Nick de Blegny
Nicolas (de) Blegny (1642 – ?): A seventeenth-century French apothecary, physician, visionary, and con man. Several sources have put the year of birth as 1652; however, Edouard Fournier’s splendid 1878 annotation of The Convenient Book of All the Addresses of Paris advances a convincing case for the date 1642.
Nicolas de Blegny was a charlatan, pharmacist, and manufacturer of bandages, perfume boxes, and coffee pots; a teacher of wig-making and surgery; and a Physician to His Majesty Louis XIV, and Surgeon to the Body of Monsieur (Philippe, Duc d’Orléans, the brother of Louis XIV; or as de Blegny calls him here, “Mr. Phil”).
Writing circa 1708, when de Blegny was serving one of his many jail sentences, a biographer records that de Blegny was “nicely proportioned and always properly dressed; he spoke and wrote fluently, and he was inventive and hard-working. If he had made good use of his natural gifts, he would not have had so unhappy an end.”
Along with his apothecary, Nicolas de Blegny ran a medical service for unwed mothers and the indigent. He was arrested numerous times for blasphemy, fraud, practicing medicine unlawfully, performing abortions, and disturbing the civil peace. He enjoyed both the patronage of Philippe, and extensive ties to the Parisian underworld. De Blegny compiled one of the first city directory and shopping guides; written under a pen-name “Abraham du Pradel, astrologer of Lyons,” the work promoted several of de Blegny’s own ventures: The Convenient Book of All the Addresses of Paris (1691. Revised and expanded, 1692. Printing destroyed by order of His Majesty, 1692). De Blegny made a point of noting which nobles shopped where. Celebrity was the sole criterion for inclusion in the work. De Blegny writes that the public alone is responsible for the names listed – and that even the most upright member of any profession is unworthy of an entry, unless and until his name enjoys public recognition. The work was held to violate the privacy and dignity of those listed within it, even the shopkeepers themselves. Too far ahead of its time, All the Addresses anticipated the rise of publicity, promotion, and celebrity culture.
De Blegny’s other publications include:
- The Art of Curing Venereal Diseases, explained by Nature and Mechanics (1673).
- The True Story of an Infant Anatomized Who Lived 25 Years Inside Its Mother’s Belly (1679).
- Harbinger of the Heavens, containing Every New Discovery about the Stars Since the Invention of the Telescope (1681).
- The Proper Usage of Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate (1687).
- Secrets of Health and Beauty (1688).
- T owards a General History of Religious, Military, and Secular Orders of Knighthood (1694).
Other known details of de Blegny’s life:
- Member of the Order of the Holy Spirit.
- Diploma from Caen University College of Medical Science.
- Imprisoned: the Bastille; For l’Eveque; Chateau d’Angers
- Married Charlotte Gallois.
Exiled from France, he fled to the Papal protectorate of Avignon around 1708. By 1722, history loses sight of him altogether.