Publisher Information: 1753.
[Maillet, Benoît de (1656-1738).] Nouveau systême du monde ou entretiens de Teliamed philosophe indien avec un missionaire françois, au passage que fit au Caire ce philosophe, aux années 1715 et 1716, ecrits par le missionaire en 1724 a un de ses amis. Manuscript in a neat and legible scribal hand. 661pp. N.p., n.d. [1753 or later]. 235 x 177 mm. 18th-century French calf, gilt spine with leather label, front hinge a bit worn, head of spine and one corner expertly restored. Fine. 18th-century bookplate engraved with arms of the house of Coligny, a noble French family.
Mid-Eighteenth-Century Manuscript of Maillet’s Telliamed, which presented such a radical and materialistic view of geology and Earth history that it circulated only in manuscript form for nearly three decades, remaining unpublished until ten years after its author’s death. Our manuscript, written circa 1753, represents a highly unusual, possibly unique case of a scientific work continuing to be copied and read in manuscript even after its appearance in print. The manuscript was almost certainly copied from one of the early manuscripts of Telliamed, and would therefore likely be far closer to Maillet's original text rather than the heavily edited printed version.
Maillet’s thesis was extremely unorthodox for its time: He believed, based on his researches, that the earth had once been covered by a universal ocean, and he attributed all of the planet’s geological features to the gradual diminution of this ocean, applying present-day marine mechanisms to a geologic past stretching back at least two billion years—a direct contradiction of the Biblical account of creation. “Indeed, the concept of a personified God as a ruler and creator of everything was refuted and an eternal universe, undergoing natural changes under the effects of chance, was assumed” (Carozzi, p. 1). Maillet was thus a forerunner of 19th-century uniformitarian geologists, and he also anticipated Lamarck in claiming that present-day terrestrial life forms had adapted themselves from ancient marine flora and fauna through a process of transformation.
Written between 1692 and 1708, when Maillet was serving as the king of France’s general consul in Egypt, Telliamed began circulating in various manuscript versions after the author’s return to France in 1720. Maillet retained his original draft of the work (now lost), but made numerous additions and changes to it over the years to incorporate new information, some of which appears only in certain manuscript versions. Between 1732 and his death in 1738 Maillet worked with the Abbé Jean Baptiste de Mascrier to prepare Telliamed for publication, sending Mascrier updates to the text as he made them. Recognizing the unorthodox and dangerous nature of Maillet’s system of geology, Mascrier reworked Maillet’s text extensively in an attempt—ultimately unsuccessful—to reconcile it with Christian dogma.
After Maillet’s death, fearing possible repercussions, the Abbé waited ten years to publish his bowdlerized version of Telliamed—the first printed edition, issued in Amsterdam, appeared in 1748, followed by a second in 1749 and a third in 1755. The published version provoked outrage from the clergy and other orthodox thinkers, but despite (or because of) this, it became something of a best-seller. However, it would seem—given the existence of our 1753 manuscript—that even after Telliamed’s publication there remained a demand for Maillet’s even more scandalous original version, which would necessarily have had to keep circulating “underground” in manuscript as before.
Albert V. Carozzi, in the introduction to his annotated English translation of Maillet’s original text, notes the existence of seven early Telliamed manuscripts, two written between 1722 and 1725 (and thus not containing some of Maillet’s later additions), and five written between 1725 and 1729. Our manuscript, written around 1753, was most likely made from one of these later copies, as it appears to conform (except for trivial differences) to the 1729 manuscript used by Carozzi to reconstruct Maillet’s original text. An interesting and possibly unique feature of our manuscript is its 35 pages of extracts (pp. 627-661) from various mid 18th-century publications on geology and related subjects; the latest of these, dated February 1753, gives us the approximate date of our manuscript. Carozzi, “Editor’s introduction,” in Maillet, Telliamed or Conversations between an Indian Philosopher and a French Missionary on the Diminution of the Sea (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968), pp. 1-53. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Haber, Age of the Earth, pp. 108-12.Book Id: 46317