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Robert Hooke : “A Louse” (1665)

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Robert Hooke’s Micrographia was the first book to introduce the general public to the intricacies of the miniature world. Published in 1665, the 246-page volume was lavishly illustrated with copperplate engravings unveiling the compound structure of the insect eye, the honeycomb pattern of plant cells, the crystalline architecture of frozen water, and other hidden wonders that have since become iconic of microscopy. The most celebrated of these are two large fold-out engravings of a flea and a louse revealing the ingenious physiology of organisms that appear, to us, indivisibly small and unworthy of contemplation.

Hooke’s observations of the natural world are contrasted with those of man-made objects, forming the first part of the book. On close inspection, the edge of a well-honed razor is rendered jagged, the needlepoint blunt. Hooke and his readers must have appreciated that whereas the microscope exposes the limits of human ingenuity, it affirms nature’s perfection at every level.

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