Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon Biography

(French Mathematician, Cosmologist Encyclopédiste and One of the First Naturalists to Recognize Ecological Succession)

Birthday: September 7, 1707 (Virgo)

Born In: Montbard, France

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon was a naturalist and French author, who will be always remembered for his extensive work on natural history. Born to a father who was a state official and a mother who had a thirst for knowledge, Georges-Louis had got his streak of intelligence from his mother. He was an average student at College of Godrans in Dijon, but had a flair for mathematics. Respecting his father’s wish he began studying law, but abandoned it to study Mathematics and Medicine at University of Angers. During this period he befriended Duke of Kingston, and travelled with him extensively in Europe. He returned to Dijon, received his inheritance, and went to Paris to pursue science. He befriended Voltaire and several other famous intellectuals during his stay in Paris. Georges-Louis introduced integral and differential calculus in probability theory. He was also absorbed to the French Academy of Sciences. His work on mechanical properties of wood was a long extensive research, and soon after he was appointed as keeper of Jardin du Roi or the Royal Botanical Garden. He was appointed to several prestigious positions like the Treasurer of Academy of Sciences. Read on to know more about his life and works.

Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In September

Died At Age: 80


children: Georges Louis Marie Dumont de Courset

Born Country: France

Naturalists Mathematicians

Died on: April 16, 1788

place of death: Paris, France

Notable Alumni: University Of Angers

More Facts

education: University Of Angers

Childhood & Early Life
Georges was born on September 7th, 1707 in Montbrad in France. His father was Benjamin Leclerc, who was a state official in Burgundy and was responsible for collection of salt tax. His mother Anne-Christin Marlin was part of a family which mainly comprised of civil servants. Georges was named after his godfather, Georges Blaisot.
Georges-Louis inherited quite a fortune when his godfather died childless in 1714.
His father bought an estate of which Buffon was a part, and the family moved there where Benjamin acquired several offices. For a brief period, Senior Buffon was also given a seat in the Parliament.
Georges began his study in the College of Godrans, where he was an average student, but showed flair in mathematics. As his father wanted him to be a lawyer, he began studying law in 1723.
Abandoning his studies in law, Georges went to ‘University of Angers’, in 1728, where he studied medicine, mathematics, and botany.
In 1730 he befriended the Duke of Kingston with whom he travelled extensively throughout Europe. He was forced to leave Angers and took refuge in Nantes after a rumoured duel during this trip.
In 1732, in the course of their journey they came to Rome. The same year, his mother died, and Georges came back to Dijon to inherit his fortune. Because of his inheritance of Buffon, it was added as a title to his name.
Georges settled in Paris and decided to further his studies in science, primarily concentrating on mechanics and mathematics.
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In 1732, when he shifted to Paris, he befriended Voltaire and other famous Parisians of his time. During his stay, he introduced integral and differential calculus in probability theory.
In 1734, Buffon was integrated into ‘French Academy of Sciences’ and made acquaintance with Gabriel Cramer, a mathematician from Switzerland.
His benefactor Maurepas instructed the Academy to do scientific work on wood for constructing ships. He was anxious to use his protégée’s knowledge in timber for shipbuilding projects for France.
In 1735 Georges published the translated work of Stephen Hales’ Vegetable Staticks.
During his tenure in the Academy of Sciences, he also studied the mechanical properties of wood, and discovered it to be impossible to use all properties intact in case of large wood.
In 1739, at the age of 32, he was absorbed as the keeper of the ‘Jardin du Roi’ or the ‘Royal Botanical Garden’. A year later, he published the translated work of Sir Isaac Newton’s ‘Fluxions’.
Maurepas also encouraged Georges to take the work of cataloguing the royal collections in natural history which Buffon transformed into ‘Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière’.
His calibre as a good writer won him a position in ‘Academie Francaise’ in 1753. He gave a lecture in the academy on ‘Discourse on Style’, where he spoke on the how man can make his own style. He also became the Treasurer of Academy of Sciences.
Major Work
Buffon’s most famous work was ‘Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière’ (1749–1804), This was the first scientific approach to systematically present existing information or knowledge in different fields like natural history, geology, and anthropology in one single work.
Personal Life & Legacy
Buffon got married to Marie-Francois de Saint-Belin-Malain, in the year 1752, who was the daughter of a noble family in Burgundy. The family was not doing well financially, when the marriage took place.
Madame Buffon died in 1769, leaving a five year old son behind. Seeing the signs of brilliance in his child, Buffon asked naturalist J.B. Lamarck to take his 17-year old son with him in his travels across Europe. However, his son was not academic-minded like his father and soon turned into spendthrift which led to his death ultimately in guillotine.
Buffon was given the title of a Count in 1773, a title which he held till death.
In 1785, Buffon suffered ill-health and three years later, when he felt that he was nearing death, returned to Paris; he died the same year.
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