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**  A second window aside called by the Players page for Robert Hooke, entitled
“The Absent Presence of Robert Hooke”  **

First Published:  March 2012
Revised (substantive):  5 July 2021


Each part of Derham’s printed transcription of Hooke’s December 1696 three-part lecture on the nautilus opened with an introductory note signed by Derham. Derham introduces Part 1 of 3 with a summary of what authorities, prior to Hooke, had to say about the nautilus.

[  read to the Royal Society on 2 December 1696  ]
P A R T   O N E   O F

Dr. Hook’s Conjectures
about the Odd Phaenomena Observable in the Shell-Fish
Called the Nautilus

“ FOR the right Understanding of this Matter, I shall give a brief Account of this Animal from Aristotle, Pliny, Oppian, Ælian, Bellonius, and their Transcribers, Gesner, Aldrovand, and Jonson, viz. That the Nautilus is an Inhabitant of the Deep: That it hath three Motions, viz. a Power to raise it self up from the Bottom to the Surface of the Sea; that it can sail thereon; and again sink itself to the Bottom: That its Shell is made very commodiously for these three Motions, with divers Cells: That it can erect its Shell edge-ways for Sailing: That it hath two (some say three) Arms, or Claws, with a thin and light, but strong Membrane between them, like that of Palmiped Birds: That this it hoists up and spreads like a Sail, and is driven thereby on the Surface of the Sea: Besides which, that it hath also other Parts on each Side of it, that it lets down to steer and guide its Course, as with a Rudder, so long as no Danger is nigh: But, if it perceives any Danger from the more powerful Animals, or Storms, that then it fills its Shell with Water, and suddenly sinks it self to the Bottom.

“ BUT for the Reader’s Diversion, if he hath a Mind to see Oppian the Poet’s elegant Description of this Inhabitant of the Waters, as translated by Lippius, he may find it thus in Aldrovand. de Testaceis, l. 3. c. 5.

_____ _____ _____ Quem dicunt nomine vero
Nautilon, insignem ponto sua gloria fecit,
Per freta dum cautus sub Navis imagine ludit.
In sabulo domus est, summa desertur in unda
Pronus, neu pontum capiat, plenusque gravatus,
Cum nando vehitur, per fluctus Amphitrites,
Extemplo versus tumidam per marmoris undam
Labitur, ut nandi doctus, puppisque peritus.
Atque pedes geminos tendit, de more Rudentum,
Quos inter medios tenuis membrana tumescit
Extenta, atque pedes contingunt aequora subter,
Themoni assimiles, navem, piscemque domumque
Deducunt. Si forte malum supereminet ullum,
Absorbet fluctus intus, lymphisque gravatus,
A tumidis trahitur cum pondere fluctibus unda.

“ Hinc (saith Aldrovand) homines navigia invenerunt, & ex eodem Oppiano citat Lilius Gregorius Gyraldus.

“ W.   D E R H A M.


“ The Account which Dr. Hook gives is thus:

Opening quotation markTHE Structure of the Shell of the Nautilus, which as it is very curious, and indeed very wonderful, so it is not less instructive to one that shall contemplate on it; and to me, as yet, it appears to be the only Instance of a Contrivance truly wonderful; for that I do not know any thing like it in the whole Genus of Fishes, tho’ there are some Instances that tend that Way. It is, in short, this, The Creature, it seems, to whom this Shell is adapted, by Accounts we have of it, is an Inhabitant of the Abyss, or Great Deep; which how deep it is none yet knows, nor will know, till some of my Nuntii ad Abyssum (which I have formerly acquainted you with) be sent thither, and bring back Tidings concerning it; or, till this our present Nuncius can find a Way to manifest, how far he has ascended to come up to the Day, or how far he descends to go to his Resting-place at the Bottom of the Sea. For these Progresses he is said to make, besides his Voyage, when he sails on the Top of the Ocean. Now being constituted by Nature to perform these, and yet to be without Wings or Fins, to help himself by Labour to move in any of these three Ways; it is wonderful to consider, by what a plain and easy Contrivance the All-wise Creator has endowed him with sufficient Faculties to perform the same, with very little or no Fatigue at all, but to be carry’d in his Chariot, or rather Ship, from Place to Place, as he has Occasion to change his Residence.

“ The Manner of which (if I am not mistaken in my Conjecture) is this: Nature has furnished him with a curious Shell, dividing it into many distinct Cells or Cavities, by certain Valves, Diaphragms or Partitions, which have no Communication with each other, but only by Means of a Gut or Ductus, which passes through them all from the Bowels or Body of the Creature, placed in the Cavity of the Mouth of the Shell to the very End of the Spiral Cone, or conical shaped Shell, which ends in the very Center or Beginning of the proportional Spira, and has there a Spiramentum or Vent, which I have formerly discover’d, by examining more curiously one of that Kind, by opening it, though it has not hitherto been taken Notice of by any Author that I have met with. The Axis, or middle Line of this Cone, or conically-shap’d Body is spiraled round exactly in a Plane, and not helicated on a conical Surface, as in almost all the Shells of other the conchylious Fishes, it is observable. Now this admirable Structure seems to me not a mere Lusus Naturae, or a Form by Chance, to express, a Variety, but an Emanation of that infinite Wisdom, that appears in the Shapes and Structure of all other created Beings, which is to endow them with sufficient Abilities to perform those Actions, which are made necessary to their Well-being. Now, the Relations of Histories of this Creature inform us, that it has three Kinds of Motions through the Water, that is, ascending, descending, and progressive; and since there is one Posture of the Shell, that is most proper to perform each of these, therefore it is, as I conceive, that the Shell is so contriv’d, as to be put, and kept in that Position, whilst it performs that Motion: The Shell then is contriv’d to be all a Cavity, and to have no other Part or Bowel of the Creature within the first Cavity, but only a small String, Gut, or Ductus, which passeth from the Body of the Creature, placed in the Mouth of the Shell, to the End of the conical Cavity. Now by this I conceive, that when this Cavity is fill’d with Water, the whole Bulk becomes heavier than the Water, and so must sink to the Bottom of the Sea: But when the Cavity is fill’d with Air, then the Whole will be boyant, and lighter than the Water, and so rise to the Top, and float on its Surface: These Powers it would have had, supposing the Cavity of the Shell had had no other but the first or greatest Diaphragm, and the rest had been one entire Cavity: But this would not have disposed the Shell to all those Motions, it is to perform, into the most convenient Postures; for that Posture, that is fittest for its rising, would not be so for its sinking, nor for its sailing, nor possibly for its Progression at the Bottom, (if such a Motion it does perform, as to me it seems rational enough to suppose) for that every one of them will need a different Posture. We find, therefore, this Cavity all subdivided by internal Diaphragms or Partitions, into a great Number of distinct Cells, (I have found 40 in some Shells) and every one of these penetrated by this Gut or Ductus, so that by Means thereof, I conceive, the Animal has a Power to fill or empty each of those Cavities with Water, as shall suffice to poise and trim the Posture of his Vessel, or Shell, fittest for that Navigation or Voyage he is to make; or if he be to rise, then he can empty those Cavities of Water, or fill them with Air which lie toward that Side, that part the Shell, that best penetrate the Water: If he be to descend, he can fill those with Water, and empty the opposite; if to fail on the Top, he can evacuate those Cavities that will trim his Shell fit to sail with the Mouth of it upwards, that he may there expand his Sails and use his Rudders; and if to move at the Bottom, he can fill those, and empty the opposite, so as that the Mouth may be downwards, to respect the Ground or Bottom over which he passes, so to discover his proper Nutriment or other Convenience, and to descend to it when he finds it. Now it may be imagined, and objected, that these Operations may be too notional and fanciful, and so seem to have more of Design and Counsel, than the Creature seems to be capable of: To which I answer, that it is no more, nor, may be, so much, as most other Creatures are endow’d with, and constantly perform: For whoever considers what Design and Contrivance there is for the Performance of all muscular Motion, where this or that Muscle is to be strained, and that or the other Muscle is to be relaxed, and presently the quite contrary Effects are to be effected, and all these to proceed from the Will, or Intention of the Creature that moves himself thereby, which Way it pleaseth, will not think it so strange to conceive, that this Creature may have implanted in it a Faculty, to make use of the Organs for Motions, as well as any other: There needs no Institution of a Bird to make use of his Wings to fly, or of his Tail, to poise or guide him in his Flight; no, Nature, or the infinitely wise God of Nature hath taken Care to give him an Instinct or Impulse, which enables him to do those Things, that are necessary to be done, for the producing the desired Effect. Now, though the shaping, and triming, and steering of an artificial Ship, doth require the Understanding of the Men that are to act in that Ship, to know, and accordingly to dispose of all Things, for the effecting what is necessary or desired; yet ’tis not thence to be argued, that the Operations of animal Motions must be perform’d by the Operations of Reasoning. No Man can tell how, or by what Means, he moves his Finger, or any one Muscle of his Body; no, Nature hath set all Things in Order, and endow’d us with a Power to perform what is necessary, though we know not how, nor by what Means; nor is the Notion, I have hinted, so extravagant, or so much beyond the other Contrivances, for the effecting of various Motions in other Animals, as some may imagine, since, when I come to treat of that Subject, I shall shew, and prove several Contrivances, that are actually made Use of, that are abundantly more wonderful.Closing quotation mark

SOURCE:  The above lecture text was first transcribed and printed by William Derham in Philosophical Experiments and Observations of the Late Eminent Dr. Robert Hook ... and Other Eminent Virtuoso’s in his Time (London: Printed by W. and J. Innys, printers to the Royal Society, 1726), 304–309.