Broussonet (or Broussonnet or Broussounet), Pierre-Auguste-Marie

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Broussonet (or Broussonnet or Broussounet), Pierre-Auguste-Marie

(b. Montpellier, France, 19 January 1761; d. Montpellier, 27 July 1807)

zoology, botany.

Broussonet’s family belonged to the bourgeoisie. His father, François Broussounet (des Terrasses), was a physician who taught at Montpellier’s school of medicine. Broussonet’s brother Victor studied there and later became its dean. Henri Fouquet, a professor at the medical school, was a relative, as was Jean Chaptal, who subsequently became minister of the interior.

As a child, Broussonet was a passionate collector of natural history specimens, cluttering his father’s house with his finds. He also excelled in classical studies in Montpellier, Montélimar, and Toulouse. He thus was headed toward medical studies, which were both a family tradition and, at that time, the only avenue leading to the study of the natural sciences. Antoine Gouan, a convinced Linnaean, taught at the medical school, and apparently it was from him that Broussonet learned of Linnaeus’ work. From then on, he worked to have it accepted. His thesis on respiration, which he defended in 1778, marked the end of Broussonet’s formal studies. He received the doctorate on 27 May 1779, at the age of eighteen.

Broussonet’s thesis was unanimously praised and seemed to the professors of the University of Montpellier to justify exceptional treatment. They asked that he, despite his youth, be made his father’s successor when the latter retired. The request was not granted, although Broussonet himself went to Paris to plead his cause. His failure was compensated for, however, by the friendships he established with the Paris scholars who made it possible for him to continue and extend the studies on fish that he had begun at Montpellier as early as 1779. Although the Paris ichthyological collections surpassed those that Broussonet had worked with until then, they were not complete enough for the work on which he planned to spend the greater part of his time. Consequently, he went to England to seek the specimens needed for the morphological and systematic work he had in mind.

London, which he reached in 1780, offered Broussonet all he could wish for: an active scientific community; naturalists already won over to Linnaeus’ ideas; collections rich in new species; and a friend, Sir Joseph Banks, whose devotion never lagged. In addition, he was elected to the Royal Society.

Banks had brought back from Cook’s first expedition a considerable number of exotic fish, which he turned over to Broussonet for study, thereby making it possible for Broussonet to start his Ichthyologia, which was to contain descriptions of 1,200 species. The first ten sections, in which he noted the important discovery of the Pseudobranchia, were published in 1782. They were the only ones.

When he returned to France, Broussonet finished his “Notes ichthyologiques,” and in 1785 he presented six of them before the Académie des Sciences. Their merit and the support of Daubenton, who, although anti-Linnaean, was kindly disposed toward Broussonet, resulted in his election to the Academy. The following year he presented a memoir on the voilier, his last work in ichthyology.

The growing unrest among the common people led to Broussonet’s decision to abandon ichthyology. Many thought that the improvement of agricultural production, both in quality and in quantity, might appease those seeking reforms. Berthier de Sauvigny, the administrator of Paris, for whose food supply he was responsible, was one who held that view. He had met Broussonet while in England to study methods of cultivation and animal husbandry and had renewed the acquaintance in France. Berthier, who had revived the Société d’Agriculture, persuaded Broussonet to become its secretary. In addition, Daubenton, who in 1783 had accepted the chair of rural economy at the Alfort Veterinary School, passed on this heavy responsibility to his young friend.

Broussonet, having become an agronomist, tried to fulfill the duties of his new offices. Between 1785 and 1788 he regularly published short notices, both signed and anonymous, for the use of farmers. Many of them have not been identified to this day. Unfortunately, this work came too late, and the Revolution put an end to Broussonet’s agricultural efforts.

In 1789 Broussonet, then twenty-eight, enthusiastically welcomed revolutionary ideas, as was characteristic of his generation. He turned to politics, but soon realized its dangers. His friend Berthier, held responsible for the current famine, was killed before his eyes. Broussonet, knowing he was in danger, fled Paris. In 1792 he took refuge in Montpellier but was accused of federalism and thrown in jail. He remained there only a few days, but his liberty was still precarious after his release. He therefore left Montpellier for Bagnères-de-Bigorre to join his brother, then a doctor in the army of Pyrénées-Orientales. On 19 July 1794 he crossed the Spanish border.

Although Broussonet was penniless, he was warmly received by the botanists Ortega and Cavanilles in Madrid, Gordon in Jerez, and José Correa de Serra in Lisbon. Sir Joseph Banks continued to be interested in him and helped him financially. But he was not accepted by the French who had emigrated earlier and looked upon him as a revolutionary. Having become friends with Simpson, American consul in Gibraltar, Broussonet accompanied him as physician on a diplomatic mission to Morocco, where he studied the flora.

In 1795, when he voluntarily returned to France, Broussonet’s name was removed from the list of political refugees, and he regained possession of his property. Elected to the Institut in 1796, he requested appointment as a voyageur de l’Institut, stating that he wished to return to Morocco to continue his research. In 1797, therefore, he was named vice-consul at Mogador, a post created for him. There he carried on his work of collecting and describing plants and animals, as well as attending to his consular duties.

In 1799 Mogador was threatened by the plague. On 8 July, Broussonet sailed with his family to the Canary Islands, where he was made commissioner of commercial relations. He continued his collecting and observations, writing of them to Cavanilles, Charles l’Heritier, and Humboldt. The local authorities forbade him to travel, however, and Broussonet decided to leave his post. He asked to be sent to the Cape of Good Hope, where he hoped to create a botanical garden.

Chaptal, then minister of the interior, supported his young relative’s request, and Broussonet was therefore named commissioner of commercial relations to the Cape on 15 October 1802. He returned to France in 1803 to prepare for this new assignment, only to learn that Chaptal had changed his mind and had had him made professor at the medical school of Montpellier, to succeed Gouan. He had to accept.

Broussonet took up his new position at once. His title, besides its teaching duties, gave him charge of the botanical garden of Montpellier. He restored its former layout and, helped financially by Chaptal, built a greenhouse, dug ponds, and enlarged the collections, of which he published a list in 1805. This was the Elenchus plantarum horti botanici Monspeliensis, the first in a projected series of works that promised to be considerable. But it was also the last. Broussonet was preparing to describe the 1,500 species collected at Tenerife when he suffered a stroke that caused a gradually worsening aphasia. On 17 August 1806 he notified the director of the medical school that he must resign his post, and a year later, he suffered a final stroke that caused his death.


I. Original Works. Among Broussonet’s works are Variae positiones circa respirationem (Montpellier, 1778), his doctoral thesis, “Mémoire sur les différentes espéces de chiens de mer,” in Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences (1780), 641–680; Ichthyologia sistens piscium descriptiones et icones (London-Paris-Vienna-Leipzig-Leiden, 1782); “Essai de comparaison entre les mouvements des animaux et ceux des plantes et description d’une espéce de sainfoin dont les feuilles sont dans un mouvement perpétuel,” in Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences (1784), 609–621; “Mémoire sur le voilier, espéce de poisson peu connue qui se trouve dans les mers des Indes,” ibid. (1786), 450–455; “Observations sur la régénération de quelques parties des corps des poissons,” ibid. (1786), 684–688; and Elenchus plantarum horti botanici Monspeliensis (Montpellier, 1805).

II. Secondary Literature. Works on Broussonet are F. Aubouy, “Auguste Broussonet et la flore de Montpellier,” in Annales de la Société d’horticulture et d’histoire naturelle de l’Hérault, 2nd ser., 29 (1897–1898), 139–161; J. Caillé, “Un vice-consul de France au Maroc: Auguste Broussonet,” in Revue de l’Institut Napoléon, no. 89 (1963), 157–166, which cites his writings during his period of travel; A. P. de Candolle, Éloge de Mr. Auguste Broussonet prononcé dans la séance publique de l’École de médecine le 4 janvier 1809 (Montpellier, 1809), which cites his agricultural and botanical works; J. Castelnau, Mémoire historique et biographique sur l’ancienne Société royale des sciences et lettres de Montpellier (Montpellier, 1838), which cites his botanical works; G. Cuvier, “Éloge historique de Pierre-Auguste-Marie Broussonet,” in Éloges historiques des membres de l’Académie royale des sciences, I (Strasbourg-Paris, 1819), 311–342; H. Dehérain, Dans l’Atlantique (Paris, 1912), which cites works from his period of travel; Durand, “Vie de M. Broussonet,” Bibliothèque du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, MS 1991-pièce 242–8 ff., a sketch, several times reworked, of a biography that seems never to have been completed (extracts in Roumeguère, below); E. Fournier, “Broussonet (Pierre Marie Auguste),” in M. H. Baillon, Dictionnaire de botanique I (Paris, 1876), 499–500; F. Granel, “Un grand naturaliste montpelliérain P. M. Auguste Broussonet (1761–1807),” in Pages médico-historiques montpelliéraines (Montpellier, 1964), pp. 119–130; and “Les étapes scientifiques d’Auguste Broussonet,” in Monspeliensis Hippocrates, no. 37 (1967), 25–34; H. Harant and G. Vidal, “Á propos du nom de Broussonet,” ibid., no. 8 (1960), 23–26; C. Martins, Le jardin des plantes de Montpellier. Essai historique et descriptif (Montpellier, 1854), pp. 1–91; L. Passy, Histoire de la Société nationale d’agriculture de France, I (Paris, 1912); G. Roumeguère, “Correspondance de Broussonet avec Alex. de Humboldt au sujet de l’histoire naturelle des îles Canaries,” in Mémoires de la Société nationale des sciences naturelles de Cherbourg, 18 (1874), 304–317, which cites works written during his period of travel; and A. Thiébaut de Berneaud, Éloge de Broussonet, premier fondateur de la Société Linnéenne de Paris (Paris, 1824).

Jean Motte

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Broussonet (or Broussonnet or Broussounet), Pierre-Auguste-Marie

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