1 vols. 10 x 6-5/8 inches (sight). Framed and glazed. Item #51678
Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck was born on August 1, 1744, in the village of Bazentin-le-Petit in the north of France. He was the youngest of eleven children in a family with a centuries-old tradition of military service; his father and several of his brothers were soldiers. The young Lamarck entered the Jesuit seminary at Amiens around 1756, but not long after his father's death, Lamarck rode off to join the French army campaigning in Germany in the summer of 1761; in his first battle, he distinguished himself for bravery under fire and was promoted to officer. After peace was declared in 1763, Lamarck spent five years on garrison duty in the south of France, until an accidental injury forced him to leave the army. After working as a bank clerk in Paris for a while, Lamarck began to study medicine and botany, at which he rapidly became expert; in 1778 his book on the plants of France, Flore Française, was published to great acclaim, in part thanks to the support of Buffon.
On the strength of the Flore Française (and Buffon's patronage), Lamarck was appointed an assistant botanist at the royal botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes, which was not only a botanical garden but a center for medical education and biological research. Aside from a stint as tutor to Buffon's son during a tour of Europe in 1781, Lamarck continued as an underpaid assistant at the Jardin du Roi, living in poverty (and having to defend his job from cost-cutting bureaucrats in the National Assembly) until 1793. That year, the same year that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine, the old Jardin des Plantes was reorganized as the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle (National Museum of Natural History), which was to be run by twelve professors in twelve different scientific fields. Lamarck, who had called for this reorganization, was appointed a professor -- of the natural history of insects and worms (that is, of all invertebrates), a subject he knew nothing about.
To be fair to Lamarck, we should mention that since the time of Linnaeus, few naturalists had considered the invertebrates worthy of study. The word "invertebrates" did not even exist at the time; Lamarck coined it. The invertebrate collections at the Musée were enormous and rapidly growing, but poorly organized and classified. Although the professors at the Musée were theoretically equal in rank, the professorship of "insects and worms" was definitely the least prestigious. But Lamarck took on the enormous challenge of learning -- and creating -- a new field of biology. The sheer number and diversity of invertebrates proved to be both a challenge and a rich source of knowledge. As Lamarck lectured his students in 1803, after ten years of research on invertebrates:
. . . we perceive that, relative to the animal kingdom, we should chiefly devote our attention to the invertebrate
animals, because their enormous multiplicity in nature, the singular diversity of their systems of organization, and
of their means of multiplication, . . . , show us, much better than the higher animals, the true course of nature, and
the means which she has used and which she still unceasingly employs to give existence to all the living bodies of
which we have knowledge.
Lamarck published a series of books on invertebrate zoology and paleontology. Of these, Philosophie zoologique, published in 1809, most clearly states Lamarck's theories of evolution. The first volume of Histoire naturelle des Animaux sans vertèbres was published in 1815, the second in 1822. Aside from Lamarck's contributions to evolutionary theory, his works on invertebrates represent a great advance over existing classifications; he was the first to separate the Crustacea, Arachnida, and Annelida from the "Insecta." His classification of the mollusks was far in advance of anything proposed previously; Lamarck broke with tradition in removing the tunicates and the barnacles from the Mollusca. He also anticipated the work of Schleiden & Schwann in cell theory in stating that:
. . . no body can have life if its constituent parts are not cellular tissue or are not formed by cellular tissue.
Lamarck even found time to write papers on physics and meteorology, including some annual compilations of weather data.
But Lamarck's works never became popular during his lifetime, and Lamarck never won the respect or prestige enjoyed by his patron Buffon or his colleague Cuvier. While Cuvier respected Lamarck's work on invertebrates, he had no use for Lamarck's theory of evolution, and he used his influence to discredit it. Most of Lamarck's life was a constant struggle against poverty; to make matters worse, he began to lose his sight around 1818, and spent his last years completely blind, cared for by his devoted daughters (he had been married four times). When he died, on December 28, 1829, he received a poor man's funeral (although his colleague Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire gave one of the orations) and was buried in a rented grave; after five years his body was removed, and no one now knows where his remains are.
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