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Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

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Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

Smithsonian Institute Libraries

Early Life and Education:

Born September 7, 1707 - Died April 16, 1788

Georges Louis Leclerc was born on September 7, 1707 to Benjamin Francois Leclerc and Anne Cristine Marlin in Montbard, France. He was the eldest of five children born to the couple. Leclerc began his formal studies at the age of ten at the Jesuit College of Gordans in Dijon, France. He went on to study law at the University of Dijon in 1723 at the request of his socially influential father. However, his talent and love for mathematics pulled him to the University of Angers in 1728 where he created the binomial theorem. Unfortunately, he was expelled from the University in 1730 for being involved in a duel.

Personal Life:

The Leclerc family was very rich and influential in the country of France. His mother inherited a large sum of money and an estate called Buffon when Georges Louis was ten. He began using the name Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon at that time. His mother died shortly after he left the University and left all of her inheritance to Georges Louis. His father protested, but Georges Louis moved back to the family home in Montbard and was eventually made a count. He was then known as Comte de Buffon.

In 1752, Buffon married a much younger woman named Françoise de Saint-Belin-Malain. They had one son before she passed away at an early age. When he was older, their son was sent by Buffon on an exploration trip with Jean Baptiste Lamarck. Unfortunately, the boy was not interested in nature like his father and ended up just floating through life on his father's money until he was beheaded in the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Biography:

Beyond Buffon's contributions to the field of mathematics with his writings on probability, number theory, and calculus, he also wrote extensively on the origins of the Universe and the beginnings of life on Earth. While most of his work was influenced by Isaac Newton, he stressed that things like planets were not created by God, but rather through natural events.

Much like his theory on the origin of the Universe, the Comte de Buffon believed that the origin of life on Earth was also the result of natural phenomena. He worked hard to create his idea that life came from a heated oily substance that created organic matter fit the known laws of the Universe.

Buffon published a 36 volume work entitled Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière. Its assertion that life came from natural events rather than by God angered religious leaders. He continued to publish the works without changes.

Within his writings, the Comte de Buffon was the first to study what is now known as biogeography. He had noticed on his travels that even though various places had similar environments, they all had similar, but unique, wildlife that lived in them. He hypothesized that these species had changed, for better or for worse, as time had passed. Buffon even briefly considered the similarities between man and apes, but eventually rejected the idea that they were related.

Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon influenced Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace's ideas of Natural Selection. He incorporated ideas of "lost species" that Darwin studied and related to fossils. Biogeography is now often used as a form of evidence for the existence of evolution. Without his observations and early hypotheses, this field may not have gained traction within the scientific community.

However, not everyone was a fan of Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon. Besides the Church, many of his contemporaries were not impressed with his brilliance like many scholars were. Buffon's assertion that North America and its life were inferior to Europe enraged Thomas Jefferson. It took the hunting of a moose in New Hampshire for Buffon to retract his comments.

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