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Bourdelin, Claude

Bourdelin, Claude

(b. at or near Villefranche-sur-Saône. France, ca. 1621; d. Paris, France, 15 October 1699)


Bourdelin was a beneficiary of the tradition of iatrochemistry. After having completed his apprenticeship under master apothecaries in Paris, he purchased an apothecary’s license from the house of “Monsieur” (the king′s younger brother, Gaston of Orléans). For some twenty years he held two offices in the house of Monsieur: that of assistant apothecary to Monsieur and the officers of his household, and that of apothecary to the stable.

Bourdelin’s scientific knowledge and his title assured him prominent patients and powerful connections, which helped him become a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences when it was created in 1666. Next to the meeting room of the Academicians he installed the Academy’s laboratory, equipped with furnaces and a distilling apparatus. There he began research in chemical analysis in March 1667 and continued until the end of 1686.

Initially, Bourdelin worked with Samuel Cottereau-Duclos, the king’s physician, on the analysis of mineral waters. Subsequently, he devoted himself to the chemical analysis of plant, animal, and mineral substances; of normal and pathological organic liquids; and of water, both fresh and salt. His usual technique for plant analysis was distillation, which enabled him to find phlegm, an acid or corrosive spirit, volatile salt, oil, solid salt (sometimes in the form of tartar and sometimes of marine salt), and a residue, the caput mortuum of the alchemists.

Bourdelin kept careful records of his expenses, for which the Academy reimbursed him at the beginning of each year, and of the authorized transfers of chemical substances to other chemists or naturalists of the Academy. As of 1 January 1687, he was authorized to work at home, and until his death he continued his experimentation and his record-keeping.

Although Bourdelin’s scientific work is of no value today, his importance lies in his having made clear to some of his contemporaries and to his successors that progress in chemical knowledge required use of less antiquated experimental methods and the elaboration of hypotheses as guidelines for research.


I. Original Works. The archives of the Academy of Sciences contain eleven handwritten records of plant analyses carried out by Bourdelin between 14 June 1672 and 2 September 1699. The Bibliotheque Nationale (MS dept.) has other handwritten records kept by Bourdelin, which had been stolen by Libri: the record of expenses incurred for the laboratory between 1667 and 1699, n.a. fr. 5147; and fourteen records of analyses covering 1667–1668, n.a. fr. 5133, and 1672–1699, n.a. fr. 5134–5146. Some of Bourdelin’s findings are published in histoire de l’Académie Royale des sciences (Paris, 1733), I, 27–35, 345–346; II, 9–10, 26–27, 68.

II. Secondary Literature. Bourdelin’s laboratory at the Academy is illustrated by Sébastien Leclerc in Mémoires pour servir é l’histoire des plantes dressés par M. Dodart (Paris, 1676). Valuable articles are A. Birembaut, “Le laboratoire de l’Académie royale des sciences,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences (1969); and Paul Dorveaux, “Les grands pharmaciens. Apothicaires membres de l’Académie royale des sciences,” in Bulletin de la Société d’histoire de la pharmacie (Aug. 1929), 290–298.

Arthur Birembaut

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