Buffon was the greatest naturalist of his time and some of his thoughts on how the world developed pre - dated those of Charles Darwin by 100 years. These RGSSA volumes are of historical significance for their early date of publication and the renown and influence of their author.
Comte de Buffon's Natural history, general and particular Illustrated with above 300 Copperplates, in 9 volumes was published in 1785. From the collection of Thomas Gill, this is an English translation with occasional notes and observations by William Smellie. Buffon was the greatest naturalist of his time and some of his thoughts on how the world developed pre - dated those of Charles Darwin by 100 years. These RGSSA volumes are of historical significance for their early date of publication and the renown and influence of their author.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 –1788) was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist and encyclopaedist. His publications influenced the next two generations of naturalists in Europe. In 1739 he was appointed director of the Jardin du Roi (later the Jardin des plants) in Paris a position he held all his life turning it into a major research centre and greatly enlarging it.
Buffon published 35 quarto volumes of his Histoire naturelle during his lifetime, and this 2nd edition of nine volumes was published after his death. William Smellie (1740-1795), who was a noted Scottish encyclopaedist and naturalist, gained further renown for his English translation of the already-famous Histoire Naturelle.
This RGSSA set of nine volumes, is thought to be the only one held in Australian libraries, as listed on Libraries Australia.
RGSSA catalogue rgsp 508 B 929.2
Buffon was born to middle class parents but when he was seven years old was left a considerable fortune from his godfather (and mother's uncle) Georges Blaisot, tax collector for the Duke of Savoy for the island of Sicily. After studying law, medicine and mathematics, and after the death of his mother in 1732 he secured his inheritance and purchased the village of Buffon adopting the name for himself and In 1772 becoming a count.
But Buffon's consuming interest was nature and he was struck by the diversity of life and was not content with existing explanations of the natural world. What separated him from others were his empirical and philosophical pursuits of causes and explanations beyond those of his time. Buffon's courageous way of looking at the world paved the way for subsequent revolutionary thinkers who are responsible for much of what we know about the natural world today.
The following is a quotation from the Royal Collection Trust which describes how de Buffon created his massive Histoire Naturelle-
It was at the Jardin du Roi that Buffon began his natural history career in earnest, collecting vast numbers of botanical and zoological specimens with the intention of turning the gardens into a major research institute. In 1749, he began publishing the Histoire Naturelle. The work was an enormous effort and required assistance from several prominent naturalists with whom Buffon maintained correspondence. Starting with three volumes of a general natural history, he then published 12 volumes concerning quadrupeds (1753-67), nine on birds (1770-83) and five on minerals (1783-8) with an additional seven supplemental volumes published from 1774 to 1788. Lacépède added a further two volumes on reptiles (1788-9), five on fish (1798-1803) and a final volume on cetaceans (1804).
Although few would recognise his name today Buffon was a towering figure of his day particularly in the world of natural history evolution.
Some modern tributes are as follows -
From Ernst Mayer (1904-2005) one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists -
Truly Buffon was the father of all thought in natural history in the second half of the 18th century,
He brought the idea of evolution into the realm of science.
From Charles Darwin-
- the first author who in modern times has treated it (evolution) in a scientific spirit was Buffon.
To honour Buffon In 1776 Louis XVI commissioned a statue of him which is located at the Museum of Natural History, Paris. Buffon died in Paris in in1788. During the French Revolution his tomb was broken into and the lead that covered his coffin stolen to make bullets.