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Marchant, Jean


(b. 1650; d. Paris, France, 11 November 1738);

MARCHANT, NICOLAS (d. Paris, June 1678)


Jean Marchant was the son and successor of Nicolas Marchant. The botanical concerns of father and son were so similar that the works of one have often been attributed to the other. In particular, both men devoted much of their effort—Nicolas, the last ten years of his life, and Jean, almost all his life’s work—to the preparation of the Histoire des plantes, undertaken in 1667 by the Académie Royale des Sciences at the urging of Claude Perrault. Each prepared a large number of botanical descriptions for this project which was, however, never published, being abandoned by the Academy in 1694.

Nicolas Marchant held a degree in medicine from the University of Padua, he and appears to have become interested in botany at quite an early date. Following his university training he became apothecary to Gaston, due d’Orléans, the brother of Louis XIII. In this capacity he was often resident at the château of Blois, where Gaston had established a botanical garden. The garden was under the management of Abel Brunyer, who was also first physician to the duke, and of Robert Morison and Jean Laugier. Nicolas Marchant certainly collaborated with all three of these men, and perhaps accompanied Morison on a botanical excursion to the area around La Rochelle in 1657. The duke died on 2 February 1660 and Nicolas Marchant entered the service of the king late in that year, although it is not known what his title or function in the royal household was. (Of the others, the Protestants Brunyer and Laugier received no official reemployment, while Morison rejected an offer made by Nicolas Fouquet, the minister of finance, and returned to his native England.)

The elder Marchant was one of the founding members of the Académie Royale des Sciences, and remained the only botanist in the organization until the election of Denis Dodart in 1673. In addition to his work toward the Histoire des plantes, he collaborated in editing the Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des plantes, which Dodart published in 1676. On 9 November 1674 Colbert named Nicolas Marchant “concierge et directeur de la culture des plantes du Jardin Royal,” and in this post Marchant had a garden at his disposal for the experimental cultivation of exotic species. He was also one of the first botanists to take up the study of the lower plants; following his death his son named the common liverwort Marchantia in his honor.

Jean Marchant was elected to his father’s place in the Academy on 18 June 1678 and also succeeded him immediately in his post at the Jardin du Roi. He continued his father’s work on the Histoire and increased the specimens in the experimental garden until, in the year 1680 alone, he received more than 500 species of seeds and plants sent to him from abroad. The Academy’s decision to give up the Histoire cost Jean Marchant the royal pension that the government had granted him for this work, and in the same year, 1694, his position at the royal garden was abolished.

Deprived of royal subsidies, of the official support of the Academy, and of his experimental garden, Jean Marchant nevertheless continued to prepare botanical descriptions, which he now intended to publish as a work of his own. Although the greater part of this work also remained unpublished, some fifteen of his notices did appear in the Academy’s Mémoires. Among these, his “Observations sur a nature des plantes” is particulary interesting, since in it Jean Marchant dealt with the notion of partial transformism among plants, thus foreshadowing one of the tenets of evolution.


I. Original Works. The greater number of the known manuscripts of both Jean and Nicolas Marchant are in the Bibliothèque Centrale du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, cotes MSS 89, 447–451, 1155, 1356, and 2253. Compare Catalogue général des manuscrits des bibliothéques publiques de France, Paris, II, Muséum d’histoire naturelle by Amédée Boinet (Paris, 1914), 16, 90–91, 192, 226, and LV, Muséum d’histoire naturelle. Supplément, by Yves Laissus (Paris, 1965), 53.

The published works of Jean Marchant comprise fifteen memoirs that appeared in Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences depuis 1666 jusqu’à 1699, 10 (1730), and in Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciencesavec les mémoires de mathématiques et physiques… (1701, 1706, 1707, 1709, 1711, 1713, 1718, 1719, 1723, 1727, 1733, 1735); the complete list is in Abbé Rozier, Nouvelle table des articles contenus dans les volumes de l’Académie royale de Paris, depuis 1666 Jusqu’à 1770…, IV (Paris, 1776), 245. Two of these fifteen memoirs are erroneously attributed to Nicolas Marchant; see B. de Fontenelle, Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciences, 2 vols. (Paris, 1733).

Jean Marchant, “Observations sur la nature des plantes,” is in the Mémoires for 1719, 59–66; see also Histoire, 57–58. “Liste des plantes citées dans les mémoires de 1’Académie, dont les descriptions, données par M. Marchant, ont été réservées pour un ouvrage particulier,” is in Godin, Table alphabétique des matiéres contenues dans l’Histoire et les Mémoires de l’Académie royale des sciences4 Vols. (Paris, 1729–1734), II années 1699–1710, 391–392; III, années 1711–1720, 216–217; and IV, années 1721–1730, 210–211.

II. Secondary Literature. On Nicolas Marchant, see Edmond Bonnet, “Gaston de France, due d’Orléans, considéré comme botaniste,” in Comptes rendus de l’Association française pour l’avancement des sciences, 19éme session, Limoges 1890 (1891), 416–421; and Nicolas-François-Joseph Eloy, Dictionnaire historique de la médecine ancienne et moderne…, III (Mons, 1778), 159–160.

On both Jean and Nicolas Marchant, see Yves Laissus and Anne-Marie Monseigny, “Les plantes du roi. Note sur un grand ouvrage de botanique préparé au XVIIe siécle par l’Académie royale des sciences,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences22 (1969), 193–236.

Yves Laissus

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