book by Robert Hooke

Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses; with Observations and Inquiries thereupon. This book by Robert Hooke is about his observations through various magnifying lenses. As the first major publication of the Royal Society in January, 1665, it inspired a wide public interest in the new science of microscopy. It is also notable for coining the biological term cell.

Micrographia (1665)
title page



  • By the addition of... artificial Instruments and methods, there may be, in some manner, a reparation made for the mischiefs, and imperfeclion, mankind has drawn upon it self, by negligence,and intemperance, and a wilful and superstitious deserting the Prescripts and Rules of Nature, whereby every man, both from a deriv'd corruption, innate and born with him, and from his breeding and converse with men, is very subject to slip into all sorts of
  • [T]he limits, to which our thoughts are confin'd, are small in respect of the vast extent of Nature it self; some parts of it are too large to be comprehended, and some too little to be perceived. And from thence it must follow, that not having a full sensation of the Objects we must be very lame and imperfect in our conceptions about it, and in all the propositions which we build upon it; hence, we often take the shadow of things for the substance, small appearances for good similitudes, similitudes for definitions; and even many of those, which we think, to be the most solid definitions, are rather expressions of our own misguided apprehensions then of the true nature of the things themselves.
  • [A]ll the uncertainty, and mistakes of humane actions, proceed either from the narrowness and wandring of our Senses, from the slipperiness or delusion of our Memory, from the confinement or rashness of our Understanding, so that 'tis no wonder, that our power over natural causes and effects is so slowly improv'd, seeing we are not only to contend with the obscurity and difficulty of the things whereon we work and think, but even the forces of our own minds conspire to betray us.
  • [T]he footsteps of Nature are to be trac'd, not only in her ordinary course, but when she seems to be put to her shifts, to make many doublings and turnings, and to use some kind of art in indeavouring to avoid our discovery.
  • The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and, as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural; this in one of them has been of late years accomplisht with prodigious benefit to all sorts of useful knowledge, by the invention of Optical Glasses. By the means of Telescopes, there is nothing so far distant but may be represented to our view; and by the help of Microscopes, there is nothing so small, as to escape our inquiry; hence there is a new visible World discovered to the understanding. By this means the Heavens are open'd, and a vast number of new Stars, and new Motions, and new Productions appear in them, to which all the antient Astronomers were utterly Strangers. By this the Earth it self, which lyes so neer us, under our feet, shews quite a new thing to us, and in every little particle of its matter, we now behold almost as great a variety of Creatures, as we were able before to reckon up in the whole Universe it self.
  • It seems not improbable, but that by these helps the subtilty of the composition of Bodies, the structure of their parts, the various texture of their matter, the instruments and manner of their inward motions, and all the other possible appearances of things, may come to be more fully discovered; all which the antient Peripateticks were content to comprehend in two general and ( unless further explain'd) useless words of Matter and Form.
  • [W]e may perhaps be inabled to discern all the secret workings of Nature, almost in the same manner as we do those that are the productions of Art, and are manag'd by Wheels, and Engines, and Springs, that were devised by humane Wit.
  • I here present to the World my imperfect lndeavours; which though they shall prove no other way considerable, yet, I hope, they may be in some measure useful to the main Design of a reformation in Philosophy, if it be only by shewing, that there is not so much requir'd towards it, any strength of Imagination, or exactness of Method, or depth of Contemplation (though the addition of these, where they can be had, must needs produce a much more perfect composure) as a sincere Hand, and a faithful Eye, to examine, and to record, the things themselves as they appear.
  • [I]in this present condition of knowledge, a man so qualified, as I have indeavoured to be, only with resolution, and integrity, and plain intentions of implying his Senses aright, may venture to compare the reality and the usefulness of his services, towards the true Philosophy, with those of other men, that are of much stronger, and more acute speculations, that shall not make use of the same method by the Senses.
  • It is said of great Empires, That the best way to preserve them from decay, is to bring them back to the first Principles, and Arts, on which they did begin. The same is undoubtedly true in Philosophy, that by wandring far away into invisible Notions, has almost quite destroy'd it self, and it can never be recovered, or continued, but by returning into the same sensible paths, in which it did at first proceed.
  • If... the Reader expects from me any infallible Deductions, or certainty of Axioms, I am to say for my self, that those stronger Works of Wit and Imagination are above my weak Abilities; or if they had not been so, I would not have made use of them in this present Subject before me: Whereever he finds that I have ventur'd at any small Conjectures, at the causes of the things that I have observed, I beseech him to look upon them only as doubtful Problems, and uncertain ghesses, and not as unquestionable Conclusions, or matters of unconfutable Science; I have produced nothing here, with intent to bind his understanding to an implicit consent; I am so far from that, that I desire him, not absolutely to rely upon these Observations of my eyes, if he finds them contradicted by the future Ocular Experiments of sober and impartial Discoverers.
  • [A]ll my ambition is, that I may serve to the great Philosophers of this Age, as the makers and the grinders of my Glasses did to me; that I may prepare and furnish them with some Materials, which they may afterwards order and manage with better skill, and to far greater advantage.
  • [I]n another Discourse... I shall make an attempt to propose some Considerations of the manner of compiling a Natural and Artificial History, and of so ranging and registring its Particulars into Philosophical Tables, as may make them most useful for the raising of Axioms and Theories.
    The last indeed is the most hazardous Enterprise, and yet the most necessary; and that is, to take such care that the Judgment and the Reason of Man (which is the third Faculty to be repair'd and improv'd) should receive such assistance, as to avoid the dangers to which it is by nature most subject. The Imperfections... to which it is lyable, do either belong to the extent, or the goodness of its knowledge; and here the difficulty is the greater, least that which may be thought a remedy for the one should prove destructive to the other, least by seeking to inlarge our Knowledge, we should render it weak and uncertain; and least by being too scrupulous and exact about every Circumstance of it, we should confine and streighten it too much.
    In both these the middle wayes are to be taken, nothing is to be omitted, and yet every thing to pass a mature deliberation: No Intelligence from Men of all Professions, and quarters of the World, to be slighted, and yet all to be so severely examin'd, that there remain no room for doubt or instability; much rigour in admitting, much strictness in comparing, and above all, much slowness in debating, and shyness in determining, is to be practised.
  • The Understanding is to order all the inferiour services of the lower Faculties; but yet it is to do this only as a lawful Master, and not as a Tyrant. It must not incroach upon their Offices, nor take upon it self the employments which belong to either of them. It must watch the irregularities of the Senses, but it must not go before them, or prevent their information. It must examine, range, and dispose of the bank, which is laid up in the Memory: but it must be sure to make distinction between the sober and well collected heap, and the extravagant Idea's, and mistaken Images, which there it may sometimes light upon. So many are the links, upon which the true Philosophy depends, of which, if anyone be loose, or weak, the whole chain is in danger of being dissolv'd; it is to begin with the Hands and Eyes, and to proceed on through the Memory, to be continued by the Reason; nor is it to stop there, but to come about to the Hands and Eyes again, and so, by a continual passage round from one Faculty to another, it is to be maintained in life and strength, as much as the body of man is by circulation of the blood through the several parts of the body...
  • If once this method were followed with diligence and attention, there is nothing that lyes within the power of human Wit (or which is far more effectual) of human Industry, which we might not compass; we might not only hope for Inventions to equalize those of Copernicus, Galileo, Gilbert, Harvy, and of others, whose Names are almost lost, that were the Inventors of Gun-powder, the Seamans Compass, Printing, Etching, Graving, Microscopes, &c. but multitudes that may far exceed them: for even those discoveries seem to have been the products of some such method, though but imperfect; What may not be therefore expected from it if thoroughly prosecuted? Talking and contention of Arguments would soon be turn'd into labours; all the fine dreams of Opinions, and universal metaphysical natures, which the luxury of subtil Brains has devis'd, would quickly vanish, and give place to solid Histories, Experiments and Works.
  • ...'tis not unlikely, but that we may find out wherein our Senses are deficient, and as easily find wayes of repairing them.
  • 'Tis not unlikely, but that there may be yet invented several other helps for the eye, as much exceeding those already found, as those do the bare eye, such as by which we may perhaps be able to discover living Creatures in the Moon, or other Planets, the figures of the compounding Particles of matter, and the particular Schematisms and Textures of Bodies.
  • [A]s Glasses have highly promoted our seeing, so 'tis not improbable but that there may be found many Mechanical Inventions to improve our other Senses, of hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. ...I have, by the help of a distended wire, propagated the sound to a very considerable distance in an instant, or with as seemingly quick a motion as that of light, at least, incomparably swifter then that, which at the same time was propagated through the Air; and this not only in a straight line, or direct, but in one bended in many angles.
    Nor are the other three so perfect, but that diligence, attention, and many mechanical contrivances, may also highly improve them.

Observ. I. Of the Point of a Sharp Small Needle.Edit

  • As in Geometry, the most natural way of beginning is from a Mathematical point; so is the same method in Observations and Natural history the most genuine, simple, and instructive. ...And in Physical Enquiries, we must endevour to follow Nature in the more plain and easie ways she treads in the most simple and uncompounded bodies, to trace her steps, and be acquainted with her manner of walking there, before we venture our selves into the multitude of meanders she has in bodies of a more complicated nature; lest, being unable to distinguish and judge of our way, we quickly lose both Nature our Guide, and our selves too, and are left to wander in the labyrinth of groundless opinions; wanting both judgment, that light, and experience, that clew, which should direct our proceedings.
  • [W]e shall begin with a Physical point; of which kind the Point of a Needle commonly reckon 'd for one. ...But if view'd with a very good Microscope, we may find that the top of a Needle (though as to the sense very sharp) appears a broad, blunt, and very irregular end; not resembling a Cone, as is imagin'd, but onely a piece of a tapering body, with a great part of the top remov'd, or deficient. ...[T]he Points of the most curious Mathematical Instruments do very seldome arrive at so great a sharpness; how much therefore can be built upon demonstrations made onely by the productions of the Ruler and Compasses, he will be better able to consider that shall but view those points and lines with a Microscope.

Observ. II. Of the Edge of a Razor.Edit

  • The sharpest Edge hath the same kind of affinity to the sharpest Point in Physicks, as a line hath to a point in Mathematicks... A Razor doth appear to be a Body of a very neat and curious aspect, till more closely viewed by the Microscope, and there we may observe its very Edge to be of all kind of shapes, except what it should be. ...Nor is't likely that it should appear any otherwise, since as we just now shew'd that a point appear'd a circle, 'tis rational a line should be a parallelogram.
  • The other part of the Razor... which is polish'd on a grinding-stone, appear'd much rougher then the other, looking almost like a plow'd field, with many parallels, ridges, and furrows, and a cloddy, as 'twere, or an uneven surface: nor shall we wonder at the roughnesles of those surfaces, since even in the most curious wrought Glasses for Microscopes, and other Optical uses, I have, when the Sun has shone well on them, discover'd their surface to be variously raz'd or scratched, and to consist of an infinite of small broken surfaces, which reflect the light of very various and differing colours. And indeed it seems impossible by Art to cut the surface of any hard and brittle body smooth, since Putte, or even the most curious Powder that can be made use of, to polish such a body, must consist of little hard rough particles, and each of them must cut its way, and consequently leave some kind of gutter or furrow behind it. And though Nature does seem to do it very readily in all kinds of fluid bodies, yet perhaps future observators may discover even these also rugged; it being very probable... that fluid bodies are made up of small solid particles variously and strongly mov'd, and may find reason to think there is scarce a surface in rerum naturâ perfectly smooth.

Observ. XVI. Of Charcoal, or burnt Vegetables.Edit

  • [T]e reason of its hardness and brittleness seems evident ,for since all the watery or liquid substance that moistn'd and toughn'd those Interstitia of the more solid parts, are evaporated and remov'd, that which is left behind becomes of the nature almost of a stone, which will not at all, or very little, bend without a divulsion or solution of its continuity.
  • [T]he Air in which we live, move, and breath, and which encompasses very many, and cherishes most bodies it encompasses... is the menstruum, or universal dissolvent of all sulphureous bodies.
  • [T]he dissolution of sulphureous bodies is made by a substance inherent, and mixt with the Air, that is like, if not the very same, with that which is fixt in Salt-peter.
  • [A]s there is one part that is dissoluble by the Air, so are there other parts with which the parts of the Air mixing and uniting, do make a Coagulum, or precipitation, as one may call it, which causes it to be separated from the Air, but this precipitate is so light, and in so small and rarify'd or porous clusters, that it is very volatil, and is easily carry 'd up by the motion of the Air, though afterwards, when the heat and agitation that kept it rarify'd ceases, it easily condenses, and commixt with other indiflbluble parts, it sticks and adheres to the next bodies it meets withall; and this is a certain Salt that may be extracted out of Soot.
  • [A]s there are these several parts that will rarifie and fly, or be driven up by the heat, so are there many others, that as they are indissoluble by the aerial menstruum so are they of such sluggish and gross parts, that they are not easily rarify'd by heat, and therefore cannot be rais'd by it. ...and this is that part which remains behind in a white body call'd Ashes, which contains a substance, or Salt, which Chymists call Alkali...
  • [T]he dissolving parts of the Air are but few, that is, it seems of the nature of those Saline menstruums, or spirits, that have very much flegme mixt with the spirits, and therefore a small parcel of it is quickly glutted, and will dissolve no more; and therefore unless some fresh part of this menstruum be apply'd to the body to be dissolv'd, the action ceases... whereas Salt-peter is a menstruum, when melted and red-hot, that abounds more with those Dissolvent particles, and therefore as a small quantity of it will dissolve a great sulphureous body, so will the dissolution be very quick and violent.
  • [A]s in other solutions, if a copious and quick supply of fresh menstruum, though but weak, be poured on, or applied to the dissoluble body, it quickly consumes it: So this menstruum o{ the Air, if by Bellows... be copiously apply'd...[it] is found to dissolve it as soon, and as violently as the more strong menstruum of melted Nitre.
  • Therefore... there is no such thing as an Element of Fire... but that that shining transient body which we call Flame, is nothing else but a mixture of Air, and volatil sulphureous parts of dissoluble or combustible bodies, which are acting upon each other...
  • This Hypothesis I have endeavoured to raise from an Infinite of Observations and Experiments... the Air being a Subject which (though all the world has hitherto liv'd and breath'd in, and been unconversant about) has yet been so little truly examin'd or explain'd,that a diligent enquirer will be able to find but very little information... But being once well understood, it will, I doubt not, inable a man to render an intelligible, nay probable, if not the true reason of all the Phenomena of Fire, which, as it has been found by Writers and Philosophers of all Ages a matter of no small difficulty....

Observ. XVIII. ...Cells and Pores...Edit

Of the Schematisme or Texture of Cork, and of the Cells and Pores of some other such frothy Bodies.
  • Nor is this kind of Texture peculiar to Cork onely; for upon examination with my Microscope, I have found that the pith of an Elder, or almost any other Tree, the inner pulp or pith of the Cany hollow stalks of several other Vegetables: as of Fennel, Carrets, Daucus, Bur-docks, Teasels, Fearn, some kinds of Reeds &c., have much such a kind of Schematisme, as I have lately shewn that of Cork, save onely that here the pores are rang'd the long-ways, or the same ways with the length of the Cane, whereas in Cork they are transverse.
    The pith also that fills that part of the stalk of a Feather that is above the Quil, has much such a kind of texture, save onely that which way foever I set this light substance, the pores seem'd to be cut transversly, so that I guess this pith which fills the Feather, not to consist of abundance of long pores separated with Diaphragms, as Cork does, but to be a kind of solid or hardned froth, or a congeries of very small bubbles consolidated in that form, into a pretty stiff as well as tough concrete, and that each Cavern, Bubble, or Cell, is distinctly separate from any of the rest, without any kind of hole in the encompassing films, so that I could no more blow through a piece of this kinde of substance, then I could through a piece of Cork, or the found pith of an Elder.

Observ. XXXVIII. Of the Structure and motion of the Wings of Flies.Edit

  • I tried... by fixing the leggs of a Fly upon the top of the stalk of a feather, with Glew, Wax, &c. and then making it endeavour to flie away; for being thereby able to view it in any posture, I collected that the motion of the wing was after this manner. ...[I]t makes many hundreds, if not some thousands of vibrations in a second minute of time. And, if we may be allow'd to ghess by the sound, the wing of a Bee is yet more swift, for the tone is much more acute... Now, if we consider the exceeding quickness of these Animal spirits that must cause these motions, we cannot chuse but admire the exceeding vividness of the governing faculty or Anima of the Insect, which is able to dispose and regulate so the the motive faculties, as to cause every peculiar organ, not onely to move or act so quick, but to do it also so regularly.

Obscrv. XXXIX. Of the Eyes and Head of a Grey drone-Fly,Edit

...and of several other creatures.
  • [T]he number of the Pearls or Hemispheres in the clusters of this Fly, was neer 14000. ...Other Animals I observ'd to have yet a greater number, as the Dragon-Fly or Adderbolt: And others to have a much less company, as an Ant, &c. and several other small Flies and Insects.
  • [T]hose which they call the eyes of Crabs, Lobsters, Shrimps, and the like... are Hemispher'd, almost in the same manner as these of Flies are.
  • That each of these Pearls or Hemispheres is a perfect eye, I think we need not doubt, if we consider onely the outside or figure of any one of them, for they being each of them cover'd with a transparent protuberant Cornea, and containing a liquor within them, resembling the watry or glassie humours of the eye, must necessarily refract all the parallel Rays that fall on them out of the air, into a point not farr distant within them...

Observ. LVIII. Of a new Property in the Air,Edit

and several other transparent Mediums nam'd Inflection, whereby very many considerable Phænomena are attempted to be solv'd and divers other uses are hinted.
  • [T]here is such a modulation, or bending of the rayes of light, as I have call'd inflection, differing both from reflection, and refraction (since they are both made in the superficies, this only in the middle) and likewise, that this is able or sufficient to produce the effects I have ascribed to it.

Quotes about MicrographiaEdit

  • The theory of combustion advanced by Dr. Hook, in 1665, in his Micrographia, approaches still nearer to that of Lavoisier than the theory of Rey, and indeed, so far as he has explained it, the coincidence is exact. According to Hook there exists in common air a certain substance which is like, if not the very same with that which is fixed in saltpetre. This substance has the property of dissolving all combustibles; but only when their temperature is sufficiently raised. The solution takes place with such rapidity that it occasions fire, which in his opinion is mere motion. The dissolved substance may be in the state of air, or coagulated in a liquid or solid form. The quantity of this solvent in a given bulk of air is incomparably less than in the same bulk of saltpetre. Hence the reason why a combustible continues burning but a short time in a given bulk of air: the solvent is soon saturated, and then of course the combustion is at an end. This explains why combustion requires a constant supply of fresh air, and why it is promoted by forcing in air with bellows. Hook promised to develop this theory at greater length in a subsequent work; but he never fulfilled his promise; though in his Lampas, published about twelve years afterwards, he gives a beautiful chemical explanation of flame founded on the very same theory.
    From the very general terms in which Hook expresses himself, we cannot judge correctly of the extent of his knowledge. This theory, so far as it goes, coincides exactly with our present notions on the subject. His solvent is oxygen gas, which constitutes one-fifth part of the volume of the air, but exists in much greater quantity in saltpetre. It combines with the burning body, and the compound formed may either be a gas, a liquid, or a solid, according to the nature of the body subjected to combustion.
  • Although Fermat's result was correct, and, indeed, of high permanent interest, the principles from which it was derived were metaphysical rather than physical in character, and consequently were of little use for the purpose of framing a mechanical explanation of light. Descartes' theory therefore held the field until the publication in 1667§ of the Micrographia of Robert Hooke...
    • E. T. Whittaker, A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity from the Age of Descartes to the Close of the Nineteenth Century (1910) pp.9-10. § Note: The imprimatur of Viscount Brouncker, P.R.S., is dated Nov. 23, 1664.
  • Hooke, who was both an observer and a theorist, made two experimental discoveries which concern [us]... but in both of these, as it appeared, he had been anticipated. The first was the observation of the iridescent colours which are seen when light falls on a thin layer of air between two glass plates or lenses, or on a thin film of any transparent substance. These are generally known as the "colours of thin plates," or "Newton's rings"; they had been previously observed by Boyle. Hooke's second experimental discovery, made after... Micrographia, was that light in air is not propagated exactly in straight lines, but that there is some illumination within the geometrical shadow of an opaque body. This observation had been published in 1665 in a posthumous work of Francesco Maria Grimaldi... who had given to the phenomenon the name diffraction.
    • E. T. Whittaker, A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity from the Age of Descartes to the Close of the Nineteenth Century (1910) p. 11.

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