van Leeuwenhoek's Letters

So much attention has been paid over the years to Antonj van Leeuwenhoek's astonishing discoveries in the fields of protistology and bacteriology that the vast range of his other interests is often minimized or overlooked. As may be seen by browsing the titles of his Letters to the Royal Society, there is scarcely a substance or object that he did not microscopically examine and painstakingly describe. His descriptions and interpretations are made in a charmingly unsophisticated style that is often close to incomprehensible without aid of the Figures that he usually included. These were nearly all prepared by hired professional illustrators, since he considered himself a poor artist.

Not being a formally educated man, he wrote and published only in his own language, Nederdietsch ("Low Dutch", precursor to modern Dutch). It was therefore necessary for others to translate his copious communications into English or Latin for publication to the rest of the scientific community.

His colleagues sometimes referred to him as "a curious gentleman". They presumably meant by that to portray him as inquisitive, rather than as eccentric, although either description may be fair. Below are links to many of his writings in PDF form downloaded from the Royal Society's website.

The titles appear to have been added to the letters by the archivists when preparing them for publication in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Compared with the style of most learned men of the time, Antonj was fairly sparing of the flowery and obsequious language that one usually finds in classical scientific documents. At least in that regard, his prose is refreshingly less tedious to study.

(Click title to download the whole letter as PDF)

(Click detail to open the whole Figure)

 Phil. Trans.-1693-van Leeuwenhoek-700-8

Gezicht op Delft ca. 1670
(View of Delft)

Jan Vermeer

Mauritshuis, Den Haag

Delftse Donderslag ca. 1654
(Delft Thunderclap)
Egbert Lievenszoon van der Poel

Amazingly, van Leeuwenhoek never mentioned
the devastation of Delft by an enormous gunpowder
explosion when he was 22 years old.

"De Astronoom" ca. 1668-9
(The Astronomer)
Jan Vermeer
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Possibly modeled by van Leeuwenhoek

"De Geograaf" ca. 1668-9
(The Geographer)
Jan Vermeer
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main

Possibly modeled by van Leeuwenhoek

Signatures on van Leeuwenhoek's will

Microscope attachment for test-tube

van Leeuwenhoek Tercentennial
1632 - 1932
Commemorative Bronze Plaque

van Leeuwehoek's grave at Oude Kerk

Accounts by gentlemen who personally examined
van Leeuwenhoek's microscopes and specimens:

Copyright © 2009-2013, Peter W. Pedrotti, Jr., MA - All Rights Reserved