April the 10th 1697…I began this day to write the history
of my own life…"
At the fag
end of life, an old man, sitting over the desk opens a diary. Under
the dull light, he begins writing the gist of his entire life:
will comprise as many remarkable passages, as I can remember or
collect out of such memorials as I have kept in writing, or are in
the Registers of the Royal Society; together with all my Inventions,
Experiments, Discoveries, Discourses, which I have made, the time
when the manner how, and means by which, with the success and effect
of them, together with the State of my Health, my Employments and
Studies, my good or bad Fortune, my Friends and Enemies,…all which
shall be the truth of the Matter of Fact, so far as I can be
informed by my Memorials or my own Memory, which Rule I resolve not
That old man
was the great, world-renowned scientist the world now knows as
The Son of a
was born on July 18, 1635, at 12:00 pm, in a small town of
Freshwater, Isle of Wight in England. He was baptized the following
day. Robert’s father, John Hooke had been a curate of the local
Church of All Saints since 1626. John had fulfilled different
curacies on the Island since 1610. This historical church still
stands at the end of a road, named ‘Hooke Road’ after Robert Hooke.
There is a small museum here, dedicated to him.
came from a place named Hooke in Hampshire. His family had deep
roots in the place, as their ancestors had lived there for over a
few centuries, i.e., more than 300 years. Perhaps, Robert’s
ancestors had adopted the surname ‘Hooke’ after the village of their
ancestors. One of the two uncles of Robert were also clergymen in
the same Church. The baptismal register in the church still exists.
Brain in A Fragile Frame
Robert was a
weak child from his birth. During his infancy, he survived smallpox,
but the disease left him scarred – physically and emotionally for
the rest of life. The first seven years of his life were
troublesome. Even his parents doubted if he would ever survive
because the child suffered from headaches, dizziness, colds,
insomnia, and indigestion. The only food he could digest was milk.
first biographer, Waller : "…all this time his chief food was milk,
or things made thereof, and fruits; no flesh in the least agreeing
with his weak constitution."
In his early
years, Robert was too weak to receive regular schooling. But his
curiosity, instinctive interest, and power of observation did not
deprive him from gaining knowledge from his surroundings. He was all
eyes and ears to his surroundings and hence developed by his quality
of learning about things himself.
Mind – An Artist’s Heart
boyhood, Robert was, "very sprightly and active in running and
leaping, though very weak as to any robust exercise". The young boy
began to show remarkable interest and skill in mechanical toys. The
island called Isle of Wight was full of a variety of habitats and
rich fossil contents. Robert grew up in an environment that provided
him an opportunity to develop his insight and intellect. The family
budget was a very stringent one and there was no private income for
the family. Thus, the responsibility of Robert's education was taken
up by John Hooke. Robert’s father wanted him to follow the family
tradition and proceeded to prepare him for the Church. But recurrent
headaches and the ill condition of the boy hindered his learning.
His father took great pains over his education, but as it seemed
impossible, John Hooke lay aside all the thoughts of raising him up
as a scholar. As a result, Robert’s further education was totally
neglected and he was left on his own likings and resources.
physically sick, his mental abilities were far beyond his father’s
imagination. He inventive ability began to manifest itself when he
started making mechanical toys. He constructed a model warship with
rigging and guns that could be fired. This apparatus was about three
feet long. Once, he saw an old brass clock broken to pieces. After
studying the pieces closely, he decided to build his own clock. The
little boy astonished everyone by making a working clock out of wood
and a sundial. He also made a small ship, which was a yard long. He
would sail it on the broad stretch of the river water just over the
hill from his father’s church.
not only an inventor but a creator too. He had an artist’s heart. At
an early age, he had revealed an aptitude for drawing. There was a
painter named John Hoskins at Freshwater. Robert would often pay a
visit to Hoskins and would observe the painter closely. A question
that obsessed his mind was : ‘Why can’t I do so, too ?’ So he began
to collect the required material including chalk, coal and pencil.
Then he tried to copy Hoskins’ pictures, which were hung up in his
parlor. Robert succeeded in making exact copies of several paintings
of John Hoskins.