Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hillaire (1772-1844)

Colleague and protege of Lamarck who expanded and defended his evolutionary theories. Geoffroy became a professor of vertebrate zoology at the Muséum d'histoire naturelle at age 21 and initially avoided theoretical issues. Geoffroy's interest in the species question increased after he accompanied Napoleon during a military campaign in Egypt from 1798 through 1801. Unlike the thoroughly materialistic Lamarck, Geoffroy's views had a transcendental flavor and were paralleled by those of German ideal morphologists like Oken. Even though Geoffroy helped Cuvier obtain a position at the Muséum and collaborated with him as late as 1804, the two had a major falling out that erupted into public view with Geoffroy's transformist account of a fossil crocodile in 1825. The two engaged in a famous debate in 1830. Despite the later ascendance of Cuvier's disciples Owen and Agassiz in the 1840's and 50's, during the 1830's Geoffroy's views gained considerable support among radicals in both France and England, including Chambers. A key point of contention between Geoffroy and Cuvier was the unity of plan among all animals: Geoffroy attempted to trace out homologies among vertebrates and invertebrates, whereas Cuvier insisted that four completely different basic plans were imposed on the major branches of animal life. Cuvier's views succeeded in stamping out French evolutionary research throughout the rest of the century by associating transformism with such radical doctrines as materialism, atheism, and spontaneous generation. Geoffroy's 1827 march from Marseille to Paris to deliver a live giraffe to the Jardin du Roi is recounted in Allin's Zarafa.

Geoffroy in about 1842. From Desmond 1989, p. 285.


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