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JANUARY, 1818.


Biographical Account of Delametherie.*

JEAN CLAUDE DELAMETHERIE was born at Clayette, a small town of Maconnois, on Sept. 4, 1743. His father was a physician; and we are informed that the medical profession had been exercised by his ancestors for several successive generations; the family bore a respectable rank, and was possessed of considerable property. From a very early period of his life, the subject of our memoir exhibited marks of a peculiar character: he took no interest in childish sports; but preferred reading books of a grave and abstruse kind, and was often absorbed in profound reflection. At the age of 15 he was sent to Thiers, in Auvergne, for the purpose of receiving instruction in the belles lettres; and at 18 went to prosecute his studies in Paris. As he had an elder brother, who was to occupy his father's profession, Jean Claude was destined for the church, and with this intention was placed in the seminary of St. Louis; but in consequence of his brother's death, he renounced the study of theology, and entered upon that of medicine in his 22d year. After spending five years in acquiring a knowledge of his profession, he returned to his father's house, and engaged in the practice of it; but it would appear that he was never fond of the employment, and after some time abandoned it in disgust. He assigned as his motive the uncertainty of the art, and the very little accurate knowledge which it is in our power to acquire

The facts which form the basis of this account are taken from an elaborate paper by M. Blainville, in the Journ, de Phys. t. lxxxv. p. 78.

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respecting it; and it is probable that he was also impelled to the change by his speculative turn of mind, which led him to prefer a mode of life in which he would be less confined to a regular routine of business. The decided bent of his genius was indeed for theory and speculation; and of this he gave a very unequivocal specimen, in his "Essay on the Principles of Natural Philosophy," which he wrote while he was still under his father's roof. It contained so many free sentiments, on various topics in which the feelings and prejudices of mankind are the most intimately concerned, that the booksellers of Paris would not venture to publish it; but it appeared at Geneva in 1778. The work was reprinted in 1787, and again in 1805, having undergone successive improvements in each edition. In this essay he discusses a variety of the most abstruse metaphysical questions, and gives his sentiments upon all of them with the most perfect confidence, although he not unfrequently maintains opinions directly opposite to those which are commonly regarded as the most important and the best established.

Upon quitting the paternal roof, he seems to have determined to pass the remainder of his life in a state of perfect freedom from all restraint; and with this intention he renounced all his claim upon the family property, on consideration of receiving a moderate annuity. He resolved never to enter into the matrimonial state from the same feeling, and partly, as it appears, from the gloomy and melancholic cast of his mind, which led him to doubt whether life ought to be regarded as a good, and consequently whether it was consistent with benevolence to bring human beings into existence. The peculiar traits of his character, which had displayed themselves at a very early period of life, were now become more confirmed; and, what was originally an unusual degree of gravity and sedateness, had now degenerated into spleen and austerity. Having discarded all his cares of a personal and private nature, he repaired to Paris, associated himself with the literary men of that place, and henceforth had no business or occupation but science. About the year 1780 he published his "Physiological Views;" a work which, like the former, was full of theory, and in which he indulges in the most unbounded freedom of speculation. Among other opinions which he broached in this work, it is maintained that animals and vegetables are produced by the crystallization of the semen, exactly in the same manner as minerals are by the accretion of their particles; and extravagant as this opinion may appear, it is only a specimen of many others of a similar kind that might be extracted from his works.

Soon after his removal to the metropolis, he became a frequent contributor to the Journal de Physique; and in the year 1785 he became the editor of it, an office which he retained until a very short time before his death. In many respects he was well adapted for this office; he was laborious, well informed, and

high principled; but unfortunately his good qualities were alloyed by some of an opposite kind. He was extremely jealous of his literary reputation, of the most acute sensibility to supposed affronts or injuries, and of a haughty and unbending spirit; so that his literary life was almost a perpetual scene of warfare. His hatred of tyranny of all description, and his love of impartiality and strict justice, tinged or biassed by his peculiar temperament, led him generally to oppose his contemporaries and his countrymen, and to prefer to them those persons who, having lived in former ages, or residing in distant countries, were removed from rivalship, and were not liable to wound his pride or self-love. Thus, almost as a matter of course, he set himself in decided opposition to the new chemical nomenclature, personally opposed Lavoisier, and generally objected to all the doctrines of the modern pneumatic chemistry. It was with this object that in 1789 he published his work on pure air, as he still continued to stile oxygen; a work in which he endeavours to prove that Bayen had all the merit that is usually attributed to Lavoisier and his associates, in the discovery of the gaseous bodies. In the same spirit he afterwards opposed Haüy's doctrines on the subject of crystallography; he endeavoured to show that he was not original in his idea of applying the crystalline form of bodies to determine their species; and for the purpose, as he supposed, of doing justice to the party that had been defrauded of his literary rights, he republished the Sciagraphia of Bergman.

Delametherie about this period particularly directed his attention to the study of mineralogy and geology; and in 1795 published what is perhaps his best work, or at least that which is the least objectionable, his "Theory of the Earth;" it contains a good view of the best ascertained facts and best established opinions, while there is less of that extravagant speculation which is so profusely scattered over his former productions. A circumstance occurred at this time which caused him a severe disappointment. By the death of Daubenton, the Professorship of Natural History in the College of France became vacant; and Delametherie conceived himself the person most qualified to fill his place, and had some reason to expect the appointment. It was, however, conferred upon Cuvier, a man much his junior, and whose reputation at that time was not so fully established, as to afford an obvious reason for the preference. Delametherie's mortification was, however, alleviated by an arrangement which was, afterwards made, according to which he was constituted joint Professor with Cuvier, the departments of geology and mineralogy being placed under his sole superintendance. As a part of the duties of his office, he now became a public lecturer on mineralogy, an employment which he executed with much zeal, and with considerable success. His class was numerously attended; and he employed every means to make his lectures

interesting to his pupils, by the exhibition of his specimens, which he freely permitted them to examine, and by taking short excursions with them into the neighbourhood of Paris, and illustrating his doctrines by a reference to natural phenomena. The substance of his lectures was afterwards published in two works, one on mineralogy, and the other on geology, forming a series of five volumes, which may be regarded as "The Theory of the Earth" with some additions and alterations.

The stormy period of the French revolution, which now raged in all its horrors, was felt by the family of Delametherie; and although his own income was both scanty and precarious, he very generously resigned the annuity which he had reserved out of the paternal estate. But the sale of his journal became suspended by the increasing troubles of the times; and for a period of two or three years he appears to have endured great privations; which were, however, mitigated by the liberality of his colleague Cuvier, who gave up to him a large proportion of the emoluments of their joint office. When France again acquired a state of comparative tranquillity, and science began to resume her rank in public estimation, Delametherie was found ready at his post; he recommenced his journal, in which he always inserted a number of his own papers; and in the year 1804 he published his "Considerations on Organized Beings," a work, as usual, containing much information, but unfortunately blended with a large proportion of mere speculative theory. In 1812 Delametherie had a severe attack of apoplexy; but he recovered from it so far as to pursue his usual literary occupations for five years, although harrassed by a variety of complaints, indicating a complete breaking up of his constitution, until a second apoplectic attack carried him off on July 1, 1817, in the 74th year of his age.

His moral and intellectual character may be pretty exactly appreciated from the narrative of his life; he was a man of strict honour and integrity, of regular habits, capable of acts of great generosity, and totally devoid of all anxiety for the gratifications of luxury, or the frivolous pursuits of vulgar ambition. But unfortunately these good qualities were obscured by pride, self-love, irascibility, and jealousy; and the operation of these being more obvious and more frequently called into action, his defects were more known than his virtues, and he did not obtain the estimation in society to which, upon a fair balance of his qualities, he was justly entitled. This circumstance he felt acutely; while at the same time it aggravated the evil, and tended to give a degree of harshness to his disposition, which was not natural to it. When not under the influence of temper, he was kind and humane; and, except on the score of literary reputation, was free from all selfish feelings.

With respect to the scientific character of Delametherie, he may be justly entitled to the commendation of unwearied appli

cation and extensive knowledge; but perhaps neither his industry nor his information were productive of the advantage, either to himself or to society, which might have been derived from them under different management. In all his writings he is perpetually dwelling upon the value of facts, and is always upbraiding his opponents with being too hasty in the formation of their theories; yet there is scarcely a single writer, among his contemporaries, who abounds so much in speculation, and who, considering the extent of his writings, has added so little to the stock of actual knowledge. His judgment on scientific topics was frequently warped by his temper; he almost systematically differed from those around him; and it accordingly has sometimes happened that he proved to be in the right; but this was certainly more owing to his objecting to every thing, than to any superior sagacity in discerning the truth. With respect to his talents as the editor of a scientific journal, the capacity in which probably he will alone be remembered by posterity, we may observe the same mixture of qualities. He was eminently laborious and punctual; but although he valued himself for his impartiality, and his strict observance of literary justice, his jealous and irritable temper was perpetually biassing his judgment, causing him to form an unjust estimate of the merits of those whom he considered as his rivals, and involving himself in disputes with those who either differed from him, or, as he conceived, did not treat him with due respect. He commenced his office as editor of the Journal de Physique in March, 1785, and continued it until April, 1817, a period of 31 years. In the first number of the year he always wrote a sketch of the progress of science during the preceding year; and, besides these, inserted a great number of other articles; so that the whole of his papers amounts to nearly 120. His other works, which have been mentioned above, and a few others of minor importance, when added to his memoirs, make him one of the most voluminous writers of the age; and it appears that he was proud of the quantity of his publications; and used to boast of this circumstance as a proof of his literary desert; forgetting that he would have been much more entitled to our gratitude, and would have much better consulted his own reputation, if he had given to the world a smaller quantity of matter in a more matured form.

It would be an operose, and not a very useful task, to give an analysis of all the works, or a view of all the opinions of one who wrote so much, and probably wrote without much premeditation. Something, however, of this kind may be expected concerning a man who, notwithstanding his defects, will always have his name associated with one of the most splendid eras of natural science. With respect to his general principles of philosophy, Delametherie appears to have been a decided atheist; he thought that creation and annihilation, in the strict sense of the terms, were impossible; and that all the properties which belong

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