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Seeing the Invisible under the Microscope: Natural Philosophy and John Donne's Flea.

Proper Comparisons do the Imagination almost as much Service, as
Microscopes do the Eye; for, as this Instrument gives us a distinct
view of divers minute Things, which our naked Eyes cannot well discern;
because these Glasses represent them far more large, than by the bare
Eye we judge them; so a skilfully chosen, and well-applied, Comparison
much helps the Imagination, by illustrating Things scarce discernible,
so as to represent them by Things much more familiar and easy to be
apprehended. (1)

"MARK BUT THIS FLEA, AND MARK IN THIS,/How little that which thou deny st me is." (2) So begins John Donne's "The Flea," perhaps the most notorious seduction poem of the English Renaissance. The lyrics entomological conceit, questionable as an erotic strategy but thrilling in its inventiveness, has long been taken as the exemplar of metaphysical wit. Yet its sacrilegious bravura--e.g., its tethering of marriage rites to the lousiest of vehicles; its comparison of flea squashing to Christ killing--perhaps occludes the one way in which Donne's "The Flea" is actually quite ordinary. It envisions insect life as a formal and philosophical challenge for poetry. Industrious bees, lascivious bugs, dream-inducing Mabs, gnat-like fancies, ethereal glowworms, cavalier grasshoppers, parasitic Moscas, midsummer moths: infinitesimal creatures like these buzz innumerably through Renaissance literature. One unfamiliar with the early modern period might expect this thrumming multitude to exemplify mere flights of fancy, poetic curiosities with little substance. Yet as with Donne's metaphysical flea, the poetic insect--delicate, multifarious, obscure--regularly became a vehicle for abstract speculation, belying its ostensibly humble source.

This essay argues that the lingering influence of poetry's entomological turn can be discerned, unexpectedly, in that other portentous location occupied by bugs in early modern intellectual life: that space between glass slides, where fleas and their brethren were pressed into service by early microscopists. Historians have observed that the study of insects played an outsized role in the early Royal Society, because these creatures so effectively demonstrated the wonder-generating capacity of the new instrument. The microscope, after all, seemingly "revealed forms of life that were entirely new to science: new universes and societal structures of which nobody could have dreamt." (3) The panegyric is contemporary, though it fairly ventriloquizes the enthusiasm of the early Society. Yet then, as now, it overlooks an important detail. Universes of the subvisible had, in fact, been dreamt of for centuries, by poets. As Anna-Julia Zwierlein remarks of Mercutio's dream-inducing Queen Mab, "The physical evidence of microspace... is preceded by the mere idea of the subvisible." (4) The first-century BCE De Rerum Natura, for example, theorizes mobile subvisible realms purely on the basis of analogy. Its author, Lucretius, had no electron microscope or particle accelerator, and he certainly did not know Einstein's theory of general relativity. But many of his atomic speculations would, in the course of nearly two millennia, come to be corroborated. Insects, like Lucretian atoms, were key players in this vast imaginary, for in their intricacy and minuteness they intimated further subvisible worlds that were just beyond human perception.

At least since Marjorie Hope Nicolson's The Breaking of the Circle: Studies in the Effect of the "New Science" Upon Seventeenth-Century Poetry, scholars have readily identified the profound influence of natural philosophy upon imaginative literature. (5) But as that subtitle insinuates, the stimulus had too readily been understood as unidirectional. More recent scholarship, such as work by N. Katherine Hayles, Claire Preston, Elizabeth Spiller, and others, has helped correct the assumption that the production of knowledge went only one way. (6) Such a presupposition would indeed have been bizarre to early moderns themselves. The works of figures like Francis Bacon, Sir Thomas Browne, and Margaret Cavendish are almost impossible to categorize, so freely did these thinkers roam between imaginative literature and natural philosophy. Other authors like Robert Boyle, William Gilbert, and Galileo, easily identifiable as natural philosophers, nonetheless availed themselves of richly metaphorical, fantastical, and allegorical devices to convey their ideas, paying as great care to their style as any poet. (7) The list of strictly "literary" authors who wrote probingly about things that we now think of as belonging to the realm of science runs into the scores, and includes authors as varied as John Milton, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Michel de Montaigne, Jane Barker, John Donne, Abraham Cowley, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Traherne, Andrew Marvell, and Ben Jonson.

This essay attends to a particularly intriguing facet of literature's influence on the Scientific Revolution, namely, that well through the seventeenth century, microscopic observations partly replicated something stunningly close to the poets' view. It will be my aim to demonstrate that, in fact, multiple mythological, literary, and conceptual categories influenced the formal constructs natural philosophers "saw" under the lens. Primary among them, as the first part of this essay will trace, is the literary prehistory of the diminutive flea. Made infamous through its appearance as the first poem in John Donne's posthumous 1633 Songs and Sonnets, the flea was in fact a familiar literary "character" for many centuries, and it enjoyed peculiar influence on early modern speculative thought--both imaginative and philosophical. (8)

To demonstrate that the natural philosophers' flea reflects this literary ancestry, and thus that literature and "science" were mutually influential, I then turn to Robert Hooke and Henry Power, the early giants of the English microscope. Both of these men give curious pride of place to the flea and its almost-famous literary cousin, the louse. Although Hooke's ad oculus empiricism has come to be contrasted with Power's more florid descriptions, they share an important commonality. Both divulge the influence of the fantastical insects of English, French, and classical poetry, and both depend upon literary means to convey the form of subvisible entities. In Hooke's rendering, I argue, insects are repositioned as compelling theatricalized beings occupying alternate realms; they become, through his verbal and visual portraits, akin to fictional characters encountered in a romance or travelogue, with curious histories and large personalities. Henry Power ventures even further into the fantastical, in experimental observations that lead from laboratory report to lyric, and from formal analysis to metaphysical speculation. I will end this article, then, looking at Henry Power looking through a microscope. In his sights is a literal flea. But what he sees is not only carapace and pincers. It is also fabular fiction, Donnean seduction poetry, and the very idea of the subvisible. As we encounter the place of the vanishingly small in the works of these microscopists, we will also consider the counterperspective offered by Margaret Cavendish: equally captivated by atoms, insects, and microcosms of all sorts, but vociferously unpersuaded by the power of the microscope to reveal anything relevant about the subvisible world. Cavendish serves as the limit case that shows that imaginative "fancy" was by no means displaced by the factual aspirations of natural philosophers, even amongst those philosophers themselves.


Long before John Donne imagined the sybaritic feats of the flea, poets had inclined towards infinitesimal and insectile subjects. Much as De Rerum Natura offered an account of the dynamic activities of those speculative bodies we now call atoms (the Latin elementum rather than the Greek atom was Lucretius's preferred nomenclature), other premodern works laid out the busy doings of tiny entities. The etiology of early modern accounts of wondrous insects, as Jessica Wolfe indicates, comprise among other things "a genre passed down to Renaissance culture from Pliny, namely the catalogue of miniatura--tiny carvings of ivory ants, a chariot so small that a fly might cover it with her wings, chains made of glass, poems carved into cherry stones." (9) These delicate rarities and their insect originals find their way into several distinctive literary kinds, from Virgil's Georgics to medieval bestiaries to the genre of exaggerated praise known as the paradoxical (or mock) encomium, to, as Donne's roguish poem intimates, an extensive body of erotic literature. These seemingly unrelated short forms of erotic verse and paradox, which Arthur Stanley Pease included among the popular "forms of the little" in vogue in the Renaissance, show a surprising commonality of approach, a shared interest in diminutive literary and natural figures. (10) In both genres, the flea was an especially prodigious presence, thanks to its unique combination of distinctive traits: mobility, intricacy, and access to intimacy--and thus, implicitiy, hidden knowledge. In these literary evocations of fleas, bees, mites, and so forth, we repeatedly find that envisioning the infinitesimally small readily gives way to speculating on the epistemo-logically elusive.

In the history of literary fleas, of course, most readers think first of John Donne and his deputized paramour. Yet Donne was a Johnny-come-lately to aggrandizing mock erotic stories about fleas. Probably the most notorious of these is a lewd poem found in the Appendix Vergiliana. That compendium ascribes to Virgil "the witty take of the Culex (the 'gnat'), so Ovid is assinged a poem--a versified dirty joke, really--on the Pulex (the 'flea')." (11) Scholars have long known that this faux locus classicus influenced the inception of Donne's own lascivious insect. But fewer identify the bevy of influential literary peregrinations of the flea, such as the exchange of poems between Catherine des Roches, Etienne Pasquier, and their circle of friends, on the subject of a flea Pasquier once spotted on her breast, resulting in the 1583 publication of the witty multilingual collection La Puce. (12) Closer to home, Christopher Marlowe, always the Ovidian, references the lascivious flea twice in Doctor Faustus, the Clown Robin requesting that "if you turn me into anything, let it be in the likeness of a little pretty frisking flea, that I may be here and there and everywhere: O, I'll tickle the pretty wenches' plackets"; and Pride, likewise, saying that he is "like to Ovid's flea, I can creep into every corner of a wench ... indeed I do. What do I not?" (13) These examples show that the flea was an object of envy and delight due to its capacity for seemingly unrestricted access, but this is not the only reason it generated disproportionate curiosity. Its notorious strength, seeming mechanicity, and mysterious biology contributed to the sense that the flea and its fellow arthropods were ambiguous beings, about which "fundamental anatomical and ontological questions" were regularly asked. (14) Pride's "What do I not?" underscores this sense of volatility, omnipresence, and disproportionate potency.

Putting these features together explains why the flea might well appear in erotic poetry in the guise of a surreptitious lover. But it also illuminates why the flea was a regular denizen of paradoxical literature, where disproportion reigns supreme. The paradoxical mode is marked not only by its objects of fascination, after all, but also by its rhetoric of approach: a form of amplificatio that celebrates because it exaggerates. Like the Lurcetian semina or seed, the insect readily lent itself to scalar analogies. Whether vaunting the value of syphilis or baldness, of nobody or nothing, of vermin or virginity, the paradoxical form operates by making much of things seemingly too diminutive or despicable to celebrate. Therefore, although the subjects of classical and early modern paradoxes include a heterogeneous cast of objects and abstractions, it is insects--from the homely ant to the charming bumblebee to the more noxious crew of "flies, gnats, fleas, lice, and bedbugs"--that are among the most commonly "celebrated" by the encomiast. (15) Of these, again, the flea maintains the dubious distinction of being the creature perhaps most amply and paradoxically praised. Its primacy can be readily witnessed in works like Caspar Dornau's Ampitheatrum Sapientiae Socraticae Joco-Seriae, an encyclopedic compendium of paradoxical materials published in 1619 that contains no fewer than a dozen flea ("pulex") poems, including the most famous pseudo-Ovidian poem mentioned above. (16) The theme, then, would seem to have been almost as inexhaustible as the vigorous creatures themselves, who, when they were not crowding into mistresses' blouses or encomiasts' paradoxes or serving as the objects of microscopists' experiments, were dazzling crowds by performing in flea circuses. It is no wonder they turn up "here and there and everywhere"; fleas were the veritable workhorses of early modern imagination and revelation, apparently lending themselves almost equally to erotic, natural philosophical, and metaphysical speculation.

But ubiquity is not the whole of the story. The special attention paradoxical encomia gives to insects also reveals something about the substantive compatibility between the aspirations of concentrated literary forms and the conceptual provocations of the humble bug. As Deborah Hawhee explains in her chapter "Looking Beyond Belief: Paradoxical Encomia and Visual Inquiry," valorization of these creatures is effected by an implicit "theory of magnified rhetorical vision," which virtually enlarges the minute through nobler or grand comparisons. "In doing so, [the encomiast] exemplifies the guiding principle Cicero ascribes to Gorgias, the fifth-century Sophist, that oratory's 'biggest distinction... is to magnify a thing by praise.'" (17) What is true for oratory more generally is especially vital to the paradoxical mode in its elevation of the preposterous, whereby an aphid might be analogized to an elephant. Hawhee focuses particularly on the eleventh-century encomiast Psellos, notorious for his four speeches in exaggerated praise of the louse, the bedbug, and the flea, the last of which is the subject of two of the four speeches. This by-now familiar cadre again suggests that, even in the Byzantine era, the very insects that would someday become the focus for early microscopists were already the fixation of poets. In the case of the encomium, it is the rhetoric of mock praise itself that provides a "kind of amplification through magnification--that cultivates an urge to bring the tiniest of animals up close, before the eyes, to press the senses into the realm of wonder." (18) In this way the encomiast gleaned a view of insect life that men like Hooke, Power, and Boyle would have to wait several centuries for. As we will see, for poet and natural philosopher alike, delicate forms compel imaginative expansion.

Although it is beyond the "scope" of this essay to explore in great depth, these tendencies of the paradoxical encomium underscore the broader capacity for lyric in particular to function as a kind of magnifying oculus, a device for zeroing in on a subject. I mean this figuratively, but also literally, much in the sense intimated by Elizabeth Cook in Seeing through Words: The Scope of Late Renaissance Poetry. (19) She presents, for instance, a remarkable shape poem that appears in Joshua Sylvester's English translation of Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas's "Spectacles," whose text is rendered within a pair of drawn "perspective" glasses. The short poem, claiming to "discern the worlds vanitie," thus visually renders poetry's claim to epistemological supremacy. This was an idea that, of course, adhered with a special fixity to shape poems, emblem poems, and the like, all of which typographically concretize language's more material aspirations. (20) But the "scopic" effect is by no means restricted to visual modes. Lyric expansiveness is born, rather, of formal compression.

One might think here of the distinctive quality of the atomic poems in Margaret Cavendish's Poems, and Phancies, across which, as Lara Dodds puts it, "speculation about the atom is inextricably linked with speculation about the world. Contemplation of matter in its smallest part leads to contemplation of matter on a cosmic scale." (21) Scholars familiar with Cavendish certainly recognize this ontological effect of her microcosmic worlds. One "cause of this effect" (with apologies to Polonius) is that Cavendish presents her poems themselves as atoms, reflecting, quite brilliantly, the atomism constitutive of her approach to lyric. (22) The form of the codex limits the means of representing this poetics-as-physics, which will happily be actualized in a forthcoming multimodal edition, Choose Your Own Poems and Fancies, responsive to the "fact that between the first edition in 1653 and the second in 1664, the 106 poems are completely shuffled and rearranged." (23) This edition uses digital technology to realize the lyric mobility that Liza Blake identifies as a feature, not a bug, of Cavendish's output. (24) Blake suggests that, in fact, "many of the things that make Cavendish's poetry difficult to read as lyric poetry--the lack of the personal development of a first-person speaker, the way that so few of her poems come to a satisfactory (or any) conclusion, even the monotony of couplets used throughout the volume, etc.--come from her physics, her vision of atomism. She views, uses the poems in this section as atoms... not individual, enclosed, complete well-wrought urns... [but] rearrangeable mosaics of thought." (25) If we turn back to Donne's "The Flea" for a moment, we can perhaps see more expansively how small forms tether the microcosmic to the cosmic through the collapsible lens of imagination. (26) This is not to limit to lyric the expansive potentialities of poetry; as De Rerum Natura itself exemplifies, epic is a perfectly apt home for expansive reflection. But epic and mock epic (and other diminutive genres) respond to each other because of these very scalar capacities of literary form.

For Donne, as for the encomiasts, the flea functions as a poetic device for thinking about questions of scale, moving from the microcosmic to the macrocosmic in ways that prod metaphysical ruminations. We can see how these ambitions play out over the course of the poem as a whole, in part because it avails itself of the amplificatory rhetorics of paradox. As readers have long observed, its brilliantly shifting strategy first makes nothing, and then everything, and then again nothing of the flea, whereby the careening wit of the seducer, not the plausibility of the analogy, carries the poem. A living microcosm unto itself, the infinitesimal form of life provides an object for literalizing abstractions and condensing speculations. (27) For example, Donne takes up the legal fiction that, technically speaking, consummation conjoins bloods and makes man and woman one, and is thus tantamount to a legitimate enactment of marriage ("This flea is you and I, and this / Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is; / Though parents grudge, and you, ware met, / And cloistered in these living walls of jet"). (28) How far, the poem wonders, can this reductio ad absurdum be applied? All but anticipating the scientist's petri dish or test tube, Donne uses the imaginative microcosm of the flea to translate an abstract postulate into an embodied proof. (29) The flea thus provides the poet an exemplum for raising metaphysical questions that may mock scholastic exactitude, but that also seriously explore what happens when abstract logic occupies real, living bodies.

In a similar way, the poem playfully questions the disproportion between the physical and the social effects of lost virginity. The ostensibly humble punctum of the fleabite is first proffered as an analogy for the virginal woman's ruptured hymen. Yet what is initially minimized ("how little that which thou deny'st me") is soon just as obstreperously magnified to metaphysical proportions. Lover, womb, marriage bed, temple, Christ figure, martyr, cloister: the poem's initial, outrageous conceit casts the humble insect in a dazzling repertoire of roles that ventriloquize the mock encomiast far more than the Petrarchan lover. As a starting point for a poem that infinitely "swells" its own metaphors and microcosms, that infinitesimal prick soon seems to be only the first in a series of concentric circles that might potentially expand to infinity. The "nothing" of virginity is perhaps not the sole terminus ad quem of the poet's gaze. Instead, much like the Lucretian (or Cavendishian) atom, it is a starting point for analogy and analysis, a conceptual entity tendered up for experimentation. (30) This swelling of turgid metaphors, I am arguing, is not just attributable to the seductive idiom. It is also the fault of the bug that blisters the thought and sends it skyward. One might reflect on an additional instance in Andrew Marvell's "Upon Appleton House," which again magnifies the mote to a metaphysical scale:
They seem within the polished grass
A landskip drawn in looking-glass.
And shrunk in the huge pasture show
As spots, so shaped, on faces do.
Such fleas, ere they approach the eye,
In multiplying glasses lie.
They feed so wide, so slowly move,
As constellations do above. (31)

The topical reference is to the painted creation scene referenced in Davenant's Gondibert, which the poet reflects on while surveying the meadows of Lord Fairfax's estate. (32) But the vision conjured also renders that creation scene as majestic because it is analogous to viewing fleas under a magnifying glass: both imagination swelling, both wonder producing, both microscopic perspectives evoking metaphysical realms.

Given the proliferating connections between the insect world and the imaginative one, by now readers may not be surprised to learn that if poems could be equated with atoms or oculi, they could also be figured as fleas. This connection between the literary and the lousy again illuminates how readily finite entities are harnessed to phenomenological and metaphysical abstractions. To recall an instance quite familiar to readers, Mercutio denigrates Romeo's prophetic dream as the byproduct of the movements of one Queen Mab, a vision-granting insect drawn by a "team of little atomi." As Romeo struggles to discern what his dream meant, and dreads (quite rightly) its foretelling of doom, Mercutio dismisses such "visions" as merely the result of material causes. Through his reductive lens, supernatural prognostications are not enchanted, but particulate; or to put it in the simplest terms, Romeo's dream itself is born of--indeed tantamount to--a flea. Todd Borlik notes that the association is by no means unique to Mercutio; pointing to the OED's indication that, "atomy functions as a generic name for the smallest of insects," he cites too the little-known 1605 Peter Woodhouse poem "The Flea: Democritus, His Dream," which, again, employs the word "atomy" as a flea reference, and employs both as the filmy forerunners of dreams. (33) This should no longer surprise us. Cavendish famously disparaged the experiments of the microscopists in The Blazing World though her character the Empress, who recoils from a magnified flea and louse. But even Cavendish could not get away from insects as imagination-spurring motes. As Suparna Roychoudhury notes in Phantasmic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science, Cavendish's colorful way of referring to "mental figments" was "small Gnats" that "buz in the Braine" ("Similizing Fancy to a Gnat"); the "insectile connotation, in Goneril's refusal to indulge Lear's 'each buzz, each fancy, each complaint' (1.4.303)." (34) Cavendish and her Empress might have condemned the distorted image of insects under glass. But she had no hesitation in identifying poetic thoughts as insects, or as stings that are only healed with writing ("The Head of Man just like a Hive is made / The Braine, like as the Combe's exactly laid. / Where every Thought just like a Bee doth dwell, I Each by it selfe within a parted Cell"). (25) Ideas are motes, motes are poems, and poems are worlds, marriage temples, brains, constellations.

Dreams and poetic dreamers, then, and their tiny and fleeting productions, were homologized as both insect-like and atom-like: imaginative expansions upon microcosmic forms. The set of associations had real staying power, as witnessed by--to cite one last example--a little-known 1679 play by then-poet laureate Thomas Shadwell, A true widow a comedy acted by the Duke's servants, which features "a copy of verses upon a Flea, presented to his Mistress, in a gold Chain." We can clearly see the influence of John Donne, the pseudo-Ovidian pulex poems, and paradoxical encomia in this mobile, virile creature whose body itself is the means of transmitting erotic verse:
Oh happy Flea! that maist both kiss and bite,
Like Lovers, in their height of Appetite,
Her Neck so white.
Pretty black Alderman, in golden Chain,
Who suck'st her Blood, yet putt'st her to no pain,
Whilst I in vain. (36)

The preposterous moment, which comes at the marital and comedic climax of the play, evokes the ephemerality of love poetry (for example, Orlando's verses in the Forest of Arden), and jovially mocks the flea poetry tradition. But one is nonetheless struck by the image of the miniature manuscript tucked in a locket, thus placing the love poem at precisely the spot where the lascivious flea most liked to feed.

As these divergent examples show, literary forms repeatedly draw upon various formal and rhetorical properties to amplify the minute into the infinite. It is worth reflecting here on etymology, which underscores the connections between the infinite--that which cannot be contained--and the microscopic or finite--that which can be no further parsed. Both of these seemingly opposite constructions are reflected in a slightly later word, "infinitesimal." As the OED notes, "The form of the modern Latin word shows that it was originally meant as an ordinal, viz. the 'infiniteth' in order, that which is at an infinite distance from the first; but the ordinals are also used to name fractions, e.g. hundredth (part)... hence... infinitesimal, came to mean unity divided by infinity, [phrase omitted], and thus an infinitely small part or quantity." (37) Both the finite and the endless come together in the specter of the smallest possible forms, the elusive mote that draws outward from itself visions of the cosmos. We have seen this in John Donne and other poets' parsing of the flea as an atomy that can, with the imaginative aid of compressed literary form, be magnified almost ad infinitum. (38) The literary lives of these early modern insects thus underscore an argument made by Christiane Frey: that in studying the epistemologies of the subvisible, one quickly comes to recognize the "imagination itself as a microscope." (39) The insect is a wonderful curiosity for poetry, a philosophical object that the poet's eye expands to a macrocosmic scale, an entity of "here and there and everywhere." And it is also a figure of poetry, in its own intricately contrived and elusive being, and in its imaginative capacity to transform iotas into infinities.


In the first half of this essay, I considered the prominence of fleas and related insects in the imaginative life-world of Renaissance literature, a presence that was variously (and often simultaneously) paradoxical, metaphysical, ludicrous, mythological, and erotic. Readers might understandably expect to find the curious arthropod playing a rather more sober role for early microscopists. But as we turn from insects in literature to those in the laboratory, we find that bugs under glass retain their literary associations to a surprising extent. These depictions, as I will now suggest, reflect not only new realms as revealed through the magnifying lens, but also the residual influence of literary paradigms upon what natural philosophers thought they saw. The primacy given to insects among the objects of microscopic study, the dramatic nature of the awe they inspire, and the tendency for these protoscientific descriptions to spiral into fabular myths and metaphysical ruminations, all show that the fleas of Hooke and Power remained fantastical as well as factual. In the pages that follow, I will show that the mote viewed through the oculus actually had a great deal in common with the mote valorized in the paradoxical encomium, erotic lyric, and fable. The microscope's verisimilar aspirations, in other words, failed to entirely displace the Mercutian, Donnean, faux-Ovidian flea.

Whatever else one might say about the place of insects in early works of microscopy, their role was definitely not minor. Among the heterogeneous and "tantalizing collection of strange and unusual creatures and objects" explored by men like Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Henry Power, and Robert Hooke, perhaps none played so outsize a role as insects. (40) So ubiquitous was the insect to these texts that one might even identify it as constituent of the genre itself, traceable all the way back to Francesco Stelluti's 1630 Persio tradotto in verso schiolto e dichiarato, "the first book to contain images of organisms as viewed through the microscope." Anticipating the strategies of the better-known microscopic texts, Stelluti's book included a "striking full-page image of a magnified bee" which "still has the capacity to arouse the wonder of modern experts," along with a "smaller illustration of a magnified grain weevil, including a detail of the tip of the insect's snout and mandibles." (41) These depictions anticipated the desire of reading audiences for striking representations of magnified insects and reveal the traces of literary categories that gave these creatures primacy. Especially notable here is the prominence given to the bee, which boasts a literary heritage at least as vigorous as that of any insect, taking pride of place for Virgil, Ariosto, and Mandeville in parables of organization, industry, and complex sociality.

These early microscopic texts were clearly exciting to readers, for they promised to reveal new and wondrous forms of living and nonliving entities, an intention exemplified by the prominence accorded to startling visual display. The prioritization of insects in these works likewise makes it clear that they were especially meant to generate wonder and amazement. Indeed, enlarged representations of insects seem to do so still, as anyone encountering the foldout plates in Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665) for the first time can readily corroborate. Even repeat readers often startle at the much-magnified (and quite magnificent) flea, and the volume's almost equally remarkable louse. Hooke was, as Brian Ford puts it, surely "concerned with making familiar objects appear larger." (42) Henry Power's Experimental Philosophy, in Three Books (London, 1664) also gives pride of place to the flea, making it the first creature to be examined in the book's first section, "Microscopicall Observations." The flea is also one of the central subjects of Power's accompanying poem, "In commendation of the Microscope." Leeuwenhoek, too, includes a long discussion on fleas and a remarkable engraving to accompany that discussion, veering from his colleagues in displaying the creature as, remarkably, upside-down and dead (we will have more to consider about the general "liveliness" of microscopy's insects shortly). Where Leeuwenhoek emulates his colleagues, nonetheless, is by making much of the flea. He makes a point of insisting that the creature as seen through the microscope is truly tremendous, "eight times larger than here shewn, though the limner declared that it did not seem any larger to him. Nor could I ever have believed that there was such a diversity in the sight of different people as I now find to be the case. But this limner was very short sighted." (43) Leeuwenhoek acknowledges the unexpected variation in perspective but nonetheless asserts that with unimpeded vision, the creature in the microscope astounds.

As accounts like this of the unreliable "short sighted" limner suggest, it is perhaps no wonder that early microscopic studies emphasize the epistemological necessity of the (shocking) visual image to truly manifest the subvisible. The printed image quickly became the medium of actualizing the heretofore unverifiable for the presumably skeptical reader. Its capable negotiation of print's potential was a central component in the ascendency of the Micrographia, which would be the first book on microscopy published and promoted by the Royal Society. Hooke's work was preceded by Henry Power's Experimental Philosophy, in Three Books: Containing New Experiments Microscopical, Mercurial, Magnetical, making it the first work published in England with observations made through the microscope. A comparison of these pioneering texts soon reveals why it was Hooke's work, not Power's, that the Society favored. (44) Power, as Frederique Ai't-Touati points out, relied predominantly (and rather charmingly) on Thomas Muffet's rustic, woodcut-illustrated Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum (Theater of Insects) as a source, and although Hooke in turn borrowed from Power and thus from Muffet, he nonetheless proffer a completely different relation to the display and interpretation of visual evidence. As Ai't-Touati explains:
The primary difference between Power and Hooke lies in their
definitions of visual proof. Paradoxically, the "ocular demonstration"
that Power claims to offer is not visible at all: illustrations are few
and unconvincing, and the text bears the burden of transmitting a
visual experience. In Hooke's Micrographia, on the other hand, the "ad
oculum" proof is the image itself; it becomes epistemologically
necessary if it is to constitute evidence. The microscopist has not
only seen; he also shows. Declining the conventional succor of
imagination or analogy, Hooke took it upon himself to present his
discoveries "directly." (45)

The necessity of this approach makes perfect sense: in an era with limited access to scientific instruments, readers might well doubt the veracity of the claims which natural philosophers vaunted. As Margaret Cavendish's (and the short-sighted limner's) case shows, even some who did look through microscopes were not necessarily persuaded by the authenticity of what they saw. Still, for most, what Othello calls "ocular proof" was increasingly becoming the gold standard for substantiating evidentiary claims. Hooke's roundel-shaped engravings throughout the volume effectively replicate the view through the lens, putatively minimizing the distance between reader and the subvisible. Meghan Doherty has helpfully established that Hooke's especial success derived from his extensive "connections to the artistic community in London and his interest in printing and the printed image," especially techniques that he adopted from portrait engravers to translate three-dimensional entities into the flat visual plate through shadows and crosshatching. (46) For all the claims of verisimilitude, however, Hooke's strategy effectively fictionalized as much as it revealed. Insects under glass who died during experiments were drawn as if still alive. Variations in lighting were obfuscated in order to present a luminous, uniform substrate. Even "surfaces, those least metaphorical, most literal of things... became objects of untrustable paradox... when the apparently smooth and continuous surface of the real proved calloused, inscrutable and inconstant." (47) Promises of a revelatory truth were also severely compromised by the fact that these engravings were composites produced by collating multiple views. They never would have been available to the actual viewing eye. Finally, the difficulty in translating matters of scale complicated the longed-for transparency of the image. (48) As Zwierlein notes, "when lice look like lobsters, it is only the commentary that identifies them;... the illustrations could not exist without the explanatory text." (49) Thus Hooke presents a visual scheme that effectively creates the illusion of a virtual viewing experience, yet one built upon misrepresentation, and not nearly as self-sufficient as its champions propose.

Hooke's reliance on visual re-presentation of the creatures and objects that he viewed has, nonetheless, long created the impression that the Micrographia is the "scientific" text to Power's more inventive fictionalized account. This was a notion that Hooke himself was all too happy to champion, as we see in his critique of the errors of the rather too "ingenious Dr. Power." (50) Scholars like Ait-Touati assert that "after Micrographia, it seemed, there was no longer a need to buttress weak analogies with mythological imagery." (51) But the Micrographia by no means abandons such imagery, and Hooke, as we will see, is pretty "ingenious" too. For example, he regularly highlights the aesthetic and literary qualities of the creatures he views, entities that are almost invariably presented through the animating fiction of liveliness even as they disintegrated and died. He is not immune to philosophical reverie, as when reflecting on "the small Silver-colord Bookworm," a creature he calls "one of the teeth of time." (52) Likewise, personal motivations, worldly ambitions, and curious habits of mind are regularly ascribed to the ants, fleas, bees, and lice he examines, entities that, in the process, are transformed from specimens to characters. One suspects that while Hooke was learning from portrait engravers' pictorial methods for conveying the impression of three-dimensional space within a flat plane, he was also gleaning the conveyance of the humanizing, eternizing elements of portraiture. When even Leeuwenhoek, a successor of Hooke and Power, could not resist referring to his objects of study as if they were the figures of fables--"wee animalcules" and "cavorting beasties"--we can see why for Hooke, anthropomorphizing insects seemed irresistible. Sometimes playful, sometimes vicious, sometimes ambitious: Hooke's bugs are agential explorers, well-rounded characters of their own world, with mock epic aspirations to rival ours. (53) No wonder that Samuel Pepys, almost certainly unaware of Hooke's barbed critique of Power, and genuinely dazzled by his insect microworld, called "Mr Hookes Microscopicall Observations, the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life." (54)

This "ingenuity" of Hooke's had many components, but not least among them was this tendency to highlight the aesthetic, literary, and anthropomorphic qualities of the insects he observed. A foundational animating fiction was that the objects of his study were "whole, living creatures," regardless of their state of dissection, immobilization, or decay. The insects in Micrographia are invariably presented as "lively, compelling creatures" not unlike those that one might encounter during foreign travelogue. (55) Some of these characters are, as in the human world, of the pedestrian variety, as was the "crab-like insect" that, while "reading one day in Septemb. I chanced to observe one very smal creature creep over the Book I was reading," or the peripatetic "wandering mite," enlarging his domain by "traversing a window at London." (56) One gleans here the more bathetic, deflationary tendencies of mock encomium. (57) But other, braver fellows seemed to have greater ambitions, as in the case of the "white featherwing'd moth," which makes Hooke muse on its, and therefore potentially humans beings', ability to fly. And then there is that notorious upstart, the "impudent," "officious," and "saucy" louse. (58) Hooke, clearly, has a laugh describing "this creature... so officious, that 'twill be known to every one at one time or other, so busie, and so impudent, that it will be intruding it self in every ones company, and so proud and aspiring withall, that it fears not to trample on the best, and affects nothing so much as a Crown." (59) Reading these plucky battles against human enemies, one is immediately reminded of the paradoxical encomium and its similar valorization of the humble but noisome louse. Availing himself of a pun conflating the human scalp and the royal "crown," Hooke pretends to see the louse as a (social) climber who would transcend the animal for the human "kingdom." This is not empirical description, but metaphysical wit.

In this semifictional landscape of mock empires, Hooke ascribes to the scientist a literary role too, comparing himself to a second Alexander ready to take on the "terra incognita" of the subvisible world. (60) To affect the conquest of these unknown lands of the subvisible is to enter not only the wheelhouse of the historical narrative but even more purely imaginative domains, from Hamlet's "undiscovered country after death" to Donne's erotic empire ("O my America! my new-found-land / My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann'd, / My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie, / How blest am I in this discovering thee!"). (61) That Hooke's empires are, in part, implicidy erotic is evidenced by the fact that "naturally there is a female love-interest named Nature whose footsteps are especially 'to be trac'd,' not only in her ordinary course, but when she seems to be put to her shifts." Hooke pursues the "the secret workings" and "inward motions" of what Mary Blaine Campbell archly calls the "coy mistress" of nature. (62) She draws a connection to the pornographically inflected texts of the era, the notorious "School of Girls" and "Academy of Ladies," but I would suggest that other erotic genres may also be in operation here. In figuring Hooke in pursuit of the "coy mistress" of nature, Hooke also resembles Acteon spying on Diana, and of course the metaphysical love poets, who wished themselves to have the license of the flea.

If Hooke replicates the experience of peering through the lens, relying on occasional anecdotes to enliven and supplement his empiricism, Henry Power's nearly coterminous Experimental Philosophy (1664) prioritizes verbal over visual evidence, and freely "blended literary devices, in particular analogy and literary references, with scientific observation." (63) His approach further suggests that even with access to natural philosophy's revelatory instruments, direct observation did not eradicate the need for imaginative means of accessing the unknown. He cites incredible fables from the Insectorum and classical myths from Ovid, and he regularly interrupts his empirical descriptions with general speculations and colorful anecdotes. This clash of epistemologies emerges especially in Power's description of the humble flea, a figure that, as we have seen, also features quite prominently in Hooke's account. Power begins empirically enough, with a description of physical qualities. But soon he pulls away from conveying the newly discovered perspective provided by the microscopic glass and reverts to more fictionalized accounts: fables from Thomas Muffet's Insectorum, fantastic claims about the flea's legendary strength and prowess, and a poetic commonplace derived from John Donne's most famous seduction poem.

Power's personal manuscript of the text, completed three years before Experimental Philosophy's 1664 publication, even further displays the literariness of his approach. For this manuscript also includes Power's enthusiastic poem "In Commendation of the Microscope," which gives us especial insight into the degree to which imagination as well as empiricism drove his studies. (64) Delighted that "thy Atomes (brave Democritus) are now / made to appear in bulk & figure too," Power goes on to commend the revelations of scores of other microscopic observations. What Power sees under his microscope are, as we might anticipate, magnified ventricles, hairs, and sinews. But he also seems to see an idea--the idea of immateriality:
Here are the Curious Mathematick's Here
Lyes the rare skill of theire Artificeere.
all things hee made of nothing, but in this
hee made a thinge that less then Nothing is.

Empirical observation is overwhelmed by something that the natural philosopher could not, in any literal sense, have seen: less than nothing. Like the hymen of the erotic poets, the atom presents for Power a breathtaking exemplum of matter at the moment of its dissolution into immateriality. Purporting to offer a work of natural philosophy, Power still thinks much like a poet: observations of vanishingly small things lead ineluctably to considerations of those which lie beyond the vanishing point. Things dissolve into nothings. The structure of thought revealed here is one trained not by sober observation, but by a witty capacity to see, like the mock encomiasts did, multum in parvo (much in little). He traverses realms along imaginative, scalar lines that pull away from physical description and towards metaphysical thought.

The argument that Hooke achieved what Power did not depends on the claim that Micrographia "proposes that the problematic use of the imagination be replaced by the detailed observation provided by the microscope." (65) This implicitiy triumphalist account perhaps overly naturalizes the assumption that metaphoricity was a temporary crutch that could be happily discarded once microscopes burst on the scene with full revelation of reality. But certainly not all of Micrographia's early readers were persuaded that its images were trustworthy representations. Margaret Cavendish, again, insisted that microscopes were "false informers," lampooning them and telescopes alike in The Blazing World. Her skepticism about experimental science has sometimes been maligned by both her contemporaries and quite a few critics and historians. But we might more reasonably ask why should one have confidence in the revelatory powers of artificial instruments? An ocular prosthesis does not in itself guarantee a reliable view of the natural world, any more than a fun-house mirror displays what we "really" look like. Against what objective rubric can the optical device's representations be corroborated? We should resist the reifying perspective of teleology, the common-sense assumption that in questioning the veracity of optical instruments, skeptics like Cavendish were somehow especially naive. As Catherine Wilson asks in The Invisible World: Early Modern Philosophy and the Invention of the Microscope, "in what sense did the images provided by the microscope explain anything?... Why should we admit that the image delivered by the microscope is a better image, or a deeper or truer image, rather than simply another image?... Microscopy generates representations, but representations by themselves do not explain anything." (66) Scientists who continued to "see" insects in literary terms clearly found something in the erotic, encomiastic, and fabular forms that the lens itself failed to displace.

When Power published his Experimental Philosophy, he left out the rhapsodic commendatory poem. But remaining were strange traces of the metaphysical poets' quest, evident in the frequency with which Power, looking through his microscope to "see how curiously the minutest things of the world are wrought," finds himself discoursing upon objects imagined rather than actually seen. (67) Outfitted though he was with the "incomparable artifice" of the "dioptrical glass," Power nonetheless depends, just as Lucretius did, on the power of analogy to reveal the true nature of things. (68) Dust in a sunbeam; alphabetic letters subject to infinite recombination; seeds in potentia: as mentioned above, the "nature of things" in De Rerum Natura is rendered through poetic comparison. Each metaphorical vehicle became a placeholder for an idea about matter's construction, its mobility, and its ontology: in other words, what it is, and how it changes, and what it means for the nature of being. In a surprisingly similar way, Power finds himself drawn to a natural philosophy born of metaphoricity, a physics derived analogically. Power had it on good authority that this was a legitimate approach, for even the biblical Adam had to "ingeniously ghess... by the Analogie of things in Nature." (69) If Power (and Hooke) are both ingenious, then, they surely have good precedent for being so. Accordingly, Power finds himself regularly drawing upon the analogical and speculative mode, moving from what he seems to see beneath his lens to that which as yet remains unseen:
therefore it hath often seem'd to me beyond an ordinary probability,
and something more than fancy (how paradoxical soever the conjecture
may seem) to think, that the least Bodies we are able to see with our
naked eyes, are but middle proportional (as it were) 'twixt the
greatest and smallest Bodies in nature, which two Extremes lye equally
beyond the reach of Humane sensation. (70)

If Power imagines the visible realm as a kind of empiricist's middle axiom, it also paradoxically reveals the extent to which he navigates observation through conceptual rather than visual categories. (71) So too, Power's fascination with the realms beyond the reach of human sensation--with what he later calls "sublime Speculations"--is also apparent in his choice of the flea and the bee as the first objects of his "Microscopical Observations." For the bee, like the flea, has an expansive literary history. (72) With its appearance in the works of Virgil, Milton, emblem books, and more, the bee further underscores the poetic sourcing of the volume's first subjects.

Certainly, Power's description of the flea includes some minute observations such as would have been aided by the microscope's lens. He provides a detailed description of the "diaphanous Cornea" through which "is the pupil or apple of the eye, beset round with a greenish glistering circle, which is the Iris, (as vibrissant and glorious as a Cats eye)." (73) We learn that "his feet are slit into claws or talons, that he might the better stick to what he lights upon," and that "at his snout is fixed a Proboscis, or hollow trunk or probe, by which he both punches the skin, and sucks the blood through it." (74) Each of these precise observations gives readers a fairly accurate sense of what they might see under a microscope. Yet the description of physical structure soon gives way to Power's recollection of something he had read about in Muffet's Insectorum: the story of a flea pulling a miniscule carriage by a golden chain. "Yea, we have heard it credibly reported, saith he, that a Flea hath not onely drawn a gold Chain, but a golden Charriot also with all its harness and accoutrements fixed to it, which did excellently set forth the Artifice of the Maker, and Strength of the Drawer." (75)

Having left the realm of direct observation for that of remembered anecdote, Power then concludes his discussion of the flea with this peroration: "So great is the mechanick power which Providence has immur'd within these living walls of Jet." (76) John Donne, readers will recall, had most famously attempted to persuade his own coy mistress that virginity's loss was akin to a fleabite, insisting that within the flea's "living walls of jet," the lovers' bloods were already, fantastically, mingled. (77) Donne's lady haughtily kills the flea, an upset that the clever speaker immediately assimilates into a revised seduction strategy. We never learn if the lady succumbs to the trick, but some thirty years after Donne's "The Flea" first saw print, the natural philosopher Henry Power is seduced. Drawn away from observation of actuality into the realm of literary analogy, the natural philosopher looks at a flea for the first time through a microscope and sees not only iris and talon, but also the tiny heroes of paradox and metaphysical speculation. He sees pincers and proboscis, but he cannot resist evoking, too, the hymeneal conceit of the love poet.

Oberlin College


I gave a version of this essay at the 2017 Renaissance Society of America on the panel, "Visualizing Nothing in Early Modern England," and I benefitted greatly from the feedback of my co-panelists James A. Knapp, Timothy M. Harrison, and Travis D. Williams, as well as audience members. I received helpful suggestions on an earlier version of this work from Roger Gaskell and Caroline Duroselle-Melish, who led the Rare Book School course "The Illustrated Scientific Book to 1800," and from fellow participants in that course, especially Daniel Selcer, Meghan C. Doherty, and Dahlia Porter. Dianne Mitchell and Jessica Wolfe generously shared several archival flea poems with me. My especial thanks to Debapriya Sarkar and Jenny Mann, and to two helpful anonymous readers.

(1) Robert Boyle, The Christian Virtuoso (1690) [A6r]. I was reminded of this passage when reading Claire Preston, The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford U. Press, 2015).

(2) John Donne, "The Flea," John Donne: The Major Works, ed. John Carey (Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2008), 89.

(3) Brian J. Ford, "The Royal Society and the Microscope," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 55.1 (Jan. 2001): 29.

(4) Anne-Julia Zwierlein, "Queen Mab under the Microscope: The Invention of Subvisible Worlds in Early Modern Science and Poetry," in Spatial Change on English Literature, ed. Joachim Frenk (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2000), 69. It is curious that historians of the microscope can so readily overlook this, as does C. H. Luthy in "Atomism, Lynceus, and the Fate of Seventeenth-Century Microscopy," Early Science and Medicine 1.1 (1996): 1-27, who claims that "we know of no sixteenth century phantasies concerning microscopic vision" (4).

(5) Marjorie Hope Nicolson, The Breaking of the Circle: Studies in the Effect of the "New Science" Upon Seventeenth-Century Poetry (Northwestern U. Press, 1950).

(6) See for example N. Katherine Hayles, Chaos and Order. Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science (U. of Chicago Press, 1991); Claire Preston, The Poetics of Scientific Investigation; Elizabeth Spiller, Science, Reading, and Renaissance Literature: The Art of Making Knowledge, 1580-1670 (U. of Cambridge Press, 2004). For introductions to some of the important conversations happening between these fields currently, see Howard Marchitello's "Science Studies and English Renaissance Literature," Literature Compass 3.3 (2006): 341-65; and Carla Mazzio, ed., Shakespeare & Science, SCR 26.1-2 (2009): 1-23.

(7) Several essays in The Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature, Science, and Culture, ed. Evelyn Tribble and Howard Marchitello (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) cover this ground. See Wendy Beth Hyman, "'Deductions from metaphors': Figurative Truth, Poetical Language, and Early Modern Science," 27-48; Kristen Poole, "God's Game of Hide-and-Seek: Bacon and Allegory," 115-38; and Jean Feerick, "Poetic Science: Wonder and the Seas of Cognition in Bacon and Pericles" 423-44.

(8) For the place of imagination in early modern science, see Suparna Roychoudhury, "Melancholy, Ecstasy, Phantasma: The Pathologies of Macbeth" Modern Philology 111.2 (2013): 205-30, and her monograph Phantasmatic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science (Cornell U. Press, 2018).

(9) Jessica Wolfe, "Circus Minimus: The Early Modern Theater of Insects," in Performing Animals: History, Agency, Theater, ed. Karen Raber and Monica Mattfeld (Penn State U. Press, 2017), 111-22.

(10) Arthur Stanley Pease, "Things without Honor," Classical Philology 21.1 (January 1926): 27-42.

(11) Ralph J. Hexter, "Shades of Ovid: Pseudo- (and Para-) Ovidiana in the Middle Ages," Ovid in the Middle Ages, ed. James G. Clark, Frank T. Coulson, and Kathryn L. McKinley (Cambridge U. Press, 2011), 298-99. My thanks to Jennifer Bryan for sharing this with me.

(12) This episode and the poems that accumulated around it are treated extensively in From Mother and Daughter: Poems, Letters, and Dialogues of Les Dames des Roches, ed. and trans. Anne R. Larson (U. of Chicago Press, 2006). The original publication is La Puce de Madame des Roches, Quiest un Recueil de Divers Poems Grecs, Latins, et Francois, Composez par Plusiers Doctes Personnages aux Grans fours tenus a Poitiers (Paris, 1583).

(13) Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus A 1604-version Edition, 2nd ed., ed. Michael Keefer (Petersboro, Ontario: Broadview, 2007), 1.iv.61-63; II.vii.110-12. As in many texts, the flea and the louse are paired as similarly uncanny characters; cf. Wagner threatening in the same scene that "I will turn all the lice about thee into familiars, and they will tear thee all to pieces" (I.iv.25-26). For an extensive list of the eroticized appearances of the flea in Renaissance literary history, see Gordon Williams, A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, 3 vols. (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Athlone Press, 1994), 1:503-4; and David H. Brumble, "John Donne's "The Flea': Some Implications of the Encyclopedic and Poetic Flea Traditions," Critical Quarterly 15 (1973): 147-54.

(14) Wolfe, "Circus Minimus," 114.

(15) Pease, "Things withuot Honor," 32. The most thorough treatment of this literary kind remains Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica: The Renaissance Tradition of Paradox (Princeton U. Press, 1966).

(16) Caspare Dornavio [Caspar Dornau, 1577-1632], Ampitheatrum Sapientiae Socraticae Joco-Seriae (Hanoviae: Typis Wechelianis, Impensis Danielis ac Davidis, 1619).

(17) Deborah Hawhee, Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation (U. of Chicago Press, 2017), 89. Her citation of Cicero comes from "Brutus," in Cicero V, Loeb Classical Library 342 (Harvard U. Press, 1988), 12.47.

(18) Hawhee, Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw, 10.

(19) Elizabeth Cook, Seeing through Words: The Scope of Late Renaissance Poetry (Yale U. Press, 1986), 21-47.

(20) Cook, Seeing through Words, 33-35.

(21) Lara Dodds, The Literary Invention of Margaret Cavendish (Pittsburgh: Duquesne, 2013), 80.

(22) Dodds, Literary Invetions, 81.

(23) Liza Blake, "A Thousand Lines of Nonlinear Poetry: Reading Cavendish's Poems and Fancies, Part I" (unpublished essay presented in the "Reading Lyric" seminar at Shakespeare Association of America conference, 2017), n.p.

(24) Liza Blake, Electric Press

(25) Blake, "A Thousand Lines of Nonlinear Poetry."

(26) In a chap, in Seeing through Words, "Quick Thought and Its Vehicles," Elizabeth Cook shares an interest in insects (and sparrows) as spurs to "imaginative elasticity" (117). Notable is that Donne does not "show that interest in the minute which God and scientists share" (119), but overlooks physical description in favor of "conceptual abstraction." Even here, microscopists are Donnean. But see also Heather Dubrow, who calls attention to the specificity of attention evoked by the deictic "Marke but this flea" (emphasis added) in Deixis in the Early Modern English Lyric: Unsettling Spatial Anchors Like Here," "This," "Come" (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

(27) In a fascinating recent essay, Todd Andrew Borlik argues that Midsummer Night's Dream is itself a scalar experiment, one that magnifies insects into human-sized "actors." See "Shakespeare's Insect Theater: Fairy Lore as Elizabethan Folk Entomology," in Raber and Mattfeld, Performing Animals, 123-40.

(28) Donne, "The Flea," 89.

(29) These entomological excurses are thus exercises aligned with what Elizabeth Spiller describes as the generative practice of creating "model worlds" applicable to both literary and scientific practice (Science, Reading and Renaissance Literature, 50).

(30) Impossible Desire and the Limits of Knowledge in Renaissance Poetry (Oxford U. Press, 2019), explores the metaphysical implications of the virginal hymen in great depth in its fourth chap., Seizing the "Point Imaginary."

(31) Andrew Marvell, "Upon Applet on House," in The Complete Poems, ed. Elizabeth Story Donno (New York: Penguin, 2005), 89; stanza 58.

(32) For Marvell's appropriation of Gondibert and allusions to Hooke, see A. B. Chambers, Andrew Marvell and Edmund Waller: Seventeenth Century Praise and Restoration Style (Penn State U. Press, 1986), 139-42.

(33) Borlik, "Shakespeare's Insect Theater," 126. Borlik notes (nl2) that the OED defines the well-known Mercutian locution, viz. Queen Mab's "team of little atomi" in 1.4.58, as a "diminutive or tiny being, a mite" (s.v. "atomy," n.1, def. 2).

(34) Suparna Roychoudhury, Phantasmatic Shakespeare: Imagination in the Age of Early Modern Science (Cornell U. Press, 2018), 92-93.1 am grateful to the anonymous reader who pointed out that "one reason Cavendish associates insects with thoughts is because she thinks that sharp atoms, which prick/sting/poke, are those that produce thought. They are actually shaped like mosquitoes!"

(35) Margaret Cavendish, "Similizing Fancy to a Gnat" and "Similizing the Head of Man to a Hive of Bees," Poems and Fancies (London, 1653), 149, 151.

(36) Thomas Shadwell, A true widow a comedy acted by the Duke's servants (London: Benjamin Tooke, 1679), 77 (L3r).

(37) OED, s.v. "infinitesimal" (etymology).

(38) A phrase that, itself, evokes flea lore: "The vermin only teaze and pinch, / Their foes superior by an inch. / So, naturalists observe, a flea / Has smaller fleas that on him prey; / And these have smaller still to bite 'em, / And so proceed ad infinitum. I Thus every poet, in his kind, / Is bit by him that comes behind." From Jonathan Swift, "On Poetry: a Rhapsody" (1733). My thanks to John Aguero for reminding me of this passage.

(39) Christiane Frey, "On the Art of Observing the Small: On the Borders of the Subvisibilia (from Hooke to Brockes)," Monatschefte 105.3 (Fall 2013): 380.

(40) Janice Neri, "Between Observation and Image: Representations of Insects in Robert Hooke's Micrographia" Studies in the History of Art 69 (2008): 88.

(41) David Freedburg, The Eye of the Lynx: Galileo, His Friends, and the Beginnings of Modern Natural History (U. of Chicago Press, 2003), 189, cited in

(42) Ford, "Royal Society and the Microscope," 30.

(43) Antony van Leeuwenhoek, The Select Works of Antony van Leeuwenhoek: Containing His Microscopical Discoveries, trans. Samuel Hoole (London, 1798). Cited in

(44) Henry Power, Experimental Philosophy, in Three Books: Containing New Experiments Microscopical, Mercurial, Magnetical. With some Deductions and Probable Hypotheses, raised from them, in Avouchment and Illustration of the now famous Atomical Hypothesis (London: Printed by T. Roycroft, for John Martin, and James Allestry, at the Bell in S. Pauls Churchyard, 1664).

(45) Frederique Ait-Touati, Fictions of the Cosmos: Science and Literature in the Seventeenth Century, trans. Susan Emanuel (U. of Chicago Press, 2011), 149, 152.

(46) Meghan C. Doherty, "Discovering the 'True Form': Hooke's "Micrographia" and the Visual Vocabulary of Engraved Portraits," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 66.3 (2012): 228.

(47) Kevin Killeen, "Microscopy, Surfaces and the Unknowable in Seventeenth-Century Natural Philosophy (from Lucretius to Margaret Cavendish)," Journal of the Northern Renaissance 8 (2017), But see also Mary Baine Campbell, Wonder and Science: Imagining Worlds in Early Modem Europe (Cornell U. Press, 1999), who argues that "his optical instrument deconstructs the notion of'interior'--all it finds is further surfaces" (183).

(48) See Neri, "Between Observation and Image," 96-97, for issues of scale as addressed in the Micrographia.

(49) Zwierlein, Queen Mab," 75-76.

(50) Neri, "Between Observation and Image," 101n70.

(51) Ait-Touati, Fictions of the Cosmos, 151.

(52) Robert Hooke, Micrographia, or Some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon (London, 1665), 210 ("Observ. LII. Of the small Silver-color'd Book-worm").

(53) Clifford Dobell, Antony van Leeuwenhoek and His "Little Animals" (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1932).

(54) Samuel Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Jan. 21,1664/65,

(55) Neri, "Between Observation and Image," 92; "Hooke conceived of his insects as exotic and strange creatures akin to those described by travelers to the New World" (91).

(56) Hooke, Micrograpia, 207 ("Observ. LI. Of the Crab-Like Insect"), 205 ("Observ. L: Of the wandering mite").

(57) My thanks to the other anonymous reader of this essay for pointing to the antiheroic strain of the encomiast tradition, and its possible place in scientific description.

(58) Hooke, Micrograpia, 198: "For to me there seems nothing wanting to make a man able to fly, but what may be easily enough supply'd from the Mechanicks hitherto known, save onely the want of strength, which the Muscles of a man seem utterly uncapable of, by reason of their smallness and texture, but how even strength also may be mechanically made, an artificial Muscle so contriv'd, that thereby a man shall be able to exert what strength he please, and to regulate it also to his own mind, I may elsewhere endeavor to manifest" ("Observ. XLVI. Of the white featherwing'd moth").

(59) Hooke, Micrograpia, 211 ("Observ. LI V. Of a Louse").

(60) Campell, 190.

(61) John Donne, "Elegy 2: To His Mistress Going to Bed," in The Major Works, ed. (Oxford U. Press, 1990), 12-13.

(62) Campbell, Wonderland Science, 191.

(63) Ait-Touati, Fictions of the Cosmos, 150.

(64) A full transcription of this poem, Sloane MS 1380, was completed in 1934. See Thomas Cowles, "Dr. Henry Power's Poem on the Microscope," Isis 21.1 (1934): 71-80. See also Sloane MS 1393, 58-59 (BL MS 1276). I was able to check the transcription in person. My thanks to the staff at the British Library for allowing access to the manuscript.

(65) Ait-Touati, Fictions of the Cosmos, 151.

(66) Catherine Wilson, The Invisible World: Early Modern Philosophy and the Invention of the Microscope (Princeton U. Press, 1995), 254,255.

(67) Power, Experimental Philosophy, A3v.

(68) Power, Experimental Philosophy, A3r, A3v.

(69) Power, Experimental Philosophy, A4v.

(70) Power, Experimental Philosophy, b1r-v.

(71) In Bacon's New Organon, the middle axiom is the ground whereupon one builds from "senses and particulars" to "general principles." Sir Francis Bacon, The Works, 15 vols., ed. J. Spedding, R. L. Ellis, and D. D. Heath (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1901), 4:50.

(72) Power, Experimental Philosophy, c1v.

(73) Power, Experimental Philosophy, B1r.

(74) Power, Experimental Philosophy, B1v.

(75) Power, Experimental Philosophy, B2r.

(76) Power, Experimental Philosophy, B2r.

(77) John Donne, The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets, ed. Helen Gardner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965).

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Author:Hyman, Wendy Beth
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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