Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/417

This page has been validated.
403
ÉTIENNE GEOFFROY SAINT-HILAIRE.

duce miraculous and really uncaused new developments of structure and function—can make a genius spring from nobodies, and a philosopher grow at one leap out of two common strains, of the earth, earthy—then we can see no reason why there should not be great families, great epochs, great outbursts in any one place as well as another. But if all increments are functionally acquired, then we can understand why this environment produces races of sculptors, that environment races of poets, yonder environment races of traders, or thinkers, or soldiers, or mechanicians. The first hypothesis is one that throws no light at all upon any of the facts; the second hypothesis is one that explains them all with transparent lucidity.—Mind.

 

ÉTIENNE GEOFFROY SAINT-HILAIRE.

THE name of Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire is most intimately associated with the establishment of the doctrine of the unity of the organic plan of the animal kingdom. This great naturalist was born at Étampes, France, April 15, 1772, and died in Paris, June 9, 1844. He came of an honorable family, of only a moderate fortune, another branch of which had given three members to the Academy of Sciences. His father, Jean Gérard Geoffroy, an attorney and magistrate, designed him for the ecclesiastical profession. So, after having taken his primary studies at home, he obtained a bursarship in the college of Navarre, and, about 1788, a canonry and a benefice at Étampes. Everything thus promised well for his ecclesiastical advancement; but he felt drawn toward the natural sciences by an irresistible taste, which the experimental lessons in physics of Brisson had contributed to develop. On leaving the college, he asked permission of his father to remain in Paris, to attend the courses of the Collége de France and the Jardin des Plantes. The father consented, and toward the end of 1790 the young man became a bachelor-in-law. He went no further in this profession, but sought in medicine a calling more congenial to his tastes, without remaining faithful to that. He entered the college of Cardinal-Lemoine as a pensionnaire, where he attracted the notice of Lhomond and Haüy, who were teaching there. Daubenton, whose lectures in the Jardin des Plantes he was attending, remarked him among his pupils, invited him to his house, charged him with commissions relative to the lectures, and intrusted to him the determination of some of the objects in the collections of the Jardin.

The French Revolution was now (1792) raging furiously, and all the professors in the college were arrested on the 13th of August for the crime of being priests. Haüy was released on the next day, through the most active exertions of Geoffroy, and Lhomond was delivered by one of his former pupils. The other priests were detained