Louvois: Declining Interest and Support
Overview . Louvois was ministerial protector of the Academy from September 1683, when he bought the controllership of bâtiments from Colbert's son, until his death in July 1691. During these nine years he reduced the size and budget of the Academy, appointed representatives to convey his wishes, intervened to shape research, and finally lost interest in the Academy
as his personal standing with the king deteriorated. Although Louvois has been blamed for stressing utility over theory, he differed from Colbert and Pontchartrain only in degree. The damage Louvois did to the Academy came from his relative lack of interest in its work, from his reduction of financial support, and from his attempts to direct the methods of research, at least as much as from any imposition of utilitarian goals.
Louvois spent 238,354 livres, or an average of 26,484 livres a year, directly on the Academy. Of that amount, 171,833 livres, or 72 percent, was for pensions to academicians and their assistants; 12,335 livres, or 5 percent, for the Observatory; and 54,185 livres, or 23 percent, for research (table 15). In addition, the Academy benefited from 98,837 livres spent jointly on it and other royal buildings and institutions (table 12).
Natural philosophy cost more than the mathematical sciences and practical projects combined (table 15). Louvois spent 29,380 livres, or 54 percent of the research budget, on natural philosophy. In contrast he spent 16,510 livres for the mathematical sciences and 6,462 livres for practical projects, which accounted for 30 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of the research budget. The remaining 3 percent, or 1,832 livres, went toward transport of animals for dissection, repairs to equipment and lodging, and other expenses whose precise purpose is unknown (table 11). The institution's finances reveal a new set of ministerial preferences under Louvois, who redirected the Academy's efforts toward natural philosophy.
Louvois spent less each year on the Academy than had Colbert. Colbert spent an average of 35,762 livres a year on pensions, Louvois only 19,093 livres. Colbert committed 39,650 livres a year to the Observatory, Louvois 1,371 livres. Colbert paid 12,300 livres a year for the Academy's research, while Louvois paid only 6,020 livres a year (table 17). These raw comparisons exaggerate Louvois's economy, however, for he took over an institution with quarters, equipment, and publications, whereas Colbert built the Academy from nothing.
Louvois inherited an intrinsically cheaper institution, but he also deliberately reduced the Academy's budget in several ways. To minimize pensions, the largest single expense once the Observatory was completed, Louvois diminished the number of academicians and the levels of their pensions. In addition, he simply halted cartographic expeditions and research on determining longitude at sea. He also canceled plans to publish the Academy's astronomical and anatomical treatises. Finally, he delayed payments, so that when he died a substantial debt had accumulated for which Pontchartrain became responsible. Academicians resented the cessations,
reductions, and delays and blamed Louvois and his wars for damaging the Academy.
The Mathematical Sciences . Although Louvois shifted more of the Academy's financial resources to natural philosophy, he appointed more mathematicians than natural philosophers. Thus sixteen of twenty-seven academicians during his protectorship were active principally in the mathematical sciences. Louvois also spent more on mathematical and astronomical instruments, which cost 13,440 livres, than on any other subcategory of research (table 15). Most of the instruments, however, equipped the Jesuit missionary-scientists whose researches in the Far East the Academy sponsored (table 3e). Louvois also paid for the last of the work on the meridian (table 4b) and for small expenses of the Observatory (table 11b).
Their expeditions canceled, the astronomers worked at the Observatory. They prepared earlier research for publication; studied eclipses, sunspots, the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, and the parallax of Mars; analyzed reports from the provinces and abroad; and tested objective lenses of great focal lengths. Cassini wrote on the libration of the moon and the history of astronomy, and he made some observations in the north of France during the late 1680s.
Louvois made Jesuit missionaries the Academy's proxies in the Far East. The Academy trained the Jesuits, who used their mathematical and astronomical knowledge as a passport into foreign lands. To repay their debt, the Jesuits sent the Academy data: measurements of latitude and longitude, astronomical observations, and reports about flora and fauna, calendars, alphabets, and numerical systems. Hoping to get accurate calculations of longitude for their world map, academicians had emphasized proper astronomical techniques, especially for observing the satellites of Jupiter. The crown fitted out the Jesuits lavishly with instruments (table 3e): the China mission of 1685 took along "books, mathematical instruments, pendulum clocks and other kinds of clocks," while a second group destined for China carried a large microscope with three lenses, two burning mirrors, one thermometer, one barometer, a mounted telescope with thirteen lenses, two pendulum clocks, and some mathematical instruments. The Siam and India mission was equipped with eighty-four telescope lenses, three burning mirrors, and other instruments as well, to judge from its reports. Nicolas Hartsoeker supervised production of the glassware for all these instruments.
Unfortunately several obstacles impeded the scientific work of the
Jesuits. On the one hand, the voyages were long and unpleasant, the missionaries became ill, and two were imprisoned by the Dutch; much of their time was occupied in learning oriental tongues and in preaching. Some of the Chinese data were destroyed when the Dutch confiscated them and when a French ship was lost. On the other hand, when French Jesuits extended the protection of the French king to other members of their order in the Far East, the foreign Jesuits sent their observations to the Academy as well. Despite problems the Jesuits provided much useful information in the 1680s and 1690s. From it Thomas Gouye, after consultation with academicians, edited two treatises on astronomical and mathematical topics and de Beze prepared a short pamphlet on flora and fauna. These works were published under Louvois and Pontchartrain. Designed initially under Colbert to supplement the Academy's own cartographic voyages, the partnership between the Jesuits and the Academy became a substitute for the Academy's own expeditions. Under Louvois the collaboration became an inexpensive vestige of the Academy's more ambitious projects, the legacy of Colbert's practice of enlisting officials to assist the Academy.
Natural Philosophical Research . Natural philosophy commanded 54 percent of the Academy's research budget, but only 41 percent of the members under Louvois. Although Louvois spent more a year than Colbert on natural philosophy, he wasted one-third of the money on mediocre burning mirrors (tables 3c, 15). Despite that failure, however, Louvois favored natural philosophy in several ways. Planning to publish installments of the Histoire des animaux and Mémoires des plantes (table 8), he appointed a new anatomist, pensioned the engraver Chastillon for his services to the Academy, and allowed botanists to revise existing plates. He also increased Borelly's pension and supported the petit jardin (table 6b), and he personally instructed the Academy as to the conduct of research on plants. However, some good intentions were subject to retrenchment: he abruptly canceled publication of the Histoire des animaux in the late 1680s because he was absorbed in the war efforts and lost interest in the Academy.
In addition to dissecting animals from the menagerie and preparing the ill-fated third volume of the natural history of animals, anatomists pursued more focused individual studies. They examined the eye and the ear, the circulation of the blood, digestion and the digestive tract, respiration, and the persistence of nervous reactions in dead animals. They also performed autopsies on several persons, young and old, military and civilian, including the painter Le Brun and their own Mariotte and Perrault.
For the laboratory, which was central to the Academy's natural historical
research, the early years under Louvois were a period of crisis, caused by the infirmities of individual chemists. Duclos was disaffected by Dodart's appropriation of the natural history of plants, his health was failing, and as a Protestant he was out of favor with Louvois, who did not pension him after 1684. Bourdelin worked in his own laboratory instead of the Academy's on grounds of age and ill health. As a result, his expenses and reimbursements fell drastically (table 7a), the latter because Louvois refused to pay for Bourdelin's laboratory assistant. Bourdelin regretted that the right to work at home was tempered by an increased financial burden on himself:
It is noteworthy that I have been allowed to work at home for the Academy. At the same time, M. de La Chapelle has told me twice that I will not be paid for an assistant, even though I need one as much as if I directed the laboratory. But it is necessary to put up with this.
The dwindling finances of chemical research chart the decline of Bourdelin but not necessarily of the laboratory. Borelly stepped into the breach, taking over the Academy's laboratory from Bourdelin and moving into Duclos's apartment, but no record of his expenses is known.
Practical Projects . Although Louvois is reputed to have promoted utilitarian research at the Academy, he spent substantially less on it — both annually and as a percentage of the total he allocated to research — than had Colbert (tables 14, 15). Louvois continued only one of Colbert's projects generously: the survey of rivers for the water supply at Versailles (tables 3b and 4c). This he supervised attentively, promoting both its theoretical and its practical aspects. At his request, the Academy surveyed and planned diversions of rivers, sought the origins of rivers in springs and rainfall, studied hydraulic machinery, and translated Frontinus's treatise on Roman aqueducts. Louvois's determination to water Versailles encouraged the Academy to study hydrology and bore fruit in papers by Sédileau, Varignon, and La Hire during the 1690s.
Louvois compromised two other projects — maps and machines — that Colbert had initiated. The former he effectively gutted by canceling the extension of the meridian. As for the latter, Louvois was ambivalent. During his protectorship, the Academy assessed fewer inventions than it had previously, and the collection of models disappeared as a distinct category of expenses in the buildings account (table 5). Moreover, Louvois refused to mount a public exhibition of the Academy's collection. On the other hand, he pensioned the engineer Dalesme as inventor to the Academy (table 1, ii), which continued to study new military, navigational, manufacturing, and timekeeping devices. Models of some machines were deposited
at the Observatory, so that the collection of models grew inexpensively during the 1680s. Above all, Louvois focused the Academy's attention on hydraulic technology, in order to advance his pet project of supplying Versailles with water. In conclusion, Louvois defined the Academy's technical consultancy more narrowly than had Colbert, and he stressed the water supply of Versailles to the near exclusion of other practical projects.
Summary . Louvois's protectorship was anomalous for the Academy. He maintained the institution, appointed a few new members, and added the Marly tower to the Observatory. He funded astronomical observations, research on natural history, and practical projects. His utilitarian demands on the Academy were single-minded, however, and he economized on the pensions of some new members and reduced expenditure in nearly all categories of research. Only for the natural histories did Louvois's average annual expenditure exceed that of Colbert. During his ministry, the imbalance of expenditure on astronomy and natural history shifted, with natural history receiving a larger share of the Academy's financial resources. Yet he undermined his own initiatives by canceling publications on anatomy and astronomy. Finally, Louvois injured the morale of the Academy by intervening ineptly into the research program. The problem was not that he altogether lacked interest in the Academy's work. Rather he was impatient for practical results. Overly close supervision, narrow goals, and reduced funding, followed by indifference in his final years, led to the decline of the Academy in the late 1680s.