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A Merchant of the Marvelous

A Merchant of the Marvelous

(p.9) 1 A Merchant of the Marvelous
The Transmutations of Chymistry
Lawrence M. Principe
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 1 follows Homberg from his birth in Java and his training as a lawyer in Germany through thousands of miles of travel throughout Europe, until his admission to the Académie Royale des Sciences in 1691. This chapter explores Homberg’s intellectual development as a chymist and presents a radically new biography for him that departs significantly from that given in his official eloge, upon which all subsequent biographical notices are closely based. That eloge, written in 1715 by the Académie’s perpetual secretary Bernard de Fontenelle, portrays Homberg as a heroic figure trained by apprenticeships with “great men” of the day and destined to become the eighteenth-century ideal of the “enlightened” academician. But the real Homberg is far more interesting, and reveals the character of late seventeenth-century chymistry. Homberg’s eight-year endeavor to be admitted to the Académie highlights the changing fortunes of the young institution and how various governmental administrators determined its fate. It also reveals the institution’s “penumbra,” a diffuse circle of hopefuls, collaborators, artisans, visitors, laborers, and others arrayed around the core of its officially enrolled members. Finally, it also presents new information about otherwise invisible factors at play in whether a prospective academician was admitted or not.

Keywords:   intellectual formation, Bernard de Fontenelle, apprenticeship, artisans

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