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Rondelet, The Huguenot Naturalist
by [?]


A Life of Rondelet, by his pupil Laurent Joubert, is to be found appended to his works; and with it an account of his illness and death, by his cousin, Claude Formy, which is well worth the perusal of any man, wise or foolish. Many interesting details beside, I owe to the courtesy of Professor Planchon, of Montpellier, author of a discourse on ‘Rondelet et ses Disciples,’ which appeared, with a learned and curious Appendice, in the ‘Montpellier Medical’ for 1866.

“Apollo, god of medicine, exiled from the rest of the earth, was straying once across the Narbonnaise in Gaul, seeking to fix his abode there. Driven from Asia, from Africa, and from the rest of Europe, he wandered through all the towns of the province in search of a place propitious for him and for his disciples. At last he perceived a new city, constructed from the ruins of Maguelonne, of Lattes, and of Substantion. He contemplated long its site, its aspect, its neighbourhood, and resolved to establish on this hill of Montpellier a temple for himself and his priests. All smiled on his desires. By the genius of the soil, by the character of the inhabitants, no town is more fit for the culture of letters, and above all of medicine. What site is more delicious and more lovely? A heaven pure and smiling; a city built with magnificence; men born for all the labours of the intellect. All around vast horizons and enchanting sites–meadows, vines, olives, green champaigns; mountains and hills, rivers, brooks, lagoons, and the sea. Everywhere a luxuriant vegetation–everywhere the richest production of the land and the water. Hail to thee, sweet and dear city! Hail, happy abode of Apollo, who spreadest afar the light of the glory of thy name!”

“This fine tirade,” says Dr. Maurice Raynaud–from whose charming book on the ‘Doctors of the Time of Moliere’ I quote–“is not, as one might think, the translation of a piece of poetry. It is simply part of a public oration by Francois Fanchon, one of the most illustrious chancellors of the faculty of medicine of Montpellier in the seventeenth century.” “From time immemorial,” he says, “‘the faculty’ of Montpellier had made itself remarkable by a singular mixture of the sacred and the profane. The theses which were sustained there began by an invocation to God, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Luke, and ended by these words:–‘This thesis will be sustained in the sacred Temple of Apollo.'”

But however extravagant Chancellor Fanchon’s praises of his native city may seem, they are really not exaggerated. The Narbonnaise, or Languedoc, is perhaps the most charming district of charming France. In the far north-east gleam the white Alps; in the far south-west the white Pyrenees; and from the purple glens and yellow downs of the Cevennes on the northwest, the Herault slopes gently down towards the “Etangs,” or great salt-water lagoons, and the vast alluvial flats of the Camargue, the field of Caius Marius, where still run herds of half-wild horses, descended from some ancient Roman stock; while beyond all glitters the blue Mediterranean. The great almond orchards, each one sheet of rose- colour in spring; the mulberry orchards, the oliveyards, the vineyards, cover every foot of available upland soil: save where the rugged and arid downs are sweet with a thousand odoriferous plants, from which the bees extract the famous white honey of Narbonne. The native flowers and shrubs, of a beauty and richness rather Eastern than European, have made the ‘Flora Monspeliensis,’ and with it the names of Rondelet and his disciples, famous among botanists; and the strange fish and shells upon its shores afforded Rondelet materials for his immortal work upon the ‘Animals of the Sea.’ The innumerable wild fowl of the “Bouches du Rhone;” the innumerable songsters and other birds of passage, many of them unknown in these islands, and even in the north of France itself, which haunt every copse of willow and aspen along the brook sides; the gaudy and curious insects which thrive beneath that clear, fierce, and yet bracing sunlight; all these have made the district of Montpellier a home prepared by Nature for those who study and revere her.