the mighty buffon


Buffon’s contemporary influence was massive. Not only did he sell vast quantities of books, but his approach deeply influenced the most famous eighteenth-century publication, Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie. Some entries in the Encyclopédie were simply taken from Buffon, and Diderot followed Buffon’s lead in considering that natural history provided a key for understanding the whole of the world. Diderot also agreed about the importance of the comparative method – one of the foundations of Buffon’s epistemology. With this kind of intellectual pedigree, and a superb style – Rousseau said of him, “C’est la plus belle plume de son siècle” – Buffon should be more widely read.

The best bits of Buffon have now been condensed by Stéphane Schmitt and Cédric Crémière, and bound in the dark blue leather of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Schmitt is also the driving force behind the ambitious project from Éditions Honoré Champion – republishing the whole of L’Histoire naturelle for the first time in over a century. The first wrist-spraining volume has just appeared, and it is a marvellous monument to Buffon’s vision, and to Schmitt’s scholarship.

more from the TLS here.