Verneuil, Philippe Édouard Poulletier De
VERNEUIL, PHILIPPE ÉDOUARD POULLETIER DE
(b. Paris, France 13 February 1805; d. Paris, 29 May 1873)
Édouard de Verneuil, the son of Antoine César Poulletier de Verneuil and Genevieve Pauline Flore Laurens de I’Ormeon, prepared for the law, received a license, and in 1833 entered the employment of the French Ministry of Justice. He studied the geological lessons of Élie de Beaumont and then in 1835, being of independent means, devoted himself to science.
Vereuil’s scientific career was concerned with describing the geological formations and fossil groups of the Paleozoic era. His extensive knowledge of these fossils enabled him to make his major theoretical contribution to stratigraphy–the hypothesis that the paleozoic deposits of the United States and Spain are parallel to those of Europe.
Verneuil made his principal researches in five areas in Europe and North America. From 1835 to 1838 he traveled in Europe from England to the Crimea; in 1840 and 1841 he toured European Russia with the English geologist Roderick Murchison; in 1846 he briefly visited the United States; from 1849 to 1862 he traveled almost annually in Spain; and in the years after 1864, he studied the activity of Mount Vesuvius. He made his first tour in 1835 to Wales. His objective was to study the formations that had recently led Murchison and his colleague Adam Sedgwick to break down Abraham Werner’s Trnasitional Formations (specifically, the graywacke) into the Silurian and Cambrian systems. Verneuil’s observation led to his support for an extension of the classification. In the summer of 1836, he traveled along the Danube to Turkey and the Crimea, neither of which had received extensive geological examination. He was primarily interested in the prominent Tertiary terrains, but he described Silurian system around Constantinople.
Verneuil’s adoption of Murchison’s theories, his defense of them before the Geological Society of France, and his knowledge of the fossils of the older strata invitably brought him into personal contact with the English scientist. In 1839 Murchison and Sedgwick were in northern Germany, Belgium, and northern France to gather evidence for a new system–the Devonian–that they had described in England. Verneuil, who had earlier followed the Silurian system in northern France, was invited to join their French tour. Verneuil charmed Murchison with his sophistication and his piano playing, and their professional acquaintance became lifelong friendship.
The geological tours and perhaps personal contact with Murchison stimulated the beginning of Verneuil’s theoretical contribution to geology. In 1840 Verneuil suggested that the Silurian system, which had then been observed in England, Europe, and Turkey, was universal in extent. This suggestion was the germ of his generalizations of the uniformity of palezoic laws. Proving the generalization provided the research for his mature scientific career.
Verneuil’s first opportunity to verify the universality of the new Paleozoic systems came later in 1840. Murchison desired to travel in Russia, where he expected he could easily observe the Silurian, Devonian, and Carboniferous layers; and he asked Verneuil to accompany him. Tours were made in the summer of 1840 and 1841. Not only did the two who were intermittently joined by the Russian naturalist Alexandr Keyserling–verify Murchsion’s systems for European Russia, but on the second tour Murchison discovered, and Verneuil made the fossil analysis of, a new formation in Perm, hence called the Permian system. These strata, which paralleled the Zechstein of Germany and Magnesian Limestone of England, were proved by verneuil to constitute the upper limit of the recently defined paleozoic era. Verneuil was quickly able to demonstrate the same fossil group in western Europe and thus the existence of the Permian system there as well.
Upon the publication of the results of the Russian expeditions in the two-volume Geology of Russia in Europe and the Ural Mountains, with Murchison and Keyserling (London–Paris, 1845), in which he was chiefly responsible for the volume on paleontology, Verneuil could turn his attention to verifying the Paleozoic order elsewhere. The outstanding problem, as he had recognized in 1840, was to bring the geological structure of the Americas into correspondence with that of Europe. In 1846 he journeyed to the United States primarily to study formations in New York and Ohio, where American geologists had already described the strata in detail, although in local perspectives. He sought to answer two questions: Did the fossil species in America and Europe present themselves in the same order? And was it possible to trace between the American Paleozoic stages the divisions established in Europe under the names of the Silurian, Devonian, and Carboniferous systems? Verneuil’s research immediately provided affirmative answers. He announced in his important essay “Note sur le parallélisme des roches des dépôts paléozoïques de l’Amerique septentrionale avecceux de l’Europe” (in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 2 [1846–1847], 646–709) that the Paleozoic deposits of the two continents are parallel and that the distribution of fossils in each had been made according to a common law.
In his remaining career, Verneuil was largely concerned with the geology of Spain. Spanish stratigraphy had been brought to his attention as early as January 1844 by a colleague who sent fossils to him for identification. Beginning in 1849, Verneuil traveled often to the Iberian Peninsula and was able to prove that its Paleozoic order corresponded to that east of the Pyrenees. In 1858, and frequently after 1864, Verneuil studied Mount Vesuvius.
Verneuil was elected president of the Geological Society of France three times, in 1840, 1853, and 1867. In 1854 he was elected to the Académie des Sciences, and he was a foreign associate of the Royal Society of London and the academies of science of St. Petersburg and Berlin.
I. Original Works. A list of the principal publications is given in Daubrée, “Notice nécrologie sur Édouard de Verneuil,” in Bulletin de la Société géologique de France, 3 ser. 3 (1875–1876), 317 –328. A complete list of articles is in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers (1800–1900). VI, VIII. Scattered pieces of correspondence are listed in Ministère de I’éducation nationale, Catalogue générale des manuscrits des bibliothèques publiques en France (Paris, 1885– ), VIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LV; and the Catalogue of Manuscripts in the American Philosophical Society Library (Westport, Conn., n.d.), IX.
Verneuil’s fossil collection, left to the École des Mines, Paris, is described by J. Barrande, “Collection Paléontologique de M. Edouard de Verneuil,” in Annales des mines, mémoires, 7 ser. 4 (1873), 327–338.
II. Secodary Literature. The best biographical memoir, from which most other such memoirs are derived, is Daubrée, “Discours sur M. Édouard de Verneuil,” in Annales des mines, mémoires, 7 , ser. 4 (1873), 318–326. Other memoirs are listed in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers (1800–1900). VIII. XI. Verneuil’s relationship with Murchison is discussed in Archibald Geikie, Life of Sir Roderick I. Murchison 2 vols. (London, 1875).
Ronald C. Tobey