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Perrault, Pierre

1. Dates
Born: Paris, 1611
Died: Paris, 1680
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 69
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer
His father was an advocate at the Parlement de Paris. It was a talented, versatile, and close-knit family.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Unknown, LD
He was trained as a lawyer. There is no indication of where Pierre received his degree or whether he practiced law. I don't know enough about French legal education in the 17th century (though a number in this catalog are said explicitly to have earned degrees in law), but it sounds to me as though he had at least the equivalent of a B.A. and a degree in law, which, in accordance with my practice, I list.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Hydraulics
His experimental work on the rainfall and runoff of the upper Seine, which he reported in his major work, De l'origine des fontaines (Paris, 1674), is a milestone in the history of hydrology. He reviewed earlier hypotheses on the origin of springs and proposed an experimental investigation to prove that rainfall alone was sufficient to sustain the flow of springs and rivers throughout the year. Edme Mariotte later used more sophisticated methods to support Perrault's findings.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Government, Personal Means, Unknown
He was a lawyer and joined the government service as an administrator. He bought the post of receiver-general of finances for Paris (and must then have had personal means). When Louis XIV in 1664 remitted the tailles due for the previous ten years, Perrault encountered financial difficulties. He borrowed on the revenue of 1664 and was caught in the act by Colbert. He was dismissed and was forced to sell his post at a loss. The affair left him almost penniless. It is not known how he earned his living after the dimissal. His brother comments that he did not even have a valet and lived frugally.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Scientist
He corresponded with Huygens and dedicated his book to him. (I will list this, in accordance with established procedures. I am somewhat dubious that he received a monetary reward from Huygens, but this did happen during Perrualt's time of financial hardship.)
It is possible that like his brothers he shared the patronage of Colbert at least until his inappropriate financial maneuvers.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. S. Delorme, "Pierre Perrault," Archives internationales d'histoire des sciences , 27, no.3 (1948), 388-94. Q1.A734.
  2. A. Hallays, Les Perraults, (Paris, 1926). PQ1877 Z5H18
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
Last updated
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