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  Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire
1772 - 1845

Research by Robert Erickson 2001

Jean Henri Jaume Saint-Hilaire was born on October 29, 1772 in Grasse, a small town in Alpes-Maritimes, about fifteen kilometers north of Cannes.  His family was probably of the upper bourgeoisie, and his intended career may have been to take part in the family enterprises, perhaps as a banker.  The family name was Jaume, and he added the Saint-Hilaire at a later date; it is actually the name of a rural quartier of the old town section of Grasse.  A biographer has suggested that he made the name change so that he would not be identified with another member of his family, Henri-Honore Jaume, who was a "local Jacobin terrorist."

Very little is known about Jaume's early life and education, but he presumably had a comfortable upbringing and was educated locally.  When he was twenty years old, he joined the Revolutionary Army as an artillery officer, and served with distinction in the Italian campaigns.  In 1800, he resigned his commission, and went to Paris to study the natural sciences.  His interest in botany may have developed from the fact that Grasse was a center for the perfume industry, and was a town surrounded by flowers.

Jaume arrived in Paris at a time when significant institutional changes were underway, as successive Revolutionary governments sought to sweep away the structures of the Old Regime, and replace them with institutions compatible with the revolutionary theme of egalitarianism.  For example, the Jardin du Roi, which had continued to function during the early years of the Revolution, was abolished by the National Convention by a decree of June 10, 1793. In its place was created the National Museum of Natural History, which included a botanic garden, a library for natural history, a menagerie or collection of foreign animals, and an amphitheatre of lecture room.  Another organization changed by the Revolution was the Académie Royale des Sciences, which was abolished on August 8, 1795, and replaced by a decree of October 24, 1795 with the National Institute to consist of 144 members.  The members were divided in classes, with the First Class, mathematics and physics, arranged in ten sections.  The seventh section was botany and plant physiology, and the first members were M. Adanson, R. L. Desfontaines, A. L. de Jussieu, C. L. L'Heritier de Brutelle, J. B. Lamarck, and E. P. Ventenat, along with L. J. M. Daubenton of the section of anatomy and zoology.  This was the distinguished company with whom Jaume was first associated in Paris.

Jaume must have made a favorable impression as a student in the natural sciences, for, after just two years in Paris, he was asked to write a popular guide to the museum.  At the time, he was studying floral paintings with Gerard van Spaendonck, and may have worked with Pierre Joseph Redouté, the master artist who tutored more than a generation of flora painters.  Jaume Saint-Hilaire's studies in science combined with his artistic training emphasize the fact that, as his later works were to demonstrate, he was both scientist and artist.

In 1805, he published, at his own expense, his first major work, Exposition des familles naturelles et de la germination des plantes, contentant la description de 2337 genres et d'environ 4000 especes, 112 planches dont les figures ont ete dessinées par l'auteur.  Simply described, this was a popularized version of the classification system of A. L. de Jussieu, who was a strong advocate of the “natural” system of classification.  Jaume had done a number of experiments on plant germination before beginning the book, and emphasized its importance to taxonomy.  Jaume differed from de Jussieu in some respects, and added three family names—Amaryllidaceae, Lythraceae, and Verbenaceae—which are permanently established in botanical nomenclature.

Jaume, who lived on a small military pension, had published at his own expense, as he was to do with subsequent works.  He hoped thereby to earn a comfortable living, but this did not happen and, despite the fact that his writings were well received, he lived close to poverty for most of his life.

Over a number of years, Jaume worked on Plantes de la France:  Décrites et peintes de'apres nature.  This was a ten-volume work, published in two distinct periods—1808-1809 and 1819-1822; it contains 1000 color-printed stipple engravings of drawings by Jaume himself.  Among his other publications were:  Mémoires sur les indigoféres du Bengale et de la Chine (1826);  Mémoire sur la culture du poivrier noir (1827); Traité des arbrisseaux et des arbustes cultivés en France et en pleine terre (1825); Traité des arbres forestiers (1824); La flore et la pomone francaises (1828-1833); Flore paisienne (1835); Les Dahlia (date ?); Recueil de mémoires sur l'administration des forêts, sur les arbres forestiers et l'économie.

Jaume's publications relating to forests show his lifelong dedication to forest protection and conservation.  During the Napoleonic period and before, the forests of France had been ruthlessly exploited, and Jaume hoped that, following the Restoration, a new attitude might prevail.  In 1820, the Bourbon government called for a new forest code and, in 1824, a school of forestry was established at Nancy.  When the government began the planting of trees along main highways, Jaume regarded this as a personal triumph for his advocacy.  In 1827, a new forest code was adopted which incorporated many of the reforms proposed by Jaume and other natural scientists.  Perhaps because of his interests in forest cultivation and conservation and other practical themes in agriculture, in 1831, Jaume was elected a member of the Societe Royal and Central d'Agriculture.

In another area of practical botany, Jaume concerned himself with the commercial possibilities of a dye plant, Wrightia tinctoria.  During a trip to Great Britain in 1815, he had become acquainted with the British commercial policies that enabled entrepreneurs to reap profits from useful plants.  In the years following the Restoration, he attempted to persuade the government of the commercial possibilities of Wrightia tinctoria and other dye plants that could be substituted for the traditional sources of indigo.  He was able to produce a superior blue dye from the plant, Polygonum tinctorum, but failed to receive any reward for his work.

He also advocated government action in the area of colonial agricultural productivity, believing rightly that successive governments had failed to capitalize on the production of commodities such as black pepper, cinnamon, and others.  However, no serious emphasis was developed in French colonial agriculture until later on in the 19th century.

Jaume Saint-Hilaire obviously had a life filled with interests, activities, and achievements, but it may have been a disappointing and frustrating life in many respects.  Financial rewards escaped him as did professional recognition. For example, in spite of two nominations, he was not elected to the Academy of Sciences; in retrospect, his numerous scientific publications and his advocacy of the use of botanical science for the improvement of agriculture and related fields should have brought him the appropriate rewards.


Williams, Roger L.
"Gerard and Jaume: Two neglected figures in the history of Jussiaean Classification.  Parts one and two."
TAXON 37/1: 2-34.

Bugge, Thomas
Science in France in the Revolutionary Era
(M.I.T. Press, 1969).

Gerard, Louis
Précis de l'Historire de la Botanique pour servir de Complement a l' Étude du Règne Vègètal.
(P. Laroussse et Cie., 1870).

Blunt, William
The Art of Botanical Illustration.
(Colllins, 1950). 

Digitized Works:
La flore et la pomone françaises
Traité des arbres forestiers
Traité des arbrisseaux et des arbustes
La flore et la pomone françaisesauthor
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