Pierre Gassendi

Pierre Gassendi , one of the most famous naturalists and philosophers of France, was born at Chantersier, January 22, 1592, of poor parents. They were, however, wise and virtuous people, and perceiving the extraordinary gifts of their son, did everything in their power to promote his education. At the age of four years, young Pierre used to declaim little sermons of his own composition, which were quite interesting. At the age of seven, he would steal away from his parents, and spend a great part of the night in observing the stars. This made his friends say he was born an astronomer. At this age, he had a dispute with some boys, whether it was the moon or the clouds that moved so rapidly; to convince them that it was the latter, he took them behind a tree, and made them take notice that the moon kept its situation between the same leaves, while the clouds passed on.

This early disposition to observation led his parents to place him under the care of the clergyman of the village, who gave him the first elements of learning.

Gassendi and the Boys.

His ardor for study then became extreme: the day was not long enough for him; and he often read a great part of the night by the light of the lamp that was burning in the church of the village, his family being too poor to allow him candles for his nocturnal studies. He often took only four hours sleep in the night. At the age of ten, he harangued his bishop in Latin, who was passing through the village on his visitation; and he did this with such ease and spirit, that the prelate exclaimed—"That lad will, one day or other, be the wonder of his age." The modest and unassuming conduct of Gassendi gave an additional charm to his talents.

In his manners, this remarkable youth was in general silent, never ostentatiously obtruding upon others, either the acuteness of his understanding, or the eloquence of his conversation; he was never in a hurry to give his opinion before he knew that of the persons who were conversing with him. When men of learning introduced themselves to him, he was contented with behaving to them with great civility, and was not anxious to surprise them into admiration. The entire tendency of his studies was to make himself wiser and better; and to have his intention more constantly before his eyes, he had all his books inscribed with these words, Sapere aude ; "Dare to be wise."

Such was Gassendi's reputation, that at sixteen he was called to teach rhetoric at the seminary of Digne; in 1614, he was made professor of theology in the same institution; and two years after, he was invited to fill the chair of divinity and philosophy at Aix. After passing through various promotions, and publishing several works of great merit on philosophical subjects, Gassendi went at last to Paris, where he gained the friendship of Cardinal Richelieu, and shared the admiration of the learned world with the famous philosopher, Descartes.

Being appointed a professor of mathematics in the College Royal of Paris, he gave his attention to astronomical subjects, and greatly increased his reputation. After a life devoted to science, in which his achievements were wonderful, he died at Paris, October 14, 1655, aged sixty-three years. Distinguished by his vast learning, his admirable clearness of mind, the diversity of his acquirements, the calmness and dignity of his character, and the amiableness of his manners, Gassendi was alike one of the brightest ornaments of his age and of human nature.