(b. Versailles, France, 15 June 1740; d. Montrouge, Hautsde-Seine, France, 15 May 1806),
The son of an employee of the bâtiments du roi, Cels entered the office of the Ferine Gériérale in Paris in 1759. In 1761 he became collector of revenues at the Little Saint Bernard Pass and a short while later that of the octroi at Saint-Jacques gateway. With the latter position came the use of a house with about three-quarters of an acre of land, on which he laid out a rich botanical garden. Cels had early shown a methodical temperament and a pronounced taste for botany. He studied under Bernard de Jussieu and Louis-Guillaume Le Monnier, and he was sympathetic to the ideas of Rousseau.
The Revolution abolished his office in 1790, forcing Cels to find a new way of making a living. He retired to Montrouge and devoted himself to the cultivation and sale of plants. He encountered serious difficulties, however. Made responsible by the Convention for a considerable sum stolen from his strongbox in 1789, upon the looting of the octroi barrière, he had to sell his large library in order to acquit himself; moreover, on several occasions he had to transfer his cultivation to other locations. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Cels’s holdings were in the plain near Montrouge, about one kilometer from Paris, near “the Jansenist windmill”; they finally totaled about eighteen acres, covered by greenhouses, beds, borders, and especially by a tree nursery and small ornamental and fruit trees. In 1800–1802 Étienne Ventenat published Description des plantes nouvelles et peu connues cultivées dans le jardin de J. M. Cels, enriched with 100 beautiful color plates by P. J. Redouté, and, in 1803–1808. Choix de plantes dont la plupart sont cultivées dans le jardin de Cels, illustrated by the same artist.
In this garden, which became one of the most beautiful in Europe, were drawn and described several of the species published in the Stirpes novae (1784–1791) of Charles-Louis L’Héritier, in the Histoire naturelle des plantes grasses (1799) and the Astragologia (1802) of Augustin-Pyramus de Candolle, and in the Liliacées (1802–1816) of P. J. Redouté. Cels applied himself particularly to propagating the rare plants introduced into France by the naturalist voyagers of his lime (several of whom were his personal friends): Joseph Dombey, André Michaux, Louis Bosc, Guillaume-Anioine Olivier, Jean Bruguières, Pierre Auguste Broussonet, Jacques de La Billardière, Hippolyte Nectoux, and Anselme Riedlé. He carried on an important correspondence with the principal botanists of Europe, who provided him with new species, and he generously placed his abundant plant collection at their disposal. He also sent plants to the botanical garden at Kew.
A member of the Commission of Agriculture and then of the Council of Agriculture, Cels prevented the destruction of parks and châteaus during the Revolution; he also contributed to the formation and the direction of the agricultural institutions at Le Raincy, Sceaux, and Versailles. He published opinions and instructions on various branches of agriculture, took an important part in the project of the code rural, and collaborated on several dictionaries and other works. The majority of his writings appeared anonymously. He was elected to the First Class of the Institut National on 22 Frimaire an IV (13 December 1795), and he became a member of the Société d’Agriculturede la Seine in 1799.
His son, François, was his collaborator and continued his work.
I. Original Works. Cels’s writings include Coup d’oeiléclairé d’une bibliothèque à l’usage de tout possesseur de livres (Paris, 1773), written with A. M. Lottin; Observations sur les jardins de luxe… (Paris, n.d. [1794?]}; Instruction sur les effets des inondations et débordemens des riviè res, relativement aux prairies, aux récoltes de foin et à la nourriture des animaux… (Paris, an IV), written with F.-H. Gilbert; Avis sur les récoltes des grains… (Paris, an VII); Notes du citoyen Cels sur ses cultures (n.p., n.d.); and Memoire sur quelques inconvéniens de la taille des arbres à fruits, et nouvelle méthode de les conduire pour assurer la fructification… (Paris, 1806), by Cadet de Vaux, followed by a report by Cels and Thouin.
Cels collaborated on Annuaire du cultivateur (Paris, 1794). He also presented several memoirs and reports to the First Class of the Institut de France; those published include “Rapport sur le projet précédent [John Sinclair, ‘Projet d’un plan pour établir des fermes experimentales et pour fixer les principes des progrès de l’agricuiture…’]…,” in Mémoires présentés à l’Institut… par divers savants, Sciences mathématiques et physiques, 1 (1806), 17–32; and “Notice historique sur la plante nommé e Robinia viscosa (Robinia visqueux)…,” in Mémoires de l’Institut national…, Sciences mathematiques et physiques, 5 (an XII), 110–113.
Cels is mentioned quite frequently in the Procès-uerbaux des séances de l’Academie des sciences tenues depuis la fondation de l’Institut jusqu’au mois d’août 1835, 3 vols. (Hcndaye, 1910–1913). MSS by Cels or concerning him include the following: in the library of the Institut de France, an autograph note on the life of L’séritier de Brutelle (MS 3180) and several pieces used by Cuvier in his éloge of Cels (MS 3184) -see Henri Dehérain, Catalogue des manuscrits du fonds Cuvier, fasc. 1 (Paris, 1908), no. 180, p. 30, and no. 184, p. 31; in the archives of the Académie des Sciences, “Mémoire sur le froid du 21 vendémiaire an XIV [13 October 1805],” in the file for the meeting of 31 March 1806; in the central library of the Muséum National d’His-toire Naturelle, two letters: one of 27 November 1794 to Abbé Gregoire, on the botanical garden of Montpellier (MS 1972, no. 246); one of 20 February 1806 to Lezermes, director of the nursery at Roule, on the latter nursery (MS 1972, no. 247); and at the British Museum, four letters to Sir Joseph Banks dated between 1791 and 1801 (Add. MSS 8097–8099) —see Warren R. Dawson, The Banks Letters; A Calendar of the Manuscript Correspondence of Sir Joseph Banks… (London, 1958), p. 209.
11. Secondary Literature. On Cels’s life, see Georges Cuvier, “Éloge historique de Jacques Martin Cels…,” in Mémoires de la classe des sciences mathématiques et physiques de l’Institut, for 1806, 2nd semester (1807), 139– 158, repr. in Magasin encyclopéique, VI (1806), 64–84, See also Le Texnier, Notices sur les jardiniers cilehres et les amateurs de jardins. Utte famille de jardiniers, les Cels (Paris, 1909).