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Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre Edit Profile

engineer , naturalist , writer

Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was a French writer and botanist. He is best known for his 1788 novel Paul et Virginie, now largely forgotten, but in the 19th century a very popular children's book.


He was born on January 19, 1737, at Le Havre, France


He prepared to be an engineer, but his irritability and eccentricity made it difficult for him to hold a position.


He visited Germany, Malta, Russia, Poland, and ÎleIle de France (Mauritius) in search of employment, and he bombarded the government with proposals for putting Utopian schemes of his devising into effect before he finally turned to writing. His Voyage àa l'Îlel'Ile de France (1773) made his name known, and the Etudes de la nature (1784) brought him fame. The former work aimed to awaken in man a love of nature and to arouse a feeling of the presence of God in the universe. The latter sought to prove that everything in nature had been made by God for man's utility and happiness. This theory frequently verges on the absurd, as, for example, when the author asserts that melons are divided into sections for family use. Bernardin's writings show the influence of Rousseau, whose friendship he had made in 1772. His most noted work is the novel Paul et Virginie (1772), which preaches a return to nature. It describes the idyllic life and affection of two children brought up on the ÎleIle de France (Mauritius) according to the natural system of education extolled by Rousseau. With its exaggerated emotion and its colorful description of strange flora and fauna, the novel had a notable part in developing the romantic love of the sentimental and the exotic. Bernardin became superintendent of the Jardin des Plantes (1792), lecturer on morals at the Ecole Normale (1795), and member of the French Academy (1803). He died January 21, 1814, at Eragny-sur-Oise (Seine-et-Oise).


  • His chief work was Études de la nature (1784). It sought to prove the existence of God from the wonders of nature; it is rich in descriptive passages, and it added specific color terms and plant names to the French language. A section of this was the sentimental prose idyll Paul et Virginie (1788), which attained immense vogue and influenced the French romanticists.



Saint-Pierre was an avid advocate and practitioner of vegetarianism, and although he was a devout Christian was also heavily influenced by Enlightenment-era intellectuals like Voltaire and his mentor Rousseau.