Biography of Jean Baptiste Lamarck
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born in Northern France on August 1, 1744. He was the youngest of eleven children born to Philippe Jacques de Monet de La Marck and Marie-Françoise de Fontaines de Chuignolles, a noble but not rich family. Most men in Lamarck’s family went into the military, including his father and older brothers. However, Jean’s father pushed him toward a career in the Church, so Lamarck went to a Jesuit college in the late 1750s. When his father died in 1760, Lamarck rode off to a battle in Germany and joined the French army.
He quickly rose through the military ranks and became a commanding Lieutenant over troops stationed in Monaco. Unfortunately, Lamarck was injured during a game he was playing with his troops and after surgery made the injury worse, he was decommissioned. He then went off to study medicine with his brother but decided along the way that the natural world, and particularly botany, were a better choice for him.
In 1778 he published Flore française, a book that contained the first dichotomous key that helped identify different species based on contrasting characteristics. His work earned him the title of “Botanist to the King” which was given to him by Comte de Buffon in 1781. He was able to then travel around Europe and collect plant samples and data for his work.
Turning his attention to the animal kingdom, Lamarck was the first to use the term “invertebrate” to describe animals without backbones. He began collecting fossils and studying all sorts of simple species. Unfortunately, he became completely blind before he finished his writings on the subject, but he was assisted by his daughter so he could publish his works on zoology.
His most well-known contributions to zoology were rooted in the Theory of Evolution. Lamarck was the first to claim that humans had evolved from a lower species. In fact, his hypothesis stated that all living things built up from the most simple all the way up to humans. He believed that new species spontaneously generated and body parts or organs that were not used would just shrivel up and go away. His contemporary, Georges Cuvier, quickly denounced this idea and worked hard to promote his own nearly opposite ideas.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was one of the first scientists to publish the idea that adaptation occurred in species to help them better survive in the environment. He went on to assert that these physical changes were then passed down to the next generation. While this is now known to be incorrect, Charles Darwin used these ideas when forming his theory of Natural Selection.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had a total of eight children with three different wives. His first wife, Marie Rosalie Delaporte, gave him six children before she died in 1792. However, they did not marry until she was on her deathbed. His second wife, Charlotte Victoire Reverdy gave birth to two children but died two years after they were married. His final wife, Julie Mallet, did not have any children before she died in 1819.
It is rumored that Lamarck may have had a fourth wife, but it has not been confirmed. However, it is clear that he had one deaf son and another son who was declared clinically insane. His two living daughters took care of him on his deathbed and were left poor. Only one living son was making a good living as an engineer and had children at the time of Lamarck’s death.
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