Perrier, Edmond

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(b. Tulle, France, 9 May 1844; d. Paris, France, 31 July 1921)


The son of a school principal in Tulle, Perrier began his education in that city and completed his secondary education in that city and completed his secondary education in Paris. In 1864 he scored well on the competitive entrance examinations to both the École Polytechnique and the science section of the École Normale Supérieure. At the suggestion of Pasteur, who was then its director, he chose the latter institution, where his teacher was Lacaze-Duthiers. He earned his licence és sciences in mathematics and physics in 1866, passed the agréation in physics in 1867, and began teaching physics at the lycée of Agen. A few months later he returned to Paris where Lacaze-Duthiers.had secured his appointment as aide-naturaliste at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. He obtained his licence in natural sciences in 1868 and the following year defended a dissertation, “Recherches sur les pédicellaires et les ambulacres des astéries et des oursins,” that earned him the doctorat és sciences naturelles Named maître de conférences in zoology at the école Normale Supérieure in 1872, he held similar posts several years later at the écoles normales of Sèvres and of St.-Cloud. He was appointed professor-administrator at the Museum d’Histoire Naturaelle in 1876 and in 1900 became its director, a post he held for some twenty years. Elected to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1892, he became its president in 1913.

The major portion of Perrier’s zoological work is devoted to the anatmy, physiology, and taxonomy of the invertebrates. He participated in oceanographic expeditions in the Atlantic in 1881 and in the Mediter-ranean in 1883 and established the Museum’s marine biology laboratory at St-Vaast-la-Hougue in 1887. He also was called upon to classify the material obtained on several expeditions, notably the starfish collected under the direction of Alexander Agassiz.

Perrier, who declared his acceptance of the theory of evolution in 1879, was always particularly interested in the study of the oligochaetes and echinoderms, since these groups represented the two major types of animal organization: segments arranged in linear series and segments radiating from a center. His richest theoretical work, and perhaps his most original, is Les colonies animales (1881). In it he attempted to comprehend the evolutionary formation of groups of organisms, starting with the simplest creatures, which are favored in their evolution by their ability to reproduce by division or budding. Certain of these creatures remained independent, while others, Perrier explained, agglomerated into colonies in which, at first, they preserved their individuality. In a subsequent stage this individuality was eliminated by the effect of a division of physiological labor implying a reciprocal dependence as well as a differentiation of forms. The later transformations of the linear or irregular (simple or coalescent) colonies were, on this view, the origin of the major taxonomic divisions.

At the time of its publication (1902) another work by Perrier, “Tachygenèse” (written in collaboration with Charles Gravier), was also of theoretical interest. In it Perrier sought to explain apparent difficulties of the biogenetic law by the phenomenon of embryogenic acceleratioin (according to which in a series of organisms, “the higher the given organism is in the series, the more rapid, in general,is the development and the more advanced is the stage of development at which hatching occurs”) and by the occurrence of embryonic adaptatioins tthat modifuy the subsequent development of the organism.

Perrier quickly became one of the principal defenders in France of the theory of evolution; but he was never a Darwinian in the strict sense and was one of those mainly responsible for the revival of Lamarckism in France. Perrier was interested in the history of his discipline and wrote, in addition to his book on Lamarck, a long preface to Quatrefage’s Emules de Darwin and La philosophie zoologique avant Darwin, which is still a useful source for the study of biology in the nineteenth century.

The author of a substantial Traité de zoologie and several textbooks, Perrier was also director of the Annales des sciences naturelles (zoologie) from 1900 until his death. His many popular articles appeared mainly in Revue scientifique and in the newspaper Le temps.


I. Original Works. A chronological list of Perrier’s scientific publications is at the end of the article by R .Anthony cited below. Perrier himself prepared, on the occasion of his candidacies for the Paris Academy of Sciences,Notice sur les travaux scientifiques de H. O.Edmond Perrier (Paris, 1875, 1886, 1892), containing an analysis of his works.

The following works are of particular importance: “Recherches sur les pedicellaires et les ambulacres des asteries et des oursins,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, 5th ser., 12 (1869), 197–304; 13 (1870),5–81; “Recherches pour servir à l’histoire des lombriciens terrestres,” in Archives (nouvelles) du Muséum d’histoire naturelle8 (1872), 5–198; “Révision de la collection des stellérides du Muséum d’histoire naturelle,” in Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale, 4 (1875), 265–450 and 5 (1876), 1–104, 209–304; “Le tranfoirmisme et les sciences physiques,” in Revue scientifique16 (1879). 890–895; “Rôle de l’association dans le regne animal,” ibid17 (1879), 553–559; Les colonies animales et la formation des organismes (Paris, 1881); “Sur l’appareil ciculatoire des étoiles de mer,” in Comptes rendus … de l’Acadéemie des sciences94 (1882), 658–661, written with J. Poirier; La philosophie zoologique avant Darwin (Paris,1884); Le tranrformisme (Paris, 1888); Traité de zoologie 10 fascs. (Paris, 1893–1932); “La tachgenèse ou acceleration embryogénique son importance dans les modifications des phéenoménes embryogéniques, son rÔle dans la tranformatioin des organismes,” in Annales des sciences naturelles (zoologie) 16 (1902), 133–374, written with C. Gravier; La terre avant l’histoire (Paris, 1921); and Lamarch (Paris, 1925).

The bulk of Perrier’s MSS are in the archives of the Paris Academy of Sciences and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle.

II. Secondary Literature. To date no full study of Perrier’s work exists, but the following articles are useful: R. Anthony, “Edmond Perrier, 1844–1921,” in Archives du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 6th ser., 1 (1926),1–14; C. Graqvier, “En souvenir de M. Edmond Perrier,” in Bulletin du Muséum national d‘histoire naturelle (1921), no. 7; and M. Phisalix, “Edmond Perrier (1844–1921),” in Bulletin de Association des éléves de sèvres (Jan. 1922).

C. Limoges