Pierre Daniel Huet (1630-1721)
Born in Caen, Huet died in Paris and left us the memory of one of the outstanding intellects of his Age.
His great-grandfather was a labourer, his grandfather a master-mason, his father steward to Monsieur de Beuvron and his mother the daughter of a Lieutenant in Pont-Audemer. And yet lie had pretensions to the nobility claiming that his father was a Herald in the King's Stables and had been in the Royal retinue when Henry IV entered Rouen.
His people were recently converted Catholics, grandmother Antoinette Poussin having gone over to Rome on her deathbed in 1615. Huet's sister married Monsieur Delaunay Piédoue, a cattle dealer and their son, Piédoue de Charsigné was to be King's Prosecutor in Caen and a member of the Academy.
Having lost his father when he was 3 and his mother at 6 Pierre-Daniel was entrusted to the care of his uncle Gilles Macé and as soon as he became a pupil at the Collège du Mont he proved to be intellectually exceptional; he was so brilliant in his studies that, when he reached the age of 16, his teacher of Philosophy, Father Maubrun, organised in his honour a solemn contest '" Disputatio Splendida " in which in front of an audience of erudite citizens, the young man developed and upheld 58 propositions in Latin and replied to each of his critics; the debate lasted several hours and earned the speaker a very flattering reputation.
In -the following years Huet received his Academic cap of Doctor of Law. He learnt Hebrew and Arabic by himself and perfected his knowledge of Greek. He made friends with Bochart, Thouroude, Grentemesnil, all future members of the Academy.
Antoine Halley introduced him to Geography, Fournier to Hydrography, Naval Architecture and Ichthyology, Stanihurst to Chemistry, Callard de la Ducquerie to Zoology and Botany.
At the same time, he was learning Fencing, Dancing,Horsemanship and took up Running,in which he easily outstripped all the other contenders, and Swimming which he discovered all by himself.
We can only mention the different dates in the eventful life of an exuberant and gifted man.
1652 - Trip to Sweden with Samuel Bochart and, on his return, joined the Academy.
1662 - Founded the Academy of Physics in Caen.
1670 - Appointed Assistant-Tutor to the Dauphin, Bossuet being the main Tutor.
1674. - Elected to the Académie Française.
1676 - Ordained priest at 46 and appointed Abbé d'Aulnay. (1678)
1685 - Appointed bishop of Soissons by the King.
1689 - Bishop of Avranches.
1699 - Resigned his office and became Abbé de Fontenay.
He gradually retired to the main Convent of the Jesuits in Paris where he died in 1721 bequeathing to them his famous 9 000 volume library.
His works are many and bear witness to his versatility ranging from the novel to educational literature (Ad Usum Delphini = for the Dauphin's use ) and including Science (many publications for the Academy of Physics he had created ), Geography (location of the Garden of Eden), History ( the origins of Caen, History of Trade and Navigation in the Ancient World) Philosophy and Religion.
He was a good bishop, devoted to his flock , but unfortunately displayed a quarrelsome and intractable temper; he fell out with a fair number of people: Boileau, Segrais and Bochart, the latter being struck down by apoplexy during an argument with Huet in the middle of a session at the Académie.
As la Londe put it:" Huet was one of those people against whom it is impossible to be right".....and Segrais added:
It would be easier to wash a Negro white than to make Huet change his mind."
As the Encyclopedia Britannica has it: "Huet was the last of those universal and authoritative scholars of whom France has produced so many examples. He remained unrivalled for his omnivorous learning, his extraordinary nemory and his unflinching application."