Gohory, Jacques

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Gohory, Jacques

(b. Pans, France, 1520; d. Paris, 15 March 1576)

natural history, alchemy, medicine.

Jacques Gohory was the eldest of six children born to Pierre de Gohory, an advocate to the Parlement of Paris, and his wife Catherine de Rivière. The family had strong links with the Parlement and Court of Paris, and Jacques, like his father and two of his younger brothers, became an advocate to the Paris Parlement. As a young man Gohory served on various ambassadorial missions, including periods in Flanders, England (1546–1549), and Rome (1554–1556).

Finding himself unsuited to legal or courtly life, he decided on his return from Rome to devote himself to the study and pursuit of poetry, music, the occult arts including alchemy, natural history, and medical philosophy. He retained his title of advocate to the Parlement, however, until his death.

Gohory’s wide-ranging interests place him in the mainstream of French Renaissance culture which surrounded the courts of the later Valois monarchy. Indeed, as references in his works make clear, he was a close friend of members of the Plèiade and of Jean Antoine de Baïf’s circle. From 1572 Gohory maintained a private academy which he called the Lycium Philosophal San Marcellin, at his home in the Faubourg Saint—Marcel. This academy was a rival to Baïf’s royally chartered Academy of Poetry and Music founded two years earlier. Both academies were devoted to the encyclopedic cultivation of the arts in the Italian Neoplatonic tradition, but whereas Baïf’s emphasized poetry and music, Gohory’s laid stress on alchemy, botany, and the magical arts. The Lycium had a botanical garden and a chemical laboratory; games and music were played in the alleys of the garden. The site of Gohory’s Lycium was close to that of the later Jardin du Roi, founded in 1626, but there was no formal connection between the two institutions.

Gohory is important as an early disseminator of Paracelsian ideas in France. In his writings he refers to his discussions on Paracelsus’ teachings with such distinguished medical figures as Jean Fernel, Ambroise Paré, Jean Chapelain, Honoré Chastellan, and Leonardo Botal. His Lycium became a center for the preparation of chemical medicines. His Compendium (1568) of the philosophy and medicine of Paracelsus contains a brief life of Paracelsus, a summary of his principal doctrines, a catalogue of his works, and a commentary on his De vita longa. Gohory was critical of contemporary commentators on Paracelsus, particularly Gerard Dorn, who published an immediate rebuttal in 1568. He linked Paracelsus with the medieval magical and alchemical tradition through Artephius, Roger Bacon (from whom he said Paracelsus borrowed much), Peter of Abano, Albert the Great, Arnald of Villanova, Raymon Lull, and John of Rupescissa. Although he recognized Paracelsus’ debt to the later Neoplatonic magical tradition, in particular by pointing to the relationship of Paracelsus’ De vita longa to Marsiglio Ficino’s De triplici vita (1489), he was critical of both Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola for their religious scruples which, he alleged, prevented them from becoming truly great magi.

Gohory’s short monograph on tobacco, L’instruction sur I’herbe petum (1572), is one of the earliest on the subject and contains recipes for chemical preparations derived from the plant. It is also notable for its information about the author and his Lycium.

Gohory’s numerous literary works include translations of Machiavelli’s The Prince (1571) and of an anonymous account of the conquest of Peru (1545). During the last three years of his life he was royal historiographer.


I. Original Works. The most complete guide to Gohory’s published work is contained in Harry’s art, cited below. Works of philosophical and medical interest are De usu et mysteriis notarum Tiber (Paris, 1550), a wide-ranging discussion of the occult; Theophrasti Paracelsi philosophiae et medicinae... compendium (Basel, 1568), published under the pseudonym Leo Suavius; Livre de la fontaine perilleuse... contenant la steganographie des mystères secrets de la science minérale (Paris, 1572), an ed. and commentary on a medieval poem which Gohory believed to be an alchemical allegory; Discours responsif à celui d’Alexandre de la Tourette sur les secrets de l’art chymique et confection de l’or potable (Paris, 1575), by L.S.S. [Leo Suavius Solitaire], a reply to Tourette’s treatise on potable gold published in 1575.

Works of botanical interest are Devis sur la vigne, vin et vendages (Paris, 1550), published under the pseudonym Orl. de Suave; L’instruction sur l’herbe petum... (Paris, 1572), a monograph on the tobacco plant. His trans. of the account of Pizarro’s conquest of Peru is L’histoire de la Terre-Neuve du Péru (Paris, 1545).

II. Secondary Literature. A very full account of Gohory’s life and work is contained in E.-T. Hamy, “Un précurseur de Guy de la Brosse. Jacques Gohory et le Lycium Philosophal de Saint-Marceau-lès-Paris (1571- 1576),” in Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 4th ser., I (1899), 1-26. Gohory’s commentary on Paracelsus is discussed in D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic From Ficino to Campanella (London, 1958), pp. 96-106. See also L. Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, V (New York, 1941), 636-640; and J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, II (London, 1961), 162-163. The account of Peru and the treatise on tobacco are dealt with in W. H. Bowen, “L’histoire de la Terre-Neuve du Péru. A Translation by Jacques Gohory,” in Isis, 28 (1938), 330–340; and “The Earliest Treatise on Tobacco: Jacques Gohory’s ‘Instruction sur l’herbe petum,’“ibid., 347–363. In these arts. Bowen refers to his Harvard University diss. on Gohory (n.d.).

Owen Hannaway

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