Pierre-Daniel Huet Biography

Pierre Daniel Huet (8 February 1630 – 26 January 1721) was a French churchman and scholar, editor of the Delphin Classics, founder of the Academie du Physique in Caen (1662-1672) and Bishop of Soissons from 1685 to 1689 and afterwards of Avranches.

He was born in Caen in 1630, and educated at the Jesuit school there. He also received lessons from a Protestant pastor, Samuel Bochart. By the age of twenty he was recognized as one of the most promising scholars of his time. In 1651 he went to Paris, where he formed a friendship with Gabriel Naudé, conservator of the Mazarin Library. In the following year Samuel Bochart, being invited by Queen Christina of Sweden to her court at Stockholm, took his friend Huet with him. This journey, in which he saw Leiden, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, as well as Stockholm, resulted chiefly in the discovery, in the Swedish royal library, of some fragments of Origen's Commentary on St Matthew, which gave Huet the idea of editing Origen, a task he completed in 1668. He eventually quarrelled with Bochart, who accused him of having suppressed a line in Origen in the Eucharistic controversy.

Huet was also the cofounder of the Academie du Physique in Caen, the first provincial academy of science to be granted a royal charter (1668). Huet was the initial patron of the academy, and along with Andre Graindorge, directed the work of the group, which focused on the empirical study of nature, with a special emphasis on anatomy and dissections. Huet's presence was critical to the success of the academy, which floundered without his continued presence. He acted as head of the group from 1662-1667, and again in 1668, when he left Caen again for Paris. He also ended his financial support of the academy at this time, as it began to receive royal funding and direction from the royal representative in Normandy, Guy Chamillart.

In Paris he entered into close relations with Jean Chapelain. During the famous "dispute of Ancients and Moderns", Huet took the side of the Ancients against Charles Perrault and Jean Desmarets. Among his friends at this period were Valentin Conrart and Paul Pellisson. His taste for mathematics led him to the study of astronomy. He next turned his attention to anatomy, and, being short-sighted, devoted his inquiries mainly to the question of vision and the formation of the eye. In the course of this study, he made more than 800 dissections. He then learned all that was then to be learned in chemistry, and wrote a Latin poem on salt.

All this time he was a frequent visitor to the salons of Mlle de Scudéry and the studios of painters; his scientific researches did not interfere with his classical studies, for during this time he was discussing with Bochart the origin of certain medals, and was learning Syriac and Arabic under the Jesuit Adrien Parvilliers.

Huet was admitted to the Académie française in 1674. He took holy orders in 1676, and two years later the king made him abbot of Aulnay. In 1685 he became Bishop of Soissons, but after waiting for installation for four years he took the bishopric of Avranches instead. He exchanged the cares of his bishopric for what he thought would be the easier chair of the Abbey of Fontenay, but there he was vexed with continual lawsuits. At length he retired to the Jesuits' House in the Rue Saint-Antoine at Paris, where he died in 1721. His great library and manuscripts, after being bequeathed to the Jesuits, were bought by the king for the royal library.