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Huygens Appropriation Further Notes and Complications

More Notes on Huygens’s New Microscope

Having now read Marian Fournier’s “Huygens’ Designs for a Simple Microscope” (1989) the extended hypothesis that Christiaan Huygens was somehow aided in his quick production of a “new microscope” by the grinding techniques that may have been found in the purchase of equipment from Spinoza’s estate, suffers complication. This is largely due to the remission of any detail as to the grinding of lenses in this rather through report. Indeed, there is text citation as to the blowing of lenses [cited is a manual OC viii, Part II, 683-4 and OC viii, 89 letter dated 30 July 1678 ]. Having not read these passages I cannot say for sure how exclusive these descriptions are, since they are taken to be refinements of the blowing techniques themselves. It is possible, at least from this distance, that such blown lenses were then ground, but as there is no existent discussion of such a process, it is hard to embrace that this formed a decisive aspect of the process. Instead it seems that Christiaan and Constantijn were absorbed with nearly every other aspect of the microscope model, trying multiple configurations of the frame, the eyepiece, diaphragm, specimen holding means, etc. This relative silence as to the lens could I suppose suggest that by June 1668 the technique of lens grinding (if assumed) was settled on, and all that remained for improvement was the apparatus.

Christiaan Huygens first design

Be that as it may, Ms. Fournier presents clearer a timetable presentation of the unfolding of the microscope’s conception and production, some of which exposes the possibility of further questions. I reprint here some of the relevant events:

Christiaan Huygens is in The Hague, returned from Paris due to illness, from June 1676 to July 1678.

Feb 21 1677 – Spinoza dies in The Hague.

Unknown date – Christiaan translates Van Leeuwenhoek’s letter to the Royal Society dated Feb 15 1677 into French.

Aug. 1677 – Van Leeuwenhoek discovers the animalcules in semen, spermatozoa. (May have informed Huygens: Fournier)

Nov. 4 1677 – The Huygenses possibly purchase the grinding dishes and other equipment from the Spinoza Estate.

Feb 1678 – Christiaan studies spermatozoa through a microscope of unknown kind, taking notes (OC viii. Part 2. 698 )

March 1678 – already in close contact, Hartsoeker sends Christiaantwo microscopes and instructions for their use. Two attributes are noted: 1). a 1 to 1½ ft tube used to restrict ambient light on the specimen, and 2). a movable glass, polished or plain, behind the object to control the beam of light (dating letters 14 and 25 March, 4 April . [Ruestow adds that Hartsoeker did not only mail these, but also at the end of March came to The Hague to show the spermatozoa of a dog in person].

26 March 1678 – Christiaan orders a single lens microscope from the renowned Van Musschenbroek workshop.

May 1678 – Christiaan completes the first drawn version of the design his microscope.

An Article on the authorship of the microscope is published in the Journal des Sçavans, crediting Harksoeker with primary credit for the control of specimen lighting, and Huygens for that of the sandwiching of the speciment between glass and mica discs.

Christiaan Huygenss third design 29 August

Christiaan Huygens's third design 2.9.78

Fournier, quite differently than Ruestow, paints Huygens in Paris as being very reluctant for the recognition of his microscope. Ruestow is quite convinced that Huygens attempted to cheat Hartsoeker of some credit. Given that Huygens was returning to Paris after a two year absence, and that the credit he probably wished was from the society members he made his presentations to, and intercoursed with daily. It seems unlikely that issues of priorty and publication are those that defined Huygens sense of identity and self-esteem.

And Fournier brings out more than any other source the ubiquity of this kind of lens scope, confirming my suspicion it was not at all the lens beading technique which Hartsoeker supplied to Huygens. In fact it seems that Huygens “recently” had visited the house of the master of the small lens, Van Leeuwenhoek (581). Given that over time Huygens’s design would move away from the distinct component that Harksoeker is credited with contributing, as Fournier reports, “the development proceeded from a very long tube to a simple perferation directly behind the object, which served to limit the amount of stray light” (589), one wonders just where Hartsoeker’s fingerprint on the device remains.

As for my chain of inferences which link the production of this microscope with the possible acquisition of the grinding equipment of Spinoza’s estate, it remains tenuous. Until I or another go over the cited material describing the production of the lenses used. Most certainly it seems that the ball-bead lenses were employed in the new design, but the experimentation with the melting method may suggest dissatisfaction with this rather quick and easy method of making lenses. Given that the rate of Huygens’ microscopic observations balloon to daily notes in June of 1678, lasting until early ’79, it may be that Huygens himself used lenses of a kind different that more ubiquitously distributed. Such a view may be supported by Ruestow’s citation of OCCH xiii 522-7, which in retrospect provides the possibility of both a bead lens and a ground lens being used (26). What is provocative is that the very thing which Huygens found disconcerting about the bead lens in April 1665, the depth of field, is that which is addressed to some degree by grinding the bead lens into a convex/convex shape, opening up the aperture, drawing out more detail. Fournier sums up Huygens’ objection to Hudde as:

He particularly deplored their very limited lack of depthof field. He foundit inconvenient that with such a small lens one could not see the upper andunderside of an object, a hair for instance, at the same time (“Huygens’ Design…” 579).

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