Lapparent, Albert Auguste Cochon De

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Lapparent, Albert Auguste Cochon De

(b. Bourges, France, 30 December 1839; d. Paris, France, 4 Mary 1908),


Lapparent was descended from a noble family of the Vendée. His paternal grandfather, Emmanuel, was a member of the first graduating class of the École Polytechnique (1794); and his father and uncle Henri were students there. Lapparent was admitted with highest standing to the École Polytechnique in 1858, after compiling a good record at the Lycée Bonaparte. He graduated first in his class and then entered the École des Mines, where he studied under Élie de Beaumont. He graduated in 1864, again first in his class.

Lapparent perfected his German and twice traveled in Germany in order to further his studies (1862, 1863). In 1863, in the town of Predazzo in the Tirol, he was the first to describe and name the rock called monzonite. During a stay in Rome in that same year he was enrolled in the Academy of St. Philip Neri, an institution concerned with religious, social, and economic questions. He became its secretary and excelled in summarizing the sometimes confsing discussions of the speakers. An excellent dancer, Lapparent frequented the Monday gatherings held by the Empress Eugénie in 1864. He became an assistant curator (conservateur–adjoint) at the École des Mines and, at the request of Achille Delesse, he agreed to edit the reviews of the memoirs on stratigraphy for the Revue de géologie. He carried out this task for fifteen years, aided by his knowledge of foreign languages, and acquired a profound knowledge of geology.

From 1865 to 1875 Lapparent supervised the surveying for six maps (scale of 1:80,000) of the Paris Basin. He established the stratigraphy and tectonics of the anticline of the Bray region, recording his findings on structural maps with contour lines. At Mortain he described faults “en échelons.” He attributed the origin of the silt of the plateaus to a hypothetical alluvial process; more recent work, however, has tended to stress instead the role of wind (loess) and percolating water. On the other hand, in the controversy over the benches called” rideaux” in the fields of chalky regions, Lapparent presented arguments against their having had a natural origin and for an artificial one, such as ploughing. Since then aerial photographs and the investigations of M. Brochu and R. Agache have fully justified his views.

At the Paris Universal Exposition in 1867 Lapparent was the reporter for the public lectures on the standardization of weights and measures. Following this exposition the idea of a tunnel under the English Channel between England and France, unsuccessfully advanced as early as 1802, was again taken up and an Anglo–French committee was formed. Lapparent was one of the three French gelogists assigned to study the project. A total of 7,671 dredgings were carried out at sea, 3,267 of which furnished samples. The continuity of the cretaceous beds on both sides of the Strait of Dover, the good quality of the sixty-meter-thick Cenomanian chalk, and the absence of faults were all demonstrated. The tunnel was possible. For his efforts he was made a member of the Legion of Honor.

Lapparent married in 1868. The marriage brought him happiness, nine children (six of whom survived), and financial independence.

In 1875 the Catholic University (later the Catholic Institute) was founded in Paris. A confirmed Catholic, Lapparent accepted the chair of geology and mineralogy and began his courses in January 1876. In 1879 he had to choose between a career in the Bureau of Mines, where he could look forward to a brilliant future, and remaining at the Catholic Institute, which had very few resources. He opted for the latter.

All the collections—minerals, rocks, fossils—had to be amassed. Lapparent took this task upon himself, without assistance; he was even obliged to write out the labels. He increased his knowledge of rocks considerably and also acquired a more developed taste for the nonabstract, which complemented very well the training—primarily in mathematics and physics—he had received at the École Polytechhique.

Lapparent’s teaching was so successful that he received many offers from publishers, and he devoted the rest of his life to writing, especially textbooks. His Traité de géologie (Paris, 1882) was the first of its kind to be so well organized and so clear; it went through five editions, each carefully revised and brought up to date. Lapparent’s Cours de minéralogie (Paris, 1883-1884; 4th ed. 1908) was based on the ideas, then underestimated, of Bravais and of Mallard. He also wrote Abrégé de géologie (Paris, 1886; 6th ed., 1907) and La géologie en chemin de fer (Paris, 1888), a geological description of the major railway routes of the Paris Basin. In 1889 he published Précis de minéralogie, a sixth edition of which came out in 1965. The Lecons de géographie physique, which appeared in 1896, is devoted to geomorphology; it is based on the ideas of W.M. Davis and of the American school, which it contributed to popularizing in France. Le siécle de fer is a useful collection of lectures and articles. Science et apologétique (1905), in which Lapparent attempts to reconcile science and Christianity, is also a plea in favor of science. In nature Lapparent saw, above all, unity, perfection, harmony, and finality.

Those who heard his course lectures and public addresses praised the liveliness of his demonstrations and his brilliant delivery. The successive editions of his treaties show, besides the qualities already mentioned, his care in constantly keeping his works up to date, his understanding, his lucidity, his mastery of the criticism of publications and ideas, his concern for precise observation, and his deep desire for order and harmony.

Lapparent received many honors. He was president of the Geological Society of France in 1880 and 1900, of the French Mineralogical Society in 1885, and of many other organizations. A member (1897) and later perpetual secretary (1907) of the Academy of Sciences, he was also a member or corresponding member of numerous other academies. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University.


I. Original Works. In addition to the works mentioned above, all of which were published in Paris, Lapparent wrote La formation des combustibles minéraux (Paris, 1886); Le niveau de la mer et ses variation (Paris, 1886); Les tremblements de terre (Paris, 1887); and Leçons de géo-graphie physique (3rd ed., Paris, 1907).

II. Secondary Literature. A d’Ales, Études religieuses (Paris, 1908), p. 511; C. Barrois,“Albert de Lapparent et sa carrière scientifique,” in Revue des questions scientifiques (July, 1909); A. Lacroix,“Notice historique sur Albert-Auguste de Lapparent,” in Académie des Sciences (Paris, 1920), with photo; and E. de Margerie,“Albert de Lappa-rent,” in Annales de Géographie,17 , no. 94, 344-347.

AndrÉ Cailleux