In another post inspired by the Library’s recent acquisition of Robert Fludd’s Philosophia Moysaica (see here for previous post) we look at how Fludd’s work influenced another notable figure in the Whipple collection, Robert Hooke. Born just two years before Fludd died, Hooke was never a contemporary of Fludd’s, yet he would have known and read his work. He in fact owned a copy of Philosophia Moysaica, as well as other works including Monochordum Mundi Symphoniacum.1

Robert Hooke had a humble start in life, born in 1635 into the family of Rev John Hooke at a parish on the Isle of Wight. Being a somewhat sickly child, his headaches interfered with schooling. However, his curiosity and talent with instruments were apparent from an early age. When left alone he would construct various toys and devices; ‘there was nothing he saw done by any Mechanick, but he endeavoured to imitate, and in some particulars could succeed.’2 This continued through his years at Westminster school, where he learnt both music and geometry with ‘surprising swiftness’.3 In his early career, however, Hooke had to combine several occupations to establish a livelihood, despite his obvious technical skill. He spent his early adult life assisting established scholars like Wren and Boyle. He was keen, however, to create his own independent, professional and gentlemanly identity. Leading up to his pivotal appointment as a Royal Society fellow in 1663, Hooke worked as its curator, having impressed many members with his instrumental demonstrations.4 Members of the Royal Society recognised the need for someone with Hooke’s skills, making new instruments and demonstrating theoretical phenomena.

Evident parallels can be drawn between Hooke’s and Fludd’s work, especially with regards to their use of instruments, musical explanations, and the connections between the microcosm and macrocosm that these could elucidate. Like Hooke, who trained as an organist, Fludd also studied music extensively. For both men, music provided a unique approach towards understanding the harmonic structure of the universe. In particular, both used musical instruments to model, demonstrate and understand natural phenomena. For example, in Hooke’s Micrographia he writes of how particles ‘that are of a like bigness, and figure, and matter, will hold, or dance together, and those which are of a differing kind will be thrust or shov’d out from between them; for particles that are all similar, will, like so many equal musical strings equally stretch’t, vibrate together in a kind of Harmony or unison’.6 Sympathy and antipathy was seen to operate throughout the cosmos in a similar way to musical strings. Hooke’s use of the monochord to demonstrate these claims were no doubt inspired by Fludd’s Monochordum mundi (1622). Here Fludd similarly illustrates the correspondences between the numerical proportions of the monochord, the parts of the human body, and the disposition of the stars.7

Fludd’s Temple of Music from Utriusque cosmin. Featuring the monochord on the left and a system of musical scales between the columns on the right.

As mentioned in our last blog post, Fludd’s work was not widely read in England – Philosophia Moysaica was not even translated into English until 1659. Hooke, however, acquired four of Fludd’s books published in either Belgium or Germany. His copy of Monochordum Mundi Symphoniacum was published in Frankfurt (1622) and his Philosophia Moysaica in Ghent (1638), for example.8  We do not know exactly when Hooke acquired these works or exactly how much he read and was influenced directly by them, but they were at least on his radar.

It is worth considering that the Royal Society would have been receptive to musical explanations of natural phenomena. There had been a longstanding tradition of interpreting music as both a practical art and an organising principle, rooted in Pythagorean cosmology and the ‘harmony of the spheres’, and in Galen’s medical theory of humoral balance and the harmonic interactions between humoral mixtures, to give just two examples. This intellectual framework was defined as musica speculativa, focusing on ratio and proportion to explain the universe, and gave music strong theoretical potency both within the Royal Society and in wider philosophical thought. Hooke’s working environment would therefore likely be one where themes, similar to those in Fludd’s writings, were often discussed.

This volume records some of the demonstrations and lectures that Hooke gave to the Royal Society.

The Royal Society’s particular interest in the monochord can be confirmed in the first volume of Birch’s History of the Royal Society for the year 1664. In one entry a monochord demonstration is ordered and prepared by Hooke as the Society’s curator ‘to know the diversity of notes by’.9 An experiment was later carried out to show that the weight attached to the string ‘is in a duplicate proportion to the sound or vibration’.10

The monochord would also have particularly appealed to Hooke as he was greatly interested in using instruments to speculate on theories of nature. For example, his work with brass wheels and springs was important in formulating theories of how sound travelled as pulses.11 He also experimented with how distinct segments of bells vibrated, as an equivalent to how memories are retrieved.12

A monochord from Fludd’s Utriusque cosmin. Used for investigating the relationships between notes.

There are clear parallels between Hooke’s and Fludd’s monochord model of how the macrocosm and microcosm are linked – the monochord is depicted in Ultriusque Cosmin using music as a model to link the celestial and terrestrial spheres,13 and later Hooke uses the sympathetic resonance of its strings to explain how disparate particles can be linked together.

With these transactions in mind, the fact that Hooke owned Fludd’s books becomes more significant. In owning the earlier publications, Hooke may well have been reading Fludd’s work before other English scholars, and may have been a key player in introducing some of his ideas to the Royal Society, especially regarding the use of the monochord to explain natural phenomena.

Katharine Griffiths


1 Hooke’s Books

2 Hooke, R. (1705) ii

3 Gouk (1999), 195

4 Pugliese, P. J., ‘Hooke, Robert (1635–1703)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

5 Hooke, R. (1665), 15

6 Pugliese, P. J., ‘Hooke, Robert (1635–1703)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

7 Maclean, I. ‘Fludd, Robert (1574–1637)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

8 Hooke’s Books

9 Birch, D. D. (1756), 449

10 Ibid, 455

11 Ibid, 96

12 Hooke, R. (1705) 141

13 Quinn, T. (2006)



Gouk, P. (1999) Music, Science, and Natural Magic in Seventeenth-Century England. Yale, Yale University Press.

Hooke’s Books accessed 21 March 2017

Patri J. Pugliese, ‘Hooke, Robert (1635–1703)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13693 accessed 21 March 2017

Quinn, T. ‘Plates from Seventeenth-century medical and alchemical texts in the Royal Society Library’. Notes and Records, the Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, 60:1 doi: 10.1098/rsnr.2005.0132 accessed 21 March 2017

Maclean, I. ‘Fludd, Robert (1574–1637)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9776 accessed 27 March 2017

Birch, D. D. (1756) The History of the Royal Society of London, for Improving of Natural Knowledge from Its First Rise… as a supplement to The Philosophical Transactions, Ebook:

Hooke, Robert (1665) Micrographia; or, Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses. With observations and inquiries thereupon. Available at Whipple Library: Store (STORE OVERSIZE CR 8:38)

Hooke, Robert (1705) The posthumous works of Robert Hooke Publish’d by Richard Waller Available at Whipple Library: Store (STORE 52:13)