Bibliothèque Du Roi and Jardin Royal
Beyond the personal benefit of salary for academicians, one of the chief material supports was the guarantee of a place to meet and work. Fixed establishments where savants could meet, experiment, make observations, store equipment and notebooks, and display natural history specimens — these provided the essential institutional nucleus. Because academicians lived in its quarters, the Academy was more than simply a scientific institution. It was a society in microcosm. More than any contemporary learned institution it touched most aspects of its members' lives, and after their deaths it even dissected many of them.
The early Academy depended on three principal locations for its work in Paris: the Bibliothèque du roi, the Jardin royal, and the Observatoire. In the first two of these sites, the Academy shared working space, personnel, and expenses with other royal institutions. The Library and the Garden already existed when the Academy was founded, and both held resources useful to academicians. The crown allied both with the fledgling scientific society, as for example when it integrated the Academy's work into the ambitious engraved history of the reign that was run from the Library.
The close ties of the Academy with the Jardin royal were usually amicable. Several academicians, including Méry, Boulduc, Charas, Du Verney, and Tournefort, taught at the Garden. Du Verney also lived and maintained an anatomy room there, where he dissected many of the animals sent to the Academy. Academicians studied the Garden's plants and stored curious objects there, like a petrified tree or a coconut. The Academy actually controlled certain parts of the Jardin royal, including Jean Marchant's petit jardin , a "logement," and a room for its skeletons. But the Marchants' ambiguous status at the Garden caused jurisdictional conflicts, and the two institutions redefined their ties during the 1690s when Fagon suppressed Marchant's permit for the petit jardin but offered to regularize the Academy's position at the Jardin royal.
The Academy's earliest home was the Bibliothèque du roi. It was located on the rue Vivienne just north of the Palais royal, in a neighborhood dominated by the wealthy and powerful nobility of the robe. Surrounded by the hôtels of Colbert, Louvois, and Pontchartrain, the Bibliothèque du roi and the Academy housed in it could be closely supervised by their
ministerial protectors. Although the Library was never meant to be the Academy's permanent home, the two institutions had more in common than quarters transiently shared. At first the Academy's very identity was tied up with its lodgings, for it was known as "the Company that meets in the King's Library." At least one member of the Academy thought it was housed in the Library so that the scientists could refer to the books there, and one academician — first Carcavi and later Thévenot — was also commis à la garde de la bibliothèque and looked after small expenses for both institutions (table 12c–d). As a result, many instruments purchased for the Academy were said to be for the Bibliothèque or Cabinet du roi, and until the Academy moved to the Louvre in 1699, its wood, candles, paper, and pens were supplied out of the Library's funds.
The houses belonged to the Colbert family, but the crown paid to ready them for their scholarly tenants. Painting, interior fixtures, and a sundial cost more than 9,000 livres in 1666 and 1667. Then there were yearly payments to maintain and repair the cesspool, pump, well, cabinets, and bookshelves. Rent, refurbishment, and maintenance of the buildings and grounds cost the royal treasury substantial sums (table 12a–e, h–i).
Academicians controlled the garden and several rooms at the Library. The former served for botany, meteorological experiments, and astronomical observations, although Cassini complained that the city air impeded his work. Several rooms were set aside for meetings, collections of scientific apparatus and specimens, the laboratory, and apartments. The Academy met on a lower floor in the smallest room, called "la salle de I'Academie" and recognized by its green, door, which housed books on natural philosophy. There were also a chemical laboratory, a space for dissections, and living quarters for several savants.
The laboratory, in use day and night, became a focus of the Academy's activity. The chemists experimented and also prepared medicines there for colleagues, and visitors came to share arcane lore. Constructed according to Duclos's requirements, it was fitted out with furnaces, specially designed cabinets and tables, apparatus and glassware, and chemical reagents (plate 2). The crown spent about 1,000 livres a year (table 7) to build, supply, and modernize it.
At first academicians also conducted dissections and vivisections in the Library, fitting a table with straps to restrain live subjects and using surgical instruments made by the cutlers André and André Guillaume Gérard. The menagerie at Versailles assured a plentiful, if unpredictable, supply of exotic animals. When one died, a messenger notified the anatomists and carters delivered the carcass to the Bibliothèque du roi. After August 1686,
however, it was usually sent on to an academician's own quarters — Du Verney's house at the Jardin royal or Méry's rooms at the Invalides — a sign of the declining role of the Library in the Academy's work.
Although Le Clerc portrayed a bright and tidy area for the Academy's dissections and vivisections in the Library (plate 3), Martin Lister, describing the dissection room in Du Verney's house, imparts more of the atmosphere in which academicians must have worked:
a private Anatomy Room is to one not accustomed to this kind of manufacture, very irksome if not frightful: Here a Basket of Dissecting Instruments, as Knives, Saws, &c. and there a Form with a Thigh and Leg flayed, and the Muscles parted asunder: On another Form an Arm served after the same manner: Here a Trey full of Bits of Flesh, for the more minute discovery of the Veins and Nerves; and every where such discouraging Objects. So, as if Reason and the Good of Mankind, did not put Men upon this Study, it could not be endured: for Instinct and Nature most certainly abhors the Employment.
Not surprisingly, the anatomists consumed every year dozens of pints of eau de vie in their dissections, requiring alcohol, as Bourdelin explained, "not only to apply to the viscera because of the stench, but also for drinking and washing their hands." Unhappily for Jean Pecquet, who regarded the drink as a universal remedy, it became an eau de mort .
Incongruous deliveries and offensive odors must have disturbed other users of the Library, and it is not surprising that Cassini banned such activities from the Observatory. Nor were these the only disruptions to scholarly calm. As home to Huygens, Carcavi, Clément, Duclos (then Borelly), and the laboratory assistant, the Library was the scene of daily life, including cooking, parties, quarrels, sickness, and death.
Huygens enjoyed a large apartment, "very noble, and well for Air, upon the Garden"; it included a kitchen, a cellar, and four other rooms. He lived and slept and kept his books in two rooms immediately below the library; his instruments and machines were two floors down. Letters to his family reveal his way of life there. Huygens lived well, decorating the dining room with soft gilded leathers that looked like brocades, keeping a carriage and horses, and hiring a coachman and a cook. He also entertained frequently; a party that lasted until one in the morning included the Perrault brothers and some women who sang and played the harpsichord.
Living as neighbors in the Library brought academicians together socially. During the 1660s, Huygens, Carcavi, and the astronomer Auzout dined, gambled, and conversed. But when Huygens quarreled in 1671 with Carcavi and Carcavi's son because they borrowed his barouche without permission, this diminished camaraderie and threatened to injure the
Academy. Work and private life overlapped: Huygens abruptly interrupted his letters home to attend dissections, and his colleagues tried to protect him from scholarly pressures when he was ill. Clément heard Duclos's startling deathbed renunciation of a lifetime's Protestantism and alchemical research, serving less as proxy for the dying man's family than as witness to a political act by an academician whose views were no longer tolerated. Royal patronage affected even the academicians' manner of living and dying.