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Georges Cuvier was born in 1769 in France and was a naturalist whose work is considered the foundation of vertebrate palaeontology. He proved that the extinction of species is a fact and contributed a vast amount of research in the fields of vertebrate and invertebrate zoology. However he has become known for his refusal to consider the possibility of evolution; he believed that organisms were integrated entities in which no part could be modified without impairment of function, thus any change in the anatomy of an organism would have rendered it unable to survive. He instead believed that there was evidence for successive creations after catastrophic events had led to extinctions.
He published widely throughout his lifetime but his most famous and well regarded work was Le Règne Animal distribué d'après son organisation which first appeared in four octavo volumes in 1817. This work contained the results of all his previous research on the structures of living and fossil animals. A second edition, in five volumes, was published in 1828.
Cuvier died in 1832 and the production of a new edition of Le Règne Animal was announced in early 1836 by nine of his pupils; when three more were recruited they became known as the 'Disciples' and they retained this name for the title pages of their new edition. Their aim was to produce a fine quarto edition, with plates illustrating every genus. "Reverently they refrained from altering the text, which was reproduced verbatim even to the numbered footnotes, but which they spaced to fill eleven large volumes." (Cowan 1976, p.33) Between 1836 and 1849 they produced an encyclopaedic work of twenty two volumes, eleven of text and eleven containing beautifully coloured engraved plates.
Deakin University is fortunate to own a complete set of the Disciples’ edition of Le Règne Animal, generously donated by the Parliamentary Library of Victoria.
Appel, Toby A. The Cuvier-Geoffroy Debate: French biology in the Decades before Darwin, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Coleman, William Georges Cuvier zoologist: a study in the history of evolution theory, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1964.
Cowan, C.F. 'On the Disciples’ Edition of Cuvier’s Règne Animal', Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, vol. 8, no. 1, Nov. 1976, pp. 32-64.
Cowan, C.F. 'Cuvier’s ‘Disciples’ Edition: the Reptiles volumes', Archives of Natural History, vol. 16, no. 3, Oct. 1989, p. 261.
Dibner, Bern Heralds of Science as represented by two hundred epochal books and pamphlets selected from the Burndy Library, Burndy Library, Connecticut, 1955.
Von Hofsten, N. 'From Cuvier to Darwin: a page from the history of comparative anatomy', Isis, vol. 24, no. 2, Feb. 1936, pp. 361-366.
Kristen Thornton is responsible for the contents of this page.