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Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès
|Born||24 June 1767|
|Died||13 June 1846 (aged 78)|
Graville, Le Havre
|Resting place||Graville priory|
|Alma mater||College of Juilly|
|Notable awards||Legion of Honour |
Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès (French: [ʒɑ̃ ba.tist bə.nwa ɛː.rjɛs]; 24 June 1767 – 13 June 1846) was a French geographer, author and translator, best remembered in the English speaking world for his translation of German ghost stories Fantasmagoriana, published anonymously in 1812, which inspired Mary Shelley and John William Polidori to write Frankenstein and The Vampyre respectively. He was one of the founding members of the Société de Géographie, a member of the Société Asiatique, admitted to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, awarded the Legion of Honour, elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1841, and has a street named after him in Le Havre and a mountain near Humboldt Bay.
Born in Marseille on 24 June 1767, the son of Jacques-Joseph Eyriès, a "lieutenant de frégates du roi" ("lieutenant of the king's frigates"), and Jeanne-Françoise Deluy (1748–1826). He moved to Le Havre in 1772 when his father was promoted to "commandant de la Marine" ("commander of the Navy"), and went to study at the College of Juilly. Eyriès began to travel to England, Germany, Sweden and Denmark to learn their languages and study botany and mineralogy, and through it grew to love geography and travel. Returning to Le Havre, he began working in the armaments trade, including commercial expeditions to various parts of the world, while taking care of a natural history museum there. In 1794 he went to Paris to deliver his father, who had been detained as a suspect in the new Republic, moving there the following year to devote himself to his studies, where he attended lectures by Antoine Laurent de Jussieu and Georges Cuvier, and started collecting old travel books.
He was given a mission in 1804–1805 by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Napoleon to travel to Germany and rally the French emigrants there, chosen for his knowledge of the country and language and his discretion. He used the opportunity to continue his collection, but turned down the title "conseiller d’État" ("councillor of the State") to keep his independence, allowing him to devote himself entirely to geography and botany, and return to Paris to settle. As a speaker of nine languages, he translated many articles and books from German, English and Scandinavian languages into French, mostly on travel and geography, but also including Fantasmagoriana from a selection of German ghost stories, which he published anonymously in 1812. From that year he became one of the drafters of the Biographie Universelle under editor Joseph François Michaud, writing many articles for it up until his death. His quality as a translator and extensive scientific knowledge earned him the friendship and admiration of many respected scientists, notably including Alexander von Humboldt and Conrad Malte-Brun, the latter of whom he joined in 1819 to continue the publication of Nouvelles Annales des Voyages, de la Géographie et de l’Histoire, a journal dedicated to the advancement of the earth sciences.
In 1821 he became one of the 217 founding members of the world's first geographical society, the Société de Géographie, remaining one of the most active and on its central committee until his death; he was named honorary president, a prestigious title given to the likes of Pierre-Simon Laplace, Georges Cuvier, Alexander von Humboldt and François-René de Chateaubriand. He was a recognised geographer, and Jules Dumont d'Urville named a mountain "Eyriès" after him near Humboldt Bay during his voyage on the Astrolabe. He was admitted to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 1839, and was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1844.
Eyriès suffered a stroke in 1844, rendering him incapable of further work, and died on 13 June 1846 at the house of his brother Alexandre Eyriès, the mayor of Graville near Le Havre, and was buried in the cemetery of Graville priory, with an inscription on his tombstone after Edme François Jomard. He left a library of about 20,000 volumes collected throughout his life, which reflect his interest in rare and old works on travel and geography, and included almost everything written on Normandy, Le Havre and Provence, with rare maps from the German and Scandinavian countries, some of which are not even in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Many of these books, and some of his manuscripts, remain as of 2006 in the municipal library of Le Havre, and a street "Rue Jean Baptiste Eyries" was named after him in the city. Eyriès was remembered by his contemporaries for his erudition, selfless dedication, prodigious memory, critical thinking and modesty, and Pierre Larousse wrote of him: "Many people still remember seeing a little old man in antiquated clothes, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and reading along the waterfront: that was Eyriès, who worked to fill his vast memory and his rich library at the same time."
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