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Vaillant, Léon-Louis

VAILLANT, LéON-LOUIS

(b. Paris, France, 11 November 1834; d. Paris, 27 November 1914)

ichthyology, herpetology.

Vaillant studied medicine and science at Montpellier and obtained both the M.D. and Ph.D. in Paris with theses on human hair (Essai sur le systéme pileux dans l’ espéce humaine, 1861) and on the mollusk Tridacna (Remarques sur l’anatomie de la Tridacna elongata, 1865). After several years as instructor at the universities of Paris and Montpellier, he became assistant and then full professor at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. In 1875 he obtained the chair of herpetology and ichthyology at the Muséum, from which he retired in 1910; he died at work in 1914.

Vaillant’s earliest duties at the museum included the installation of new galleries to replace those destroyed by the Prussians in 1871. He identified, labeled, arranged, and exhibited his collections with care and delight. As head keeper of the reptiles, batrachians, and fish in the menagerie (which contained 616 animals when he retired), he had ample opportunity for observation. He taught ichthyology and herpetology for thirty-five years and became a world-renowned specialist.

Vaillant published almost two hundred papers, each but a few pages long, and each containing a new detail that was significant in determining the precise classification of some little-known species. While he was still at Montpellier, his articles appeared mainly in Mémoires de la Société de biologie and in Annales des sciences naturelles. After the Franco-Prussian War, he published in Bulletin de la Société philomathique de Paris. Only after 1895 did he change to a public journal and publish forty-four more papers in the new Bulletin du Muséum d’histoire naturelle. During his entire professional life Vaillant kept up a steady flow of one or two communications a year to the Academy of Sciences; yet the Academy rejected his candidacy twice, in 1886 and 1887. He never tried again.

Vaillant spent his life at the Muséum. He concentrated on the classification of new specimens and, in eight instances, helped publish the results of expeditions that he had either participated in or had watched closely.

In 1863–1864 Vaillant traveled to the Gulf of Suez with a government mission (doubtless related to the construction of the canal). His study of a mollusk (Recherches sur la famille des Tridacnidés, 1865) won the first Savigny Prize from the Académie des Sciences. In 1880–1883 he participated, as member of a deep-sea dredging commission, in the voyages of the frigates Travailleur and Talisman, and published his part of the resulting discoveries in a beautifully illustrated volume (Poissons [Paris, 1888]). After that, his travels were vicarious.

Vaillant wrote in 1882 a general scientific account of the French mission to Somaliland, established in 1891 the official list of fish brought back from the Algerian Sahara and, in 1893, a list of fish brought back from the Arctic by the frigate La Manche. He wrote in 1905 the section on “Fish” for the report of a French expedition to Antarctica, the section on “Turtles” in 1911 for the volume compiled by a military mission to South America, and he left unfinished a study containing the results of a French expedition to Central America.

All Vaillant’s writings are technical throughout, with no comments: yet the excitement of the scientist stalking his prey and nailing a precise fact is always present. He explained his methodology as being based on anatomy illuminated physiology and ethology and aided by microscopic techniques and histology. Sometimes he dealt with extinct species and studied naturalists’ descriptions as far back as antiquity, which enabled him, he said, to settle many a dispute. Finally, he was interested in the distribution of species geographically, historically, and at various depths in the ocean.

Vaillant presented several reports of general significance, based on ichthyologic and herpetologic research, to the Académie des Sciences. The fauna of the ocean floor was still quite unknown, and bathymetric studies were just beginning to permit differentiation of “littoral,” “coastal,” and “abyssal” regions. He also served as a consultant to a national committee on deep-sea fishing and on juries for the World’s Fair of 1878, 1889, and 1900. His only official distinction was the rosette of the Legion of Honor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. Works by Vaillant include Essai sur le système pileux dans L’espèce humaine (Paris, 1861), the thesis for the M.D.: “Mémoire pour servir à I’histoie anatomique de la Sirène lacertine,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, 4th ser., 19 (1863), 295–346; “Recherches sur la famille des Tridacnidés,” in Annales des sciences naturelles (Zoologie), 4 (1865), 65–172: “Remarques sur L’anatomie de la Tridacna elongata,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de L’Academie des sciences, 61 (1865), 601–603; “Recherches sur les poissons des eaux douces de L’Amérique Septentrionale, désignés par M. L. Agassiz sous le non d’Etheostomatidae,” in Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 9 (1873), 5–154; “Sur la disposition des vertèbres cervicales chez les Chéloniens,” in Annales des sciences naturelles, 6th ser., 10 (1880), no. 7; Mission G. Révoil aux pays Somalis. Faune et flore. Reptiles et batraciens (Paris, 1882); “Catalogue raisonné des reptiles et batraciens d’Assinie, donnés par M. Chaper au Muséum d’histoire naturelle,” in Bulletin de la Société zoologique de France, 9 (1884), 343–354; “Considérations sur les poissons des grandes profondeurs, en particulier sur ceux qui appartiennent au sous-ordre des abdominales,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de L’Académie des sciences, 103 (1886), 1237–1239; 104 (1887), 123–126; “Matériaux pour servir à L’historie ichthologique des Ardchipels de la Société et des Pomotous,“in Bulletin de la Société philomathique de Paris11 (1887), 49–62 Poissons (Paris, 1888), vol. II of Expéditions scientifiques du Travailleur et du Talisman pendant les années 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883, sous la direction de A. Milne-Ed-wards; “Rapport présenté au Comité consultatif des pêches sur les morues, la reproduction de la sardine et les causes probables de sa disparition,” in Revue maritime et coloniale, 97 (1888), 544–554, with L. F. Henneguy; Rapport adressé au Ministre de la marine aunom du Comité consultatif des pêches maritimes sur la pêche de la monté d’anguilles (Paris, 1889); Sur la présence du saumon dans les eaux marines de la Norvége in A. Berthoude, Le Saumon et la loi sur la pêche (Versailles, 1889); “Les collections d’herpétologie et d’ichthyologie au Muséum d’histoire naturelle,” in Revue scientifique, 45 (1890), 513–522.

Other works include Lombriciniens, hirudiniens, bdellomorphes, térétulariens et planariens, 3 vols. (Paris, 1889–1890), pt. III of Histoire naturelle des annelés marins d’eau douce; Poissons, sect. IV , pt, 11 of L’extrême sud algérien. Contribution à L’histoire naturelle de cette région. Catalogue raisonné et étude des échantillons recueillis dans le Sahara algérien. Nouvelles archives des missions scientifiques, I (1891), 360; “Sur la délimitation des zones littorales,” in Comptes rendus hebdomadaires dus séx de L’Académie des sciences112 (1891), 1038–1040; Les Poissons d’aquarium. Conférence faite à la Société nationale d’acclimatation (Paris, 1893); Les tortues éteintes de L;île Rodriguez, d’après les piè’ces conservées dans les galeries du Muséum. Centenaire du Muséum d’historie naturelle de Paris (Paris, 1893), 254–288; “Essai monographique surles Silures du genre Synodontis,” in Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 7 (1895), 233–284; 8 (1896), 87–178; La Tortue de Perrault (Testudo indica, Schneider), étude historique (Paris, [1896]); Guide à laménagerie des reptiles. Muséum d’histoire naturelle (Paris, 1897); “Contribution à l’étude des Emydosauriens. Catalogue raisonné des Jacaretinga et Alligator de la collection du Muséum,” in Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 10 (1898), 143-212; “Contribution à l’étude de la faune ichthyologique de la Guyane,” in Leyden Museum Notes, 20 (1898-1899), 1-20; Notice sur les travaux scientifiques de Monsieur L.-L. Vaillant (Paris, 1900); Poissons (Paris, 1905), in Expédition antarctique française, 1903-1905, commandée par le Dr. Jean Charcot. Sciences naturelles: documents scientifiques; Crocodiles et tortues (Paris, 1910), pt. I of Histoire naturelle des reptiles, XVII of Historie physique, naturelle et politique de Madagascar, with G. Grandidier; “Chéloniens et batracien modèle recueillis par le Dr. Rivet,” in Zoologie (Paris, 1911), IX of Mission du service géographique de l’armée pour la mesure d’un arc de méridien équatorial en Amérique du Sud, sous le contrôle scientifique de l’Académie des sciences; Études sur les poissons, pt. IV of Recherches zoologiques publiées sous la direction de M. H. Milne-Edwards (Paris, 1883-1915), in Mission scientifique au Mexique et dans l’Amérique Centrale.

See also the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, for a detailed list of Vaillant’s published works.

II. Secondary Literature.. See Louis Roule, “Allocution prononcèe aux obséques de M. Léon Vaillant,” in Bulletin du Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, 20 (1914), 374-375.

Dora B. Weiner

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