Sunday, August 08, 2004

Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu

Jussieu to Molinos

This is a letter from the 18th century French botanist Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu in his post French Revolutionary position at the Jardin des Plantes/Museum Nationalle d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, to Jacques Molinos, the architect of the museum.

The Jussieu family were an important dynasty of botanists from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. They were largely responsible for introducing the Natural System of plant classification which improved upon the Artificial (Sexual) System of Linnaeus. The text of the letter and a translation reads as follows:

"Paris 26 ventose an 7

Au Citoyen Molinos, architecte du museum

Je vous adresse, citoyen, copie de la lettre que je viens de recevoir du Ministre des finances en qui est le résultat de la conférence que nous avons eue hier avec lui. Il consent à recevoir en payement des acquisitions a l’enchère du Palais royal les ordonnances de nos entrepreneurs s'ils se vendent adjudicataires. Vous verrez par la lettre comment leur créance (credit?) peut ou doit constaté ----- en état de les servir sans compromettre ni vous ni moi.

Salut et fraternité,

"Paris 26th Ventose, Year 7

To citizen Molinos architect of the museum

Citizen, I am sending you a copy of the letter I just received from the Minister of Finances containing the results of the conference that we had
with him yesterday. He agrees to accept ordonnances in payment for the acquisitions from the auction at the Palais Royal provided they… (are sold adjudicated). You will see by the letter how their warranty can or should be stated…. In a position to serve them without compromising neither you nor me.

Health and Fraternity,

Some biographical notes about A-L de Jussieu (1748-1836):

  • Father of Adrien-Laurent-Henri de Jussieu (1797-1853) Cours élémentaire de botanique (1842–44).
  • Nephew of Bernard de Jussieu.
  • A-L obtained an M.D. degree in 1770 and was brought to Paris by Bernard. He became affiliated with the Jardin du Roi, and managed to keep his head during the Revolution, emerging as Director (1800) and Professor of botany at the renamed Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle (which included the Jardin Des Plantes). In 1773 he presented a paper to the Académie des Sciences on the crowfoot family (Ranunculaceae). This was followed by his most important publication, Genera Plantarum Secundum Ordines Naturales Disposita..... of 1789 which brought forth the Natural System. He resigned from the Museum in 1826.

The French Revolutionary calendar (Jacobin calendar) is used in the dateline of this letter. 26 Ventose an 7 corresponds to March 16, 1799. The letterhead, which is still used by the museum (see upper left of this page) is rich with symbolism. The beehive represents the industrious working class. The Phrygian cap was worn by rebelling slaves in Roman times, and French streetwives during the 1789 revolution. It became one of the Montagnards' symbols of liberty. Sheaves of wheat represent Nature's approval of France's situation (therefore providing abundantly). Grapes had been planted by the Romans, and hence might be a tribute to republicanism.

The recipient of this letter, Jacques Molinos (1743-1831), was appointed architect to the Museum in 1794. His work on the dome over the Halle au Blé was admired by Jefferson.

The letter indicates a confidential tone. It is written by Jussieu in the wake of the sale by auction of the personal property of the Duc d'Orleans. The Duc had been guillotined and the government had chosen to auction off the contents of his ancestral home, the Palais Royal. Jussieu informs Molinos that the Minister of Finances would accept government "funny money" as payment for purchases, so long as it was properly "adjudicated".

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