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Fontenelle, Bernard le Bouyer [or Bovier]

1. Dates
Born: Rouen, 11 Feb. 1657
Died: Paris, 9 Jan. 1757
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 100
2. Father
Occupation: Government Official
A local official for the government.
Though of a long-established and prominent family (Fontenelle was the nephew of Corneille), he is described as of modest means. Note that Fontenelle did not attend a university; I attribute this, not to lack of means, but to the high standing of the family, such that careerism through a university degree was out of the question. The family cannot have been poor; I list this, with hesitation, as affluent.
3. Nationality
Birth: Rouen, France
Career: France
Death: Paris, France
4. Education
Schooling: No University
1664, Jesuit college in Rouen.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Scientific Organization, Com;
7. Means of Support
Primary: Governmental Position, Patronage
Trained to be a lawyer like his father, but quit after trying one case and losing.
ca. 1680-1687, still in Rouen, then ca. 1687-1697 in Paris, devoting himself to philosophy and literature, with which he had mixed success. I have not found explicit information on his support in these years.
The éloge has him move to Paris in 79.
The Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes, 1686.
1697-1740, secretary of the Académie (from 1699, secretaire perpetuel, a post which he himself outlined in the new statutes of 1699).
As secretary, Fontenelle conceived of the annual Histoires to publicize and popularize the work of the Académie--carrying on the tradition of the Entretiens.
sous-directeur, 1706, 1707, 1719, 1728.
directeur, 1709, 1713, 1723.
I think these last two pertain, not the Academy of Science but to the Académie Francaise of which he was also secretary-- as also of the Academy of Inscriptions & Belle lettres, and the Academy of Rouen.
1740, pensionnaire veteran.
8. Patronage
Type: Court Official
Though he is said to have prized his independence in relationships with men of rank, the Regent, Philippe d'Orleans, lodged him in the Palais Royale (until 1730) and awarded him a pension. Fontenelle was secretary to the Duke of Orleans.
It was through Varignon that Fontenelle got into the Parisian scientific circle, becoming friendly then with Nicolas de Malezien and l'Hospital.
He was a friend of Abbé Bignon and Pontchartrain, patrons of the Academie, and was asked by them to be secretary.
His title, sieur de Fontenelle, was a low-level title inherited from his father, a man of modest means.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, Royal Society, Berlin Academy
1691, accepted into the academie on his fifth try. 1733, elected member of the Royal Society. 1749, became a member of the Berlin academy. Also a member of the Academie Francaise, the Accademia dei Arcadi of Rome, and the Academy of Nancy.
  1. J. Paladilhe, "Fontenelle," Dictionnaire de biographie Francaise, 14 (Paris, 1979), cols. 358-360. [ref. CT1103.D55 v.14]
  2. Grandjean de Fouchy, "Eloge de Fontenelle," Histoire de l'Académie royale des sciences, année 1757, 282-306. [Q46.A16 1757, pt. 1] Emile Boulan, Figures du XVIIIe siècle, (Leiden: Sijthoff, 1920).
  3. (This is an interpretation of Fontenelle, with scarcely any biographical information.) Not available in time to be used: Alain Niderst, (ed. par)[?], Fontenelle. Actes du dolloque tenu à Rouen du 6 au 10 octobre 1987, (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1989).
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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