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Chapter 15 Academicians and the Larger Scientific Community
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Institutional Regulation of Contacts

But private contacts between individual savants do not tell the whole story, not only because the Academy sometimes tried to regulate such connections but also because it entered as an institution into official relations with individuals and societies. In looking at the ties between the Academy and nonacademicians, two distinctions are important. The first has to do with conflicts between institutional and individual interests, the second with conflicts between principle and practice.

Academicians were both private scholars and members of the Academy, and their individual activities sometimes conflicted with institutional policy. Before joining the Academy, their contacts with other savants had been limited only by opportunity, personal caution, or taste. But as academicians they were expected to circumscribe their external exchanges if these were made on behalf of the Academy or if information conveyed about an individual's ideas might betray the activities of the institution as a whole.

Viewed from this perspective, the actual contacts between academicians and outsiders reflect varying degrees of conflict between individual and institutional interests. Least threatening to the institution were the private lessons that many, perhaps most, academicians gave, or the medical services performed by about a quarter of them. More worrying were Cassini's and Homberg's demonstrations of experiments and apparatus at private conferences, because these might reveal secrets and because participation in such meetings diluted the two academicians' allegiance to the Academy at a time when it was in trouble. In more direct challenges, many academicians defied the policies of the institution. Huygens, for example, corresponded


about the very questions debated in meetings of the Company, and Duclos published a book against the Academy's wishes.

At both the individual and the institutional level, however, theory and practice were at odds. Savants espoused cooperation, sought widespread contacts with other scientists, and valued exchanges of ideas and information, so long as such exchanges did not endanger their own priority of invention, discovery, or explanation. Scholarly exchanges among individuals were therefore sometimes circumspect.

In seeking to establish formal relations between itself and other scientific societies in France and abroad, the Academy institutionalized the inclinations expressed, the compunctions felt, and the restraints exercised by individuals. At the same time it deliberately held aloof from certain scholarly habits of the time. Colbert organized reciprocal relations between the Academy and its provincial counterpart in Caen,[35] and the Academy and the Royal Society established irregular means of communication.[36] But the Academy also changed the traditional rules of the scholarly community: mathematicians, for example, often issued challenges in the form of difficult problems, depositing their own solutions with trusted third parties; but when one academician solved such a problem, he refused to forward his solution to the bookseller named as referee by the challenger, claiming instead that the Academy was the supreme referee.[37]

The Academy set itself apart from and above the rest of the scholarly community in still another respect. In contrast to the scholarly ideal of cooperation and exchange of information, and unlike the scientific academies organized by Montmor, Rohault, or Bourdelot that mostly welcomed the interested public to their meetings, the Academy established a rule, recorded in the minutes of 15 January 1667, that "the business of the Academy should be kept secret and … communicated to outsiders only with the approval of the Company."[38] Twenty-one years later another prohibition was announced: academicians were forbidden to publish without the permission of the Company, such approval to be granted only after examination of the manuscript in question.[39]

There were several reasons for the Academy to adopt the rules about secrecy and publication. "Fear of public satire" may well have influenced academicians.[40] Henri Justel thought so and wrote to Oldenburg in December 1667 that the Academy was keeping its activities secret "because there are those here who seek to make fun of it."[41] Such a fear would have been reasonable in light of the ridicule endured by the Royal Society, ranging from Dr. South's oration in Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre in 1669 and Henry Stubbe's mockery, to plays by Thomas Shadwell and Aphra


Behn.[42] On the French stage as well, in the works of Molière and others, philosophers and physicians were figures of fun.[43] Huygens, melancholic and jealous of his own reputation, believed outsiders were envious of the Academy and especially of him.[44]

Dread of mockery certainly motivated the judgment in 1677 that Duclos should not publish his book on the principles of natural mixts. His manuscript was read by a committee composed of Du Hamel, Blondel, Mariotte, and Perrault, who voted against publication on the grounds that Duclos's views would offend "some delicate Philosophers, who cannot suffer what seems to them to look like Platonism." They claimed further that Duclos's views were no longer novel, since they had been expressed by Athanasius Kircher in 1667.[45] After the committee refused permission to print the work, Duclos abided by the decision for three years while he revised the book,[46] and then sent it to Amsterdam for publication; he was posthumously vindicated when the Academy, better established and less fearful for its reputation, included the treatise in an eighteenth-century edition of its collected works.

The Academy behaved in this fashion not only to protect itself from gibes but also because academicians wanted priority and fame for themselves. There were two principal threats to such ambitions: academicians feared one another and they feared outsiders. In 1686 they took measures against the misappropriation of material by immediate colleagues, requiring that the Academy examine any manuscript a member wished to publish and reserving the right to set the record straight about works already published.[47] Cassini's personal power and anger with La Hire lay behind this particular ruling, but there had been other disputes among academicians, notably Mariotte and Huygens, and the problem continued to aggravate members of the Academy.[48]

As for outsiders, academicians worried about simultaneous discovery and preemptive publication. Even Du Hamel, who was generally enthusiastic about exchanging discoveries with foreign academies, justified secrecy in order to forestall success by others. Research was motivated, he said, by the hope of gaining fame through priority.[49] This view was no less common in the seventeenth than in the twentieth century, despite protestations in both eras about cooperation. Thus, the Italian mathematician and physiologist, G. A. Borelli, a member of the Accademia del Cimento, wrote to Prince Leopold along similar lines: he wanted to know what Montmor's Academy was doing, but he feared that the French would

make themselves the authors and discoverers of the inventions and speculations of our masters, and of those that we ourselves have found. This fear makes me


go slowly in beginning this corresponding with those gentleman of the Parisian academy, since in writing, one cannot do less than communicate something or other, and I fear that this may give those foreign minds an opportunity to rediscover the things; I am speaking of the causes, not the experiments.[50]

Fontenelle later described the basis for such concern:

for persons familiar with a particular field, sometimes only a word is necessary to make them understand all the nicety of an invention, and perhaps then they will carry the matter further than the original authors. That is what Galileo did with respect to telescopes.[51]

The aim of academician and Academy alike was to balance reticence and publication, keeping in mind that absolute secrecy was impossible for a group whose members boasted numerous ties with other circles and enjoyed discussing their activities.[52]

If individual members were jealous of their reputations, so was the Academy of its own. When secrecy backfired — as when Fagon credited Boccone for a plant that the Academy had already engraved — academicians raged about a conspiracy against the institution.[53] Books produced by a team of academicians posed a special problem: should the preface identify each contributor or should it simply say that the volume represented the work of the Academy? In 1676 the Academy adopted the former practice for its Mémoires des plantes , but eleven years later it preferred the latter for its Mémoires des animaux .[54] The opposite difficulty surfaced when La Hire prepared a treatise on magnetic variation and a new compass. He was reluctant to publish under his own name, but the Academy did not want the book to be an official treatise, because unlike the Royal Society it did not disassociate itself from the views of members.[55] La Chapelle wrote to Huygens about the matter, explaining that

this topic, which is one of the most sensitive in Natural Philosophy, is subject to many contradictions. This means that the uncertainty of all these hypotheses, while provoking controversy and settling nothing, will simply incite others to make new discoveries.[56]

When an academician sought recognition by risking the reputation of the Academy rather than his own, he encountered official resistance, especially when his inconclusive findings might enable others to surpass his work.

The security of the kingdom was a further reason for delaying publication. As père Léonard explained it, academicians were subject to royal censorship, just like any other writer, and not until 1705 did they gain the right to publish the works of the Academy without first obtaining an


"approbation."[57] Thus, after Blondel had written his Art de jeter des bombes in 1675, "Louis XIV forbade its publication at that time lest his enemies profit by it."[58] Delay of course opened savants to the risk of seeing their ideas published by others first or of discovering, as the Florentine Accademia had with its Saggi , that their treatises were no longer timely.

The greatest obstacle to publication was the crown. Academicians were readier to publish than were their ministerial protectors. The latter could undermine projects by a remonstrance or refusal of funds, and they often delayed or thwarted publication by turning down requests to publish or by halting printing once it had begun. Thus, when Louis XIV visited the Academy in December 1681, academicians presented him with a list of works ready for publication, but few ever appeared. During the 1680s La Hire planned to edit selected papers of academicians for an official publication, "especially since I do not see that anyone is presently disposed to having our registers printed as we would have hoped." He obtained permission from Louvois to publish on this reduced scale only after making "several requests." But in the late 1680s and early 1690s, Louvois prevented the Imprimerie royale from completing the printing of several works.[59]

Academicians were eager to discuss and publish their work. While they did not want to help rivals solve problems before them, they aspired to praise for their accomplishments and fretted lest once timely writings become disappointing relics. The Academy's official protectors were somewhat more reluctant to publish, however, because they were solicitous of the reputation of the king and the Academy, because they favored some projects at the expense of others, or because the treasury could not afford it. Publication was taken seriously as a means of enhancing the name of sponsor, Academy, and academician, and it was planned with ambition and vigilance.

The Academy resolved conflicts between its objectives and its fears pragmatically. During the 1660s it released news of its dissections anonymously in the Journal des sçavans . During the 1670s, the Imprimerie royale printed several books for the Academy on mathematics, botany, and anatomy, and academicians like Huygens signed the articles they published in the Journal des sçavans . After 1678 treatises by individual academicians appeared regularly, mostly via private publishers (some of them also imprimeurs du roi ) rather than the Imprimerie royale. Only one collective work — the observations of the Jesuits in the Far East edited by Thomas Gouye — came out during the 1680s, even though the Imprimerie royale had begun printing at least two other such volumes and La Hire was editing the treatises of deceased colleagues for publications.[60] In the 1690s official


works reappeared and a new format — monthly articles printed by the Imprimerie royale — was tested. Throughout the entire three decades, academicians wrote articles and treatises, asked the crown for permission to publish at the Imprimerie royale, submitted their manuscripts for vetting by colleagues, and then sought ways of evading the negative recommendations of protectors or committees.

Taken as a whole, corporate and individual publications earned prestige for the Company. They were reviewed in both the Journal des sçavans and the Philosophical Transactions , which also printed articles by academicians.[61] Such publicity and other methods ensured extensive dissemination of the Academy's work. Thus, news of the chemical laboratory reached Sweden,[62] and academicians' views on germination and the classification of plants influenced Swedish botanists.[63] Tournefort's publications circulated most widely; his system of classification was adopted by botanists in England and France, and his posthumous Relation d'un voyage au Levant , published in 1717, became one of the most popular books in eighteenth-century Paris. The practical and theoretical writings of previous hit Dodart next hit, Mariotte, Perrault, Lémery, Charas, and others also attracted attention in the eighteenth-century, when many were reprinted.[64]

The Academy espoused collective endeavor, communal publication, free exchange of information, and progress in knowledge. These ideals were tempered by the hope of individual renown and the desire to develop a strong reputation for the Academy. Insofar as academicians' publications were well received, the Academy's program was successful.

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Chapter 15 Academicians and the Larger Scientific Community
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