Histoire naturelle

Buffon, G. L. L.

Buffon's ambitions to include all of natual history meant that he had to deal with Leeuwenhoek. He did so in the first two of what turned out to be several dozen volumes.

L’Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi (1749-1767)

  • Tome I : Premier Discours - De la manière d’étudier et de traiter l’histoire naturelle, Second Discours - Histoire et théorie de la Terre, Preuves de la théorie de la Terre, 1749
  • Tome II : Histoire générale des Animaux, Histoire naturelle de l'Homme, 1749

Using a double-lens microscope to look at some of the same things Leeuwenhoek did, Buffon discussed where his observations matched and differed from Leeuwenhoek's. In these volumes, Buffon focused on generation and reproduction of animals. In doing so, he included quotations from some of Leeuwenhoek's letters, some of them several hudred words long. Though the text was in French, the quotations were in Latin. He wrote:

I have transcribed these passages from the Philosophical Transactions, because they first appeared in that work, before Leeuwenhoek had formed any theory; and, therefore, they must be more agreeable to truth.

In Volume II, Buffon quoted from:

one letter to William Brouncker

  • Letter 22 of November 1677, without the one figure

three letters to Nehemiah Grew:

  • Letter 24 of March 18, 1678, 9 figures
  • Letter 25 of May 31, 1678, 8 figures
  • Letter 28 of April 25, 1679, 1 figure

three letters from Send-Brieven to Herman Boerhaave (Buffon says in error that they were written in 1713):

  • Letter XXVIII of September 28, 1716, with one of the 18 figures
  • Letter XXIX of November 5, 1716
  • Letter XXXI of November 21, 1716

Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters notes in Vol. 2, p. 277, for example, that these were Dutch and French extracts. In fact, they were in Latin, taken right from the pages of Philosophical Transactions.

Of more interest are the figures that Buffon included. I have not seen Buffon's 1749 original, but I have seen William Smellie's English translation of Buffon's translation of the Philosophical Transactions translation of Leeuwenhoek's original Dutch. Buffon reproduced over two dozen (all?) of Leeuwenhoek's figures of sperm on three plates, VII-IX between pages 190 and 207. He expanded one figure depicting a dozen sperm from a ram. Smellie's version developed details not in Leeuwenhoek's original drawings and presented them as separate figures.