Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/115

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.


SKETCH OF LAMARCK.

THERE are two classes of scholars. Those of the one class, who travel in the footsteps of their predecessors, increase the domain of knowledge, and add new discoveries to those that were made before them; their labors are immediately appreciated, and they enjoy their well-earned fame in full measure. Others, who leave the trodden ways, emancipate themselves from traditions, and expose to the light of the sun the germs of future discovery which lie buried in the teachings of the present. Sometimes they are appreciated at their full value during their lifetime, but more frequently they pass away, misunderstood by the scientific public of their time, which is incapable of comprehending and following them. Indolence, routine, and ignorance oppose an invincible resistance against them during their career, and they die isolated and forsaken. In the mean time, science advances, facts increase, methods are perfected, and their contemporaries who survive them gradually come up to the mark they had left. Then all their forgotten services are brought into the light, justice is partly done to their labors, their genius is admired, it is recognized that they foresaw the future, and a tardy posthumous fame comforts their pupils for the neglect which the masters had to endure during the years of vain struggle for the triumph of the truth.

Lamarck belonged to both of these classes. By his descriptive labors in botany and zoölogy, and by the improvements which he introduced in the classification of animals, and which were accepted by his contemporaries, he gained a first place among the naturalists of his time; but his philosophical views on organic beings in general were rejected, and did not even enjoy the honor of a sincere testing. They were only accorded a polite silence, or treated with scornful irony.

Jean Baptist Pierre Antoine de Monet, known as the Chevalier de Lamarck, was born on the 1st of August, 1744, at Bazentin, a little town between Albert and Bapaume, in Picardy. He was the eleventh child of Pierre de Monet, lord of the manor, who was descended from an old family in the county Béarn, and called only a small hereditary estate his own. His father had designed him for the church, then the common destination for the younger sons of noble families, and took him to the Jesuit college at Amiens. This, however, was not the natural vocation of our young nobleman. Everything in his family associations inclined his mind toward military fame. His eldest brother had fallen in the breach at the siege of Berg-op-Zoom; the other two brothers were still in the service, while France was exhausting its forces in an unequal contest. His father opposed his wishes on this point; but, when the father died, Lamarck, following his own inclina-