Bourdelot, Pierre Michon

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Bourdelot, Pierre Michon

(b. Sens, France, 2 February 1610; d. Paris, France, 9 February 1685)

medicine, dissemination of science.

Bourdelot was the son of Maximilien Michon, a barber-surgeon, and of Anne Bourdelot. About 1629 he began medical studies in Paris, where he had two uncles on his mother’s side: Edmé Bourdelot, physician to Louis XIII, and Jean Bourdelot, a jurist and distinguished Hellenist. They adopted young Michon in 1634 and obtained for him the right to bear the name of Bourdelot. They also introduced him into the intellectual life of Paris. François de Noailles made Bourdelot his physician and took him to Rome in 1634.

When he returned to Paris in 1638, Bourdelot entered the service of Prince Henri II de Condé. He accompanied the latter on his campaigns in Spain, taking advantage of stopovers in Paris to pass his medical examinations. Having earned the title of king’s physician, he settled in Paris early in 1642 and became the Condé family’s physician. Eager for fame, he founded the Académie Bourdelot, the biweekly meetings of which were attended by nobles, men of letters, philosophers, and devotees of new fashions who were more critical than knowledgeable. Men interested in science also came, as did such truly learned men as Roberval, Gassendi, and Etienne and Blaise Pascal. Although Bourdelot often allowed the reading of extravagant theses at the meetings, his academy, along with that of Mersenne, played an important role in spreading scientific ideas in Paris. During the winter of 1647/1648 several new experiments on the vacuum were presented and discussed.

Upon the death of Henri II de Condé in 1646, Bourdelot served his son, Louis II. Political disordres brought on by the Fronde interrupted the academy’s activity, and when Condé was arrested in January 1650, Bourdelot followed the dowager duchess into hiding. In October 1651, Bourdelot left the Condé family to go to Sweden as physician to Queen Christina, over whom he gained marked influence. This success aroused widespread animosity, and in June 1653 the queen was persuaded to send Bourdelot back to France.

In Paris, he obtained the living of the abbey of Massay, in Berry, which gave him the right to the title abbé. When the Great Condé returned from exile in 1659, Bourdelot again became his physician. His success with a treatment for gout, which he had previously developed, brought him new fame with numerous noted patients, among them Mme. de Sévigné. Early in 1664 he resumed the meetings of his academy. These meetings were attended by future members of the Académie Royale, by foreign scholars passing through, by violent partisans of Descartes or Gassendi, and by all sorts of alchemists and visionaries who espoused ideas of the past. The academy continued to meet more or less regularly until 1684. Although its Conférences, published in 1672 by Le Gallois, do not give a good idea of its standards and scientific level, references to some of its meetings in contemporary journals, memoirs, and correspondence indicate that interesting experimental work was often done there and that the academy helped to arouse sympathy for and interest in science. This was possible largely because the secrecy surrounding the work of the Académie Royale prevented it from participating in the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Bourdelot’s writings have little more than anecdotal interest. A possible exception is his history of music, published posthumously by his two nephews, which has recently been studied by historians of music. Nevertheless, Bourdelot played an important role in the scientific life of Paris between 1640 and 1680, providing material assistance and a means of diffusing experimental results. He also created a climate favorable to science in influential circles that participated in foreign intellectual exchanges, particularly with Italy.


I. Original Works. Bourdelot’s writings are Recherches et observations sur les vipères… (Paris, 1671); Résponse… à la lettre de Boccone… sur l’embrasement du Mont Etna, n.p., n.d. (Paris, 1671); histoire de la musique et de ses effects… (Paris, 1715), written with P. Bonnet-Bourdelot and J. Bonnet; and histoire générale de la danse sacrée et profane… (Paris, 1732), written with J. Bonnet.

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Bourdelot are Roman d’Amat, in Dictionnaire de biographie francaise, VI (1954), cols. 1439–1440; A. Cabanès, Dans les coulisses de l’histoire (Paris, 1923), pp. 93–123; A. Chérest, Un médecin du grand monde au XVIIe siècle (Pierre Michon, devenu par adoption Piette Boudelot), n.p., n.d. (Auxerre, 1861); Henri Chérot, Trois éducations princiéres au dix-septiéme siécle; (Lille, 1896), pp. 120–132, 248; R. J. Denichou, Un médecin du grand siécle: L’abbé Bourdelot (Paris, 1928); F. Halévy, Souvenirs et portraits (Paris, 1861), pp. 87–115; H. Brown, Scientific Organizations in Seventeenth Century France (Baltimore, 1933), pp. 111–112, 161, 165, 231–253, 296; P. Le Gallois, ed., Conversations de l’Académie de Monsieur l’Abbé Bourdelot… (Paris, 1672, 1673), and Conversations academiques, tirées de l’Académie de M. l’Abbé Bourdelot (Paris, 1674); Jean Lemonie and André Lichtenberger, Trois familiers du grand Condé (Paris, 1908), pp. 1–138; René Pintard, “Autour de Pascal. L’Académie Bourdelot et le probléme du vide,” in Mélanges… offerts á Daniel Mornet (Paris, 1951) pp. 73–81; D. Riesman, “Bourdelot, a Physician of Queen Christina of Sweden,” in Annals of Medical History, 9 (1937), 191; and D. C. Vischer, Der musikgeschichtliche Traktat des Pierre Bourdelot (1610–1684[sic]) (Bern, 1947), dissertation (available at Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris 8°θ Bern. ph.2062).

Numerous references are in Correspondence du P. Marin Mersenne, C. de Waard, ed., 10 vols. (Paris, 1932–); René Pintard, Le libertinage érudit en France dans la premiére partie du XVIIe siécle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1943); and René Taton, Les origines de l’Académie Royale des Sciences (Paris, 1966).

RenÉ Taton

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Bourdelot, Pierre Michon

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