Robert Hooke 1635-1703

From Book Owners Online

Robert HOOKE 1635-1703

Biographical Note

Born at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, son of John Hooke, minister there. Apprenticed to Sir Peter Lely after his father's death in 1648, he learned painting, drawing and music before going to Christ Church, Oxford as a chorister ca.1653 (MA 1663). Drawn into the scientific circle in Oxford then, in 1662 he became curator of experiments for the Royal Society (he was elected a fellow in 1663, and became secretary in 1677). He became a lecturer at Gresham College in 1664 and cemented his scientific reputaion with the publication of Micrographia in 1665. After the 1666 fire of London, he was appointed one of the surveyors for the rebuilding of the City. He continued his experimentation, invention and publication throughout the rest of his life, and was a major influence on the advancement of scientific understanding at that time.


Hooke acquired books throughout his life, and was a regular frequenter of bookshops and auction sales. As the Hooke's Books website observes (which has a detailed analysis of Hooke's engagement with books, as well as information on surviving examples - see below), "he enquired after, borrowed, bought, lent, discussed, copied and reviewed books obsessively". His diary for 1672-83, together with other surviving personal manuscripts, contain many details of buying and reading books. His interactions with his extensive network of contemporary scientists and scholars, including Henry Oldenburg, Robert Boyle, Theodore Haak and other included much lending and presenting of books.

Hooke intended to bequeath his estate to the Royal Society, to enable them to build a new headquarters (including a library), but he died intestate and none of this happened; his estate was inherited by his cousin Elizabeth Stephens, when his library was valued at £205 10s 6d. The library was then auctioned in London, 29.4.1703. The catalogue contains 2585 lots, with a further 696 in an "Appendix, to Dr. Hooke's catalogue"; it is not clear whether some or all of these also belonged to Hooke. The main sequence is divided only by language, not subject, with 1709 lots of Latin books, 731 of English, 136 of unbound "libri in albiis" ("books in whites"), and 9 English "books in quires" (also unbound). The Appendix contains 69 lots of English miscellaneous, 247 of Latin, 160 of French books, 214 of Italian and 6 Spanish. The contents are wide-ranging, including history, geography, philosophy and theology as well as many books on scientific subjects, including mathematics, astronomy and medicine. Hooke is known to have owned more books than were listed in the sale catalogue, and some English titles, particularly, may have been taken by members of his family. The preface to the catalogue notes that many of Hooke's books were interestingly annotated: "he hath left behind him many curious notes on some, considerable MSS improvements to others".

Hooke's inscription with note of purchase, from S. Lee, Orbis miraculum, 1665, British Library 696.m.23

Characteristic Markings

Hooke commonly inscribed his books, with his name, and often with information about price, etc; the Hooke's Books website has images of numerous typical examples.