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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1967

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Instrument seller Yarwell[Image source: Science Museum Group]

Instrument seller Yarwell detailI was looking at this trade card for the optical instrumentalist John Yarwell ("Traded at Ye Archimedes & Spectacles in St. Paul's Church Yard
(1671-92), North Side of St. Paul's (1672), St. Paul's Churchyard
(1676-96) & Archimedes in Ludgate St.(1697) & Archimedes &
Crown (1698-1712), all London, England") and was struck by something a little bit "odd". For as many times that I have seen early images of compound microscopes I don't think I've ever looked at how the instrument was attached to its stand. Now that I am seeing it, it is remarkable how efficient and careful the early users were. Basically, the microscope was attached bya hair to its stand–well, not really, but just about.

Yarwell features spectacles, looking glasses, microscopes and a variety of telescopes. Here's a detail of a compound microscope from the Yarwell image (left), and it is remarkable how potentially unstable the attachment makes the instrument. Just a slight bit of turmoil, or a bump near a table leg could upset the image.

Take for another example this very famous compound microscope made by Christopher Cock for the great Robert Hooke (1635-1703):

Hooke microscope

[Image of the Hooke microscope via the Billings Collection at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology]

This famous instrument was evidently the one with which Hooke first observed living cells (25 March 1663, nearly 350 years ago) and which he used for the first investigation and of cork and the naming of the "cell" (13 April 1663), and which was the basis for the images gathered for his masterpiece of investigation and exploration, the Micrographia (1665).

It seems even less stable than the Yarwell instrument. The astonishing thing about this fish-skin-covered instrument, this gateway to a completely undiscovered miniature world, is that so much of it depended upon such a little bit of engineering…it just seems as though taking the next little step could have been taken for a more basic base, a heavier mount, a more stout connection from stand-to-microscope, just to make the instrument more stable. But it didn't happen just then for Hooke, and it evidently didn't matter.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1775

Pleasant_1bertha The 1895/1896 issues of Nature magazine are compliantly normal until the first weeks of 1896 when the first of a flood of articles is published about the astonishing discovery of 50-year-old Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. The English-language popular science journal announcement of his December 28, 1895 “Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen" ("On a New Type of Ray"), appearing 16 January 1896, began the introduction of a new state of human experience. His experiments—built upon the work of J. Plucker (1801-1868), J. W. Hittorf (1824-1914), C. F. Varley (1828-1883), E. Goldstein (1850-1931), Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), H. Hertz (1857-1894) and the odious Phil Lenard (1862-1947 and who didn’t die soon enough)—revealed as much to humans as did the experiments and inventions of Hooke and Leeuwenhoek on the invisible worlds revealed by the microscope. There are more than 150 articles on the Roentgen (and soon to be “X-“) Ray, all published within 12 months of the original announcement, almost all excitedly, trying to comprehend, elucidate, expand, verify, this new world.

Blogxraybigads_2 [ The news of the discovery is first and most popularly reported in the January 6, 1896 London Standard: “The noise of war's alarm should not distract attention from the marvelous triumph of science which is reported from Vienna. It is announced that Professor Routgen (sic) of the Wurzburg University has discovered a light which for the purposeBlogxrayad of photography will penetrate wood, flesh, cloth, and most other organic substances. The Professor has succeeded in photographing metal weights which were in a closed wooden case, also a man's hand which showed only the bones, the flesh being invisible”. By the end of the month the news was completely absorbed, worldwide.]

I looked at the advertising in these issues (my copies of Nature for these decades generally have the original paper wrappers for the weeklies, complete with ad copy), looking for the first time that a Roentgen machine was offered for sale to the general public. As it turns out, they popped up 12 March 1896 (once), 19 March (twice), and then about once a week for the rest of the year. A little surprising, I think, a little light to my Monday-morning quarterback’s eye—I expected more; bigger, more, splashier. But the ads are small and sedate, hardly similar to the discovery they represent.

Blogfeb_22marey The rest of the world, the rest of the advertising world, stayed the same–the Roentgen discovery and the enormous possibilities and promises of his “new photography” lived in their own unique sphere, unencumbered by their sassy new brother. This mild response seems dimmer still when you compare it to that which greeted other (relatively) simple but still major advancements in the world of photography. Take for example Etienne Marey, who was a technoid and physician who was able to capture motion of all sorts–he was able to develop a picture so to speak of the movement of blood in the body via his instrument to calculate blood pressure, and he also created a shotgun-style camera that made the Blog_feb_22_nude world's first high-speed photographs of movement. And so it cane to pass that in the late 1870's and early 1880's people were instantly able to see what a horse looked like when it galloped or what the body did *exactly* when jumping over a chair. When you couple this with fourth-dimension material one wonders why it took several more decades to bump into these images in the art of 1907+.

(Duchamp Nude Descending series, 1915; above, Marey, 1881)

And what indeed was normal in these pages? Magic lanterns
and magi lantern slides appearMagiclantern at all levels; the gorgeous Wimshurst machine gets heavily advertised; the redoubtable Negretti & Zambra advertised all manner of excellent scientific instruments (biographs, thermogrphs. Nadeer Bros. advertised a pretty standard cell, and the ancient Crossley displayed their “new” oil engines, “suitable for all classes of agricultural work”. J.H. Stewart was selling their semi-automatic electric arc lamp, while across the page was Newton & Company’s “Newtonian” arc lamps for lanterns (“self feeding and focus keeping”). Microscopes and prepared slides abound, and Thomas Bolton advertises discretely and effectively for their “living specimens for the microscope”.

The Physical Review, the American upstart in the science world advertises that its third volume was available, while its distant cousin, the Psychological Review, advertised its own third volume. Booksellers seem to take the most space, thank goodness.

Blogxrayepps There are a few medical throwbacks: Epp’s Cocaine takes out occasional tenth-page ads for their “cocoa-nib extract, tea-like” selling its ‘gentile nerve stimulant”. Right underneath is “Holloway’s Pills”, promising to cure biliousness, sick headache, indigestion, and all (?!) internal complaints. These are brilliant simple samples of the skeleton of science in world-dominant Great Britain, in a world dominated at that time by H.A, Lorentz, Ernst Mach , Roentgen, Korteweg, de Vries, Bateson, Jean-Baptiste Perrin, Pierre Curie, Zeeman, Becquerel, Joseph Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, Marconi, Ramsay, Fitzgerald. And so on.

Nothing offered for sale here offered any significant clue to the pregnant world of modernity that was nearlyBlogxray3 there—the world would become ‘modern” almost immediately following Roentgen, with revolutionary, epochal changes in art (in non-representational form more so than Impressionism), theater, literature, music. Just about everything changed (except politics). But there is no hint to paradigm shift hidden in the ads, just as they were with the machines selling the promise of Roentgen’s “new photography. There’s something about the fine glass, superb turning of the screw, and a perfectly oiled gear though that makes this sort of perfection seem so lonely in the world of larger change. Bertha, Roentgen’s wife, sat for 15 minutes while her husband passed his rays through her hand; she ran from the room once she saw the results, revealing her very bones and no doubt a strong sense of the Blog_feb_22_malevich

fragility of life, and the strong presence of death. Many had the same reaction to the Kandinsky'sBlogxrayad2 shapes and Malevich’s white circles and red rectangles and Ibsen’s drama and Einstein’s dancing dust and the rogue syncopation of jazz. It is probably a very natural reaction to try and protect established memory—but memory should be more flexible than that, I think, to keep a healthy mind.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1705


This may be the earliest image of "New York" as it was–that is "New York" instead of "New Amsterdam". From what looks like an extraordinarily bad trade (with 350-year-long hindsight), the Dutch and the English came to terms at the end of the second Dutch-English War (1665-1667) one result of which traded the small island of Run in the Banda Islands for another small (but not nearly so small as Run) island in North America: Manhattan.

Manhattan didn't have one thing that Run and the Bandas had, though, and that one thing was enormously valuable–nutmeg trees. From the nutmeg tree came nutmeg and mace; nutmeg was a spice and a supposed medicinal, and traded for more than the price of gold, allowing its producers a phenomenal return on their investment.

The Bandas were in a remote place removed from remote places in Indonesia. In the island group–which rose from great depths of the ocean–the total land mass was about 180 km2. Not much, except if they were the only places on Earth producing a commodity in sensational demand. The Dutch kept control of the islands for a long time, and kept their trade in the spices an abject money-maker. They secured their uncontested control of the island group at the end of that second Anglo-Dutch War with the Treaty of Breda, one section of which had the Brits returning Run to the Dutch in exchange for Manhattan, which was at the time still occupied by the Duke of York, who was the brother of Charles II and who would become James II. And thus the island became "New York".

Due to various reasons–not the least of which was the Dutch murder and export of the un-murdered indigenous population of the Bandas, who were the people who actually best knew how to care and administer the nutmeg trees–the great trade in the spices continued with diminishing effect in the Napoleonic Wars, an unpretty story of much bloodshed and enslavement.

{Image: "Fort Hollandois de l'Ile de Banda. – Hollands Fort op t' Eiland Banda."Original engraving by J.V. Schley and printed aorund 1750 (39.5×25 cm) for Antoine Prévost's Histoire générale des Voyages published in Paris between 1746 and 1770. The name of the structure was actually Fort Nassau. The original engraving is available from our blog bookstore, here.]

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1689

Ida Noddack (1896 - 1978)

it is conceivable that the nucleus breaks up into several large fragments, which would of course be isotopes of known elements but would not be neighbors of the irradiated element.“–Ida Noddack, 1934

Sometimes events and conspire to almost come together, to be very-nearly-there but not so, just this shy of complete, just a little short of being whole–save for inspiration, or insight, or genius. Such I think is the case of Ida Noddack (and just about everyone else) in the non-discovery of fission in 1934.

Just for the record, fission is properly discovered by Hahn/Strassmann/Meitner and announced in Naturwissenschaften beginning in 1935 (with “Ueber die kuensrtliche Umwandlunbg des Urans durch Neutronen” in 1935 and culminating in the epochal papers of 1939)–and this the result of a long series of necessary discoveries made by Becquerel, Einstein, Curie, Joliot, Bohr, Chadwick, Compton, Fermi, Frisch, Rosbaud, Wheeler, Alvarez and others.

Noddack published her paper–”Uber das Element 93″ in Angewandte Chemie (vol 47, pp 653-655) in 1934 (and published in Berlin) which correctly pointed out errors in Fermi’s important two-page 1934 paper on neutron bombardment experiments “Possible Production of Elements of Atomic Number Higher than 92″ , published in Nature 133 (3372), pp 898-899. She identified as inconclusive Fermi’s identification of transuranic products of neutron bombardment, and stated that the presence of all of the lower elements needed to eliminated along with the heavy radioactive elements. Noddack (1896-1978) was nominated three times for the Nobel (chemistry) but was passed by–she received recognition for her work, of course, but at the time- (1934) her paper was generally ignored, as it ran counter to some of the basic ideas of physics Noddack didn’t offer any theoretical help in her observations, and the paper slid almost instantly into obscurity. The breakthrough work on this issue would begin int he next year and ultimately the unthought-of concept of fission would be announced five years later.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1678

(This post would be incomplete unless you also read the post on The History of School Lunches.)

The best part of browsing books on shelves or in boxes or wherever the physical, non-digital place might be is the surprise, and the best surprise is the truly unexpected surprise. That is the beauty of browsing, to me, and this is what is disappearing as we replace shelved books with a monitor of some variety, whether it is at home or in the library. The glory of serendipity seems not quantifiable yet–the brain does too much stuff when you unconsciously parse a shelf or case or range of books. As you walk down an aisle of books, past hundreds or thousands of titles, you are seeing many of them though not necessarily registering them in your conscious experience; but your brain is working on this impulse of data even when your mind is wondering what you were doing at the library in the first place. When I go to the library, I like to think of it as going to the Serendipity House.


Finding the unexpected–and sometimes the unimaginable–is a pure joy, whether the found thing is monumental or useful or inspiring or informative or not. Sometimes it is the very simple satisfaction that a work exists on some very removed topic.

If you were to open the Atlas of Reading Experience and tried to find this title on school safety patrols, I imagine that the pamphlet would be represented in a part of the sea that seems very blank, but on micro-inspection it is obvious that there is a planktonesque sea of small islands with small islands off their costs of smaller items, and so on and so forth, resolving more minute detail and more islands, in a fractal world of smallness.

And somewhere in there would be School Safety Patrol Pioneers.

I really do love pamphlets like this whose titles make you stop and say "what in the world…?" or some such thing, usually though its just limited to the word "What" followed by a number of exclamation marks. This get s a little and needlessly more complicated when the exclamation points are combined with question marks, thus : "What!!" looks allot different from "What!!?", and seems much more interesting, too. I think that the most sublime pamphlets would resume the full complement of exclamations and questions available for my made-up review, which would be three apiece: "What!!!???" or "What???!!!" or any combination thereof (each of which would hold its on special secret analytical-emotional logic, god help us all), and would be the equivalent of a Perfect 10 or 5-Stars or Four Thumbs Way Way Up. (I think that the way this works is that the more exclamation points there are the louder you way "what" to yourself, and the more question marks there are the higher one would raise your eyebrows when seeing this for the first time. Maybe we're knocking on the door of the Visual Arithmetic of Exclamation Points and Question Marks, which seems like a long way to go to judge the imaginary meritocracy of the painfully mundane.)

In any event, I think that the (completely) unexpected beauty and idea of this pamphlet is just delectable–kind of like experiencing a superb slice of buttered toast.

This masterpiece of the forgotten obvious, The School Safety Patrol Pioneers, printed by the American Automobile Association in 1941 really does pay an homage in shades of white to the great leaders and benefactors of the Crosswalk Warriors. The great leaders though were not children, I'm sorry to report, but grownups whop dedicated their lives to the concept of crossing the street safely

(It sounds like I'm poking fun, but I'm not, really. What an enormous undertaking it was to write this 20-page effort–really. Could you imagine trying to research such a topic today? I can and can't–it would be an enormous heartache to undertake–unless of course you had this pamphlet in hand. My mind reels about trying to figure out where to start such a project. Honestly–it would be tough.

The design of the pamphlet is neat and clean, and very orderly, reporting on some of the leaders of this field, "then" and "now". One then-and-now reads" THEN–Supervisor, Physical and Health Education, Philadelphia; NOW–Supervisor of Safety Patrols, Philadelphia". More often then not though they read like this: "THEN–Principal, John Muir Grade School, Seattle; NOW–Deceased." I wish the writer had gone into a little more detail on the person's life before death took command, but all-in-all, this little pamphlet mobilized great, quiet wonders on its depth and efficiency in reporting on the history of crossing guards, and I'd rate it a "What !!?".

Now if I could only find something on the history of school hall monitors…

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1605

Today is the anniversary of a famous bug, found by Admiral Grace Murray Hopper in relay #70 of panel F of Harvard's MARK II computer. It was a 5 cm moth, actually, that was gumming up the works. Hopper–an integral part of several teams working on programming the earliest computers–witnessed the event, recorded the finding of the insect, and coined the word "debugging". She was an important figure in the history of computation, though Dr. Hopper is remembered by the general audience more for the bug than anything else.

The other famous bug, perhaps the most famous in the history of science, belonged to Robert Hooke.


I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about Robert Hooke, and how, if there had somehow and impossibly been no Newton, he might’ve taken Sir Isaac’s place in the popular mind. He was a tireless, relentless observer and experimenter, who lost little effort in a stranded idea and pursued interesting and problematic questions relentlessly. More than others too he chased his won glory—minor but long and insistent—the years of which wore thin on many people in the scientific community. But there were many characteristics of the man that made him not quite so lovable and endearing—not that Newton was any of those things, as he was not, but if you are going to be a secondary luminary to a super nova you’ve got to have something else going for you that the other man doesn’t have—sharing, helpful, greatly generous—to get you into the long pre-dusty pages of history. Also it would’ve helped if Hooke chose his battles with a little more aplomb and ingenuity—the war which began in 1672 with Newton went very badly for Hooke and followed him to the grave (and far beyond).

What I’d like to talk about right now, though, of the many things to talk about concerning Robert Hooke, is the most iconographic image he ever produced, and perhaps one of the most famous scientific images of the 17th century—the flea.

The 28-year old Hooke published the results in a gorgeous and revolutionary book, Micrographia (a lovely e-text edition appears at Gutenberg, here) in 1665, which became an instant best seller and highly praised and valued. (Samuel Pepys, perhaps among the shiniest stars whose imprimatur was like a royal blessing, said the book (was) "the most ingenious book that I ever read in my life.") There is no telling what the people of the mid-17th century thought of seeing such incredible discoveries in the little semi-invisible stuff that made up their normal, daily lives. The only thing that somewhat equates to this would be if the first images of the Hubble were those of Earth-bound objects whose detail had previously been unknown. Hooke’s observations and drawings of things like the common flea were just an astonishment—that such a creature of “low order” could have such intricate detail and design was a complete revelation. The drawings of the fly's eye, too, was an inescapable wonder, an incredible object to consider as having any detail pre-microscope, and then revealed to have unimaginable design and elegance.

And so the famous second bug.

…"it is my hope , as well as belief , that these my Labours will be no more comparable to the Productions of many other Natural Philosophers , who are now every where busie about greater things; then my little Objects are to be compar'd to the greater and more beautiful Works of Nature , A Flea, a Mite, a Gnat, to an Horse, an Elephant, or a Lyon.”—Robert Hooke at the end of his 28-page preface to Micrographia (1665)

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1595

Jean Schwartz (b. 1878) , composed this number for his (with the collaboration of William Jerome) Broadway (hit!) musical comedy Piff! Paff! Poof! in 1904, which sounded like this .
But the real story–that we'll deal with later–occurs a few years earlier, in 1898, with a married couple of scientists who made an epochal discovery:
What was easier for folks to understand was the application of the discovery, just six years after the Curie effort–though it did take a little longer to take hold in the public creative imagination than, say, the discovery of the X-ray, which entered the public mind almost instantly following its discovery in 1895.

72dpi JPEG image of: The radium dance; Piff-paff-pouf

[Source: Duke University]


Perhaps the real Radium Dance occurred for the first time by the people who found the thing, radium, back there in 1898–Marie Sklodowska Curie and Pierre Curie. They were a happily married couple, beginning their joined life in 1895, vacationing on wedding present money on bikes through the French countryside. They were soon back to their primary love in physics and chemistry, and inspired by the work of Henri Becquerel, began their assault on radioactivity in the next year. After several years of effort and laboriously extracting a gram of pure radium (by 1902) from a ton of pitchblende, they published their efforts in the volume of the great French scientific journal, Comptes rendus…Academie des Sciences (volume 127, in three short articles), announcing their discovery of polonium (after Marie's country of origin) and radium.

The really big Radium Dance would occur the year before the Broadway hit, in 1903, when the Curies and Henri Becquerel were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics1.


1. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903 was divided, one half awarded to Antoine Henri Becquerel "in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity",the other half jointly to Pierre Curie and Marie Curie, née Sklodowska "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel".

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1549

I hardly expected the story that I found in this little square pamphlet, particularly since I had selected it because of its cover art.

Jack of the Bean Fields–written by Nina Millen and published by the Friendship Press of New York–turns out to be a photo-essay on one seasonal adventure of a boy named Jack Marco and his migrant vegetable-picking family. The story starts with the family in a bad way, heading out on the road in a broken car filled with Jack’s mother, father, grandmother and three siblings, out to find a camp where they could find jobs picking early beans.

Depression579 As the family fixes the car, Jack heads out to play in the fields, where he finds a book. We find that–at age 8 or thereabouts–Jack hasn’t been taught to read and hasn’t been to school in years, and the family doesn’t own a single book. The family gets underway, finds a camp, and moves into an empty unit in a series of shanties. They clean the place up, and Jack lays his book on a shelf. “Now we are settled again” announces Ma. Wincing.


In a story that could have been a very maudlin or saccharin affair, it was surprisingly matter-of-fact, eventually telling how community and church groups appeared through the intercession of a camp nurse to help the migrant families, clothe the children, and send them to school.


The war was underway, the Depression was on its way out, the economy was beginning to bounce–but then, as today, there were migrant farmers–they just weren’t being displaced by Dust Bowl factors anymore. But, basically, it was a good story for kids, focused mainly on appreciating what we have and our small gifts, such as family–and the ability to read.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1435

This small engraving, Slagh in Vlaenderen (Battle in Flanders or thereabouts), is about 3×4 inches, a tiny engraving (on copper, I believe) depicting a large action between what I would guess to be the Dutch, or the army at Flanders, and the Spanish, sometime in the late 15th century to the early/mid 17th century. There were a number of different years in which this action could have taken place, so I'm not sure what this image actually depicts. The print was made sometime in the mid 17th century, possibly earlier. (The original is available for purchase at our blog bookstore.)

What attracted me to this print was the minuteness of the figures in the background–the horse depicted here is not a millimeter long in the original, but we can see that the artist took enough care and had the imagination to make the horse run. (There is a long thread on this blog, "Prints–Looking Hard/Deeeply at" that takes a micro cruise along teh surface of large and complex prints into their perhaps seldom-scene embedded small worlds.)

Flanders battle373
Ditto for the soldier just to the left of the horse and out of formation–even when you hold the print close, you really can't see that there's a figure there unless you use a magnifying glass. This sample was scanned at 1000 dpi and represents a section of the print that is maybe 8 mm across.

The next sample shows an island that in the original is about an inch across, and as you can well see the sub-detail from the image above is just a fragment of this detail.

Flanders battle372

And the print in all of its glory, appearing on your monitor at about full scale.

Flanders battle371

I am constantly amazed at the precision and care and artistry of these early engravers, and how much they cared to include interesting details that were all but invisible to the majority of its viewers. But that's not the point.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1097

Horse constellation Had there been no Newton every school child would know the
name of Robert Hooke (1635-1703) in its place—he was polymathic, totally
energized, big-thinking non-sleeping experimentalist and theoretician who
worked across numerous disciplines (physics and astronomy, to chemistry,
biology, and geology, to naval technology), not the least of which was
architecture (having helped Christopher Wren in the design of the new St.
Paul’s). Hooke was a superb instrumentalist and inventor who also (for the most part) introduced humanity to the previously-unseen microscopic world (in his gorgeous and revolutionary Micrographia1 ..) .He was
an enormous figure who was also never below a fight or argument, and whose
grasp of his own very considerable accomplishments never seemed to be limited
by what he had actually done in spite of his own tremendous and prodigious output. Some people lay the blame for Hooke’s obscurity upon Newton’s great and tireless
vindictiveness against Hooke, but that’s by far from the whole story of Hooke’s
troublesome personal legacy. Not only is
his portrait not on the coin of the realm (like Newton's) nor hanging everywhere in the halls
of academia, but there is no known lifetime surviving portrait of the man, and the exact location of his burying place is not known. He came a little close to Newton’s
enormity, and in the absence of Jupiter and Saturn even the Earth starts to
look a little bit big.among the rest of the planets.

In addition to high genius and a man largely responsible for keeping together (and moving forward) the Royal Society, Hooke was also a hypochondriacal, meanish, semi-miser prone to receiving insults real or imagined, always very well aware of his place in history of of history's possible sleights against him, and also prone to vindictive attack if the mood moved him. Newton too could be as sharp as sand in the eye, but he survived as a person, and Hooke sorta didn't. I'm not sure why, really, he seems so mostly-forgotten nowadays, priggishly envious idea-appropriating vindictive Despicable Me character or not–his swath of accomplishments was wide and deep as almost anyone else coming out of Britain for 200 years, which should be enough to send a lot of the historical personal detritus into the lost memory bin…but it doesn't, or something else, but popular history just doesn't work for the man.

Stephen Inwood's The Forgotten Genius recalls the 1673 letter that Robert Hooke wrote to the Council of the Royal Society, complaining of a new wrinkle in his ever-wrinkling private life: the garden that had been just outside his rooms had been converted into a "coaching inn and stables", meaning that there were mounds of festering summertime horse poop within nostrils' reach. He wrote to the Council that he needed a new accommodation, to "free himselfe from sitting as he now doth in the suffocating stink of the stables hors dung and Jakes [privy], which hath bin a great cause of his late illness". [The portrait is supposed to be that of Hooke, which is fine by me--I like this one. It shows a very thin man under the wig and bulky clothing, clear blue eyes, tight mouth, translucent skins, surrounded by the implements and directions of his thought, not the least of which is the night sky over the sitter's shoulder.]

The changes were agreed to, but not quickly, and it was still December 1673 or so that Hooke got his hands on Johannes Hevelius' new Machina Coelestis, a book which contained what Hooke saw to be germinal flaws, fatal flaws to the advancement of astronomy–and of course varied affronts to his own innovations in astronomical instrumentation–but which were preventable. By him. Hooke had it within himself to attack anything or anyone, and so it came to be Hevelius' turn, monumental stature or not. (Newton's turn would come soon after.)

Now there is only contrived evidence that the horse dung and suffocating stink threw Hooke over the edge–but I do like the idea of this being the case, and though probably no real historian would go this way, I like to think that it was this High Stink that helped Hooke in his large attack upon Hevelius. Of course Hooke needed no pushing or prodding from outside sources, even if those outside sources were already sort of within him. But I do like the image of his pen and razor-sharp mind fueled by the poop mounds and privies.

I can imagine his knuckles turning an easy white as he read the book that charged against his superior optical method of sighting instrumentation for astronomical work, Hevelius clinging to some methods of the 16th century. They fought, of course, and for the most part it was a lonely (if correct) fight by Hooke, his possible benefactors and allies at the Royal Society turning out not to be so given personality clashes and such. But I can imagine the Hevelius, and the knuckles, and the wrongness of it all, all brewing in the stank of late summer swelter of horse dung mounds, filling Hooke's nostrils and wigs and everything else with a rage for a rage that already existed.

And here's a line I won't very often get to use to close anything out: the poop couldn't've hurt..


1. The 28-year old Hooke published the results in a gorgeous
and revolutionary book, Micrographia (a lovely e-text edition appears at Gutenberg, here) in 1665, which became an instant
best seller and highly praised and valued. (Samuel Pepys, perhaps among the
shiniest stars whose imprimatur was like a royal blessing, said the book (was)
"the most ingenious book that I ever read in my life.") There is no
telling what the people of the mid-17th century thought of seeing
such incredible discoveries in the little semi-invisible stuff that made up
their normal, daily lives. The only thing that somewhat equates to this
would be if the first images of the Hubble were those of Earth-bound objects
whose detail had previously been unknown. Hooke’s observations and
drawings of things like the common flea were just an astonishment—that such a
creature of “low order” could have such intricate detail and design was a
complete revelation. The drawings of the fly's eye, too, was an
inescapable wonder, an incredible object to consider as having any
detail pre-microscope, and then revealed to have unimaginable design and elegance.