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Buffon, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte

natural species range time

(Count) de [büfõ] (1707–88) French naturalist and polymath: surveyed much of biology and had early ideas on evolution of species.

Buffon’s mother was wealthy and, despite his father’s desire that Buffon should study law, it is likely that he studied medicine and mathematics. A duel made him leave France in 1730 for 2 years, but on his return he became active in scientific and financial circles; he was highly energetic and both increased his fortune and contributed to most of the sciences of the time. His range was vast; he translated into French, introduced calculus into probability theory, and worked on microscopy, tensile strength, cosmology and geology, and the origin of life. His ideas were non-theological, rational and ahead of their time, if not always correct. From 1739 he was in charge of the Jardin du Roi, the natural history museum and botanical garden of Paris, which he much improved and enlarged. His vast and beautifully illustrated Natural History (44 vols by 1804) attempted to provide a survey of the natural world and was much esteemed. In it he noted that animal species are not fixed but show variation, and he recognized vestigial features such as the pig’s toes, a contribution to later theories of evolution, together with his view of ‘common ancestors’ for similar species. He devised some eccentric experiments: for example to check the legend that fired the Roman fleet with mirrors and the Sun’s rays when ‘distant by a bowshot’ he used 168 mirrors, and ignited timber at 50 m range.

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