Comte de Buffon (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Article abstract: Buffon wrote one of the earliest multivolume natural histories that saw nature as a complete entity. He also worked toward a concept of evolution and geological change that would contribute to later investigators in the field.
Georges-Louis Leclerc was born in the region of Dijon, France, from an upper-middle-class family, where his father was the lord of Buffon and Montbard. He was the eldest of five children and he grew up in a house in Dijon, where his family held an important position in society. Between 1717 and 1723, he attended a nearby Jesuit college, where he showed some promise in mathematics. He then began legal training for three years, a future career suited to his position in society. His career path was interrupted in 1727, when he became close friends with a Swiss mathematics professor and went to Angers to pursue his interest in medicine and botany. His activities during the next four years remains obscure, although there are unsubstantiated reports that he fought a duel and traveled extensively.
Buffon returned to Paris in 1732 and began to make rapid advancement in both political and scientific circles. His mother had died a year earlier and left him a sizable inheritance. Even though his financial future was...
(The entire section is 1923 words.)
Show us the love and view this for free! Use the facebook like button, or any other share button on this page, and get this content free!free!
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Buffon, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de (1707-1788) (World of Earth Science)
Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon was an eighteenth century naturalist who advocated the idea that natural forces worked to shape Earth in a gradual and ongoing process. By rejecting the widely-held notion of his time that Earth was shaped by catastrophic divine acts, Buffon inspired later geologists and naturalists to investigate and define the process of natural evolution.
Buffon was born to an aristocratic family in Montbard, France. His affluent background allowed him to travel extensively and pursue a number of fields before he developed a passionate interest in natural history. After studying at the Jesuit College in Dijon, France, Buffon obtained a law degree in 1726. The intellectual life of Dijon was active but not oriented toward science, so Buffon went off to Angers, a city in northwestern France, to study medicine, mathematics, botany, and astronomy. The threat of a duel forced him to leave Angers in 1730, but he seized the opportunity to travel through France, England, and Italy. While he was traveling, Buffon's mother died and left him a sizable fortune.
Buffon had been so impressed with the upsurge of science in England that he dedicated the next couple of years to scientific endeavors. His first project, at the request of the French navy, was to write about the tensile strength of timber so that the government could improve the construction of war vessels. Next, he undertook a study of probability theory, Mémoire sur le jeu du franc-carreau, a project that contributed to his election to the Royal Society in 1730 and his admission to the Académie Royale des Sciences in 1734.
Buffon began to take an interest in botany and forestry. He wrote numerous dissertations and translated several works into French, including Stephen Hales' works on plants, Vegetable Statiks, and Isaac Newton's work on calculus. By this time, his work in the sciences began to elevate his standing, and he was advanced and transferred from the mechanical to the botanical section of the Académie Royale.
Nevertheless, Buffon's interest in natural history remained casual until he was appointed to the prestigious position of keeper of the Jardin du Roi, the French botanical gardens. This opportunity enabled him, for the next 50 years, to spend summers at the estate and return to Paris for the winters. During this time, he published 44 volumes of his Historie Naturelle (Natural history), famous as the first modern work that attempted to treat nature as a whole. It was essentially the first encyclopedia on natural history to encompass both plant and animal kingdoms. Assisted by several eminent naturalists of the time, Buffon organized the often-confusing wealth of material into a coherent form. Moreover, in the work, he included suggestions on how the earth might have originated, and he challenged the then-popular belief that the earth was only 6,000 years old. Besides proposing that the earth might be much older, he also suggested that the fact that animals retain parts that serve no known purpose to them is evidence that animals have evolved.
Buffon's popularity increased dramatically due to this work, and he remained a well-known scientific figure until his death in 1788. His prestige earned him an invitation to become a member of many academic societies, including those in Berlin, Germany, and St. Petersburg, Russia. Members of the aristocracy bestowed gifts upon Buffon and King Louis XV made him a count, commissioning a famous sculptor to create a bust of him.
See also Evolution, evidence of; Evolutionary mechanisms