1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lacépède, Bernard Germain Étienne de la Ville, Compte de

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16
Lacépède, Bernard Germain Étienne de la Ville, Compte de

LACÉPÈDE, BERNARD GERMAIN ÉTIENNE DE LA VILLE, Comte de (1756–1825), French naturalist, was born at Agen in Guienne on the 26th of December 1756. His education was carefully conducted by his father, and the early perusal of Buffon’s Natural History awakened his interest in that branch of study, which absorbed his chief attention. His leisure he devoted to music, in which, besides becoming a good performer on the piano and organ, he acquired considerable mastery of composition, two of his operas (which were never published) meeting with the high approval of Gluck; in 1781–1785 he also brought out in two volumes his Poétique de la musique. Meantime he wrote two treaties, Essai sur l’électricité (1781) and Physique générale et particulière (1782–1784), which gained him the friendship of Buffon, who in 1785 appointed him sub-demonstrator in the Jardin du Roi, and proposed to him to become the continuator of his Histoire naturelle. This continuation was published under the titles Histoire des quadrupèdes ovipares et des serpents (2 vols., 1788–1789) and Histoire naturelle des reptiles (1789). After the Revolution Lacépède became a member of the legislative assembly, but during the Reign of Terror he left Paris, his life having become endangered by his disapproval of the massacres. When the Jardin du Roi was reorganized as the Jardin des Plantes, Lacépède was appointed to the chair allocated to the study of reptiles and fishes. In 1798 he published the first volume of Histoire naturelle des poissons, the fifth volume appearing in 1803; and in 1804 appeared his Histoire des cétacés. From this period till his death the part he took in politics prevented him making any further contribution of importance to science. In 1799 he became a senator, in 1801 president of the senate, in 1803 grand chancellor of the legion of honour, in 1804 minister of state, and at the Restoration in 1819 he was created a peer of France. He died at Épinay on the 6th of October 1825. During the latter part of his life he wrote Histoire générale physique et civile de l’Europe, published posthumously in 18 vols., 1826.

A collected edition of his works on natural history was published in 1826.