furnaces. The Savilian library was in time enriched by many books from Christopher Wren and John Wallis; and the Ashmolean library was an agglomeration of books and manuscripts from the gifts and bequests of men including Martin Lister, John Aubrey, Anthony Wood, and Elias Ashmole himself. In London, institutions other than the Royal Society attracted specialist libraries. The Royal College of Physicians is a major example, albeit an institution almost entirely gutted by the fire of 1666. Several of the men connected with the Ordnance Office in the Tower of London were significant astronomers, namely Sir Jonas Moore, Sir Edward Sherburne, and Sir George Wharton, each of whom kept their extensive astronomical libraries in the Tower of London, and these men lent their books too.6William Poole, ‘Loans from the Library of Sir Edward Sherburne and the 1685 English Translation of Xenophon’, The Library, 7th ser., 14 (2013), pp. 80-87. But Hooke’s collection was probably larger than any of these private collections, and was very much his own working library.

 

* This is a collaborative effort, but Part I was chiefly written by William Poole with contributions from Felicity Henderson; and Part II by Yelda Nasifoglu.

 

Table of Contents ❮ back || next ❯ Part I, section 2

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Studies and biographies of Hooke include: Margaret ’Espinasse, Robert Hooke (London: William Heinemann, 1956); Ellen Tan Drake, Restless Genius: Robert Hooke and his Earthly Thoughts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Stephen Inwood, The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke (London: Macmillan, 2002); Jim Bennett, et al., London’s Leonardo: The Life and Work of Robert Hooke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Lisa Jardine, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London (London: HarperCollins, 2003); Michael Cooper, A More Beautiful City: Robert Hooke and the Rebuilding of London (Stroud: Sutton, 2005); Collections of essays are: Robert Hooke: New Studies, ed. Michael Hunter and Simon Schaffer (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1989); Robert Hooke: Tercentennial Studies, ed. Michael Cooper and Michael Hunter (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006). The standard bibliography is Geoffrey Keynes, A Bibliography of Dr. Robert Hooke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960).
2. Giles Mandelbrote, ‘Sloane’s Purchases at the Sale of Robert Hooke’s Library’, in Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections, ed. Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor (London: British Library, 2009), pp. 98-145, p. 103.
3. John Ward, The Lives of the Professors of Gresham College (London: for the author, 1740).
4. R. E. W. Madison, ‘Abraham Hill, F.R.S. (1635-1722)’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 15 (1960), pp. 173-82; Abraham Hill, Familiar Letters, ed. Thomas Astle (London, 1767); British Library, MSS Sloane 2891-2902.
5. Felicity Henderson and William Poole, ‘The Library Lists of Francis Lodwick FRS (1619–1694): An Introduction to Sloane MSS. 855 and 859, and a Searchable Transcript’, The Electronic British Library Journal (2009), article 1.
6. William Poole, ‘Loans from the Library of Sir Edward Sherburne and the 1685 English Translation of Xenophon’, The Library, 7th ser., 14 (2013), pp. 80-87.