Preferred Citation: Stroup, Alice. A Company of Scientists: Botany, Patronage, and Community at the Seventeenth-Century Parisian Royal Academy of Sciences. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1990.

Chapter 14 Scientific Paris at the End of the Century

Chapter 14
Scientific Paris at the End of the Century

The Academy was part of a larger community interested in science. This community comprised philosophers and experimenters, authors and debaters, travelers and collectors, instrument makers and teachers, medical and mathematical practitioners, amateurs and patrons. It was international and also local. While the Academy addressed theoretical issues of international concern, it was simultaneously part of a French community, to which it owed its foundation, its support, and most of its members. Far from monopolizing the practice of science in Paris or in France, academicians enjoyed ties to other savants with similar interests, as the Academy's study of ergot revealed.

The relations between the Academy and the larger scientific community — whether French or international — clarify the interests of both. During an era when cooperation was much vaunted within the scientific community, the formation of an elite, closed institution altered scientific intercourse. The Academy's association with outsiders throws into relief the hierarchy of the late seventeenth-century scientific community, the nature of the audience for science, some features of the Parisian scientific community, and the benefits academicians and nonacademicians derived from their contacts with one another.

The Scientific Community

The early modern scientific community was stratified both socio-economically and intellectually. Although biographical data are insufficient


to assess its socioeconomic structure in detail, the intellectual hierarchy of the scientific community is somewhat more accessible. During this period most scientific savants did not make a living from research, teaching, or publication, but supported themselves instead as clergy, magistrates, physicians, or the clients of nobles and princes. Indeed, the word scientist had not yet been coined, and thus modern criteria of profession are often inapplicable.[1] There was, nevertheless, a clear recognition within the learned community that some of its members were more worthy than others. Some individuals gained reputations as savants, geometers, natural philosophers, anatomists, or botanists, for example, because of their accomplishments; others were known as amateurs or intelligencers, because their interests were more general and their contributions more modest.[2] There were "athletes," "talkers," and "listeners," as Le Gallois put it in the 1670s, and the athletes (that is, the vigorous experimentalists) learned little from the others, who predominated in the private learned societies of Paris.[3] Beyond the scientific community was the larger public, which variously absorbed, ignored, rejected, or was unaware of what was published by others.

The hierarchy of the scientific community depended, therefore, on the value of each member's actual contributions, and different worths were assigned to theory and raw data, with explanation more highly prized than uninterpreted information. Martin Rudwick has recently analyzed the scientific community as composed of two principal components: the elite, who determine which theories are plausible, usually preferring hypotheses put forward from their own ranks, and the amateurs, whose theories are normally rejected by the elite who may nevertheless examine the data amateurs provide. In addition, there is the interested public, whose data and theories are both suspect in the eyes of the elite, and which is regarded by both elite and amateurs primarily as having the function of audience. Individuals can move up and down the ladder, and a polymath may fit all three categories at once, but theory mostly trickles down, while some data filters up.[4]

This analysis, developed for nineteenth-century London, is suggestive for seventeenth-century Paris. But it does not convey the enthusiasm for experiment or the faint mistrust of hypothesizing characteristic of seventeenth-century savants. Thus it does not correspond wholly to the distinctions that academicians and their contemporaries made about their community. Le Gallois's athletes were experimentalists but not necessarily theorists. What mattered was that the elite be innovative, because the next rank in esteem — whose members were called amateurs, virtuosi, intelligencers, talkers or listeners — was imitative. The scientific community also


included mathematical and medical practitioners who earned a living from surveying, making instruments, performing surgery, or composing medicaments, for example, and contributed in complex ways to early modern science. Finally, although the Academy had its own internal hierarchy, it constituted an elite institution vis à vis the rest of the scientific community.[5]

The seventeenth-century Academy and Royal Society were composed of these various groups in different proportions. Unlike the Academy, the Royal Society depended on its members' annual subscriptions for funds and admitted larger numbers of amateurs, so long as they could pay the price.[6] In the Academy, there were few amateurs and intelligencers — men like Thévenot, Du Hamel, and Fontenelle — but many students and practitioners, such as Niquet, Pivert, Bourdelin, and others, who did not as a rule theorize at meetings. The elite at the Academy were Cassini, Huygens, Dodart, Perrault, Duclos, Mariotte, La Hire, and others, who dominated planning and publishing and gave most of the papers at meetings. Most academicians were "athletes" in the broadest sense of the word; that is, most were serious researchers and writers, working at the edge of their respective fields.

Modest Public Interest in Science

The audience for science included the entire scientific community — elite and amateur — as well as those members of the literate public who were curious about the nature of the world. Some early modern writers recognized the importance of public interest in science. Both Bacon and Descartes, for example, emphasized the benefits that science offered to society, and Bacon thought that in exchange the public ought to supply data, while Descartes believed financial support was more efficient.[7] At the heart of the relationship between specialists and the public were mutual benefits and overlapping interests. The scientific community and the public were united by a curiosity about the universe born from the conviction that understanding it was interesting, important, and potentially useful.

During the early modern period, science became a recreation for ever larger numbers of people, who came from ever broader cross-sections of the total population. The popularity of scientific literature in the vernacular, the publication of scientific treatises for the general reader, the development of lecture-demonstrations in the eighteenth century, the changing holdings of personal libraries, and patterns of borrowing from circulating libraries all signify this trend.[8] Nevertheless, science remained the interest of a minority, and in some circles it was downright unfashionable.


The audience for science during the early modern period was heterogeneous, and it remains inadequately defined.

The "battle of the dictionaries" during the 1680s highlights French attitudes towards the sciences at the end of the seventeenth century. Two dictionaries competed against each other — one prepared by the Académie française, the other by Antoine Furetière, one of its members. At stake was the nature of the language. Furetière's Dictionnaire universel, with its technical vocabulary from the arts and sciences, was highly regarded despite a campaign by the Académie française to suppress it. In contrast, the Académie's own dictionary was widely criticized for excessive purism. One of the issues dividing the authors was the respectability of the sciences. Purists claimed that the lowly social origins of savants and the vernacular etymologies of scientific words made natural philosophy not respectable and thus justified the exclusion of its vocabulary. Latin, and to a lesser extent Greek, had traditionally been the language of scientific savants, and when science was a bookish, scholarly preserve, Latin's technical vocabulary and international compass made it indispensable. But as the nature of scientific inquiry changed and the ranks of natural philosophers were swelled by practitioners and others lacking university degrees or knowledge of Latin, the scientific vocabulary not only expanded but even took many of its neologisms from the vernacular.

During the sixteenth century especially, the vocabulary of the French language grew because literati explored many different subjects, championed to some extent the language of the people, and learned the technical terms of various disciplines. In the seventeenth century there was a purist reaction to this expansion of the language. But the triumph of Furetière's dictionary marks the partial defeat of those sticklers who disqualified words that referred to unseemly objects and activities or that lacked Greek or Latin forebears. In the best tradition of the previous century, Furetière remarked that architects, engineers, and mathematicians spoke good French and that a dictionary must include the language of practical disciplines.[9]

Even scientific savants disagreed about the propriety of introducing harsh, technical terms into the delicate French language. The old-fashioned La Chambre, a physician renowned for his elegant prose and a member of both the Académie des sciences and the Académie française, urged physicians to conform to the highest literary standards so as to make medical literature acceptable in good society. But this would have entailed omitting such terms as capillaire, botanique, amputation, alimenteux, impénétrabilité, effervescence, balsamique, chirurgical, anastomose, aneurisme, and aorte


from the language, even though many were essential for discussing the most timely scientific issues.[10] Other academicians were more receptive to innovation. Perrault and Tournefort welcomed the word botanique, Dodart and the Marchants coined new words for the natural history of plants, and Borelly, Blondel, and Auzout helped Furetière to master up-to-date scientific, technical, and medical vocabulary.[11]

Most scientific institutions in the late seventeenth century adopted the vernacular and published their transactions in Italian, English, or French. Although the majority of books and articles by academicians appeared in French, the publications of the Academy's two permanent secretaries reflect a transition. Du Hamel's excellent command of Latin helped earn him his post, and he wrote his history of the Academy in that traditional scholarly tongue; in contrast, Fontenelle published the history and memoirs of the Academy and his eulogies of academicians in French. By the end of the century, science was commonly discussed in the vernacular in France, and scientific ideas and words had become useful metaphors in the language.[12]

But at the very time when the vernacular began to replace Latin as the language for the sciences, literacy in France was declining. Carlo M. Cipolla has calculated that, for early modern Europe as a whole, one to three teachers per thousand persons would have been necessary to increase the proportion of those who could read and write. But "in 1672 there were in Paris 332 teachers … and about 480,000 people," or fewer than "seven formal elementary school teachers for every 10,000 people." This ratio was low by comparison with the late middle ages. In all of France between 1686 and 1690 only 25 percent of the persons "who contracted marriage … could sign their names." If the data for the Narbonne region apply generally, then "literacy among merchants and bourgeois was as high as 90 percent and more," while "among urban artisans it was about 65 percent, and among the rural population it ranged between 10 and 30 percent."[13]

Literacy alone was no guarantee of an appetite for scientific literature, which in turn led only exceptionally to study of the new theoretical sciences. The reading public preferred religion, history, the ancient classics, and French literature to the sciences and philosophy. Moreover, this was the era when the fairy tale was in vogue and when the taste for the marvelous attracted the educated to study folktales, superstitions, and prodigies. Thus, natural histories reported monsters and other curiosities, and even academicians were not immune to fashion, although they tried to reform it.[14] Popular treatises on science, some intended for the literate artisan or small shopkeeper, were practical, old-fashioned, and superstitious. Almanacs and books on medicine for the poor, or on arithmetic, astrology, or


travel were aimed at popular audiences, but devotional literature enjoyed a much larger share of that market. Only 5 percent of the books in private Parisian libraries in the second half of the century were scientific.[15] Even Nicolas Blegny, the physician who compiled a book of useful addresses in Paris for 1691 and 1692, listed more music teachers (seventy-five) than physicians, and scientific practitioners and bookshops were in a minority.[16] Except for the popular or the pseudosciences, science seems to have interested only a small proportion of the French population, and the principal audience for natural philosophy, as Henri-Jean Martin has shown, was among the upper robe, the politicoeconomic elite that dominated the cultural life of Paris.

Personal libraries reveal the kinds of scientific treatises collected in the period. Books by Bacon, Galileo, and Gassendi appeared frequently, those by Rohault and La Chambre occasionally, and Malpighi's anatomy of plants rarely. Parisian readers evinced little interest in chemistry, disdained perhaps as the domain of "sooty empirics," or in medicine, the province of specialists who made a living practicing it. The most popular fields were architecture, fortification, cartography, geography, and botany. A large number of the titles represent sixteenth-century authors. Of the official publications of the Academy, only Dodart's Mémoires des plantes appears in the inventories Martin has analyzed. Blondel was the most widely read academician, and his treatises on architecture, fortification, and geometry had appeal beyond any works by other members of the Academy. Thus, not many Parisians kept up with technology and science, and those who did preferred military subjects and natural history.[17]

In general the audience for science was not strongly inclined to theory. It was dominated by amateurs who found scientific subjects entertaining or useful. Their relatively superficial interest is evident when their libraries are compared with those owned by the producers of scientific knowledge. In contrast to the 163 scientific books Martin identified in more than two hundred private collections, the library of Nicolas and Jean Marchant (whose work was descriptive rather than theoretical) contained more than two hundred titles on botany and medicine alone.[18] Producers of science, therefore, were its most avid consumers, and the market for scientific books was small.

Scientific Goods and Services in Paris, 1660–1700

Although the sciences were becoming more respectable, natural philosophers and their audience formed a relatively small, indeed sometimes


intimate, community. Within France, Paris was a focal point of scientific activity. Paris attracted not only those who wished to make their fortunes and attain high office but also others who sought success within literary, musical, artistic, and intellectual spheres. It had become the cultural center of the kingdom, and once the Academy was established there, the allure of the city increased for scientific adepts.

The city offered its inhabitants and visitors variety within a small geographic range. Paris furnished the Academy's immediate theater of operations. In it lived the power brokers who controlled patronage, the printers and instrument makers who supplied the tools of the trade, and an audience eager for discourse and demonstrations. Academicians thus belonged to networks that wielded power, stimulated the intellect, and provided services. The Company's relationship to the community was twofold: it depended on local facilities for many of its activities, but it also affected the way science was done in Paris and how Parisians perceived scientific savants. To examine the Academy in isolation, therefore, would be to ignore the reciprocity between the institution and its environment.

But because the Academy eclipsed, both in fact and in historiographic tradition, the scientific community in which it functioned, the task of reconstructing that community is not only important but also difficult. In such a quest, biographies, notarial records, guide books, travel memoirs, correspondence, scientific literature, the minutes of the Academy and other learned institutions, and the personal papers of scholars, patrons, and their associates, would be of obvious help. Because scholarly intercourse relied mainly on frequent conversations that were rarely recorded, however, it is elusive. Here it is possible to offer only an outline of the Parisian scientific community at the end of the century — not, as would be ideal, as a commonwealth of competing ideas, each with its adherents and opponents, but, more practically, as a community of goods, services, and their consumers, which formed a network of overlapping interests that included the Academy.

When the Academy was founded, Paris was a city of nearly 500,000 inhabitants and 24,000 to 30,000 houses. The poet Paul Scarron wrote of it as a confused mass of bridges and filthy streets, of churches, palaces, prisons, houses, and shops, whose inhabitants were people of all physical and moral types. Its narrow streets, paved and unpaved, were lit at night by the reflecting candle lanterns installed in 1667. When Martin Lister visited at the end of the century, he observed that its houses were made of "hewen Stone … or whited over with plaister." He also remarked that very few, and then only small, signs were permitted on the streets, while statues of the


king and his forebears abounded. Although Paris lacked numerous public squares, it seemed to a foreigner to be a public city, where people liked to come "together to see and be seen" and to converse out-of-doors. The English visitor noted not only many monks but also lawyers and their wives, with "their trains carried up." In the streets, coaches traveled at speeds that endangered pedestrians, including Tournefort, who died of injuries sustained in just such an accident. The air, like that of other large seventeenth-century cities, was polluted, although it was not so unhealthy as in London. Parisian institutions that figured prominently on maps and in guidebooks included hospitals, the courts of justice, the university, the Royal Garden, monasteries and churches, the hôtels of the wealthy, and the Academy's Observatory. The city offered products ranging from glass eyes to carpenters' nails, and services from the conservation of paintings to air disinfection.[19] As a center of culture and commodities, of architectural sights and learned gatherings, Paris inspired admiration. Locke reported ironically that Paris must "be heaven, for the French with their usuall justice extol it above althings on earth."[20]

The city (plate 5) consisted of seventeen quarters, each with a distinctive character. Three areas especially influenced the intellectual life of Paris. On the Left Bank, the university quarter with its bookshops dominated; it was flanked by the Jardin royal to the east and by monasteries, convents, hôtels, and hospitals to the west. On the Right Bank, the hôtels of the nobility and the upper robe overshadowed in magnificence and power the crowded artisans' quarters to the east. The administrative and regal center of the city — perched on the Seine, controlling the Cité, and running along the river's edge on the Right Bank — was situated in the Tuileries Gardens and Palace, the Louvre, the Palais de Justice, the Châtelet, the Hôtel de Ville, the Arsenal, and the Bastille.

Members of the scientific community could be found in most of the city's quarters, but they were often clustered around major scholarly landmarks. On the Left Bank (plate 5b), the university quarter, for example, contained not only savants like Gallois who lived in the colleges but also many printers and their shops. Some instrument makers set up their premises on rue Mazarine and rue neuve des Fossés, streets that marked the boundary between the university quarter and that of monasteries and hôtels . At the western and eastern limits of the city, the Hôtel des invalides and the Jardin royal housed several savants, including members of the Academy. To the south, at the end of rue du faubourg Saint Jacques, was the Observatory, where several academicians lived; between the Observatory and the university quarter was the faubourg Saint Jacques, where certain parishes, salons,





Plate 5   Paris circa 1700 (engraved by Nicolas de Fer; photograph courtesy of Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris).


and sites attracted a community of Jansenist savants, among whom academicians counted many friends. Pierre Varignon lived there with his friend and benefactor, the abbé de Saint Pierre.

On the Right Bank (plate 5a), the district around the Palais royal knew both scholars and their patrons, and the hôtels of the latter often housed their learned protégés. The Bibliothèque du roi was home to the Academy and a handful of savants, including academicians and the scholars responsible for the King's Library. Nearby, on rue Saint Pierre, an instrument maker had established his premises. To the east in the Marais, Dodart owned the family house in rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie, not far from the hôtel of a tax farmer.

The administrative center of Paris formed a bridge between the Left and Right Banks, and contained several focal points for savants. Instrument makers who enjoyed royal sponsorship made and sold their wares from the Galeries du Louvre, and savants lived in the Louvre as well, as had Cassini briefly while awaiting completion of the Observatory. The rue du Harlay and the quai de l'Horloge in the Cité also attracted instrument makers and map makers. Another shop where instruments could be purchased, on the quai Peletier (now quai de Gesvres), was only a short walk from the quai de l'Horloge across the Pont au Change and along the Seine toward the Hôtel de Ville.

In the late seventeenth century, the Right Bank challenged the university quarter as the intellectual center of Paris. When the upper robe increased its patronage of learning and the arts, some savants, learned institutions, and business enterprises migrated to that district of the city. Colbert had stimulated that shift by moving the Bibliothèque du roi from the rue de La Harpe (which ran parallel to the rue Saint Jacques in the university quarter on the Left Bank), to the rue Vivienne, just north of the Palais royal where it was surrounded by the hôtels of Colbert himself, Louvois, and Pontchartrain. The appeal of these new sources of demand is clear, because shops offering scientific instruments and maps sprang up in the Cité and the Right Bank, despite the pull of the Observatory and the university on the Left Bank.[21]

Paris supported and encouraged scholarly effort. It was a center for the manufacture and trade of books, scientific instruments, and other objects that savants and dilettantes accumulated and used. Some of its inhabitants owned private collections that might be opened to like-minded individuals for their contemplation and admiration. The city was provided with teachers of specialized disciplines and with private societies for learned colloquy. Furthermore, it benefited from royal patronage, which singled out the city


itself for attention and also situated there various institutions devoted to the theoretical and applied sciences. In short, Paris was the focus of scientific research, teaching, and discussion in France.

Publishing was essential to the learned community, and Paris was a center of the French book trade, which was in decline largely as a result of the general economic contraction. Other negative influences included royal censorship, a flourishing clandestine trade in controversial books published abroad and smuggled into France, a new expectation on the part of authors that they should profit from the sales of their books, and a preference on the part of printers for cheaper, smaller books that would reach a more numerous audience. The effects of royal censorship were obvious to Lister in 1698: he noted how few weekly gazettes were sold and how difficult and dangerous it was "to vend a Libel" in Paris.[22] The Imprimerie royale, operating outside the normal economic constraints, could specialize in prestigious works in the large formats that had become a thing of the past for most private printers but remained attractive to the crown for propagandistic reasons. In aggregate, private Parisian printers offered only a few hundred titles a year, and fewer than two hundred of those were new.[23] The book trade as a whole was in a weakened condition.

Nicolas Blegny's guide to goods and services available in Paris during the early 1690s told its users where to look for books on specific subjects. Persons interested in gardening could buy at the shops of Sercy and Barbin, in the grande salle of the Palais de Justice and on the steps of Sainte Chapelle, respectively. Several shops selling scientific books were located in the university quarter, on rue Saint Jacques. One specializing in foreign literature offered a life of Descartes and treatises on gout and surgery. Michallet, an imprimeur du roi, sold not only the Ordonnances pour la marine and La connoissance des temps, both official works, but also Lémery's Chimie and books on medications and the conquest of New Spain. Laurent d'Houry's shop, opposite the Saint Severin fountain, emphasized medical treatises. Cusson offered the Journal des sçavans, a weekly edited by the academician Gallois; it reviewed the latest books and contained articles (written in the form of letters to the editor), on the subjects of natural philosophy, history, and theology.[24]

Coignard, an imprimeur du roi who sold the Dictionnaire of the Académie française, also sold geography books and Vauban's treatise on fortifications. An arithmetic for engineers by La Londe, Boyle's specifics, Duncan's Mithologie phisique, and Cordemoy's Discours philosophique were available from the widow Nion on the quai de Nesle. She sold several medical books, including Blegny's treatises, and a volume said to be the


works of Aesculapius, which Michallet and d'Houry also sold. Books by academicians on mathematics were available from Michallet and from Jombert, on the quai des Augustins. Savants like Étienne Baluze, a garde at the Bibliothèque du roi, spent their afternoons at a favorite bookshop, which offered not only items for browsing and purchase but also a place where like-minded individuals could meet and chat.[25]

Books and articles by members of the Academy constituted a major proportion of all the literature on mathematics and the sciences published in Paris between 1650 and 1700.[26] Academicians also published in related areas, such as the art of war, the fine arts, technology and scientific instruments, medicine, and the hermetic sciences. By establishing the Academy, therefore, the crown stimulated scientific publication, not only because the Imprimerie royale printed works by its members but also because the status of an academician apparently induced private printers to try new titles that otherwise they would have refused.

Like books, scientific apparatus — instruments, maps, globes, and other equipment — ranged from the state-of-the-art tools necessary for research to items more appropriate to the amateur or collector. Thus, they were produced and sold by makers of varied skills.

Maps were widely available and very popular; some reflected the Academy's cartographic advances. Two locations — the Galeries du Louvre and the quai de l'Horloge — were especially attractive for map makers at the end of the century because the best instrument makers were also situated there, but map makers had traditionally produced and sold their wares near rue Saint Jacques, the focal point of the book trade until demand extended significantly outside university circles. The cartographer Sanson, whose work had to be corrected after the Academy surveyed the northern coast of France, sold his maps out of the Galeries du Louvre. Mlle de Val sold maps and books on geography from the quai de l'Horloge, but a better product could be had further along the same quai from Nicolas de Fer, a royal geographer who based his Atlas curieux of 1704 on the cartographic work of the Academy and whose historical maps of Paris appeared in Delamare's Traité de la police .[27]

The Academy relied on the best makers to construct and repair its instruments, and other savants used their services as well. Thus, for mathematical instruments Blegny sent his readers to the elite of instrument makers: to Le Bas, who as a royal artisan had a shop in the Galeries du Louvre, and to Chapotot and Butterfield on the quai de l'Horloge.[28] The armuriers or gunsmiths Gosselin and Lagny, on retainer to the Academy for repairing mathematical instruments, occupied a three-story house owned


by the king and located on rue St. Honoré opposite St. Roch.[29] Macard had bought up Sevin's stock and sold it from a shop on the quai de Morfundus at the sign of the astrolabe.[30]

Apparatus for measuring time was available at the Galeries du Louvre from Isaac and Jacques Thuret, father and son; on retainer to the Academy, they also sold watches and pendulum clocks to anyone who could pay the price, including perhaps owners of private observatories.[31] For meteorological instruments, such as barometers, thermometers, hydrometers, and aerometers, the work of Hubin, an enameler, was highly regarded. Hubin also offered a line of air pumps at his shop on rue Saint Denis, across from the rue aux Ours; he was a friend of Denis Papin, Huygens's one-time collaborator, and perhaps developed his air pumps through this association. Hubin supplied and repaired aerometers for the Academy's chemical laboratory, and his thermometers were later admired by Réaumur. Do, another enameler, offered simpler and cheaper meteorological instruments from his shop on rue du Harlay.[32]

André Dalesme, an inventor who became an academician in 1699 and was paid from the 1680s for assisting the Academy, had a shop on rue Saint Denis near the Queen's Fountain. At it he sold the latest gadgets, such as quill pens with special nibs, an iron sheet-metal tube suitable for burning wood without a fireplace because no smoke was produced, a "thermolampe," and a "machine à vapeur".[33] Chemists could get furnaces and crucibles at shops on the place de l'Hôtel de Cluny, on the rue Mazarine, and in the faubourg Saint Jacques.[34]

Apparatus for the new experimental sciences was itself new and experimental, and instrument makers helped savants keep up with the latest inventions or trends. Locke collected information in his travels from anyone who was willing to share it, including "Mr. Oury, a watchmaker" whose shop was on the quai Peletier and who informed Locke in 1677 that he had "given off the way of makeing watches with very great ballances in imitation of pendulums because, but several jogs in one's pocket, they are apt some times to stand still." Butterfield showed Locke a new leveling instrument that was described in the Journal des sçavans in 1677 and 1678.[35] When a serious experimenter at the forefront of his field needed custom-made equipment, instrument makers and lesser artisans helped design and construct it. Many of the makers recommended by Blegny worked with savants to develop new apparatus, and other, nameless artisans with the homely skills of boring tubes or blowing glass were crucial to seventeenth-century experimentalism.[36]

But many instruments were sold for entertainment rather than for


research. Most mechanical timekeepers, for example, were decorative or instructive, not precision, instruments. Probably the work of Daniel Deaubonne, who was "a simple monk for more than thirty years," falls into this category. He made lenses and microscopes at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Prés and sold them "with the permission of the superiors, who saw that the money went to the poor."[37] Pouilly, on rue Dauphine, made mathematical instruments, appealing to amateurs with a curious calendar designed for their studies and claiming that he could increase the power of lodestones or that his microscopes had extraordinary magnifying power. Cylindrical mirrors were available at the shop of Amielle near Saint Hilaire and from a Theatine monk who also made magic lanterns.[38]

Natural history could also be entertaining and collectible, and menageries and gardens were fashionable showpieces of curiosity and artifice. Some curiosities provided popular spectacles and profit for entrepreneurs. Enticed into a booth advertising four exotic animals, Lister was disappointed to find only the "very ordinary" leopard and raccoon, but he enjoyed seeing in Paris a trained elephant that "bent the Joints of her Legs very nimbly in making her Salutes to the Company." Locke visited the royal menagerie half a league from Versailles, where he saw ostriches and other birds, and an elephant that ate "fifty lb of bread per diem & sixteen lbs. of wine with rice."[39] The pépinerie, or royal nursery located in the faubourg Saint Honoré, provided a model of horticultural ingenuity and lavishness. Regarded by visitors as "worth seeing," it maintained greenhouses and an "infirmery of sick Orange-Trees," and in four years supplied "eighteen Millions of Tulips, and other Bulbous Flowers" to Marly alone. Affluent Parisians also cultivated rare plants amid fountains and prided themselves on individual methods of pruning; Louvois's garden was "one of the neatest … in Paris."[40] To assist enthusiasts of gardening, Blegny listed sellers of plants, trees, fruits, and vegetables, and he informed his readers that Tournefort and Plumier taught how to grow plants, with Tournefort specializing in medicinal varieties.[41] Individual academicians were skilled gardeners, but as an institution the Academy avoided horticulture and agriculture, deferring to the expertise of Jean de La Quintinie, director of gardening at Versailles, and to others.[42]

To compensate for the impractical or ephemeral aspects of keeping live specimens, collectors could turn to the taxidermist Colson, who assisted the Academy and also offered his services to the general public from premises in the faubourg Saint Antoine opposite rue de Charonne. They could also purchase paintings of flowers and animals from Nicolas Robert, whom Gaston, duke of Orléand, and the Academy had favored; after his


death de Fontenay, near the Palais royal, and Huilliot, on the rue Bourlabé, were said to offer the best renditions of these subjects.[43]

Savants and amateurs alike cultivated gardens and collected books, medals, instruments, maps, shells, skeletons, and other items, many of which found their way into Parisian cabinets along with paintings and objects of art. Collectors might be physicians, chevaliers, or administrators of the Hôpital général; some were women, and many were wealthy and powerful royal officials. Like Seneca's millionaire — whose slaves recited the classics from memory and thereby displayed their master's erudition — they displayed their culture by opening their cabinets to fellow enthusiasts.[44]

Since one of the objects of collecting was to exhibit acquisitions, the reports of learned travelers abound with descriptions of the most pleasing, famous, or useful collections. These accounts reveal eclectic tastes that joined art and science, mingling beauty, utility, and curiosity. Du Vivier's rooms at the Arsenal were filled with Chinese porcelains, books, and paintings by the masters. Pierre Michon Bourdelot, first physician to the house of Condé and sponsor of a learned academy, owned "a perfect collection of all the books of philosophy and medicine."[45] Charles César Baudelot de Dairval, author of De l'utilité des voyages published in 1686, collected coins, medals, and Greek marbles and also owned a two-pound stone recovered from a dissected horse. M. de Gaignières collected engravings of statesmen, oil portraits, manuscripts, playing cards, and maps. Nicolas Boucot, a keeper of records, owned paintings, statues, and nearly sixty drawers of shells, a fish given to him by "Lady Portsmouth, possibly out of King Charles's Collection," and a zebra skin.[46] Certain monasteries enjoyed renowned collections. The discalced Augustinians owned a cabinet of natural history, and the cabinet des machines made by Sébastien Truchet attracted Peter the Great and other distinguished visitors to the Carmelite monastery.[47]

The Academy maintained its own collection of natural marvels in the Jardin royal, and it owned one of Galileo's telescopes, which it had received as a gift; its salle des machines in the Observatory functioned as an educational collection for visitors. Individual academicians were also collectors. Huygens's apartment contained scientific instruments and works of art, Tournefort owned a large herbarium and shells, and Louis Morin had an impressive "Musaeum of Natural History … and of comparative Anatomies," which included "a Cabinet of Shells, another of Seeds, among which were some from China: Variety of Skeletons, etc." Blondel's well-known cabinet contained not only mineralogical objects but also works of art by Italian and French masters.[48]


Amateurs and natural philosophers alike had broad interests, and scientific objects found a place in their collections as the odd curiosity or as a subject of more systematic interest. Proprietors who showed their collections sometimes performed an important service to serious scholars, and this was especially true of the large private libraries. The monks at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Prés, for example, were allowed to use the Bignon collection and they modified their financial policy in order to retain this right.[49] Access to the Bibliothèque du roi depended on having access to the persons responsible for it, although it was opened for public viewing two days a week. When Lister visited, he found that books in some rooms were wired to the shelves for safekeeping,[50] a wise precaution, for at least one sponsor canceled scholarly meetings after noticing thefts from his home.[51] Many libraries had substantial scientific holdings, including the Bibliothèque du roi, the collections of individual savants, and perhaps some monasteries.[52] Blegny opened his own personal library to the public; it was part of his Jardin médicinal, where he lectured on surgery, drugs, and novelties in the natural sciences.[53] Academicians had routine admission to the Bibliothèque du roi and may have been allowed to use the private libraries of Colbert and the Bignon family when their own failed them.[54]

Scientific discourse complemented research, collecting, and publication. It could take the form of private correspondence and conversations between scholarly intimates or of meetings attended by a dozen or more savants and amateurs, eager to see a new experiment performed or to debate a new idea. Jacques Rohault gave private lessons on Cartesianism and held weekly public conferences; Thévenot, Bourdelot, Denis, and others also sponsored scholarly meetings.[55] In the early 1690s Blegny directed what he called the Société royale de la médecine; the abbé La Roque held natural philosophical discussions on Thursday afternoons; while on Saturday afternoons M. le Chevalier Chassebras du Bréau held meetings on history and science, and de Fontaney sponsored mathematical sessions.[56]

Establishment of the Academy did not dismantle private scientific societies, which often included academicians. At such meetings, academicians conversed with highly regarded natural philosophers, intelligencers, nobles, and foreigners, both men and women. Particularly during the 1690s, when the Academy did not know how to fill its weekly meetings, many of its members participated in the learned group of Mathieu François Geoffroy, father of the chemist who joined the Academy in 1699: Du Verney dissected and Homberg demonstrated chemical operations; Cassini brought his planispheres, Sébastien Truchet his machines, and Joblot some


lodestones. Geoffroy's meetings were convivial and stimulating, and they brought academicians together with members of the Compagnie des arts et métiers.[57]

The modest interest in natural philosophy and mathematics among the public, and its superficial and eclectic character even among aficionados, can be blamed on education. Learning about natural philosophy was difficult because schools offered little instruction in the sciences or mathematics. Most advocates of such teaching saw these subjects as having a fairly limited utilitarian function. Jansenist pedagogues recommended teaching mathematics and physics (along with history, geography, religion, and the classics) in order "to develop the child's judgment,"[58] and Jesuit colleges offered a thorough grounding in mathematics and its applications in gnomonics and fortifications.[59] Parisian elementary schools for the bourgeois offered religion and commercial arithmetic, while noble youths learned riding, dance, military exercises, and mathematics.[60] Private lessons were available, and teachers of applied mathematics, such as surveying, sometimes advertised in Journaux d'avis or at Bureaux d'adresse.[61] Paris boasted at least fifty masters of arts who taught Latin, Greek, philosophy, and mathematics; others offered geography, foreign languages, fortifications, surveying, and architecture. Such teaching emphasized the basic skills necessary for performing military, medical, or mercantile operations. It was the collèges and university that introduced students to the new natural philosophy, primarily by trying to refute it.[62]

For instruction in the controversial ideas of the new science and mathematics, a student did best to teach himself or herself, work with individual savants, and attend meetings of private scientific societies. This was how many academicians had developed their knowledge and skills. In Paris savants like Lémery, Rohault, and Ozanam, some of them autodidacts themselves, offered instruction in their specialties.[63] Although the Academy was not designed as a teaching institution, some of its members gave lessons at the Observatory, with Rolle for example specializing in algebra.[64] The crown sponsored tuition in pure mathematics and the applied sciences. The Collège royal, where Varignon, La Hire, and Gallois were professors, was known for its teaching of mathematics.[65] Blondel and La Hire were professors in the Royal Academy of Architecture, which was like a craft organization in that its purpose was to teach the principles of architecture.[66] The Jardin royal tried to improve medical practice and reached a large audience with public lectures on botany, chemistry, and anatomy; its garden was "open also to Walk in, to all People of Note," and once replanted to illustrate Tournefort's classification, it educated in theoretical


as well as medical botany.[67] The concentration of patronage and scientific savants, goods, and services, therefore, made Paris a center of education in science and mathematics, and especially of informal tuition in the new science.

Publication was important to the scientific world, but so were the personal contacts among scholars, fellow collectors, artisans, teachers, and students. All sought opportunities to study, converse, circulate manuscripts, or display some novel curiosity, and academicians participated along with everyone else. Paris encouraged a healthy mingling among the elite, amateurs, and the public, and by attracting provincials and foreigners, it broadened the contacts available to everyone. Just as it was a necessary stop on the scholarly grand tour of Europe, Paris was also an attractive destination for the ambitious savant who hoped to make a name for himself. The Academy and its members were important in both respects.


Scientific Paris abounded in shops and institutions, meetings and lectures. Science was to some extent a sociable discipline, and Parisians with an inclination toward natural philosophy took advantage of the varied opportunities the city offered. The Academy was an important participant in Parisian scientific circles. It contributed to a slight topographic shift of the scholarly community from the Left to Right Bank. Its transactions with instrument makers encouraged the trade, and its improved cartographic techniques were adopted by map makers. Its Observatory was open to visitors who could learn from the equipment and maps displayed there. Academicians participated in other scientific gatherings. They also collected books, natural curiosities, and instruments, and they educated the public through their publications, in private lessons, and by teaching at institutions sponsored by the crown. Scholarly interchange with persons outside the Academy remained important to academicians, who sought contacts in Paris and abroad. Members of the Academy were not cloistered, but avidly sought contacts. The use they made of these connections, however, was complicated by personal competitiveness among savants and by institutional interference.


Chapter 14 Scientific Paris at the End of the Century

Preferred Citation: Stroup, Alice. A Company of Scientists: Botany, Patronage, and Community at the Seventeenth-Century Parisian Royal Academy of Sciences. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  1990.