Daubenton, Louis John Maria

, an eminent French naturalist, was born at Montbar in the department of tlio Cote D’Or, May 29, 1716. His father, John Daubenton, was a notary in that place, and his mother’s name was Mary Pichenot. In his youth he distinguished himself by the sweetness of his temper, and by a diligent application to his Studies. The Jesuits of Dijon, under whose tuition he was first placed, noticed him in a peculiar manner. Having gone through the philosophical course taught by the Dominicans of Dijon, his father, who destined him for the church, and who had made him assume the ecclesiastical dress at the age of twelve, sent him to Paris to study theology, but his predilection for natural history induced him privately to study medicine. Accordingly he attended the lectures of Baron, Martiney, and Col de Villars, and likewise those of Winslow, Hunault, and Anthony Jussieu, in the botanic garden. The death of his father, which happened in 1736, leaving him at liberty to pursue the bent of his own inclinations, he took his degrees at Rheims in 1740 and 1741, after which he returned to his native province, where, doubtless, his ambition would have been for ever confined to the practice of medicine, had not a happy accident brought him upon a more brilliant theatre.

Montbar had given birth, about the same time, to the celebrated Buffon, a man of a very different character; who, though possessed of an independent fortune, a | robust constitution, and actuated by a violent passion for pleasure, had determined to devote himself to the cultivation of the sciences; and of those, at length to give the preference to natural history, which he saw in its infancy and rude state, and very justly conceived that every thing must be collected, revised, and examined. Perceiving, however, that iiis ardent and lively imagination rendered him unequal to such laborious and difficult researches, and even that the weakness of his sight excluded the hope of succeeding in them, he endeavoured to discover a man, who, besiJes a sound judgment, and a certain quickness of perception, should possess sufficient modesty and devotedness to induce him to rest satisfied with acting, in appearance, a subordinate part, and to serve him, as it were, as a hand and an eye in the prosecution of his undertaking. Such a man he at last found in Daubenton, the companion of his early years. The character, however, of these two philosophers was almost opposite in every respect. Buffon was violent, impatient, rash: Daubenton was all gentleness, patience, and caution: Buffon wished to divine the truth rather than to discover it: Daubenton believed nothing which he had not himself seen and ascertained: Buffon suffered his imagination to lead him from nature; Daubenton, on the contrary, discarded from his writings every expression which was calculated to mislead. They were thus happily fitted to correct each other’s faults. Accordingly, the History of Quadrupeds, which appeared while they laboured together, is the most exempt from error of any of the divisions which constitute Buffon’s Natural History.

About 1742 Buffon drew him to Paris. At that time, the office of keeper and demonstrator of the cabinet of natural history was in a great measure nominal, and as Noguez, who possessed that title, had been long absent, his place was occasionally supplied by any one present. By the influence of Buffon, this office was revived, and conferred on Daubenton in 1745. His salary, which at first did not exceed 500 francs, was, by degrees, afterwards augmented to 2000, or, as some say, 4000. While he was only an assistant in the academy of sciences, Buffon, who acted as its treasurer, conferred upon him several favours. On his arrival at Paris he procured him. a lodging, and neglected nothing in order to secure to him ease and independence; while Daubenton pursued with | indefatigable industry those labours which were necessary to second the views of his benefactor, and established by this means the two principal monuments of his own glory.

One of these is the cabinet of natural history in the botanical garden. That before his time served merely as a repository for the products of the different pharmaceutical operations, performed during the public lectures on chemistry, in order that they might be distributed to the poor while suffering under disease. It contained nothing appertaining to natural history, strictly so called, except a collection of shells made by Tournefort, which had afterwards been employed to amuse Lewis XV. during his infancy; but such was the industry of Daubenton, that, within a few years, he collected specimens of minerals, fruits, woods, shells, from every quarter, and methodically arranged them. By applying himself to ascertain, or to improve the operations necessary to preserve the different parts of organized bodies, he succeeded in giving to the inanimate forms of quadrupeds and birds the appearance of real life; and presented to the naturalist the most minute circumstances of. their characters, while at the same time he no less gratified the virtuosi by exhibiting them in their natural forms and colours.

Availing himself of the patronage of Buffon, and of his influence with the government, Daubenton soon formed and executed a very extensive plan: he conceived that all the productions of nature should find a place in the temple he had consecrated to her; he was fully aware that those objects which are regarded as the most important, could only be thoroughly known by a comparison of them with others; and that there existed no one that had not a greater or less affinity with the rest of nature. Impressed with this view of the subject, he made the most unremitting efforts to render his collection complete; whilst at the same time he bestowed the greatest attention on the formation of those anatomical preparations which for a long time distinguished the cabinet of Paris, and which, however disagreeable they may be to the common eye, are not the less useful to those who wish to penetrate beyond the move surface of organized beings, and who endeavour to render natural history a philosophical science, by illustrating the phenomena it exhibits.

The study and arrangement of these productions engrossed his whole attention, and seemed to constitute the | only passion he ever experienced. Shut up for whole days in the cabinet, he incessantly occupied himself in changing the disposition of the objects he had accumulated, till by a scrupulous investigation of their several parts, and attempting every possible method, he fell upon that arrangement which was equally consonant to true taste and accurate science^ This passion for arrangement was again revived in full force during his latter years; when, in consequence of victories obtained by the republican arms, there was brought to the museum a fresh store of natural curiosities, and when circumstances permitted him to give to the whole a more complete illustration. At eighty-four years of age, when he stooped much, and both his hands and feet had suffered greatly from the gout, not being able to walk without assistance, he was conducted by two persons every morning to the cabinet, in order to superintend the arrangement of the minerals, the only department allotted to him according to the new organization of the establishment. The second monument that Daubenton has left behind him, and which must ever perpetuate his name, is his Description of Quadrupeds. It must, however, afford a subject of regret to every lover of science, that some circumstances prevented him from extending, as was his original intention, that description to all the productions contained in the cabinet of natural history. It is not now our business to analyze the descriptive part of the Natural History, a work as immense in its details as astonishing in the boldness of the plan, nor to characterize the new and important improvements introduced by him into this department of science. It may be sufficient, in order to convey some idea of the immensity of that work, to observe, that it comprehends not only the external characters, but the internal description of one hundred and eighty-two species of quadrupeds, of which fifty-eight had never been dissected, and thirteen were absolutely non-descripts. It contains, moreover, the external description of twenty-six species, five of which were wholly unknown. The number of new species there described by him is eighteen; but the new and interesting facts which he has brought forward respecting those species of which we had only before a very superficial knowledge, are extremely numerous. The greatest inerit of the work, however, consists in the order and disposition with which all the species are described. It delighted the author to repeat, that he was the first who had | established an accurate system of comparative anatomy; the truth of which must certainly be admitted, in this sense, that as all his observations were conducted upon one uniform plan, and equally extended to every animal, it is extremely easy to comprehend their reciprocal relations; that as he was never biassed by any preconceived hypothesis, he has bestowed an equal attention upon every part, and in no instance ever omitted or concealed what could not be reconciled to his own system. This work of Daubenton may be considered as a rich mine, which all who devote themselves to similar pursuits, find it necessary to explore, and of which many have profited without due acknowledgment. Nothing more is frequently necessary than to exhibit a general view of his observations, and to place them under different heads, in order to obtain results highly interesting: it is in this sense that we must understand the expression of the celebrated Camper, “that Daubenton was unconscious of all the discoveries of which he was the author.

This work procured for Daubenton a very high reputation, and drew upon him the envy of Reaumur, who at that time considered himself as at the head of natural history. But the credit and reputation of Buffon was sufficient to prevent his friend from falling a victim to the attack of this formidable antagonist.

It gives us a very unfavourable idea of Buffon that after this he should himself commence the enemy of Daubenton. He was, however, weak enough to listen to some parasites, who persuaded him that it would redound greatly to his honour to dismiss his associate; and, accordingly, Buffon actually published a new edition of his Natural History, in 13 volumes, 12mo, in which are omitted not only the anatomy, but even the external characters, of the animals which Daubenton had furnished for the large edition; and as nothing was substituted in their stead, the work exhibits no idea of the form, colour, or distinctive attributes of the animals; so that this small edition cannot supply any data whereby to ascertain the animals to which the author alludes, especially as they are not to be found either in Pliny, or Aristotle, who likewise, as is well known, neglected the descriptive details.

Buffon moreover determined not to avail himself of his aid in the works he had projected on ornithology and mineralogy. Independently of this insult, Daubenton susr | tained a loss of 12,000 francs yearly. He might indeed have complained, but it would necessarily have embroiled him with the intendant of the king’s garden, and forced him to resign the superintendance of the cabinet he had formed, and to which he was as much attached as to life; overlooking, therefore, this injurious treatment, he continued to pursue his former occupations. The regret which all naturalists testified when the first part of his Ornithology made its apptarance without being accompanied by those accurate descriptions and anatomical details which they estimated so highly, served, however, to console him. He would still have felt more chagrin if his attachment for the great man who neglected him had not yielded to his self-love when he beheld the first volumes, to which Gueiieau de Montbeliard did not contribute, filled with inaccuracies, and destitute of all those particulars which it was impossible for Butfbn to supply. All this was still more manifest in the supplements the productions of Buffon in his old age; and in which he carried his injustice so far as to employ a common draughtsman, for the part which Daubenton had so well executed in the former volumes. Hence many naturalists have endeavoured to supply this void; and, among others, the celebrated Pallas took Daubenton for a model in his Miscellanies and Zoological Gleanings, as well as in his History of Rodentia; works which must be considered as real supplements to Buffon; and, next to his large work, the best on quadrupeds. It is well known how successfully La Cepede, the illustrious continuator of Buffon, and who was also the friend and colleague of Daubenton, whose loss he equally bewails with ourselves, has united in his works on ichthyology and reptiles a rich and brilliant style with the most scrupulous accuracy of description; and how well he has supplied the province of his two predecessors. Daubenton so far forgot the injurious treatment he had received from Buffon, that he afterwards contributed to several parts of the natural history, although his name does not appear; and there exist proofs that when Buffbn composed his History of Miner-Is, he derived much assistance from the manuscript of his lecturts delivered in the French college. Their intimacy, notwithstanding the interruption from the circumstance before mentioned, was even fully re-established, and continued to be maintained to the death of Buffon. It was not in the power of Daubenton to furnish many | Ihemoirs to the academy of sciences during the eighteen years in which the fifteen volumes in quarto of the “History of Quadrupeds” successively appeared; but he afterwards fully compensated for this, by supplying not only the academy, but aisothe medical and agricultural societies, and the national institute, with a. great number of papers, all of which contain, as well as the works he published separately, many interesting facts and original observations. His experiments on agriculture and rural oeconomy were, however, of more service to him afterwards than all the rest of his labours, on account of the reputation among the populace which they had procured him. In 1784 he published “Instructions for Shepherds and Proprietors of Flocks,” and was the means of introducing an improved breed of sheep into France. His experiments on this subject were begun about 1766, and the object of his constant pursuits, in which he was encouraged by successive administrations, and in which he eminently succeeded, was to demonstrate the bad effects of confining sheep in stables during the night, and the utility of allowing them to range at large; to attempt different means of improving their breed; to point out how to determine the different qualities of the wool; to d.scover the mechanism of rumination, and thence to deduce some useful conclusions respecting the temperament of wool -bearing animals, as well as with regard to the mode of rearing and feeding them; to disseminate the produce of his sheep-fold throughout every province; to distribute his rams to all the proprietors of flocks; to manufacture woollen-cloth from his own raw material, with the view of convincing the most prejudiced of its superiority; to form intelligent shepherds in order that they might propagate his method, and to render his instructions intelligible to all classes of agriculturists.

By these labours he had acquired a kind of popularity which proved very useful to him in a dangerous crisis. During the second year of the revolution, when it was left for an ignorant multitude to decide on the fate of the most intelligent and virtuous of men, the venerable octogenarian Daubenton found it necessary, in order to preserve the situation which he had filled with so much credit to himself during a period of fifty years, to solicit from the section of Sans Culottes a certificate of his civisrn. It was then scarcely possible for a professor, or an academician, to obtain one; but some sensible persons who intermingled with the | populace in the hope of moderating their fury, presented him under the appellation of the Shepherd; and it was thus the shepherd Daubenton procured the necessary certificate *


Copy of the certificate of Daubenton’s civism. Section of Sans Culottes. Copy of the extract of the deliberations of the General Assembly convened on the 5th of the 1st decade, in the third month of the second year of the French Republic, one and indivisible. “As it appears from the report made by the fraternal society of the section of Sans Culottes, that the shepherd Daubenlon has always conducted him­ self as a worthy and good citizen, the General Assembly unanimously decree, that he shall receive a certificate of civism, and that the president, attended by several members of the aforesaid assembly, shall give him the fraternal embrace, with every mark of honour due to that virtuous and humane conduct which he has displayed on various occasions. (Signed) ” R. G. Dardel, president.“A true copy. (Signed) ”.

as director of the museum of natural history. This paper is still preserved, and may serve as a curious proof of the degraded state of France at that period.

Besides his publications, Danhenton was of great service to science as a lecturer. From 1775 he gave lectures on natural history in the college of medicine. In 1783 he lectured on rural ceconomy. He was appointed professor of mineralogy hy the Convention at the garden of plants, and he gave lectures during the short existence of what‘ was called the Normal school. He was likewise one of the editors of the “Journal des Savans,” and contributed to both the Encyclopaedias. As a lecturer he was extremely popular, and retained his popularity to the last.

Notwithstanding the feebleness of his constitution, he arrived at a very advanced age without much disease, or loss of his faculties. This may be in some measure ascribed to the gentleness of his temper, and his remarkable resignation. He varied his studies also by frequently reading amusing books of the lighter kind. In 1799, he was named a member of the Conservative Senate, and was anxious to fulfil his new duties as he had formerly fulfilled all those with which he was charged; he was forced to make some change in his usual dress, and the weather being extremely rigorous, the first time he assisted at the sitting of that body, of which he had become a member, he was struck with an apoplexy, and fell senseless into the arms of his colleagues: the most prompt means were employed to afford him relief, but he only recovered his recollection for a short period, during which he evinced the same character as that he had uniformly displayed throughout life. With the utmost calmness, observing the | progress of his disease, he pointed out to his friends the’ different parts of his body which were still sensible, and unaffected by paralysis. He expired without a struggle on January 1, 1800, and was interred with the funeral honours due to the high character he supported among his countrymen. 1


Life by Curler in the Memoirs of the Institute.