During the last years of Antony van Leeuwenhoek's (say it "la´vnhook´") life, dignitaries from all over Europe, including Russian czar Peter the Great, King James II, and Frederick II of Prussia, visited his shop in Delft, Holland, to see the wonders revealed by his microscopes. But the Dutch cloth merchant seemed unaffected, retaining the delight of discovery that had first led him, at age 40, to focus a new lens on a world formerly unseen.
Until his death at 91, Leeuwenhoek spent his days grinding pinhead-sized lenses and peering through them, hour after hour, by candlelight. For this Christian layman-scientist, the astonishing array of tiny life-forms revealed under his homemade lenses glorified God as much as the brightest stars.
Born in Delft in 1632, Antony became a draper and only took up scientific studies as a hobby after seeing micrographs during a visit to London in 1660. He did not invent the microscope but took it to new levels of power. In the process he opened up to human eyes the world of microorganisms and founded a new branch of science: microbiology.
By 1673, Leeuwenhoek was discovering things with his superior microscopes that no human eye had ever seen. These he began sharing in letters to the natural philosophers of the Royal Society of London. The British scientists were at first skeptical of the claims by this untrained layman who spoke only Dutch.
When in 1676 he described finding microorganisms that were so small that "ten thousand of these living creatures could scarce equal the bulk of a coarse sand grain," they requested corroboration from other eyewitnesses. Several friends sent affidavits that they also saw these things through Antony's microscope. As Leeuwenhoek's observations were found to be ...