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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/456

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Of this period, when theological substitutes for science were carrying all before them, there still exists a monument commemorating at the same time a farce and a tragedy. This is the work of Johann Beringer, professor in the University of Würzburg and private physician to the Prince-Bishop—the treatise bearing the title "Lithographiæ Wirceburgensis specimen primum," "illustrated with the marvelous likenesses of two hundred figured or rather insectiform stones." Beringer, for the greater glory of God, had previously committed himself so completely to the theory that fossils are simply "stones of a peculiar sort, hidden by the Author of Nature for his own pleasure,"[1] that some of his students determined to give his faith in that pious doctrine a thorough trial. They therefore buried in a place where he was wont to search for specimens a store of sham fossils in baked clay—of their own manufacture—including not only plants, reptiles, and fishes of every sort that their knowledge or imagination could suggest, but even Hebrew and Syriac inscriptions, one of them the name of the Almighty. The joy of the pious professor on unearthing these proofs of the immediate agency of the finger of God in creating fossils knew no bounds. At great cost he prepared this book, whose twenty-two elaborate plates of fac-similes were forever to settle the question in favor of theology and against science. Prefixed to the work was an allegorical title-page, wherein not only the glory of his own sovereign, but that of heaven itself, was pictured as based upon a pyramid of these miraculous fossils. So robust was his faith that not even a premature exposure of the fraud could dissuade him from its publication. Dismissing in one contemptuous chapter this exposure as the slander of his rivals, he appealed to the learned world. But the shout of laughter that welcomed the work soon convinced even its author. In vain did he try to suppress it; and, according to tradition, having wasted his fortune in vain attempts to buy up all the copies of it, and, being taunted by the rivals whom he had thought to overwhelm, he died of chagrin. Even death did not end his misfortunes. The copies of the first edition having been sold by a graceless descendant to a Leipsic bookseller, a second edition was brought out under a new title, and this, too, is now much sought as a precious memorial of human folly.[2]

But even this discomfiture did not end the idea which had caused it, for, although some latitude was allowed among the various theologico-scientific explanations, it was still held meritorious to believe that all fossils were placed in the strata on one of the creative days by the

  1. See Beringer's "Lithographiæ," etc., p. 91.
  2. See Carus, "Geschichte der Zoologie," Munich, 1872, p. 467, note, and Reusch, "Bibel und Natur," p. 197. A list of the authorities upon this episode, with the text of one of the epigrams circulated at poor Beringer's expense, is given by Dr. Reuss in the "Serapeum" for 1852, p. 203. The book itself (the original impression) is in the White Library at Cornell University. For Beringer himself, see especially the encyclopædia of Ersch and Gruber, and the "Allg. deutsche Biographic."