Valmont De Bomare, Jacques-Christophe

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(b. Rouen, France, 17 September 1731; d. Paris, France, 24 August 1807)

mineralogy, natural history.

The extensive writings and public lectures of Valmont de Bomare made him one of the most influential popularizers of natural history studies in France during the later years of the Enlightenment.

Valmont de Bomare’s father was an avocat of the parlement of Rouen and had planned a legal career for his son, who was a brilliant student, particularly of the classics. The works of Aristotle and Pliny influenced Valmont de Bomare to turn to the sciences, however, and he studied pharmacy and chemistry at Rouen before going to Paris in 1751. There, he formulated a plan for developing a comprehensive course of lectures in natural history. Aware of the fact that he needed to acquire a broader and deeper knowledge of this vast area, he obtained a commission as traveling naturalist for the government from Voyer d’Argenson, then minister of war. This quasi-diplomatic status permitted him to make extended visits to most of Europe during the next twelve years. On these journeys Valmont de Bomare studied the geology and mineralogy of the countries he visited, and he inspected mines and chemical and metallurgical works in addition to meeting foreign scientists. In July 1756 he introduced at the Jardin des Plantes his projected public course in natural history, which was highly successful, and which he continued to offer yearly until 1788. As a result of his activities he met Buffon, Daubenton, Nollet, Guillaume-Francois Rouelle, d’Holbach, d’Alembert, and Diderot.

In 1762 Valmont de Bomare published a twovolume work entitled Minéralogie, ou nouvelle exposition du règne minéral. In it, he described minerals and arranged them into nine classes on the basis of their external characteristics and resistance to the action of fire and water, depending to a great extent on the prior classification of Johan Wallerius. His most important work was his Dictionnaire raisonné universel d’histoire naturelle, first published in five volumes in 1764. Four enlarged editions of this work subsequently appeared, the last in fifteen volumes in 1800. Valmont de Bomare’s Dictionnaire was highly successful in encouraging the popular study of natural history, and it served as a model for all similar works.

In 1769 Valmont de Bomare accepted the position as head of the cabinet of physics and natural history of the Prince de Condé at Chantilly. Unfortunately, he merged his own collections with those of the prince, and during the Revolution they were all confiscated. At that time, afraid of being compromised, he destroyed all of the diaries of his various journeys and his correspondence with such luminaries as Linnaeus and Rousseau.

In 1796 Valmont de Bomare was appointed professor of natural history at th École centrale in the Rue Saint-Antoine, and he remained in that position until 1806 when he became assistant headmaster of the Lycée Charlemagne. When the Institut de France was established in 1795 he was named associate member of the mineralogy section. But he failed in his bid to become a member of the first class after the death of Jean d’Arcet in 1801.

Valmont de Bomare did not produce any original scientific work. In the 1760’s he read three papers to the Académie des Sciences, two of which were subsequently published in the Mémoires de mathématique et de physique. The first was a description of certain pyrite and marcasite deposits in the Palatinate; the second concerned a process of refining camphor employed in Holland; and the third treated a Dutch method of refining borax. His scientific reputation was earned, instead, through his lectures and scientic writings.


I. Original Works. Valmont de Bomare described the mineral and fossil collection that he had accumulated during his travels in his Catalogue du cabinet d’histoire naturelle de M. Bomare de Valmont [sic] (Paris, 1758). His Mináralogie, ou nouvelle exposition du règne minéral, 2 vols. (Paris, 1762; 2nd ed., 1774), was translated into German and published (Dresden, 1769). His Dictionnaie raisonné universel d’histoire naturelle appeared in five editions, 5 vols. (Paris, 1764), 6 vols (Verdun, 1768–1770), 9 vols. (Paris, 1775), 15 vols. (Lyons, 1791), and 15 vols. (Lyons, 1800). His two published articles were “Mémoire sur les pyrites et sur les vitriols,” in Mémoires de mathématique et de physique, présentés à l’Académie Royale des Sciences, 5 (1768), 617–630; and “Mémoire sur le raffinage du camphre,” ibid., 9 (1780), 470 – 480.

II. Secondary Literature. There is an obituary of Valmont de Bomare in Le moniteur universel (23 September 1807). Other biographical articles are Biographie générale, XLV (1870), 894 – 895; Biographie universelle, XLII (1854), 513 – 514; an Biographie universelle et portative des contemporains, IV (1836), 1469.

John G. Burke