Adanson, Michel

, an eminent French naturalist, was born at Aix in Provence, April 7, 1727. His father, of Scotch origin, appears to have been in the service of Vintimille, then archbishop of that city. When the latter was translated to the see of Paris, Adanson was brought thither at three years of age, educated with great care, and soon gave proofs of uncommon application. As he was small of stature, he appeared much younger than he was; and, when he carried off the university prizes, many jokes were passed upon him. Needham, however, the celebrated naturalist, known by his microscopical disc-jveries, happening to be a witness of his success, presented him with a microscope; adding, that one who knew the works of men so well ought to study those of nature. This circumstance first induced him to study natural history, but without neglecting the usual course pursued in the university of Paris. In natural history, Reaumur and Bernard de Jussieu, were his guides, and he divided his time between the royal gardens and the museums of these learned men; and, when the system of Linnæus began to be published, it afforded him new matter for speculation. His parents had intended him for the church, and had procured him a prebend; but such was his thirst for general science, that he resigned it, and determined to travel into some country not usually visited or described. Senegal was the first object of his choice, thinking that its unhealthy climate had prevented its being visited by any other naturalist. Accordingly, he set out in 1748, in the 21st year of his age; and, after visiting the Azores and the Canaries, landed on the island of Goree, on the coast of Senegal; where he made a vast collection of specimens, animal, vegetable, and mineral, which he classified and described in a manner which he thought an improvement on the systems of Tournefort and Linnæus. He extended his researches also to the climate, geography, and manners of the people. He was engaged in this employment for five years, entirely at his own expence; and, in 1757, published the result in his “Histoire naturelle de Senegal,” 4to; an abridged translation of which, very ill executed, was published in London, 1759, 8vo. His classification of the Testacea, in this work, is universally allowed to be | and ingenious. In 1756, soon after his return, having been elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences, he read a paper on the Baobab, or calabash tree, an enormous vegetable, that had almost been accounted fabulous; and afterwards, a history of the tree which produces Gum Arabic. He would not, however, perhaps, have proceeded in these studies, had it not been for the generous encouragement afforded him by M. de Bombarde, a zealous patron of science. This induced him to publish his “Families des Plantes,” 2 vols. 8vo, 1763, a work of vast information, and which would have created a new revolution in the botanical world, had not the genius of Linnæus been predominant. But, although this work was neglected at the time, discoveries have since been advanced as new, which are to be found in it. About five years after, he determined to give a new edition, and had made the necessary corrections, and many additions; but, while employed on this, he coneived the more extensive plan of a complete Encyclopaedia, and he was persuaded that Lewis XV. would encourage such an undertaking. Flattered by this hope, he devoted his whole time to the collection of materials. In 1775, having got together an immense quantity, he submitted them to the Academy, under the title of an account of his manuscripts and plates, from 1771 to 1775, arranged according to the method he discovered when at Senegal, in 1749. These consisted of, 1. The universal order of Nature, in 27 vols. 8vo. 2. The natural history of Senegal, 8 vols. 8vo. 3. A course of natural history. 4. An universal vocabulary of natural history, one vol. fol. of 1000 pages. 5. A dictionary of natural history. 6. Forty thousand figures, and as many specimens of objects already known. 7. A collection of thirty-four thousand specimens of his own collection. It may easily be conceived that the academicians were astonished at this proposal; but the committee, appointed to examine his labours, did not find the collection equally valuable in all its branches, and, therefore, he did not meet with the encouragement he expected. His intention was to have published the entire work at once; but it was thought that, if he had published it in parts, he might probably have been successful. He published, however, a second edition of his “Families of the Plants,” which is, in fact, an encyclopaedia of botany. After this, he published no considerable work, but furnished some papers for | the Academy, which have not been printed, and wrote the articles on exotics in the Supplement to the Encyclopaedia. In 1753, he laid before the French East India Company the plan of forming on the coast of Africa a colony, where all sorts of colonial produce might be cultivated, without enslaving the Negroes. This first effort, however, to procure the abolition of the slave-trade was not then attended to. In 1760, indeed, when the English were in possession of Senegal, they made him very liberal offers to communicate his plan, which he refused, from a love for his own country. He was equally disinterested in. refusing the princely offers made, in 1760, by the emperor of Germany, and, in 1766, by Catherine of Russia, and, lastly, by the king of Spain, if he would reside in their dominions. In France, however, he frequently travelled into various parts, in pursuit of his favourite science.

In 1759, he was appointed royal censor; and the emoluments of this place, that of academician, and the pensions successively conferred upon him, might have rendered him easy in his circumstances, had he not expended the whole in collecting materials for the vast plan abovementioned. At length, the Revolution stripped him of all; and, what Imrt him more, his garden, on which he had bestowed so much pains, was pillaged. When the Institute was formed, he was invited to become a member; but he answered that he could not accept the invitation, “as he had no shoes.” The minister of the interior, however, procured him a pension, on which he subsisted until his death, August 3, 1806, after an illness of six months, which confined him to his bed. He left behind him an immense number of manuscripts, and a new edition of his Families of the Plants is now preparing for the press by M. Du-Petit Thouars, whose account of his life is here abridged. According to M. Thouars, Adanson was a man of many excellent qualities, an indefatigable student and collector, but careless of dress and manners, and not a little conceited. Although in his seventy-ninth year, when on his death bed, he amused himself with the hopes of recovery, and of publishing his grand encyclopaedia. In his opinions, and particularly where he differed with Linnæus, he was most obstinately tenacious; and gave a curious proof in his own case. Bernard de Jussieu, pleased with his account of the Baobab, would have named that genus the Adansona; but Adanson would not allow it, because Linnæus | honoured botanists with such names; whereas his plan was to give to new plants the name of the country which produced them in preference to every other. Stoever informs us that Linnæus said of Adanson, “he is either mad or intoxicated;” but Haller thought him a “rival worthy of Linnæus.1


Biographie Universelle—Stoever’s Life of Linnæus.