Buffon, George Louis Le Clerc, Count Of

, the most eminent French naturalist of the eighteenth century, the son of a counsellor of the parliament of Dijon, was born at Moytbard in Burgundy, September the 7th, 1707. Having manifested an early inclination to the sciences, he gave up the profession of the law, for which his father had designed him. The science which seems to have engaged his earliest attachment was astronomy; with a view to which he applied with such ardour to the study of | geometry, that be always carried in his pocket the elements of Euclid. At the age of twenty he travelled into Italy, and in the course of his tour he directed his attention to the phenomena of nature more than to the productions of art: and at this early period he was also ambitious of acquiring the art of writing with ease and elegance. In 1728 he succeeded to the estate of his mother, estimated at about 12,000l. a year; which by rendering his circumstances affluent and independent, enabled him to indulge his taste in those scientific researches and literary pursuits, to which his future life was devoted. Having concluded his travels, at the age of twenty-five, with a journey to England, he afterwards resided partly at Paris, where, in 1739, he was appointed superintend ant of the royal garden and cabinet, and partly on his estate at Montbard. Although he was fond of society, and a complete sensualist, he was indefatigable in his application, and is said to have employed fourteen hours every day in study; he would sometimes return from the suppers at Paris at two in the morning, when he was young, and order a boy to call him at five; and if he lingered in bed, to drag him out on the floor. At this early hour it was his custom, at Montbard, to dress, powder, dictate letters, and regulate his domestic concerns. At six he retired to his study, which was a pavilion called the Tower of St. Louis, about a furlong from the house, at the extremity of the garden, and which was accommodated only with an ordinary wooden desk and an armed chair. Within this was another sanctuary, denominated by prince Henry of Prussiathe Cradle of Natural History,” in which he was accustomed to compose, and into which no one was suffered to intrude. At nine his breakfast, which consisted of two glasses of wine and a bit of bread, was brought to his study; and after breakfast he wrote for about two hours, and then returned to his house. At dinner he indulged himself in all the gaieties and trifles which occurred at table, and in that freedom of conversation, which obliged the ladies, when any of character were his guests, to withdraw. When dinner was finished, he paid little attention either to his family or guests; but having slept about an hour in his room, he took a solitary walk, and then he would either converse with his friends or sit at his desk, examining papers that were submitted to his judgment. This kind of life he passed for fifty years; and to one who. expressed his astonishment at his great | reputation, he replied, “Have not I spent fifty years at my clesk?” At nine he retired to bed. In this course he prolonged his life, notwithstanding his excessive indulgences with women, and his excruciating sufferings occasioned by the gravel and stone, which he bore with singular fortitude and patience, to his 81st year; and retained his senses till within a few hours of his dissolution, which happened on the 16th of April, 1788. His body was embalmed, and presented first at St. Medard’s church, and afterwards conveyed to Mont-bard, where he had given orders in his will to be interred in the same vault with his wife. His funeral was attended by a great concourse of academicians, and persons of rank, and literary distinction; and a crowd of at least 20,000 spectators assembled in the streets through which the hearse was to pass. When his body was opened, 57 stones were found in his bladder, some of which were as large as a small bean: and of these 37 were crystallized in a triangular form, weighing altogether two ounces and six drams. All his other parts were perfectly sound; his brain was found to be larger than the ordinary size; and it was the opinion of the gentlemen of the faculty who examined the body, that the operation of the lithotomy might have been performed without the least danger; but to this mode of relief M. Buffon had invincible objections. He left one son, who fell a victim to the atrocities under Robespierre. This son had erected a monument to his father in the gardens of Montbard; which consisted of a simple column, with this inscription:

"Excelsæ turn humilis columna

Parenti suo filius Buffon, 1785."

The father, upon seing this monument, burst into tears, and said to the young man, “Son, this will do you honour.” Buffon was a member of the French academy, and perpetual treasurer of the academy of sciences. With a view to the preservation of his tranquillity, he wisely avoided the intrigues and parties that disgracefully occupied most of the French literati in his time; nor did he ever reply to the attacks that were made upon his works. In 1771 his estate was erected into a comte; and thus the decoration of rank, to which he was by no means indifferent, was annexed to the superior dignity he had acquired as one of the most distinguished members of the republic of letters.

With respect to personal character, his figure was noble | and manly, and his countenance, even in advanced age, and notwithstanding excruciating pains, which deprived him of sleep sometimes for sixteen successive nights, was calm and placid, and exhibited traces of singular intelligence. Vanity, however, which seemed to have been his predominant passion, extended even to his person and to all his exterior ornaments. He was particularly fond of having his hair neatly dressed, and for this purpose he employed the friseur, in old age, twice or thrice a day. To his dress he was peculiarly attentive; and took pleasure in appearing on Sundays before the peasantry of Montbard in laced clothes. At table, as already noticed, he indulged in indelicate and licentious pleasantries, and he was fond of hearing every gossiping tale which his attendants could relate. In his general intercourse with females he was as lax and unguarded as in his conversation. During the life of his wife, he was chargeable with frequent infidelities; and he proceeded to the very unwarrantable extreme of debauching young women, and even of employing means to procure abortion. His confidence, in the latter period of his life, was almost wholly engrossed by a mademoiselle Blesseau, who lived with him for many years. His vanity betrayed itself on a variety of occasions in relation to his literary performances, which were often the subjects of his discourse, and even of his commendation. When he was recommending the perusal of capital works in every, department of taste and science, he added, with singular presumption and self-confidence; “Capital works are scarce; I know but five great geniuses; Newton, Bacon, Leibnitz, Montesquieu, and myself” He was in the habit of reciting to those who visited him whole pages of his compositions, for he seemed to know them almost all by heart; but notwithstanding his vanity, he listened to objections, entered into a discussion of them, and surrendered his own opinion to that of others, when his judgment was convinced. He expressed himself with rapture concerning the pleasures accruing from study; and he declared his preference of the writings to the conversations of learned men, which almost always disappointed him; and therefore he voluntarily secluded himself from society with such, and in company was fond of trifling. He maintained, however, an extensive correspondence with persons of rank and eminence, but his vanity was perpetually recurring, particularly towards the end of his life, when his infidelity | suggested to him that immortal renown was the most powerful of death-bed consolations *.

Of his infidelity, his works afford ample evidence; but in his contempt for religion, he contrived to add hypocrisy to impiety, attending with regularity the external observances of religion, under pretence that, as there mustrbe a religion for the multitude, we should avoid giving offence. “I have always,” he said, “named the Creator; but it is only putting, mentally in its place, the energy 'of nature, which results from the two great laws of attraction and impulse. When the Sorbonne plagued me, I gave all the satisfaction which they solicited: it was a form that I despised, but men are silly enough to be so satisfied. For the same reason, when I fall dangerously ill, I shall not hesitate to send for the sacraments. This is due to the public religion. Those who act otherwise are madmen.” Yet, gross as this hypocrisy was as to externals, it was not permitted to interfere with his personal vices. These he practised to the last with a zest of unfeeling profligacy that has, perhaps, never been exceeded; the debauching of female children forming his constant and his last delight. He never fails to allude to sensual gratifications in his works, and never lost sight of the object in practice. Yet this is the man to whom one of his countrymen, Herault de Sechelles, applied the epithets “great and good,” an encomium which has been translated in some of the English journals without remark.

His first publication was a translation from the English of “Hales’s Vegetable Statics,1735, which was followed in 1740 by a translation from the Latin of “Newton’s Fluxions.” His “Theory of the Earth” was first published in 1744, which was included in his more celebrated work entitled “Natural History, general and particular,” which commenced in 1749, and at its completion in 1767 extended to 15 vols. 4to, or 3 1 vols. 12mo; and supplements, amounting to several more volumes, were afterwards added. In the anatomical part the author was aided by M. D’Aubenton, but in all Ihe other parts Buffon himself displays his learning, genius, and eloquence, and indulges his fancy


Buffon, during the greater part of his life, was highly respected in all Europe; and it is said, that during the war 1755—62, whenever the captains of English privateers found in their prizes any boxes addressed to count de Buffon (and many were addressed to him from every part of the world), they immediately forwarded them to Paris unopened, a mark of reverence for genius which we are happy to record.

| in exploring and delineating the whole oeconomy of nature. To this work, which includes only the history of quadrupeds, he added, in 1776, a supplementary volume, containing the history of several new animals, and additions to most of those before described. As this, as well as his other works, has been so long before the public, it would be unnecessary to enter in this place on their excellences or defects. All succeeding naturalists have found something to blame and something to praise in his works, with respect to facts, and much indeed with regard to theory.

After the completion of his history of quadrupeds in 1767, Buffon was interrupted in the progress of his labours by a severe and tedious indisposition; and therefore the two first volumes of his “History of Birds” did not appear till 1771. In the composition of the greatest part of these he was indebted to the labours of M. Gueneau de Montbeillard, who adhered so closely to Buffon’s mode of thinking and of expression, that the public could not perceive any difference. The four subsequent volumes were the joint production of both writers: and each author prefixed his name to his own articles. The three remaining volumes were written by Buffon himself, with the assistance of the abbe Bexon, who formed the nomenclature, drew up most of the descriptions, and communicated several important hints. The work was completed in 1783, but on account of the much greater number of species of birds than of quadrupeds, the want of systematic arrangement is more to be regretted in this than in the other history. A translation of Buffon’s “Natural History,” by Mr. Smellie of Edinburgh, comprised in 3 vols. 8vo, was published in 1781; to which a 9th volume was added in 1786 r containing a translation of a supplementary volume of Buffon, consisting chiefly of curious and interesting facts with regard to the history of the earth. The translator has omitted the anatomical dissections and mensurations of M. D‘Aubenton, which greatly enhanced the bulk, as well as the price of the original, and which the author himself had omitted in the last Paris edition of his performance. There are likewise some other omissions, which are not very important, ’respecting the method of studying natural history, methodical distributions, and the mode of describing animals. These omissions have been amply compensated by the translator’s addition of short distinctive descriptions to each species of quadrupeds, of the figures | of several new animals, and of the synonyms, as well as the generic and specific characters given by Linnæus, Klein, Brisson, and other naturalists, together with occasional notes. Buffon’s “History of Birds,” in 9 vols. 8vo, with notes and additions, translated by Mr. Leslie, was also published in 1793.

In 1774 Buffon began to publish a “Supplement” to his Natural History, consisting of the “History of Minerals,” which contains many curious and valuable experiments, as well as much theory, too lax for the rigour of modern science. The concluding volume may be considered as a kind of philosophical romance. It comprehends what the author fancifully denominates the “Epochas of Nature,” or those great changes in the state of the earth which he supposes to have successively resulted from his hypothesis of its original formation out of the sun. Of these epochas he enumerates seven, of which six are supposed to have been previous to the creation of man. In the description of these epochas, as to both their causes and effects, the author has indulged the sport of fancy, and formed a sort of fairy tale, which he has contrived to render amusing and instructive. His works have been collected and published in 35 vols. 4to, and 62 vols. 12mo, and of the whole or parts of them new editions occasionally appear. After he had completed his “History of Minerals,” he had formed a design of composing the “History of Vegetables;” but this project was defeated by his death. Several of the subjects that occur in his “Natural History,” and its supplements, have been discussed in separate memoirs, and may be found in the Memoirs of the royal academy of sciences at Paris, for the years 1737, 1738, 1739, 1741, and 1742. 1


Rees’s and Brewster’s Cyclopædias. Herault Sechelles, in Peltier’s Paris ?endanM*annee 1795 and 1796. JEloges des Academicism, vol, IV.