THE REVOLUTIONS OF THE GLOBE
By far the most important new feature of the collected Ossemens fossiles was its "Preliminary discourse" (text 19), which followed immediately after the preface. The format of a "preliminary discourse," and indeed the phrase itself, was well established: at least since the great Encyclopédie of the Enlightenment, such an essay had been almost a standard feature of any work in French with pretensions to monumentality. But Cuvier's essay was untypical in one important respect. Whereas the papers that made up the rest of the work had been addressed originally to Cuvier's colleagues and informants, and were still aimed at them in this new format, the "Discourse" was clearly based on Cuvier's earlier lectures to a general audience (chapter 8). Prefixing a readable discourse to a series of specialized papers thus represented a bid for the attention of the general educated public as well as naturalists and other savants. Cuvier's "Discourse" was in fact found more than merely readable: it was recognized at the time as a masterpiece of scientific prose, and it continued to be reprinted throughout the nineteenth century, long after Cuvier's death and long after the further development of geological research had made it obsolete in strictly scientific terms.
The "Discourse" opens with a bold and vivid claim (text 19, sec. 1): the focus was not on the wonders of nature, let alone--as would have been expected in an earlier age--on the wisdom of its Creator, but on the savant himself. Expanding the metaphor of the naturalist as archeologist,