‘Origines Biblicæ or Researches in Primeval History’

London, 1832-4?

Folio manuscript, ff. [1, title], a-d (‘Advertisement’), [1, Corrigenda], 14, 363 (plus a number of bis leaves), written mostly on rectos only, in a variety of hands, scribal and autograph, with extremely extensive corrections and additions throughout, some on paste-on or fold-out slips, footnotes on the versos written the other way up; on a variety of papers watermarked 1832-3; some leaves dusty and with evidence of creases where folded, but in very good condition, bound after the completion of printing in stiff vellum, front cover lettered in manuscript.


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The complete working and printer’s manuscript of Origines Biblicae (1834), the magnum opus of the traveller and geographer Charles Tilstone Beke (1800-1874), published in one volume (of an intended two, never completed) in 1834 by Parbury, Allen & Co.

‘Beke’s passions were early biblical history and the geography and exploration of north-east Africa .... In 1834 he published Origines biblicae, or, Researches in Primeval History, a work which set an intellectual framework for much of the rest of his life. He tried to harmonize recent scientific discoveries, especially those in geology, with a belief in the Bible as an inspired work of divine revelation. He was particularly interested in the geography of the Middle East as understood in the light of the Pentateuch and the principles of geological change. On the one hand, he argued that the biblical account of the geography of the Tigris–Euphrates valley could be understood only in the light of several thousand years of sedimentation at the mouth of the Euphrates River; but, on the other, he treated literally biblical accounts such as those of the Israelite crossing of the Red Sea and wanderings in Sinai and sought to trace them on the nineteenth-century landscape of Palestine’ (Oxford DNB). Elsewhere he expounded beliefs in history as a process of degradation rather than progress, and in an original language.

The degree of revision to be seen in the present manuscript is extraordinary. Barely a sentence is untouched by emendation or correction, whole passages are cancelled entire, including the original first chapter (the section paginated 14, written when the work was entitled ‘The Geography of Sacred History’). It would have been an immense challenge for the typesetters and yet it was these sheets, sent in batches, which provided their copy: a pencil note on one verso apologises: ‘I forgot to send you the Copy with the proof last night – Get rid of it this morning if you possibly can. I have sent the whole of the 8th Chapter to Mr Gyde Yours CB’; elsewhere portions are address to Gyde ‘at Mr Taylor’s, Red Lion Court’, and back to Beke in Finsbury. Richard Taylor was the printer employed by Parbury, Allen & Co. for this work.

‘The work set forth in Origines, and a number of contemporary articles, won [Beke] election to a variety of learned societies, most notably the Oriental Society of Germany, the Asiatic Society, and the geographical societies of London and Paris. The University of Tübingen awarded him the PhD degree’ (ibid).

Beke later served as the British consul in Leipzig, travelled for three years in Abyssinia in the 1840s, making a number of discoveries and contributing to the suppression of the slave trade; and made several trips to the Middle East in the 1860s and 70s, the latter to revisit some of his theories from Origines Biblicæ. His Abyssinian papers are at the British Library, and other scattered papers are held by the John Rylands, the University of Birmingham and the Wellcome.

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