Darwin-L Message Log 6:61 (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.

<6:61>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Fri Feb 11 20:04:18 1994

Date: Fri, 11 Feb 1994 21:07:28 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Rafinesque on the World
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Many thanks to Fred Gleach and Sally Thomason for the fascinating information
about Rafinesque's possible involvement in the forgery of the Lenape origin
story.  I can certainly imagine origin/creation myths to be appealing to him,
since his aforementioned epic _The World_ is very nearly one itself.  Even if
he didn't forge the story himself it is possible that he was fooled into
accepting its authenticity by some other party; he was apparently rather
gullible, and published descriptions of several new species that Audubon had
fabricated as a joke.

I can't resist appending now a couple of extracts from _The World_, first
a general one on the history of the earth and universe, and second an account
of the history of language and society.  Despite its lack of poetic grace,
it is a fascinating statement of the unity of the historical sciences.

From _The World, or Instability_ by C. S. Rafinesque (Philadelphia, 1836):

       But while surveying thus the actual earth,
     Her changeful scenes; the times recal to mind
     Of other ancient changes, ruinous traces,
     With memories of cataclysms: events
     Of yore by us recorded or surmised,
     Which thro' the maze of time we search and find.
       When lofty minds delight to raise awhile              [1000]
     The gloomy veil of time and ages past,
     Beyond Memory's hold, and Clio's reach
     They search unwritten pages, words unspoken,
     Medals engraved by Nature's potent hand.
     They soar throughout the skies, and ask the suns
     When born? how made? and scattered thro' space,
     To light and warm the planets, comets, moons.
     How rolling worlds were thrown to wheel around?
     In splendid homes prepar'd, adorned for men
     And beings numberless, since born therein.              [1010]
     They sink beneath the soil to seek below
     Within the deepest graves records of life;
     Their epitaphs of time, reveal, explain.
     Of nations sunk to dust almost unknown,
     Through various languages no longer spoken,
     Through crumbling monuments and relics faint,
     They trace the steps and deeds, their arts unfold.
     Within the earthly bowels in rocky tombs
     They find the bones and shells of buried bodies,
     Or woody fragments, formerly partaking,                 [1020]
     Enjoying life.  Their existence revealed,
     A useful lesson teaches; the law of change
     Fully conforms, without exceptions ruling
     The flying Orbs, and moving living beings.
     Meantime in these, and ev'ry where, we may
     The mighty hand of GOD, perceive, adore.


     Languages are now split into so many,
     As baffle comprehension; yet each is
     Splitting anew in dialects, uncouth,
     By the new words we daily coin or borrow.
     No language ever was, nor ever can
     Become quite fixt and permanent: in spite
     Of vain conceit, or nations learned pride.              [2880]
     To sing the laws that rule the changing speech,
     To find and scan the terms or words of each,
     Would be a hopeless task, which I renounce:
     But I'll venture to sketch its rise and fall.
     In days of yore the speech of men was one;
     Few were their wants and few the needed words;
     They must have been quite short and with few sounds,
     Such as the gift of God, with leave to speak,
     Gave to their minds, the ease to coin and use.
     When far they went to dwell in lands remote             [2890]
     Their speech as well as skin, both underwent
     A change, a new complexion took.  Whereby
     Have sprung the oldest languages, now quite
     Unknown again, to others giving way
     By them produc'd, within ten ages born
     Or even less.  Until they came at last
     To form the actual spoken tongues, that were
     Just born within few ages, recollected.

By the way, the student coffee shop at Transylvania University
where Rafinesque taught is today called the Rafskeller.  :-)

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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