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Chapter 2
Members and Protectors

The essential facts about the early Academy of Sciences are straightforward. It was founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the behest of Jean Baptiste Colbert, minister of finance and of the navy, who championed the Academy until his death in 1683. Michel François Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois, minister of war, was responsible for the Academy from 1683 until his death in 1691. A less enthusiastic protector than Colbert had been, Louvois presided over a decline in the institution that academicians lamented. In 1691 Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain succeeded Louvois as ministerial protector of the Academy. Although weak finances thwarted Pontchartrain's initial efforts to revive the institution, he sponsored a formal recognition and reorganization of the Academy in January 1699 that set the institution on a new footing. The thirty-three years from founding until reorganization provide the chronological focus of this book.

The Academy was organized hierarchically. The king was its patron and head. The ministerial protector was in charge of its funding, housing, and recruitment. Academicians were responsible for research and writing, and they also assessed new technology and advised the crown on technical matters. Academicians bore unequal honors and responsibilities. Two celebrities, the Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens and the Italian (later naturalized) astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini, had the highest pay and the greatest influence. Lower in the hierarchy were the regular working members — natural philosophers, anatomists, botanists, chemists, geometers, astronomers, mechanicians, and permanent secretaries — with


moderate pay. Their work ranged from the empirical to the theoretical, and they directed projects and administered the Academy. At the bottom were the student members, badly paid or not paid at all, who had ill-defined responsibilities and no formal path of advancement within the Academy. Some were mere assistants while others were independent researchers whose papers were highly regarded by fellow members. More ambiguous were the associate, honorary, or corresponding memberships available to savants who did not live in Paris. These posts were distinguished but lacked remuneration. Finally, academicians hired assistants who were not members of the Academy; these included the surgeon's or apothecary's apprentices who worked at dissections or in the laboratory, as well as the mathematicians who helped survey and map France. Rank in the Academy and access to the Academy's protectors were related.

From 1666 through 1696, the Academy established three formal administrative positions for its members. The first, created in 1666, was that of permanent secretary.[1] Its original occupant was Jean Baptiste Du Hamel, relieved by Jean Gallois for two years starting in 1668 and replaced in 1697 by Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle. The second post, that of president — a member who served as intermediary between academicians and ministerial protector — developed at first informally. Outsiders thought either Carcavi or Huygens was president in the early years. But Colbert had close ties to several academicians, and from the 1670s Du Hamel wrote annual reports for him.[2] Louvois used specific intermediaries, first the undependable abbé de Lannion[3] and later Henri Bessé de La Chapelle. They kept him up to date with the Academy's activities and informed academicians of his wishes. Pontchartrain formalized the arrangement when in 1691 he appointed Jean Paul Bignon with the title of president of the Academy. The third position to evolve was that of treasurer. It was an onerous post, requiring the occupant to pay the Academy's expenses out of his own pocket and then to request reimbursement from the crown. The Couplet family bore this responsibility, with Claude Antoine Couplet at first taking it on informally and finally in 1696 receiving the empty title that was surely insufficient recompense for his troubles.[4]

The Academy's purposes and activities were complex. As an academy of sciences, it studied mathematics, the nature of the world, and the principles of machines. As a royal institution, its work was to bring honor to the king and benefits to the kingdom. As a participant in the larger scientific community, it sought opportunities to exchange ideas and information.

Its activities were both regular and varied. The Academy met at the Bibliothèque du roi twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, except


for a six- to eight-week vacation in the fall. When the Academy was healthy, meetings lasted four or five hours, but when morale was bad, members could barely fill two hours.[5] Between meetings, academicians conducted research or tried to solve learned problems. They performed these tasks in the Bibliothèque du roi, in the Observatory, in the Jardin royal, at home, elsewhere in Paris and France, and abroad. The meetings were given over to reports, demonstrations, and discussions. Saturdays were reserved for natural philosophy, Wednesdays for mathematical sciences, and academicians were expected to attend and contribute to both. Minutes were kept for all of the seventeenth-century meetings except from 1670 through 1674.

The early Academy was small, as Le Clerc's formal portrait suggests. Sixty-two members were appointed before 1699, and there were never more than thirty-four, or fewer than nineteen, members in any given year. Since participants were fewer than those eligible to attend, the working Academy — numbering from one dozen to two dozen academicians — was intimate. Its size made the Academy susceptible to the influence of a few members, and new appointments affected research and morale. Thus, recruitment was crucial to the health of the Academy, yet the methods of and criteria for selecting academicians remain little known. From even the most minimal surviving biographical details of academicians — such as their regional origins, age at entry, education, and responsibilities outside the Academy — it is clear, however, that the careers of academicians reflect the usual patterns of education and advancement that prevailed in seventeenth-century France.

Composition of the Early Academy

The origins and careers of academicians exemplify several general trends in early modern France, indeed Europe.[6] These include regional disparities in literacy, the drift of provincial talent to large capital cities, the rise of the liberal professions in esteem and economic status, and government demand for the services of an educated elite.

Most academicians came from the north of France, where literacy was higher than elsewhere in France.[7] Of the forty-two French academicians whose birthplaces are known, 70 percent were born in northern France, including sixteen who were born in or near Paris.[8] Six came from Normandy, principally from cities — Rouen, Caen, Dieppe — but also from small towns in stock-breeding regions. Two came from the Maine, two from Anjou, and one each from Brittany and Burgundy. The twelve academicians


from the south came mainly from the Lyonnais, Languedoc, and Provence. Three were born in Lyon, and two nearby; Avignon, Toulon, and Aix-en-Provence each contributed an academician; and the rest came from small towns in Lower Languedoc, the Lower Auvergne, the Rouergue, and Lower Navarre.

Academicians tended to come from cities. Twenty-seven French academicians, or 64 percent of those whose birthplace is known, were born in cities, about half of them in Paris. The careers of many reflect the drain of provincial talent to the capital.[9] From 30 to 50 percent of each minister's appointments came to Paris from the provinces to establish themselves. Paris was a magnet not only for financiers, lawyers, and courtiers but also for ambitious intellectuals. Like London, it became a center of conspicuous consumption, a place where high culture was appreciated by the wealthy.[10] Once established, the Academy itself attracted savants to Paris, but by the eighteenth century Parisians dominated the working Academy.[11]

The education of academicians varied according to their social origins and the careers for which their families destined them. The marquis de l'Hospital kept his love of geometry a secret from other nobles of the sword, and the orphaned Bourdelin had to teach himself Latin and Greek. But the majority of academicians, like the other educated elite of the period, enjoyed a taste for letters and were trained in the classics. Such circles agreed that learning suited the magistracy and that the sciences were a kind of erudition, along with poetry, music, and letters. Older academicians, steeped in these traditions, could be torn by conflicting intellectual values. Thus they revered certain ancient accomplishments, but sought to dispel ancient misconceptions about nature. Claude Perrault, for example, translated Vitruvius and employed classical principles in his own architecture but used his dissections to disprove ancient claims about the salamander and the pelican. As a rule, academicians with a classical education were the theoreticians of the Academy and commanded higher pensions among the regulars.[12]

Within the social hierarchy of the realm, most academicians came from the upper half of the third estate and represented the liberal professions. Many served municipal or princely governments. Eighteen, or about 29 percent, were physicians, surgeons, or apothecaries. Twenty, or roughly a third, taught — as professors of mathematics at the University of Paris, as lecturers at the Jardin royal, as mathematics instructors to the youths of the Grande écurie, as teachers of hydrography in the port cities of Marseilles and Rochefort, and as tutors to members of the royal family. The royal treasury paid the stipends for many of these positions.


More than half the academicians had ties to government. At least thirty-eight served a royal, regional, or municipal government in some capacity. In addition to the teaching posts already mentioned at the Jardin royal and Collège royal, academicians held positions in the Bibliothèque du roi, served as royal almoner or as inspector of royal buildings, provided medical services to the French and Spanish courts, or were royal engineers. The families of a few boasted upwardly mobile councilors of state or members of parlement or the grand conseil and were among the wealthy and powerful bureaucratic elite. Some academicians participated in diplomatic missions. In these respects, the Academy was representative of natural philosophers throughout Europe in the late seventeenth century. Some of its members were known to the king or his ministers in an official capacity before they entered the Academy. Membership in the Academy also led to additional appointments. Thus, academicians were part of the power structure of seventeenth-century Paris.

Their regional origins, education, social rank, and access to persons of influence helped academicians discover their scientific aptitude and opened the doors of the Academy to them. But other savants with similar backgrounds did not become members of the Academy, so that contemporaries speculated about the criteria for admission. It was said that Paracelsians, Jesuits (under Colbert), and the regular clergy (under Pontchartrain) were excluded.[13] The earliest appointments clearly favored older men of stature, such as La Chambre, once the favorite of Séguier and Richelieu, at seventy years of age; Gilles Personne de Roberval, at sixty-four; Bernard Frenicle de Bessy at sixty-one; and Samuel Cottereau Duclos at sixty-eight.[14] Some of these savants served the Academy only briefly and sporadically, and by the late 1670s many of the original members were no longer active. Thereafter academicians tended to be younger, and the practice of nepotism meant that certain families established scholarly dynasties. As new members became noticeably younger, older academicians worried about a decline in the institution, concluding that membership was no longer a reward for achievement but an opportunity for developing talent.[15] Savants coveted membership in the Academy and tried to gain the attention of its protectors, but many were disappointed.

Students of Plants

Academicians as a group reflected broader trends. But it was as individuals that they made their mark on the Academy and the scholarly world, and it is as individuals that they will become familiar in the present study.


Of the sixty-two academicians appointed before 1699, twenty-two, or 35 percent, contributed to botanical studies, and it will be helpful to focus attention on them at a more personal level. This group included four botanists (Nicolas and Jean Marchant, Denis Dodart next hit, and Joseph Pitton de Tournefort), two natural philosophers (Edme Mariotte and Claude Perrault), five of the Academy's seven chemists (Claude Bourdelin, Jacques Borelly, Moyse Charas, Samuel Cottereau Duclos, and Guillaume Homberg), a mineralogist (Morin de Toulon), and two anatomists (Joseph Guichard Du Verney and Daniel Tauvry). Six academicians whose principal work was in the mathematical sciences (Jean Dominique Cassini, Jean Gallois, Christiaan Huygens, Philippe and Gabriel Philippe de La Hire, and Sédileau) also discussed plants. Finally, both permanent secretaries (Jean Baptiste Du Hamel and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle) wrote extensively about botany in their histories of the early Academy.[16]

The principal designer of botanical research was Claude Perrault (1613–1688). He championed the term "la botanique," and his January 1667 proposal influenced botanical studies at the Academy for the rest of the century. He and his brothers advised Colbert, but the academician was no favorite of Louvois, who had Perrault's house razed to clear ground for a new library. A physician who practiced medicine only for family, friends, and the poor, and an architect who designed several royal structures including the controversial Observatory, Perrault directed the Academy's acclaimed Histoire des animaux and interpreted comparative anatomy mechanistically. The Perrault family, which counted Christiaan Huygens among its friends, was representative of the French upper middle class that supplied lawyers, scholars, and bureaucrats during the reign of Louis XIV.[17]

The second major botanical theorist was the Burgundian prior Edme Mariotte (c. 1620–1684), whose debate with Perrault about the circulation of sap exposed their different methods. While Mariotte was both theorist and experimenter, Perrault mostly speculated in the abstract about plants and borrowed Mariotte's data. Mariotte was a polymath who studied hydrostatics and air pressure, developed a theory of colors, and invented surveying instruments. His work was indebted to Boyle, some of whose writings he translated for the Academy, and to a network of scholarly correspondents from Aberdeen to Warsaw.[18]

The Academy's first chemical theorist was Samuel Cottereau Duclos (1598–1685). He designed and directed the Academy's laboratory in the Bibliothèque du roi. In it he studied mineral waters, analyzed the chemical constituents of plants and animals, and developed the alchemical ideas that


he abjured, along with his Protestant religion, in the last days of his life. One of Colbert's elder statesmen of science, he was disliked by Louvois, who did not pay his pension at the end. Before becoming an academician, Duclos had run his own laboratory in Paris; among his pupils was Nicaise Le Febvre, whose popular chemical textbook owed much to Duclos's methods.[19]

Denis previous hit Dodart next hit (1634–1717) directed the Academy's natural history of plants from the early 1670s until the 1690s. Much of previous hit Dodart's next hit other work in the Academy — on diseases of the poor, nutrition, and the effects of fasting — was stimulated by his medical, social, and religious concerns. previous hit Dodart next hit owed his place in the Academy, won before he was forty, to his connections with the Perrault family. He earned it by reviving the institution during its early slump. Known at the end of his life to the duke of Saint-Simon as a "very learned and quite saintly man," previous hit Dodart next hit was a committed Jansenist who used his medical consultations to the king to defend his coreligionists. His friends included Jean Racine, Antoine Arnauld, Pierre Nicole, the duc de Roannez, and others associated with Port Royal.[20]

Perrault, Mariotte, Duclos, and previous hit Dodart next hit dominated theoretical research on plants. But they depended on Claude Bourdelin to analyze plants in the laboratory and on Nicolas and Jean Marchant to cultivate and describe them.

Claude Bourdelin (1621–1699) was responsible for nearly all of the Academy's chemical analyses. He refined chemical techniques, especially for analyzing oils, and kept detailed records of his experiments and expenses. The Academy ignored his sole programmatic paper, however, partly because his ideas were too narrowly medical. Born near Lyon and orphaned at an early age, Bourdelin became an influential Paris apothecary and ensured good positions for his sons, in whose educations he enlisted Du Hamel and La Hire. He counted Racine among his friends.[21]

The Marchants, father and son, cultivated rare plants for the Academy's natural history. Together with previous hit Dodart next hit they also composed descriptions of plants, their cultivation, and uses. As previous hit Dodart's next hit role in the project grew, that of the Marchants shrank. Nicolas Marchant (?-1678) had served Gaston, duke of Orléans, and with Perrault encouraged the Academy to model its history of plants after work begun under the duke. Jean Marchant (?-1738) continued his father's work but never brought it to fruition; perhaps that is why Fontenelle wrote no eulogy for him.[22]

By 1689 Perrault, Mariotte, Duclos, and Nicolas Marchant were dead, and Bourdelin could not keep up his previous pace. In 1691 Pontchartrain appointed a chemist and a botanist to revitalize the Academy's botanical


research. The chemist was Guillaume Homberg (?-1715), who had nearly been admitted to the Academy by Colbert. He became an influential member, enlivening meetings with his varied papers and initial optimism about Bourdelin's analyses of plants. Homberg was also interested in mining, astronomy, scientific instruments and machines, history, and languages, including Hebrew. He learned by touring the continent, so that he could meet scholars and trade in scientific novelties. Like many contemporaries, he pursued his scientific interests against the wishes of his family. Happily, the Academy provided him a new family, for in 1708 he married previous hit Dodart's next hit daughter. An entrepreneur and risk-taker, Homberg's biography suggests his courage and strong will.[23]

The botanist Pontchartrain appointed was Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (?-1708), the most renowned of all the early Academy's researchers in this field and the first academician to travel abroad for botanical research. Tournefort's brief career was distinguished. Having arrived in Paris from Aix via Montpellier with Guy Crescent Fagon's support, he obtained appointments at the Academy, the Jardin royal, and the Collège royal. He published several influential books and developed the principal botanical taxonomy before Linnaeus. His interest in chemistry took him to Nicolas Lémery's courses and to Bourdelin's laboratory. Tournefort also collected shells, seeds, and fruits. He willed eight thousand dried plants to the king for the Academy's use and left his botanical books to Bignon, whose personal physician he had been.[24]

These academicians collaborated with one another in studying plants, but others made individual contributions. The latter were often more active in the mathematical section of the Academy. Their botanical contributions were episodic and peripheral and developed as a result of reading, observation, and conversation.

Jacques Borelly (?-1689) was interested in the chemical composition of soils and in plant nutrition, and he favored analysis by solvents. Overshadowed by Duclos and director of the laboratory for only a few years, Borelly never came into his own as a chemist at the Academy. Outside the Academy, Borelly attended Montmor's and Bourdelot's scientific meetings and explained chemical vocabulary to Antoine Furetière for the latter's dictionary. Borelly also published articles about astronomy and telescope lenses of his own manufacture. Cassini and Huygens had a low opinion of his lenses, but Louvois raised his pension and moved him into Duclos's apartment in the Bibliothèque du roi after the older chemist's death.[25]

Seventy-three when he joined the Academy, Moyse Charas (1619–1698) worked on poisons, antidotes, opium, and vipers. But he was more an


honored guest than a working academician. Charas had enjoyed a distinguished medical career in England, Holland, and Spain; he lectured on chemistry and published popular works on chemical techniques and pharmaceutics. Like Homberg, he was a Protestant whose appointment to the Academy followed his conversion to Catholicism.[26]

Joseph Guichard Du Verney (1648–1730) was the only academician before Tournefort to discuss Malpighi's ideas about plant physiology. Known for his treatise on the ear, he was the first to teach osteology and the diseases of bones at the Jardin royal, where his lecture-demonstrations were very popular. The son of a provincial doctor, he trained at Avignon and built his career in Paris. There he attended Lémery's course on chemistry and participated in Bourdelot's and Denis's scientific meetings. By dissecting the brain in these private societies, Du Verney earned his reputation as a promising young anatomist. Du Verney later became the dauphin's tutor in natural philosophy and entertained the court with his dissections. He willed a large collection of anatomical preparations to the Academy.[27]

Daniel Tauvry (1669–1701) analyzed resins and gums, plant products that were thought to come from sap. An anatomist who came from the provinces to build a career in Paris, he did not long survive his success, for he died less than three years after his appointment to the Academy. Although he attended meetings regularly and shared Du Verney's skepticism about Jean Méry's views on the circulation of the blood in the fetus, Tauvry contributed few papers to the Academy.[28]

Morin (?-1707), about whom little is known except that he came from Toulon, was appointed with the title of botanist but was more interested in mineralogy and porcelain. He was often absent from meetings of the Academy, but contributed a paper on a plant found in Provence.[29]

The mathematician Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695), the most highly regarded of all academicians, influenced botany by observing plants with his new scientific instruments. Huygens came from an influential and wealthy family in Holland. Best known for his work on clocks, theoretical mathematics, and light, his very presence dignified the Academy during its early years.[30]

The astronomer Philippe de La Hire (1640–1718) studied the rise of sap and the origins of petrified wood. A Parisian by birth and the son of the painter Laurent de La Hyre, La Hire taught mathematics at the Collège royal and was a member of the Académie royale d'architecture. For the Academy of Sciences, he worked on the extension of the meridian and the map of the kingdom, surveyed for the waterworks at Versailles, edited the


works of deceased colleagues for publication, and kept Huygens informed about the Academy after 1681.[31]

Gabriel Philippe de La Hire (1677–1719), son of Philippe, wrote a paper on how vines grip walls. He entered the Academy as a student astronomer at the age of seventeen and also followed in his father's footsteps by becoming professor royal of architecture.[32]

Sédileau (?-1693), whose first name and biography are unknown, studied orange trees and their diseases. A mathematician influenced by Ignace Gaston Pardies, Sédileau translated and annotated Frontinus's treatise on aqueducts, wrote meteorological and astronomical papers, designed several instruments, and fashioned the terrestrial map on the floor of the western tower of the Observatory.[33]

Even the astronomer Jean Dominique Cassini (1625–1712) contributed to the Academy's work on plants, if only by discussing the medical uses of plant products during the late 1680s, when other botanical research was largely eclipsed. Cassini was also interested in insects and blood transfusion and had visited the Accademia del Cimento. Like Huygens, he was a force to be reckoned with in the Academy: he built a formidable team of astronomers, began mapping the kingdom and the world, and in his seventy-sixth year traveled to the borders of France to extend the meridian. He kept Louis XIV interested in the Academy by stressing the practical applications of astronomical observations.[34]

Jean Gallois (1632–1707) contributed to botany indirectly. He publicized it by mentioning the Jesuits' observations of flora and fauna in a summary of their reports; more important, he encouraged academicians' research and argued for additional engravings of plants. A classicist and a geometer known for his elegant style, he wrote papers on an air gun and on geometry. This Paris-born abbot was member of the Académie française and professor of Greek at the Collège royal; he participated in Bourdelot's conferences, served as Colbert's librarian, and edited the Journal des sçavans .[35]

The two permanent secretaries — Jean Baptiste Du Hamel (1623–1706) and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657–1757) — influenced the Academy's research principally through their effect on corporate morale. They wrote scholarly and popular treatises — Du Hamel in Latin, Fontenelle in French — reviewed manuscripts for publication, wrote the Academy's history, and maintained the minutes. Both were Normans.

A lawyer's son who joined the Congregation of the Oratory, Du Hamel was royal almoner and held church posts before becoming an academician. On a diplomatic mission to England, he met Fellows of the Royal Society


and bought a microscope for the Academy, even though he had relinquished his academician's pension.[36]

Educated by the Jesuits and intended at first for a legal career, Fontenelle pursued a literary career. He became a member of the Académie française and the Académie des inscriptions and a popularizer of Cartesianism and the sciences. His history of the seventeenth-century Academy was both more and less than a translation of Du Hamel's Latin account, and he began the custom of issuing annual reports of the Academy's accomplishments and eulogizing academicians after their deaths.[37]

In summary, these academicians made different contributions to plant study. Their work ranged from abstract theory to rigorous experiment and observation, from suggestion to dedicated personal labor, from the traditional to the innovative, from the technical to the general. Although they represent different generations, they had much in common. All but two were French by birth, but only five were born in Paris. Most came from the upper ranks of the third estate, although two (Tournefort and Cassini) claimed to be gentlemen; the fathers of at least two (Perrault and Du Hamel) were lawyers. Several joined the Academy before the age of forty. Two (Jean Marchant and G. P. de La Hire) were the sons of academicians who had also contributed to the Academy's botanical research. Some had close ties to the Jansenists (previous hit Dodart next hit, Homberg, and Perrault). Three were Catholic clergy (Mariotte, Du Hamel, and Gallois), three (Charas, Duclos, and Homberg) converted from Protestantism, and the paternal grandmother of one (Tournefort) came from a Jewish family. Two (Tournefort and Homberg) studied the sciences despite their parents' wishes, two (Cassini and Homberg) became naturalized subjects of Louis XIV Bourdelin, La Hire, and Tournefort were orphaned or lost one parent before they were twenty. Most were polymaths and many were physicians. These academicians traveled, especially in France, England, and Italy, but also in Holland, Spain, eastern Europe, and Sweden. Many enjoyed other royal appointments or ties to government, as adviser to ministers, physician to members of the royal family, professor at the Collège royal, demonstrator at the Jardin royal, or royal almoner.

The Protectors and their Spokesmen

Responsibility for the Academy's successes and failures must be shared between the researchers and the protectors. The ministers and their spokesmen influenced research through appointments, financing, and interference,


both subtle and open. The king also affected the Academy, albeit in ways that are now often obscure.

As spokesmen, La Chapelle and Bignon kept the ministers informed about the Academy, submitted the estats requesting payment of pensions, and defended academicians' requests for additional financial support for research. They also conveyed the wishes of the protector to the Academy. Doing the job well divided their loyalties. Henri Bessé de La Chapelle (?-1694) was assistant (commis ) to Louvois, serving as controller general of royal buildings, inspector of fine arts, and overseer of the Academies of Sciences and Inscriptions. A member of both academies, he was a geometer in the former. Little is known of his life. Because Louvois's relations with the Academy were uneasy — he reduced its budget and size and mistrusted its members who were partisans of Colbert — the responsibilities of his spokesman were difficult. In January 1686, for example, La Chapelle criticized botanists and chemists on Louvois's behalf, unintentionally provoking a decline in the Academy's study of plants.[38]

Fortunately for the abbé Jean Paul Bignon (1662–1743), his uncle Pontchartrain was sympathetic to improving the Academy. A staunch advocate of the Academy, Bignon sought to regularize its procedures and increase its funding; he tried to ensure that it was treated fairly by comparison with the other academies. He recommended savants for membership, bolstering botanical research by selecting Tournefort and Homberg in 1691. Armed with reports on its personnel, projects, and expectations, he argued the Academy's case to Pontchartrain, citing precedent. The weak condition of the royal treasury forced Bignon to justify every request for funds and to appoint academicians without pensions. He pleaded for payment of what was owed academicians but was more successful in obtaining permission for them to publish. He proposed a merit system which Pontchartrain vetoed in favor of the seniority system.[39]

Bignon came from "a distinguished family of magistrates and royal librarians that stood at the very center of the robin society" in Paris. Like Du Hamel a member of the Congregation of the Oratory, Bignon's sinecures made him a wealthy man. In the eighteenth century, he directed the book trade, edited the Journal des sçavans , and became royal librarian. Thus, Bignon controlled much of French intellectual life from 1691 until his death.[40]

The three ministerial protectors of the Academy — Colbert, Louvois, and Pontchartrain — influenced research both deliberately and accidentally. Their appointments, financial support, persuasion, and encouragement to publish all affected institutional health. They arranged for special benefits


or assistance to the Academy through bureaucratic and diplomatic channels and could arbitrate disputes among academicians.[41] Each valued botanical studies differently.

Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683) appointed fifteen of the Academy's students of plants and supported the natural history of plants generously until the early 1680s. He was interested in natural philosophy. Thus he invited academicians to his estate for learned conversations and visited the Academy well before the king did. But he was not above exploiting its members for familial advantage, for he had Du Hamel write the book that won Colbert's son admission to the Académie française.[42]

François Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois (1639–1691) did not share Colbert's enthusiasm for the sciences or the Academy, and his awkward management demoralized the institution. Nevertheless, he favored the biological sciences, especially their medical applications and comparative anatomy. He appointed no new botanists or chemists, however, and canceled publications on anatomy and botany. His personal interest in certain subjects injured academic research by threatening its independence.[43]

Louis Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1643–1727) his family valued learning both for its own sake and for its benefits to the state. As protector of the Academy, he was serious about rejuvenating it as inexpensively as possible. He appointed six botanists and chemists and ordered them to investigate the natural history of plants. He also subsidized publication of Tournefort's treatises.[44]

Behind the scenes was the king. Advocate of personal rule, good at figures, interested in details, eager to catch out his ministers in an oversight, and fond of telling them what they already knew, Louis XIV (1638–1715) spent much of his day closeted with royal officials. The king's dislike of unfamiliar faces and his personal attention to the affairs of state gave certain ministers, including the three protectors of the Academy, great power.

Some of the Academy's projects must have pleased this monarch who loved gardens, rare plants, and exotic animals, who was vainglorious and hungry for tax revenue, and who sought to expand his kingdom. Academicians studied rare plants and dissected animals from the royal menagerie. They mapped both the tax district around Paris and the entire kingdom, and they studied military technology. Their elegantly illustrated books smoothed diplomacy when Louis presented them as marks of royal favor. When the king visited the Academy in 1681, academicians demonstrated some experiments and apparatus and gave him a list of manuscripts ready


for publication. But none of the botanical texts on the list was published. Indeed, academicians never got all the support they wanted, for the king's favor, ministerial interest, and the health of the royal treasury fluctuated.

For Louis the Academy was a potential source of honor and invention. Thus, he told Cassini that he wanted the Academy to make France as illustrious in the realm of letters as it was in warfare, and when Cassini explained how astronomy could reform geography and navigation, the monarch was attentive. Louis was curious to witness the spectacular or the curious, including the comet of 1664, a large burning mirror in 1669, and the dissection of an elephant in 1683. But Colbert persuaded him only with difficulty to visit the Academy in 1681 and the Observatory in 1682, and when rain interrupted the second visit the king never returned. There was little need for him to visit the Academy's headquarters, however, for the Academy came to court whenever Louis granted Cassini an audience, when previous hit Dodart next hit attended Louis as his physician, or when Du Verney and other academicians tutored members of the royal family. Louis ruled his kingdom personally, taking an interest in details and serving as his own prime minister and superintendent of finances, but his impersonal sponsorship of the Academy suggests that it was relatively unimportant to him. Although Louis approved of the Academy, had certain expectations of it, and was fascinated by some of its more arcane activities, he delegated the responsibility for running it almost entirely to the ministerial protectors.[45]

Like the kingdom of which it was part, the Academy had its place in a hierarchy of power and privilege. At the apex stood the king, with ministerial protectors mediating between him and the academicians. But the distinction between academicians and protectors went beyond relationships of power and responsibility and, as will be seen in the next chapter, permeated perceptions and expectations of the Academy.


Chapter 3
Models for a Company of Scientists

The Académie royale des sciences was founded by partners from two spheres: the commonwealth of letters and the royal government of France. These partners had different expectations of the Academy, because of their allegiances to distinct worlds. All agreed on the principal goals of the new institution, but members of the Academy stressed scholarly and professional ideals, while the ministers underscored benefits to king and kingdom. Although their attitudes differed, each had experience in the other's sphere, and all held many presuppositions in common. Ministers of state respected literature, science, and the arts; savants served the royal government. The areas of agreement were sufficiently large to establish the new institution, but not large enough to prevent conflict. The inevitable struggles for control influenced the vigor and structure of the early Academy of Sciences.

Sociocultural Contexts

Natural philosophy fit awkwardly with many seventeenth-century values. Inconsistencies at the court, for example, highlight the ambiguous position of the sciences. The king preferred pious and hierarchical books but supported the new, experimental science practiced at the Jardin royal and the Academy. Some courtiers disliked science on the grounds that its practitioners were coarse and pedantic, its language technical and ignoble. Others maintained private laboratories or observatories and sponsored scientific meetings.[1]


Being natural philosophers made some academicians social and cultural misfits. Some pursued their careers against the wishes of their families. If their research was dirty, smelly, or dangerous, it opened them to scorn as "sooty empirics," while a fascination with geometry or Cartesianism might seem arcane or subversive. Scientific ideas could be at odds with the classicist intellectual values espoused within the social milieus of many academicians. When the new natural philosophy challenged tradition, savants had to weigh conservative or elitist social tendencies against innovative scholarly impulses. In contrast, the Academy's ministerial protectors were fairly typical of their circles, where amateur interest in science was prominent. In general academicians challenged, ministerial protectors enacted, the values of their different social orders.[2]

The Academy was therefore a creature of varied cultural spheres. Its members and protectors inhabited a world of conflicting ideals, at once pious and critical, unconventional and hierarchical. These partners brought very different expectations to the founding of the institution.

Language is a clue to attitudes about the Academy and to its antecedents. Two words described the institution: "l'Académie" and "la Compagnie." The official name was "l'Académie royale des sciences," and it was affirmed by the règlement , or regulations, of 1699. But academicians usually spoke of "la Compagnie." The Journal des sçavans referred to "the Company that meets in the King's Library," and the Academy recorded its decisions in the minutes as rulings of "the Company."[3]

In late seventeenth-century France, an academy might be a craft organization; a place where aristocratic youths learned how to ride; or, in an ironic or abusive sense, a public place where illegal games were played. But in learned circles, an academy was a group of scholars who met regularly, and it stemmed from a heritage that included Plato and Bacon.

The word "compagnie" had a broader usage. Thus, in seventeenth-century France, there were trading companies, companies for administering justice and for directing hospitals, military companies, and the Company of Jesus. Above all, the word "compagnie" suggests the corporate bodies characteristic of French towns. These companies — of notaries, lawyers, professors at the Collège royal, Parisian secular clergy with doctorates, or the king's legal officers, for example — had their "own statutes, accumulated privileges, leaders, rules of assembly, financial structure and corporate mentality" and were foci of urban professional prestige.[4]

The Academy of Sciences combined features of the professional corporations with those of such scholarly antecedents as the sixteenth-century French academies, the Baconian House of Solomon, contemporary private


Parisian academies, and the Florentine and London scientific societies.[5] By imitating the urban corporations, the Academy professionalized the scholarly institution.

Ideals of behavior and scholarship espoused by the scholarly world — universities, libraries, publishers, and circles of like-minded savants — also shaped the Academy. Some ideals came from the classics. Modesty, for example, was a recurrent theme in the eulogies of academicians, as a personal trait becoming to scholars.[6] Academicians were animated by other expectations — that they publish and serve the public, that they obtain patronage and conduct research collectively — articulated by Descartes, Bacon, and others.[7] Both precept and practice recommended collective research. Research teams, especially where a master-disciple relationship existed, could boast impressive accomplishments, such as the Maurist editions of religious texts.[8]

Seventeenth-century savants valued intellectual discourse. They also anticipated useful applications of scientific knowledge, encouraged scholars to educate the public, and hoped for state support. The Academy incorporated these values. Academicians described their earliest projects in Baconian language, and they planned and researched collectively. Their correspondence was far-flung and they sponsored worldwide expeditions. They emulated the experimentalism of the Accademia del Cimento and the Royal Society, and they enjoyed substantial financial support from the French crown. Finally, they emphasized the Baconian and Cartesian favorites, natural history and geometry, respectively. The Academy embodied prevailing scholarly and professional ideals.

Bureaucratic Models

Colbert took advice from scholars and professionals when he founded the Academy, but he also heeded goals and prototypes more familiar from those spheres — the economy, the navy, and the royal buildings — for which he was responsible as Louis's minister. For him the Academy was more than a shelter for learning. It was also an instrument of reform and propaganda, susceptible to his usual bureaucratic practices.[9]

Even if Colbert had read Bacon's New Atlantis or was familiar with Descartes's proposal for greater public support of the sciences, what interested him was not Baconianism or Cartesianism per se but rather his own "generous plan for a universal reform" with respect to "those matters pertaining to the maintenance and tranquility of the State."[10] Colbert's every official act was intended to promote the glory of the king and increase


the wealth of his realm.[11] The tradition of royal patronage, the crown's increased control over publishing, Colbert's respect for learning, and his multiple responsibilities as royal minister empowered him to influence French intellectual and cultural life. Here as in other spheres, his economic goals and expertise colored Colbert's official acts.

Colbert's economic policies have been labeled mercantilist by later writers. As an economic philosophy, mercantilism aimed to increase the wealth of one's own country; because resources were limited, this was necessarily at the expense of foreign lands. Thus mercantilism was based on and inflamed proto-nationalistic feelings. As practiced by Colbert, it included the establishment of companies for overseas trade, regulation and improvement of manufacturing, and importation of foreign workers, "taking care that the government got its money's worth for any aid granted."[12] French policies consolidated the powers of the state at the expense of local initiative.[13] Unlike savants who valued Baconian or Cartesian precepts and solved scientific problems, Colbert was motivated principally by patriotic and propagandistic goals in an economic context. The Academy owed a debt, therefore, not only to a scholarly tradition but also to Colbert's official program.

Colbert linked the economy of France to a broader plan to reform justice and develop the arts and sciences. He sought to overcome "ignorance" in "the sciences," where he believed the "abuses" were more significant even "than those of justice and finance."[14] Seeking a tool for reform, Colbert was enthusiastic about the academy as a type of institution. This is clear from his letters patent of 1676, which proclaimed the purposes of his academies in the following terms:

Because the splendor and happiness of a State consist not only in maintaining the glory of arms abroad, but also in displaying at home an abundance of wealth and in causing the arts and sciences to flourish, we have been persuaded for many years to establish several academies for both letters and sciences.[15]

During the 1660s and 1670s, Colbert founded or took under his protection many academies. When he contemplated one for the sciences, an adviser suggested that he "ask other persons from the various academies to give a model of their own" and to assist in planning.[16] The idea was part of a pattern for reforming and organizing cultural life in the kingdom to benefit the king.

Before establishing the Academy of Sciences, Colbert had experimented with traditional patronage in the form of pensions et gratifications sent to scholars all over Europe. Such grants seemed at first to be "the best way of


putting men of letters and artists in the service of the grandeur of the king."[17] Chapelain advised Colbert to reward Italians as well as the Dutch, so that having increased "the glory of the King in these northern countries" he might achieve "the same result for the southern provinces, that is, Florence and Pisa."[18] The gifts were repaid in the coin of scholars, for Hevelius dedicated his first book on comets to Colbert and both his Cométographie and Machine Céleste to Louis XIV, as expressions of gratitude.[19]

Colbert's advisers, however, soon argued that more formal, public, and systematic support for the arts and sciences would enhance the reputation of everyone involved. Anticipating that an academy of sciences would increase French "renown in the world," one gloated: "what glory to the King and what honor for Mgr. Colbert." Colbert would "enhance it above all the others and give it advantages that will make clear the hand by which it is sustained." He wanted the French Academy to surpass its rivals. It was to be "the most learned and most celebrated in the world," and the king would be applauded for its accomplishments. As the Observatory was built, it too found a place in a list of projects that would increase "grandeur and magnificence" in the kingdom. An account of the Academy's activities was solicited for inclusion in the official history of the reign, and the first histories of the Academy announced that the institution hoped to honor its king. Savants were sensitive to these competitive motives: an Avignonese wishing to flatter Huygens wrote tactlessly that by acquiring the Dutch mathematician for France, the king had outdone his conquest of Holland. The patriotism which "infused … and colored" mercantilism was at work in the establishment of the Academy. Even academicians and their associates were aware of their role in the competition among states for intellectual primacy.[20]

Manipulating an Academy for propagandistic ends was less cumbersome than corresponding with a dozen or more individual recipients of awards, as Chapelain did, to ensure that they repaid largesse with homage. After the Academy began to flourish, Colbert diminished the program of pensions for independent scholars, finally neglecting traditional patronage in favor of the more controlled venture. By the mid-1670s, when the crown stopped pensioning foreign scientists, patronage had adopted new habits.

Having shifted patronage from individuals to institutions, Colbert drew on his bureaucratic experience for ideas about how to run the Academy. To stimulate the stagnant French economy, he offered monetary incentives to the directors of companies; he also imported skilled workers and subsidized manufacture of luxury products.[21] To stimulate French science,


therefore, he raided faltering private societies for their best members, to whom he paid pensions; he imported highly regarded savants from Holland, Bologna, and Denmark; and he subsidized research and publication.

Like the manufacturing and trading companies, the Academy was intended to be useful. Although this is sometimes said to have been a blemish imposed by Louvois,[22] Colbert and his advisers had designed the Academy with its utility to the kingdom in mind. They chose as academicians men whose aggregate skills would "make the royal academy as noble as it is useful." It was Colbert who ordered the Academy to examine the drinking water at Versailles and who encouraged La Hire to dissect the fish along the coasts of Brittany and Normandy "because this work will be very useful." Colbert wanted results, in the form of a map of the tax district around Paris, a method of determining longitude, or a natural history of plants. His expectations were nourished by mercantilist presuppositions and by the propaganda of early modern scientists, technologues, and amateurs, for whom utility was an article of faith.[23]

The Academy enjoyed privileges similar to those of the manufacturing and trading companies. The honor of a royal visit to the Academy was arranged in 1681, just as had been done for the Gobelins in 1667. Colbert exempted academicians from taxes in regions where they were making observations for the great map of the kingdom, and he used the power of his office and his extensive contacts to obtain what the Company needed. Like certain master craftsmen, many academicians were housed in royal buildings.[24]

As he did with economic ventures, Colbert supervised the Academy's activities. Cassini spoke to Francis Vernon of this control. In 1670, hoping that his ephemerides would soon be published, Cassini admitted that "It depends upon the orders and determinations of Monsr Colbert upon whom all the motions of the Royal Academie are to bee calculated; For the measure of their times are sett by him." Moreover, he attributed the generosity of pensions and paucity of members to the king's wish "not only to have a Titular butt an effectuall influence upon his royall Academie."[25] This Louis accomplished through the ministerial protector, who reviewed annual reports and proposals, appointed academicians, and regulated finances and publication. These methods Colbert and his successors adapted from the bureaucratic world that was their principal concern.

The Academy of Sciences was of course very different from trading or manufacturing companies. Membership in the Academy depended on connections and scientific talent, not wealth. The Academy was not intended to monopolize, but to reform. It had no religious, legal, or


political powers, although it controlled members' rights to publish. It was not intended to sell a commodity or to make a profit, and its publications circulated as gifts rather than through purchase.

Nevertheless, the Academy shared some traits with the manufacturing and trading companies. Like the overseas trading companies, it exploited the natural resources of the colonies and sponsored expeditions that retrieved materials from foreign lands in order to enrich knowledge in the mother country. Like manufacturing companies, the Academy produced luxury and practical goods: hypotheses, data, scholarly publications, and useful inventions. Both Academy and companies aggrandized France and the king at the expense of foreign rivals. Both protected participants' claims or rights, enjoyed royal financial support, were closely supervised by royal ministers, owed their existence to ministerial initiative, and were meant to benefit the kingdom. As with the economy so in the learned world, the crown championed those activities of the third estate which seemed advantageous to king and kingdom.[26]

The Academy was indebted to the economic policies of Colbert, whose companies influenced his academies. The French statist economic tradition supplied both the justification and the procedures for sponsoring the Academy of Sciences.


The Academy was a company of scientists who shared with its ministerial founder certain practical and theoretical goals. But different prototypes inspired members and protectors. The professional model emphasized exclusivity, power, and prestige for its members. The scholarly model called for experimentation, observation of nature, cooperation among savants, communication of scientific knowledge, and patronage. The bureaucratic model stressed government control, benefits to king and kingdom, and reform of knowledge and practice. These exemplars encouraged the activities that characterized the seventeenth-century Academy: self-aggrandizement, research and debate, dissemination of information, and assistance to the crown.[27] Yet the Academy was not constricted by its antecedents. Rather, as will be seen, fluctuations in the research budget, changing ministerial policies, the actual progress of research, and personal relationships also contributed to the institution's character.


Chapter 4
The Material Benefits of Membership:
Pensions and Quarters

Statism and autocratic pride led the French crown to fund the Academy of Sciences. Colbert was not the first minister of finance nor Louis the first ruler to ally natural philosophy and the state. What was new was the extent of support. Existing rival societies challenged the French to outdo them: in Florence the princes provided facilities and participated in research, and it was rumored that the Royal Society received material aid from Charles II. Colbert and Louis would not forgo a single weapon in the contest for supremacy.[1]

Louis funded the seventeenth-century Academy of Sciences at a level similar to the annual income of the wealthiest monastery in France.[2] His support functioned in two ways: personally, by providing rewards for individuals, and institutionally, by guaranteeing subventions for research and publication. At the personal level, many members of the Academy received pensions or were lodged in royal buildings. At the institutional level, the crown supported the Academy's program by constructing an Observatory, furnishing a chemical laboratory, buying equipment, hiring research assistants, paying for expeditions in France and abroad, and printing academicians' books and articles. The surviving financial records reveal the extent and importance of royal patronage. They also shed light on the internal operations of the Academy and suggest how patronage influenced the institution's work and morale.

This and the following chapter analyze royal funding of the early Academy in three categories: the pensions paid to academicians, the physical


plant and equipment of the institution, and the program of research and publication. The financial record, however, is incomplete and sometimes combines expenditure for the Academy with that for other royal institutions. Moreover, the Academy's budget does not wholly reflect its research program, for certain activities incurred few costs. Nevertheless, an examination of its finances is valuable because royal funding clarifies the value of the institution to its members, the effects of its quarters, the changing fortunes of the Academy, and the influence of patronage on research.

The Functions of Pensions

The pensions paid to academicians mark a significant break with tradition. They resemble only superficially the pensions and gratifications that the crown paid to savants and artists as individuals and that it could summarily halt. Academicians received their pensions because they were members of an Academy. Once appointed, most remained members for life and were entitled to annual pensions so long as they worked. The association of a pension with membership in an academy, and the continuity of entitlement, broke with earlier practices. The effect was to separate the pension from the arbitrary will of a prince or the commissioning of specific works. Instead pensions were connected with research done in the Academy, which grew to have traditions and prerogatives of its own. This helped establish scientific research and writing as professions; it also built the corporate identity of the Academy.[3]

Pensions did not guarantee financial independence. The Academy was rarely the sole source of income for its members, and for some it provided no income whatsoever. Membership in the Academy fell into four categories vis à vis pensions. There were highly paid celebrities, competitively paid regulars, modestly paid students, and unpaid honorary, associate, or student members. Only the two celebrities — Huygens and Cassini — received pensions generous enough to provide a comfortable living. Both were foreigners who worked in the mathematical sciences and received allowances for moving to Paris; they enjoyed higher social and economic status than all but their noble colleagues in the Academy. Their large pensions — of 6,000 to 9,000 livres a year — brought them status both inside and outside the Academy.[4]

Except for the celebrities, academicians were pensioned at levels similar to those prevailing in the other royal academies, in the Collège royal, and among other members of the liberal professions who received gages and


pensions from the crown. Unlike the celebrities, all but two of the regulars and students were French. Regulars received from 300 to 2,000 livres, and students, when they were pensioned at all, from 300 to 1,000 livres (table 1). Those who earned 1,500 to 2,000 livres a year would have found that their pensions, at least until the mid-1680s, provided sufficient leisure to devote themselves to research, unless they had families. But many regulars and students found their pensions inadequate and depended on other income.[5] The position of student members was ambivalent, for there was no established path of advancement within the Academy. They did best to use their membership as a first step to a good career outside it.[6] Nor was there any established mechanism whereby an academician could increase his pension, and although some academicians got "raises," the pensions of others were cut.

Finally, some academicians received no pensions at all. For the most part, they were foreign (Leibniz, Tschirnhaus, and Guglielmini), nonresident (Fantet de Lagny and Chazelles), or noble (L'Hospital); others were pensioned by the crown in another capacity (La Chapelle, Thévenot, and Bignon). But even active members who attended meetings and received no other stipends from the crown might not be pensioned for several years (Le Febvre and Varignon), and under Pontchartrain students were no longer entitled to stipends. Furthermore, when academicians took leaves of absence, whether for reasons of health (Huygens) or to assume different responsibilities temporarily (Du Hamel), they lost their pensions.

Pensions reflected a hierarchy within the Academy. The higher an academician's pension, the more likely he was to command the esteem of the Academy's protectors,[7] to wield power within the institution, to present theoretical papers, or to direct the research of others. The best-paid academicians tended to have better access to the king and ministers and to have more elevated social status.

The size and value of pensions fell during the seventeenth century. Colbert was the most generous, establishing exalted levels for Huygens and Cassini and paying a higher average pension to other academicians — about 1,400 livres — than did either of his successors. Louvois and Pontchartrain paid an average of about 1,000 livres to academicians other than Cassini. Louvois reduced expenditure on pensions in three ways: he did not replace all deceased or excluded members; he pensioned a smaller proportion of the Academy; and he paid smaller stipends, offering amounts in the range formerly reserved for student members. Even though Pontchartrain raised some low pensions and paid formerly unpensioned academicians, his stipends continued to be modest.[8]


It was no accident that pensions declined from the early 1680s. This was deliberate policy, resulting from a faltering economy, falling tax revenues, and increasing military expenditure. Moreover, from the crown's point of view, once the Academy was established it was not necessary to maintain pensions at a very high level, so long as academicians continued to work in a manner that enhanced the reputation of the king.

Economic hardships exacerbated the decline of pensions. The value of the livre began to fall in the late 1680s.[9] Worse, for several years during the 1690s the crown failed to pay academicians their pensions at all, offering finally to make good the debt in the form of annuities.[10] Lodging became a more significant benefit as pensions declined in value.

Academicians and their protectors disagreed about the function of pensions. Colbert used them to recognize "merit and reputation," while Louvois and Pontchartrain transformed them into incentives or modest supplements to income. But academicians believed that pensions should provide "the peace of mind and leisure" required for their work, and by the 1690s most found their pensions too small.[11]

The celebrities and regular members formed the core of the Academy, which remained small throughout the century.[12] Thus, pensions were important to the morale of individual members and of the entire Academy, since the pensioned members were also the working members. It was principally they who used the Academy's facilities for research, collaborated in team projects, and shared ideas at meetings. Fluctuations in the size of the Academy, and especially in the proportion of working members, affected institutional vigor. If there were too few members, they could not complete ambitious projects or surprise one another with new ideas. Quarrels or the loss of a member due to travel, illness, or death were felt keenly in this small society whose members lived and worked together. Academicians tried to produce science as an ensemble, and blows to the equilibrium of the company had the greater impact because the society was intimate.[13]

The right to appoint and pension members of the Academy was an effective means of controlling the institution. Ministers paid higher stipends to savants they particularly valued, appointed more scholars in favored disciplines, and determined how large the working Academy would be. By treating academicians generously and assuring relative stability in the size of the Academy, Colbert placed the new institution on a firm footing. His successors economized by reducing and delaying pensions at a time when inflation was further diminishing their monetary value. Louvois also allowed the number of members to decline, until by 1690 academicians


were worried about the small size of the Academy. When Pontchartrain tried to renew the Academy, he did so by adding new members, not by paying them more.

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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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,[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

The laboratory, in use day and night, became a focus of the Academy's activity.[23] 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).[24] The crown spent about 1,000 livres a year (table 7) to build, supply, and modernize it.[25]

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.[26] 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,


Plate 2. The Chemical Laboratory of the Academy. Among the academicians seated or standing around the table should be Bourdelin,
Duclos, N. Marchant, and possibly previous hit Dodart next hit, Du Hamel, and Gallois. The older man on the right who reaches toward the table with a
vial in his right hand resembles portraits of Duclos. In the shelves behind academicians and visitors is apparatus, including on
the top left an alembic and below it two aludels and a bell jar, and on the right, a mortar and pestle. One assistant works at the
window with a balance, another at the furnace on which is an alembic at the far right. (Watson, "Early Days"; Eklund,
Incompleat Chymist; engraved by Le Clerc; photograph courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.)


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.[27]

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.[28]

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."[29] Unhappily for Jean Pecquet, who regarded the drink as a universal remedy, it became an eau de mort .[30]

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.[31]

Living as neighbors in the Library brought academicians together socially. During the 1660s, Huygens, Carcavi, and the astronomer Auzout dined, gambled, and conversed.[32] 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


Plate 3. A Dissection and Microscopic Observations. Huygens uses a lens at the window; Gayant dissects while Pecquet, Perrault, and
perhaps Mariotte (holding spectacles on his nose) discuss his work. Colbert observes from the right. (Watson, "Early Days";
engraved by Le Clerc; photograph courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.)


Academy.[33] 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.[34] Royal patronage affected even the academicians' manner of living and dying.


The Observatory was as important to the Academy as the Bibliothèque du roi. With its underground caverns, astronomical and meteorological apparatus, and collections of data from scientific expeditions, the Observatory resembled the House of Solomon. Yet it had serious disadvantages. Situated in the countryside at the southern edge of Paris, walled, and monitored by liveried veterans, it was physically remote from other Parisian intellectual centers. Designed by Perrault — who lacked architectural models or astronomical experience and had effected the expulsion of the one academician qualified to advise him — it was unsuitable for Cassini's work and had to be adapted. Originally intended to house all the activities and members of the Academy, it became the preserve of astronomers and mathematicians. Otherwise, only Huygens and Mariotte used it regularly, and even some astronomers preferred to work elsewhere.[35]

Despite its shortcomings, the Observatory became the second major hub of the Academy. Academicians lived and worked in its cold and drafty quarters: Cassini's children were born there, and nearby Saint Jacques du Haut Pas became the parish church of the mathematicians and astronomers.[36] Work on the Observatory began in 1667, and so great was the need for these facilities that academicians began working there in 1668. In 1671 the impatient Cassini moved in, although the Observatory was scarcely ready for habitation or regular observations. Thuret began maintaining its clocks in 1672, and in 1673 Jean Patigny was preparing astronomical engravings there.[37] By 1687, when the building was completed and the Marly tower in place, the Observatory had cost more than 720,000 livres (table 2). Altogether its construction and maintenance accounted for 34 percent of the Academy's budget during the seventeenth century (table 17).[38]

The building and its grounds were more than an astronomical observatory. Like their mythical forebears in Solomon's House, academicians


exploited the site for quite varied investigations. Underground tunnels, grottoes, pools, and pits — the remnants of disused quarries — were fortified with walls of cut stone and a statue of the Virgin and then used for experiments and meteorological observations. Behind the building stretched a terrace on which academicians mounted telescope masts, including the Marly tower. The aqueduct of Arcueil, which ran beside the walls, supplied subjects for study. From the staircase, Mariotte and La Hire experimented in 1683 with falling bodies, reproducing their tests at a nearby well. Nearly every day Cassini observed the direction of the wind from nearby windmills and recorded temperature, barometric pressure, and the state of the sky. With Mariotte he compared air pressure in the underground tunnels and on top of the building. From 1683 La Hire examined the declination of the magnetic needle at the Observatory. Sédileau and Cusset studied rainfall with apparatus made by Villette and Hubin that had been installed on the platform-roof of the Observatory (table 3b).[39] The walls and floors of the building recorded data: Cassini made one room a giant sundial and transformed the floor of another into an immense universal map.[40]

Architectural showpiece and symbol of royal patronage, the Observatory attracted many visitors despite its isolation. Germain Brice praised it in his guide book, Blondel included it among Parisian architectural monuments, and Martin Lister and John Locke mentioned it in their journals. A remarkable central staircase connecting the Observatory with its subterranean galleries was admired by such visitors as the duchess of Luxembourg and the prince and princess of Bournonville. The salle des machines on the second floor displayed models of machines and military engines, maps, and instruments, many formerly kept in the cramped quarters at the Library. Visitors also inspected the Academy's maps of the moon or of the night sky over Paris and studied mathematics and mechanics, parting with an appreciation of the Academy's observations and practical functions.[41]

The apparatus at the Observatory represented a considerable investment by the crown. Research equipment for the astronomers included pendulum clocks made by Thuret, telescopes supplied by Le Bas, lenses purchased from Borelly, Hartsoeker, and Divini and Campani, a quadrant bought from Picard's estate, an azimuthal circle made by Migon, and various mathematical instruments by Lagny, Le Guern, Gosselin, and Sevin.[42] There were also instruments that recorded knowledge. These included a "talking ephemerides," designed by Roemer and made by Thuret, that demonstrated the motions of the planets according to the Copernican system; a machine that demonstrated the causes of eclipses;


globes made by Migon and others under Roemer's supervision; and an expensive silver planisphere designed by Cassini and made by Butterfield.[43] The royal treasury spent more than 85,000 livres to purchase and maintain these instruments for the Academy (table 3).

Of course, academicians also had their own apparatus, but royal patronage reduced the importance of individual owners and established the Academy as proprietor of essential equipment, including expensive items that few individuals could afford. The crown purchased instruments of particularly high quality, kept apparatus in good working order, and equipped expeditions. Above all, it provided permanent sites where academicians lived and worked. While other scientific societies lacked adequate equipment and emphasized demonstration and debate, the Academy, with its superior facilities and instruments, functioned as a research institution. The Observatory was central to this development.

Of the Academy's headquarters only the Observatory was originally designed to represent and serve the institution. Intended to unite the Academy in a permanent and sole residence, the Observatory in fact divided it. It separated the astronomers and mathematicians who lived there from the natural philosophers who lived at the Jardin royal or the Library. Nevertheless, the Observatory strengthened the Academy's ties to the public by attracting visitors and students. Like the Bibliothèque du roi and the Jardin royal, therefore, the Observatory functioned as research center, repository of equipment and records, tourist attraction, educational site, and home to academicians.


By pensioning academicians and providing permanent quarters, royal patronage distinguished the Academy from contemporary scientific societies and determined its character. Pensions dignified academicians, their work, and their profession. Permanent quarters stored documents that sustained corporate memory, and they furnished a locus for the secret work and closed meetings of an elite Academy. By housing academicians, the crown encouraged professional exclusivity and the formation of personal ties among them. Since so many savants defied their parents to pursue their careers, this was an important function of the Academy.[44] The Academy was a society in microcosm. More than a forum for intellectual exchange, it provided a source of income, a home, and a social and professional network, thus helping to establish the practice of science as a respectable career.


Chapter 5
Research Subventions and Ministerial Control

By selecting and pensioning academicians and sustaining an extensive physical plant, the crown determined the general character of the Academy. Research subventions, however, gave the three ministerial protectors considerable authority over the actual content and conduct of basic research. While funding was often generous, levels of spending fluctuated in accordance with the requests of academicians, the preferences of protectors, and the health of the treasury. Some projects were supported more generously than others, a few being inherently more costly, others being more highly regarded. These factors affected funding and limited the research of the Academy to a smaller sphere than its explicit mission allowed.

Research subventions clarify the distinct roles played by Colbert, Louvois, and Pontchartrain. Colbert established practices — providing facilities, purchasing supplies, and sponsoring special voyages — that his successors adopted and modified. He treated the institution generously. Louvois and Pontchartrain, however, economized by discontinuing or reducing some of Colbert's favored projects. Each minister influenced research by directing funds into certain activities and withholding them from others. Colbert favored astronomy and practical projects, but he also funded natural history liberally and saw much of the Academy's work into print. Louvois, however, preferred natural history to astronomy, and despite his initial interest he canceled several publications. Pontchartrain was little more than a caretaker, funding inexpensive projects modestly and publishing manuscripts that academicians had written before his protectorship;


not until the eighteenth century could he revive the astronomical projects that Louvois had halted.

Expenditure on the Academy falls into three research categories and three chronological periods. The research categories are, first, the mathematical sciences, especially astronomy; second, natural philosophy, including anatomy, botany, chemistry, and mineralogy; and third, practical projects, such as mapping, mechanics, and surveying. The financial record scarcely reflects work in theoretical mathematics, however, and yields incomplete information in all research categories. Despite its usefulness, it is only a partial guide to the Academy's program.

The chronological periods correspond to the protectorships of Colbert, Louvois, and Pontchartrain. Colbert determined expenditure from 1666 until his death in September 1683. Louvois became responsible for the Academy the month Colbert died and began to authorize spending on its behalf that year, but he allowed payments for the Academy to fall into arrears. When Pontchartrain took charge in 1691, he demonstrated his good faith by immediately paying overdue items. Colbert and Louvois shared responsibility for expenditure during fiscal year 1683, therefore, while Louvois and Pontchartrain shared it during fiscal year 1691. Despite some ambiguities and lacunae the financial record permits comparison of the three ministerial protectors of the early Academy, and it helps review the early Academy's substantive accomplishments.

Colbert: The Generous Foundation

Overview .   From 1666 to 1683, Colbert spent 1,578,787 livres, or an average of 87,700 livres a year, directly on the Academy. Of that amount, 643,708 livres, or 41 percent, was for pensions to academicians and their assistants; 713,704 livres, or 45 percent, for the Observatory; and 221,374 livres, or 14 percent, for research (table 14). In addition, the Academy benefited from 207,349 livres spent jointly on it and other royal buildings and institutions (table 12).

The mathematical sciences were more costly than either natural philosophy or practical projects (table 14). Colbert spent 92,322 livres, or 42 percent of the research budget, on the mathematical sciences. By comparison he spent 56,110 livres for natural philosophy and 51,483 livres for practical projects, which accounted for 25 percent and 23 percent, respectively, of the research budget. The remaining 10 percent, or 22,231 livres, went toward expenses whose precise purpose is unknown (table 11).

The Mathematical Sciences .   The mathematical sciences dominated not


only the Academy's budget but also its membership. Twenty-two of the thirty-six academicians Colbert appointed, or 61 percent, were astronomers, geometers, or mechanicians. Colbert particularly favored the astronomers, who needed costly apparatus (table 3a, d), expeditions (table 4b, d), and engravings (table 9a–c). Many of the small expenses also paid for their work (table 11b–c).

The silver planisphere that Cassini and Butterfield made exemplifies the Academy's attitude toward theoretical astronomy. On its back was a mechanism that illustrated the Copernican, Tychonic, and Ptolemaic systems. The point was to show how similar the three systems were despite their very different hypotheses. This instrument symbolizes the fictionalist attitude of most academicians toward astronomical theories. A recurring theme in their writings is that it made little practical difference whether one accepted a heliocentric or a geocentric universe. This indifference to the underlying physical implications of competing astronomical theories helps explain why Cassini missed the point of reports from his assistants who had to shorten their pendulums near the equator. The Academy worried about publishing raw data and leaving hypothesizing to others, who would thereby unfairly gain credit to the detriment of the Company. But pragmatism and cosmological agnosticism led to just such a result and also turned the astronomers toward the practical projects that appealed to the crown.

Natural Philosophical Research .   Natural philosophy's share of the research budget did not reflect its share of the membership. Fourteen academicians, or 39 percent of Colbert's appointments, were botanists, anatomists, chemists, or natural philosophers. They controlled only 25 percent of the research budget, however, partly because they did not require expeditions or precision instruments. The laboratory (table 7), anatomical research (table 6a), and engravings (table 8) accounted for 88 percent of their funds and supported Perrault's comparative anatomy of animals, previous hit Dodart's next hit natural history of plants, Duclos's analyses of French mineral waters, and other inquiries. Small expenses (table 11a, c) also benefited these projects, while the costly burning mirror (table 3c) was peripheral to the Academy's research but interesting to the king.

Practical Projects .   The Academy was meant to be useful. Academicians expected their natural histories to improve medicine by correcting and amplifying pharmacopoeia, by clarifying human anatomy through comparative studies, or by identifying the components of mineral waters. Astronomy and mathematics too were no purely theoretical exercises but also the handmaidens of navigation and cartography. Colbert brought


Cassini from Italy and Huygens from Holland partly because they might solve the problem of determining longitude at sea, one of his interests as secretary of the navy and as champion of expanded overseas trade.[1] It is no surprise, then, that Colbert devoted a significant portion of the research budget to utilitarian interests.

There were four practical projects — technological, cartographic, architectural, and hydraulic — each of which the Academy sought to put on a sound theoretical foundation. Each also reflects the interests of the patrons. Colbert, for example, enlisted the Academy to reform industrial, agricultural, and military technology by charging members to study theoretical and applied mechanics. This work took three principal forms: academicians collaborated on a book about the principles of mechanics and their applications, they assessed inventions, and they collected models of machines (table 5).[2] Other projects had more immediate appeal to a vainglorious monarch. Architectural display, for example, glorified the reign. Thus, Colbert appointed to the Academy Perrault and Blondel, rival architects who designed several royal monuments, and Perrault's edition of Vitruvius illustrated classical architectural principles with buildings constructed by the crown (table 10b).[3]

The most important practical projects that Colbert initiated, however, were cartographic and hydraulic. Maps of France were notoriously inaccurate, yet Louis took pride in his kingdom and wanted to know its exact extent and Colbert needed correct maps to assist his economic and fiscal reforms. Colbert, therefore, appointed to the Academy astronomers and practitioners who could address this problem. They worked simultaneously on a world map and a map of the kingdom. For the former, they compiled the coordinates of cities and towns on both sides of the Atlantic, around the Mediterranean, and in the Far East, inking the sites onto the map on the Observatory floor. For the latter, they extended the meridian in France and mapped the Atlantic coast and the généralité, or administrative district, of Paris and its environs (tables 4a, 10a). As trial balloons for the map of France, these undertakings had three main advantages: the généralité de Paris was a small but central part of the kingdom, the Academy had established the meridian there (table 4b), and academicians could demonstrate vividly that extensive corrections to existing maps were necessary. Although these preliminary efforts were successful, they were also harbingers of the huge expenses that would be necessary to complete the map of the kingdom. Mapping the environs of Paris, for example, cost more than 21,000 livres, or 10 percent of Colbert's total spending on research (table 14), and took ten years to complete. Bringing the larger project to


fruition would require further extension of the meridian, triangulation along and then east and west of it, and topographic surveying, all associated with enormous costs. But from the mid-1670s, as Louis's wars deflected funds from the Academy, adequate funding was no longer available. For the remainder of the century academicians were armchair cartographers, correcting their world map with coordinates sent from abroad, teaching others to use the data and methods academicians had developed, and awaiting permission to revive work on the meridian.[4]

The hydraulic project provided direct support to king and court, for its goals were to guarantee the supply and quality of water for Versailles and to design fountains. The Academy surveyed rivers, analyzed the chemical composition of waters, studied hydraulic machines, and identified promising sites for aqueducts; members also developed the principles of decorative fountains for the gardens at Versailles. The work was costly, requiring surveying instruments, travel, and overnight accommodation. Academicians ran up bills of nearly 2,000 livres for incidentals, 3,500 livres for horses and carriages, and 1,335 livres for room and board at an inn in Versailles while they "worked to verify the surveying for the construction of aqueducts in the environs of Versailles" (tables 3b, 4c, 10e).[5]

Colbert relied on the Academy as a research institution and as a source of practical skills. Its members were physicians, surveyors, architects, and engineers, eager to improve those disciplines.[6] Pensions covered both theoretical and practical work, so that academicians were inexpensive consultants, even when the crown paid bonuses. The Academy could consider the work from several different angles, as its efforts on the water supply of Versailles reveal. From the crown's point of view, their interdisciplinary skills, commitment to theory and practice, and dependency on the king made academicians the ideal consultants.

Reimbursement of Academicians .   Although the royal treasury underwrote the costs of the Academy's research, academicians and their suppliers usually had to make extensive outlays and then request reimbursement. Only rarely did the crown advance funds, as when Mariotte got 200 livres for experiments related to the water supply of Versailles in 1682 (table 4c), or when Richer, Meurisse, and Deglos prepared for voyages (table 4d). Bourdelin's notebook offers a glimpse into the standard practices. He recorded the details of each purchase and every few months submitted a formal request, prepared by a notary, for repayment. Sometimes the crown paid him and his suppliers directly, but often it paid intermediaries such as Carcavi (or Homberg and Fontenelle in the 1690s).[7]

Academicians must have had some general authorization to purchase for


the Academy, but they needed special permission for certain items — for instance, engravings of plants — and requests for reimbursement had to provide details. Certain academicians acted as purchasing agents for the Academy. Thus, Perrault spent 4,000 livres, much of it probably for the natural history of animals (table 11a, 1674), and when Du Hamel went to London he bought 500 livres' worth of books and microscopes for the Academy (table 11a, 1669). But Couplet bore the heaviest responsibility for the institution's finances. He paid for many of the small expenses, purchasing animals for dissections, machines and apparatus for experiments, and seeing to repairs of equipment and physical plant at the Observatory (table 11). Finally, Nicolas Clérambault (table 11a), Carcavi, and Thévenot also bought for the Academy, sometimes mingling the Academy's and the Library's small expenses (table 12c–d).

Summary .   Colbert spent about 250,000 livres, or an average of 12,300 livres a year (table 14), on the Academy's research program. Expenditure fluctuated from year to year. It peaked from 1667 to 1672, because of astronomical expeditions, the map of the environs of Paris, and engravings. It plummeted from 1678 until 1683, because of the Dutch wars. During the 1660s and early 1670s, Colbert paid for expenses soon after they were incurred, but by the late 1670s, payments began to fall one or two years behind.

The Academy's research budget reflects Colbert's preferences. Astronomy and practical projects were clear favorites. The Academy was a reservoir of talent on which Louis and Colbert drew for technical expertise, and academicians themselves usually found scientific merit in these practical challenges. Far from being a disinterested and unalloyed supporter of basic research, Colbert demanded both practical and theoretical returns on the king's investment. By tapping the Academy for its technical advice and by reducing expenditure on the Academy during the last years of his ministry, Colbert set precedents for his successors that were more influential than his initial generosity.

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.[8]

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[9] and research on determining longitude at sea. He also canceled plans to publish the Academy's astronomical and anatomical treatises.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]

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 previous hit Dodart's next hit 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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,[23] 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.[24] On the other hand, he pensioned the engineer Dalesme as inventor to the Academy (table 1, ii),[25] 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.[26] 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.

Pontchartrain: A Penurious Revival

Overview .   When Pontchartrain assumed control of the Academy in 1691, it was badly demoralized.[27] Members were owed their pensions for 1689 and 1690, treatises actually in press had been suppressed, and the number of members had fallen. More sympathetic to science and technology than Louvois had been, Pontchartrain tried to revive the Academy by immediately appointing energetic and highly qualified savants, approving publications, and resuming pensions and research subventions. The War of the League of Augsburg, however, allowed him to fund the Academy only sporadically and at minimal levels throughout the 1690s.[28] As a result, financing for the Academy declined steeply. Pontchartrain has nonetheless been regarded as a champion of the Academy, because he preserved and revived it during difficult times, made shrewd appointments, and launched its most ambitious publishing program.


From 1691 through 1699, Pontchartrain budgeted 322,849 livres, or an average of 35,872 livres a year, directly on the Academy. Of that amount, 286,017 livres, or 88.6 percent, was for pensions to academicians and their assistants; 2,873 livres, or nearly 1 percent, for the Observatory; and 35,960 livres, or 10.5 percent, for research (table 16). Because the crown converted many pensions into annuities, however, the actual direct cash outlay was less than the amount budgeted (table lc). In addition, the Academy benefited from 80,887 livres spent jointly on it and other royal buildings and institutions (table 12).

Natural philosophy was more costly than the mathematical sciences or practical projects (table 16). Pontchartrain spent at least 10,747 livres, or 31.6 percent of the research budget, on natural philosophy. In contrast he spent 4,677 livres for practical projects and 2,811 livres for the mathematical sciences, which accounted for 13.8 and 8.3 percent, respectively, of the research budget. The remaining 46.3 percent, or 15,725 livres, went toward small expenses, a category that defies elucidation; most of this sum was paid in 1699, suggesting that the crown delayed reimbursing academicians for months or years (table 11). Since small expenses account for so much of Pontchartrain's research subvention, it is dangerous to generalize from the financial records about his preferences. Other indicators suggest that he treated the Academy evenhandedly and channeled academicians' energies into publishing more than into research.[29]

Although Pontchartrain continued to fund the Academy, no mean feat during what was arguably the worst decade of the reign, he did so at markedly reduced levels. He pensioned a smaller proportion of academicians and drastically reduced research subventions, even though he increased membership. He actually spent less in each category than had either Colbert or Louvois. First, while Pontchartrain budgeted an average of 31,780 livres a year for pensions — as compared with 35,762 livres under Colbert and 19,093 livres under Louvois — he actually disbursed less. That was because many academicians had to take their pensions for 1692, 1693, 1694, and 1695 as annuities. Pontchartrain's average annual outlay for pensions was, therefore, smaller than normal.[30] Second, Pontchartrain spent on average only 319 livres a year on the Observatory, in contrast with 39,650 livres under Colbert and 1,371 livres under Louvois. Colbert built the Observatory, Louvois added the Marly tower to it, and Pontchartrain maintained it and paid for the salary and livery of the porter. Third, Pontchartrain spent only 3,773 livres a year for research, by comparison with Colbert who spent an average of 12,299 livres a year and Louvois who spent 6,020 livres (table 17).


Pontchartrain revived the Academy as inexpensively as possible. From 1691 until 1694 he made new appointments and encouraged academicians to publish. In 1699 he sponsored a formal règlement and, finally, a new infusion of money, and in the following year he authorized Cassini and his team of astronomers to extend the meridian. Before 1699, Pontchartrain applied the limited funds available to pensions, publication, and maintenance. After 1699, he was able to expand the research program.

The Mathematical Sciences .   Like his predecessors, Pontchartrain appointed more mathematicians than natural philosophers. Thus twenty-four of thirty-nine academicians, or 62 percent, were active principally in the mathematical sciences. Like Louvois, however, Pontchartrain apparently spent little on their research, focusing on the maintenance of scientific instruments (table 3d). The only known special purchases are six telescope lenses made by Nicolas Hartsoeker and a pendulum clock "supplied to Sr Couplet the son for the observations he has been ordered to make in Portugal" (table 3a).[31]

The principal new impetus in the mathematical sciences came from infinitesimal calculus, which the mathematicians debated. The astronomers continued to work as they had done under Louvois. They observed eclipses and the satellites of Jupiter, compared eastern and western calendars, catalogued fixed stars, and calculated solar and lunar diameters. Cassini and his son made observations and studied the declination of a magnetic needle during their travels in Italy, France, Holland, and England from 1694 to 1698. Above all, the astronomers awaited permission to extend the meridian. In keeping with Pontchartrain's policy of publishing as much as possible, Cassini's memoirs, the reports of Jesuits in the Far East, and several astronomical articles were printed.[32]

Natural Philosophical Research .   Only fourteen of thirty-nine academicians, or 36 percent, were natural philosophers. But Pontchartrain seems to have spent more on their work than on the mathematical sciences. The record of expenditure is far from complete, however, with respect to the laboratory, the petit jardin,[33] and engravings (tables 6b, 7, 8, and 12i). Payments for botanical illustrations, for example, reflect neither the forty to sixty-nine plates, which normally cost 90 livres apiece, that Chastillon completed, nor the plates for Tournefort's Élémens de botanique, rumored to have cost 12,000 livres. If engravings actually cost 15,000 to 18,000 livres more than the treasury accounts reveal, then Pontchartrain's average annual expenditure on natural philosophy was closer to that of Louvois and Colbert.[34]

New academicians scrutinized previous chemical research. They also


studied mineralogy (table 6d) and tried fresh approaches to botany, notably Tournefort's influential classification of plants. Otherwise the Academy's natural philosophy continued under Pontchartrain much as it had during the previous two decades. Anatomists resurrected the third installment of their Histoire des animaux . They revised plates (table 8b) and dissected corpses from the menagerie at Versailles or from the Hôtel des invalides. Du Verney and Méry published several articles reflecting their dissections during the 1680s and 1690s, and the Academy debated their conflicting views about the circulation of the blood in the fetus. Homberg earned the gratitude of his colleagues for enlivening meetings with papers and demonstrations and with recollections from his travels.[35]

Practical Projects .   Utilitarian problems continued to interest academicians, who investigated hydraulics (table 5), mapping, new inventions, and military technology.[36] The crown subsidized these studies modestly, however, in order to launch two new projects — writing a natural history of arts and crafts and designing a new typeface for the Imprimerie royale — that complimented Pontchartrain's program of publishing. At first Bignon and Pontchartrain founded a separate Compagnie des arts et métiers to undertake this double mission. But in 1699 the Academy absorbed the Compagnie and its work, and that year alone the crown spent nearly 4,000 livres on engravings of arts and crafts (table 10d). By 1700 when Pontchartrain resumed work on the meridian, he had revived the two Colbertian projects that had lapsed under Louvois — cartography and mechanics — and thus reestablished the Academy's utilitarian program.[37]

Summary .   During the 1690s research expenditure primarily maintained buildings and equipment or continued older projects. What Pontchartrain paid for research bore little relation to what academicians published, which mostly represented work done earlier or outside the institutional structure of the Academy. But the Academy bore impressive fruit under this parsimonious management, with academicians publishing in mathematics, botany, astronomy, and other fields.

The Academy suffered from reduced funding and poor morale during the 1690s, but it was also undergoing basic changes in its very conception. Under Colbert academicians worked principally in teams on long-term projects begun with the assurance of continuity and support. But facilities were cramped, funding diminished, and collaborative research faltered; these trends emerged late in Colbert's protectorship and Louvois and Pontchartrain exacerbated them. Under the circumstances the institution altered. As individual research became more prominent, the functions of meetings changed: they lost their importance for proposing research,


debating hypotheses, and demonstrating experiments; instead academicians used them to referee manuscripts for publication. Thus the costs of research during the 1690s reflect the two inconsistent ministerial policies of austerity and rejuvenation, against the background not only of foreign wars and domestic insolvency but also of a changing institution.


The seventeenth-century Academy cost its royal patron at least 2,000,000 livres for pensions, the Observatory, and research subventions. It also benefited from nearly 400,000 livres spent on it and other royal establishments jointly. In principle, the Academy cost on average about 63,000 livres a year, with pensions representing the lion's share at 32,400 livres; the Observatory was in second place at 21,440 livres, and research was the least costly at 9,100 livres a year.[38] In fact, from Colbert to Pontchartrain the Academy's budget declined markedly, and under Pontchartrain academicians saw their pensions become annuities. Both trends had deleterious consequences for academicians personally and for their research.

Royal funding influenced the nature of the Academy's research as much as it did the character of the institution itself. Access to royal funds gave the Academy an advantage over other scientific societies, because it could mount ambitious collaborative projects. Yet the result was to limit the institution's scientific vision. Academicians and their protectors believed that theory would improve practice and that accumulating data was the necessary preliminary to hypothesizing. But collective projects gained a momentum of their own, so that theorizing was sometimes neglected in favor of practical applications. Furthermore, dependence on royal funding made research more vulnerable to ministerial interference, and this could be damaging when the protector failed to appreciate scientific priorities.

Finances, however, tell only part of the story. They mostly reflect the expensive, collaborative projects, but academicians also pursued more modest research as individuals, albeit with moral and material support from the Academy. Indeed, Carcavi and Huygens boasted that members "did not make enquiry into any one subject in particular but every one took unto his examination what suited best with his own fancy and genius."[39] How may such freedom of choice be reconciled with the facts of corporate planning and ministerial control? Three general points resolve this paradox. First, academicians agreed among themselves about the important questions, and they were in sympathy about the general aims of the


institution.[40] Second, because academicians believe that theoretical science should have practical benefits for society, they shared with their patrons various utilitarian expectations of the Academy. Third, the distinction between official and individual projects enabled an academician to work on several problems at once; team members cooperated on descriptions of plants or dissections, but an academician might also pursue specific interests such as the circulation of sap or the nature of hearing. This flexibility was available more readily in natural history than in astronomy, where the hierarchy of the Academy restricted the choices of some academicians, especially the students, who principally assisted others. Nevertheless, academicians used the company as a resource for work that interested them, and thus patronage for official projects also protected the individual projects of academicians.

To understand the Academy, however, it is necessary to look behind the scenes, to explore what royal funds actually bought, to observe the institution at work. The Academy's research on plants exemplifies many characteristics of the institution as a whole. It reveals conflicts between individual and collaborative projects, between theoretical and practical expectations, and between academicians and their protectors. Because botany was in flux, academicians were often uncertain of themselves: they had to adjust to the failure of their theories, test new instruments, and explore new analogies. Their research also offers a glimpse into the relations of this elite and somewhat secretive institution with the larger scientific and lay community. Thus, botanical research, a neglected but important aspect of the scientific revolution, may serve as a barometer of the institution as a whole.


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