Commerson, Philibert

, doctor of physic, king’s botanist, and member of the faculty of Montpelier, was born at Chatilon les Dombes near Bourgin Bresse, in 1727, He discovered an early propensity to botany and other branches of natural history, which he pursued with unremitting ardour, and, as it is said, with very little delicacy, performing the same tricks in a garden, which coin and print collectors have been known to perform in museums and libraries. When at Montpelier, he made no scruple to pluck the rarest and most precious plants in the king’s botanic garden there, to enrich his herbal; and when on this account the directors of the garden refused him admittance, he scaled the walls by night to continue his depredations. The reputation, however, of a better kind, which he gained during a residence of four years at Montpelier, induced Linnæus to recommend him as a proper person to form the queen of Sweden’s collection of the rarest fishes in the Mediterranean, and to compose accurate descriptions of them; which undertaking he executed with great labour and dexterity, producing a complete Ichthyology, 2 vols. 4to, with a Dictionary and Bibliography, containing accounts of all the authors who had treated that branch of natural history. Among his various | productions, is a dissertation entitled “The Martyrology of Botany,” containing accounts of all the authors who lost their lives by the fatigues and accidents incident to the zeal for acquiring natural curiosities; a list, in which his own name was destined to be enrolled. Sometimes he has been found in his closet with a candle burning long after sunrise, with his head bent over his herbal, unconscious of its being day-light; and used frequently to return from his botanical excursions torn with briars, bruised with falls from rocks, and emaciated with hunger and fatigue, after many narrow escapes from precipices and torrents. These ardent occupations did not, however, extinguish sentiments of a more tender nature. M. Commerson married in 1760 a wife who died in childbed two years after, and whose memory he preserved by naming a new kind of plant, whose fruit seemed to contain two united hearts, “Pulcheria Commersonia.” He arrived at Paris in 1764, where he became connected with all the learned botanists, particularly the celebrated Jussieu; and was recommended to the duke de Praslin, minister for the marine department, to accompany M. Bougainville in his voyage round the world. The duke conceived the highest idea of his merit from the skdch he drew of the observations that might be made relative to natural history in such a voyage; and he sailed accordingly, in 1766, making the most industrious use of every opportunity to fulfil his engagements! He died at the Isle of France in 1773, and by his will left to the king’s cabinet all his botanical collections, which, before he engaged in this voyage, amounted to above 200 volumes in folio; those made during the voyage, together with his papers and herbal, were sent home in 32 cases, containing an inestimable treasure of hitherto unknown materials for natural history, and Messrs. Jussieu, D’Aubenton, and Thouin, were commissioned to examine and arrange them. 1

1 Eloge by La Lande. —Dict. Hist.