Louis Bourguet



Louis Bourguet, born in Nîmes and died in Neuchâtel, is a geologist, naturalist, mathematician, philosopher and archaeologist from Neuchâtel.

Bourguet was only seven when the revocation of the Edict of Nantes forced his family into exile. His father, Jean Bourguet, a wealthy Huguenot merchant from Nimes, first retired to Geneva with his wife Catherine Rey and his son. In 1687, after a brief stay in Lausanne, he moved to Zurich, where, together with Jacques Bourguet and Jean Rey, he set up a large factory of silk stockings, muslin and other luxury fabrics. The success he obtained in a short time led him in 1689 to build a second factory at Castasegna. He took his son there, entered the College of Zurich in 1688, and, destined to follow the same profession as he did, he withdrew from college, despite his rapid progress favored by an impressive memory. But Louis Bourguet had little taste for commerce; an irresistible penchant led him to the letters. In 1690 he returned to Zurich, and his uncle Rey having died two years later, he relentlessly resumed studies which he had been forced to interrupt. While monitoring the paternal factory, he applied himself with passion to numismatics and archeology. In 1697, he and his father made a trip to Italy in the interest of their business, which he profiled to visit the libraries of Milan, Verona and Venice. On a second trip, in 1699, he took Hebrew lessons from an Italian Jew, feeling that this language was no less necessary to him than Latin and Greek, if he wanted to deepen his science of predilection. He settled in Neuchâtel, temporarily after his marriage and finally in 1715. In the space of fourteen years, Bourguet thus returned seven times to Italy, in 1701, in 1703, in 1705, in 1707, in 1710, in 1711, bringing back from each voyage, not only new knowledge acquired in the trade of scholars the most illustrious of this country, Bianchini, Fontanini, Vallisnieri, Tolomei; but precious manuscripts of the rabbis, curious specimens of the antiquities of Egypt, Chaldea and China, rare medals of Greece and Rome, Slavic or Oriental books. In 1710 he became and became a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters in Berlin. After a four-year stay in Venice from 1711 to 1715, he returned to Bern, where his family had settled since 1700. Natural history was just as attractive to him as numismatics. In 1709, he traveled the Jura to try to surprise the secrets of nature in the formation of fossils and petrifactions. In 1710 and 1715 he and Dr. Zannichelli engaged in scientific excursions to the Vicentine, Veronese, and Bolognese mountains. Bourguet had been returning to Neuchatel for two years, when the Academy of Lausanne offered him the place which Jean Barbeyrac had just left. He first intended to accept, and even composed on this subject two speeches, one in French: Idea of ​​the history of natural law, the other in Latin: De vero seaweed genuino juris naturalis studii usu , inserted in the Helvetica Tempe, 111, sect. i. However, he was not long in going back on his first resolution, and he gave up the disputes and the public exercises to shut himself up in his cabinet with his books, his fossils and his medals. His geological and archaeological work spread his reputation in foreign countries. In 1731 he was, curiously, again named a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. The same year, the Council of Neuchâtel created for him a chair of philosophy and mathematics. In 1733, the Etruscan Academy of Cortona admitted to it. But death did not let him long enjoy the fruits of his labors. He had been a widower since 1738, with four children, one of whom survived alone. To the qualities of the Burgundian spirit there was a great purity of manners and a great zeal for his religion; he was universally regretted, according to the testimony of Osterwald, who pronounced his funeral oration. He had, it is said, intended to devote himself to the evangelical ministry, and the same Osterwald had dissuaded him by saying that the weakness of his breast would not permit him to engage in preaching with impunity. His works on the orogeny are modeled on John Woodward’s theories, which he corrects and completes. As his correspondence with Leibniz shows, he tried to reconcile his vision of science with the Christian religious system of the time. Léonce Élie de Beaumont took Bourguet’s ideas back to develop the concept of a pentagonal network. The scattered works of Bourguet not listed in his bibliography are disseminated in the Helvetica Tempe, the Helvetic Journal, the Swiss Mercury and in the Italian Library of which he was the main editor (Geneva, 1728-1734, 16 vol. in 8 °). Among the principal, in the Helvetica Tempe (I, section ii), there is a dissertation De fatis philosophiæ, a speech delivered when he took possession of his pulpit at Neuchâtel; in the Swiss Journal, a Letter to Fr. Bouvet, missionary at Pecking, on the Fohi system (1734); a Relation of the Progress of Christianity in India (1734); a Relation of the colony of Herrenhoui (1735); a letter on the churches of the Indian proselytes (1736); Letters on some missions of the community of Herrenhout (1737); Letters on the Petrification of Small Sea Crabs on the Coromandel Coast (1740); Letters on the conversion of the Jews (1736, 1740), and the Protestant missions of Tranquebar and Madras (1740); a letter about the conversion of churches in Northampton County in New England (1740). These pamphlets give the most advantageous idea of ​​the sagacity, erudition, and philosophical spirit of Bourguet; they prove again how much he was interested in the prosperity of the Church of which he was a member. Although he was extremely religious, the extreme respect he had for the Bible led him not only to challenge the chronology of the Chinese in a letter to Mr. Hottinger on the history of China (April 1734), but to support, in a Letter on the Junction of America with Asia (1735 and 1736) that the old and the new world are united by an isthmus. The religious sentiment, which earned him the nickname of Christian philosopher, can be seen in all his productions, in his four letters on the philosophy of Leibnitz (1738), as in his Letter to Roques (1739), serving as a response to the four letters in his Letter on Innocent Ideas and their Development (1710), as in his Discourse on the phenomena that the ancients regarded as miraculous. It is mainly in the Italic Library that Bourguet published the results of his archaeological research. The main ones are the Letter on two so-called Etruscan inscriptions, the Pelasgian Litanies of the ancient inhabitants of Italy and the Etruscan Alphabet Letter. It is to him that we owe the discovery of this alphabet. One of the first, he realized that he was nothing but a very old Greek alphabet. Imagining that to decipher Etruscan, ancient Greek or Phoenician, was enough, he wanted to give the explanation of some inscriptions, but he was not very happy in his essays; However, it can not be denied the glory of having opened the way, as Father Lanzi acknowledges in his Saggio di lingua etrusca. We find in the translation made by his friend Jean Barbeyrac, the treatise of the Duties of the man and the citizen, edict. from 1718, the answers of Bourguet to some objections of Leibniz against the work of Pufendorf. Bourguet has also left a voluminous correspondence with the most celebrated men of literary Europe, and even with the archaeologists and missionaries of Batavia and Malabar. He had also conceived the plan of a Critical History of the Origin of the Letters, but he renounced this work when the Palaeography of Bernard de Montfaucon appeared. The plan alone has been published in the History of the Republic of Letters.

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