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LA CONDAMINE, Charles-Marie de

Mesure des trois premiers degrés du méridien dans l'hémisphère austral. Tirée des Observations de Mrs de l'Académie Royale des Sciences, envoyés par le Roi sous l'Équateur

Paris, Imprimerie royale, 1751




4to (255 x 195mm). Vignette of the globe after Goussier engraved by Brunet and printed on the title page. Another large engraved headpiece representing a measurement scene
Title, notice and errata, 4 ff. of table, 266 p., X pp of table, VIII p. for the Nouveau projet d’une mesure invariable propre à devenir universelle… which was the meter
ILLUSTRATION : an engraved plate printed on double page representing the profile of the first base at Yaruqui near Quito and of the second at Tarqui near Cuenca, a large folding plate of the Map of the Meridian of Quito and the cross-section of the Meridian Terrain, a third plate after Brunet represents La Condamine’s instrument of measure
CONTEMPORARY BINDING ATTRIBUTABLE TO DERÔME WITH THE BIRD TOOL. Red morocco, large gilt decor and arms in the center of the sides, large dentelle with bird tool, multiple foliated scrolls, seashells and corn ear tools, gilt dos à nerfs, gilt edges
PROVENANCE : Marie-Yves Desmarets, Comte de Maillebois (1682-1762 ; Olivier-Hermal-de Rotton tool 1373), son of the Marshal of France, grandson of the Contrôleur général des Finances friend and neighbor of Saint-Simon, Chevalier of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit in 1757 -- Marquis Hubert de Ganay (ex-libris : Paris, November 26, 2019, n° 73)

Charles-Marie de La Condamine (1701-1774) first began a military career but wearied of it. He then found a passion for the sciences, undertaking various journeys. The Académie des Sciences retained his candidacy for a scientific journey to Peru and he left in 1736, working for ten years in that country with three other companions, Godin, Bouguer and Joseph de Jussieu. They studied the swell of the earth at the equator, in relation to the poles, thereby measuring the arc of the meridian, and observed the attraction exerted by the mass of the mountains, which permits the extension of the law of universal attraction.

La Condamine was co-operating with another mission sent to Lapland, and led by Maupertuis, Clairaut and Celsius, to measure the meridian near the north pole. These two missions first established the correctness of Newton’s view of earth having the shape of an ellipsoid - a fact previously much doubted as the result of a faulty meridian measurement by Cassini and Picard.

The La Condamine expedition took place in a difficult climate in the heart of the Andes mountain range, between the cities of Quito (currently the capital of Equator) and Cuenca. The Spanish who ran the country were quite hostile to this “company of Frenchmen” who had come to observe and measure their new colony. Through his sense of organization and human contact, La Condamine saved the French expedition from disaster, and after many adventures obtained the measurement of three degrees of the meridian of Quito. It was long thought that the results produced by the instruments and the conditions of measurement at the time remained full of uncertainties but “More than two hundred years later, the Geodesists would find that their measurements were of an astonishing accuracy, largely superior to those that Maupertuis had carried out in Lapland.”

It was during this long trek that La Condamine would also have the “idea of using the “length of a seconds pendulum at the equator, at the altitude of Quito” as a “natural measurement” [… ] defined by the gravitational attraction of the Earth rather than an arbitrary measurement like the foot of a king, which would provide a normalized instrument for the use of all nations”. He thus anticipated what fifty years on would inspire French scientists to invent the meter.

“The expedition to Peru, encouraged by Minister Maurepas, had as its goal the verification of Newton’s hypothesis on the flattening of the terrestrial globe in the polar regions and, thereby, the resolution of the controversy regarding the form of the earth that was the dividing French scientists… The scientific result of the expedition was clear : the earth is indeed a spheroid flattened at the poles, as Newton maintained” (Dictionnary of scientific biography)

After his long journey, La Condamine remained in Paris, surrounded by the esteem of European scientists and as the author of numerous correspondences. He participated in the adventure of the Encyclopedia of which he is one of the authors.

This book was luxuriously bound for Marie-Yves Desmarets, Comte de Maillebois (1682-1762), son of a Marshal of France, grandson of the Contrôleur général des Finances, friend and neighbor of Saint-Simon, chevalier of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit in 1757. He was Master of the King’s Wardrobe in 1736, Governor of Douai in 1753 and was received as an honorary member of the Académie des Sciences in 1749, whence no doubt, his interest for this book.

REFERENCES : Dictionnary of scientific biography XV : 269-73 -- Borba de Moraes, p. 447 -- JCB 947 -- Norman 1250 -- Sabin 38483 -- Bosch 201 II