On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:
“Before I went to bed I sat up till two o’clock in my chamber reading of Mr Hooke’s Microscopicall Observations [Micrographia], the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life”.
Robert Hooke was elsewhere memorably described by Pepys as “the most, and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”. He was evidently a brilliant, but curmudgeonly, polymath: not only a pioneer microscopist, but also one of the founder members of the Royal Society in 1660, and an architect, who worked alongside Wren on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666 (*).
(*) Readers interested in further details of the life and works of this extraordinary man are referred to the biography entitled “The Curious Life of Robert Hooke … “ by the late Lisa Jardine, originally published by HarperCollins in 2003.
I spotted a couple of new blue plaques on the “London Wall – A Story of Survival” walk this week.
One is on the church of St Helen Bishopsgate, and commemorates the first resting place of Robert Hooke (1635-1703). Hooke was not only an “eminent scientist” but also a brilliant architect, working with Wren on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666 (the church of St Benet Paul’s Wharf being widely attributed to him). He was also apparently something of a curmudgeon, and was memorably described by Pepys as “the most, and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”. Readers interested in more information on Hooke and his life and works are referred to “A More Beautiful City:Robert Hooke and the Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire” by Michael Cooper, published by Sutton in 2003 (and reprinted in paperback in 2005).
Three modern microscopists paying homage to Hooke
The other plaque is on the street of St Mary Axe, and marks the site of the church of the same name. The church was originally built around 1197, and suppressed, and converted into a warehouse, in 1561 (when the former parish was amalgamated with that of St Andrew Undershaft). It formerly housed one of the three axes said to have been used by Attila the Hun to behead St Ursula and her eleven thousand hand-maidens!
The “London Wall – A Story of Survival” walk is available on Fridays at 10am (pre-booking essential); also available at other times by arrangement, for private groups.