New York: Kirk & Mecein, 1818. First American Edition, 1st Printing. FIRST AMERICAN EDITION OF CUVIER’S ESSAY ON THE THEORY OF THE EARTH, THE 1st SYSTEMATIC STUDY OF FOSSILS, A WORK REPRESENTING THE BEGINNING OF COMPARATIVE VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY. Cuvier uses his analysis of fossil history to theorize that new species appeared after periodic catastrophic floods. This work was initially published in 1812 in French as Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles de quadrupeds, où l'on rétablit les caractères de plusieurs espèces d'animaux que les révolutions du globe paroissent avoir détruites .
Baron Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier was a French naturalist and zoologist who founded the fields of vertebrate paleontology and comparative anatomy. “Cuvier did not present [this work] as a textbook of catastrophism, but as a statement about the roles that paleontology and geology should play in unravelling the history of the earth” (Stephen Jay Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory).
“Although Cuvier never tried to explain how new fossil types might come into being, no other researcher in the pre-Darwinian period produced more evidence showing that evolution actually does occur. [The work offered here] provided irrefutable proof of the occurrence of evolution” (McCarthy, Baron Georges Cuvier, Macroevolution). At the same time that Cuvier’s work “established extinction as a fact, he believed that these extinctions were the result of catastrophism. Catastrophism is the theory that several global catastrophes have occurred throughout Earth’s history, resulting in the extinction of many species that were then replaced by new species in successive eras” (“Proving Extinction, Biodiversity Heritage Library). The preliminary discourse of Cuvier’s work discusses these ideas “in great detail” (ibid).
“This work also summarizes Cuvier’s principal palaeontological and geological investigations. Cuvier staunchly objected to the evolutionary theories being proposed by naturalists such as Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, which argued for the gradual transmutation of species over time [and whose] evolutionary theories held that species were transitory constantly shifting from one form to another rather than dying off to be replaced by new species – [theories that] excluded the possibility of extinction. Cuvier maintained that his extensive experience with fossils indicated that species did not change over time, but instead that the fossil record showed abrupt appearances of new forms and the extinction of old ones. This fueled his support of Catastrophism” (ibid).
NOTE: This edition also includes With Mineralogical Notes, and An Account of Cuvier’s Geological Discoveries by Professor Jameson To Which are Now Added, Observations on the Geology of North America; Illustrated by the Description of Various Organic Remains, Found in That Part of the World by the polymath Samuel L. Mitchell. Item #1103
CONDITION & DETAILS: New York: Kirk & Mercein. 8vo. [xxiii], 431,. Bearing the ownership notation of the geneticists Dorothea J. Widmayer and Eleanor R. Webster. Complete with half title, frontispiece, and 8 engraved plates. Nicely rebound in half calf over early marbled boards; gilt-lettered red-morocco spine label. Tight and solid. Scattered foxing, clean throughout. Very good. A handsome volume.