BERNIER, François. Joué-Etiau (Maine-et-Loire) 26.9.1620 — Dauphine 22.9.1688. French Physician and Traveller in India. Spent twelve years (1656-68) in India, and was 8 years physician at the Mughal court. Son of Pierre B., one of the foremost tenants of the chapter of Angers, and Andrée Grimault. He lost early his parents and was educated by an uncle. He was sent to Paris to study for an ecclesiastical career. Student of Pierre Gassendi at Collège royal. In 1646 he followed the French Ambassador to Poland and from Poland went on to Italy and back in France in 1650. In 1652 studied medicine at Montpellier and, having studied privately before, completed his Dr.med. in less than four months. Short visit to Palestine and Syria in 1654. In 1656 he started his journey to the East, travelling through Palaestina, Syria, Egypt, Jidda and Mocca he came to Surat and from there to Agra (court), becoming the physician of Shah Jilan. With his patron he travelled in many parts of North India, visiting Delhi, Lahore and Kashmir, and in 1664 Tibet and Bengal. In 1667 he left the court and came to Surat where he sent to France his “Mémoire sur l’établissement du commerce dans l’Inde” (extant in archives). He left India in 1669, returned to France and lived in Paris. In 1685 he visited England and the Netherlands. Died in apoplexy.
FB is one of the best eye witnesses of the 18th century India. He arrived in India during the war of succession and was thus able to see the rise of Aurangzib. He was keen observer, and supplied important information on recent history, politics, law, and even religion of the Mughal empire – although also inserting his own opinions of current French politics. Personally knew Cyrano de Bergerac, Molière and La Fontaine, Tavernier and Jean Chardin he had already met in India.
Publications: Histoire de la Dernière Revolution des Etats du Grand Mogol. 182 p. P. 1670 (first part of his travel account); Suite des Mémoires sur l’empire du Grand Mogol. 69 p. P. 1671.
– Travels in the Mogul empire, A.D. 1656–1668. Translated, on the basis of Irving Brock’s version, and annotated by A. Constable. 2nd ed. rev. by V. A. Smith. 51+497 p. L. 1934.
– “Nouvelle division de la terre par les différentes espèces ou races qui l’habitent”, Journal de sçavans 1684, 133-140 (anonymous, “par un fameux Voyageur”), also transl. into English.
– Lettre sur le café. Lyon 1685; some further writings, translations of Gassendis works.
Sources: Oaten 1909, 198-213; R. d’Amant, D.B.F. 6, 1954, 111f.; L. Valensi, D.O.L.F. 98f.; Wikipedia; *Frédéric Tinguely (ed.), Un libertin dans l’Inde moghole – Les voyages de François Bernier (1656–1669), Edition intégrale, Chandeigne, Paris, 2008.
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