Part I. 4. The printed books

Hooke’s books were valued in his inventory thus:

Item The Library of Dr Robert Hook, late of Gresham Colledge in the parish of great St. Helens in Bishopsgate streete deceased consisting of about 500 volumes in folio, Latin, English &c., bound and in Quires, of about 13101Following ‘1300’, deleted. volumes in Quarto, Latin, English &c., Bound & in Quires, of about 845 volumes in Octavo, Latin, English &c., bound & in Quires, And of about 393 volumes in Duodecimo, &c. Latin, English &c., Bound & in Quires, together with severall Bundles of pamphletts is valued & appraised at the summe of £205:10:62Transcribed in ‘Hooke’s Possessions’, pp. 293-94.

These were kept in a location itself termed ‘the Library’ in the inventory, probably a first-floor room in Hooke’s rooms in the south-east corner of the main quadrangle of Gresham College. Hooke’s diaries include frequent references to shelving commissioned and installed for the library, and the room also contained furniture, various framed pictures and prints, a mirror, and ‘twelve China Coffee dishes’. As Michael Hunter has observed, this reckoning of the size of Hooke’s library of printed books is (roughly) consistent with what was auctioned within two months of his death, but the valuation is not.3‘Hooke’s Possessions’, pp. 290-1. Here are the numbers by formats:

Inventory Catalogue (Latin + English) (Latin + English in quires) Total
Fol. 500 300 + 147               + 25 + 7 = 479
4o. 1310 614 + 157               + 57 + 2 = 830
8vo. 845 492 + 337               + 32 + 0 = 761
12mo etc. 393 297 + 147               + 22 + 0 = 466

If we allow for some traffic between the formats of octavo and lesser, then the only striking discrepancy here is the drop in quartos between inventory and auction; for although it is possible that Sammelbände were auctioned under the first title in the volume alone, this would not make much business sense. But the real difference lies in the estimated and realised value of the collection: the library sold for very much more than its initial valuation. If Smith had purchased the library on the basis of the inventory’s valuation, he made a handsome profit, and it may be significant that so many bookmen were involved in the valuation of Hooke’s estate. It is possible too that various books were removed from the library as not belonging to Hooke: we have seen that upon his death several books were returned by friends to the Royal Society; and if Hooke had been lending out stock from the (presumably adjacent) library of the society itself, then perhaps further volumes found their way onto Hooke’s own shelves.

The figures presented above attest to its extent – but what kind of library did Robert Hooke raise? Most of what has been said about Hooke’s library derives solely from an analysis of the Bibliotheca Hookiana of 1703, and this was indeed the subject of Leona Rostenberg’s 1989 book-length study The Library of Robert Hooke: The Scientific Book Trade of Restoration England.4LRH, pp. 123-40. Rostenberg provided a subject tour of the library, although this is to be treated with some caution, especially as she included the Bickerstaff books in her analysis. As we have already noted, however, there is a good deal of other information available from Hooke’s memoranda and other manuscript sources. One significant document in this regard is the fragmentary catalogue now extant as British Library MS Sloane 949. At some point during 1674 Hooke clearly decided that his library had become large enough to warrant a catalogue. Devoting a characteristically minute amount of paper to the project, he proceeded to list his books, following the contemporary practice of cataloguing by size (which possibly reflected storage conditions, although there is no clear evidence of this). Assuming he finished his catalogue, or handlist, only a part is extant today. This manuscript, headed ‘A catalogue of the Books of R. H.’ lists folios and quartos but does not contain any records of smaller-format volumes. What remains, however, gives an interesting snapshot of Hooke’s collection in the process of formation, almost thirty years before the Bibliotheca Hookiana was compiled. It shows that the core of the collection remained stable, and, not unexpectedly, that Hooke’s areas of interest did not change over his working life. The bulk of the titles consist of mathematics and geometry, astronomy, natural history, and medicine, with a smaller number of works on travel, languages and history.5Felicity Henderson is currently preparing an edition of this manuscript catalogue; when the edition is complete titles listed there will be added to this site to enable easy comparison with the Bibliotheca Hookiana.

Of the 474 titles listed in MS Sloane 949, more than a quarter do not appear in the Bibliotheca Hookiana. A higher proportion of English titles than Latin appear to have gone astray. This may suggest interference from Hooke’s family after his death, appropriating for their own use, for example, such useful volumes as Christopher Merret’s A Short View of the Frauds, and Abuses Committed by Apothecaries (London, 1669), Richard Lower’s A Brief Account of the Famous Well of Astrop (London, 1668), or John Fage’s The Sick-mens Glasse (London, 1638). It is possible that Hooke himself considered such material more ephemeral than his Latin tomes, although it is difficult to see why something like Thomas Sprat’s History of the Royal Society (London, 1667) would have been deliberately de-accessioned.6The memoranda show that Hooke lent this volume to John Mapletoft FRS on 23 December 1676 – perhaps he never returned it. The manuscript catalogue also sheds some light on titles that were clearly present in the 1703 auction but were not listed separately in the Bibliotheca Hookiana: for example, Sammelbände of plays including the works of Beaumont, Fletcher, and Shakespeare. These titles counteract the image of Hooke as single-minded experimenter (although it is possible that some of this ‘lighter’ material may have been bought with Hooke’s niece and resident housekeeper Grace in mind).

Despite the usefulness of MS Sloane 949 and Hooke’s memoranda as sources, the main evidence for the composition of Hooke’s library must, of course, be drawn from the Bibliotheca Hookiana. However, there are several caveats to be borne in mind. First, an auction catalogue by definition represents a collection now dispersed, and in the absence of the actual library described by an auction catalogue, the static snapshot of a library as it stood when its owner died obscures the dynamic history of that library – what was bought when and where, and whether patterns and rates of acquisition changed over time, as they must always have done. The next point is that as we have seen, libraries shed as well as accumulate books, and auction catalogues cannot describe what is no longer there. The final point is that we cannot necessarily trust auction catalogues. First, books and especially manuscripts can be purchased or otherwise removed from an owner’s estate before the auctioneers can get at the library; we have seen that this happened to Hooke’s collection in the matter of his manuscripts and papers, and possibly some of his pamphlets. Next there is the problem of the auctioneers themselves, for it was often said that such men ‘salted’ their auctions with books that had nothing to do with the library nominally under the hammer.

For all that, we can accept the Bibliotheca Hookiana as a faithful record of the bulk of Hooke’s library that made it to auction just after his death: it will have been slightly depleted, but probably not adulterated. The catalogue is divided, as was the fashion, into Latin and then English books, with each division subdivided by format in descending size. The final pages list Latin ‘Libri in albiis’ (literally ‘books in whites’, i.e. unbound books) in descending size, followed by a handful of English books in quires too.7Hooke’s books in quires include several books with which he had been closely involved, including Knox’s Ceylon (1681; auct_BH_990) and Hooke’s own Micrographia ‘with Fig. and the Original Drawings’ (auct_BH_2671). Hooke also held in quires several heterodox works, for instance both Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670; auct_BH_2581) and his Opera Posthuma (1677; auct_BH_2580). The Latin books (really anything not in English) occupy pp. 1-38; the English books pp. 38-53, with the libri in albiis both foreign and English occupying pp. 53-56. It is evident, therefore, that the majority of Hooke’s library was in Latin.

 

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footnotes   [ + ]

1. Following ‘1300’, deleted.
2. Transcribed in ‘Hooke’s Possessions’, pp. 293-94.
3. ‘Hooke’s Possessions’, pp. 290-1.
4. LRH, pp. 123-40. Rostenberg provided a subject tour of the library, although this is to be treated with some caution, especially as she included the Bickerstaff books in her analysis.
5. Felicity Henderson is currently preparing an edition of this manuscript catalogue; when the edition is complete titles listed there will be added to this site to enable easy comparison with the Bibliotheca Hookiana.
6. The memoranda show that Hooke lent this volume to John Mapletoft FRS on 23 December 1676 – perhaps he never returned it.
7. Hooke’s books in quires include several books with which he had been closely involved, including Knox’s Ceylon (1681; auct_BH_990) and Hooke’s own Micrographia ‘with Fig. and the Original Drawings’ (auct_BH_2671). Hooke also held in quires several heterodox works, for instance both Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (1670; auct_BH_2581) and his Opera Posthuma (1677; auct_BH_2580).