Imágenes de páginas

And what is still more surprising is that all these animals did not live at one and the same epoch; that there were several generations, several populations, so to speak, successively created and destroyed. Of these M. Cuvier has counted as many as three distinctly marked. The first comprised the mollusks, the fishes, the reptiles, all those monstrous reptiles just spoken of; among them were already found some marine mammifers, but no terrestrial mammifer, or scarcely any, then existed. The second epoch was chiefly characterized by those strange species of pachydermata of the environs of Paris, above mentioned, and it was now only that the terrestrial mammifers began to predominate. The third was the epoch of the mammoth, the mastodon, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus, the gigantic sloths. A remarkable fact is that among all these animals there is scarcely one of the quadrumana ; scarcely one of the ape tribe. * And still more remarkable, there was no man; the human race therefore was neither cotemporaneous with any of these lost species nor with the catastrophes which destroyed them t

Thus, then, after the age of reptiles, after that of the first terrestrial mammifers, after that of the mammoths and mastodons, arrived a fourth epoch, a fourth succession of created beings, that which constitutes the actual population, that which may be called the age of man, for from this age only dates the human species. The creation of the animal kingdom, therefore, has undergone several interruptions, several successive destructions; and what is not less wonderful, though altogether certain, is, that there was an epoch, the first of all, when no organized being, no animal, no vegetable existed on the globe.

All these extraordinary facts are demonstrated by the relations of the remains of organized beings to the strata which form the crust of the globe. Thus there was a first epoch when these beings did not exist, for the primitive or primordial formations contain none of their remains; the reptiles prevailed in the following epoch, for their remains abound in the formations which succeed the primitive; the surface of the earth has been several times covered by the seas, and again left dry, for the remains of marine animals cover turn by turn the remains of terrestrial animals and are alternately covered by them.

Thus has science, guided by genius, been enabled to ascend to the most remote epochs of the history of the earth ; to compute and determine those epochs; to mark both the first moment when organized beings appeared on the globe, and all the variations, modifications, and revolutions they have experienced. It were uujust, doubless, to convey the impression that all the proofs of this great history have been collected by M. Cuvier; but even where others after him have made discoveries in the same field, some portion of glory must redound to him by whose footsteps they have been gnided. It may be said, indeed, that the more valuable those discoveries, the more important all those which shall be made in the future, the more will his renown be enhanced, even as the name of Columbus bas been exalted in proportion as the navigators who have come after him have rendered better known the whole extent of his conquest.

This unknown world opened to naturalists is undoubtedly the most brilliant discovery of M. Cuvier. Yet I do not hesitate to place beside it that other discovery, in my eyes not less important, of the true method in natural history.

The need of methods to our understanding arises equally from the need it has of distinguishing in order to know, and the need it has of generalizing what it knows in order to be able to embrace and clearly to conceive the greatest possi

* Since the above was written some remains of apes have been found among fossil bones. See Hist. des travaux de M. Cuvier.

+ More recent investigations have led to a different conclusion; from these it seems to have been established that the appearance of man upon earth must be carried back much further than bas been generally supposed ; that he witnessed more than one of the catastrophes alluded to, and was obliged to dispute his mundane inheritance with several of the gigantic or ferocious animals of the "third epoch." See Sinithsonian Report for 1867, “ Man as a cotem. porary of the mammoth, &c.”—TR.

ble number of facts and of ideas. All method has, therefore, a double object, namely, the distinction, and the generalization of facts. Now, till M. Cuvier's method had been limited to separating and distinguishing; it was he who made of it, as I have already said, an instrument of generalization, by which he has rendered a lasting service not only to natural history, but, I venture to assert, to all the sciences.

For method, understanding thereby the true method, is essentially one. Its object everywhere is to raise itself to the most general relations, to the most simple expression of things, and in such sort that all these relations shall spring one from the other, and all from particular facts which are the origin and source of them. It is this which Bacon meant when he said that all our sciences are but generalized facts, a phrase which admirably denotes the process followed by M. Cuvier.

This generalization of facts was, in effect, the potent instrument by which he created the science of fossil remains ; by which he renewed, in every part, geology and comparative anatomy; by wlich he was enabled, in every order of facts, to pursue them to their principle, and their ultimate principle, carrying zoological classification to its rational principle, the subordination of organs; founding the reconstruction of extinct animals on the principle of the correlation of forms; demonstrating the necessity of certain intervals, certain interruptions in the scale of beings, by the very impossibility of certain coexistencies, of certain combinations of organs. It is in this habit of his intellect of ascending in everything to a principle unassailable and demonstrated that we must seck the secret of that inimitable clearness which he sheds over all the subjects of which he treats; for clearness results in all cases from the ordering of the thoughts and the unbroken chain of their inter-dependence. It is in this habit, moreover, that we find the reason why his opinions, in every kind, are so fixed, so final; it is because he never contents himself with isolated and fortuitous relations, but, always ascends to those which are necessary, and of these allows none to escape him.

In M. Cuvier two things equally strike us: the extreme precocity of his views, for it was by his first memoir on the class termes of Linnæus that he reformed not only that class, but, through it, the whole of zoology; it was by his first course of comparative anatomy that he recast the entire science and re-established it on a new basis; it was by his first memoir on fossil elephants that he laid the foundation of a science wholly new, the science of extinct animals; and again, that spirit of sequence, of perseverance, of undiverted constancy, by which le developed and fertilized his views, consecrating an entire life to establish, to demonstrate them, to mature them by experiment, to transform them finally from simple views, fruits of a bold conception, of a sudden inspiration, into truths of fact and observation.

If we follow this celebrated man in the different paths he has traced, we find throughout those dominant qualities of his genius, order, comprehensiveness, elevation of thought, clearness, precision, force of expression. We find all these qualities united to a style still more animated, varied, and forcible in those Eloges Historiques which long formed so large a part of the charm and éclat of the public meetings of the academy. On these memoirs praise has been already lavishly bestowed, nor would it be easy too highly to extol the spirit and animation which diffuse through them so much movement and life; the art of so piquantly recomnting an anecdote or painting a characteristic; the vigor of conception which binds all the parts of the discourse into a whole so compactly put together that it might seem to have been created at a single stroke; the singular aptitude, in fine, to rise to the most varied and comprehensive considerations and to depict so many different personages in a manner equally just and striking. If examined with somewhat closer attention we remark, and with perhaps even greater pleasure, the same sagacity of observation, the same analogical subtlety,

the same art of comparing and subordinating, of ascending to the ultimate generalization of facts, here transferred to another field; and, in addition to all this, those luminous and penetrating touches which suddenly arrest the attention of the reader and transport him to the level of an elevated order of ideas.

M. Cuvier seems, in effect, to have been destined to give a new character to whatever passed through his hands. Into his instructions upon

natural history he introduced those philosophic and general views which had scarcely before penetrated to the schools. In his eloquent lectures the history of the sciences became the history of the human mind itself, for in going back to the causes of their

progress and their errors he was always careful to point out that those causes were to be found in the right or the wrong processes which the human mind had pursued. It was here that, to use one of his own happy expressions, he submitted the human mind to experiment, showing, by the whole testimony of the history of the sciences, that the most ingenious hypotheses, the most brilliant systems, do but pass and disappear, and that facts alone remain; opposing everywhere to the methods of speculation, which have never produced any durable result, the methods of observation and experiment, to which we owe all the discoveries and all the real knowledge which constitute the actual heritage of mankind.

Ah! in what mouth could these great results, drawn from the history of science that erperimental theory of the human mind, if I may so speak-have more authority than in his? Who has shown himself more constantly attached to observation, to experiment, to the rigorous study of facts, while at the same time enriching his era with truths the most novel and sublime ?

Since men have observed with precision, and have pursued experiment in a consecutive manner, a space of some two centuries, they ought, it would seem, to have renounced the mania of seeking to divine, instead of observing ; for, in the first place, it must prove wearisome in the long run to be always divining unskilfully; and, in the next place, it should by this time have been recognized that what we imagine is always below what really exists, and that, in a word, and to consider only the brilliant side of our theories, the marvellous of the imagination is always very far from approaching the marvellous of nature.

The delivery of M. Cuvier was in general grave, and even somewhat slow, especially towards the opening of his lectures; but soon his utterance became animated by the movement of his thoughts, and then this movement, communicated by the thought to the expression, the penetrating voice, the inspiration of his genius reflected in his eyes and on his features, all conspired to produce upon his audience the most vivid and profound impression. One felt exalted even less by those grand and unexpected ideas which shone throughout than by a certain force of conception and of thought which seemed by turns to arouse and penetrate the mind of the hearer. Into the career of the professor he carried the same character of invention as into the career of research and discovery. After having remodelled the school of comparative anatomy at the Jardin des Plantes, we have seen him convert a simple chair of natural history at the College of France into a true chair of the philosophy of the sciences: two creations which well portray his genius, and which in the eyes of posterity must reflect honor on our age.

M. Cuvier has left memoirs of his life, designed, as he himself writes, for him who should have to pronounce his eulogy before this Academy. The care which he has thus taken in favor of my auditory makes it imperative on me to add some details taken from those memoirs : "I have composed (he says in beginning) so many éloges historiques that there is no presumption in thinking that some one will compose mine, and knowing by experience what it costs the authors of this sort of writings to become informed respecting the life of those of whom they have to speak, I wish to spare that trouble to him who shall occupy himself with my own. Linnæus, Tenon, and others, perhaps, have not judged this

attention to be beneath them, and they have therein rendered a service to the history of the sciences. These (he continues) are respectable examples, and which I may oppose to those who shall tax me on this point with a trifling vanity.”

Ho did not foresee that the details of his life were destined to become so popular that he who should have the honor of pronouncing his eulogy would scarcely dare to reproduce them.

George Cuvier* was born August 23, 1769, at Montbéliard, a city then belonging to the duchy of Wurtemberg, but which has since been reunited to France. His family was originally from a village of the Jura which still bears the name of Cuvier. At the era of the Reformation it had established itself in the little principality of Montbéliard, where some of its members have filled distinguished places. The grandfather of M. Cuvier was of one of the poorer branches; he was town clerk. Of two sons whom he had, the second entered a Swiss regiment in the service of France, and having become, through good conduct and bravery, an officer and chevalier of the order of merit, married, at the age of fifty years, a woman still quite young, and whose memory should be dear to posterity, for she was the mother of Cuvier, and, moreover, his first preceptor.

A woman of superior mind, a mother full of tenderness, the instruction of her son soon became her whole occupation. Although she did not know Latin, she made him repeat his lessons; execute his drawings under her eyes; read to her many books of history and literature, and it was thus that she developed, that she nourished in her young pupil that passion for reading, and that curiosity about all things, which, as M. Cuvier himself says in the memoirs intrusted to me, had formed the mainspring of his life.

At an early age there was seen in this child that prodigious aptitude for all mental labor, which still later formed one of the distinctive traits of his genius. Everything aroused, everything excited his activity. A copy of Buffon, which he finds by chance in the library of one of his relations, suddenly kindles his taste for natural history. He immediately sets about copying the figures and coloring them from the descriptions—a labor which, at so early an age, certainly denoted a sagacity of observation of a high order.

The residence of the young Cuvier at the academy of Stuttgard is too well known to be long dwelt upon. The sovereign of a small state, Charles, duke of Wur. temberg, seemed to have proposed to show to the greatest nations what they might do for the instruction of youth. There were here collected in a magnificent establishment more than 400 pupils, who received the lessons of more than 80 masters. Here were trained, at the same time, painters, sculptors, musicians, diplomatists, jurists, physicians, soldiers, professors in all the sciences. Of the higher faculties there were five: law, medicine, administration, military art, and commerce. The course of philosophy finished, the pupils passed into one of these faculties. Cuvier chose that of administration, and the motive he assigns for it should be reported: “It was," he says, “ because in this faculty there was much to do with natural history, and, consequently, frequent opportunities of herborizing and of visiting the cabinets."

Everything in the life of a great man interests us, but doubly so whatever serves to throw light on the process of his labors. We would gladly follow him through the whole course which he has traversed in changing the face of the sciences, and even from his earliest steps would divine something of the direction and character of his thoughts. It has just been seen that our naturalist, yet a child, at sight of the first figures of natural history which fall into his hands, at once conceives the idea of coloring them after the descriptions. While still at Stuttgard one of the professors, whose lectures he had translated into French, makes him a present of Linnæus. It was the tenth edition of the Système de la nature, and this book forms, for ten years, his whole library of natural history. But, in default of books, he had the objects; and this direct, exclusive study

* His name in full was Georges Léopold Chrétien Frederic Dagobert.

of the objects engraved them much better in his mind than if, to use his own expression, he had had at his disposal any number of prints and descriptions. Besides, having neither figures nor descriptions he made them for himself.

Still, all these excursions into natural history had not interfered with the prescribed studies; he had borne off almost all the prizes ; had obtained the order of cheralier which was accorded to only five or six of all those young persons ; and, according to appearances, he might have promptly obtained an appointment. But, fortunately for him and for natural history-and these two destinies were thenceforth inseparable—the situation of his parents did not permit him to wait. It was necessary for him to decide, and the place of preceptor having been offered to him by a family of Norinandy at the moment when he was quitting Stuttgard, he hastened to accept it, and at once set out for Caen, where he arrived July, 1788, being then something less than 19 years of age. .

From this moment his passion for natural history acquired new force. The family of Herici, to which he was attached, went to reside at a country seat of Caus, a short distance from Fécamp. It was here that our young naturalist lived from 91 to 94, surrounded, as he says, with the most diversified products, lavished upon him, as if in emulation, by the sea and land ; always in the midst of such objects, almost without books, having no one to whom he could communicate his reflections, which, therefore, only acquired the greater depth and energy. It was at this period, in effect, that his mind began to open for itself new paths; it was then that at the sight of some terebratulæ, disinterred near Fécamp, he conceived the idea of comparing fossil with living species; that the dissection of some mollusks suggested to him that other idea of a reform to be introduced in the methodical distribution of animals; so that the germs of his two most important labors, the comparison of fossil with living species, and the reform of the classification of the animal kingdom, ascend to this epoch.

From this epoch also date his first relations with M. Tessier, whom the storms of the revolution then retained at Fécamp, and who had there occupied for some time the place of physician-in-chief of the military hospital. M. Tessier conld not see the young Cuvier without being struck with the extent of his knowledge. He first engaged him to deliver a course of botany to the physicians of his hospital ; le afterwards wrote to all his friends in Paris to impart to them the happy discovery which he had made, and especially to those of the Jardin des Plantes, who at once conceived the idea of calling the young naturalist thither as assistant of Mertrud, then in charge of the department of comparative anatomy. “Often,” says M. •Cuvier, in reference to this circumstance, “ has a phrase of M. Tessier, in his letter to M. de Jussieu, recurred to me: You remember, he said, that it was I who gave Delambre to the academy; in another walk this also will be a Delambre.It was to M. Tessier, therefore, that the Acarlemy of Sciences owed both Delambre and Cuvier. A man who should have rendered but these two services to the sciences might count on the respect and gratitude of all who cultivate them. But how much more vividly do such incidents touch us when they embellish a life wholly consecrated to science, its progress and application, and spent in a long succession of useful labors and virtuous actions !

It was said by Fontenelle to be a piece of good fortune on the part of savants, whom their reputation might afterwards call to the capital, to have had leisure to lay up a good stock of funds in the repose of a province. M. Cuvier's stock was so good that some months after his arrival in Paris, in 1795, his reputation alreally equalled that of the most celebrated naturalists, and the same year, which was also that of the creation of the National Institute, he was named adjunct of Daubenton and Lacépède, who formed the nucleus of the section of zoology. The year following be commenced the courses which became so rapidly celebrated at the central school of the Pantheon. In 1799, the death of Daubenton led to his appointment to the much more important chair of natural history at the college of France; and, in 1802, Mertrud being dead, he became titular professor at the Jarilin des Plantes.

« AnteriorContinuar »