“Mr. Hooke, who is the most, and promises the least, of any man in the world that ever I saw.”
Samuel Pepys made that perfectly condensed recap of the public persona of 'England's Leonardo', Robert Hooke on the 15th of February, 1665.
My own personal first proper encounter with 'the man who knew everything' took place at a sort of open day at the Greenwich Royal Observatory — the design and construction of which he played a significant role in — during which we were allowed to view a first edition of Hooke's famous engraving of a flea.
It is 18 inches in width, folding out from the Micrographia, and was almost certainly completed in the months immediately after Pepys's observation in his hidden diary.
Hooke's abiding obsessions were the largest and smallest objects in then visible reality. He is said to have been the first person to visualise a microorganism and constructed the earliest Gregiorian telescope to observe the rotations of Jupiter and Mars.
When Pepys first met him, Hooke was living in near poverty, but achieved financial security in the aftermath of the Great Fire in 1666 as a result of conducting architectural surveys across London.