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Pourfour du Petit, François

1. Dates
Born: Paris, 24 June 1664
Died: Paris, 18 June 1741
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 77
2. Father
Occupation: Merchant
Pourfour's family was in commerce. He lost them when he was still a child.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Montpelier, M.D.
His early conventional classical education at the Collège de Beauvais was something of a failure. On leaving school, he traveled through Belgium and Germany and undertook private study before enrolling at the University of Montpellier (1687), from which he received his medical degree in 1690. There is not information on his means of support in the years before his degree. It is said that he met a man named Blondin, a distinguished amateur, who gave Pourfour access to his library and encouraged him to get a medical education. Before practicing, Pourfour continued his medical and scientific studies in Paris under M. Chirac, and completed his surgical training at the Charité hospital. While at Paris he attended the public lectures at the Jardin du Roi by M. Duverney in anatomy; M. de Tournefort in botany; and M. Lemery in chemistry.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Physiology, Anatomy, Surgery
His is known for his surgical skill and for a number of important discoveries, including that of the canal between the anterior and posterior suspensory ligaments of the lens of the eye.
He is especially associated with the physiological experiments carried out at Namur between 1710 and 1712, and at Paris during the mid-1720's. In 1712 at Namur he showed that the origin of the sympathetic nerve was not the cranium. He carried out this experiment for members of the Académie in 1725. Although his results were definitive, they were largely ignorred until the 19th century.
He described his original research in several treatises published between 1710 and 1728. Among their titles are Trois lettres d'un médecin...sur un nouveau systeme du cerveau (1710); Sur l'operation de la cataracte (1724); and Mémoires sur plusieurs découvertes faites dans les yeux de l'homme... (1723).
7. Means of Support
Primary: Gov (Including Military Service), Medicine
For extended periods until 1713, he served as physician-surgeon in the armies of Louis XIV. In 1693 he accompanied the army to Flanders. He used medicinal plants that were gathered from the area and shared his knowledge of their uses with his colleagues. He returned to Paris after the Peace of Ryswick in 1697. Only after the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 did he remain in Paris.
On leaving the army, he returned to Paris and established himself as an eye specialist.
In 1722 he was elected as a member of the Académie des Sciences. Three years later he obtained the place of "pensionnaire anatomiste" vacated by M. Duverney.
8. Patronage
Types: Unknown, Government Official
I am not sure who Blondin, mentioned above under education, was. There was a Pierre Blondin (1682-1713), who was a botanist and a physician. He is too young; since I think Blondin was an amateur in natural history, he might have been the father of Pierre Blondin. At any rate, the relationship had all the aspects of patronage.
He was a physician to M. de Bagnols, intendant of Flanders and M. Voisin, intendant of Hainaut. He named a plant Dantia for M. Dantia d'Isnard.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Medical Practice, Pharmacology, Instruments
He designed ophthalmic instruments.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: Académie Royal des Sciences, 1722-1741
  1. L.G. Michaud, ed., Biographie Universelle, 33, (Paris, 1823), 500-1. CT153.B6 RF August Hirsch, ed., Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Arzte, 4, (Berlin-Vienna, 1932), 567-8. Z6658.B612 RF J.J.Dortous de Mairan, Eloges des académiciens de l'Académie royale des sciences morts dans les années 1714, (Paris, 1747).
  2. Microprint Q111.L2 no.M48
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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