From the introduction:
Jean-Baptiste-Pierre-Antoine de Monet de Lamarck was born on Aug. 1st, 1744, at Byzantine, a village in Picardy, now known as the Department of the Somme. He was the eleventh and youngest child of his parents and belonged to a family of nobility that had for generations past been devoted to military pursuits.
A number of his brothers carried on the family tradition by entering the French army, but Jean himself was destined by his father for an ecclesiastical career and was entered as a student at the Jesuit College at Amiens.
Yet he himself had no inclination to the calling desired by his father; and on the death of the latter in 1760, he made immediate use of his new liberty to leave the Jesuit College and join the French army, which was then in Germany, near the end of the Seven Years' War. He bought a horse and rode through France and part of Germany until he reached the French lines on the eve of the Battle of Fissingshausen. He carried with him a letter of introduction to the colonel of one of the infantry regiments, and on the following morning placed himself in a company of Grenadiers. The battle of Fissingshausen was fought and lost: the French retreated: all the officers of Lamarck's company were killed, and the command fell upon him. His courage was such that his colonel took him that very evening to the Field Marshal, by whom he was appointed an officer.^
This at least is the story told by all of Lamarck's biographers. I venture nevertheless to suggest that it can hardly be accepted in an unquestioning way usually followed. The story is founded upon Cuvier's Eloge de M. de Lamarck, and that again is doubtless
Shortly afterwards Lamarck was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Peace being declared, he spent five years in garrison, first at Toulon, then at Monaco. While at Monaco, one of his comrades in horseplay lifted him up by the head. Inflammation of the lymphatic glands of the neck ensued.
He had to abandon his profession and proceeded to Paris, where after some delay a complicated operation was performed, which cured him at the expense of deep and permanent scars.^ Lamarck was now thrown upon the world at the age of 22, damaged in health, and with no other resources than a pension of 400 francs a year.
For a year he lived in a garret in Paris and earned a living as a clerk in a bank. Then he entered upon a course of medicine lasting, according to Bourquin, four years, during part of which time he lived with his eldest brother in a village near Paris. While in garrison, Lamarck had already acquired an interest in botany, and when studying medicine, developed his knowledge of it. It was through this means that he came into contact with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the two philosophers made botanical excursions together. It was possibly through Rousseau's influence that Lamarck thought of devoting himself entirely to music, but he was dissuaded by his brother. Botany, however, absorbed him to such an extent that he abandoned medicine, and entered upon a course of botanical study lasting ten years, at the end of which he published his Flore Francaise, with a preface by Daubenton.
France was now at the zenith of her philosophic career. Scientific and philosophic subjects were discussed even in the world of fashionable society: and the publication of Lamarck's work, in which also Buffoii had assisted, brought based upon a letter written by Lamarck's son in 1830, shortly after his death, giving Cuvier certain biographical particulars.
This letter was only published in 1909: I have read it, and find in it every disposition towards magnifying Lamarck's achievements and enhancing the family glory. I do not wish to throw doubt on a pleasing story : I merely wish to indicate that it comes from a distinctly biassed source, and scarcely justifies the confident relation of it hitherto given by Lamarck's biographers. ' This is Cuvier's account, which differs somewhat from that of Lamarck's son. LIFE xix him into immediate fame. In 1779 he was elected into the Academy of Sciences over the head of Descemet. Two years later Buffon obtained for Lamarck a commission from the king to visit a number of foreign botanical gardens and museums. In company with Buffon's son, he travelled through Germany, Hungary and Holland, collecting rare plants, meeting eminent foreign botanists, and making notes for the use of the Jardin du Roi at Paris. On his return in 1782, when he was 38, he still had no salaried position but was shortly afterwards appointed keeper of the Herbarium at the Jardin du Roi, with the wretched salary of 1000 francs a year. But even this position was very insecure, and in 1790 its suppression was recommended by the Comite des Finances to the Assemblee Nationale.
Lamarck published two pamphlets to emphasise the necessity for continuing the office; to state his own claims for being restored to it; and to submit to the Assemblee a general scheme for the reorganisation of the Jardin du Roi, by which it should become of general use to science, the arts and commerce.
The collection of invertebrate animals already accumulated at the Museum was immense, and Lamarck soon found that his share of the Animal Kingdom included by far the greater number of all existing species. His knowledge of zoology was limited to the sphere of conchology, where he had acquired some information, partly through intercourse with his friend Bruguiere, and partly through a collection of shells that he had formed for himself. From the date of his appointment, however, he practically abandoned botany and threw himself fervently into the study of invertebrate zoology. The results of his research were published in seven volumes in his great work Histoire Naturelle des Animaux sans vertebrates, 1815-1822. Lamarck's other works included a number of publications on meteorology, a subject in which he had taken an interest from early days when from his garret window at the top of a high house in Paris, he could see nothing but the clouds passing by and lay speculating on their varied shapes and movements
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