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Lemery, Nicolas

1. Dates
Born: Rouen, 17 Nov. 1645
Died: Paris, 19 June 1715
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 70
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer
His father, Julien Lemery, was an attorney in the Parlement of Normandy. He died when Lemery was eleven years old. The family had a tradition of magistrates in Rouen.
Everything about the family sounds affluent, at least until the death of the father. Nevertheless, there is no explicit evidence about their financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Montpelier; Caen, M.D.
From 1660 (after the death of his father) to 1666 Lemery was an apprentice apothecary to his uncle Pierre Duchemin in Rouen. He then embarked on a six-year period of travel and study. He spent a considerable part of the time between 1668 and 1771 in Montpellier, and in the summer of 1670 he was registered as a student of pharmacy in Montpellier.
In 1683 he took an M.D. at Caen, apparently one of the typical Caen M.D.'s, which implied only that he showed up on the appointed day. In Lémery's case (the only one that I have wanted to treat this way so far), there does not seem to me to have been the equivalent of a B.A. I suspect that he had been practising medicine, as apothecaries did, and he took the medical degree only when the tightenting religious situation in Paris closed down the apothecary business of a Protestant.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Calvinist (1645-1686), Catholic (1686-1715)
Because of the growing religious intolerance in France, he was required in 1681 to close his office as privileged apothecary to the king, and in 1683 to close his laboratory and shop. Having lost all his professional and legal rights, in 1686 he abjured his religion and was received into the Roman Catholic church.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Chemistry, Pharmacology
His chief contributions to pharmacy were his two complementary works, the Pharmacopée universelle (1697) and the Traité des drogues simples (1698). They represent a comprehensive dictionary of pharmaceuticals. His last major work, Traité de l'antimoine (1707), contains the results of his investigation into the properties and preparations of mineral antimony.
His textbook on chemistry, the Cours de chymie (Paris, 1675), went through more than thirty editions.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Apothecary, Schoolmastering, Medicine
Secondary: Patronage, Government
It is extremely difficult to weigh the relative roles of Lemery's five sources of support. All of them were present in his life.
Already in Montpellier, where he was a student of pharmacy, he was practising medicine.
In 1672 he returned to Paris, where he associated with members of the household of Louis, Prince of Condé. He attended the conferences of the Abbé Bourdelot, the prince's physician, and worked in the laboratory of the prince's apothecary.
In 1674 he purchased the office of apothecary to the King and grand prévot of France. During the following years he was in a highly successful pharmaceutical business until he was forced to dispose of his office as privileged apothecary to the king in 1681 and to close his laboratory and shop in 1683.
He offered private courses on chemistry early 1670s with great success, and continued his teaching until 1685 when he lost all of his professional rights. These courses attracted important people. In connection with this instruction Lémery kept pensioners in his home.
When practices that led finally to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes closed down his apothecary business, Lémery got the medical degree at Caen and practiced, again with success, until the revocation closed that down as well.
In 1686, having converted, he reestablished his laboratory and shop on condition (imposed by the company of apothecaries, who clearly feared Lémery's competition, though ostensibly it was because Lémery was by then a physician) that he take no apprentices. Lémery resumed his courses in chemistry. The rationale for the condition imposed by the company of apothecaries implies that he also resumed his medical practice.
From 1699 until his death in 1715 he was the chemiste pensionnaire of the Academy of Sciences.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat
Lemery started out, in Paris, in the household of Condé, whose esteem he won by his instruction in chemistry.
I do not take the office of apothecary to the king, which he purchased, to mean patronage.
As the religious situation deteriorated in the early 80's, the Elector of Brandenburg invited Lémery there, offering to create a chair in chemistry for him.
In 1685, when the revocation of the Edict had driven him from both the apothecary business and medicine, he gave two courses in chemistry under powerful protection--to two brothers of the Marquis de Seignelay, the Secretary of State, and to Lord Salisbury, who could not find similar instruction in England.
After Lémery converted, Louis XIV restored his rights to function as an apothecary, and when the company of apothecaries at first refused to agree, the court insisted.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Pharmacology, Medical Practice
He established a pharmaceutical business, and he published Pharmacopée universelle (1697) and other works.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1699-1715
In 1699 he was admitted to the reorganized AR as associate chemist, and November of the same year he became chemiste pensionnaire.
Note that two sons both followed him into the Academy as chemists: Louis (who is in this catalogue) and Jacques.
  1. Fontenelle's éloge, Histoire de l'Academie royale des sciences for 1715, (Paris, 1717), pp. 96-108.
  2. P. Dorveaux, "Apothicaires membres de l'Académie royale des sciences, VI. Nicolas Lemery," Revue d'histoire de la pharmacie, 19 (1931), pp.208-219.
  3. P.-A. Cap, Études biographiques pour servir a l'histoire de sciences. Première serie, chimistes-naturalistes, (Paris, 1857), pp.180-226.
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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