825G Matthew Hale

The Primitive Origin of Mankind considered and examined according to the light of nature.

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London: William Godbid for William Shrowsbery, 1677           $ 2,800

Folio 12 1/2 X 7 3/4 inches a-4,b2,B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Bbb4,Ccc2. First edition.

This copy is bound in full later calf. This copy has the book plate of Desmond Morris author of DSC_0043the book The naked ape and numerous  TV shows sociobiology and Evolution.


“The problem of human origins, of how and when the first humans appeared in the world, has been addressed in a DSC_0042variety of ways in western thought. In the 17th century the predominant explanation for the origin of the world and the beings that inhabit it, especially human beings, was based on the biblical account of creation. It was almost universally accepted that humans had been created by a supernatural agent using supernatural means. But alternative explanations for the production of the first humans did exist, according to which the first humans were produced by nature through some form of spontaneous generation” (Matthew R. Goodrum).

The word evolution (from the Latin evolution, meaning “to unroll like a scroll”) appeared in English in the 17th century, referring to an orderly sequence of events, particularly one in which the outcome was somehow contained within it from the start. Notably, in 1677 Sir Matthew Hale, attacking the atheistic atomism of Democritus and Epicurus, used the term evolution to describe his opponent’s ideas that vibrations and collisions of atoms in the void — without divine intervention — had formed “Primordial Seeds” (semina) which were the “immediate, primitive, productive Principles of Men, Animals, Birds and Fishes.”[ Goodrum] For Hale, this mechanism was “absurd”, because “it must have potentially at least the whole Systeme of Humane Nature, or at least that Ideal Principle or Configuration thereof, in the evolution whereof the complement and formation of the Humane Nature must consist … and all this drawn from a fortuitous coalition of senseless and dead Atoms.”[ Goodrum]

DSC_0037 (3)While Hale (ironically) first used the term evolution in arguing against the exact mechanistic view the word would come to symbolize, he also demonstrates that at least some evolutionist theories explored between 1650 and 1800 postulated that the universe, including life on earth, had developed mechanically, entirely without divine guidance. Around this time, the mechanical philosophy of Descartes, reinforced by the physics of Galileo and Newton, began to encourage the machine-like view of the universe which would come to characterise the scientific revolution.[Bowler ] However, most contemporary theories of evolution, including those developed by the German idealist philosophers Schelling and Hegel (and mocked by Schopenhauer), held that evolution was a fundamentally spiritual process, with the entire course of natural and human evolution being “a self-disclosing revelation of the Absolute”.[Schelling]

In response to Isaac de la Peyrere‘s theory of polygenesis, Hale advanced his own theory that the earth was not eternal, but rather had a spontaneous “beginning,” and went on to defend “the Mosaic account of the single origin of all peoples” (Norman). He further believed “that in animals, especially insects, various natural calamities reduce the numbers to low levels intermittently, so maintaining the balance of nature” (Garrison & Morton). Hale anticipated Malthus in studying the growth of a population from a single family, and “seems to have been the first to use the expression ‘geometrical proportion” in respect to population (Hutchinson). Primitive Origination was written as the first part of a larger manuscript entitled Concerning Religion, the whole of which “was submitted to Bishop Wilkins, who showed it to Tillotson. Both advised condensation, for which Hale never found leisure” (DNB). This first part, called “Concerning the Secondary Origination of Mankind,” was published after his death as The Primitive Origination of Mankind. A lawyer by trade, Hale distinguished himself after the fire of London in 1666 by deciding many cases of owner and tennant dispute, and helped facilitate the rebuilding of the city. He also publically demonstrated his belief in witches when as a judge he condemned more than one suspected witch to death. Wing H-258 ;Norman 965 ;Garrison & Morton 215; Lowndes, 973.

Goodrum, Matthew R. (April 2002). “Atomism, Atheism, and the Spontaneous Generation of Human Beings: The Debate over a Natural Origin of the First Humans in Seventeenth-Century Britain”. Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (2): 207–224

Bowler, Peter J. (2003). Evolution:The History of an Idea. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23693-9.

Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 1800

Brian Regal Human Evolution: A Guide to the Debates, 2004