July in the Historical Sciences
A calendar of anniversaries in the palaetiological sciences of evolutionary biology, systematics, historical linguistics, text transmission, historical geology, paleontology, genealogy, archeology, anthropology, cosmology, historical geography, and related fields, from the Darwin-L Archives on the history and theory of the historical sciences.
1646: GOTTFRIED WILHELM LEIBNIZ is born at Leipzig, Germany. One of the most brilliant and wide-ranging scholars of his age, Leibniz will be best remembered by future generations for his work in mathematics and philosophy, but his writings will span genealogy, history, jurisprudence, geology, and linguistics as well: “The study of languages must not be conducted according to any other principles but those of the exact sciences. Why begin with the unknown instead of the known? It stands to reason that we ought to begin with studying the modern languages which are within our reach, in order to compare them with one another, to discover their differences and affinities, and then to proceed to those which have preceded them in former ages, in order to show their filiation and their origin, and then to ascend step by step to the most ancient tongues, the analysis of which must lead us to the only trustworthy conclusions.”
1858: CHARLES LYELL and JOSEPH DALTON HOOKER present three short papers by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace before the meeting of the Linnean Society at London, addressing their introduction to the Society’s secretary, John Joseph Bennett:
My Dear Sir,—
The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all relate to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace.
These gentlemen having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet, may both fairly claim the merit of being original thinkers in this important line of inquiry; but neither of them having published his views, though Mr. Darwin has for many years past been repeatedly urged by us to do so, and both authors having now unreservedly placed their papers in our hands, we think it would best promote the interests of science that a selection from them should be laid before the Linnean Society.
Taken in order of their dates, they consist of:—
1. Extracts from a MS. work on Species, by Mr. Darwin, which was sketched in 1839, and copied in 1844, when the copy was read by Dr. Hooker, and its contents afterwards communicated to Sir Charles Lyell. The first Part is devoted to “The Variation of Organic Beings under Domestication and in the Natural State;” and the second chapter of that Part, from which we propose to read to the Society the extracts referred to, is headed, “On the Variation of Organic Beings in a state of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and true Species.”
2. An abstract of a private letter addressed to Professor Asa Gray, of Boston, U.S., in October 1857, by Mr. Darwin, in which he repeats his views, and which shows that these remained unaltered from 1839 to 1857.
3. An Essay by Mr. Wallace, entitled “On the Tendency of Varieties to depart indefinitely from the Original Type.” This was written at Ternate in February 1858, for the perusal of his friend and correspondent Mr. Darwin, and sent to him with the expressed wish that is should be forwarded to Sir Charles Lyell, if Mr. Darwin thought it sufficiently novel and interesting. So highly did Mr. Darwin appreciate the value of the views therein set forth, that he proposed, in a letter to Sir Charles Lyell, to obtain Mr. Wallace’s consent to allow the Essay to be published as soon as possible. Of this step we highly approved, provided Mr. Darwin did not withhold from the public, as he was strongly inclined to do (in favour of Mr. Wallace), the memoir which he had himself written on the same subject, and which, as before stated, one of us had perused in 1844, and the contents of which we had both of us been privy to for many years. On representing this to Mr. Darwin, he gave us permission to make what use we thought proper of his memoir, &c.; and in adopting our present course, of presenting it to the Linnean Society, we have explained to him that we are not solely considering the relative claims to priority of himself and his friend, but the interests of science generally; for we feel it to be desirable that views founded on a wide deduction from facts, and matured by years of reflection, should constitute at once a goal from which others may start, and that while the scientific world is waiting for the appearance of Mr. Darwin’s complete work, some of the leading results of his labours, as well as those of his able correspondent, should together be laid before the public.
We have the honour to be yours very obediently,
Jos. D. Hooker
1795: KARL EDUARD IVANOVICH EICHWALD is born at Mitau, Latvia. Following study of science and medicine at a number of European universities, Eichwald will take his doctorate in medicine at the University of Vilnius in Lithuania in 1819, and will work for a time as a physician. Successive teaching appointments at the Universities of Dorpat, Kazan, and Vilnius will widen his experience in zoology, botany, and paleontology, and he will eventually take up a teaching post in St. Petersburg in 1838, remaining there for the rest of his career. Eichwald will become one of the leading paleontologists of Russia, and will make substantial contributions to the development of a geologic column for eastern Europe. His monumental Lethaea Rossica ou Paléontologie de la Russie, a comprehensive synthesis of Russian paleontology, will appear over the course of fifteen years beginning in 1853.
1795: ANTONIO DE ULLOA Y DE LA TORRE GIRAL dies at Isla de Léon, Cádiz, Spain. A naval officer and explorer, Ulloa travelled to America in the 1730s and 1740s to conduct navigational research under the auspices of the Paris Academy of Sciences. The results of his expedition, Relación histórica del viaje a la América meridional, were published in Madrid in 1748. Ulloa played an important role in the establishment of the royal natural history collection at Cádiz in 1752, and his extensive service in Spain’s American colonies led to the further publication of Noticias americanas: Entretenimiento fisico-histórico sobre América meridional y septentrional-oriental in Madrid in 1772.
1686: ANTOINE DE JUSSIEU is born at Lyons, France. The son of a pharmacist, Jussieu will receive his medical degree at Montpellier where he will study with the botanist Pierre Magnol. He will later travel to Paris to work with Joseph Pitton de Tournefort. Shortly after Tournefort’s death, Jussieu will succeed him as professor of botany at the Jardin du Roi, and he will remain there for the rest of his life. His influence as a teacher will be far reaching, and his two younger brothers, Bernard and Joseph, as well as his nephew Antoine-Laurent, will also become celebrated botanists. Jussieu will publish the first botanical description of coffee and will encourage its cultivation; he will recognize that fungi are one of the components of lichens; and he will describe the many fossil ferns found in the Lyons coal mines. His interest in fossils and “figured stones” will lead him also to the study of archeology and the production of prehistoric flint tools. He will die in Paris in 1758.
1802: ROBERT CHAMBERS is born at Peebles, Scotland. He will become a popular and prolific writer and publisher, especially of works on Scottish character and history. Chambers will be best remembered, however, for his widely read and controversial Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which will be published anonymously in 1844. The Vestiges will comprehensively trace the development of the human race, of animals and plants, the earth, and the cosmos as a whole: “if we could suppose a number of persons of various ages presented to the inspection of an intelligent being newly introducted into the world, we cannot doubt that he would soon become convinced that men had once been boys, that boys had once been infants, and, finally, that all had been brought into the world in exactly the same circumstances. Precisely thus, seeing in our astral system many thousands of worlds in all stages of formation, from the most rudimental to that immediately preceding the present condition of those we deem perfect, it is unavoidable to conclude that all the perfect have gone through the various stages which we see in the rudimental. This leads us at once to the conclusion that the whole of our firmament was at one time a diffused mass of nebulous matter, extending through the space which it still occupies. So also, of course, must have been the other astral systems. Indeed, we must presume the whole to have been originally in one connected mass, the astral systems being only the first division into parts, and solar systems the second.”
1454: ANGELO POLIZIANO or POLITIAN is born at Montepulciano, Tuscany. Politian’s intellect and skill with languages will be recognized early in his youth, and he will be sent to Florence to study Greek and Latin. His clever poems and epigrams will win him admittance to the household of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who will support his scholarship for many years. Politian will travel widely in Italy collecting and studying Classical manuscripts, and he will come to be one of the most influential scholars and teachers of the Italian Renaissance. Through critical study of the many copies of Cicero’s Epistulae ad familiares, Politian will establish a clear sequence of transmission of the text, in which most of the extant manuscripts derive from an ancestral copy made for Coluccio Salutati in 1392, a manuscript which was itself the descendant of another manuscript that had been found in the cathedral library of Vercelli. Politian’s methods of reconstructing textual histories will not be improved upon until the nineteenth century.
1635: ROBERT HOOKE born at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight, England. Though he will be remembered primarily as an experimentalist associated with the Royal Society, Hooke’s researches will range widely, covering in addition to mathematics and mechanics, geology and the nature of fossils as well: “My first Proposition then is, That all, or the greatest part of these curiously figured Bodies found up and down in divers Parts of the World, are either those Animal or Vegetable Substances they represent converted into Stone, by having their Pores fill’d up with some petrifying liquid Substance, whereby their Parts are, as it were, lock’d up and cemented together in their Natural Position and Contexture; or else they are the lasting Impressions made on them at first, whilst a yielding Substance by the immediate Application of such Animal or Vegetable body as was so shaped, and that there was nothing else concurring to their Production, save only the yielding of the Matter to receive the Impression, such as heated Wax affords to the Seal; or else a subsiding or hardning of the Matter, after by some kind of Fluidity it had perfectly fill’d or inclosed the figuring Vegetable or Animal Substance, after the manner as a Statue is made of Plaister of Paris, or Alabaster-dust beaten, and boil’d, mixed with Water and poured into a Mould.” (Lectures and Discourses of Earthquakes, and Subterraneous Eruptions: Explicating The Causes of the Rugged and Uneven Face of the Earth; and What Reasons may be given for the frequent finding of Shells and other Sea and Land Petrified Substances, scattered over the whole Terrestrial Superficies, London, 1705.)
1794: CHRISTIAN HEINRICH PANDER is born at Riga, Latvia. Pander will enter the University of Dorpat in 1812, where he will study natural history and medicine. He will continue his studies at the Universities of Berlin, Göttingen, and Würzburg, and will receive his medical degree from Würzburg in 1817. A student of the great embryologists Karl Ernst von Baer and Ignaz Dollinger, Pander will be best remembered for his research on the development of the chick. He will spend the greater part of his career, however, pursuing investigations in geology and paleontology, and among his more important works will be Beiträge zur Geognosie des russischen Reichs (St. Petersburg, 1830), and Monographie der Fossilen Fische des silurischen Systems der Russisch-Baltischen Gouvernements (St. Petersburg, 1856).
1858: RICHARD DIXON OLDHAM is born at Dublin, Ireland. The son of a geologist at Trinity College, Oldham will himself study at the Royal School of Mines, and will eventually go to work for the Geological Survey of India, where his colleagues will judge him “a little too independent sometimes for those in authority.” He will publish widely on the geology of India and the Himalayas, and will devote himself particularly to the developing field of seismology, offering the first substantial seismologic evidence for the existence of a metallic core at the center of the earth. He will receive the Lyell Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1908 and will eventually retire to Wales, where he will die in 1936.
© RJO 1995–2016