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René-Just Haüy

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Mineralogist; b. at Saint-Just (Oise), 28 Feb., 1743; d. at Paris, 3 June, 1822. His father was a poor weaver and he owed his early education to the monks of the Premonstratensian Abbey of saint-Just, who were struck by his talent and piety and his predilection for ecclesiastical chant. Their prior sent him to Paris, where he served for a time as chorister and then was admitted to the College of Navarre. After a successful course of study he was made one of the teaching staff. A few years later he was ordained priest and became Professor at the college of Cardinal Lemoine. Up to this time literature had been his chosen study but a friendship for one of his fellow-professors induced him to take up botany. His interest was, however, more powerfully awakened in mineralogy by some lectures of Daubenton which he happened to hear at the Jardin du Roi. The crystalline structure of minerals appealed to him more than their chemical or geological characteristics. It is said that while examining the crystal collection of Du Croisset, he had the misfortune to drop a fine specimen of calc-spar which broke into pieces. This accident proved the beginning of those exhaustive studies which made him the father of modern crystallography. He examined the fragments and was struck by the forms which they assumed. Many specimens were studied and he found that crystals of the same composition possessed the same internal nucleus, even though their external forms differed. He also established the law of symmetry and was able to show that the forms of crystal are perfectly definite and based an fixed laws.

The merit of his discoveries was early recognized by Daubenton and Laplace. They urged him to make them known to the Academy of Sciences, which admitted him membership. Besides his researches in crystallography, Haüy was also one of the pioneers in the development of pyro-electricity. After twenty years' service, he retired from his professorship at the college of Cardinal Lemoine, to devote himself exclusively to his favourite science. During the Revolution he suffered much in common with other ecclesiastics who refused to take the oath demanded of them. His papers were seized, has collection of crystals scattered, and he himself was imprisoned at the Seminaire de Saint-Firmin. Nothing, however, could disturb his equanimity. He continued his studies as before, and it was only with difficulty that his colleague and former pupil, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, could induce him to accept the release he had procured for him. In 1794 he was appointed curator of the Cabinet des Mines, and in the same year he became professor of physics at the Ecole Normale. After the death of Dolmieu he was appointed to the chair of mineralogy at the Museum of Natural History, in Paris, where he lectured with much success and materially increased the collections. After the Restoration he was deprived of his professorship and spent his last days in poverty. His courage and cheerfulness, however, never deserted him. His life was simple and his character lofty, and he ever remained faithful to his priestly duties. Few teachers have so thoroughly gained the affection of their students and the esteem and homage of their contemporaries. Napoleon held him in admiration and made him honorary canon of Notre Dame and one of the first members of the Legion of Honour.

Haüy was the author of many important works, the chief being "Essai d'une Théorie sur la Structure des Cristaux" (Paris, 1784); "Exposition raisonnée de la Théorie de l'Electricité et du Magnetisme" (Paris, 1787) "Traité de Minéralogie" (Paris, 1801); "Traité élémentaire de Physique" (Paris, 1803); "Traité de Cristallographie" (Paris, 1817).

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