George Lindsay's royal microscope

Numbered *1*, this microscope is the first example of a portable design by George Lindsay. He was the royally appointed Watch and Clockmaker during the mid-18th century, and this microscope was in the King George III collection before it was purchased by Robert Whipple. XR 

Lindsay's pocket microscope
Image 1 George Lindsay's pocket microscope; made in 1742. This microscope was presented to King George II. Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.0195).
Lindsay's pocket microscope
Image 2 Lindsay's pocket microscope, with all of its accessories packed away "in a Case not exceeding six Cubic Inches." Image © the Whipple Museum (Wh.0195).

Lindsay's advertising

A handwritten advertisement on a microscope by George Lindsay XR  reads:

"G Lindsay Watch & Clockmaker to his Royal Highness ye Prince of Wales at ye Dial near Catherine Street in ye Strand. Inventor & Maker of ye Generally portable microscope"

The "Generally portable" microscope is Lindsay's pocket microscope (Image 1), the first example of which is now in the collections of the Whipple Museum. Lindsay published a pamphlet describing the microscope in 1743, though he claimed that he had invented it for personal use as early as 1728.

The "Prince of Wales" mentioned in Lindsay's advertisement was the son of King George II, Frederick, who was tutored in contemporary natural philosophy, and had an armillary sphere G  made for him by the instrument maker J. Sisson. The Lindsay microscope was presented to George II, and eventually entered the collection of George III. XR 

» Read about the parts of the microscope

The design of the microscope

The main feature of the microscope is that it could be "contained in a Case not exceeding six Cubic Inches" (Image 2). Portable microscopes had increased in popularity since the end of the 17th century. This was partly in response to demand for instruments for use outdoors, in the field. It was also related to the way in which the microsocpe was used and perceived in the mid-18th century. Many instrument makers were creating elaborate and ingenious designs, partly in reponse to the demands of naturalists, and partly to enhance their own businesses.

As well as being portable Lindsay's microscope design also incorporated practical improvements, such as a substage mirror, G  one of the first to be added to a pocket microscope. Lindsay's following claim, from the patent document, is perhaps a little exaggerated:

"That the Purpose of Enquiry into the minute Parts of Nature, ... having been partly retarded by the inconvenient apparatus made for that Purpose, in all former microscopes, are by this invention entirely taken away."

The potential of the microscope

The microscope was a trusted instrument for inquiries into nature by the time Lindsay's design was made available in 1743. But this was not the case during the first fifty years or so of the instrument's history. Until the publication of Robert Hooke's XR  Micrographia in 1665 the potential of the microscope was relatively unknown. As Hooke was keen to point out, this potential was for the discovery of the wonders of nature, and for the greater understating of God's skill as the author of nature.

Lindsay's pamphlet of 1743 is similarly concerned with 'natural theology' (studying nature to better understand God's work):

"All Nature abounds with Miracles, and it would be an endless task to enumerate them, therefore there will always be new Matter of Discovery for the Microscope: and were it possible to improve our Power of seeing by much greater Magnifiers that have yet, or can possibly be made, the Discoveries would still be proportionable, and we should only be more sensible, that to know the Power of the Almighty to Perfection, must be the Employment of Eternity."

Put simply, he thought that the development of the microscope would always lead to the discovery of a finer degree of perfection in nature. In reality, the development of the optical microscope is limited both theoretically and practically. During the 18th century, however, the debate was philosophical; could the microscope continue to show smaller and smaller objects, or had the world under the microscope been fully explored? Hooke thought that after about 1680 the microscope had shown all that it could, but some remained optimistic that there more would be revealed, and later discoveries validated this view.

» Read Henry Baker and John Cuff, collaborators on microscope design
» Read more Benjamin Martin's microscope compendia

Boris Jardine

Boris Jardine, 'George Lindsay's royal microscope', Explore Whipple Collections, Whipple Museum of the History of Science, University of Cambridge, 2006 [, accessed 19 September 2017]

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