Title page, Erasmus Warren, Geologia : or, A Discourse Concerning the Earth Before the Deluge, wherein the Form and Properties Ascribed to it, in a Book intituled the Theory of the Earth, are Excepted against, 1690 (Linda Hall Library)

Title page, Erasmus Warren, Geologia : or, A Discourse Concerning the Earth Before the Deluge, wherein the Form and Properties Ascribed to it, in a Book intituled the Theory of the Earth, are Excepted against, 1690 (Linda Hall Library)

Erasmus Warren

JANUARY 29, 2024

Scientist of the Day - Erasmus Warren

Erasmus Warren was a little-known rector of a parish in Worlington, Suffolk, in the late 17th century, birth and death dates unknown, who obtained a license to publish a book on Jan. 29, 1689, which was a good thing, otherwise we would not have a date on which to hang this post.  Warren's book was called:  Geologia: or, a Discourse Concerning the Earth before the Deluge. Wherein the Form and Properties ascribed to it, in a Book intituled The Theory of the Earth, Are Excepted against, and it would be published in 1690.  We own a copy (first image).  As the title page tells us, Warren is taking exception in his book to another book titled The Theory of th Earth.  Warren does not tell us the author, but I will: he was Thomas Burnet, and his book was called The Theory of the Earth (here abbreviated).  We own this book as well, and you can see the full title in our second image.

Burnet's book was not famous when Warren wrote his response, but it is now, having spawned scores of reactions like Warren's for the next 150 years.  Indeed, we once mounted an entire exhibition of these responses, Theories of the Earth: The History of a Genre (1984).  It was the first exhibition I ever curated for the Library, and I remember it fondly.  We have also published a post on Burnet.

Burnet’s book was published in Latin in two volumes, 1681-89, and in English, with a frontispiece, in 1684-90.  In his work, Burnet tried to reconcile René Descartes’ mechanistic conception of the Earth’s origin with the account in Genesis.  Burnet suggested that all the events described by Moses were true, but that they had occurred naturally, without miraculous intervention.  Thus God foresaw that the Earth would dry out and crack open, spilling its internal waters onto the surface, and this would happen just when mankind needed to be punished and Noah and the animals to be saved. No miracle was needed.

Warren was not happy with the abandonment of miracles, and said so in his Geologia. He insisted that Genesis be read literally, so when Moses allotted “six days” for creation, he meant exactly that, not some metaphorical six days lasting thousands of years.

That is all I intend to say about the initial confrontation between Burnet and Warren.  What I would like to do now is show you the title pages of their next four treatises, which continued the disagreement. Indeed, I have already showed you two of them (third and fourth images).  I just love the way each writer mentions the titles of previous rejoinders in his own title, so that by the time we get to the last one, we have a mouthful of a title indeed.

I have included the full titles as a caption to each image of a title page, so in the text that follows, I have taken the liberty of abbreviating, and also highlighting certain words in bold font, so that you can appreciate the progression as the rejoinders pile up.

1.  Burnet, Theory of the Earth … Concerning the Deluge, 1684 (second image)

2. Warren, Geologia: or, A Discourse Concerning the Earth Before the Deluge, wherein the Form and Properties Ascribed to it, in a Book Intituled the Theory of the Earth, are Excepted against, 1690 (first image)

3. Burnet, An Answer to the Late Exceptions made by Mr Erasmus Warren against the Theory of the Earth, 1690 (third image)

4. Warren, A Defence of the Discourse concerning the Earth before the Flood: Being a Full Reply to a Late Answer to Exceptions Made against the Theory of the Earth, 1691 (fourth image)

5. Burnet, A Short Consideration of Mr Erasmus Warren's Defence of his Exceptions Against the Theory of the Earth, 1691 (fifth image)

6.  Warren, Some Reflections upon the Short Consideration of the Defence of the Exceptions against the Theory of the Earth, 1692 (sixth image).

I always enjoyed showing images of these six title pages to my classes, and reading them aloud with a sing-song stress on each of the words highlighted here in bold.  It does not work quite so well in print, but I thought I would try anyway, since it gives us the opportunity to show all six titlepages together, which I do not believe has ever happened before, in print or online.  We are happy to have all of them in our History of Science Collections.

William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor emeritus, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to ashworthw@umkc.edu.

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