The Smaller Societies
In the German states a number of agricultural, economic, and patriotic societies took up meteorology. Their emphasis on a friendly, amateurish atmosphere and a preponderance of bureaucrats among their membership did not favor rigorous observation. Typically they published occasional weather observations, made with or without instruments, and reports of unusual or hard weather and its effects on crops and public health. The Gesellschaft der Naturforschenden Freunde at Berlin was one of the more active groups. Over two decades (1775–95) the society published some twenty reports of unusual weather, accounts of fog, snow, northern lights,
and the like, as well as descriptions of improved meteorological instruments. These were brief, elementary discussions. A paper of 1787 used rainfall measurements made in Berlin in the 1730s to find monthly precipitation, numbers of rainy days, and the average precipitation on rainy days of each month. Another contributor described a lightning rod that doubled as an electroscope for atmospheric electricity. He used the apparatus intermittently: "I had no opportunity to observe during the whole of 1791; there were few storms, and [they occurred] at inconvenient times." The use of data half a century old and a casual attitude toward observation suggest that exact experimental physics had not penetrated the Gesellschaft der Naturforschenden Freunde.
Several German societies organized meteorological networks. In Silesia Ignaz Felbiger, abbot of the Monastery of Our Lady at Sagan, established a network under the auspices of the Patriotische Gesellschaft at Breslau. Felbiger's own enthusiasm for meteorology yielded papers on lightning rods, on the art of weather observation, and on the cold winters of 1783–5, and prompted him to correspond frequently with Johann Heinrich Lambert, who advised him about organizing observers. Felbiger saw the project as a second but better Breslauer Sammlung : "with the help of mathematics the necessary instruments and methods of observation have attained a far higher level of perfection since [Kanold's] time; without this exactness and precision it is impossible to compare observations." Felbiger was ambitious: his observers were to record the temperature in Fahrenheit degrees and tenths; the barometer in Paris inches, lines, and tenths; weather conditions and cloud cover; quantity of rain; wind direction and strength; humidity, by means of Lambert's new hygrometer; optical phenomena such as rainbows and haloes; and the phase of the moon. These specifications, which
would have been impossible a decade earlier, reflect Felbiger's reading of Deluc's newly published Recherches . Felbiger also stipulated standard times of observation—soon after dawn, midday (1–4 p.m.), and evening (around 10 p.m.)—and he provided scales for cloud cover, fog, rain, wind, and snow. He had set his sights too high, however. The few observers responding submitted only occasional contributions and several did not use instruments. An invitation to cooperative weather observation from Prague's patriotic society to "all Bohemian patriots" met with even less success: the organizer found himself alone in supplying the society's journal with observations.
Western European projects achieved better results than did those in central and eastern parts. In France the Société royale d'agriculture de Paris, founded in 1761, had lapsed into inactivity by the 1770s. It was revived in 1785 by a drought and by the growing urgency of agricultural reform. The Intendant of Paris, under whose jurisdiction the Society fell, appointed the energetic Auguste Broussonet as its permanent secretary, and the Academy began publishing Mémoires , holding public meetings, awarding prizes—in short, adopting the demeanor of a learned academy of the Enlightenment. Between 1785 and its demise in 1793, the Society published in its Mémoires eight sets of "Observations géorgico-météorologiques," elicited by questionnaires distributed by the local authorities, and a paper on the cold winter of 1789. The observations, more georgical than meteorological, included detailed topographical descriptions, general monthly accounts of weather, descriptions of the effect of weather on crops and animals, harvest quantities, and grain prices.
The mix of topics illustrates nicely the affinities between meteorology and agriculture.
Bern's Ökonomische Gesellschaft, which included among its members Albrecht von Haller, Daniel Bernoulli, and the important instrument-maker Michel du Crest, organized on a more ambitious scale. Since 1760 the Gesellschaft had published "Observations rurales" from seven towns and villages of the Canton. The observations included qualitative descriptions of the weather and its medical and agricultural effects; tables of monthly rainfall; degree summations of heat and cold at morning, noon, and night; and extremes of temperature and pressure. (Degree summations are sums of temperature readings taken over a given period. They indicate the total amount of heat available to plants and are a characteristic innovation of late 18th-century climatology, with its interest in agricultural applications.) In 1763 the Society resolved "to establish meteorological observers in at least six different places in the Canton, and to supply them with exact instruments." The network was part of a plan to collect information on topography, climate, and disease (i.e., on "airs, waters, and places") and on agricultural and industrial resources. It lasted a decade before submissions petered out.