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Le Febvre, Nicaise

1. Dates
Born: Sedan, c. 1610
Died: London, 1669
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 59
2. Father
Occupation: Pharmacist
Claude Le Febvre was an apothecary, a Protestant refugee from a Catholic part of France who moved to Sedan.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French, English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Following preliminary schooling in the Pedagogium of the Calvinist academy of Sedan, he became an apprentice in his father's shop in 1625. Before he completed his training his father died, and the direction of his education was taken over by Abraham Duhan, a doctor of medicine and professor of philosophy at the academy. That is, no university study.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Pharmacology, Iatrochemistry
His principal contribution to science is his textbook, the Traité de la chymie (Paris, 1660). His other published work was a description of a polypharmaceutical preparation. In the tradition of iatrochemistry, the Traité was directed to medicinal preparations.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Apothecary, Patronage, Government
Secondary: Schoolmastering
After qualifying as a master apothecary he continued in his father's business until 1646-1647. Then he moved to Paris, where he initially enjoyed the patronage of the physician Samuel du Clos. He soon began to offer private courses in pharmaceutical chemistry.
In 1652 he was appointed demonstrator in chemistry at the Jardin du Roi and in 1654 he obtained the privilege of a royal apothecary and distiller. He also continued to run his apothecary shop.
He was apothecary also to Henri de Bourbon, Duke of Verneuil and Bishop of Metz.
Charles II had attended Le Febvre's course in chemistry, and in 1660 he invited Le Febvre to England as royal professor of chemistry and apothecary to the king's household with two stipends (one for each appointment) that amounted to L300. He was established in a laboratory in St. James' Palace. However, he had great difficulty in collecting his stipend.
8. Patronage
Types: Physician, Court Official, Aristrocrat
Samuel Du Clos and Antoine Vallot aided Le Febvre when he came to Paris. Vallot, an influential court physician who had himself placed in charge of the Jardin, was responsible for LeFebvre's appointments at the Jardin du roi and as apothecary to the king. Le Febvre dedicated his Traité to Vallot.
I list the arrangement with Henri de Bourbon under aristocracy.
He obtained the privilege of a royal apothecary and distiller in 1652 in France.
He became royal professor of chemistry and apothecary to the king's household in England in 1660.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: Pharmacology
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Royal Society, 1663-1669
He was admitted to the RS in 1663 on the nomination of Sir Robert Moray.
  1. Nicaise Le Febvre, Traicté de la chymie, (Paris, 1660).
  2. (Contains autobiographical reminiscences which are the principal sources for his early life. These are reproduced in the Dorveaux article.) P. Dorveaux, "L'apothicaire LeFebvre Nicaise, dit Nicolas," in Proceedings of the Third International Congress of the History of Medicine, London 1922, (Antwerp, 1923), pp. 207-12.
  3. J.P. Contant, L'enseignement de la chimie au jardin royal des plants de Paris, Paris, 1952.
  4. Dictionary of National Biography, 11, 840.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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