Metamorphoses of a green frog, engraving, in François Daudin, <i>Histoire naturelle ... des reptiles</i>, vol. 1, 1802 (Linda Hall Library)

Metamorphoses of a green frog, engraving, in François Daudin, Histoire naturelle ... des reptiles, vol. 1, 1802 (Linda Hall Library)

François Daudin

MARCH 25, 2021

Scientist of the Day - François Daudin

François-Marie Daudin, a French zoologist, was born Aug. 29, 1776, in Paris.  We celebrate him today because, until recently, the French Wikipedia listed his birthday as Mar. 25, and we did not notice the date change until too late.

Daudin was a paraplegic, having lost the use of his legs during a bout with some unknown childhood illness. In 1799, at the age of 23, he began publishing astonishingly competent surveys in zoology. He first tackled the birds with his Traité élémentaire et complet d'ornithologie (1799-1800), which is said to be (we do not have this work in our Library) the first ornithological work to fully adopt Linnaeus' system of binomial nomenclature.  Daudin then turned, oddly, to mollusks, and after that, to reptiles. One can tell from the title of this work, Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, des reptiles (1802-03), that it was intended as a continuation of the comte de Buffon's monumental 45-volume zoological encyclopedia, the Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière (1749-1804).

Daudin’s History of Reptiles included about 100 engravings.  We chose several to reproduce here: the metamorphic stages of a green frog (first image); two tortoises (third image); skeletons of a chameleon and a lizard (fourth image); and a gavial and a Nile crocodile (fifth image, below).  Note the clever way the gavial and crocodile poke their snouts and tails through the engraved frame.

These images were all taken from volume 1 or 2 of the set, and they all signed “De Seve del,” meaning “drawn by de Seve.”  Jacques de Seve drew most of the illustrations for Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, but as he was not active after 1788, Daudin’s artist was presumably de Seve’s son, Jacques Eustache de Seve.

However, in some of the later volumes, we see engravings signed “Adel. Daudin”, as with this pair of Grenouille galonnée from volume 8 (sixth image, above). Adel. Daudin was François’s wife, Adélaļde Geneviève, who was two years older than François and the love of his life, and who supposedly did the drawings for 37 of the engravings in the set, although we cannot confirm this.  Alas, Adélaļde died in 1803 of tuberculosis, and Daudin succumbed to the same disease, with a sizeable factor of grief mixed in, only a month later, at the age of 27. We remember Daudin in our History of Science Collection with the most beautiful set of his History of Reptiles you would ever want to see, 8 untrimmed volumes in their original bright orange paper wrappers, just the way they were issued by the publisher, before the binder could get his leathery hands on them (last image, below).

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor emeritus, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to