Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/January 1902/Lamarck, The Founder of Evolution

1410998Popular Science Monthly Volume 60 January 1902 — Lamarck, The Founder of Evolution1902William Healey Dall


By Professor W. H. DALL.

IT is now nearly a century since Lamarck published the outlines of his theory of evolution by descent with modifications transmitted by heredity and initiated by dynamic impulses; originating in the mass of animals from the environment, and in the higher and more intelligent groups partly from within the developing organism itself.

Met by the ridicule and unfriendly criticisms of the 'creationists,' which were the more generally accepted on account of the modesty, retiring disposition and aversion to controversy of Lamarck himself, handicapped by the blindness and poverty of his later years, his views have been little known in their true shape, and the majority of naturalists have been content to receive them in the garbled form in which they were presented by those who rejected them. Theoretical, as the conditions of science at the time made obligatory; in some respects with our present light obviously erroneous; the philosophy of Lamarck nevertheless contained also a body of opinion substantially in harmony with the evolutionary ideas of Spencer and Darwin, and which has been established by the work of modern students of nature, among the axioms of science.

It was then a pious task which Professor Packard undertook, to present in its true form the zoological philosophy of this venerable pioneer, that the present generation of philosophers might learn their obligations to him. To this sympathetic exposition of Lamarck's views the author has prefixed a summary of the meager details in regard to his private life and public services, which a careful search has been able to discover; illustrated them by pictures of the house in which Lamarck was born, and that in which most of his work was done and where he died, adding a facsimile from his manuscript. Finally a chapter has been added in which the revival of Lamarckian ideas among an influential body of modern students is summarized.

Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck was born August 1, 1744, at Bazentin-le-Petit, Department of the Somme, near Longueval. His mother was Marie Françoise de Fontaine. His family belonged to an ancient race of the minor nobility of Béarn. On the death of his father in 1760, he joined the French army, then campaigning in Germany. Almost immediately afterward he achieved distinction and was named an officer on the field, for especially gallant conduct at the battle of Fissinghausen in Westphalia. He soon became a lieutenant but an injury inflicted by a brother officer at play obliged him to retire to Paris for surgical aid and to leave the army. He attempted to study medicine, served as clerk in a bank and made himself acquainted with botany to which finally he gave his whole attention under Bernard de Jussieu for some ten years, when he published his 'Flore Française' which gave him at once a national reputation. Through the influence of Buffon he obtained a post in the Academy of Sciences, and, as companion to Buffon's son, traveled on the continent in Germany, Hungary and Holland, visiting museums and making botanical collections. After his return Buffon's successor appointed him keeper of the herbarium in the Royal Botanical Garden with a stipend of 1,000 francs, which was later raised to 1,800 francs. Tn 1793 the establishment was reorganized as the Museum of Natural History and in the midst of the revolution, under the new conditions the botanist Lamarck was appointed to a professorship of zoology, in charge of the collection of invertebrate animals, the other zoological professorship, involving the care of the vertebrate collections being assigned to Etienne Geoffroy St. Hilaire, a devoted friend of Lamarck and like him an evolutionist. Lamarck, now fifty years old, married a second time, with six children, received a suite of rooms in the Maison de Buffon attached to the garden, and a salary of 2,868 livres. Here he remained, lectured and worked, until blindness overtook him about 1821, when the last volume of the Animaux sans Vertébres prepared from his dictation by his devoted daughter, Cornélie, was presented to the assembly of professors attached to the establishment. He died in the Maison de Buffon, December 28, 1829, and was buried in a temporary grave in the cemetery of Mont Parnasse. His bones, mingled with those of a thousand others, lie somewhere in the catacombs of Paris. To the adversities suffered in life was added the delegation by the academy of the preparation of his memorial éloge to Cuvier, his most determined opponent in the ranks of the 'creationists.' While destitute of low malice this memoir, conceived in a spirit of contempt for Lamarck's philosophical theories, has done much to obscure his merits and place him in a false light before posterity. That the present volume may vindicate his reputation and lead to a more impartial estimate of the work of this truly great naturalist and admirable man, may confidently be predicted; as even those who differ from Lamarck's conception of environmental and dynamic factors in evolution must feel obliged to recognize much in other phases of his philosophy which now forms the common property of science, but which Lamarck was among the first to advance and which he maintained steadily, in spite of ridicule and incredulity, to the end of his days.

  1. Lamarck, the founder of evolution, his life and work, by Alpheus S. Packard, M.D., LL.D. Longmans Green and Co., New York, 1901. Pp. xiv+ 451, 8º, ills.