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Montmor, Henri Louis Habert de

1. Dates
Born: Paris, c. 1600
Died: Paris, 21 Jan 1679
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 79
2. Father
Occupation: Aristocrat, Government Official
Jean-Robert, Lord of Montmor and of Mesnil, and treasurer de l'extraordinaire des guerres and treasurer de l'épargne. Montmor came from a wealthy family related to the greatest families in the kingdom. Its leading members were high government officials who grew rich in the king's service. His uncle, Charles de Malon, was lord of Bercy and Conflans and president of the Grand Conseil. His cousin Nicolas de Bailleul, was president of the Parlement.
Montmor married a cousin, Marie Henriette de Birade de Frontenac, whose brother Louis later became governor of New France.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: No University
He received an excellent education. Nothing is said about a university or a degree; such were of no significance to wealthy aristocrats.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic (by assumption)
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Scientific Organization
Subordinate: Natural Philosophy
Montmor's significance in the history of science lies in his patronage of scientists and philosophers. He was founder and patron of the Académie Montmor. He wrote a Latin poem on Cartesian physics, De rerum naturae, and was known as a propagator of Cartesianism.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means, Government
When he was twenty-five, his father obtained for him a position as conseiller in the Parlement of Paris. Costar writes that Montmor had an income of 100,000 livres. In 1632 he purchased the office of Maître des Requêtes with part of the 225,184 livres capital that he received from his parents.
Montmor's son, who became Maître des Requêtes in his turn (in 1699), suffered a bankruptcy of 600,000 livres. A "fatal melancholy" overtook Montmor, who was forced to sell his own post. He never recovered from this blow and soon died.
8. Patronage
Type: None
Montmor was himself the patron of learning and of science. In addition to the académie, he was the recipient of dedications, such as Mersenne's Harmonie universelle.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
Montmor provided his clients with "an infinity" of machines and instruments with which he had stimulated his own curiosity for thirty years, but he could not supply them with a forge, a laboratory, or an observatory, which would require the patronage of a sovereign. He made an implicit appeal to the king for the creation of an institution under royal patronage which alone could supply the more elaborate needs. The Académie Montmor is usually called the forerunner of the Académie royale des sciences. Despite his recognition of the fundamental importance of instruments, I have decided not to list this.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He was elected to the Académie Française in 1634.
On 30 April 1635 a group met at his town house on the Rue Sainte Aroye (?) (now 79 Rue du Temple). In the 40's he offered Descartes full use of his country house, but Descartes declined.
No document proves conclusively that regular scientific meetings took place at Montmor's residence before 1653. In 1653 Gassendi moved into his house in the Rue du Temple. Montmor encouraged him to write La vie de Tycho Brahe, and Gassendi dedicated it to him. Gassendi also made him the executor of his will and left Montmor all his books, manuscripts and the telescope Galileo had given him. When Gassendi died, Montmor arranged his funeral, and collected his writings and wrote a preface to the six-volume Latin edition published at Lyons in 1658.
Gassendi's presence in Montmor's household certainly contributed to the development of the meetings held there by the cultivated men who had previously gathered around Mersenne and who now assembled on the Rue du Temple. In those meetings some experiments were conducted. From the end of 1657 the weekly gatherings of what came to be called the Académie Montmor can be dated. At Montmor's request, Sorbière prepared a plan for the organization of meetings in the form of nine articles. The goals of the meetings "will not be the vain exercise of the mind on useless subtleties; rather, one should always propose the clearest knowledge of the works of God and the advancement of the conveniences of life, in the arts and sciences that best serve to establish them."
Among the members of the Académie Montmor were Chapelain, Sorbière, Montmor, Clerselier, Rohault, Pierre Huet, Roberval, and Huygens (when he was in Paris). Oldenburg also visited the house in the Rue du Temple when he stayed in Paris. According to Huygens' journal, he met Auzout, Frénicle de Bessy, Desargues, Pequet, Rohault, La Poterie, Sorbière, and Boulliau there.
The activities of the Académie Montmor during the first years included Chapelain's announcement of Huygens's discoveries (the pendulum clock, the first known satellite of Saturn, a diagram of his system of Saturn--planet and ring), Rohault's experiments on the magnet, Pecquet's dissertations, and Thevenot's presentation of his tubes.
Soon two currents appeared within the Académie Montmor: a tendency to seek natural causes, and a preference for observation and experiment. The problem worsened in the following years, and the Academy received various kinds of criticism. In response to all the criticism, the Academy attempted to reform itself. Experiments were tried there with an air pump constructed according to Huygens' plan. Nevertheless, as Huygens wrote to Moray in 1664, a widespread desire was felt to establish the academy on a new basis. Montmor, meanwhile, continued to receive scientists and to take an interest in philosophers.
Montmor was himself a good scholar. He assembled a very rich library in which the correspondence of important contemporaries, such as Gui Patin ands Chapelain had a major place.
  1. Faustin Foiret, "L'hotel de Montmor," La cité, bulletin trimestriel de la Société historique et archeologique du IVe arrondissement de Paris, 13 (1914), 309-339.
  2. Dictionnaire de biographie française (under Habert de Montmor, Henri Louis). Harcourt Brown, Scientific Organizations in Seventeenth Century France (1933). (Q127. F8 B8) Pellissin and d'Olivet, Histoire de l'Académie, 2 vols. (AS 162. P2 P3)
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. René Kerviler, "Henri-Louis Habert de Montmor, de l'Académie française et bibliophile (1600-1679)," Le bibiophile français, 6, (Paris, 1872).
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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