La Sablière, Marguerite de(1640–1693)
La Sablière, Marguerite de(1640–1693)
French student of science and mathematics who was noted as a patron of savants. Name variations: Mme de la Sabliere. Born Marguerite Hessein in 1640 in Paris; died on January 5 (some sources cite January 8), 1693, in Paris; daughter of Gilbert Hessein and Margaret Menjot; educated by uncle (Antoine Menjot) and tutors; married Antoine Rambouillet (1624–1680), also seen as Antoine de Rambouillet, seigneur de la Sablière (a Protestant financier entrusted with the administration of the royal estates), on March 15, 1654 (died 1679); children: Anne de Rambouillet; Nicolas de Rambouillet; Marguerite de Rambouillet.
Although she did not contribute original works to science, Marguerite de la Sablière is nonetheless famed as a student and patron of the sciences and arts and hostess of a popular salon frequented by geniuses. "A woman of great intellectuality and of vast erudition," writes the Reverend Hugh Francis Blunt, "she may be regarded as the personification of that great charm which characterized the women of letters of the second half of the seventeenth century."
De la Sablière was born Marguerite Hessein in Paris in 1640, the eldest of four children of Huguenot banker Gilbert Hessein and Margaret Menjot . Margaret died when Marguerite was only nine years old; as a result, Gilbert and his brother-in-law Antoine Menjot lavished attention on the child. Menjot was a well-known philosopher and theologian in his own right, as well as king's physician. De la Sablière was tutored in Latin and Greek, mathematics and science, and was taught the art of entertaining by a cousin who was a countess.
At age 14, de la Sablière was married off to another cousin, the classically educated financier Antoine de Rambouillet, seigneur de la Sablière, partially to facilitate her father's impending second marriage. Three children, Anne, Nicholas and Marguerite, were born in the next four years. The de la Sablières' marriage broke down over the next decade, the causes rumored to be his wandering eye (including a liaison with Ninon de Lenclos ) and her small inheritance at the time of her father's death in 1661. Whatever the cause, on March 1, 1667, she (although an ardent Protestant) sought refuge in a Catholic convent. Her husband succeeded in gaining sole custody of the children, whom she recovered only after his death in 1679.
Abandoned and poor, de la Sablière lived with her brother Pierre Hessein, who was friends with a number of the great minds of the day. Her home became an important salon, a meeting-place for poets, scientists, writers, and brilliant members of the court of Louis XIV, and she received instruction in mathematics, astronomy, and physics from Giles Persone de Roberval and Joseph Sauveur, both members of the French Academy of Sciences. Famed writers Moliere, Fontanelle, and La Fontaine (who is said to have lived with her for a number of years) were her friends, as well as King John III Sobieski of Poland. La Fontaine had joined the group around 1673, and, for 20 years, Mme de la Sablière relieved him of every kind of financial anxiety. Another frequent visitor was the traveler and physician François Bernier, whose abridgment of the works of Pierre Gassendi was written for her.
The Abbé de Chaulieu and his fellow poet, Charles Auguste, Marquis de La Fare, were among her most intimate associates. La Fare sold his commission in the army to spend time with her. This liaison seems to have been the only serious passion of her life, and she was his mistress from 1676 to 1682, when she was abandoned for a second time. According to Marie de Sévigné , La Fare's head was turned by his love of the theater, but to this must be added a new passion for the actress Marie Champmeslé .
In 1685, de la Sablière converted to Catholicism and devoted herself to volunteer work for the Hospital for Incurables to atone for her worldly sins. She also began a lengthy correspondence with Abbot de Rancé. She died on January 5, 1693, at her home.
De la Sablière had vocal supporters throughout her life, as well as detractors. La Fontaine called her "his Muse," and Ninon de Lenclos thought her "one of the prettiest and most singular women of the world." However, she is most commonly remembered through Nicholas Boileau-Despréaux's Satire contre les Femmes where she is referred to as "this learned woman whom Roberval esteems and whom Sauveur frequents." She is pictured as having weakened her sight and ruined her complexion by her nightly observations of Jupiter. She was defended by Charles Perrault in his Apologie des femmes as a talented yet modest woman.
Blunt, Rev. Hugh Francis. The Great Magdelens. NY: Macmillan, 1928.
Mozans, H.J. Women in Science. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.
Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey. Women in Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.
Kristine Larsen , Associate Professor of Physics and Earth Sciences, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut