Saussure, Horace Benedict De

, an eminent naturalist, was born at Geneva in 1740. His father, an enlightened agriculturist, to whom we are indebted for some essays on rural economy, resided at Couches, on the banks of the Arve, about half a league from Geneva. Botany was his first study, and this made him acquainted with Haller, whom he visited in 1764, during his retreat at Bex. He was further excited to study the vegetable kingdom in consequence of his Connection with C. Bonnet, who married his aunt, and who soon discovered the talents of his nephew. Bonnet was then engaged in examining the leaves of plants; Saussure also turned his attention to these vegetable organs, and published “Observations on the Skin of Leaves” about the year 1760.

At this time the professorship of philosophy at Geneva | became vacant, and Saussure, who was then only twentyone, obtained the chair. While in this office, he commenced his journeys among the mountains, to examine the substances of which the elevated ridges of our globe are composed, and during the first fifteen or twenty years of his professorship, he was alternately employed in fulfilling the duties which his situation imposed, and in traversing the different mountains in the neighbourhood of Geneva. He even extended his excursions on one side to the Rhine, and on the other to Piedmont. About this time, too, he travelled to Auvergne, for the purpose of examining some extinguished volcanos; and soon after he undertook a tour to Paris, Holland, England, Italy, and Sicily. In these journeys his constant object was the study of nature. He always carried with him the instruments necessary for observations, and never set out without having formed for himself a regular plan of experiments.

In 1779, he published the first volume of “His Travels in the Alps,” which contains a detailed description of the environs of Geneva, and an account of an excursion as far as Chamouni, a village at the foot of Mont-Blanc. All naturalists have read with pleasure the description he has given, in this volume, of his Magnetometre. The more he examined the mountains, the more he felt the importance of mineralogy: to enable him to study this branch of science with still greater advantage, he learnt the German language. The new mineralogical knowledge which he acquired may be easily seen by comparing the latter volume of his travels with the first.

In the midst of his numerous excursions in the Alps, and even during the time of the troubled politics of Geneva in 1782, he found opportunities to make his hygrometrical experiments, the result of which he published in 1783, under the title of “Essays on Hygrometry.” We are indebted to him for the invention of the hygrometre, although Deluc had already invented his whalebone hygrometre, which occasioned a dispute between him and Saussure. In 1786, he gave up his professorship in favour of his disciple Pictet. The second volume of the Travels of Saussure was published in 1786 and contains a description of the Alps, which surround Mont-Blanc. Some years after the publication of this volume, Saussure was receivr 1 as a foreign associate in the academy cf scienes at Vans; t>ut our author not only honoured, but was desirous of serving his | country. He founded the Society of Arts, to which Geneva is greatly indebted, and presided in this society to the very last, its prosperity being one of his principal objects. He also shewed his zeal to serve his country while he was member of the Council of Five Hundred, and of the National Assembly of France. It was from his assiduous labour in that Assembly that his health first began to fail; and in 1794 a paralytic stroke deprived him of the use of one side of his body. It was, however, after this accident that he drew up the two last volumes of his Travels, which appeared in 1796. They contain an account of his travels in the mountains of Piedmont, Switzerland, and in particular of his ascent to the summit of Mont Blanc.

He gave the last proof of his attachment to science in publishing the “Agenda,” which completes the fourth volume. During his illness he also published his observations “on the Fusibility of Stones with the Blowpipe;” and he directed the “experiments on the height of the bed of the Arve.” When he was at the baths of Plombieres for his health, he observed the mountains at a distance, and procured specimens of the strata he perceived in the most steep rocks. He had announced to the public, that he intended to complete his travels by his ideas on the primitive state of the earth; but the more new facts he acquired, and the more he meditated on this subject, the less could he determine with regard to those great revolutions which have preceded the present epoch. In general, he was a Neptunian, that is to say, he attributed to water the revolutions of this globe. He admitted it to be possible that elastic fluids, in disengaging themselves from the cavities, might raise mountains.

Though his health was gradually impaired by degrees, he still retained the hope of re-establishing it, but strength and life forsook him by slow and painful steps, and he died March 22, 1799, lamented by his family and his country. 1


Life by Senuebier, a most extravagant panegyric.