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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Born at Montbard in Burgundy on the 7th of September


Fleurens truly said, " Bufon aggrandizes every subject he touches." Born at Montbard in Burgundy on the 7th of September, 1707, Buffon belonged to a family of wealth and consideration in his province. In his youth he travelled over Europe with his friend the Duke of Kingston; on returning home, he applied himself at first to mathematics, with sufficient success to be appointed at twenty-six years of age, in 1733, adjunct in the mechanical class at the Academy of Sciences. In 1739, he received the superintendence of the _Jardin du Roi,_ not long since enlarged and endowed by Richelieu, and lovingly looked after by the scholar Dufay, who had just died, himself designating Buffon as his successor. He had shifted from mechanics to botany, "not," he said, "that he was very fond of that science, which he had learned and forgotten three times," but he was aspiring just then to the _Jardin du Roi;_ his genius was yet seeking its proper direction. "There are some things for me," he wrote to President De Brosses, "but there are some against, and especially my age; however, if people would but reflect, they would see that the superintendence of the _Jardin du Roi_ requires an active young man, who can stand the sun, who is conversant with plants and knows the way to make them multiply, who is a bit of a connoisseur in all the sorts used in demonstration there, and above all who understands buildings, in such sort that, in my own heart, it appears to me that I should be exactly made for
them: but I have not as yet any great hope."

[Illustration: Buffon 323]

In Buffon's hands the _Jardin du Roi_ was transformed; in proportion as his mind developed, the requirements of the study appeared to him greater and greater; he satisfied them fearlessly, getting together collections at his own expense, opening new galleries, constructing hot-houses, being constantly seconded by the good-will of Louis XV., who never shrank from expenses demanded by Buffon's projects. The great naturalist died at eighty years of age, without having completed his work; but he had imprinted upon it that indisputable stamp of greatness which was the distinctive feature of his genius. The _Jardin du Roi,_ which became the _Jardin des Plantes,_ has remained unique in Europe.

Fully engaged as he was in those useful labors, from the age of thirty, Buffon gave up living at Paris for the greater part of the year. He had bought the ruins of the castle of Montbard, the ancient residence of the Dukes of Burgundy, overlooking his native town. He had built a house there which soon became dear to him, and which he scarcely ever left for eight months in the year. There it was, in a pavilion which overhung the garden planted in terraces, and from which he had a view of the rich plains of La Brenne, that the great naturalist, carefully dressed by five o'clock in the morning, meditated the vast plan of his works as he walked from end to end and side to side. "I passed delightful hours there," he used to say. When he summoned his secretary, the work of composition was completed. "M. de Buffon gives reasons for the preference he shows as to every word in his discourses, without excluding from the discussion even the smallest particles, the most insignificant conjunctions," says Madame Necker; "he never forgot that he had written 'the style is the man.' The language could not be allowed to derogate from the majesty of the subject. 'I made it a rule,' he used to say, 'to always fix upon the noblest expressions.'"

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