Bernard Germain Lacépède

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Bernard Germain Étienne Médard de La Ville-sur-Illon, comte de La Cépède

Bernard Germain Étienne Médard de La Ville-sur-Illon, comte de Lacépède , occasionally de La Cépède (born December 26, 1756 in Agen in Guyenne ; † October 6, 1825 in Épinay-sur-Seine ) was a French naturalist , zoologist and ichthyologist . He also held the office of Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor ( Grand-Chancelier de Légion d'Honneur ) for the first time and was also an opera composer .

In the biological taxonomy and in the literature, his name is usually given shortened as lacepède .


His father paid close attention to his son's education, and studying Buffon's Histoire Naturelle aroused Bernard's interest in natural history at an early age , to which he then mainly devoted himself. In his youth he served in the Bavarian troops and then returned to the natural sciences in Paris .

Music also played a role in his life, so he learned to play the piano and organ. He composed several operas, some of which were not published:

  • Armide (1777, missing)
  • Omphale (1783, not published)
  • Scanderbeg (1785)
  • Cyrus (1785)
  • Alcine (1786, unpublished)

Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714–1787) praised his musical skills . Between 1781 and 1785 he wrote two volumes of La poétique de la musique .

Meanwhile, Bernard Lacépède also wrote two scientific treatises: Essai sur l'électricité naturelle et artificielle (1781) and Physique générale (1782–84). These works brought him a close friendship with Georges-Louis Le Clerc, comte de Buffon (1707–1788), who appointed him as assistant curator of the natural history cabinet at the then Jardin du Roi (now the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in the Jardin des Plantes ) and suggested that he continue his work Histoire naturelle . This published Lacépède under the titles Histoire des quadrupèdes ovipares et des serpens (1788–90) and Histoire naturelle des reptiles (1789).

At the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon he became a professor of natural history , a member of the Paris Administrative Council and, in 1791, President of the National Legislative Assembly. Because his disapproving attitude towards the unrest during the reign of terror in 1793/94 was being sought after his life, he had left Paris and stayed in Leuville-sur-Orge , but returned at the end of 1794 and became curator of the natural history cabinet in the Jardin du Roi and devoted most of the time there to the study of reptiles and fish . In 1795 he became a member of the Académie des Sciences in Paris.

In 1798 he published the first volume of the Histoire naturelle des poissons , which was followed by another annually until 1803. Because of his political career, Bernard had hardly any time for his natural history studies from 1799 when he became a senator and had to put them in the background. Nevertheless, he managed to bring out the Histoire naturelle des cétacées in 1804 . In 1801 he became President of the Senate, in 1803 Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor and in 1804 Minister. In 1801 he was elected a foreign member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences . The Bavarian Academy of Sciences also accepted him as a foreign member in 1808. After the return of the Bourbons in 1814, in his capacity as senator, he also became a member of the new parliamentary upper house and thus in 1819 Peer of France .

Lacépède was later able to complete the 18-volume work Histoire générale, physique et civile de l'Europe , which was published posthumously in 1826. Bernard died on October 6, 1825 in his country estate in Épinay-sur-Seine near Saint-Denis .

Lacépède is one of the pioneers of the theory of evolution, as he and his colleague at the Natural History Museum Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck (Lectures 1800, Discours d'ouverture ) pointed out the temporal variability of species ( Discours sur la durée des espèces , in Histoire naturelle des poissons , volume 1, 1799).

The Lacepede Bay in Australia was named after him .


  • Les ages de la nature et histoire de l'espèce humaine. Paris 1830 pm
  • Histoire naturelle de l'homme. Pitois-Le Vrault, Paris 1827 pm
  • Histoire générale, physique et civile de l'Europe. Cellot, Mame, Delaunay-Vallée & de Mat, Paris, Brussels 1826 pm
  • Histoire naturelle des quadrupèdes ovipares, serpents, poissons et cétacées. Eymery, Paris 1825.
  • Histoire naturelle des cétacées. Plassan, Paris 1804.
  • Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de Dolomieu. Bossange, Paris 1802.
  • The menagerie du Museum national d'histoire naturelle. Miger, Paris 1801-04.
  • Discours d'ouverture et de clôture du cours de zoologie. Plassan, Paris 1801.
  • Discours d'ouverture et de clôture du cours d'histoire naturelle. Plassan, Paris 1799.
  • Histoire naturelle des poissons. Plassan, Paris 1798-1803.
  • Discours d'ouverture et de clôture du cours d'histoire naturelle des animaux vertébrés et a sang rouge. Plassan, Paris 1798.
  • Discours d'ouverture du Cours d'histoire naturelle. Paris 1797.
  • Histoire naturelle des quadrupèdes ovipares et des serpens. de Thou, Paris 1788–90.
  • Vie de Buffon. Maradan, Amsterdam 1788.
  • La poétique de la musique. Paris 1785.
  • Physique générale. Paris 1782–84.
  • Essai sur l'électricité naturelle et artificielle. Paris 1781.


  • Georges Cuvier: Éloges historiques de MM. De Saussure, Pallas, Hauy, de Lacépède et Cavendish. Theissing, Münster 1876.
  • Ora Frishberg Saloman: Aspects of "Gluckian" operative thought and practice in France. The musico-dramatic vision of Le Sueur and La Cépède (1785-1809) in relation to the aesthetic and critical tradition. Diss. Columbia University 1970. UMI, Ann Arbor 1973.
  • Louis Roule: Lacépède, professeur au Muséum, premier grand chancellier de la Légion d'honneur, et la sociologie humanitaire selon la nature. Flammarion, Paris 1932.

Web links

Commons : Bernard Germain de Lacépède  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

References and comments

  1. ^ List of members since 1666: Letter L. Académie des sciences, accessed on January 7, 2020 (French).
  2. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Vol. 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Episode 3, vol. 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 143.
  3. ^ Josef F. Schmidtler: The animal painter Nikolaus Michael Oppel (1782–1820) and the beginnings of herpetological research at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, Journal for Bavarian State History, Munich, Volume 72, 2009, p. 501 pdf . Nikolaus Michael Oppel was a student of Lacépéde in Paris.
  4. ^ Johann Jakob Egli : Nomina geographica. Language and factual explanation of 42,000 geographical names of all regions of the world. , Friedrich Brandstetter, 2nd edition Leipzig 1893, p. 520 ( Baie Lcépède )
predecessor Office successor

Vincent-Marie Viénot de Vaublanc
President of the Legislative Assembly of France
November 28, 1791-10. December 1791

Pierre-Édouard Lémontey