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Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 275–298 | Cite as

Lamarck, evolution, and the politics of science

  • Richard W. BurkhardtJr.
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References

  1. 1.
    J. M. Ziman, Public Knowledge: An Essay Concerning the Social Dimension of Science (Cambridge, 1968), p. 11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The author is currently completing a doctoral dissertation at Harvard University on Lamarck's evolutionary theory and its reception.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See especially Fragments biographiques, précédés d'études sur la vie, les ouvrages et les doctrines de Buffon (Paris, 1838), pp. 81–82.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    “Nécrologie; parallèle,” Annales des sciences d'observation, 3 (1830): 159–160. This article is not mentioned by Marcel Landrieu in Lamarck: le fondateur du transformisme (Paris, 1909), a biography which, if some-what lacking in critical analysis, is nevertheless generally an excellent source of information. Part of the article was reproduced but unidentified as to authorship by A. Giard in his preface to “Discours d'ouverture des cours de zoologie ... par J.-B. Lamarck,” Bulletin Scientifique de la France et de la Belgique, 40 (1907): 449. Giard, citing the original source of the passage as Lycée, IV, 1829, takes the passage directly from F. Picavet, Les Idéologues (Paris, 1891), p. 599. Picavet seems also to have been unaware of the identity of the author of the article. On Raspail see Dora B. Weiner, Raspail: Scientist and Reformer (New York and London, 1968).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Four volumes of the Annales des sciences d'observation appeared: two in 1829 and two in 1830. On the Annales see Weiner, Raspail, p. 76. Weiner notes that Raspail was “excessively prone to feeling slighted by professors and academicians” (p. 74), but she does not indicate the extent to which the Annales served as an outlet for Raspail's and Saigey's feelings about certain aspects of contemporary French science. At one point, venting their distress over the “coteries” dominating French science, they wrote: “Oh! que cette science qui a tant de charmes aux yeux de la jeunesse et des amateurs devient affligeante quand on pénètre plus avant dans son sanctuaire! Vous qui la cultivez dans la retraite, croyez-nous, conservez bien toute la pureté de vos illusions; n'approchez pas.” Annales, 3 (1830), 158. De Blainville, Cuvier, Chevreul, and numerous other prominent scientists of the day were roughly treated in the Annales, which prove to be an interesting source for comments on the internal politics of French science in this period.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Annales 3, pp. 159–160. The translations from the French are the author's own.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    For more details on the “intrigue” concerning the positions left open by Lamarck's death consult Pol Nicard, Étude sur la vie et les travaux de M. Ducrotay de Blainville (Paris, 1890), pp. 105–111, and the Annales des sciences d'observation, 2 (1829), 152; 3 (1830), 305, 310–312, 469–470, 474–475.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Lamarck's Mémoire sur les cabinets d'histoire naturelle et particulièrement sur celui du jardin des plantes (n.d., 1790?), reproduced in Landrieu, Lamarck, pp. 42–51.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Correspondance relating to this matter may be found in Oeuvres complètes de Buffon, nouvelle édition ... par J.-L. Lanessan ... suivie de la correspondance ... recueillie et annotée par J. Nadault de Buffon (Paris, 1884–1885), 14, 356–360. Landrieu seems to have been unaware of the existence of these materials.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Condorcet's “Éloge de M. le Comte de Buffon,” Oeuvres de Condorcet (Paris, 1847), 3, 360–361.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Flore françoise, 3 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1778). Though the title page reads 1778, the work apparently did not appear until 1779, as evidenced by the report of 1779 by Duhamel and Guettard included in the work.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cuvier, who mentioned this incident in his Éloge of Lamarck, remarked that Descemet “was never able to recover the place that this sort of unjust favor [passe-droit] made him miss.” “Éloge de M. Lamarck,” Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Sciences de l'Institut de France, 13 (1835), viii. Landrieu, Lamarck, p. 38, has published the note from the minister to the permanent secretary of the Academy (then Condorcet) announcing the king's decision.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mémoire sur le projet du Comité des Finances, relatif à la suppression de la place de Botaniste attaché au Cabinet d'Histoire naturelle (Paris, n.d. [1789]). In Landrieu, Lamarck, p. 36.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Considérations en faveur du chevalier de Lamarck, ancien officier au Régiment de Beaujolais, de l'Académie Royale des Sciences, Botaniste du Roi, attaché au Cabinet d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris, 1789). In Landrieu, Lamarck, p. 35. The projected work to which Lamarck referred was apparently the Théâtre Universel de Botanique mentioned in the Flore françoise, I, cxviii.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Lamarck's connections during the most difficult days of this period were presumably rather good. By a countermanding order made on his behalf by the Comité de Salut public (April 17, 1794) he was exempted from the act of the previous day by which he (as a member of the nobility) would have had to leave Paris. See F.-A. Aulard, Recueil des Actes du Comité de Salut public (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1899), XII, 640.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Slightly earlier, in the years that he was supposed to be Garde des Herbiers at the Jardin du Roi (1789–1793), Lamarck presumably found evidence for the view that personal interests stood in the way of his own attempts to advance the science of botany. It seems that he was not allowed by the botanists at the Jardin (René Louiche Desfontaines and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu) to work with some of the collections there. On this subject see Edmond Perrier, “Lamarck et le transformisme actuel,” Centenaire de la Fondation du Muséum d'Histoire naturelle (Paris, 1893), pp. 479–480, or Landrieu, Lamarck, p. 52 (fn. 2).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    2 vols. (Paris, Maradan).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid., I, vii.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Ibid., I, vii. This was not the only time that Lamarck displayed an interest in matters of priority. On one occasion he communicated a meteorological observation to the First Class of the Institut and had the observation inserted in the procès verbal “pour prendre date à ce sujet.” Institut de France. Académie des Sciences. Procès verbaux des séances de l'Académie. 1 (An IV–VIII, 1795–1799; published in 1910), 63. A much more significant example of a priority concern on Lamarck's part is revealed in the friction with Cuvier over who was the first to think of certain changes in the classification of the invertebrates (the most notable being the placement of the molluscs above the insects in a serial arrangement of the invertebrates). Both men made a number of comments about this dispute. See, for example, Cuvier's “Éloge de M. Lamarck,” p. xxv, fn. 1, and Lamarck's Philosophie zoologique (Paris, 1809), I, 122–123.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Réfutation de la théorie pneumatique (Paris, 1796), pp. 2–3.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Mémoires de PPhysique d'histoire naturelle (see fn. 22), p. 410.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Lamarck, intending to publish these memoirs successively, as he read them to the Institut, first entitled the proposed collection Mémoires présentant les bases d'une nouvelle théorie, physique et chimique, fondée sur la considération des molécules essentielles des composés, et sur celle des trois états principaux du feu dans la nature; servant en outre de développement à l'ouvrage intitulé: Réfutation de la Théorie pneumatique. (Paris, An V [1797]). This title page apparently appeared when the first memoir was published. The full title which Lamarck later substituted for it, and by which the collection of memoirs is generally known, is Mémoires de Physique et d'Histoire naturelle, établis sur des bases de raisonnement indépendantes de toute théorie; avec l'exposition de nouvelles considérations sur la cause générale des dissolutions; sur la matière du feu; sur la couleur des corps; sur la formation des composés; sur l'origine des minéraux; et sur l'organisation des corps vivans (Paris, An V [1797]).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    In addition to the example cited on pp. 281–282, see Lamarck's Mémoires de Physique et d'Histoire naturelle, p. 409 (fn.) and his Hydrogéologie, pp. 103, 122, 159 (fn.), and 164. For comments regarding the neglect of his meteorological work, which he viewed in similar terms, consult his ”Sur les variations de l'état du ciel ...” Journal de physique, 56 (1802), 138, his Annuaires météorologiques (especially no. 9, for 1808), and his “Météorologie,” Nouveau Dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, 20 (Paris. Déterville, 1818), 474–477.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    After 1802, in fact, Lamarck did not deliver any memoirs of his own at the Institut. The reason for this is not altogether clear, but may in part have been due to the fact that the last memoir he delivered at the Institut was not only commented upon but in fact severely criticized (by Laplace). The memoir was Lamarck's “Mémoire sur les variations de l'état du ciel,” published in the Journal de physique, 56 (1802), 114–138. The incident is referred to in a letter from Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire to Cuvier, Institut de France (Fonds Cuvier), MS 3225 (12).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    (Paris, 1802), p. 69.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, MS 756, 1er cahier, p. 11. The passage is from a discourse apparently originally intended as an introduction to Lamarck's Hydrogéologie, the manuscript of which bears the title Physique terrestre. The discourse is entitled “Discours contenant une discussion critique sur les théories physiques en général, sur celles maintenant établies, sur les moyens pris pour les maintenir, enfin sur les difficultés d'opérer des rectifications dans les écarts où l'on s'est jetté.” The manuscript of the discourse is incomplete. For the passage cited here, minor abbreviations in the manuscript have been replaced by the full words. Lamarck's spellings have been preserved. In the manuscript Lamarck wrote “proneurs” above “suppôts” and “édifice” above “oeuvre” (line 15 of the above passage).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    See the interesting observations by Michael Polanyi, “The Growth of Science in Society,” Minerva,5 (1967), 533–545.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    The phrase was used by Lamarck in the introductory lecture to his course at the Museum in 1800 and appeared in print in his Système des animaux sans vertèbres (Paris, 1801), p. 11. Lamarck does not define the phrase, nor does he use it to the exclusion of similar phrases. The phrase does seem to be especially useful in describing him, however, for it suggests the important meditative element involved in his approach to the study of nature. One may note an interesting connection between Lamarck's ideas about the importance of the habit of meditation and his notion of the effects of use and disuse: he observes that of all the organs of man's body, the brain-the “organ of thought”—is most affected by exercise (Rech. org. corps vivans, p. 126).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, MS 756, 1er cahier, p. 3.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Hydrogéologie (Paris, An X [1802]), pp. 5–6. Three years later Lamarck introduced his hypothesis of geological change in the following terms: “Perhaps it will be said that it would be wiser to be silent [in regard to a number of geological facts] than to offer some supposition that one would not know how to prove, even if it had some likelihood. I do not think so, and I believe that the course of silence is good for nothing. Every effort to lift the veil which hides nature's operations from us is useful; a mediocre idea often gives birth to a better one, and by force of trying one will perhaps obtain some successes. All that is important in such circumstances is to give as certain only that which is clearly demonstrated.” “Considérations sur quelques faits applicables à la thèorie du globe.” Annales du Muséum d'Histoire naturelle, 6 (1805), 38–39.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Hydrogéologie, p. 7.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ibid., p. 8.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Lamarck says he wrote the book rapidly but does not indicate just how much time the writing took. The time from the delivery of the discourse (27 floréal an 10) to when he delivered a copy of the published book to the Institut (9 thermidor an 10) was slightly less than two and a half months. It is not entirely clear from what Lamarck says, however, whether he began work on the book before or after he delivered the discourse.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Pages v–vi.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ibid., pp. vi–vii.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    This approach seems to have been fully as characteristic of Lamarck's actual behavior as the other approach that he suggested (see below, p. 297). Lamarck's ambivalence on this matter, indicated by his numerous attempts to promulgate his views, suggests how much he cared about his ideas but how incapable he was of advancing them in a way that would impress his contemporaries and how frustrated he was from his earlier unsuccessful intellectual ventures.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Henri-Marie Ducrotay de Blainville, Histoire des sciences de l'organisation et de leurs progrès comme base de la philosophie, rédigée etc. par. F.-L.M. Maupied (Paris, 1845), III, 358.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Philosophie zoologique (Paris, 1809), I, xviii.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Ibid., I, xxiii.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
  41. 41.
    Pages iii–iv.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    “Discours d'ouverture, prononcé le 21 floréal an 8 [May 11, 1800],” Système des animaux sans vertèbres (Paris: Déterville, 1801), pp. 1–48.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Pages iii–iv. Lamarck's preference for presenting theories in a deductive form is explicitly stated in a manuscript entitled “La Biologie”, which has been published by Pierre-P. Grassé, Rev. Sci., 5 (1944), 267–276 (see p. 271). Despite this preference, Lamarck indicates in the manuscript (believed to have been written between 1809 and 1815) his intention to write a major work (La Biologie) which would begin with an exposition of facts rather than general principles for the very purpose of convincing his contemporaries of the validity of his views. The work was never executed, and the form of the introduction to the Histoire naturelle of 1815 was not appreciably different from Lamarck's earlier writings.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    There is a strong parallel here between Lamarck's biological writings and his meteorological writings. Looking back in his eleventh and final Annuaire météorologique (pour l'an 1810) on the Annuaires he had published for more than a decade, Lamarck admitted a strategic error on his part in not treating the probabilities given in the Annuaires seriously enough: “I perhaps greatly wronged the study that I wanted to encourage, supposing incorrectly that more attention would be paid to the observations recorded in the different numbers of the Annuaire than to the probabilities presented there” (p. 167).Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    William Coleman, Georges Cuvier, Zoologist: A Study in the History of Evolution Theory (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964).Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    “Rapport de l'Institut national... sur un ouvrage de M. André, ayant pour titre: Théorie de la surface actuelle de la terre,” Journal des mines, 21 (1807), 421.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    “Éloge de Lamarck,” (see fn. 12 above), p. ii.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Fragments biographiques, (see fn. 3 above), p. 81.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Institut de France (Fonds Cuvier), MS 3065, p. 122. The manuscript, entitled “Sur la variété de composition des animaux,” had only been just begun when Cuvier died in 1832. The original French of the passage cited is: “en verité ses explications sont quelquefois bien plaisantes malgré l'admiration que quelques naturalistes affectent de montrer pour elles.”Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Leçons d'anatomie comparée, 2nd ed. (1835), I, 101.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    “Observations préliminaires,” Recherches sur les Ossemens fossiles, 4th ed., I (1834), viii.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    See in the published works Cuvier's Histoire des sciences naturelles ... completée etc. par Magdeleine de Saint-Agy, III (1841), 85–88; Leçons d'anatomie comparée, 2nd ed., I (1835), 99–102 (esp. p. 101); and for general comments upon Lamarck's work, Cuvier, “Éloge de Lamarck.”Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Recherches sur les Ossemens fossiles (Paris, 1812), I: 28. The footnote reads: “Voyez la Physique de Rodig, p. 106. Leipsig, 1801; et la p. 169 du 2e tome de Telliamed. M. de Lamarck est celui qui a developpé dans ces derniers temps ce système avec le plus de suite et la sagacité la plus soutenue dans son Hydrogéologie et dans sa Philosophie Zoologique.” In the 1830 edition of the Discours sur les Revolutions... du Globe... and in the fourth edition of the Ossements fossiles the phrase “et la sagacité la plus soutenue” is dropped from the footnote. Cuvier's reference to Telliamed is apparently to the 1749 edition of that work, where beginning on page 169, volume 2, the idea that flying fish may be transformed into birds is presented. The Rodig work referred to is apparently the work entitled Lebende Natur. Page 106 of this work also has a discussion of the transformation of flying fish into birds.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Recherches sur les Ossemens fossiles, I, 28.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, MS 631, pp. 35–36. The original is as follows: “que l'habitude de mâcher par exemple, finit au bout de quelques siècles par leur donner des dents; l'habitude de marche, leur donna des jambes; les canards à force de plonger devinrent des brochets; les brochets à force de se trouver à sec se changèrent en canards; leg poules en cherchant leur pature au bord des eaux, et en s'efforçant de ne pas se mouiller les cuisses, réussirent si bien à s'alonger les jambes qu'elles devinrent des hérons ou des cigognes. Ainsi se formèrent par dégrès ces cent mille races diverses, dont la classification embarrasse si cruellement la race malheureuse que l'habitude à changée en naturalistes.” It may be noted, as Coleman, in Georges Cuvier (p. 191), has already done, that the manuscripts of Cuvier's published works almost invariably correspond precisely to the published works themselves. An omission of the sort represented by this passage is quite rare.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    See the first two items cited in fn. 52 above and Cuvier's article “Nature,” Dictionnaire des sciences naturelles, 34 (1825), 261–268.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Fragments biographiques, p. 81.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Annales des sciences d'observation, 3 (1830), 277. The comment comes from an article on teratological studies entitled “Monstruosités remarquables” in which Raspail defends the researches of Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Philosophie zoologique, II, 450.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    “Homme,” Nouveau Dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, 15 (1817), 270.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    Ibid., p. 273.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    Ibid., pp. 270–271n.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© President and Fellows of Harvard College 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard W. BurkhardtJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of the History of ScienceHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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