Bosc, Louis Augustin Guillaume

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Bosc, Louis Augustin Guillaume

known in his youth as Dantic

(b. Paris, France, 29 January 1759; d. Paris, 10 July 1828)

natural history, agronomy.

Bosc belonged to a Protestant family. His father, Paul Bosc d’ Antic, the son of a surgeon from the Tarn, was a master glassmaker and a doctor who was acquainted with most of the great naturalists of his time; his mother, Marie d’ Hangest, daughter and sister of generals, died when Louis was only two years old. Bosc was interested in nature as early as six or seven, but little is known of what he studied at the Collège de Dijon. At eighteen he became secretary of the Intendance des Postes in Paris. He assiduously followed the courses at the Jardin du Roi, directed by Buffon, where Thouin and Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu taught. A large and varied group, often enamored of and nurtured on Rousseau, met there regularly. He made friends among them, notably with Desfontaines and Mme. Roland, wife of a future member of the National Convention.

The period between 1780 and 1796 was of particular importance for Bosc, who showed equal enthusiasm for science and politics. He took an extremely active part in the Revolution: he became secretary of the Club des Jacobins in 1791 and postmaster general under the Girondist ministry in 1792. After the fall of the Girondins, he took refuge in the ancient priory of Ste. Radegonde, in the forest of Montmorency, from September 1793 to July 1794. Later, an affair of the heart led him into emotional difficulties which he decided to cure by taking a long voyage. He sailed for Charleston, South Carolina, on 8 July 1796.

Bosc’s work had already become well known. His first publication was an article in the Abbé Rozier’s Journal de physique (1784). Bosc was then only twenty-five, but his article was a masterpiece. The insect described was an unusual cochineal, a new genus that was to become the type for the subfamily Ortheziinae. In 1792 Bosc named the genus Ripiphorus, a coleopteron that was later elevated to the rank of family by Thomson (1864).

Between 1790 and 1792 Bosc published numerous notes on insects, mollusks, birds, and plants. Along with Broussonet, l’Héritier, and a few others, he founded the Société Linnéenne de Paris. Bosc became more and more interested in sciences applicable to agriculture, and in 1796 he agreed to substitute for Thouin and the Abbé Tessier to write on agriculture for the Encyclopédie de Panckoucke; thanks to his skill, Volume IV follows the preceding ones without interruption. Again asked to help in 1810, Bosc edited, almost single-handed, the three last volumes of the monumental work (1813–1821). He also collaborated on the Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804) and on the Nouveau cours complet d’agriculture théorique et pratique (1809), and was one of the leading editors of the Annales de l’agriculture française from 1811 to 1828.

Little is known of Bosc’s stay in America, where he arrived 14 October 1796, except that he made at least two journeys: one to Wilmington, Delaware, where he was named vice-consul, and the other to the border of Tennessee, on which latter trip he gathered material of great scientific value: “500 kinds of seeds; two new quadrupeds, 15 birds, 20 or so reptiles; shells; about 30 fish; 150 zoophytes, worms, or mollusks; 1, 200 insects; all these objects described and drawn from life” (Poiret in Lamarck, Encyclopédie, VIII [1808], 716–718).

The ocean voyage from Bordeaux to Charleston offered Bosc the opportunity for making several discoveries, notably of two genera: Tentacularia, a Cestoda tetrarhynchus, which was classed as a family by Poche, and Oscana, a mollusk.

In 1797 Bosc was named consul in New York. He never fulfilled his fonctions as consul, for President John Adams refused the exaequatur. His publications indicate that he was scientifically active. In November 1798, Bosc returned to Paris, where he married his cousin, Suzanne Bosc, the following year. He was made inspector of gardens and nurseries in 1803 and a member of the Institute in 1806. He concluded his career by succeeding Thouin as professor at the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle in 1825.

Bosc’s return to France was followed by the publication of a work of considerable importance, The Natural History of Worms, Shellfish and Crustaceans (1802), in which new species, and even an annelid genus, Polydora, are described.

Bosc never ceased to be interested in worms, and he was responsible for naming the genera Capsala (Platyhelminthes), a fish parasite that became the type of a family and even of an order; Hepatoxylon (1811), a genus later raised to a family by Dollfus (1940); Dipodium (1812)

Thalazia (1819), and Nematoda.

Bosc devoted himself to science without thought of personal gain. The greater part of his collections, often containing descriptions and drawings made from life, were distributed among such specialists as J. C Fabricius, G. A. Oliver, Latreille, Jean Lacépéde, andJean Louis Poiret. It is known, for instance, according to Harper (1940), that he collaborated with Daudin in the latter’s research on tree frogs and frogs, and that he discovered, described, drew, and named species from the Carolinas: Hyla squirella, H. femoralis, H. lateralis, H. ovularis, and Rana clamitans. The same is true of the turtles Testudo odorata, T. reticularia, and T. serrata and of the lizard Stellio undulatus. In arachnology and botany he left some unpublished papers that at the time would have brought to light a great number of new taxa. His arachnology of the Carolinas was published by Walckenaer (1805–1837); but a manuscript on the spiders of the forest of Montmorency (1793), in which eighty-nine species, most of them unknown until then, were described, named, and drawn, remained unpublished.

In botany Bosc discovered, defined, drew, and named numerous species, particularly some Gramineae, but most of his names, going unpublished, fell into synonymy. One of the most noteworthy species, published in 1807, is Hydrocharis spongiosa Bosc, a type of the American genus Limnobium L. C. Richard, which he had discovered in the Carolinas.

An accomplished naturalist who was important in his own time, Bosc was interested in the factual and practical side of science rather than in theories, although perhaps he was the first to point out the idea of “biological competition” in agriculture. He was a typical product of the eighteenth century, and he perhaps became too involved in encyclopedism. A man of good will and truth, Bosc probably will be remembered as a remarkable artisan of natural history and a pioneer in practical natural history.


I. Original Works. Bosc’s numerous articles and notes appeared in Transactions of the Linnean Society (London); Bulletin de la Société philomatique; Annales du Muséum d’histoire naturelle; Journal des mines; Journal de physique; Memoires de I’Institut; Annales de chimie; Journal d’histoire naturelle; and Annales de l’agriculture francaise. His first article was “Description de l’Orthezia characias,” in Journal de physique, 24 (1784), 171–173. The journal he kept while crossing Spain on foot, in the course of his return voyage from America to France, appeared as “Voyage en Espagne, à travers les royaumes de Galice, Léon, Castille vieille et Biscaye,” in Magazin encyclopédique, 6 (1800), I, 448–493.

Bosc also was largely responsible for the last three volumes of the Encyclopédie de Panckoucke (Paris, 1813–1821) and collaborated on the Nouveau dictionncire d’histoire naturelle, 24 vols. (Paris, 1803–1804; 2nd ed., 36 vols., 1816–1819) and the Nouveau cours complet d’agricul ture théorique et pratique, 13 vols. (Paris, 1809; new ed., 16 vols., 1821–1823). His books include histoire naturelle des vers, 3 vols. (Paris, 1802); histoire naturelle des coquilles, 5 vols. (Paris, 1802); and histoire naturelle des crustacés, 2 vols. (Paris, 1802). Outside science, Bosc published Appel à l’ impartiale postérité (Paris, 1795), the memoirs of Mme. Roland, with introduction and notes by Bosc and letters from Mme. Roland to Bosc, written between 1782 and 1791.

Work left unpublished by Bosc—at least that signed by him—is represented by a set of MSS preserved in the library of the Muséum National d’histoire naturelle in Paris. It consists of the following: a 16-page notebook entitled “Araignées d’Amérique,” in which there are descriptions and drawings of 25 species and five plates (MS 841); Tableau des Aranéides (Paris, 1805) and histoire naturelle des insectes (Paris, 1837), both published by Walckenaer; a notebook entitled “Araignées de la forêt de Montmorency décrites et dessinées pendant que j’étais caché à Radegonde lors de la Terreur,” dated Sept. 1793 (MS 872); a notebook of 100 pages (1788) containing a “Cenaculum insectorum,” in the manner of Linnaeus, and descriptions of new species of insects; a mineralogical line drawing, and four-color wash drawing of the Sphex scutellata (MS 873); a “Flora Caroliniana,” a catalog of the plants observed, with ecological, phenological, and geographical notes, descriptions of new species, principally of the Gramineae (these last pages were to be part of his “Agrostographie”), and ten pages dating from 1788, with descriptions of species from various places (MS 874); an “Agrostographie carolinienne,” 54 leaves containing the description of Hydrocharis spongiosa and that of a plant of the Indies (1791), Oryza aristata (MS 875); a notebook of 120 original wash drawings of Gramineae and Cyperaceae—the illustrations for the “Agrostographie carolinienne” (MS 876); and a list of the seeds of 200 plants of the South China Sea and of Carolina (MS 569), given to the Muséum in 1799.

There are also documents on Bosc in the archives of the Académie des Sciences, in particular a heliogravure portrait by Boilly (1821); in the archives of the Institute (Fonds Cuvier 3157); in the Laboratoire de Phanérogamie of the Muséum National (Paris); in the historical library of the city of Paris (MSS 1007, 1008, 1009), an autobiography and a journal of the voyage to the United States; and in the Archives Nationales in Paris (AJ 15, 569).

II. Secondary Literature. No critical analysis of Bosc’s work has ever been published. The eulogies or notices of Georges “Cuvier (Mémoires du Muséum national d’histoire” naturelle, 18 [1829], 69–92), A. F. de Silvestre (Mémoires de la Société royale et centrale d’agriculture, 1 [1829], lxxxi–cvii), and Degérando have no pretensions to being such; they have, however, the value of biographical documents by men who had been Bosc’s friends. The memoir of Auguste Rey, “Le naturaliste Bosc. Un Girondin herborisant,” in Revue de l’histoire de Versailles et de Seine et Oise (1900), 241–277 (1901), 17–42; and C. Perroud, “Le roman d’un Girondin,” in Revue du dix-huitième siècle, 1 (1916), 57–77, can be read with pleasure and, since they rely on numerous unpublished documents, make an important contribution to our knowledge of Bosc and of his political and private life (his relations with the Rolands, his love for Mme. Roland and then for her daughter, Eudora). Scientific appraisals are in L. Berland, “Voyageurs d’autrefois et insectes historiques,” in Livre du centenaire de la Société entomologique de France (1932), pp. 157–166; and especially in Francis Harper, “Some Works of Bartram, Daudin, Latreille and Sonnini and Their Bearing Upon North American Herpetological Nomenclature,” in American Midland Naturalist, 23 , no. 3 (1940), 692–723. The indications on the arachnological work of Bosc are given by P. Bonnet, in Bibliographia araneorum, I (Toulouse, 1945), 278.

Jean-FranÇois Leroy

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Bosc, Louis Augustin Guillaume

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