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Between Broad Street and Bishopsgate


In his left hand he holds a pamphlet picked up minutes before at a stall in Threadneedle Street, a copy of one section of Hooke’s Micrographia, regarding the moon, wherein Hooke concludes, having observed light near the Hipparchus crater, that “the Vale may have Vegetables analogus to our Grass, Shrubs and Trees; and most of these encompassing Hills as may be covered with a thin vegetable Coat, such as the short Sheep pasture which covers the Hills of Salisbury Plains.” His boots echo off the quadrangle’s brick and timber walls. He walks a path that scores the yard from upper left to lower right. There’s another from right to left. Where they cross, a bath welcomes magpies and mice. The triangles formed are spread with golden sand, the yard lined with saplings (almond) in blossom. Gresham College—once private residence of Thomas Gresham, merchant and financial counselor to three Tudor monarchs, now home to professors in divinity, geometry, music, astronomy, law, and physic, who live in rooms (in scholarly celibacy), for “the education and practical benefit of the citizens of London”—lies not too far from St Michael’s Alley, where London’s first coffee-shop was opened in 1652 by Mr. Edwards the Turkey merchant, who’d earlier brought from Smyrna a youth called Pasqua Rosee to prepare the exotic brew each morning—so the sign is Pasqua’s head. But Henry Oldenberg doesn’t drink coffee.

Just now, Hooke spies Henry in the yard. It is the second Wednesday in March (violets, specially the single blue, which are the earliest; the yellow daffodil; the daisy; the almond-tree in blossom; the peach-tree in blossom; the cornelian tree in blossom; sweet-briar) and Hooke has only recently returned to his rooms after fleeing the city with friend and mentor John Wilkins to avoid the worst of the plague’s most recent outbreak. The men stayed at Durdans near Epsom in Surrey—a country house in the possession of a Gentleman Fellow of The Royal Society (a.k.a The Invisible College, recently renamed and chartered). They came first to a brook, then a gate, then the house, which was nearly overrun with ivy. There, Hooke managed to amass a great assortment of wonderful objects, such as “shining animals whose blood, or juices, did shine more bright than the tail of a glow-worm,” and to walk each day along the banks of the Mole River through Banstead Downs. At night he measured the progress of a stem of ivy grown through a crack in the wall. Each day he and Wilkins collaborated on the design and manufacture of an experimental conveyance: a carriage in which one man rides on a bouncing seat suspended above the horse’s back. And Wilkins, for his part, at last completed his book on the Universal Character—a new language to be spoken by all, representing, perhaps, his most significant work since “Discovery of a New World in the Moon,” published and argued three decades before. It, too, was concerned with unusual modes of conveyance: a carriage to the moon able to “pass through the vast spaces of air.”   

Seeing Oldenberg approach, Hooke slips his newest article—tentatively entitled “The Inflection of a Direct Motion into a Curve by a Supervening Attractive Principle”—into a drawer of his desk. Eleanor, the Dean’s eldest daughter, sits on his bed quickly lacing up her stay.


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