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Robiquet, Pierre-Jean


(b. Rennes, France, 13 January 1780; d. Paris, France, 29 April 1840)

chemistry, pharmacy.

As a youth Robiquct was caught up in the turbulence of Revolutionary France. After serving an apprenticeship and working in pharmacies in Lorient, Rennes, and Paris, he became Fourcroy’s prépareteur in the chemical laboratory shared with Vauquelin on the rue des Bourdonnais in Paris. Here Robiquet had the opportunity to assist the two chemists with their analyses of urinary calculi and to become friends with Vanquelin’s assistant, Thenard. Conscripted into the army in 1799 as a military pharmacist, he experienced many hardships in the Italian campaign but was able to attend the lectures of Volta on physics and of Scarpa on anatomy while he was stationed in Pavia.

After the French victory at Marengo. Robiquct was assigned to the military teaching hospital in Rennes in 1801 and several years later to the Val-de-Grâce in Paris, from which he resigned in 1807 to work in Vauquelin’s private laboratory. Needing more money, he left Vauquelin’s employ and established his own pharmacy, to which he added facilities for the manufacture of chemicals. Robiquet’s leaching career began in 1811 with his appointment as répétiteur in chemistry at the école Polytechnique and assistant professor of the natural history of drugs at the école de Pharmacie, where he became full professor in 1814. Poor health forced him to resign his professorship in 1824 and to accept the post of treasurer of the pharmacy school, which he held for the rest of his life. He was elected to the Academy of Medicine in 1820 and to the Academy of Sciences in 1833.

Robiquct took a leading role in the expanding search during the first decades of the nineteenth century for new constituents in natural products, termed principes immédiats, principes prochains (Foureroy). or “proximate principles.” The Scottish physician and toxicologist Robert Christison, who came to Paris in 1820 to study analytical chemistry in Robiquet’s laboratory on the rue de la Monnaie, later recalled: “My own foremost desire was to practice Proximate Organic Analysis. This branch of chemistry had been cultivated for a few years. … and nowhere with such energy as in Paris.” Robiquet’s earliest research dealt with the analysis of asparagus juice (1805) and was followed by the joint publication with Vauquelin of their isolation of asparagine (1806). In succeeding years Robiquet discovered glycyrrhizin in licorice (1809); analyzed cantharides (1810) and kermes (1812); discovered caffeine (1821) independently of Pierre Pelletier, Caventou, and F. Runge; discovered narcotine (1817) and codeine (1832) in opium; with J. J. Colin isolated alizarin and purpurin from madder (1826–1827); and discovered orcinol in lichens (1829).

One of Robiquet’s most significant investigations, carried on with Antoine Boutron-Charlard in 1830 on bitter almonds, led to their discovery of amygdalin. They were not able, however, to account for the production of oil of bitter almonds (benzaldehyde) in some of their experiments nor to grasp the theoretical implications of their discovery of amygdalin, which was elucidated by Wöhler and Liebig in their remarkable work on the benzoyl radical in 1832. Robiquet also produced rufigallic acid (1836) and discovered citraconic acid (1837). Also noteworthy were his early investigations in inorganic chemistry, notably his study of carbon disulfide (1807) and his purification of baryta (1807) and nickel (1809).

Recognized by his contemporaries as an outstanding teacher and one of the most eminent analytical and experimental chemists, Robiquet was also a person of considerable charm. In the words of Christison: “He was a man of middle stature, very like a handsome, shapely, English gentleman, with a sharp, lively, amiable expression, and a fair share of French quickness of temper, but under admirable control.”


I. Original Works. Among Robiquet’s most important writings are “Essai analytique des asperges,” in Annales de chimie, 55 (1805), 152–171; “Découverte d’un nouveau principe végétal dans le suc des asperges,” Ibid., 57 (1806), 88–93, written with Vauquelin; “Sur le soufre liquide de Lampadius avec une note de Vauquelin,” ibid., 61 (1807), 145–152; “Sur la préparation de la baryte pure,” Ibid., 62 (1807), 61–64; “Sur la purification de nickel par l’hydrogène sulfuré,” Ibid., 69 (1809), 285–292; “Analyse de la réglisse,” Ibid., 72 (1809), 143–159; “Experiénces sur les cantharides,” Ibid., 76 (1810), 302–322; “Observations sur la nature du kermès,” Ibid., 81 (1812), 317–331; “Observations sur le memoire de M. Sertuerner relatif à l’analyse de l’opium,” Ibid., 2nd ser., 5 (1817), 275–278; and “Nouvelles experiences sur l’huile volatile d’amandes ameres,” Ibid., 21 (1822), 250–255.

See also “Sur un nouveau principe immédiat des vègétaux (I’alizarin) obtenu de la garance,” in Journal de pharmacie et des sciences accessoires, 2nd ser., 12 (1826), 407–412, written with Colin; “Nouvelles recherches sur la matierè colorante de la garance,” in Annales de chimie et de physique, 2nd ser., 34 (1827), 225–253, written with Colin; “Essai analytique des lichens de l’orseille,” Ibid., 42 (1829), 236–257; “Nouvelles expériences sur les amandes amères, et sur I’huile volatile qu’elles fournissent,” Ibid., 44 (1830), 352–382, written with Boutron-Charlard; “Nouvelles observations sur les principaux produits de l’opium,” Ibid., 51 (1832), 225–267; “Nouvelles observations sur l’orcine,” ibid., 58 (1835), 320–335; “Notice sur l’acide gallique,” in L’Institut (Paris), 4 (1836), 179–180; and “De l’action de la chaleur sur l’acide citrique,” in Annales de chimie et de physique, 2nd ser., 65 (1837), 68–86. For a more complete listing of Robiquet’s papers, see Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, V, 240–243.

II. Secondary Literature. See A. Balland, Les pbarnraciens militaires français (Paris, 1913), 181–182; A. Bussy, “éloge de Pierre Robiquet,” in Journal de pharmacie et des sciences accessoires, 27 (1841), 220–242; Centenaire de I’école superieure de pharmacie (Paris, 1904), 282–283; P. Crété, “Pierre Robiquet,” in Figures pharmaceutiques francaises (Paris, 1953), 47–52; E. Pariset, Histoire des membres de l’Académie royale de médecine (Paris, 1850), 584–587; and J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, IV (London-New York, 1964), 241–242, 327–328, passim. An interesting personal account of Robiquet and his laboratory is in R. Christison, The Life of Sir Robert Christison, Bart., I (Edinburgh-London, 1885), 267–274. For a discussion of the theoretical significance of the discovery of amygdalin by Robiquet and Boutron-Charlard, see E. V. McCollum, A History of Nutrition (Boston, 1957), 49–50.

Alex Berman

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