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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The Sorbonne had reason to compliment the great naturalist


It

was in this dignified and studious retirement that Buffon quietly passed his long life. "I dedicated," he says, " twelve, nay, fourteen, hours to study; it was my whole pleasure. In truth, I devoted myself to it far more than I troubled myself about fame; fame comes afterwards, if it may, and it nearly always does."

Buffon did not lack fame; on the appearance of the first three volumes of his "Histoire naturelle," published in 1749, the breadth of his views, the beauty of his language, and the strength of his mind excited general curiosity and admiration. The Sorbonne was in a flutter at certain bold propositions; Buffon, without being disconcerted, took pains to avoid condemnation. "I took the liberty," he says in a letter to M. Leblant, "of writing to the Duke of Nivernais (then ambassador at Rome), who has replied to me in the most polite and most obliging way in the world; I hope, therefore, that my book will not be put in the Index, and, in truth, I have done all I could not to deserve it and to avoid theological squabbles, which I fear far more than I do the criticisms of physicists and geometricians." "Out of a hundred and twenty assembled doctors," he adds before long, "I had a hundred and fifteen, and their resolution even contains eulogies which I did not expect." Despite certain boldnesses which had caused anxiety, the Sorbonne had reason to compliment the great naturalist. The unity of the human race as well as its superior

dignity were already vindicated in these first efforts of Buffon's genius, and his mind never lost sight of this great verity. "In the human species," he says, "the influence of climate shows itself only by slight varieties, because this species is one, and is very distinctly separated from all other species; man, white in Europe, black in Africa, yellow in Asia, and red in America, is only the same man tinged with the hue of climate; as he is made to reign over the earth, as the whole globe is his domain, it seems as if his nature were ready prepared for all situations; beneath the fires of the south, amidst the frosts of the north, he lives, he multiplies, he is found to be so spread about everywhere from time immemorial that he appears to affect no climate in particular. . . . Whatever resemblance there may be between the Hottentot and the monkey, the interval which separates them is immense, since internally he is garnished with mind and externally with speech."

Buffon continued his work, adroitly availing himself of the talent and researches of the numerous co-operators whom he had managed to gather about him, directing them all with indefatigable vigilance in their labors and their observations. "Genius is but a greater aptitude for perseverance," he used to say, himself justifying his definition by the assiduity of his studies. "I had come to the sixteenth volume of my work on natural history," he writes with bitter regret, "when a serious and long illness interrupted for nearly two years the course of my labors. This shortening of my life, already far advanced, caused one in my works. I might, in the two years I have lost, have produced two or three volumes of the history of birds, without abandoning for that my plan of a history of minerals, on which I have been engaged for several years."


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