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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


   Ellen Tan Drake has pointed out that Hooke’s 1686/7 digression on the nautilus, and the fossil genus of Cephalopods known as ammonites, concludes with the sort of heterodox argument for which he was famous: “Just because we do not know the existence of a living ammonite does not mean that it has never existed. Hooke, therefore, understood the concept of extinction and was not bothered by religion in this respect. A religious-minded person in the 17th century, on the other hand, would not be able to accept extinction. Accordingly, some, like John Ray, advocated that the unknown species might exist somewhere in the world.” (Drake, 239)
   My own interpretation is that Hooke was “religious-minded”; he just didn’t always keep to a literal translation of the bible.

Hooke’s Digression on the Nautilus in his “Discourse of Earthquakes” (No. 3)

[  e x c e r p t   f r o m  ]

L E C T U R E   N U M B E R   3

in a series of lectures read to the Royal Society
between 8 December 1686 and 19 January 1687

Opening quotation markAnd here by the bye I cannot but take notice of the imperfect and inaccurate Description of this so curious a Fish as the Nautilus must needs be, if one may guess at the curiosity thereof from those descriptions, which I find in Johnston out of Aristotle, Pliny, Bellonius, Piso, Cardan, Fauconerius, and others, and from the curious make of the Shell, for by all those descriptions I cannot imagine any one can get any tolerable Idea or Notion, what the make of so wonderful a Fish must be that has such an admirable quality as to buoy himself as Pliny says, ex alto mari from the bottom of the Sea, and make himself to swim and sail upon the top of the Water, and at pleasure, or for fear presently to sink himself down again to the bottom. This will appear so much the more wonderful to one that shall consider the great pressure of the Water at the bottom of the Sea, and in how differing a state of compression this Animal must be at those two places, and by what power it becometh able to make itself so light at the bottom to rise and seem half out of the Water, and yet presently so heavy as to sink down to the bottom, and this without Finns or Tail to move itself. Now as this Property is peculiar to this Fish only, so is the make of the Shell differing from all the Species of Nature besides, and as I conceive is the Engine by which he performeth this admirable Exploit; for the whole Shell is divided into a multitude of Cells or Cabins separated and distinguished one from another by several Diaphragmes or Partitions without any other perforation, save one small one, through which passeth a small Pipe, which I take to be the Gut of the Animal; this Gut doth not fill a two hundred part of the Cavity through which it passeth, and the remaining part must either be filled with Air or Water. Now if it be filled with Water, as probably ’tis, when he sinketh himself to the bottom, ’tis prety hard to conceive how he filleth it with Air under so great a pressure and at such a distance from it as to buoy himself up, unless it be caus’d with such a fermentation of the Excrements of the Gut, or other Juices of the Body as doth produce an artificial Air, which serves for that purpose; which seems to me to be the true Cause, especially since I find Gulielmus Piso to add this Remark to his History and Description of it. Cum damno meo Plinii Discriptionem verissimam esse compertus sum namdum talem pisciculum (speaking of the Nautilus of China) in mari captum imprudentius manibus meis contrectassem, tantus ardor manum invasit, tanquam si aqua ferventi suffusa esset, & nisi apposito statim allio conraso cum aqua mihi ipse subvenissem, procul dubio prae dolore in febrim incidissem: Unde ego ipsum piscem de Holothuriorum esse genere contenderim, ut quae omnia in maria fluctuantia, eam aerem calorem attrectantibus inurunt quod & fallacissimi omnium mortalium Chinenses noverunt, qui illa Orjza miscent, ut liquorem suum Destillatitium (quem Arac hos hic vocamus) tanto callidius reddant, pernicioso invento, quod hinc miseri nostri Socii navales, sanguinis sputam, phthisin, marasmum deniq & ipsam tandem mortem incurrant. By which it plainly appears, that the Juices or Excrements of this Fish are of a strange fermenting or burning Nature which may be the cause of so singular and wonderful an Indowment, which whether it be so or not, I could heartily wish that some Person curious in Anatomy that has the opportunity of meeting with them alive would give us a more accurate Description of its external and internal Formations and Qualifications.

 But to leave this Digression, which I have the longer insisted upon to shew the great imperfections of the Descriptions of the Species of Nature and their Qualifications and of the varieties of them (for that I have seen two Species of this sort not described or mentioned in any Author) and of how great use a good Collection and Description of them would be, as particularly concerning this very Fish I shall have occasion shortly to mention. To leave, I say, this Digression, we may from this perceive how little able we are from the want of this Knowledge and Collection, to conclude, that because we do not already know a Fish or Shell exactly of the shape of this or that Cornu Ammonis, therefore that it could never have been any such Shell, since it then cannot presently be proved that there is at present, or ever was any such Fish in being, which some possibly too confident of their Omnisciency may Object, because they know none such themselves, or have read of them; and therefore that there is more reason that such Arguments as are drawn from the examinations of the Substances, and the Characteristicks of the Form should be of sufficient evidence to evince that these Bodies that have these Qualifications could not be formed but for such purposes, as those Animals which we are informed of, we know have all parts fitted for each singular and surprizing use designed; for it is certain that Nature doth nothing frustra, but manifestly with an admirable and wise design, the truth of which Maxim will more and more evidently appear, the more the Works thereof are curiously examined and searched into; and no unprejudiced person that thoroughly examins them can fail of being convinc’d of the Truth and Certainty thereof, there being such a Harmony, Consent and Uniformity, as I may so speak, in all its Operations, and a gradual transition from one to another, that it is evident that all these kinds of Petrifactions have been moulded by some Animal or Vegetable Substance, as by Shells, Bones, Teeth, Fruits, Woods, &c. and that many of them are the Substances themselves, yet unaltered.Closing quotation mark

SOURCE:  The above lecture text was first transcribed and printed by Richard Waller in The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, M.D. S.R.S. Geom. Prof. Gresh. &c. Containing His Cutlerian lectures, and Other Discourses, Read at the Meetings of the Illustrious Royal Society (London: Printed by Sam. Smith and Benj. Walford, printers to the Royal Society, 1705), 340–341.