BUFFON, GEORGE LOUIS LECLERC, COMTE DE (1707-1788), French naturalist, was born at Montbard (Cote d'Or), his father, Benjamin Francois Leclerc de Buffon (1683 being councillor of the Burgundian parlement. He studied law at the college of Jesuits at Dijon, where he made the acquaint ance of a young Englishman, Lord Kingston, and with him trav elled through Italy and then went to England. He published a French translation of Stephen Hales's Vegetable Statics in and of Sir I. Newton's Fluxions in 1740. At 25 years of age he succeeded to a considerable property, inherited from his mother, and from this time onward his life was devoted to regular scientific labour. In 1739 he became keeper of the Jardin du Roi and of the royal museum. He there began to collect materials for his Natural History. He entrusted the descriptive and anatomical portions of the treatise to L. J. M. Daubenton, and the first three volumes made their appearance in 1749. In 1752 (not in 1743 or 1760, as sometimes stated) he married Marie Francoise de Saint Belin, and felt deeply her death in 1769. He himself died in Paris at the age of 81 of vesical calculus, having refused to allow any operation for his relief. He left one son, George Louis Marie Leclerc Buffon, who was an officer in the French army, and who died by the guillotine, at the age of 3o, on July 10, 1793 (22 Messidor, An II.).
Buffon was a member of the French Academy (his inaugural address being the celebrated Discours sur le style, 1753), perpetual treasurer of the Academy of Science, fellow of the Royal Society of London, and member of most of the learned societies then existing in Europe. Without being a profound original investi gator, he possessed the art of expressing his ideas in a clear and generally attractive form. His chief defects as a scientific writer are that he was given to excessive and hasty generalization.
His Histoire naturelle, generale et particuliere was the first work to present the previously isolated and apparently disconnected facts of natural history in a popular and generally intelligible form. The sensation made by its appearance in successive parts was very great, and it did good service by diffusing a taste for the study of nature. The Histoire naturelle passed through several editions, and was translated into various languages. The first edition is highly prized by collectors, on account of the beauty of its plates; it was published in Paris (1749-1804) in 44 quarto volumes, the publication extending over more than 5o years. In the preparation of the first 15 volumes of this edition Buffon was assisted by Daubenton and subsequently by P. Gueneau de Montbeliard, the abbe G. L. C. A. Bexon, and C. N. S. Sonnini de Manoncourt. The following seven volumes form a supplement to the preceding, and appeared in 1774-89, the famous Epoques de la nature (1779) being the fifth of them. They were succeeded by nine volumes on the birds (177o-83), and these again by five volumes on minerals (1783-88). The remaining eight volumes, which complete this edition, appeared after Buffon's death, and comprise reptiles, fishes, and cetaceans. They were executed by B. G. E. de Lacepede, and were published in successive volumes between 1788 and 1804. A second edition, begun in 1774 and completed in 1804, in 36 volumes quarto, is in most respects similar to the first, except that the anatomical descriptions are suppressed and the supplement recast.