Popular Science Monthly/Volume 26/March 1885/Sketch of M. de Quatrefages

PSM V26 D594 Jean Louis Armand De Quatrefages.jpg



JEAN LOUIS ARMAND DE QUATREFAGES DE BRÉAU was born at Berthezeme, near Villerauge (Gard), France, February 10, 1810. His family was of the Protestant faith, and allied to the family of the publicist La Baumelle. His father was an educated agriculturist, who had served with distinction in Holland previous to the Revolution, but had returned to France on the breaking out of war between the two countries. Having received careful elementary instruction, young Quatrefages entered the medical course at Strasbourg, where he received the double diploma of Doctor of Medicine and Doctor in Science. On November 29, 1820, he sustained a thesis on the "Theory of a Cannon-Shot"; the next year he published at Strasbourg a work on aëroliths; and in 1832 a medical thesis on "Extraversion of the Bladder." He was appointed an examination preparator of chemistry to the Faculty of Medicine at Strasbourg; and at a later period established himself at Toulouse, where he brought the study of the natural sciences and medical practice to the front, and published a number of articles in the "Journal of Medicine and Surgery" of Toulouse, and memoirs in the "Annals of the Natural Sciences" from 1834 to 1836. His essay on the "Axodontes," published in 1835, was the subject of a favorable report by a Commission of the Academy of Sciences, and attracted attention to his capacity as a naturalist. At the end of 1838, M. de Quatrefages was called on the nomination of M. de Salvandy, then minister, to the chair of Zoölogy in the Scientific Faculty of Toulouse; but that provincial town not offering the conveniences he desired for pursuing the researches on which he had become engaged, he resigned his position there in a short time and went to reside in Paris, where he enjoyed the friendship and had the assistance of M. Milne-Edwards, and, supporting himself by means of his books and the scientific articles he wrote for the periodical press, was able to pursue his studies with ardor and to publish the results of them.

In 1850, he was appointed Professor of Natural History in the Lycée Napoléon. In April, 1852, he was elected a member, in the Zoölogical Section of the Academy of Sciences, where ho took the place of Savigny. In August, 1855, he was called to the chair of Anthropology and Ethnology in the Museum of Natural History; and it is in these fields of science that the work by which he is most distinguished has been performed.

In 1872 M. de Quatrefages participated in the organization of the French Association for the Promotion of Science which that year held its first meeting at Bordeaux, and in the absence of the designated president, Claude Bernard, who was prevented by the state of his health from attending, served as acting president. His opening address is described in "Nature" as having been "a very stirring and noble one, full of sound sense as to the recent humiliation and present condition of France, enthusiasm toward science, and faith in it as one of the most powerful regenerators of the country. "Science is at present supreme," he said; "she is becoming more and more the sovereign of the world." And he believed that it would be only when all ranks and classes of the people, rulers and ruled, were thoroughly imbued with the scientific spirit and were guided by scentific knowledge that France would ever again take and maintain the supreme place in the world which she ought to hold.

At the second meeting of this Association, held in August, 1873, at Lyons, M. de Quatrefages was president. In his opening address he pointed out the almost inconceivable advance that science had made during the past century, and the importance of scientific education. In speaking of the latter subject, he said that the devotees of literature accused Science of stifling the imagination. "'She kills,' they say, 'the ideal, and stunts intelligence by imprisoning it within the limits of reality; she is incompatible with poetry.' The men who speak thus have never read Kepler the astronomer, Linnæus the naturalist, Buffon the zoölogist, Humboldt the universal savant. What! Science stifle sentiment, imagination, she who brings us every hour into the presence of wonders! She lower intelligence, who touches on all the infinities! When literary students and poets know Science better, they will come and draw from her living fountain. Like Byron of our time, like Homer of yore, they will borrow from her striking imagery descriptions whose grandeur will be doubled by their truth. Homer was a savant for his time. He knew the geography, the anatomy of his era; we find in his verses the names of islands and capes, technical terms like clavicle and scapula. None the less, he wrote the 'Iliad.' No, the study of science will never suppress the genius of an inspired poet, of a true painter, of a great sculptor. But she will bring more light to the path of an erring soul. She will, perhaps, transform into a wise man, or at least into a citizen useful to himself and others, one who without her would only have been one of those pretended incomprehensible geniuses, designed to perish of misery, of impotency, and of pride. While fully admitting the important place of literature in education, he would wish to see children initiated at an early age into the facts, the ideas, and the methods of science.

"Governments, such as they have hitherto been, have almost always acted as if they had no need for the men who study Nature and her forces. But when any critical or important event occurs, then it is found necessary to appeal to them. Of whom are the juries of international exhibitions composed? No doubt each state sends its worthy merchants, its tried chiefs of industry, its eminent agriculturists, but it also, and above all, sends its men of science. At these important times peoples are comparing their real strength, and each feels that it is for its honor in the present and its prospects in the future that the truth should appear; and to enlighten them, whether it be concerning cannons or silk-manufactures, telescopes or crystals, jewelry or hardware, it is felt that science is indispensable, and men of science are appealed to."

Beginning with 1842, M. de Quatrefages made a number of scientific voyages along the coasts of the ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, and in Italy and Sicily, which furnished him with the materials for a series of brilliant articles in the "Revue des Deux Mondes," some of which were afterward published (1854) in a volume entitled "Souvenirs d'un Naturaliste" ("Recollections of a Naturalist"). This was published in London in 1857 as "Rambles of a Naturalist on the Coasts of France, Spain, and Sicily." Among other works which he has published on subjects of general zoölogy are, translating the titles: "Considerations on the Zoölogical Characteristics of the Rodents" (1840); "On the Organization of the Invertebrate Animals of the Coasts of the British Channel" (in the "Annales des Sciences Naturelles," 1844); "Researches on the Nervous System, the Embryogeny, the Sensory Organs, and the Circulation of the Annelids" (ibid., 1844–1850); "On the Affinities and the Analogies of Earth-Worms and Leeches" (ibid., 1852); "On the Natural History of the Teredos" (ibid., 1848 and 1849). Invited by the Academy of Sciences to investigate the silk-worm disease, he published in 1859 "Studies," and in 1860 "New Researches on the Present Diseases of Silk-Worms." "Natural History of Marine and Fresh-Water Annelids" (1866); and "La Rochelle and its Environs" (1876). The later studies of M. de Quatrefages have been more predominantly in the direction of anthropology; and it is as an anthropologist that he is best known. In "The Human Species," which appeared in 1879, he took distinct ground in favor of the unity of the race.

The question whether there exists a fundamental distinction between man and animals he answered in the affirmative, and justified his position by the three considerations that man has the perception of moral good and evil, independently of all physical welfare and suffering; that man believes in superior beings who can exercise an influence over his destiny; and that he believes in the prolongation of his existence after this life. The author's idea of the moral and religious quality in man is conveyed in the sentence, "The learned mathematician, who seeks by the aid of the most profound abstractions the solution of some great problem, is completely without the moral or religious sphere into which, on the contrary, the ignorant, simple-minded man enters when he struggles, suffers, or dies for justice or for his faith." The different colors of men are regarded as results of accidental variations. Concerning the origin of the human species, M. de Quatrefages does not hesitate to reply in the negative to the question whether it is possible to explain the appearance on our globe of a being "which forms a kingdom to itself." Concerning his attitude on this and kindred subjects, Mr. W. L. Distant remarks, in "Nature," that "it is to be noted how such an eminent naturalist as our author is still opposed to Darwinism, which in this section receives copious treatment, and some of the grounds principally given for its rejection are to many minds who embrace it the reasons of their faith." In treating of the psychological characteristics of the human species, M. de Quatrefages combats some of the views advanced by Sir John Lubbock, and criticises the common disposition to regard all sense of honesty as absent in certain races, as assuming too much on insufficient data. He says, on this point: "Nothing is more common than to hear travelers accuse entire races of an incorrigible propensity for theft. The insular populations of the South Seas have, among others, been reproached with it. These people, it is indignantly affirmed, stole even the nails of the ships! But these nails were iron, and in these islands, which are devoid of metal, a little iron was, with good cause, regarded as a treasure. Now, I ask any of my readers, supposing a ship with sheaths ing and bolts of gold, and nails of diamonds and rubies, were to sail into any European port, would its sheathing or its nails be safe?" In a paper on "The Crossing of the Human Races," which was published in "The Popular Science Monthly" for June, 1880, M. de Quatrefages took distinct ground, in opposition to the views of most of his fellow anthropologists, that mixture of stocks, where the environment is favorable to its full operation and development, is for good. But he bears in mind that "the aggregation of physical conditions does not in itself alone constitute the environment. Social and moral condition have an equal part in it." If real marriages take place between the races, he adds, and their offspring are placed upon a footing of equality with the mass of the population, "they are quite able to reach the general level, and sometimes to display superior qualities. All of my studies on this question have brought me to the conclusion that the mixture of races has in the past had a great part in the constitution of a large number of actual populations. It is also clear to me that its part in the future will not be less considerable. . . . The people of mixed blood already constitute a considerable part of the population of certain states, and their number is large enough to entitle them to be taken notice of in the population of the whole world." He concludes this paper with the obervation that the facts cited in it show that man is everywhere the same, and that his passions and instincts are independent of the differences that distinguish the human groups.

Other works of M. de Quatrefages are: "Comparative Physiology; Metamorphoses of Man and Animals" (1862); "The Polynesians and their Migrations" (1860); "Report on the Progress of Anthropology" (1867); "Darwin and his French Precursors" (1870); "The Prussian Race" (1871); and "Crania Ethnica," an important work prepared by him in connection with M. Hamy.