Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/244

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the subject, he rejected it, partly on grounds of religious orthodoxy. Professor Packard, in his life of Lamarck, has recently presented an interesting study of Buff on 's exact position in the matter. These equivocal expressions of Buff on 's are, however, commonly spoken of as if they were unique in their period; whereas the same hypothesis was put forward, within a decade, by two countrymen of his who were hardly less representative than he of the scientific progress of their generation. For one of them was the president of the Royal Academy of Science of Berlin; and the other was the editor of the Encyclopædia.

There were two distinct lines of development in scientific investigation and theory during the first half of the eighteenth century which led up to and suggested the theory of transformation as a natural and probable hypothesis in zoology. The first of these was the active prosecution of both observation and speculation in the field of embryology; the second was the development of the new science of comparative anatomy at the hands of Daubenton. The representative of the former way of approach to evolutionism is Maupertuis. In speaking of him, I venture to improve the occasion to give some general account of his place in the history of science, since the matter is one about which little trustworthy information appears to be generally accessible. Such an account will make the significance and the grounds of his evolutionary opinions more apparent.

I. Maupertuis.—Although not without some reputation as the reorganizer of the Berlin Academy[1]—for which task he was especially imported from France by Frederick the Great—and as the director of the first expedition to demonstrate the flattening of the globe at the poles by the measurement of a degree of longitude at different latitudes, Maupertuis is usually made to play a somewhat comic rôle in the literary history of his century, as the rival of Voltaire for the favor of Frederick and as the victim of one of Voltaire's most ferocious satires. Although Frederick took the side of Maupertuis in that famous quarrel and caused the copies of Voltaire's libel to be burned by the hangman in all the public places of Berlin, the satirist has been more successful in gaining the ear of posterity. Immensely famous and respected as a sort of scientific oracle in his own day, Maupertuis seems now to be best known through the misrepresentations of his adversary; there is even reason to fear, from internal evidence, that some learned historians of philosophy, in the little they have to say about the 'Native of St. Malo'—as Voltaire always designated him—have depended more upon the 'Histoire du Docteur Akakia' than upon a careful examination of Maupertuis 's own writings. Yet—in spite of the touch of vanity which sometimes made him ridiculous and the superficiality of a good deal of his knowledge—his reputation deserves in some measure

  1. For the earlier history of the Berlin Academy, see The Popular Science Monthly, March, 1904.