Robert Hooke

Robert Hooke’s ‘Micrographia’ (PL 2116)

Samuel Pepys’ diaries have provided many entries in the Oxford English Dictionary as evidence for the first documented occurrence of a particular word. ‘Microscopy’ is one such word and we hope to explore some more of these in the Magdalene Libraries’ blog in the future.

Pepys noted in his diary on the 20th January, 1665, ‘and so to my booksellers and there took home Hookes book of Microscopy, a most excellent piece, and of which I am very proud.’ Pepys bought the book from a Joseph Kirton, of St. Paul’s churchyard.   The volume caught his eye on the 2nd January, and thought it ‘so pretty’ that he ‘bespoke’ it immediately.

micrographia watermarked

‘The Flea’ from Hooke’s ‘Micrographia’.

Robert Hooke’s ‘Micrographia’, first published in 1665, contains 38 extraordinarily detailed engravings of the natural world of such high quality that Hooke has been described as ‘England’s Leonardo’ by contemporary historians of science. Hooke displayed great enthusiasm for the relatively new science of microscopy, and technological advances in the field allowed Hooke to study insects and plants in greater detail than ever before. Shown above is the engraving of the flea, perhaps the most famous engraving from the book.

The Micrographia owned by Samuel Pepys can currently be viewed in the display cases of the Pepys Library. Please check the website for the current public opening hours.

By Catherine Sutherland


Hooke, Robert. Micrographia: Or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses; with Observations and Inquiries Thereupon. London: Printed by Jo. Martyn, and Ja. Allestry, 1665.

‘Microscopy, N.’ OED Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed 30 May 2014.

Pepys Library. Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Edited by N. A. Smith, H. M. Adams, Derek Pepys Whiteley, and Robert Latham. Cambridge: Totowa, N.J: Brewer; Rowman and Littlefield, 1978.

Pepys, Samuel. The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A New and Complete Transcription. London: Bell, 1971.

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