A P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library Closer Look: Micrographia

by Special Collections Librarian, Pennie Borchers

Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses With Observations and Inquiries Thereupon

Robert Hooke  (1635 – 1703)

Robert Hooke was one of the most penetrating and original minds of the 17th century.  A scholar at the Westminster School in England, Hooke read and absorbed Euclid’s first six books in a week and – in his spare time – invented thirty separate flying techniques.  He also explored the world of microscopy.

Early microscopes were primitive tools with a small field of view and images so distorted and dark that peering through their lenses for any length of time resulted in blurred vision.  Hooke, undeterred by such obstacles, examined a myriad of tiny objects – from needles and razors to moulds and fungi and, ultimately, the intricate structure of insects.  Nowhere is his artistic ability more apparent than in his depiction of the drone fly’s eye.  In drawings executed with astounding accuracy and beauty, each anatomic detail was revealed with precision, down to the cell itself, Hooke’s own discovery.

At the age of twenty-nine Robert Hooke produced his masterpiece, the Micrographia.

The National Library of Medicine has created a digitized copy of the Micrographia, which can be examined online at http://archive.nlm.nih.gov/proj/ttp/flash/hooke/hooke.html.

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library owns the beautiful 1667 edition.  If you would like to have a close-up look at this amazing book, please contact Pennie Borchers, Special Collections Librarian: borchers@uthscsa.edu.

Eye-to-eye with a grey drone fly

Plate of a grey drone fly head from the Micrographia

Plate of a grey drone fly head from the Micrographia

“I took a grey Drone-Fly…  I found this Fly to have the biggest clusters of eyes in proportion to his head of any small kind of Fly that I have yet seen…  The surface of each of these was shaped into a multitude of small Hemispheres, ranged over the whole surface of the eye in very lovely rows, between each of which were left long and regular trenches perfectly intire.  I was assured of this by the regularly reflected Image of Objects which I moved to and fro between the head and the light, and by examining the Cornea or outward skin after I had stript it off, and by looking both upon the inside and against the light…  Every one of these Hemispheres reflects as exact and perfect an Image of any Object from the surface as a small Ball of Quick-Silver of that bigness would do.  In each of these Hemispheres, I have been able to discover a Landscape of those things which lay before my window…”

From the Micrographia by Robert Hooke