FABRE, HENRI ( 1823-1915), entomologist and scientific popularizer who made major discoveries in the biology and behavior of insects, particularly in the area of instincts; born 22 September 1823 at Saint-Léons, Aveyron. Although possessed of only a modest income (he taught at various lycées), Fabre was able to publish a series of important scientific memoirs from 1855. His abilities were recognized early. He was awarded the Prix Montyon (for experimental physiology) by the Institut de France in 1856, and Charles Darwin utilized his observations on the instinctual behavior of certain species of wasps in preparing Origin of Species, although Fabre himself was not an evolutionist. From 1855 to 1879, Fabre continued to produce a series of important scientific papers and in 1879 would begin publication of the ten-volume Souvenirs entomologiques ( 1879- 1907), an influential and popular work. In 1866, he developed a process of extracting alizarin, the active chemical component of the natural (vegetable) red dyestuff madder. For this method, which permitted much quicker and less expensive dyeing than the traditional French procedure, Fabre was named to the Legion of Honor and was received by Napoleon III. Fabre's (and France's) hopes for significant financial gain were soon dashed, however, when a few years later processes for synthesizing alizarin from coal tars were developed by W. H. Perkin in England and by the Badische firm in Germany. The commercial success of synthetic alizarin rendered Fabre's method irrelevant, caused the ruin of the French madder agricultural industry, and signaled the replacement of natural colorants by artificial dyes. In the remaining years of his life, Fabre turned to the writing of textbooks and other works of scientific popularization. He was elected a corresponding member of the Académie des Sciences on 11 July 1887 and died at Sérignan (Vaucluse) 11 October 1915.
H. Cuny, Jean-Henri Fabre et les problèms de l'instinct ( Paris, 1967); A. Fabre, The Life of Jean Henri Fabre, the Entomologist, trans. B. Miall ( New York, 1921); M. Gauthier , "Vie et oeuvre de Jean-Henri Fabre, poète de la flore et de la faune des collines provençales," Marseille, no. 114 ( 1978); J. Rostand, "Jean-Henri Fabre," in Hommes de vérité, ser. 2 ( Paris, 1948).
Related entry: DARWINISM IN FRANCE.