14.0191 Disraeli's philosopher & the 1857 comet

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Tue Aug 22 2000 - 06:06:32 CUT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 191.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000 06:56:56 +0100
             From: Mel Wiebe <wiebem@qsilver.queensu.ca>
             Subject: Re: 14.0186 Disraeli's philosopher & the 1857 comet

    I am grateful to Jim Marchand for his attempt to be helpful, but he has
    missed some of the clues to the identity of the "philosopher":
            1. He's (excuse the sexist assumption that it's a male we're looking for)
    alive and active in 1857, as he has offered his opinion about the
    predictions about the comet expected on 13 June 1857;
            2. His theory is that the earth has already been destroyed 27 times, and
    probably will be again many times, though not necessarily on the 13th.
            I am intrigued by the suggestion that the "philosopher" may be Disraeli
    himself, as he did include a wonderful spoof of Chambers's _Vestiges_ in
    his novel _Tancred_ about a decade earlier than the allusion in question. I
    think it's sufficiently amusing to warrant sharing with Humanist; here it is:

    "After making herself very agreeable, Lady Constance took up a book which
    was at hand, and said, 'Do you know this?' And Tancred, opening a volume
    which he had never seen, and then turning to its titlepage, found it was
    'The Revelations of Chaos,' a startling work just published, and of which a
    rumour had reached him.
            'No,' he replied; 'I have not seen it.'
            'I will lend it you if you like: it is one of those books one must read.
    It explains everything, and is written in a very agreeable style.'
            'It explains everything!' said Tancred; 'it must, indeed, be a very
    remarkable book!' ...
            'To judge from the title, the subject is rather obscure,' ...
            'No longer so,' said Lady Constance. 'It is treated scientifically;
    everything is explained by geology and astronomy, and in that way. ... But
    what is most interesting, is the way in which man has been developed. You
    know, all is development. The principle is perpetually going on. First,
    there was nothing, then there was something; then, I forget the next, I
    think there were shells, then fishes; then we came, let me see, did we come
    next? Never mind that; we came at last. And the next change there will be
    something very superior to us, something with wings. Ah! that's it: we were
    fishes, and I believe we shall be crows. But you must read it.'
            'I do not believe I ever was a fish,' said Tancred.
            'Oh! but it is all proved; you must not argue on my rapid sketch; read the
    book. It is impossible to contradict anything in it. You understand, it is
    all science; it is not like those books in which one says one thing and
    another the contrary, and both may be wrong. Everything is proved: by
    geology, you know. You see exactly how everything is made; how many worlds
    there have been; how long they lasted; what went before, what comes next.
    We are a link in the chain, as inferior animals were that preceded us: we
    in turn shall be inferior; all that will remain of us will be some relics
    in a new red sandstone. This is development. We had fins; we may have wings.'"

    The "'how many worlds there have been'" phrase is intriguing, but Chambers
    doesn't seem to fit otherwise.
            Mel Wiebe

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