Firmin Abauzit

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Firmin Abauzit (1679–1767) was a French scholar who worked on physics, theology and philosophy, and served as librarian in Geneva (Switzerland) during his final 40 years. Abauzit is also notable for proofreading or correcting the writings of Isaac Newton and other scholars.



Firmin Abauzit was born of Protestant parents at Uzès, in Languedoc.[1] His father died when he was but two years of age; and when, on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the authorities took steps to have him educated in the Roman Catholic faith, his mother contrived his escape.

For two years his brother and he lived as fugitives in the mountains of the Cévennes, but they at last reached Geneva, where their mother afterwards joined them on escaping from the imprisonment in which she was held from the time of their flight. Abauzit at an early age acquired great proficiency in languages, physics, and theology.

In 1698, he went to the Netherlands, and there became acquainted with Pierre Bayle, Pierre Jurieu and Jacques Basnage. Proceeding to England, he was introduced to Sir Isaac Newton, who found in him one of the earliest defenders of his discoveries. Newton corrected in the second edition of his Principia an error pointed out by Abauzit, and, when sending him the Commercium Epistolicum, said, "You are well worthy to judge between Gottfried Leibniz and me."

The reputation of Abauzit induced William III to request him to settle in England, but he did not accept the king's offer, preferring to return to Geneva. There, from 1715 he rendered valuable assistance to a society that had been formed for translating the New Testament into French. He declined the offer of the chair of philosophy in the university in 1723, but accepted, in 1727, the sinecure office of librarian to the city of his adoption. There in Geneva, he died past the age of 87, in 1767.

Abauzit was a man of great learning and of wonderful versatility. Whatever chanced to be discussed, it used to be said of Abauzit, as of Professor William Whewell of more modern times, that he seemed to have made it a subject of particular study. Rousseau, who was jealously sparing of his praises, addressed to him, in his Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, a fine panegyric; and when a stranger flatteringly told Voltaire he had come to see a great man, the philosopher asked him if he had seen Abauzit.

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