Jean-Henri Casimir FABRE was born in Saint Léons on December 22, 1823. He spent the first years of his youth at Le Malaval, very close to his native village, with his grandparents.
From his youth he was attracted by the beauty of butterflies and grasshoppers...The memory of this childhood stayed with him forever. At the age of seven he returned to Saint Léons to continue his schooling.
In 1833 his father took the whole family to Rodez to keep a cafe. Four years later they settled in Toulouse. Jean-Henri Fabre returned to the seminary which he left after the 5th year to make his living: finding himself selling lemons at the fair of Beaucaire.
He then decided to enter a competition in order to obtain a bursary to the primary teacher training school of Avignon. He was accepted and gained, at the end of three years, his higher certificate.
The young Fabre began his career as a teacher at Carpentras. He was then 19 years old. His preference was for lessons in natural history in wild scrubland.
In 1849 he was named professor of physics at Ajaccio. The nature and the landscapes of the Isle of Beauty entranced him so much that he decided to study its flora and fauna. The botanist, Requien of Avignon, also imparted his knowledge to him.
Later he botanized in the company of Moquin-Tandon. The great skill and experience of this teacher were a determining factor in the advance of Jean-Henri Fabre as a naturalist.
On his return to the continent in 1853, he accepted a position in a school at Avignon, and moved into a small, quite modest house, in the street of the Dyers, in the district of Saint Domenica. Jean-Henri Fabre devoted himself then to the study of the garance (Rubia tinctoria) to improve thereby the production of the natural dye garancine, or alizarin. Textile manufacturers used garance powder to obtain the red dye for the trousers of the French Army. Jean-Henri Fabre registered three patents in 1860.
The Minister Victor Duruy entrusted him with the creation of an evening course for adults, but his very free teaching methods displeased some people. He resigned then, and settled in Orange. He remained there with his whole family for almost ten years, and it was there that he wrote the very first series of the "Souvenirs Entomologiques".
He adored to organize botanical excursions to Mount Ventoux with his friends, Theodore Delacour and Bernard Verlot. It was at this same period that Jean-Henri Fabre became friendly with the English philosopher John Stuart-Mill, but the latter died early, and their joint project, to establish a "flora of Vaucluse" was never realised. Then fate dealt a devastating blow to Jean-Henri Fabre with the death of his son Jules, at the age of 16, the only one of his six children to share his passion for the observation of nature. He dedicated to him some species of plants which he discovered thereafter.
Mushrooms always interested Jean-Henri Fabre. In 1878 he wrote a marvellous text on the "Sphériacées of Vaucluse." Inexhaustible on the subject of truffles, it describes with such brilliance their odor that the gourmet can recognize therein all their aromas.
With the end of the year 1878 appeared the first series of the "Souvenirs Entomologiques." This work shows his genius to be animated by a true and authentic passion for life, in all its forms.
Jean-Henri Fabre obtained many scientific titles, in spite of which he always retained a great simplicity. He was almost an autodidact. He mastered drawing and watercolour, and we are indebted to him for the splendid plates on mushrooms, which Frédéric Mistral greatly admired.
In 1879 he acquired the "Harmas de Sérignan" where he lived until his death. There he could devote himself to all his experiments and reflexions in total peace. It was just as he had always dreamed. There he established his family house, his office, and his library. This incomparable place was the perfect environment for Jean-Henri Fabre, poet and scientist. Today it is a museum surrounded by a magnificent botanical garden which exudes Provence.
Jean-Henri Fabre was admired by Darwin, Maeterlinck, Rostand and Jünger, by Bergson, Roumanille, Mallarmé...He can be regarded as one of the precursors of Ethology, the science of animal and human behavior. Darwin, upon reading the "Souvenirs Entomologiques," described him as "that inimitable observer" because of the precision of his experiments and his discoveries on the life and habits of insects. Scientists, men of letters..., all his contemporaries were impressed by his personality, a botanist certainly, but above all a being bewitched by nature. Jean-Henri Fabre was visited at his home by Pasteur and many other scientists, like John Stuart Mill. However, the correspondence of Fabre is not very abundant.
Victor Duruy introduced Jean-Henri Fabre to Napoleon III, who awarded him the Legion of honor.
Raymond Poincaré, passing not far from Sérignan, made a detour by the Harmas, in order to pay homage to him.
In 1915, at the age of 92, Jean-Henri Fabre died: he who had dedicated his whole life to the study of insects. He was then recognized at last, a little tardily admittedly, as he liked to joke.
In addition to being the "entomological philosopher," the "psychologist of the world of Insects," Jean-Henri Fabre was also a marvellous "Félibre" (poet): he left us his collection of poems "Oubreto Provençalo." Majoral of Felibrige (Fellow of the École littéraire du Félibre), he is known with affection as "Le Félibre du Tavan" ("Poet of the Cockchafers" in Provencal). On his small harmonium in the Harmas, he composed some songs...