- The History of Quadrupeds
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With the fourth and fifth volumes of this monumental re-edition project, launched in 2007 by Stéphane Schmitt (researcher at the CNRS and member of the REHSEIS team in Paris), and Cédric Crémière (director of the Le Havre Museum of Natural History), the editors continue with their mandate put forward in Volume 1 in 2007: to present the complete printed work of Buffon, following the form and content of the original thirty-six volumes published between 1749 and 1789. This is a much-needed project, as the Histoire naturelle has not been re-edited since the last complete edition, which is no longer considered scientific, came out at the end of the nineteenth century. Moreover, by devoting a significant part of their analysis to the work of Buffon’s main associates (including the anatomist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton, whose contribution makes up more than half of volumes 3 to 15 of the Histoire naturelle), Schmitt and Crémière fill a void and provide valuable insights into the world of eighteenth-century science.
Each volume follows a similar format: a substantial introduction describes the circumstances surrounding the original publication and offers a sharp analysis of the key philosophical elements at play. This is followed by a description of the editing principles that guided the text’s preparation, as well as a list of abbreviations. Happily, the editors have preserved the texts’ original order, arranging the table of contents, vignettes, full-page plates, and tables as they first appeared. The original pagination is indicated in bold between brackets in the text. Given the work’s scope and density, the editors chose to limit their interpretive comments in the critical notes, referring readers to the introduction and bibliography as a springboard to an extensive secondary literature. Nevertheless, these critical notes are full of vital information: the editors took care to place some of Buffon’s ideas in the context of the debates of the time, they refer readers to other passages within the Histoire naturelle (often in other volumes of the series), and they supply additional comments by contemporary authors. Especially praiseworthy is Schmitt and Crémière’s formidable and diligent work on the sources cited (implicitly or explicitly) by Buffon. The rigor on display in Buffon’s Œuvres—selected excerpts and writings published in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade in 2007—is present here, and the editors’ scholarship is second to none, evidenced by their wide range of approaches from simple recopying to complete rewriting. At the end of each volume’s annotated text are a number of appendices (mostly papers and articles written by associates of Buffon), followed by several indices that will appeal to any researcher (nominum, operum, locurum and populorum, rerum, specierum, and lexical notes). Also included is a useful comparative table of eighteenth-century weights and measures. Each volume ends with a bibliography of sources, studies consulted, and a table of contents.
The fourth volume (1753) plays a pivotal role in the Histoire naturelle, because it introduces what critics called the Histoire des Quadrupèdes [history of quadrupeds, known today as “viviparous quadrupeds” or “mammals,” a term that was still uncommon in the late eighteenth century], which runs through volumes 4–15 of the first series (1753–67), and appears in the “Additions” in volumes 3 (1776), 6 (1782), and 7 (1789) of the Supplément. The significance of this volume is also conveyed by the breadth of the introduction (8–86) and...