Only forty years after Hooke’s death, Micrographia had become difficult and expensive to obtain. Prose styles had also changed. While Hooke’s prose can be vivid and charming, it is also often contorted, with sentences wandering willy nilly down the page. Here is an example of a single sentence from his entry on ‘petrify’d wood’:
From all which, and several other particulars which I observ’d, I cannot but think, that all these, and most other kinds of stony bodies which are found thus strangely figured, do owe their formation and figuration, not to any kind of Plastick virtue inherent in the earth, but to the Shells of certain Shel-fishes, which, either by some Deluge, Inundation, Earthquake, or some such other means, came to be thrown to that place, and there to be fill’d with some kind of Mudd or Clay, or petrifying Water, or some other substance, which in tract of time has been settled together and hardned in those shelly moulds into those shaped substances we now find them; that the great and thin end of these Shells by that Earthquake, or what ever other extraordinary cause it was that brought them thither, was broken off; and that many others were otherwise broken, bruised and disfigured; that these Shells which are thus spirallied and separated with Diaphragmes, were some kind of Nautili or Porcelane shells; and that others were shells of Cockles, Muscles, Periwincles, Scolops, &c. of various sorts; that these Shells in many, from the particular nature of the containing or enclos’d Earth, or some other cause, have in tract of time rotted and mouldred away, and onely left their impressions, both on the containing and contained substances; and so left them pretty loose one within another, so that they may be easily separated by a knock or two of a Hammer.
The full stop certainly comes as a relief.
In 1745 Micrographia was re-published as Micrographia Restaurata, ‘Micrographia Restored’. The book contained all the original engravings, most of which were printed from the original copper plates, but to the relief of readers, the commentary is shorter and simpler than the original, while preserving the important features of Hooke’s original observations.
The Preface criticises Hooke’s prose, ‘which must be acknowledged (with all due Regard to the Memory of so great a Man) to be frequently tedious and obscure’. Modern readers may well agree.