Darwin-L Message Log 6:53 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<6:53>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Thu Feb 10 23:26:08 1994

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 1994 00:29:08 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Rafinesque
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Just catching up on some old messages that I didn't have a chance to reply to
when they first appeared.  A few days ago Earle Spamer mentioned Constantine
Rafinesque, a genuinely odd and polymathic character who is quite fascinating.
I wanted to mention two other things about him just for amusement: In addition
to his many works on natural history he also wrote a very bad epic poem of
5400 lines called _The World, or Instability_ (Philadelphia, 1836).  This is
a true specimen of one of the great periods of the historical sciences, and is
full of musings on how everything in the world has changed and nothing stays
the same.  It is also a true specimen of Rafinesque's extraordinary sense of
personal grandiosity -- he considered himself the true successor to Linnaeus
and Newton -- and its sections are titled: The Universe, The Earth and Moon,
The Former Earth, Life and Motion, Love and Sympathy, Sublimity and the Deity,
Religion, Freewill, Angels and Devils, Mankind and Society, Peace and War,
Toleration and Selfishness, Passions and Pleasures, Wisdom and Knowledge, Arts
and Sciences, Women and Children, and (finally) Conclusion.  The introduction
to the work, which is presumed to have been written by Rafinesque himself,
declares that "Beauties abound in this poem, they are scattered like gems from
beginning to end.  They consist in vivid pictures, truths well expressed, the
best moral precepts, a deep religious impression, sublime addresses to the
deity and truth, a love of wisdom, virtue and universal peace, a benevolent
tolerance and charity; sublime sketches of the Sun, Light, Fire, War, the
Passions, Women, ∧c."

The other amusing item concerning Rafinesque relates to his own final
disposition.  Though born in Europe, he emigrated to America and served for
several years as Professor of Botany and Natural History at Transylvania
University in Lexington, Kentucky, which is today a fine liberal arts college
that I had the pleasure of teaching at a couple years ago as a visiting
professor.  Rafinesque left Transylvania sometime around 1826 because he was
refused funding to establish a botanical garden modeled on Linnaeus's garden
at Uppsala, and he eventually died in (I believe) Philadelphia.  Some years
after his death the Transylvania authorities decided that it would be
appropriate to honor him as distinguished former member of the university,
and money was raised to have his remains disinterred from his gravesite in
Philadelphia and deposited in a memorial tomb on the Transylvania campus.
This was done, and the tomb remains there in Lexington to this day.  The only
problem is that subsequent historical research suggests that the wrong body
was dug up, and that the person in the tomb in Lexington isn't Rafinesque, who
apparently rests today under a Philadelphia playground.  Another historical
scientist of an earlier period, old Sir Thomas Browne, would have understood:
"Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried?  Who hath
the Oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?"

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.

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