03 November 2011

In search of forgotten knowledge

I spent several hours today looking up ancient information in ancient books. Thanks to sites like Google Books and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, one can now do that sort of research right from one's computer. Who needs libraries anymore?

The keyword I used for my searches was, of course, snail.

Among the not-so-dusty tomes I discovered was The system of natural history (1800) compiled from the writings of Comte de Buffon.

Buffon's book was the newest of the books I skimmed. The oldest one was John Hill's An history of animals: containing descriptions of the birds, beasts, fishes, and insects of the several parts of the world from 1752. I'm not sure who John Hill was.

The most interesting find, so far, was Microscopic observations or, Dr. Hooke's wonderful discoveries by the microscope by Robert Hooke (1780).

More than 200 years ago Hooke gave a fairly accurate description of how most terrestrial gastropods move (spellings and capitalizations are original):
Its Way of moving from place to place, though destitute of Feet, is effected by two large muscular Skins, that are lengthned by letting out; after which, their Fore-part is shortned into Folds, and the hinder Part falls into the fame Contraction: Then the Fore-part extends, and draws along the Shell. A glutinous Slime emitted from the Body, enables it, at the fame time, to adhere firmly and securely to all Kinds of Surfaces, which is an Advantage few Animals that have Feet can pretend to.

Hooke also described the jaw of a snail. I will write about that in a future post.


Snail said...

It's absolutely fantastic that many of these older texts have been scanned and made available. And now the Royal Society have made their historical archives permanently accessible --- fantastic stuff!

Jane said...

old texts are so wonderful and frequently I find that those who wrote long ago wrote knowledgeably about several things, the technology that has brought historical books into our living rooms is wonderful. Recently I was reading an encyclopedia belonging to my grandfather. It was from 1910 and proclaimed the debate about whether cars would run on ethanol or petrol. They claimed that it would be alcohol as it was so much more efficient!! My comment has little to do with snails i know but I love to read so many different subjects I find it interesting to see how so much is linked by common ideas and how ideas in one subject can assist in others.

Lars Dietz said...

Here is the wikipedia article for John Hill:
He is most known for his botanical works, and for his quarrels with the Royal Society and with other authors.