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Jean-Henri Fabre


IT is more than half a century since Darwin quoted Fabre in his “ Origin of Species “ and called him “that inimitable observer.” Yet he has been with us and working till the other day— a resolute veteran, in spite of his extraordinarily hard and strenuous life, from which he wrung out the joys of discovery and devotion. In this sense he lived a successful life, and he had other rewards—the appreciative esteem of expert entomologists; the admiration of those who have enjoyed his intimate descriptions of the life and work of insects and his singularly vivid style; the encouragement of good friends, such as John Stuart Mill and Mistral; but one cannot escape the regret that, through imperfections in contemporary social organisation, his genius, which was marked by a unique blend of observing power and sympathetic insight, was through a large part of his life unduly distracted and inhibited by the cares of keeping up the supply of daily bread. Perhaps on his own side he carried the spirit of independence to an extreme. In any case there is a pathetic ring in his own words, a short time ago, about his life, that it “had not been exempt from many cares, nor very fruitful in incidents or great vicissitudes, since it had been passed very largely, especially during the last thirty years, in the most absolute retirement and the completest silence.” The ten volumes of the “Souvenirs Entomologiques,” many of the best chapters of which have been translated into English, remain as Fabre's lasting monument. They show us an observer of insects, second only to Réaumur, who was able, in a way all his own, “ instinct pursuing instinct,” as has been well said, to get at the insect's point of view.

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Jean-Henri Fabre . Nature 96, 204–205 (1915).

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