Gustave Adolphe Thuret - Encyclopedia

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GUSTAVE ADOLPHE THURET (1817-1875), French botanist, was born in Paris on the 23rd of May 1817. He came of an old Huguenot family, which had sought refuge for a time in Holland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A trace of Dutch influence still persists in the pronunciation of the family name in which the final t is sounded. Thuret's mother was brought up in England; English was the first language that he learnt, and he appears to have retained strong sympathies with Great Britain throughout life. As a young man he studied for the law; in his leisure time he was an ardent musician, and it was from a musical friend, de Villers, that he received, in 1837, his first initiation into botany. Beginning simply as a collector, he soon came under the influence of Joseph Decaisne (1809-1882), whose pupil he became. It was Decaisne who first encouraged him to undertake those algological studies which were to become the chief work of his life. Thuret twice visited Constantinople in company with the French ambassador, M. de Pontois, and was for a time attaché to the French embassy there. His diplomatic career, though of short duration, gave him a valuable opportunity of studying the Oriental flora. After travelling in Syria and Egypt in the autumn of 1841, he returned to France. Giving up his intention of entering the civil service, he retired to his father's country house at Rentilly, and thenceforth devoted himself to scientific research. He had already, in 1840, published his first scientific paper, "Notes sur l'anthere de Chara et les animalcules qu'elle renferme," in which he first accurately described the organs of motion of the "animalcules" or spermatozoids of these plants. He continued his studies of the zoospores and male cells of Algae and other Cryptogams, and our exact knowledge of these remarkable motile stages in vegetable life is largely due to his labours. He spent a great part of his time, up to 1857, on the Atlantic coast of France, assiduously observing the marine Algae in their natural habitat and at all seasons. In conjunction with his friend Edouard Bornet, he became the recognized authority on this important group of plants, of which the two colleagues acquired an unrivalled knowledge. Their work, while remarkable for taxonomic accuracy, was more especially concentrated on the natural history, development and modes of reproduction of the plants investigated. The discovery of sexual reproduction in seaweeds is; almost wholly the work of these two men. The researches on the fecundation of the Fucaceae were published by Thuret, in 18J3 and 1855; the complicated and difficult question of, the sexual reproduction in Floridae was solved by the joint work of Thuret and Bornet (1867). These great discoveries - of far-reaching biological significance - stand out as the chief, but every group of marine Algae was elucidated by the researches of Thuret and his colleague. There are few scientific authors whose work has so completely stood the test of subsequent investigation and criticism. Thuret's style in expounding his results was singularly clear and concise; he was a man of wide education, and possessed the power of expressing his ideas with literary skill. Unfortunately, much of his best work remained unpublished during his life. A portion of the material accumulated by himself and his colleague was embodied in two magnificent works published after his death - the Notes algologiques (1876-1880), and the still finer _Etudes phycologiques (1878). These volumes, as well as earlier memoirs, are illustrated by drawings of unequalled accuracy and beauty from the hand of the artist Riocreux, .whom Thuret employed. In 1857 Thuret removed to Antibes on the Mediterranean coast, where, on a once barren promontory, he established a botanic garden which became famous throughout the scientific world. Since his death the Antibes establishment has been placed at the disposal of botanical workers as an institute for research. Thuret died suddenly, while on a visit to Nice, on the 10th of May 1875, when he had scarcely completed his fifty-eighth year. He was a man of considerable wealth, who devoted his money as freely as his time and labour to the advancement of science, but his high reputation rests on the brilliancy of his personal investigations.

The best and fullest account of Thuret's career is that by his friend and fellow worker Bornet, published in the Annales des sciences naturelles for 1876. An English notice of his life, by Professor W. G. Farlow, will be found in the Journal of Botany for the same year. (D. H. S.)

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