Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire, Étienne, 1772-1844

Alternative names

Hide Profile

French naturalist.

From the description of Birth defects : two case histories, 1825. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122553012

French zoologist Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire taught at the Muséum d'histoire naturelle in Paris.

From the guide to the Lectures, n.d., on the natural history of Egypt, n.d., (American Philosophical Society)

From the guide to the Notes, 1825-1829, on natural history, 1825-1829, (American Philosophical Society)

Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire was a French zoologist and taught at the Muséum d'histoire naturelle in Paris.

From the description of Notes, 1825-1829, on natural history. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122608788

From the description of Lectures, n.d., on the natural history of Egypt. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 154298166

From the description of Papers, ca. 1811-1844. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122523594

French zoologist. Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire was appointed professor of quadrupeds, cetaceans, birds, reptiles and fish at the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle in 1793 at the age of twenty-one. During his tenure he published a series of articles and monographs on the platypus.

From the description of Nouvelles considè̀rations sur la nature des glandes abdominals des monotrêmes, 1833 [manuscript]. 1833. (Libraries Australia). WorldCat record id: 271565788

French natural scientist.

From the description of AMs : Philosophie de la nature, [1840?] (Boston Public Library). WorldCat record id: 39472864

Etienne Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire (1772-1884) was a Professor of Vertebrate Zoology at the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris from 1793 until his death in 1844. He committed himself to developing a transcendant zoology and to the elucidation of the structural archetype underlying all organismal form. Along with his colleague Jean Baptiste Lamarck, he became one of the most influential of the pre-Darwinian French evolutionists.

Saint-Hilaire was born in the village of Etampes, the youngest of fourteen children of a local procurator. He was still a young boy when his precocious wit and charisma caught the attention of noted patrons. Made a canon in the church at the age of 15, he was preparing himself for a clerical life when he was introduced to the study of natural history by the renowned agronomist, the Abbé de Tessier, and by the great anti-Linnean botanist Antoine de Jussieu, his isntructor at the Collège de Navarre.

With his interests shifting, Saint-Hilaire’s plans made an abrupt turn with the onset of the French Revolution and the shadow it cast over the prospects for a clerical life. Gradually adopting a whole hearted Deism that became his hallmark in later years and taking up the revolutionary cause with zeal, the young savant followed his father's recommendation of studying law. He received his degree in 1790, then followed his own inclinations to study medicine at the Collège du Cardinal Lemoine. There he benefitted from a set of sterling mentors, most notably the great mineralogist René de Haüy. When Haüy was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror, however, Saint-Hilaire came to his rescue. Using his irreproachable revolutionary credentials and persuasive abilities, he had Haüy released, and in gratitude, Haüy's powerful friend Louis Jean-Marie d'Aubenton arranged for Saint-Hillaire to be appointed a demonstrator at the Jardin des Plantes, filling in for Bernard Germain Etienne de la Ville Lacepede, who had fled the violence. His timing was impeccable. When the Jardin became the Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle in June 1793, the 21 year old naturalist was appointed Professor of Zoology to fill Lacepede's still-vacant position. For the next 47 years he served the Muséum with distinction, rising to the Academie des Sciences in 1807, and adding an appointment as professor of zoology at the University of Paris in 1809.

From the beginning of his days at the Muséum, Saint Hilaire's aptitude for developing friendships with eminent scientists served him well. The much older Lamarck, in particular, became an intimate friend, but also an important intellectual influence in introducing him to the possibility of transmutation of species. For a time, he also gained the friendship of the young Georges Cuvier, whom he brought to Paris at the recommendation of the Abbé de Tessier. Initially, Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier worked cordially and cooperatively, sharing interests and enthusiasms. The period after Saint-Hilaire’s appointment to Napoleon's scientific staff in Egypt from 1798-1801 became something of a watershed in their relationship. As Saint-Hillaire plied the archaeological sites of Egypt, making collections of mummified birds, cats, and humans, Cuvier remained in Paris, building a reputation as an exacting comparative anatomist, who gradually began to oustrip Saint-Hillare. From that time on, their relationship deteriorated and an increasingly wide theoretical chasm grew between them.

Although at one time, both Cuvier and Saint-Hilaire had followed the Comte de Buffon in arguing that all vertebrates, and perhaps all animals, were derived from just a single archetype, during the first decade of the nineteenth century they began to diverge in theory and practice. Especially after Cuvier's return to orthodox Christianity (Saint-Hilaire remained true to Deism), the differences in their approach to organismal relations became the center of a sometimes bitter dispute. Saint-Hilaire clung to the archetype paradigm, arguing that vestigial organs, embryonic series, and the stunning diversity of vertebrates could be interpreted as evidence for a single underlying plan. Following his theoretical predispositions, he undertook pioneering research in comparative anatomy, embryology, and paleontology to examine the suites of "analogies" (modern homologies) linking organisms, using these as evidence to support the theory that simpler species transformed through time into more complex ones. Criticized by opponents for being too prone to grand theorizing and too quick to interpret the facts within his theories, Saint-Hilaire was nevertheless regarded as both insightful and brilliant. His most important works, Philosophie Anatomique (1818-1822) and Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères (1819) were the sounding board through which he developed the most important components of his transcendental biology: the law of connections ("analogous" organs retain the same connections amongst themselves), the law of permanence (new organs are not created), and the law of balance (the development of one organ is made at the expense of another).

A scrupulous worker, and more reticent to argue beyond the data, Cuvier advocated a strongly functionalist approach to comparative anatomy, insisting that similarities in form between different organisms were the product of common function, not common descent. Focussing on the differences between vertebrate groups, Cuvier rejected Saint-Hilaire's contention (as old as Aristotle) that vertebrates displayed a unity of anatomical structure, and he dismissed the notion of species transmutation as an unfounded speculation. In short, Cuvier argued that function was the overriding determinant of structure in vertebrates (form follows function), while Saint-Hilaire argued that structure was the product of a common plan from which functions were derived.

As Saint-Hilaire probed deeper into the analogies linking organisms, he turned increasingly to the study of early ontogeny, attaching himself to the nascent theory of recapitulation, and following his colleagues, coopting the embryological term "evolution" (used to describe ontogenetic transformations) to apply to the transmutation of species in geological time. Both he and Cuvier became increasingly truculent in their opposing views, and in 1830, Saint-Hilaire used the occasion of a paper delivered by two younger colleagues to attack Cuvier directly. Meyranx and Laurencet attempted to identify a set of structural analogies between vertebrates and cephalopods, and when Cuvier attempted to prevent its consideration before the Academie des Sciences, Saint-Hilaire attacked Cuvier directly. To settle their differences, Geoffroy and Cuvier agreed to conduct a series of eight public debates between February and April 1830, during which Cuvier accused Geoffroy and his followers of pantheism and groundless speculation. Cuvier died in May 1832 with the controversy still raging.

Undaunted, Saint-Hilaire continued to tow his belief in the great chain of being, deepening his investigations into teratology and early development. In large part, these interests sprang from the hope that "monstrosities" were a key to unraveling the mechanism underlying the transmutation of species, and suggested that the transformation between organic forms might occur very rapidly, rather than gradually. Although his son Isidore became well known for the study of teratology in the 1830s, Saint-Hilaire immersed himself in attempts to manipulate embryos during development to test his hypotheses. He also grew increasingly involved in the burgeoning field of paleoherpetology and in the search for fossils that might be placed as intermediates in series linking modern forms.

During the last decade of his life, Saint Hilaire's reputation suffered a further decline relative to Cuvier's, as he became increasingly vague and speculative. After 1834 the Academie published only the titles of his communications, and from July 1840 when cataracts left him blind, he suffered a gradual decline in physical and mental health that ended his scholarly productivity. Saint-Hilaire died in Paris in 1844.

From the guide to the Étienne Geoffroy Saint Hilaire Collection, 1811-1844, (American Philosophical Society)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Nouvelles considè̀rations sur la nature des glandes abdominals des monotrêmes, 1833 [manuscript]. Libraries Australia
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Notes, 1825-1829, on natural history. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Vauquelin, Louis Nicolas, 1763-1829. Letters. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf Lectures, n.d., on the natural history of Egypt, n.d. American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Étienne Geoffroy Saint Hilaire Collection, 1811-1844 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Evolution, historical and speculative : [papers / compiled by Henry Fairfield Osborn]. American Museum of Natural History
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Letter : Paris, to [Pierre Antoine Lebrun?], n.p., [ca. 1832?]. Texas Christian University
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Isidore, 1805-1861. Letter, 1833. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Ayers, Howard. Sensory - Mammals and reptiles. [By] Geoffroy, Arnold, Osawa, Eigenmann ... [et al.]. The California Digital Library
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. AMs : Philosophie de la nature, [1840?] Boston Public Library, Central Library in Copley Square
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Lectures, n.d., on the natural history of Egypt. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Birth defects : two case histories, 1825. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Fonds de la Bibliothèque du Palais des Arts, aujourd’hui réparti entre la Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, la Bibliothèque de l’Académie de Lyon et la Bibliothèque Nationale de France Ms PA 1 - Ms PA 362. Bibliothèque municipale (Lyon)
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Letter : Paris, to Henri Dutrochet, Paris, [18--]. Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. [Letter] 1812, Oct. 11 / [Etienne] Geoffroy S[aint-]Hilaire. American Museum of Natural History
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Papers. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf Faujas-de-St.-Fond, cit. (Barthélemy), 1741-1819. Letters. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Mémoire sur l'anatomie comparée des organes électriques de la raie torpille, du gymnote engourdissant, et du silure trembleur / par E. Geoffroy. Smithsonian Institution. Libraries
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Letter : Paris, to Henri Dutrochet, Paris, [18--]. Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
creatorOf Notes, 1825-1829, on natural history, 1825-1829 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne, 1772-1844. Papers, ca. 1811-1844. American Philosophical Society Library
referencedIn Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, 1668-1983, Bulk, 1750-1850, 1668-1983 American Philosophical Society
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873 person
associatedWith Arago, F. (François), 1786-1853. person
associatedWith Audouin, Jean Victor, 1797-1841. person
associatedWith Bailly person
associatedWith Ballion, Emmanuel. person
associatedWith Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820 person
associatedWith Cécille, Jean Baptiste. person
associatedWith Chabrol de Crousol, André Jean Christophe, comte de, 1771-1836. person
associatedWith Cooper, Thomas, 1759-1839 person
associatedWith Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899 person
associatedWith Cuilliard(?) person
associatedWith Cuvier, Georges, baron, 1769-1832. person
associatedWith Darlington, William, 1782-1863 person
associatedWith Deslongchamps, Jacques Charles Eudes, 1794-1867? person
associatedWith Dibner, Bern, person
associatedWith Duran (de St. -Girons) person
associatedWith Dussoteon(?) person
associatedWith Dutrochet, Henri, 1776-1847. person
associatedWith Edison, Thomas A., (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955 person
associatedWith E. I. V. J. person
associatedWith Everett, Edward, 1794-1865 person
associatedWith Faujas-de-St.-Fond, cit. (Barthélemy), 1741-1819. person
associatedWith Fauvé person
associatedWith Fitch, John person
associatedWith Frank Webster Jay Collection (University of Chicago. Library) corporateBody
associatedWith Genth, F. A., (Frederick Augustus), 1820-1893 person
associatedWith Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Isidore, 1805-1861. person
associatedWith Gray, Asa, 1810-1888 person
associatedWith Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872 person
associatedWith Guillard person
associatedWith Hamont, Pierre Nicolas person
associatedWith Harding, Warren G. person
associatedWith Illeg. (Chef de Service d'Anatomie à Lyon) person
associatedWith Lebrun, Pierre Antoine, 1785-1873. person
associatedWith Ledemé, H. person
associatedWith Molinier person
associatedWith Newcomb, Simon person
associatedWith Newton, Isaac, Sir, 1642-1727 person
associatedWith Peschier, Charles-Gaspard, 1782-1853 person
associatedWith Poinsett, Joel Roberts, 1779-1851 person
associatedWith Portal, Placide person
associatedWith Prunelle, Clément-François-Victor-Gabriel, 1774-1853. person
associatedWith Reid, John person
associatedWith Rittenhouse, David, 1732-1796 person
associatedWith Roux person
associatedWith Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813 person
associatedWith Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864 person
associatedWith Seybert, Adam, 1773-1825 person
associatedWith Sparks, Jared, 1789-1866 person
associatedWith Stevens, Henry person
associatedWith Sully, Thomas, 1783-1872 person
associatedWith Thomson, Charles, 1729-1824 person
associatedWith Vauquelin, Louis Nicolas, 1763-1829. person
associatedWith Waterton, Charles, 1782-1865 person
associatedWith Wayne, Anthony person
Place Name Admin Code Country
France
Egypt
Egypt
France
Egypt
Egypt
Subject
Zoology--Egypt
Biology
Paleontology
Electric organs in fishes
Natural history--Study and teaching--France
Teratology
Natural history--France--19th century
Light--Philosophy
Conjoined twins
Birds
Beyond Early America
Homology (Biology)
Light
Natural history
Science
Embryology--France
Natural history--Egypt
Human anatomy
Abnormalities, Human
Science--History
Evolution
Optics
Evolution (Biology)
Egyptian language--Writing, Hieroglyphic
Anatomy--France
Zoology--Study and teaching--France
Monsters
Dinosaurs
Zoology--19th century
Paleontology--France
Platypus--Anatomy
Zoology
Anatomy
Abnormalties, Human--Etiology
Occupation
Zoologists
Function

Person

Birth 1772-04-15

Death 1844-06-19

French

French,

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6736t41

Ark ID: w6736t41

SNAC ID: 75269006