Leeuwenhoek’s Great Discovery Was at First Rejected by the “Experts”

In the passage quoted below, Hager discusses the reception that Leeuwenhoeck received to his first report of the “animalcules” seen under his microscope:

(p. 42) He hired a local artist to draw what he saw and sent his findings to the greatest scientific body of the day, the Royal Society of London.

(p. 43) Van Leeuwenhoek’s raising of the curtain on a new world was greeted with what might kindly be called a degree of skepticism. Three centuries later a twentieth-century wit wrote a lampoon of what the Royal Society’s secretary might well have responded:

Dear Mr. Anthony van Leeuwenhoek,
Your letter of October 10th has been received here with amusement. Your account of myriad “little animals” seen swimming in rainwater, with the aid of your so-called “microscope,” caused the members of the society considerable merriment when read at our most recent meeting. Your novel descriptions of the sundry anatomies and occupations of these invisible creatures led one member to imagine that your “rainwater” might have contained an ample portion of distilled spirits—imbibed by the investigator. Another member raised a glass of clear water and exclaimed, “Behold, the Africk of Leeuwenhoek.” For myself, I withhold judgement as to the sobriety of your observations and the veracity of your instrument. However, a vote having been taken among the members—accompanied, I regret to inform you, by considerable giggling—it has been decided not to publish your communication in the Proceedings of this esteemed society. However, all here wish your “little animals” health, prodigality and good husbandry by their ingenious “discoverer.”

The satire was not far from the truth. Although very interested in the Dutchman’s discoveries, so many English scientists were doubtful about his reports that van Leeuwenhoek had to enlist an English vicar and several jurists to attest to his findings. Then Hooke himself confirmed them. All doubt was dispelled.

Source:
Hager, Thomas. The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

2 thoughts on “Leeuwenhoek’s Great Discovery Was at First Rejected by the “Experts””

  1. Hi Art,
    I read this story years and years ago, being trained as a pathologist. Misoneism on all levels, especially in the enlightened halls of power; business as usual. I cite your blog post in my scheduled article for tomorrow, so thanks for putting this story so nicely in a ‘nutshell.’
    -k @FitOldDog

  2. Hi Art,
    I read this story years and years ago, being trained as a pathologist. Misoneism on all levels, especially in the enlightened halls of power; business as usual. I cite your blog post in my scheduled article for tomorrow, so thanks for putting this story so nicely in a ‘nutshell.’
    -k @FitOldDog

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