views updated


(b. Valleraugues, France, 10 February 1810; d. Paris, France, 12 January 1892)

medicine, zoology, anthropology.

The son of Jean-Francois de Quatrefages Marguerite-Henriette-Camille de Cabanes, Quatrefages received a Protestant education. From 1822 to 1826 he studied at the Collège Royal of Tournon, where he showed great enthusiasm for mathematics and the exact sciences. He was sent to study medicine at the University of Strasbourg, where he first defended the two theses required for the doctorat ès sciences; “Théorie d’un coup de canon” (1829) and “Du mouvement des aérolithes considérés comme des masses disséminées dans fespace par I‘impulsion des volcans hmaires” (1830). He obtained an assistant-ship in chemistry and physics at the Strasbourg Faculty of Medicine in 1830. After defending his medical thesis, “L’ extroversion de la vessie” (1832), he established a medical practice in Toulouse (1833). In 1836 he founded the Journal de médecine et de chirurgie de Toulouse, id which he published many articles, especially a series of zoological observations that gained him a provisional appointment to the chair of zoology at the Toulouse Faculty of Sciences. He was, however, disappointed in his academic ambitions and left for Paris in 1840.

In the same year, at Paris, Quatrefages defended two theses for his third doctorate, this time in the natural sciences: “Sur les caractères zoologiques des rongeurs et sur leur dentition en particulier” and “Sur les rongeurs fossiles.” During this period he earned a meager living by writing popular articles and— thanks to his talent for drawing— by preparing the plates for the new edition of Cuviers’ Le regne animal then being prepared by Henri Milne-Edwards.

From 1840 to 1855 Quatrefages, with the support and advice of Milne-Edwards, studied the invertebrates, publishing more than eighty memoirs on them during this period. He also undertook a series of voyages in order to study animal life along the Atlantic coast of France, and in 1844 he participated in a zoological mission off the Sicilian coast with Milne-Edwards and Émile Blanchard. These expeditions are recorded in his two-volume Souvenirs d’un natualiste (1854). In 1850 Quatrefages was awarded the chair of natural history at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris; in April 1852 he replaced Savigny as a member of the anatomy and zoology section of the Academy of Sciences: and in 1855, through the support of Milne-Edwards, he obtained the vacant chair in the natural history of man at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. Thus began his career as anthropologist. He managed nonetheless to complete and publish Histoire naturelle des annelés marins et d’eau douce (1865). Moreover, twice between 1857 and 1859 he was sent on missions by the Academy of Sciences to Study the devastating diseases attacking the silkworm and to find a means of controlling them.

Quatrefages’s zoological views were basically those of his teacher Milne-Edwards. Preoccupied with “organic complication,” Quatrefages wanted to study the degeneration (dégradation) of organisms and to ascertain the mechanism by which it took place. Marine invertebrates and especially annelids, because of the multiplicity and diversity of their typical structures, provided him with an abundance of material for this study: “Nowhere else does degeneration appear so extensively and in such variety.” He viewed this organizational degeneration as a function of a decrease in the physiological division of labor. He accompanied his ideas with a critique of the Cuvierist position, which linked the importance of the functions to that of the organs.

It was on these theoretical positions that Quatrefages established his incorrect and highly controversial theory of phléhentérisme (see, for instance, “Mémoires sur les gasteropodes phlébentérés, ordre nouveau de la classe des gastéropodes,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, 3rd ser., 1 [1844], 129–183). In accord with the principle of the physiological division of labor, which implies that when a group of organs with a specific function disappears, the accompanying function continues, Quatrefages assumed the disappearance of the circulatory system in certain creatures. He first hypothesized its disappearance in the gastropod mollusks, which he called phlébéntérés, and later supposed that “almost all types of invertebrates have their derivative phlébéntérés. According to Quatrefages, the circulatory system was replaced by the digestive tube, substituted for circulating not the blood bill chymified alimentary substances. At first this conception generated much interest and excited a rather hot controversy; but with time, it was quietly abandoned even by Quatrefages’s friends like Milne-Edwards.

Quatrefages often extended his analysis to the tissues. For example, from the work done on his Sicilian expedition he produced a study on the histology of the amphioxus; and he was one of the first to work in comparative histology, although he never accepted the cell theory as applied to animals. Convinced, like Milne-Edwards, of the importance of embryological characteristics for the classification of organisms, he believed that he had surpassed Cuvier and had rediscovered the spirit of A.-L. Jussieu. Moreover, unlike Cuvier, Quatrefages believed that there were transitional forms between certain “em-branchements”; and he created the class Gephyrea (a class now comprising Priapulida, Sipunculida, and Echiurida) as a link between the Articulata and the Radiata (see “Mémoire sur fechiure de Gaertner,” in Annales des Sciences Naturelles, 3rd ser., 7 [1847], 307–344).

It was also as a zoologist that Quatrefages approached anthropology when he began to teach that subject at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in 1856. For him the fundamental problem of this discipline remained the unity of the human species. Nonetheless, he conceived of anthropology in a very broad sense, in which the natural history of man would be associated with a general survey of all human populations, both living and fossil. For the Paris Exposition of 1867, Quatrefages wrote Rapport sur les progrés de l’anthropologie, in which he defended his monogenetic ideas. In collaboration with his disciple E.-T. Hamy, who did most of the work, he published Crania ethnica (1882), surveying what was then known of the comparative craniology of living and fossil human races, for which he was trying to achieve a classification. Convinced by Lartet of the existence of fossil man, Quatrefages in 1863 supported Boucher de Perthes after the discovery at Abbeville of a human jaw accompanied by flint axes. In 1871, at the Fifth International Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology held at Bologna, he came out in favor of the view that man existed as far back as the Tertiary.

Nevertheless, Quatrefages remained a lifelong opponent of the Darwinian theory and of the simian origin of man; he also defended the conception of a human kingdom distinct from the animal one (l’unité de l’espèce humaine [1861]). In 1870 he published a collection of his antitransformist articles as Darwin et ses précurseurs francais; two more volumes were published in 1894 as Les eémules de Darwin.

Quatrefages was a member of many scholarly societies, both French and foreign, and was a founder of the Association Francaise pour l’Avancement des Sciences.


I. Original Works. An almost complete bibliography of Quatrefauo’s works is in Godefroy Malloizel, Armand de Quatrefages de Breau. liste chronologique de ses travux (Autun, 1893). Also useful is Notice sur les travaux zoologiques el anatomiques de M. A. Quatrefages (Paris, 1850; 2nd rev, ed., 1852), prepared by Quatrefages at the time of his candidacy for the Academy of Sciences; it includes commentaries following the title of each memoir.

II. Secondary Literature. In addition to several obituary notices listed by Malloizel, another valuable reference is Edmond Perrier’s 95-page preface to vol. I of Quatrefage’s Lesemules de Darwin. See also Georges Herve and L. de Quatrefages, “Armand dc Quatrefages de Breau, medecin, zooiogiste, anthropologic (1810–1892),” in Bulletin de la Société francaise d’ htistoire de la médecine.20 (1926), and 21 (1927).

Camille Limoges

About this article

Quatrefages De Bréau, Jean-Louis-Armand De

Updated About content Print Article Share Article