September 30, 2011

Possible Worlds: The Most Respectable Animal in the World

The missionary mating practice of the elephant, as imagined by the French naturalist Buffon.

No single person had a greater impact on naturalist thought in 18th-century Europe than Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Published over the course of four decades (1749–1788), his 44-volume Histoire Naturelle attempted to chronicle and synthesize all biological knowledge. His work was widely read among the educated classes and translated into many languages. On the strength of his colorful descriptions and the fanciful illustrations of his artists, Buffon painted an awesome, if anthropomorphic, view of the world. At the same time, he was the first naturalist (of the modern era) to suggest a common ancestry between humans and apes; he believed that the earth was 3,000,000 years old; and he noted organic change in the universe. 
"If the human species be excepted, the elephant is the most respectable animal in the world. In size he surpasses all of the terrestrial creatures; and, by his intelligence he makes as near an approach to man as matter can approach spirit."

1 comment:

Jake said...

This is amazing! Great drawings, and his theories on evolution prove that a beautiful imagination can be just as useful as a rigorous scientific method.