Robert Hooke, contemporary of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, has been described in several biographies in less than flattering adjectives. His first biographer, Robert Waller, called him "despicable, melancholy, mistrustful, and jealous", and a slew of subsequent biographers followed suit with "positively unscrupulous, cantankerous, envious and vengeful". The bad press, combined with the fallout from a dispute which he had with Newton over work he carried out on gravitation, did nothing to help his reputation. Hooke and his work fell into relative obscurity in the centuries following his death in 1703. It is said that Newton, who became president of the Royal Society after Hooke's death, so despised him that he did everything in his power to ensure that his work did not come to light, and went as far as destroying the only known portrait of the man. Several attempts have been made to construct an image using verbal descriptions of Hooke.
In January 2006, Hooke's minutes of the earliest years of the Royal Society's work were discovered. The 320-year-old Hooke Folio tells the story of what really conspired ,better than any biographer could, recording in detail the conversation that led to the birth of science as we know it today. On November 3, 1664, when he was 29-years-old, Hooke gave a sneak preview, at a meeting of the Royal Society, of his book Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon, history's first treatise on microbiology. The book includes drawings of insects, plants and other objects as viewed through the microscope, an invention that heralded a scientific and artistic revolution in the late 17th century. It was Hooke who first coined the term "cell" to describe the minute partitions that he saw in plant and animal tissue.
Illustration: Robert Hooke's flea. Micrographia, 1664