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Chapter 4 The Material Benefits of Membership: Pensions and Quarters
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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.


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