La Brosse, Guy De

views updated

La Brosse, Guy De

(b. Paris, France, ca. 1586; d. Paris, 1641)

botany, medicine, chemistry.

The founder and first director (intendant) of the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris, Guy de La Brosse, was born during the reign of Henry III, probably in Paris, not in Rouen as is often claimed. He died—fo Epicurean overindulgence, if his archenemy, Guy Patin, can be trusted—at his house in the Jardin des Plantes during the night of 30–31 August 1641.1

The La Brosse name was by no means uncommon, and it is not easy to sort out and identify his ancestors and relatives. But the La Brosse mentined by the poet, historian, and chemist Jacques Gohory (d. 1576) as a learned “mathématicien du Roy,” possessed of as fine botanical garden, may have been Guy’s grand father.2 About the father we are on firmer ground: Isaïe de Vireneau, sieur de La Brosse, is described by his son as a respectd physician ad a fine medical botanist (“trés bon simpliste”).3 Isaïe, who died about 1610, was long survived by Guy’s stepmother, Judith de la 1610, was long survived by Guy’s stepmother, Judith de la Rivoire. These Christian names suggest that the family was originally Protestant,4 although Guy was at least a nominal Catholic; he built a chapel in the Jardin des Plantes, where Mass was said on feast days and where he was eventually buried.

In his youth, Guy may have been a soldier;5 in any case, his major book testifies to extensive travels in France. Yet by 1614 he had settled in Paris, had begun the study of chemistry, and was botanizing on Mont Valérien. Although we are ignorant about his medical training,6 we know that by 1619 he was physician to Henry II de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, and that in 1626 he had become one of the physicians in ordinary to Louis XIII. Like many of the doctors of the royal household, a number of whom were products of the medical university of Montpellier, Guy was highly critical of the Paris medical faculty: its conservatism, its worship of Galen, its addiction to venesection, its relative neglect of botany and anatomy, and its distrust of the newly emerging, and highly controversial, field of medical chemistry.7 By 1616 Guy had begun his efforts to secure the establishment in Paris of a royal botanical garden, not merely for the study of medicinal herbs, but where chemistry would be taught as a handmaiden to medicine.

Several small botanical gardens had been established in Paris by private persons—mostly physicians and apothecaries—during the sixteenth century. In Guy’s youth the only Parisian garden of mportance was the modest one of Jean Robin.8 Guy hoped for something larrger and more elaborate, and when he made his first overtures about 1616 to Louis XIII, through the good office of Jean Hérouard, teh chief body physician of the king,9 his models were the botanical garden of Montpellier, established by Henry IV but recently fallen into ruin, and those of Padua and Leiden. What Guy envisaged was a teaching and research institution, designed to raise medical standares and research institution, designed to raise medical standards and advance the art. Besides a collection of living plants, Guy planned a herbarium of dried specimens adn a droguier, or laboratory, where students could learn distillation and the preparation of herbal remedies. A royal edict of 6 January 1626 authorized the establishment, in one of the suburbs of Paris, of such a royal garden of medicinal plants, and designated Jean Hérouard as superintendent. Six months later, when the edict was registered by the Parlement, La Brosse received his appointment as intendant.

In the next two years, to assure support and financing for the project, Guy published a series of pleas to government officials, among them Richelieu, and brought out his Advis défensif, defending his plan and severely criticizing the Paris medical faculty. Most of these pamphlets were reprinted in 1628 in hs major book, De la nature, vertu et utilité des plantes.

For several years ther was no sign of progress; in the meanwhile Hérouard had died and Charles Bouvard succeeded him as superintendent of the proposed garden. At last, on 21 February 1633, there was purchased in the king’s name, fro thesum of 67,000 livres, a house and grounds in the Faubourg Saint-Victor. A year later Guy was able to show the king a plan of the new garden, where 1,500 species of plants were already growing. The act which detailed the organization and staffing of the Jardin des Plantes was a futher royal edict of 15 May 1635. This specified that Guy, aided by a sous-démonstrateur, was to teach the “exterior” of plants, that is, theri identification adn taxonomic characteristics. Also authorized was the appointement of three demonstrators, to teach the “interior” of plants, in other words their pharmaceutical properties.

Meanswhile, to supervise the work, Guy moved into the building that was later to serve as the zoological galleries. The ground was cleared and leveled, and garden plots and parterres were laid out. Many plants were provided by Vespasien Robin, the heir to his father’s garden as well as to his title of arboriste du Roi, whom Guy appointed in 1635 as sous-démonstrateur.10 Through active correspondecen with botanists abroad, Guy obtained seeds and plants from foreign lands, notably from the East Indies and America. In 1636, when he published his Description du Jardin royal des plantes médecinales with two plans of the garden, he was able to list some 1,800 species and varieties under cultivation. Four years later, in 1640, came the formal opening of the institution, marked by the publication of a pamphlet of thirty-eight pages describing the foundation of the garden, comparing it with those of Padua, Pisa, Leiden, and Montpellier, printing some introductory remarks about the study of botany, and, finally, regulations for the students. The following year, the year of his death, Guy published a second catalogue of the plants growing in the garden, with a handsome perspective plan drawn and finely engraved by Abraham Bosse. Its appearance could hardly have changed much when the young John Evelyn recorded in his travel diary his visit to Guy’s establishment in February 1644:

The 8th I tooke Coach and went to see the famous Garden Royale, which is an Enclosure wall’d in, consisting of all sorts of varietys of grounds, for the planting & culture of Medical samples. It is certainely for all advantages very well chosen, having within it both hills, meadows, growne Wood, & Upland, both artificial and naturall; nor is the furniture inferiour, being very richly stord with exotic plants: has a fayre fountaine in the middle of the Parterre, a very noble house, Chaple, Laboratory, Orangerie & other accommodations for the Prasident, who is allwayes one of the Kings chiefe Physitians.11

We know something of Guy’s friendships and his ties with the intellectual and free-thinking circles of his day. Descartes knew about him, and mentions in his letters Guy’s refutation of the Géostatique of Jean Beaugrand.12 Guy was at least an occasional visitor to the cell of the famous scientist and Minorite friar, Father Mersenne.13 He was a familiar, too, of other learned circles like the “Cabinet” of the brothers Dupuy, and the “Tétrade” of Élie Diodati, Gabriel Naudé, Pierre Gassendi, and La Mothe le Vayer, who, while keeping up a discreet fron as an early member of the French Academy, set forth his free-thinking views under the pseudonym of Orasius Tubero. Guy also formed part of the pleasure-loving group around François Lullier, financier and maître des comptes, and was perhaps closest of all to the libertine poet Théophile de Viau and his intimate and pupil Jacques Vallée, sieur des Barreaux, for Guy was Théophile’s personal physician as well as friend. It was from Guy that the poet in his last illness received the narcotic pill that ended his life.14

Guy’s earliest book was a short monograph on the causes of the plague, the Traicté de la peste (1623). In the following year (1624) appeared his Traicté contre la mesdisance, a work in which he defended various persons—among them, and perhaps notably, Théophile de Viau—who had been unjustly persecuted for their opinions.

In his work on the plague, Guy already showed his affinity with the Paracelsian doctors and his rejection of traditional medical theory. There are, he remarked, two different opinions about the efficient cause of the plague: (1) that it depends upon the active and passive qualities of the elements, a view held by all those who attempt to explain nature by the manifest qualities of things; and (2) that the cause is hidden, proceeding from agencies beyond the reach of our senses. Men in the first category follow Galen in making putrefaction the “principal and unique cause” of the plague. But Guy, opposing a philosophy “that knows the motions and changes of nature only through books,” clearly preferred the second alternative, urging that the cause of the plague “is a venomous and contagious substance,” which in turn is the cause of putrefaction. As Allen Debus has pointed out, Paracelsian doctors sought the causes of disease less in internal imbalances of fluids than in external factors.15

The major concern, however, of Guy de La Brosse was with medical botany, a field to which he was doubtless introduced by his father. Guy’s De la nature ds plantes is not only a defense of his project for creating a center for the study of medical botany, but is also a theoretical work about plants in general. In it he raises questions that would be meaningful today—about the generation, growth, and nutrition of plants—as well as asking whether plants have souls, a subject to which he devotes considerable space, discussing also the influence of the stars, yet criticizing the doctrine of signatures. His belief in the essential unity of plant and animal life led him to catalogue their similarities: growth is observed in both; motion is not peculiar to animals, for indeed some animals are motionless or sessile; both plants and animals suffer disease; both animals and plants hibernate and plants even sleep. Plants, he would have us believe, seem to have more vital force than animals, yet they are readily fatigued by the process of nutrition and by tempestuous weather. Extending this analogy further, he was convinced that plants, like animals, must differ in sex (the vernal rise of sap, he argued, “testifies to their amorous desires”); and he urged that an effort be made to examine plants closely to discover distinctive sexual features.

As to whether plants, like animals, display feeling and sensation, La Brosse disagreed with Aristotle and returned to, and cited, the earlier views of Empedocles and Anaxagors. Although sense organs, he remarked, have not been observed in plants, several species—notably Mimosa pudica, the sensitive plant, which he claimed to have been the first to introduce into France—markedly display the quality of sensibility.16 What the soul of the plant is, Guy did not pretend to know, although he could note its operations. The individualizing agent that he adduced as the cause of specific differences, what others would call the plant’s “form,” he called the “Artisan” or “esprit artiste.”

Perhaps Guy’s most interesting suggestion concerned plant nutrition. Plants, like animals, derive their nutriment not only from solid food (viande) drawn from the earth, and from aqueous liquid (breuvage) from water, but also from air. Air is an necessary to nourish and sustain plants as it is for the life of animals. Deprived of air, plants die; to be sure, they have no lungs, but in this they resemble insects, which nevertheless need air to live. It is not necessary to have lungs to draw n air; it suffices to be supplied with pores. If plants need earth, it is for the nitrous and saline juices it contains (“la terre sans sels est inutile à la génération”); manure is nothing but the salt of the urine of animals. Water by itself is not a nutrient (pace Van Helmont), but serves chiefly as the vehicle for the salts and the manna. Guy suggested an experiment to show that “pure” earth and distilled water cannot sustain the growth of plants: rich earth is leached with warm water and put into a large glass vessel; if seeds are then planted and watered with distilled water, they may sprout, but they will not grow. Similarly, it is for the esprit—the dew and the manna contained in it—that plants need air to live. The plants seek air, Guy attempted to prove by pointing to a shrub which, growing close to a wall or otherwise sheltered, sends its branches toward the open air. This was, of course, a misreading of the phenomenon of phototropism; such plants were seeking sunlight rather than air. Nevertheless, a century before Stephen Hales, although on wholly inadequate evidence, La Brosse argued for the nutritive role of air in plants.17

Guy’s interest in chemistry was keen; the third of the five books into which De la nature des plantes is divided is devoted to the subject; Gut himself described it as “un traicté général de la Chimie.” For Guy, chemistry was an important adjunct both to medicine and botany. It is through chemistry, rather than by ordinary dissection, that one learns the causes of the virtues of plants. Fire if guided by an experienced hand produces marvels, for it has the ability to disclose those things that are hidden from the senses.18

The fundamental assumption of the chemist is that every body can be reduced to those entities out of which it is formed; only when we have reduced substances to their principles and elements can we truly understand them. All natural compound bodies, Guy tells us, can be reduced into five simple bodies of different natures: into three principles—salt, sulfur, and mercury, the tria prima of the Paracelsians—and into two elements—water and earth.19 Neither air nor fire (as in the old doctrine of the four elements) should be thought of as an element or principle.

Guy devotes an entire chapter to explaining why the chemist refuses to include air as one of the elements. This may seem odd, he admits, since air serves as an excellent and necessary food for man, for other animals, and indeed for plants, “which cannot live without respiring it.” But the chemist would reply that when compound substances (mixtes) are dissected by fire, no air appears. Air, moreover, is not an element or simple body, but ought better to be called chaos, because of the great number of substances that it contains, and of which it is composed; atoms of earth, the vapor of water, and the three principles subtilized make up “that mixture of fine, subtile, and diaphanous substances that we respire.” Air is the “magazine”of all the sensible substances which evaporate and are subtilized. Chemistry concerns itself only with sensible phenomena; it is form the senses that the chemist learns, Guy claims, that all compound bodies “contain and are made of Salt, Sulfur and Mercury,” and that water and earth occur in the chemical dissection of all substances. Water and earth, however, are not to be considered principles, for without the capacity to produce the seeds which account for the specific forms and virtues of things, they are to be thought of as universal matrices, wombs, or “generous receptacles” found in all bodies “not as contained in them, but as containing them.” Chemical change, in sum, is the result of the action of two agents: “the Form, or as we call it, the Artisan,” and fire, “the universal instrument” or the “Great Artist,” which in turn acts in some mysterious way upon the three seminal principles.

Even if Guy had not mentioned Paracelsus and his disciples in the De la nature des plantes, the influence of the Swiss doctor would be quite apparent. In his use of the word chaos—he spelled it “cahos”—to describe aerial matter, and in his references to “dew” and “manna,” Guy clearly echoed the Paracelsians. His “artisans,” although they foreshadow the “plastic natures” imagined later in the century by Ralph Cudworth and John Ray, are the Paracelsian “Archei” under another name. Guy admired Paracelsus, not only as the enemy of medical bibliolatry and the first to dramatize an opposition to Aristotle Galen, but because—as a revolutionary in the study of nature—he stressed experience and experiment, and because of his advocacy of chemistry as a key to nature and, through a knowledge of nature, to medical reform. The chemical doctrines of Paracelsus appealed strongly to Guy, but even in chemistry he cherished his independence and refused to follow blindly either the man “to whom first place is given in this excellent art” or Severinus, the best of the followers of Paracelsus. Rather than accept what they wrote, Guy insisted, “I have rather chosen to delve into the bowels of Nature,” to test their assertions. “Using my hands,” he continued, “I found that many of them wrote falsely; that even Paracelsus, at least if all the books bearing his name are his, was not always trustworthy ... and that all the others did the same or even worse.”20

Guy de La Brosse, it should be evident, shared a number of the attitudes and preconceptions we associate with the new learning of the seventeenth century: a distrust of authority, especially that of Aristotle; a preference, if one must choose, for the views of pre-Socratic philosophers; and a belief in the capacity of the natural sciences, guided by a critical use of human reason and a respect for experience, to move steadily forward. Pintard sees in one of Guy’s basic doctrines—his trust in human reason—an anticipation of Descartes.21 Like Descartes, Guy believed error to result not from some innate weakness of the human intellect but from the defective way the mind is used. If man can overcome in his thinking the influence of prejudice and the tyranny of “opinion,” he may discover truth, “cette fille du temps.” Like Descartes, and thirteen years before him, Guy announced his faith in that faculty of the human mind which, unhampered, allows men to distinguish truth from falsehood. This faculty—Descartes was to call it “le bon sens"—is found in all men and all climates; it works for the Parisian as well as for “the Indian, the Moor, the Chinese, the Jew, the Christian, the Mohammedan, even the Deist and the Atheist.”

But the basis for the judgment of reason can only be experience, the real “maistresse des choses,” and the only true foundation of the sciences. Here in his reiterated empiricism and eclecticism he diverges from Descartes and more closely resembles his friend Gassendi and Francis Bacon.

Guy’s attitude toward medicine and science is neatly summed up in the handsome frontispiece of De la nature des plantes.22 Four symmetrically arranged shields contain the portraits of Hippocrates, Dioscorides, Theophrastus, and Paracelsus, each accompanied by an appropriate motto. For Theophrastus, it is “Medicine is useless without plants.” For Paracelsus, it is “Each thing has its heaven and its starts.” Indeed the mottos of Hippocrates and Dioscorides pretty well sum up Guy’s empiricist position: for Hippocrates, it is “From effects to causes”; and for Dioscorides, it is “From experience to knowledge.” Good doctrine for a man who could write, “It is difficult to have conceptions of things which have not entered the understanding through the senses.” In this and in other matters, Guy may have echoed the dictum of Aristotle, yet Galen and Aristotle are conspicuously absent from his frontispiece. And the reason is evident: centered at the top of the page is a radiant sun, and below it the legend, “Truth, not authority.” At the bottom is Guy’s own device, “De bien en mieux,” which well epitomizes his faith in scientific progress.

Guy de La Brosse was in a number of respects a confused child of his time, echoing its aspirations and its intellectual discontents. His book—an odd mixture of the antiquated, the perverse, and the novel—cannot be said to have exerted a marked influence on scientific thought. The book was rarely cited.23 Indeed Guy himself was largely forgotten, in a truly physical sense, for some two and a half centuries. In 1797, whe the chapel he had built adjoining the main building of what had become the Muséum d’histoire naturelle was demolished to enlarge the zoological galleries (to accommodate, we must suppose, the collections of Cuvier and Lamarck), workers came upon the crypt containing the coffin of La Brosse, easily identified by acrude inscription written on the wall by his niece. The coffin was unceremoniously stored in a convenient basemen; and if there were plans for a suitable reburial, they were long deferred. It was not until 1893, nearly a century later, that Guy was reinterred with seemly honors.24


1. Lettres de Gui Patin, J. H. Revillé-Parise, ed., 3 vols., (Paris, 1846), I, 81–82. See also Hamy, 1897, p. 1; and 1900, pp. 1–3. Patin’s enmity was as an impassioned defender of the Paris Faculty of Medicine.

2. In his Instruction sur l’herbe petum (Paris, 1572), Gohory mentions a certain La Brosse “mathématicien du Roy” and his “beau jardin garny d’une infinité de simples rares et de fleurs esquises” from which he obtained tobacco leaf fro his experiments. See Hamy, 1899, pp. 4–5.

3. Guy de La Brosse, De la nature des plantes, p. 767.

4. See Hamy, 1900, p. 2. Cornelis de Waard (Correspondance du P. Marin Mersenne, V, 195), calls Guy a Calvinist.

5. Albrecht von Haller, without supporting evidence, describes Guy as“ex milite botanicus et medicus,” in Bibliotheca botanica, I (1771), 440. Cf. Pintard, Le libertiange érudit, II, 605.

6. Hilarion de la Coste, in Tamisey de Larroque, ed., Lettres écrites de Paris à Peiresc (Paris, 1892), p. 59, mentions, as a visitor to Père Mersenne, a physician named La Brosse whom he describes as a “docteur de la Faculté de Montpellier.” But there is no trace of Guy in the records of that medical university. Enemies called Guy an empiric, and doubted that he had ever received a medical degree.

7. See his “Advis défensif,” in De la nature des plantes, pp. 754–799.

8. See M. Bouvet, “Les anciens jardins botaniques médicaux de Paris,” in Revue de l’histoire de la pharmacie (Dec. 1947), 221–228. The garden of Jean Robin (1550–1629) first occupied, as Bouvet tells us (p. 226), “the western point of the Cité, where the Place Dauphine is located today.” Late sixteenth-century plans of Paris show such a garden on that spot, but it must have moved to another location after the building (ca. 1607) of the Place Dauphine. Where it was located after that time is hard to determine.

9. For this Montpellier doctor whose name also appears as Héroard or Erouard, see Hamy, Bulletin du Muséum (1896), 171–176. For Guy’s letter to Hérouard, see Denise, Bibliographie, no. 13.

10. The Robins introduced into Europe the first acacia tree (Robinia), which Vespasien planted in Guy’s garden in 1636, and which still survives. For the younger Robin see Hamy, in Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 8 (1896), 1–24.

11. John Evelyn, Diary, E. S. de Beer, ed., 6 vols. (Oxford, 1955), 11, 1202. By “President” Evelyn means the intendant, i.e., Guy de La Brosse.

12. For the Beaugrand episode see Oeuvres de Descartes, Mersenne, V. See also Adrien Baillet, Vie de M. Descartes (Paris, 1691), bk. IV, ch. 12. For Beaugrand see Robert Lenoble, Mersenne ou la naissance du mécanisme (Paris, 1943), p. 472: and Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science, VII (New York, 1958), 437–438.

13. Hilarion de la Coste’s list of visitors to Mersenne is printed in extenso in Correspondance du P. Marin Mersenne, I, xxx—xlii.

14. For Guy’s libertin associations see Pintard, Le libertinage érudit, pp. 193–208.

15. Allen G. Debus, “The Medical World of the Paracelsians,” to appear in essays in honor of Joseph Needham.

16. Mersenne wrote Descartes in 1638 about “l’herbe sensitive,” he had seen “chez Mr. de la Brosse.” Correspondance du P. Martin Mersenne, VIII, (1963), 56–57. For the discovery of Mimosa pudica and others of the genus see Charles Webster, “The Recognition of Plant Sensitivity by English Botanists in the Seventeenth Century,” in Isis, 57 (1966), 5–23.

17. Guy’s confidence in the role of air in plant nutrition surely has its origin in Paracelsian speculations. For this background, consult Allen G. Debus, “The Paracelsian Aerial Niter,” in Isis, 55 (1964), 43–61.

18. The lower level of the chief building of the Jardin des Plantes was to be the laboratory “pour les distillations”; see De la nature des plantes (“Epistre au Roy”), p. 699. Distillation in early medical chemistry is described by Robert Multhauf, “Significance of Distrillation in Renaissance Medical Chemistry,” in Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 30 (1956), 329–346.

19. The five-element theory, which dominated the speculations of seventeeth-century chemists, was first set forth by Joseph Duchesne, or Quercetanus, with whose work Guy de La Brosse was familiar. See R. Hooykaas, “Die Elementenlehre der latrochemiker,” in Janus, 41 (1937), 1–28, and Allen G. Debus, The English Paracelsians (New York, 1966), p. 90.

20. De la nature des plantes, “Argument du troisiesme livre” (inserted between pp. 288 and 289), fol. 2 v°.

21. Pintard, Le libertinage érudit, p. 196.

22. This frontispiece was designed by the artist and engraver Michel l’Asne (or Lasne). See Denise, Bibliographie, no. 39.

23. It was nevertheless referred to by William Harvey’s disciple George Ent, in his Apologie pro circulatione sanguinis (London, 1641).

24.“Translation et inhumation des restes de Guy de La Brosse et de Victor Jacquement faites au Muséum d’histoire naturelle, le 29 November 1893,” in Nouvelles archives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 3rd ser., 6 (1984), iii—xvi. On this occasion the principal discourse was delivered by the director of the Muséum, Henri Milne-Edwards.


I. Original Works. The published works of Guy de La Brosse are the following:

Traicté de la peste (Paris, 1623); Rraicté contre la mesdisance (Paris, 1624); and his most important De la nature, vertu et utilité des plantes (Paris, 1628). Several of Guy’s previously published but undated pamphlets concerned with the proposed Jardin des Plantes Médecinales are reprinted in De la nature des plantes. There are À Monseigneur le très révérend et le très-illustre cardinal, Monseigneur le cardinal de Richelieu; the letter Au Roy, À Monseigneur le garde des Sceaux, À Monseigneur le Superintendant des Finances de France: the Advis défensif du Jardin Royal des plantes médecinales à Paris; and the Mémoire des plantes usagères et de leurs parties que l’on doit trouver à toutes occurrences soit récentes ou sèches, selon la saison, au Jardin Royal des plante médecinales.

Also printed is the royal edict of January 1626 authorizing the establishment of the garden. But the earliest of Guy’s pamphlets concerning the garden, his letter À Monsieur Erouard, premier médecin du Roy (n.p., n.d., but written ca. 1616), was not among those reprinted.

The following pamphlets are posterior to 1628 but published before the opening of the garden: Agrave; Monsieur Bouvard, conseiller du Roy en ses conseils et son premier médecin (n.p., n.d.); Advis pour le Jardin royal des plantes médecinales que le Roy veut establir à Paris. Présenté à Nosseigneurs du Parlement par Guy de La Brosse, médecin ordinaire du Roy et intendant dudit jardin (Paris, 1631); Pour parfaictement accomplir le dessein de la construction du Jardin royal, pour la culture des plantes médecinales (n.p., n.d.); À Monseigneur le Chancelier (n.p., n.d.). After the garden came into being, Guy published his Description du Jardin royal des plantes médecinales estably par le Roy Louis le Juste à Paris; contenant le catalogue des plantes qui y sont de présent cultivées (Paris, 1636) with an overall plan of the garden (by Scalberge) and a plan of the four great flower beds.

With a single exception, Guy’s later publications all dealth with the development of the Jardin des Plantes. The exception is his Éclair cissement d’une partie des paralogismes ou fautes contre les loix du raisonnement et de la démonstration, que Monsieur de Beaugrand a commis en sa pretendue Demonstration de la première partie de la quatriesme proposition de son livre intitulé Geostatique. Adressé au mesme Monsieur de Beaugrand (Paris, 1637).

Perhaps the two most important of his publications concerning the new garden are the following: L’ouverture du Jardin royal de Paris pour la démonstration des plantes médecinales, par Guy de La Brosse, conseiller et médecin ordinaire du Roy, intendant du Jardin et démonstrateur de ses plantes, suivant les ordres de M. Bouvard, surintendant (Paris, 1640), which summarizes the history of the garden, compares it with those of Padua, Pisa, Leidon, and Montpellier, refers to the acclimatizing of the Mimosa pudica, and prints the regulations for the students and his Catalogue des plantes cultivées à présent au Jardin royal des plantes médecinales estably par Louis le Juste, à Paris. Ensemble le plan de ce jardin en perspective orizontale, Par Guy de La Brosse, médecin ordinaire du roy et intendant dudit jardin (Paris, 1641).

II. Secondary Literature. There is no book-length biography of Guy de La Brosse, and he has been largely neglected by modern historians of botany and almost totally so by historians of chemistry. There are short sketches (not always reliable) in N. F. J. Eloy, Dictionnaire historique de la médecine, 4 vols. (Mons, 1778), I, 456–457; E. Gurlt, A. Wernich, and August Hirsch, Biographisches Lexicon der hervorragenden Arzte, 2nd ed. by W. Haberling et al., 5 vols. (1929–1934), I, 715; Albrecht von Haller, Bibliotheca botanica, 2 vols. (Zurich, 1771–1772), I, 440–441; Curt Sprengel, Historia rei herbariae, 2 vols. (Amsterdam, 1807–1808), II, 111–112.

The common error that makes Rouen the birthplace of Guy is repeated by F. Hoefer in the Nouvelle biographie générale; by Théodore Lebreton, Biographie normande,, 3 vols. (Rouen, 1857–1861), II, 316; and by Jules Roger, Les médicins normands (Paris, 1890), 36–39.

A series of articles by E. T. Hamy, professor of anthropology at the Muséum National d’ Histoire Naturelle, has clarified a number of points about Guy’s life. See especially his“La famille de Guy de la Brosse,” in Bulletin du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 6 (1900), 13–16, and his“Quelques botes sur la mort et la succession de Guy de la Brosse,” ibid., 3 (1897), 152–154.

The only study of Guy’s botanical theories is by Agnes Arber, “The Botanical Philosophy of Guy de la Brosse,” in Isis, 1 (1913), 359–369. See also her Herbals, Their Origin and Evolution, new ed., rev. (Cambridge, 1938), 144–145, 250, 255. Miss Arber remarks that Guy was deeply influenced by Aristotelian thought, although he “inveighed against the authority of the classics.”

For Guy’s associations with the libertins see René Pintard, La Mothe de Vayer, Gassendi, Guy Patin (Paris, n.d.), 23, 79, 128; and his Le libertinage érudit, 2 vols.-in-1, continuously paginated (Paris, 1943), 195–200, 437–441, 605–606.

For Guy’s comments on the Paracelsians, and his interest in chemistry, see henry Guerlac, “Guy de La Brosse and the French Paracelsians,” to appear in Allen G. Debus, ed., Science, Medicine and Society in the Renaissance: Essays to Honor Walter Pagel.

Essential for any study of the garden founded by Guy de La Brosse in Louis Denise, Bibliographie historique & iconographique du Jardin des plantes (Paris, 1903), where the early pamphlets of Guy are listed and briefly described, For a short seventeenth-century description of the newly established garden, see Claude de Varennes, Le voyage de France (paris, 1639, and later eds.). An early historical study of the garden, from its origins to the death of Buffon (1788), is that of the famous botanist Antoine-Laurent Jussieu, whose“Notices historiques sur lw Muséum d’histoire naturelle,” appeared in the Annales du Muséum, from 1802 to 1808; the first of these articles, covering the establishment of the Jardin and its development to 1643, was published in Annales, 1 (1802), 1–14.

Other accounts are by Gotthelf Fisher von Waldheim, Das Nationalmuseum der Naturgeschichte zu Paris, 2 vols. (Frankfurt am Main, 1802–1803), I, 21–42; and J. P. F. Deleuze, Histoire et description du Muséum royal d’histoire naturelle, 2 vols. (Paris, 1823).

For special aspects of the early history of the Jardin, see E. T. Hamy, “Recherches sur les origines de l’enseignement de l’anagomie humaine et de l’ anthropologie au Jardin des Plantes,” in Nouvelles arvhives du Muséum d’histoire naturelle, 3rd ser., 7 (1895), 1–29;“Vespasien Robin, asboriste du Roy, premier sous-démonstrateur de botanique du Jardin royal des plantes (1635–1662),” ibid., 8 (1896), 1–24; and“Jean Héroard, premier superintendant du Jardin royal des plantes médecinales (1626–1628),” in Bulletin du Muséum d’ histoire naturelle, 2 (1896), 171–176. Worth consulting is Jean-Paul Contant, L’enseignement de la chimie au Jardin royal des plantes de Paris (Cahors, 1952).

For early botanical gardens, see M. Bouvet, “Les anciencs jardins botaniques médicaux de Paris,” in Revue d’histoire de la pharmacie (Dec. 1947), 221–228. E. T. Hamy has corrected a persistent error that the garden of Jacques Gohory was located on the site of the labyrinth of the Jardin des Plantes, and that the garden of the man who may have been Guy’s grandfather was close by. See Hamy, “Un précurseur de Guy de la Brosse. Jacques Gohory et le Lycium philosophal de Saint-Marceau=les-Paris (1571–1576),” in Nouvelles archives du Muséum, 4th ser., 1 (1899), 1–26.

The errors which orginated with Gobet’s Anciens minéralogistes du royaume de France (Paris, 1779) have been repeated by F. Hoefer, in Histoire de la chimie, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Paris, 1869), II, 102–103, and in his article on Gohory in Nouvelle biographie générale. Hoefer, in turn, is relied upon by J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, II (London—New York, 1961), 162–163.

Miss Rio Howard, who is completing a Cornell University doctoral diss. on Guy de La Bross, has helped the author of this article to avoid a number of errors.

Henry Guerlac