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 15 Academicians and the Larger Scientific Community

Private Contacts Between Academicians And Other Savants

Although by and large savants would have agreed with Mariotte that progress in natural philosophy depended on cooperation, there were many obstacles to their doing so.[2] The impediments to effective scholarly collaboration derived from not only personal traits and socioeconomic circumstance but also allegiances to religious, intellectual, or political views.

An overriding motivation for scholarly research was the quest for personal gloire . Savants like Du Hamel accepted this as a part of human nature, while Mariotte and others deplored it as a sign of "bad faith" and a cause of stagnation in scientific inquiry.[3] But other individual traits also affected learned collaboration, sometimes negatively. Personal inclination made some natural philosophers gregarious but others reclusive: Lister and Locke pursued every lead, using their travels to visit anyone with a promising reputation or collection; in contrast, the Jansenist botanist Louis Morin took as his motto, "visitors honor me, those who stay away give me pleasure."[4] Some savants had incompatible personalities, and still others would not collaborate with each other because of previous clashes.

Differences in social status were important barriers to learned discourse: on the one hand, inferior social standing disqualified some persons from attending scholarly meetings, while on the other, social superiority made some savants reluctant to dirty their hands in the practical labors necessary to perform certain experiments and closed their minds to the contributions made by artisans.[5] Financial limitations hampered scholars, preventing them from building their libraries, purchasing equipment and supplies, or traveling to educate themselves; Ray was grateful to his friend, the wealthy amateur Francis Willughby, who made it possible for Ray to travel by paying his way as a learned companion on Willughby's grand tour of the Continent.[6] Ignorance of Latin and foreign vernaculars circumscribed a savant's field of inquiry, and neophytes simply did not know where to go or


whom to seek out; to some extent such problems resulted from social and economic circumstances that limited educational opportunities.

Religious, political, and intellectual influences were also decisive. Religious discord — whether between Protestant and Catholic, between Jesuit and Jansenist, or between rival religious orders — made some savants antagonistic toward one another and could affect how scholars formulated scientific questions or hypotheses. Political instability also impeded scholarly intercourse in several ways. During the reign of Louis XIV, French, Dutch, and English savants struggled to avoid embargoes on the exchange of correspondence and books; Lister's pleasure in visiting Paris during 1698 was heightened because France had been inaccessible to English scholars during the recent wars. Some savants were more seriously affected if they used their scholarly pursuits as a cover for clandestine activities on behalf of one side or the other, allowed their scholarly inclinations to be swayed by chauvinistic feelings, or lost their lives in battle.[7] Ultimately, intellectual sectarianism also divided scholarly ranks and obstructed reasoned discourse; Mariotte was distressed by the blind devotion to ill-chosen scientific camps that he believed was prevalent, and he hoped that a sound logic could overcome this problem.[8]

Within the limits imposed by such hindrances, however, academicians maintained a lively exchange of data and opinions both within France and internationally. Because their ties were intellectual, political, religious, social, and occupational, the stimuli to investigate scientific questions often came from unexpected quarters. Mariotte, for example, was influenced by Jean Baptiste Lantin to investigate plant physiology, and his published works mention correspondents in distant corners of Europe.[9] Duclos influenced the chemist Le Febvre and corresponded with Paul Ferry of Metz about books and religious concerns.[10] Thévenot urged Mabillon to arrange a correspondence with Malpighi for the benefit of the Academy.[11] Dodart was active among Jansenists as physician and confidant and, at Antoine Arnauld's urging, represented Jansenist interests to the king.[12] Tournefort stayed in touch with a wide circle, including not only Plumier and Fagon in Paris but also correspondents throughout Europe.[13] Dodart, Bourdelin, and Duclos associated profitably with Vallant, the physician to Mme de Sablé and the duchesse de Guise; the four colleagues shared gossip about medicine, foreign customs, and scientific findings.[14]

International contacts were prized by all savants, not least because, as Fontenelle later pointed out, different lands yielded different opportunities to savants.[15] Travelers sought meetings with their foreign counterparts, and


acquaintance begun in person might survive at a distance through correspondence, with both parties conveying information about other savants.[16] Many savants studied abroad, often formally at university, as did Nicolas Marchant at Padua. Homberg had traveled extensively to study and earn a living in Europe before settling in Paris, and his ties with German and Swedish savants — he learned from Kunckel how to make phosphorus and studied mining in Sweden — influenced his contributions to the Academy.[17] Savants who could not travel depended on correspondents to keep them informed about the latest news and to send observations and natural curiosities.

Anglo-French contacts have been investigated more thoroughly than other contacts because of the comparisons to be made between the Academy and the Royal Society. But ties between French and English scientists were common well before the two scientific societies were established. Nicolas Marchant and Robert Morison, for example, had been colleagues in Blois at the garden of the duke of Orléans, and in later years too had similar ideas about how to study plants.[18] The private French societies that preceded the Academy included many members with English connections, and the Royal Society hoped to establish a regular correspondence with Montmor about the activities of his academy.[19] There was considerable curiosity about the Royal Society's membership, purposes, and activities, and its experimental program excited admiration.[20]

This tradition continued after the Academy was established, to the benefit of both institutions and their members. The rival societies measured their own success by each other's accomplishments and envied one another's advantages: the seventeenth-century Academy had no Oldenburg, no Philosophical Transactions, but when Fontenelle began publishing the annual Histoire et mémoires at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Lister worried that the Royal Society would "sink apace" unless it followed suit.[21] Huygens, Du Hamel, Blondel, Charas, Roemer, and Thévenot traveled, studied, or worked in England; among the academicians appointed before 1699, Auzout, Cassini, Huygens, Fontenelle, Lagny, and Varignon were or became Fellows of the Royal Society.[22] After his travels in England, Tournefort corresponded with several English scientists whom he had met, including Lister and Edward Lhwyd.[23] Dodart sent inscribed copies of the 1679 edition of the Mémoires des plantes to Morison, Grew, and Locke.[24]

All the travel was not in one direction, and English savants valued their contacts with academicians and other savants. When Locke visited France during the 1670s, he became acquainted with dozens of scientists, including


the Protestant Charas (who was not yet an academician and with whom he stayed briefly), Picard, Auzout, Cassini, Roemer, and Thévenot.[25] He visited the Observatoire and the Bibliothèque du roi, and in April 1679 he saw the garden that future academician Louis Morin maintained at the Hospital of the Incurables in the faubourg Saint Germain, admiring "amongst other things there Thlaspi semper virens semper florens," which he found "extraordinary" because it always flowered.[26] News of academicians reached England, through letters and hearsay, and in the 1670s Oldenburg kept the Royal Society informed about Mariotte's work and urged Fellows to imitate his studies of winds.[27]

Correspondence reveals a substantial thread of Anglo-French botanical cooperation: seeds, plants, and books were exchanged and friendships initiated,[28] and Perrault claimed that the correspondence between La Quintinie and the English would fill three printed volumes.[29] Henri Justel offered in 1682 to establish regular communication between academicians and English scientists,[30] and in 1684 he tried to arrange an exchange of plants between Jean Marchant and the bishop of London.[31] At least some scholarly exchanges were motivated by the hope among English savants of obtaining patronage from Louis XIV, but others seem disinterested.[32]

Huygens's correspondence reveals the range of acquaintances and the merits of scholarly exchange for a seventeenth-century academician. His familiarity with English and Dutch scientists affected several disciplines at the Company, including botany. Huygens visited London in 1661, 1663, and 1689, going to meetings at Gresham College, being admitted to the Royal Society in 1663, and attending its meetings then and in 1689. He followed with interest the activities of his English colleagues and reciprocated with advice, details of his own research, and information about continental savants. Robert Moray, Henry Oldenburg, and other English correspondents supplied him with publications such as Hooke's Micrographia and Digby's Vegetation, and sent word of Grew's and Malpighi's botanical studies. Huygens kept in touch with Boyle through intermediaries; Boyle's books were sent to him regularly on publication, and Huygens reciprocated with his Horologium oscillatorium.[33] As an intermediary between the French and the Dutch, Huygens performed the valuable services of introducing Hartsoeker to the Academy and of translating Leeuwenhoek's correspondence for the Academy.[34]

Informal contacts between outsiders and academicians as individuals enriched their personal and intellectual lives. They also influenced botanical research at the Academy in five specific ways. First, they stimulated Huygens to develop the air pump and to experiment with the effects of


airlessness on plants. Second, they led Huygens to develop the spherical microscope, with which he and other academicians viewed animalcules and pollen. Third, Mariotte examined the composition and nutrition of plants in response to questioning from Lantin, who was therefore partly responsible for Mariotte's and Perrault's debates on the subject in 1668. Fourth, the Marchants obtained many varieties of rare plants from foreigners who sent seeds and dried samples. Finally, correspondents drew the attention of Perrault, Bourdelin, and Dodart to the correlation between ingesting ergot and suffering from Saint Anthony's fire; this also affected Dodart's investigation of medicine for the poor. Without the influence of Boyle, Leeuwenhoek, Hartsoeker, Lantin, the Marchants' correspondents, and several French doctors, botanical research at the Academy would have been much impoverished during the seventeenth century.

Chapter 15 Academicians and the Larger Scientific Community

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.