Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/710

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
692
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SKETCH OF PIERRE BELON.

"IN 1555" says M. Louis Crié, "Pierre Belon, of Mans, well known by his travels in Italy, Greece, and the East, revealed himself as an observer of great sagacity and as a bold thinker. With him came at once the end of compilation and the beginning of observation. He added to the common treasure of knowledge more wealth than all his predecessors from antiquity and all his contemporaries put together." M. Gustave Tissandier calls him one of the great savants of the sixteenth century, who, like his contemporary, Bernard Palissy, would rather study facts in the book of nature than in men's books—"a conscientious observer, fascinated with the truth, we may consider him one of the initiators of modern natural history."

Pierre Belon was born at Soulletière, near Mans, in 1517, and died in 1564. His tastes for studies in natural history were developed at an early age, and were encouraged by his friend Rend de Bellay, Bishop of Mans, with whose aid he entered upon the study of medicine at Paris. There he formed a friendship with the poet Ronsard. Having obtained his doctor's degree, he went, in 1540, to Würtemberg, to attend the lectures of the botanist Valerius Cordus. In company with his teacher he traveled through Germany and Bohemia. The country was greatly excited over the controversies of the Reformation; and at Thionville, on his return journey home, he was arrested by the Spanish occupants, under suspicion of being a partisan of the new doctrines. He was obliged to buy his freedom with funds that were advanced by a learned gentleman named Dehamme, who was a great admirer of Ronsard. Returning to Paris, he found generous protectors in Bishop Duprat of Clermont, the Cardinal of Lorraine, and the Cardinal of Tournon. Tournon provided him with quarters in the Abbey of Saint-Germaine, and advanced the cost of the voyages which he desired to make for prosecuting his studies. The words in which Belon conveyed his request for this aid at once attest his earnestness in the pursuit of his object, and illustrate the spirit of a time when the small were free to call upon the great for help in such matters. "When you know," he said, "the desire that I have to obtain knowledge of the things pertaining to the material of medicines and plants, which I can not well acquire except by a long pilgrimage, you will be pleased to command me to go and seek them in distant regions, in the places of their origin."

Belon left France at the beginning of 1546, and was gone between three and four years. He went to Crete and Constan-