Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/175

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
171
THE OLD ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, PARIS

but inasmuch as the members of the academy had received the best education, both in science and in philosophy, which France could furnish, it was entirely natural that the common people should accept their opinions without hesitation. The members of the academy lived simply, gave their time to their favorite pursuits, and through their publications had large influence on the civilization of France and even of Europe. The work of the academy through the century was directed by a few able men. Fontenelle, who succeeded Duhamel, the first secretary, felt the burdens of his position as early as 1730 and offered his resignation, which was not accepted till 1740. He was at that time eighty years old and his successor, Mairan, eminent for his attainments, was nearly as old. He was soon followed by Grand jean de Fouchy who had won fame as an astronomer, who retained his secretaryship for thirty years. Condorcet was his assistant, but the real control of the academy was in the hands of Buffon. Yet Buffon was unable to prevent Condorcet from succeeding de Fouchy.

At the death of Buffon there were other naturalists who were well prepared to take up his work and carry it forward even more successfully than he. They were less prejudiced than he against new opinions. Some of them could give more accurate descriptions of natural objects. Buffon's knowledge of science prior to the century and in a good degree up to his own time was extensive. It was not accurate like that of the Jussieus and of Lavoisier. He did little for the future save through his suggestions and his wide generalizations. He derived living beings from molecules, and the atoms in which Epicurus believed. But he did not solve the problem of generation. As an administrator he had few equals. His gift for order and arrangement was very great. He made the Garden of Plants a great help for students of science. Yet in most departments of science, England during Buffon's life was fifty years in advance of France. Yet the academicians were by no means idle, nor did they fail to appreciate the discoveries of their contemporaries in other countries. Men like Daubenton gave lectures in connection with the Eoyal Gardens and were on the lookout for young men to take the place of their elders in the academy. In his investigations he just missed having a share in making comparative anatomy a real science. Vicq d'Azyr, of Normandy, a pupil of Antoine Petit, carried the study of zoological anatomy to a great height. Buffon would gladly have seen him director of the Royal Gardens, but Daubenton took care to place him where his gifts as an anatomist would have full exercise. He was a member of the academy in 1774. His reputation rests on his work on anatomy and physiology published in 1786. Two years later, at the death of Buffon, he became his successor. He was the precursor of Cuvier. He was one of the first to point out the importance of the teeth in the study of animals.

The conservatism of the academy is shown in various ways, but