The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 48, July 1944 - April, 1945 Page: 36
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
into your pages, it requires a short answer. ... [Here he gives Clavigero
and A. von Humboldt as his authorities.] . . . I have been much pleased
with the accounts of the Comanchees and Nabijos, lately inserted in the
Literary Gazette, and derived some additional facts from both; but I
have to regret that the writers have totally neglected to notice the
languages of those nations, although this ought to claim the first at-
tention in any account of Indian nations, being often the only clue to
trace their origin and history. It is also wrong to give anonymous details
of historical facts, while so much depends upon personal authority. ....
Just before this time, Burnet's series of letters to Colonel
Jamison had appeared in the Literary Gazette, in five install-
ments: Vol. I, 145-146; 154-155; 162-163; 177-178; and 186-187.
Stimulated by Rafinesque's inquiry on Comanche vocabularies,
Burnet published in the July 3, 1824, number [Vol. II, 3-4]
"Indians of Texas," which included a section, "Brief desultory
and imperfect Vocabulary of the Comanchee language; re-
spectfully dedicated to Professor Rafinesque of Transylvania
University." The introductory remarks (which lack a heading)
were devastating; but doubtless lost their point against the
impervious armor of the absorbed and unsuspecting professor.
Rafinesque was proof against irony: he could not understand
how anyone could be less interested in naturalia than himself:
a defect that was to cause him much bitter grief in his later
experiences. Burnet wrote:
The very erudite and worthy Professor Rafinesque, of Transylvania
University, regrets that the language of the Comanchees should have
been neglected in my account of that tribe of Indians, recently published
in your paper. I must dissent from one part of the learned gentleman's
argument on this point. That the language of any Indian tribe now
extant, can in any case, be considered a safe or even a verisimilar
"clue to trace their origin and history" is highly questionable, provided
the figments of fancy are to be excluded from our historical researches.
In all probability there is not at this day, a single tribe on the continent,
whose original vernacular tongue, has not been altogether corrupted,
and radically changed by innumerable admixtures with other tongues,
together with such other incidental variations as must naturally result
from the defect of some permanent and determinate standard by which
alone the etymology, orthography[,] and legitimate meaning of words can
be preserved. The rude hieroglyphical paintings of the Mexicans, who
partake so much of the Professor[']s veneration, and who were con-
fessedly in the days of Cortez the most polished and cultivated of all
the nations of the new continent, cannot be considered as furnishing
such a standard. If they are so considered, they have certainly failed
of their proper effect; for the language of ancient Mexico, alias Anahuac,
has become entirely extinct. There is not a solitary distinctive, living
vestige of it to be found.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 48, July 1944 - April, 1945, periodical, 1945; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth146055/m1/40/: accessed April 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.