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Born at Autun (or Dijon ), France, 8 October, 1715; died at Peking, 23 October, 1774, a Jesuit scientist, for thirty years in the service of Kien Lung, Emperor of China. He studied at Dijon, and at St. Sulpice, Paris, and entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Nancy, 18 March, 1737. After three years of renewed entreaties, he was granted his desire of the Chinese mission, but before his departure completed his astronomical studies at Paris under de l'Isle, de la Caille, and Le Monnierr, who attached much importance to his later correspondence. On his arrival at Peking in 1774 (or 1775), a persecution was raging against the missionaries in the provinces; still, as their scientific ability made them indispensable to the government, Father Benoît was retained at court and entrusted with the task of designing and carrying out a great system of decorative fountains in the royal gardens. He spent many years in this work, for which he evinced rare talent. He built European houses within the enclosures of these gardens and in front of one, in the Italian style of architecture, he constructed a curious water clock. The Manchu characterize the twelve hours of their day (twenty-four hours, European time ) by twelve animals of different species. On two sides of a large triangular basin of water Father Benoît placed figures of these animals, through the mouths of each of which, successively, for two hours, was forced a jet of water by some ingenuous mechanical device. While applying himself to his astronomical studies, he taught the emperor the use of the reflecting telescope. Among his numerous works were
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- a large map of the world (twelve and a half by six and a half feet) to which he added valuable astronomical and geographical details.
- A general chart of the empire and surrounding country, engraved on copper, though at the outset he was little versed in this art as were his Chinese collaborators, whom he had chosen from the best wood-engravers in the country. The work was done on 104 plates (two feet two inches by one foot two inches, Chinese measure).
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony
- The Apostles' Creed
- Padre Nuestro - Our Father (Lord's Prayer)
- Evening Prayer
- Prayer for the Dead
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