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Nicolas Lemery (1645–1715)


AMONG the students of medicine and pharmacy who did good work during what has been called "the dawn of scientific chemistry" was the Frenchman Nicolas Lemery, the tercentenary of whose birth falls on November 17. He was born at Rouen, and as a youth he spent some years with Glazer at the Jardin du Roi in Paris, but found his master much imbued with the dreams of the alchemists. Proceeding to the University of Montpelier, he spent three years studying medicine, pharmacy and natural history, and then after travelling through various parts of France took up his residence in Paris. By his lectures he gained a wide reputation which was much enhanced by the publication in 1675 of his "Cours de Chymie", which in eighty years went through thirteen editions and was translated into Latin, German, Italian, Spanish and English. Scarcely had he sprung into fame than, through being a Calvinist, he found himself threatened by persecution and, like many of his countrymen, fled to England. Embracing Catholicism, however, he was enabled to return to France and resume his lecturing, and in 1699 was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences. Among his other writings were his "Pharmacopée universelle" and his "Traité universel des drogues simple", both published in 1697. "Chemistry," he said, "is a science of observation, it can only be based on what is palpable and demonstrative." Thomas Thomson wrote of him that he was "The first Frenchman who completely stripped chemistry of its mysticism, and presented it to the world in all its native simplicity". Lemery died in Paris on June 19, 1715, leaving a son, Louis (1677–1743), who held important medical appointments in the French capital and published several books.

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Nicolas Lemery (1645–1715). Nature 156, 598 (1945).

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