DCB/DBC Mobile beta

SARRAZIN (Sarrasin), MICHEL, surgeon, doctor, and naturalist, member of the Conseil Souverain, seigneur; baptized 3 Sept. 1659 at Gilly-lès-Cîteaux, France, son of Claude Sarrazin, an official at the Abbey of Cîteaux, and of Madeleine de Bonnefoy; d. 8 Sept. 1734 at Quebec of a malignant fever probably brought on by smallpox, which had been carried there by a ship. We know of no portrait of Michel Sarrazin, and the one that is sometimes said to be of him seems to be of a Dr Sarrazin who was living in France.

Michel Sarrazin came to New France in 1685, as a surgeon in the Marine. On 12 Sept. 1686 Brisay de Denonville appointed him surgeon-major of the colonial regular troops. A royal decree from Versailles, dated 16 March 1691, ratified the 1686 appointment. He discharged his duties both at Montreal and at Quebec, where he lived, and he even went into the Iroquois country, as his Histoire des plantes de Canada testifies: “I saw plane-trees 12 or 13 years ago in the Iroquois country.” The date is not given, but various indications allow us to place his trip between 1685 and 1692, most probably at the time of Denonville’s expedition against the Iroquois in 1687. In 1692, during a stay at Montreal, he fell seriously ill and had to spend a month in hospital, after which he retired to Quebec to the house of his friend Franquelin, the king’s hydrographer. At this period there was no hint of the future naturalist. The mere mention of plane-trees is not enough to reveal the interest of a botanist: their height, which reached 100 feet, was enough to surprise any visitor from the east.

Sarrazin had fleeting visions of entering the church; Buade* de Frontenac wrote in 1697: “It is true that four years ago the Sieur Sarrazin was surgeon-major of the colonial regular troops, and that . . . [he had] retired a year previously to a seminary here with the intention of becoming a priest. . . .” The archives of the seminary of Quebec are silent on this subject. Other sources mention the Séminaire des Missions Étrangères in Paris, but with no supporting evidence. On the other hand the archives of the Sulpicians contain letters, dated 1694 and 1695. from Louis Tronson, the superior general in Paris, to Dollier de Casson; in them are the following passages: “I do not know the reasons that induce you to keep at the seminary M. Sarrazin, who is infirm and who still practises as a surgeon-major. Is it merely out of charity or because he can be of some use to you?” And: “M. Sarrazin has retired here [to France]. We were surprised at the advice given to him in Canada to leave his profession and become a priest. The more we have examined both his present and past state of mind, the more we have been convinced that there was no indication of a divine vocation to justify this change. Thus he has been advised to resume his former occupation if he could. I see no reason, not even an apparent one, which could have prompted M. Guyotte [parish priest of Notre-Dame] and M. de la Colombière [Joseph de La Colombière] to give him such advice. He is a worthy person, who is capable of doing at least as much good in his profession as in the ecclesiastical state.” This correspondence settles what was until now the most obscure point about Michel Sarrazin’s life.

In 1693, when Sarrazin seems to have withdrawn temporarily from society, Frontenac sent for a surgeon named Baudeau to replace him. Michel Sarrazin himself left for France in 1694, where for three years he studied medicine. He also frequented the Jardin Royal des Plantes, the future Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, where he received his introduction to botany under the direction of Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, who in 1700 was to publish his famous work Institutiones rei herbariae; this work contained new elements contributed by Sarrazin.

Intendant Bochart de Champigny had been asking for his return since 1695. Sarrazin did in fact return in 1697, after having obtained his doctorate of medicine at Reims. He took advantage of the ship’s call at Newfoundland to observe American plants and go botanizing. From then on he sent specimens regularly to the Jardin Royal des Plantes. Thenceforth, Sarrazin proposed to confine himself no longer to his medical activities, but to explore systematically the flora, fauna, and minerals of the country. One may read in the decisions of the council of Quebec: “And as there is a strong indication that the Sieur Sarrazin, in returning to Canada, had other plans than merely that of treating the sick, since he gives much attention to dissecting the rare animals which are in this country or to seeking out unknown plants, there is every reason to believe and to fear that after he has fully satisfied himself in this matter, or rather some persons of importance in his profession who appear to us to have a considerable interest in this kind of research, he will return to France gratified by their protection and by the advancement he has obtained through them. . . .”

The doctor. If Sarrazin became a naturalist, he nevertheless continued to practise medicine faithfully, and devoted the major part of his time to it until his death. On several occasions he was infected by his patients. On board the Gironde, on which he was travelling back to Canada with Bishop Saint-Vallier [La Croix] after his period of study, an epidemic of “purple” fever (purpura) broke out, and the doctor was obliged to devote himself unsparingly to the care of all. He contracted the disease, as did Bishop Saint-Vallier. In 1700 another scourge, influenza, was rife at Quebec, then in 1702 and 1703 smallpox, brought by an Indian from Fort Orange (Albany, N.Y.), and in 1709 Siamese sickness (yellow fever). Each time the victims were numerous, and Sarrazin knew no respite.

At this period he is thought to have drafted a treatise on pleurisy, which Governor Barrin* de La Galissonnière spoke highly of to Pehr Kalm*. The latter, when visiting Canada in 1749, heard echoes of the high esteem in which Sarrazin’s medical competence was held. Sarrazin’s botanical notes, still in manuscript and entered in the Histoire des plantes de Canada, show his medical bias, which is normal since at that time medicine and botany were difficult to separate.

Sarrazin sometimes had to perform autopsies, and even to give expert advice in criminal matters, or for affidavits concerning miraculous cures at Sainte-Anne de Beaupré. The Mémoires de Trévoux of August 1728 contain an account of the autopsy of the partially preserved bodies of three nuns who were buried in 1703, 1705, and 1707. They also contain a note about a young Iroquois woman, “the second Catherine,” one of whose arms, holding a crucifix, had remained intact.

LAcadémie des Sciences. Sarrazin’s hobby, his scientific activities, brought him into contact with the Académie Royale des Sciences de Paris, which had been founded in 1666 and was reorganized by Louis XIV in 1699. This institution brought together all French scientists and certain foreign ones, such as Herman Boerhaave and Sir Isaac Newton, most of whom were in the prime of life and at the height of their productivity. To get to know foreign countries better, particularly in the field of natural history, the academy enlisted the help of correspondents who supplied specimens and observations. On 4 March 1699 Michel Sarrazin was therefore appointed the correspondent of Tournefort, who had detected in the first items collected and in the notes made by this beginner a shrewd observer. Later, on 23 Jan. 1717, long after Tournefort’s death (1708), he became the correspondent of René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (1683–1757). Each year the ships from New France bore letters destined for French men of science, in particular the botanists Sébastien Vaillant, Antoine de Jussieu, and Danty d’Isnard, of the Jardin des Plantes, and also the Oratorian Abbé Bignon, king’s librarian, president of the Académie des Sciences and of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and member of the French academy. The following extract from a letter addressed to Antoine de Jussieu (1686–1758) on 11 Oct. 1728 (lost since the sale of Jussieu’s archives around 1936) has come down to us: “The war which we have to prosecute against the Indians known as Foxes disrupts the plan that I had of sending you plants and seeds native to the region from which I was expecting to receive them.” Sarrazin went on to enumerate the dangers of botanizing in New France at that time.

Sarrazin was interested in biology, as it was understood then. It was principally confined to the anatomical and systematic study of plants and animals, to the rudiments of plant and animal physiology, and to ethnobiological considerations. Curiously enough, Dr Arthur Vallée*, in a biography of Sarrazin, confuses biology and zoology, for in his book the first of these terms is opposed to botany.

Sarrazin’s relations with the academy do not seem to have been ideal, as is evidenced by his correspondence with Réaumur and Abbé Bignon. In a letter Bignon rebuked him for making criticisms that were unwarranted except with respect to Fontenelle’s [Le Bovier] delay in publishing his text on the seal, an omission which Bignon proposed to rectify that very year.

The zoologist. In the field of zoology Sarrazin worked particularly as an anatomist. To carry out his dissections, Sarrazin used his set of surgical instruments and a borrowed magnifying-glass; as a result Réaumur presented him with one in 1727. Sarrazin sent communications on extremely minute dissections of Canadian animals to the academy, and these were published in part in the reports of that institution. It should be noted that several of these manuscripts have been preserved. These works deal with the following subjects: “Histoire naturelle et anatomique du Castor”; “L’histoire anatomique du carcajou”; “Histoire d’une espèce de rat d’Amérique septentrionale” (the musk-rat, which is today called water-rat in the islands of Lac Saint-Pierre); “L’histoire anatomique du veau-marin”; and “Observations sur le porc-épic.” According to his communication on the porcupine which was presented to Réaumur in 1726, Sarrazin may also have prepared a “Monographie anatomique du siffleux,” but no trace of it has been found. These contributions were favourably received by the critics of the time, and particularly by the Journal des Sçavans, which published summaries of them regularly in 1707, 1728, 1730, and 1733.

The botanist. The study of systematic botany offered countless pitfalls in a country beset by constant guerilla warfare. Sarrazin wrote: “I do not know whether it is believed that one botanizes in Canada under the same conditions as in France. I could more easily traverse the whole of Europe, and with less danger, than I could cover 100 leagues in Canada, a much riskier undertaking.” This did not prevent him, for more than 20 years, from sending specimens which still form part of the herbarium of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle. The botanist Sébastien Vaillant (1669-1722) had preserved them in his personal herbarium, which became the basis of the herbarium at the Muséum. Vaillant had likewise dispatched specimens from Sarrazin to the English botanist William Sherard (1659–1728), and these still exist in the “Sherardian Herbarium” at Oxford University.

To the herbarium specimens Sarrazin also added seeds and living plants for the flower-beds of the Jardin des Plantes. The minister wrote to Champigny in March 1698: “The king’s chief doctor has instructed the Sieur Sarrazin to collect in Canada the special plants, fruits, and other things which that country produces and which may be useful for the Jardin Royal. You are to load on the king’s ships the cases and boxes which the said Sieur Sarrazin will send addressed to the first king’s doctor.” Putting cases down in the hold for shipment was undesirable, and the intendant had to issue special instructions for them to be set in a safe place. The bushes were to remain on deck, where the sailors were instructed to water them, when it did not rain, from the ship’s meagre supply of water – when they were not drenched by a wave of salt water. It is understandable that some specimens arrived in a spoiled condition. The following letter testifies to this result: “I wanted to have shipped on a boat for Orléans [M. de Luzançay wrote from Nantes] the two cases full of earth and some Canadian plants sent by the Sieur Sarrazin, a Quebec doctor. But whatever care may have been taken of them, they were dry, or more exactly dead, so that the gardener to whom I had entrusted them thinks that it would be useless to send them. . . .”

Notes on pieces of paper were attached to the herbarium specimens in each shipment. Sébastien Vaillant, a professor at the Jardin Royal and the initiator of the natural classification of plants that was later perfected by Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu (1748–1836), studied the material carefully, arranged the notes, and added his commentaries, thus making of them a “Catalogue des plantes du Canada.” It is not always easy to make out each author’s contribution. This work includes discussions of a systematic nature, medical, ethnographic, and historical considerations, and also popular names used in Canada. The volume can be situated chronologically after the flora of Jacques-Philippe Cornuti, the Canadensium plantarum (1635), and before that to be published by Charlevoix* as an appendix to his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (1744). A little later appeared the flora of Jean-François Gaultier* (1708–1756), which was composed before 1750 and also left in manuscript, and the flora of Quebec by Kalm, which was first intended to come out under the name of Flora canadensis but which is still unpublished. This list comprises the principal works on the flora of New France, prior to 1760, which contain in part the results of Sarrazin’s research.

Among the very first plants sent by Sarrazin, Tournefort discovered a species which he dedicated to him, and which still bears the name “Sarracenia purpurea.” Previously an illustration of it had appeared in a popular publication (John Joselyn, New-England Rarities, 1672), and there were vague references to it in other authors. Sarrazin had himself made a long description of it which Charlevoix reproduced. Sarrazin also contributed to the description of new species, which Tournefort and particularly Vaillant published, although acknowledging Sarrazin as the author.

The written work of Sarrazin that appears over his signature or in the works of other botanists comprises several titles. The Observations de MrSarrazin contain descriptions of four Canadian maples and show that Sarrazin had a better understanding of our species than Linnaeus did. Also attributed to Sarrazin are descriptions of species included in the 1700 and 1719 editions of Tournefort’s Institutiones rei herbariae. Furthermore, the Établissement dun nouveau genre de plante nommé Araliastrum duquel le gin-seng des Chinois est une espèce, by Sébastien Vaillant, contains a description of ginseng by Sarrazin. This work also mentions other species of “aralia,” the description of which is ascribed to Sarrazin. In a communication on ginseng made by Danty d’Isnard to the Académie des Sciences on 4 Dec. 1717, we read that Sarrazin had dispatched this plant in 1704 (long before Lafitau* did) under the name of “Aralia humilis fructu majore.” In the Suite de létablissement de nouveaux caractères de plantes à fleurs composées, by Vaillant, we come across three species the description of which is attributed to Sarrazin. In addition we must mention again the “Catalogue des plantes du Canada,” written up by Vaillant with the aid of Sarrazin’s notes, which is posterior to 1707 and still remains unpublished.

To this series of works we may add the list of the plants discussed in the “Catalogue”; this list, selected by Antoine de Jussieu, appears in facsimile under the title “Plantes envoyées du Canada par M. Sarrazin, conseiller du Conseil supérieur et médecin du Roy en Canada,” in the biography by Dr Vallée published in 1927. This list was prepared after the manuscript of the “Catalogue” was completed. It deals not with the shipments of 1704 only, as Vaillant thought, but with a series spread out over the years 1697 to 1707 at least. In a letter written by Sarrazin on 22 Sept. 1728 (which was part of the Jussieu archives and of which only an excerpt is known to us), we read that he is “sending the catalogue of the plants from the region around Quebec. I hope that these plants will be of some use to you.” Probably he is referring to the later list taken from his joint work with Vaillant, the “Catalogue des plantes du Canada,” since a copy of the “Catalogue,” in Vaillant’s own handwriting and annotated by Jean-François Gaultier, is still in existence in Canada.

Agriculture and botanical economy. Pehr Kalm, on a visit to Quebec in 1749, learned of Sarrazin’s successful attempt to grow the grain and winter barley which he had imported from Sweden. This experiment was short-lived, however, and from then on only the spring varieties were utilized. Sarrazin is thought to have pointed out the special nutritive qualities of Indian corn (maize), and he may have sent a report on the subject in 1732. No trace of this text has been found. In 1715 the Conseil Supérieur instructed him, together with M. de La Colombière, to supervise the operations of milling and conditioning flour, in order to increase the yield.

According to an opinion expressed by Benjamin Sulte and adopted by Pierre-Georges Roy and Arthur Vallée, Sarrazin was the initiator of the maple sugar industry. Pierre Boucher, in other respects well informed, made no mention of this industry in his work (1664). It existed in Acadia, however, at the time of Dièrevilles voyage in 1699. According to a remark made by Madame Legardeur de Repentigny [Agathe de Saint-Père* ] and reported to the ministry of Marine on 5 Oct. 1706 by Rigaud de Vaudreuil and Jacques Raudot, more than 30,000 pounds of maple sugar were already being manufactured annually in the Montreal region alone. Sarrazin’s role, pending proof to the contrary, was confined to a scientific study of the sugar maple.

The mineralogist. Sarrazin dispatched specimens of rocks and minerals to France, but played only a secondary role in mineralogy. In 1728 he discovered a slate-quarry on his fief of Grand-Étang, which he had received from the Hazeur family at the time of his marriage 16 years before, and he analysed mineral waters at Cap-de-la-Madeleine; the results of this analysis appeared in the Mémoires de Trévoux of 1735 (“Extrait d’une lettre de monsieur Sarrazin au sujet des eaux du Cap-de-la-Madeleine”).

The businessman. Michel Sarrazin, desirous of improving his financial situation, undertook to exploit the slate-quarry. Unfortunately the costs were heavy because of its long distance from Quebec. There was a lack of slate extractors and splitters who should have been brought from France. Moreover, the deposits at Grand-Étang proved to be of poor quality, besides which such an industry could hardly pay in a country where the material, unlike wooden shingles, was ill suited to the climatic conditions. The undertaking foundered, after absorbing a considerable portion of the scanty revenues that Sarrazin obtained from the Saint-Jean fief (corresponding to what is now part of the city of Quebec and including part of Battlefields Park), and from the other properties received as a settlement at the time of his marriage.

Being nevertheless anxious to try his luck, he went into partnership with Robert Drouard to exploit a fishing-ground in the Gulf of St Lawrence. The company’s capital of 13,000 livres, of which he subscribed three quarters, disappeared in the collapse of the undertaking on Drouard’s death. If we add to that the loss of a house by fire, which deprived him of a source of revenue, and the staggering devaluation of card money, we can have some conception of the financial difficulties of this king’s doctor, whose meagre emoluments could not save him from disaster.

The public administrator. Sarrazin became a member of the Conseil Supérieur on 30 June 1707, and in this capacity shared in the administration of the colony. He sometimes had to take a stand in the conflicts between the governor, the bishop, and the intendant, but for a fairly long time he abstained from taking part in the deliberations. After having been Intendant Claude-Thomas Dupuys friend, he quarrelled with him and the Jesuits once and for all. It seems indeed that he had been attached to the bishop’s party, for after Bishop Saint-Vallier’s death he ceased for a while to attend the meetings of the Conseil Supérieur. The fact that the persons concerned were living in a remote post, restricted to one another’s company, did not help matters. In 1733, the year before his death, Sarrazin became keeper of the seals.

Sarrazin and his family relationships. Michel Sarrazin, still a bachelor, went back to France in 1709 and stayed there for more than a year, three months of which were spent at a spa, and did not return until the end of 1710. It was apparently his first and last trip back to his native country since 1697, when he took up residence in Canada for the second time. Only after that did he think of marriage. On 20 June 1712, he married at Montreal Marie-Anne Hazeur, formerly of Quebec, who was 20 years old. For the occasion, the marriage certificate showed the husband as being only 40. In the records, however, he was to grow old faster than his wife, for if in the 1716 census, four years after the marriage, the latter was still only 25, Sarrazin was 54. Whether we should see in the marriage certificate of 1712 coquettishness on Sarrazin’s part or courtesy on the celebrant’s we do not know. Marie-Anne’s father, François Hazeur, an important businessman, seigneur of Malbaie, of Grande-Vallée, and of Anse-de-l’Étang in the Gaspé Peninsula, had sat on the Conseil Supérieur since 1703. Sarrazin thus received a part of the seigneuries of Grande-Vallée and of Anse-de-l’Étang.

Madame Sarrazin, who was born at Quebec and was a former pupil of the Ursulines, came to Montreal after her parents’ death to live with a maternal uncle, M. Soumande, a merchant in comfortable circumstances. Madame Sarrazin had at least three brothers: Canon Thierry Hazeur*, of Quebec; Pierre Hazeur* de L’Orme, who represented in Paris the interests of the chapter of Quebec, but who lived mainly at the abbey of Bénévent; and Jean-François, a lawyer in Paris, who later became a member of the Conseil Supérieur of Quebec. Michel Sarrazin himself had two brothers, who had remained at Nuits-sous-Beaune; the one, a priest, and the other (Claude), an attorney, both died in 1731.

Of the seven children of Sarrazin and Marie-Anne, three died in infancy. At his death the doctor left his wife, aged 42, two sons, and two daughters. As a result of her husband’s financial failures, Madame Sarrazin was left without resources, but fortunately she received as a pension the annual stipend of 800 livres which at that time was attached to the office of king’s doctor at Quebec. This pension was transferred to the eldest son and lapsed on his death in 1739; Madame Sarrazin then went to live with her brother, Canon Hazeur, at Quebec.

Sarrazin’s eldest son, Joseph-Michel, who was born on 13 July 1715 at Quebec, went to Paris in 1731 to carry on his studies. He was making ready to follow in his father’s footsteps, and consequently, after his general training, he studied surgery, medicine, and botany; but he died of smallpox on 22 Sept. 1739 in France, before completing his education. Claude-Michel, another of Sarrazin’s sons, who was born at Quebec in 1722, returned to the country of his ancestors in 1741 after studying for eight years at the Seminary of Quebec. He first considered the ecclesiastical life, and even wore a cassock, which he later abandoned for a military career. He took part in the 1747 siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, in Holland, and thereby acquired a certain notoriety. Claude-Michel died in 1809 in Paris. One of the daughters, Marie-Jeanne, died in 1737 at the age of 19. The youngest child, and the only one to remain in Canada, was Charlotte-Louise-Angélique. Five years younger than Claude-Michel, she was 19 when in 1746 she married Jean-Hippolyte Gaultier de Varennes. She died on 16 July 1793.

A few letters left by the king’s doctor in Canada have earned him the reputation of being an insatiable seeker after favours. This reproach would perhaps be justified if the court had sometimes granted his requests. A letter from the minister to Bochart de Champigny on 21 March 1698 perfectly describes the wretched situation: “His Majesty does not want to incur the expense of maintaining a doctor in Canada, and as the Sieur Sarrazin would use letters of appointment only to ask subsequently for the salary, it has seemed to me useless to speak of it to His Majesty, the more so because he refused it last year.” The die was cast at Versailles. It was necessary to economize on the essentials and at the expense of those indispensable servants who were sufficiently devoted to their task not to abandon it. The replies sent to Sarrazin, however, showed more circumspection; he was always promised that consideration would be given to his requests, but there was never a sequel.

His profession earned him a very inadequate income, which corresponded to an insignificant fraction of the salary to which he was entitled. Finding the situation untenable, he even thought of going back to France, as is shown by the following extracts from four letters sent from Canada by the governor and the intendant. The first three were signed jointly by Callière and Champigny: “We shall continue to assure His Majesty of the great services which the Sieur Sarrazin, to whom he has been pleased to grant doctor’s papers, renders in the hospitals and to the sick outside. He has expressed to us some desire to return to France, because of the meagre profit that there is for him in a country which is poor and in which he is exhausting himself, but we could not agree to it because of his usefulness, for he is a man of unusual experience” (18 Oct. 1700). “We are very sensible, Your Excellency, of your kindness in increasing by 300 livres the Sieur Sarrazin’s emoluments, but you will allow us to point out to you again that that is not enough to retain in this country a man of his ability and experience” (5 Oct. 1701). “As the Sieur de Sarrazin is the one and only doctor in the colony and also very often . . . carries out the duties of a surgeon, and as he receives a salary of only 600 livres, without any payment from those whom he treats, we feel obliged . . . to ask for an increase in salary for him” (3 Nov. 1702). On 31 Oct. 1725 Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil and Michel Bégon* were to be more explicit: “The favour that the king has granted to the Sieur Duprat, a doctor and botanist in Louisiana, who has a salary of 2,000 livres, constrains us to take the liberty to point out to you that the said Sieur Sarrazin has worked here for 15 years, without receiving any other payment in return except the 500 livres which he has had since 1717.”

Being, along with the hydrographer Franquelin, one of the few intellectuals of New France apart from the members of the legal profession, Sarrazin belonged to the aristocracy of the colony. In the absence of a noble title, his reputation as official doctor and as a scientist gave him prominence. He was a member of the Conseil Supérieur, and hence of the administrative élite. He sought to put himself on a level with the senior officials and the rich merchants. Although he did not live on an exaggerated scale, he was obliged to maintain his position. He expected to have to provide for the education of his sons in France and for the settling of his daughters, whose future depended upon their parents’ fortune, in accordance with the social habits of the time. A good deal older than his wife, he wanted to ensure a respectable life for his family after his death. He was also anxious to pay off the debts which had accumulated during the difficult years, in order not to leave the burden of them for his widow later on. To maintain his position in a society which measured worth in terms of écus, he plunged into risky undertakings which caused frustrations and anxieties, and ruined him.

Certainly he did not lack ambition. In the material sphere he sought a situation compatible with his rank. In the scientific sphere he hoped that his works would earn him a title superior to that of correspondent of a member of the academy. On 10 Oct. 1726 he wrote to Réaumur: “In short, sir, there is then no way of having some kind of place in the Academy, and I admit to you that not knowing the procedure I had always flattered myself that I would find some corner there before I died.” An exaggerated hope, it may be thought, but if one examines the list of academicians of the period, one finds that except for a few great names there are many whose worth as scientists did not equal Sarrazin’s. Dr Vallée describes him as a “taciturn man, misanthropic and always pessimistic.” He had reason enough to be taciturn and pessimistic, but misanthropy hardly goes with the great kindness, the extreme devotedness, and the great unselfishness that he showed towards the sick. Some people think he had a persecution complex. One always accuses of paranoia those who are in fact the victims of relentless persecution. This sometimes made him aggressive, as is shown by the letter to Réaumur quoted above, but such a reaction was inevitable in the circumstances.

A man absorbed in his research work, for which his powers of observation specially suited him, a man with little inclination for social events, and moreover of frail health, and with a religious bent that was not devoid of a certain mysticism – this was more than enough to explain the accusation that he was “rather downcast and dreamy,” as a document of the period put it.

From the ideas expressed in his personal correspondence and fragments of letters from correspondents, as well as from his handwriting – an independent study made of this has confirmed my opinion in every respect – we can form a fairly good notion of his character. These sources reveal to us an active, tenacious, conscientious, and upright man, very well disciplined, who finished what he had begun, who was capable of concentration, yet was distracted by the problems that beset him. Endowed with a certain intellectual acuteness, he nevertheless was more interested in precise facts than in great ideas, and attached much importance to details, at the expense of a comprehensive view. Fairly ambitious, he was not as modest as he thought or would have liked to appear. He did not lack sensitivity, he displayed a real spirit of charity, endeavoured to protect those who were entrusted to him, and supported worthy causes. Although neither excited nor ebullient, he was not relaxed. He did not possess great vitality; rather meticulous, not an out-going person, nervous, distrustful, somewhat vindictive, he gave the appearance of a frustration complex which was amply justified, but for all that he was not without a sense of self-defence. He did not seek to complicate things, however, and his great simplicity of character prevented him from hiding what he thought. Even if he loved seclusion and tranquillity, he was a well-bred man and a congenial companion. On occasion he displayed commonplace naïveté, as is shown by a letter to Abbé Bignon dated 5 Nov. 1717: “I am sending live ginseng roots to the Jardin royal. I am requesting Monsieur Vaillant to send dried roots to you, in order to rejuvenate you if you are old, and to prolong your youth if you are lucky enough to possess it still.”

One cannot without exaggeration consider him a great scientist, despite the opinion that is sometimes voiced. He was a modest, even limited researcher, but a conscientious and meticulous one, and in no way inferior to many of the academicians of the time. Being the only person with a knowledge of natural history in a country where so many things remained to be discovered, he played an important role. Already, a century before, Pierre Boucher had extended our knowledge, without realizing the contribution he was making to the scientific world. In the field of his research, Sarrazin went much further than the skilful compiler Charlevoix, and can even be compared with the majority of English and French biologists in 19th-century Canada. He is surely the equal of Antoine de Jussieu, the first of that family of botanists, but he cannot be considered as a rival of Tournefort, and still less of Sébastien Vaillant, whose work truly marks the beginnings of modern botany. Nonetheless, in the difficult emergence of Canadian science, Sarrazin occupies an important place.

Jacques Rousseau

[The following are some details on most of the works mentioned in this biography. “Histoire naturelle et anatomique du Castor” was an address to the Académie Royale des Sciences on 13, 16, 20, 27 February, 12 March, and 16 April 1704. This address was published in part in Histoire de lAcadémie royale des sciences, 1704, which appeared in 1706. The complete manuscript was transcribed in the Académie’s Registre in 1706. “Histoire anatomique du carcajou” was a paper read to the Académie on 15 March 1713 and was transcribed in its Registre. “Histoire d’une espèce de rat d’Amérique septentrionale” was an address on 21 Feb. 1714 and was published in the Histoire de lAcadémie . . . 1714. “Histoire anatomique de veau-marin” was an address of 12 and 19 Jan. 1718. “Histoire du rat musqué d’Amérique” was an address of 28 and 31 Jan. 1722. “Addition à l’histoire du rat musqué,” was an address of 2 June 1725; this paper seems to correspond to the text kept in the archives of the Académie, dated 15 Oct. 1722 and entitled “Notes sur le rat musqué.”

“Extrait de divers mémoires de M. Sarrazin . . . sur le rat musqué” was published in the Histoire de lAcadémie . . . 1725, which appeared in 1727. “Observations sur le porc-épic” was an address of 15 and 18 May 1726 and was published in the Histoire de l’Académie . . . 1727, which came out in 1729; this paper is kept at the Académie’s archives. Moreover, at the 23 July 1729 session, a paper, “Histoire du porc-épic du Canada,” was read; this was perhaps an addition to the preceding work or else simply a repetition, which occasionally happened at the Académie. “Nouvelles observations du travail que j’ai fait sur les parties naturelles du rat musqué” is a manuscript preserved in the Académie’s archives. “Observations de Mr. Sarrazin” is an address given on 19 August 1730 on the maple trees of Canada. This long paper is preserved in the Académie’s Registre, and is summarized in the Histoire de l’Académie . . . 1730, which appeared in 1732. The Académie’s Registre for 11 Dec. 1717 and the Histoire de lAcadémie . . . 1718 should be consulted on the subject of Sarrazin’s “Aralia humilis fructu majore”; Sébastien Vaillant mentions this discovery in his Établissements dun nouveau genre de plante nommé Araliastrum duquel le gin-seng des Chinois est une espèce (Hanover, 1718). In his “Suite de l’établissement de nouveaux caractères de plantes à fleurs composées,” published in the Histoire de lAcadémie for the years 1719 and 1721, Vaillant mentions three species, giving credit to Sarrazin for their descriptions. Moreover, the Mémoires de Trévoux for August 1728 and for 1735 should be looked at. Several summaries of Sarrazin’s works are published in the Journal des Sçavans for the years 1707, 1728, 1730, and 1733.

Many manuscripts were consulted in the archives of the Académie des Sciences, the BN, the AN, the archives of the Muséum d’Histoire naturelle, the London Royal Society, the AQ, the ASSM, and in some private collections, too numerous to list here. The following studies were used: Ahern, Notes pour lhistoire de la médecine. L.-E. Bois, Michel Sarrazin (Québec, 1856). Fauteux, Essai sur lindustrie sous le régime français. Alfred Lacroix, Figures de savants (4v., Paris, 1938), IV, 113–16. Arthur Vallée, Un biologiste canadien, Michel Sarrazin, 1659–1735, sa vie, ses travaux et son temps (Québec, 1927). J. C. K. Laflamme, “Michel Sarrazin: matériaux pour servir à l’histoire de la science en Canada,” RSCT, 1st ser., V (1887), sect.iv, 1–23. G. Lavier, “Un nuiton en Nouvelle-France, Michel Sarrazin,” Taste-vin en main, XXXV (1963), 32–33. Marie-Victorin, “Un manuscrit botanique prélinnéen: l’histoire des plantes de Canada,” Revue trimestrielle canadienne (L’Ingénieur), XXII (1936). Jacques Rousseau, “Michel Sarrazin, Jean-François Gaulthier et l’étude prélinnéenne de la flore canadienne,” Colloque internationale du Centre Nationale de la recherche scientifique (Paris), LXIII (1957), 149–57; “Sébastien Vaillant, a key figure in eighteenth century botany,” Biologia. An international bio-historical series, IV (Hollande, 1966). Also, Louis Moreri, Le grand dictionnaire historique, ou le mélange curieux de lhistoire sacrée et profane, published in Paris, first in 1674 and revised in 1759; supplements were published between these two dates, and Sarrazin’s biography appeared in the second of these (1749).

Other information was taken from various addresses: one by Jean F. Leroy to the 84th congress of the Sociétés Savantes at Dijon in 1959, entitled “Un collaborateur de Tournefort: Michel Sarrazin (1659–1734)” (published in the Comptes-rendus), another by Alfred Lacroix before the Académie des Sciences on 21 Dec. 1931. Finally, there are three soon-to-be-published works in which Sarrazin is mentioned: “Journal original du voyage au Canada en 1749 de Pehr Kalm,” edited and translated by Jacques Rousseau and Guy de Béthune; “Flore du Canada, 1749, de Jean-François Gauthier,” and “Histoire des plantes de Canada, de Sébastien Vaillant et de Michel Sarrazin,” unpublished works with critical essays and remarks by Jacques Rousseau, j.r.]

Revisions based on:
Arch. Départementales de la Côte-d'Or (Dijon, France), “Reg. paroissiaux et état civil (xviexxe s.),” Gilly-lès-Cîteaux, 3 sept. 1659: www.archives.cotedor.fr/jahia/Jahia/archives.cotedor.fr/pid/3792 (consulted 28 Feb. 2011). Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d'arch. de Montréal, CE601-S51, 20 juin 1712; Centre d'arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 9 sept. 1734.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jacques Rousseau, “SARRAZIN, MICHEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sarrazin_michel_2E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/sarrazin_michel_2E.html
Author of Article: Jacques Rousseau
Title of Article: SARRAZIN, MICHEL
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 2
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1969
Year of revision: 2013
Access Date: April 20, 2014