Diversity of Life
“Of all the attempts made until now to popularize science, and particularly zoology, none could be better or more efficient than the founding of this Garden, in which the public can, while going for a stroll, receive in just a few hours a most attractive practical lesson in natural history.”
Barr, Maurice, Visite au Jardin zoologique d’acclimatation (VIsting the Zoological Acclimation Garden), 1867, p. VIII
Nineteenth-century science popularizers made a point of telling science through stories, particularly when it came to the natural sciences, which provide the attentive, curious observer with a multitude of questions and surprises, even in ordinary life.
According to Arthur Mangin, the key to popularizing the natural sciences was to use dialogue to work science lessons into fiction.
The texts were often novels about an exploration usually reduced to a simple stroll. Writing them was a tricky exercise in intertwining literary description and scientific explanation over a narrative background.
Stories of... were legion: L'histoire de la bûche (The Story of a Log) by Jean-Henri Fabre, Histoires de perroquets (Stories of Parrots) de Victor Meunier, Histoire d’une bouchée de pain (The Story of a Bite of Bread) by Jean Macé, and other Stories of… from A Piece of Paper
or A Grain of Salt to A Ray of Sunshine. Faraday’s L'histoire d'une chandelle (The Story of A Candle or The Chemical History of a Candle) was translated from English and became a best-seller.
From caterpillar to butterfly, plate from Phénomènes et métamorphoses: causeries sur les papillons les insectes et les polypes
(Phenomena and Metamorphoses: Chats about Butterflies, Insects and Polyps), Sophie Ulliac-Trémadeure, 1854.
Inside a termite’s nest, plate from Curiosités d’histoire naturelle et astronomie amusante
(Natural History Curiosities and Amusing Astronomy), Pierre Boitard, 1862.
The books urged readers, who were often young, to take an interest in the natural world around them. This was particularly true of insects, a topic dear to the heart of Jean-Henri Fabre, who made them the subject of many of his tales for the young.
The science strolls sometimes led out of the book, sending readers to the natural-history museum, the zoo or an aquarium.
Poster for Le monde et la vie terrestre (The World and Earthly Life)
by Jules Rengade, Charles Clérice, 1890.
Poster for Le monde avant la création de l’homme (The World Before Man’s Creation)
by Camille Flammarion, .
Some subjects, such as paleontology, geology and deep-sea flora and fauna, did not lend themselves as easily to direct observation.
In those cases, popularizers presented them with lavish color illustrations.
Library of Marvels cover for Les plages de la France (Beaches of France), Armand Landrin, 1868.