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Bourguet, Louis

1. Dates
Born: Nimes, 23 April 1678
Died: Neuchatel, 31 December 1742
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 64
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
Bourguet was the son of a wholesale merchant, Jean Bourguet, of Nimes, who fled to Switzerland at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
The father is called a rich merchant who had to abandon most of his possessions when he fled. However, he became an important manufacturer in Zurich; I think I can only call him wealthy.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: Swiss, Italian
Death: Swiss
4. Education
Schooling: No University
In 1688 he began his studies at the College of Zurich. He was forced to leave after only a year of study to participate in the family business. After 1689, while in Italy with his family on business, he studied Hebrew and the Mishnah with a rabbi. From 1711 to 1715 he was guided in his studies by Jacob Hermann, a professor at Padua, and probably by Bernardino Zendrini. He began to study Leibniz's infinitesimal calculus and astronomy. It seems clear that he earned no degree.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, his family fled to Switzerland settling in Zurich. When the refugees were expelled from the city, he settled in Neuchatel and became a citizen in 1704.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Geology, Paleontology, Mineralogy
Subordinate: Natural Philosophy
Bourguet was one of the first to occupy himself with the study of animal fossils on which he published, Dissertations sur les pierres figurées (1715). He studied the generation of the fossils, their evolution. His research reveals him to be one of the precursors of scientific geology and paleontology. He wrote on the generation of crystals and on petrefaction. He published Traité de petrifications in 1742, a collection of which several items were by himself.
In geology he claimed the originality of the idea of salient and reentering angles. His theory appeared in a memoir on the theory of the earth (1729). Bourguet's goal was to provide a large-scale study of the theory of the earth. Although he never did accomplish his goal, Buffon adopted his idea. Buffon, unlike Bourguet, attributed the topographic formation of salient and reentering angles to the once present ocean currents in the valleys.
Bourguet read widely in archaeology, numismatics, and philology. He collected medals, antiquities, and rare books. His travels for the family business aided him in building his collections and put him into contact with many savants with whom he corresponded.
He was a universal savant who treated wide ranging issues in all of natural philosophy--and beyond.
He founded two journals and spent liberally in order to establish and maintain them. The Bibliotheque italique was designed to present the results of Italian scientists to the French. The Mercure suisse, later the Journal Helvetique, was devoted to literary, historical, and scientific subjects.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Merchant, Schoolmastering
In 1689 he was compelled to leave school to enter the family business. He accompanied his father to Casteseigna to establish a stocking and muslim factory. At the end of 1715, for unknown reasons, his life underwent a major change. He abandoned commerce and set about looking for employment. Following bankruptcy at Basel and Geneva in 1721, he was forced to sell his collections, retaining only his Bibles in nearly fifty languages. He tried to obtain the chair of law at Lausanne in 1717, but then withdrew from the competition. He supported himself by giving lessons in Neuchatel. In 1731 finally he was named to a professorship of philosophy and mathematics created for him at Neuchatel, though the salary was minimal. I am uncertain about this appointment except to the extent that it was not a university one; Neuchatel did not have a university. I suspect it was at a lycée; it could have been extra-instituitional. His duties included private courses in logic, philosophy, history, alchemy, minerals, meteors, true and false miracles, and the formation of the earth.
8. Patronage
Type: City Magistrate
Early in his studies Bourguet was guided by Jakob Hermann and Bernardino Zendrini. He collected his collection of fossils with the help of Gian Girolamo Zannichelli, Valisnieri, and Giuseppe Monti of Bologna. Whether these men aided Bourguet financially is uncertain, but they did contribute to his education and his natural history collection. I retain this information, but do not list it as patronage.
The professorship of 1731 was created by the government of Neuchatel.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Berlin Academy, Académie Royal des Sciences
He became a member of the Berlin Academy in 1731, the Académie des Sciences in Paris, and the Etruscan Academy of Cortona. Among his correspondents were Leibniz, Buffon, Scheuchzer, Vallisnieri, Bonanini, Zannichelli, Conti, Haller, Reaumur, and others, and he had connections with a number of Italians scientists mentioned under patronage.
In 1740 he organized a loose association of Swiss scientists concerned with fossils.
  1. Kenneth L. Taylor, "Natural Law in Eighteenth century Geology: The Case of Louis Bourguet," in Actes du XIIIe Congres International d'Histoire des Sciences, 8 (1971), pp. 72-80.
  2. F.A. Jeanneret and J.H. Bonhote, "Louis Bourguet," in F.A.
  3. Jeanneret and Eric Alexandre, Biographie neuchateloise, 1 (Le Locle, 1863), 59-80. H. Perrochon, "Un homme du XVIIIe siecle: Louis Bourguet," Vie, revue suisse romande, 1 (1951), 34-38.
  4. L. Favre, "Inauguration de l'Académie de Neuchatel," Musée neuchatelois, 3 (1866), 288-310.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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