Not in Ferguson: The first work on the geology of Australia

Lamarck, J. B. P. A. de Monet de

Considérations sur quelques faits applicables à la théorie du globe, observés par M. Péron dans son voyage aux Terres Australes, et sur quelques questions géologiques qui naissent de la connoissance de ces faits.

Published 1805
Item ID 66970

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Paris, Levrault Schoell, et Cie., An XIII - 1805. 4to (27.5 x 21.3 cm). 27 pp. [numbered 26-52]. Original printed wrappers.

This work by the eminent French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) is very important for two reasons. First, it is the first work to contain observations on the geology of Australia, in particular answering the question whether a higher sea-level in past geological time was, or was not a global phenomenon. Lamarck received crucial information from the French naturalist and explorer François Péron (1775-1810), who was on board when the expedition by Baudin set sail with the ships Naturaliste and Geographe. Dispatched by Napoleon, the aim of the expedition was to investigate and possibly claim the unknown South-Land before the British. Péron sent his data before he himself and the appointed geologists of Baudin's expedition published their "official" accounts. The second reason why this paper is important to the history of science is that it contains the first version of Lamarck's own "theory of the earth" forming the basis for his evolution-theory and showing Lamarck's way of thinking and thus why his colleagues and competitors frowned upon his work. As Frederick Gregory pointed out: "To Lamarck hypothetical reasoning was a necessary piece of a scientist's equipment. Certainly one must not abuse the judicious application of hypotheses by creating a theory out of mid air - Lamarck was not one to condone lack of attention to fact and detail. But to refuse to generalize at all beyond the immediate testimony of the facts was an equally faulty scientific procedure: I believe that the course of silence is good for nothing. Every effort to lift the veil which hides nature's operations from us is useful. A mediocre idea often gives birth to a better one, and by force of trying one will perhaps obtain some success. All that is important in such circumstances is to give as certain only that which is clearly demonstrated'." Lamarck's Neptunean views were later proven to be wrong but they do form a basis for his famous theory of natural selection. Later challenged successfully by Darwin, it now appears from gene-data that several aspects of Lamarck's theory may in fact be operational in natural selection. This paper was published in the famous Annales du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle. With the original printed wrappers and accompanied by two other geological papers, by Faujas-Saint-Fond ( Voyage géologique à Oberstein), and by Vauclin ( Analyse des topazes de Saxe, de Sibérie et du Brésil). Uncut. Wrappers a bit frayed at edges, as usual with uncut items. Some scattered spotting, otherwise a very good, clean copy. F. Gregory, J.-B. Lamarck and the Philosophy of Nature in France (University of Florida edu website). Not in Ferguson.

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