Jean Bauhin

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Bauhin, Jean

(b. Basel, Switzerland, 12 February 1541; d. Montbéliard, principality of Württemberg–Montbéliard, 26 October 1613)


Bauhin’s father, Jean, a Protestant from Amiens, was physician to Margaret of Navarre; while in Paris he married Jean Fontaine. The revival of religious persecution under Francis I resulted in the exile of the Bauhin family to Basel in 1541; there the younger Jean, eldest of seven children, was born shortly afterward. His younger brother was Gaspard Bauhin.

Bauhin’s basic education was in Basel; his early teachers were the religious reformer Coelius Secundus Curione, an Italian exile who was professor of belles lettres at Basel University, and Conrad Gesner of Zurich. Bauhin completed his studies by paying short visits to foreign universities between 1560 and 1563. His most prolonged stay was in Montpellier, from 1561 to 1562. It has generally been assumed that he obtained an M.D. at Montpellier, but this is not supported by the university records. Nevertheless, he established a medical practice at Lyons in 1563 and married Denyse Bornand (Bernhard) in 1565. Of the six children born to them, three daughters lived to maturity, all of whom married doctors.

Renewed religious persecution forced Bauhin into exile in Geneva, where he again practiced medicine, in 1568; two years later he was appointed professor of rhetoric at Basel. Finally, in 1571 he became physician to Duke Frederick of Württemberg, the ruler of the dual principality of Württemberg–Montbéliard and an enlightened and sympathetic patron. Bauhin established botanical gardens, in which he grew both native and exotic plants, at Montbéliard and Stuttgart. He excavated the ruins of Mandurium (Mandeure) and displayed his archaeological collections in a museum at Duke Frederick’s chateau. Bauhin was also appointed archiater by Frederick. In 1675 he was instrumental in establishing the College of Medical Practitioners in Montbéliard, which regulated the duties of all practitioners and provided free medical services to the poor. His second marriage, in 1598, was to Anne Grégoire, a Protestant refugee from Besançon.

Botany was Bauhin’s primary interest from his youth. His teacher and friend, Conrad Gesner, spent his last years compiling a Historia plantarum, a work on descriptive botany paralleling his published Historia animalium; the first documentary evidence relating to Bauhin’s concern with botany is his correspondence with Gesner from 1560 to 1565. He collected plants and sent the herbarium specimens to Gesner, whose artist and engraver prepared appropriate illustrations. Gesner’s death left this great collaborative enterprise incomplete, and the unfinished Historia plantarum was not published until the eighteenth century. Bauhin’s Historia plantarum may be regarded as a reconstruction of Gesner’s work, carrying on the latter’s humanistic learning and enthusiasm for exploration and description. Yet Bauhin realized that a comprehensive description of flora could not be undertaken single-handed, and he relied on informants from many countries.

Bauhin’s longest journeys were made during his medical studies. In 1561 he accompanied Gesner on a tour of the Rhaetian Alps, during which they pioneered the study of the alpine flora, particularly in the Mount Albula region. Upon Gesner’s advice, in the same year he traveled to Tübingen to meet Leonhard Fuchs. He next spent more than a year at Montpellier under Rondelet, one of the most gifted Renaissance naturalists and medical teachers. He conducted further systematic explorations in the Montpellier region, and in 1562 he reported to Gesner that he was compiling a Catalogum stirpium Monspeliensium. This was never published separately, but information from it was incorporated into the Historia plantarum. References in this work show that Bauhin and his colleagues Jacques Raynaudet and Leonard Rauwolff explored Provence and Languedoc. Most of 1563 was spent studying the flora of north Italy and the Apennines. He also visited botanical gardens in Padua and Bologna, which later provided him with materials for his own gardens. His first garden was established about 1564 at Lyons, where he collaborated with Jacques Daleschamps in studying the local flora. It is not certain whether Bauhin played any significant role in the compilation of the anonymous Historia plantarum generalis (1586), which is generally attributed to Daleschamps. Bauhin’s duties at Montbéliard did not interrupt his explorations, which were often undertaken in connection with the missions of Duke Frederick. In his later years Bauhin’s closest collaborator was his son-in-law Jean-Henri Cherler, who had married his youngest daughter, Geneviève. Cherler contributed a knowledge of the floras of Belgium and England, and was named as joint author of the Historia plantarum—an honor he scarcely deserved.

The two botanical works published by Bauhin in 1591 and 1593 give no intimation of the Historia plantarum, for each is a very specific exercise. The first, De plantis a divis sanctisve nomen (1591), is an alphabetical list of plants named after saints, with full citations to the botanical literature. Bauhin showed that commonly more than one species—and often quite unrelated ones—were named after a particular saint. The other work, De plantis Absynthii nomen (1593), underlines the great confusion that existed over a single type. He quoted a list, covering twelve pages, of authors who had used the name Absynthium and then attempted to identify each type, indicating the synonyms used by botanists. Although these works may seem obscure, they illustrate Bauhin’s critical talents, his great knowledge of the botanical literature, and his ability to solve problems of nomenclature.

Bauhin’s reputation as a botanist rests upon the encyclopedic Historia plantarum universalis (1650–1651), which was not published until thirty-seven years after his death. It completely overshadows the works published during his lifetime, which give only a limited indication of his originality. He was reluctant to publish, and most of his works were concentrated in the years 1593–1598. Most of them dealt with subjects peripheral to his main botanical interests, although they displayed the erudition and caution of his later botanical works. A specifically medical work described the remedies for diseases contracted as a result of animal bites (Histoire notable de la rage, 1591). More significant is the description of swarms of locusts and grasshoppers that Felix Platter and Francois Valleriol had recorded at Arles in 1553, and the swarms of insects at Porrentruy, Montbéliard, in 1590 (Traicté des animauls, aians aisles, 1593). He suggested that these phenomena were a manifestation of the power of Providence and asserted that insects were a cause of disease. His longest and most popular medical work was a description of European mineral waters and baths, based on a study of the springs at Bad Boll, near Groppingen, Württemberg (Historia novi et admirabilis fontis, 1598). This was the most detailed work on the subject written in the sixteenth century, and contains a lengthy appendix that gives an intimation of Bauhin’s abilities as a naturalist. It consists of a series of illustrations, most of his fossil collections, that was probably inspired by Gesner’s De rerum fossilium (1565). The most original were the illustrations of sixty varieties of apples and thirty-nine of pears, all collected in the alpine region. These large and distinctive woodcuts show the value of illustration for depicting fine morphological distinctions.

From 1600 until his death, Bauhin was engaged in compiling the Historia plantarum. The virtually complete manuscript passed to Dominic Chabrey, an Yverdon physician, who published a summary of the work in 1619. Eventually, François Louis de Graffenried of Yverdon financed the publication of the work, which appeared in three volumes. Despite the delay in publication, the work was not obsolete. It contained the description and synonyms of 5,226 plants, primarily from Europe, but with some Eastern and American floras. This represented the fruits of the explorations of Bauhin and his informants, and compilation from ancient and contemporary literature. It also indicates the great progress of botany in the sixteenth century: Brunfels had described 240 plants in 1532; the less accurate Historia plantarum generalis of 1587 reached 3,000; the only works to describe more than this number in the succeeding century were by Jean Bauhin and his brother Gaspard. Jean’s work was paralleled by his brother’s Pinax theatri botanici (1623). This contained 6,000 plants but gave only names and synonyms. Hence the particular value of Jean’s work was its concise and accurate description of each type.


I. Original Works. Bauhin’s works are Histoire notable de la rage des loups advenue l’an MDXC, avec les remèdes pour empescher la rage... (Montbéliard, 1591), trans, into Latin and German the same year; De plantis a divis sanctisve nomen habentibus... Additae sunt Conradi Gesneri epistolae hactenus editae a Casparo Bauhino (Basel, 1591); De plantis Absynthii nomen habentibus, caput desumptum ex clarissimi ornatissimique viri D. Doct. Ioannis Bauhin. Tractatus item de absynthiis Claudii Rocardi (Montbéliard, 1593; repr. 1599); Traicté des animauls, aians aisles, qui nuisent par leurs piqueures ou morsures, auec les remèdes... (Montbéliard, 1593); Historia novi et admirabilis fontis balneique Bollensis in Ducatu Wirtembergico... (Montbéliard, 1598), trans. into German (Stuttgart, 1602) and also reissued under two other titles: De thermis aquisque medicates Europae praecipuis opus succinctum (Montbéliard, 1600) and De aquis medicatis nova methodus libri quatuor (Montbéliard, 1607/1608, 1612); Histoire ou plustot un simple et véritable récit des merveilleux effects qu’une salubre fontaine située au comté de Montbéliard... (Montbéliard, 1601), also trans into German (Montbéliard, 1602); De auxiliis adversus pestem (Montbéliard, 1607), reported to have been trans. into German by Thiebaud Noblot in the same year; Joh. Bauhini et Joh. Henr. Cherleri, Historiae plantarum generalis novae et absolutissimae, quinquaginta annis elaboratae jam prelo commissae, Prodromus (Yverdon, 1619); and Historia plantarum universalis, nova et absolutissima, cum consensu et dissensu circa eas. Auctoribus Joh. Bauhino et Joh. Henr. Cherlero philos. et med. doctoribus Basiliensibus; Quam recensuit et auxit Dominicus Chabraeus, med. doct. Genevensis; Juris vero publici fecit Franciscus Lud. a Graffenried, 3 vols. (Yverdon, 1650–1651).

II. Secondary Literature. Works dealing with Bauhin and his accomplishments are A. Arber, Herbals, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, 1953). pp. 70, 85, 93, 113–119; P. Delaunay, La zoologie au seizième siècle (Paris, 1962), pp. 71, 225, 229, 230, 238, 302; L.-M. Dupetit-Thouars, in Biographie universelle III, 556–559; C. Duvernay, Notices sur quelques médecins, naturalistes et agronomes nés ou établis à Montbéliard dès le seizième siècle (Besançon, 1835), pp. 1–24; É. and É. Haag, La France protestante 2nd ed., I (Paris, 1887), 1016–1023; C. Jenssen, in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, II, 149–151; L. Lefré, La botanique en Provence au XVIe siècle. Les deux Bauhin, Jean Henri Cherler et Valerand Dourez (Marseille, 1904); J. E. Planchet, Rondelet et ses disciples ou la botanique à Montpellier au XVIme siècle (Montpellier, 1866); C. Roth, “Stammtafeln einiger ausgestorbener Gelehrtenfamilien,” in Basler zeitschrift für Geschichte and Altertumkunde, 15 (1916), 47–55; and C.P.J. Sprengel, Geschichte der Botanik (Leipzig, 1817–1818), pp. 364–369.

Charles Webster

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Bauhin, Jean (1541–1613) A French physician and botanist, the elder brother of Gaspard Bauhin, whose major work, Historia plantarum universalis, was unfinished when he died and was published in 1650–1. It describes more than 5000 plants and was a standard reference book for the next 100 years.