Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Charles-Marie de la Condamine

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 4
Charles-Marie de la Condamine

by Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier


Explorer and physicist, b. at Paris, 28 January, 1701; d. there 4 February, 1774. After a brief military career he turned to scientific pursuits and explored the coasts of Africa and Asia Minor on the Mediterranean. In 1735, he was selected to direct an expedition to the equatorial regions of South America in order to determine the form of the earth by measuring a meridian and thus establishing the flattening of our globe towards the poles. His companions were Pierre Bouguer and Louis Godin des Odonais. Two officers of the Spanish marine, Jorge Juan and Antonio de Ulloa, represented the Government of Spain on the voyage and also made independent observations in the interior. Condamine went to Ecuador and there began his labours, making a fairly accurate triangulation of the mountainous parts and the western sections of Ecuador. On this occasion he discovered that tall mountains deflect the pendulum by their attraction. He remained eight years in South America, then returned to France, where he was chosen member of the Academy of Sciences and of the French Academy and received the cross of Saint Lazarus. While Condamine on account of his ambition and inclination to controversy was a disagreeable character, as an explorer and physicist he stands very high. The topographical work performed by him or under his direction suffered from the relative imperfections of the instruments in use in his time, but the results obtained were astonishing. Not only in physiography and physical geography, but in other branches also his expedition opened a new perspective to investigation. It was the starting point for more extensive explorations of tropical America. The countries he visited became and remained thereafter, classical ground in the annals of natural science. It is claimed that he introduced caoutchouc into Europe, and he also tried to introduce inoculation for smallpox in France.

Interest in Condamine centring in his South American work, books on that expedition become the prominent source of information regarding the most important period of his life; especially his own writings, chief of which were: Journal du voyage fait par ordre du Roi à l'équateur (Paris, 1751); Relation abrégée d'un voyage dans l'intérieur de l'Amérique méridionale (Paris, 1745; 2d ed., 1778); Histoire des pyramides de Quito (Paris, 1751). Frequent references are found in the works of HUMBOLDT, also, DE ULLOA AND JUAN, Relación histórica del viage á la América Meridional hecho de orden de S. Mag. para medir algunos grados de meridiano terrestre (Madrid, 1748).

AD. F. BANDELIER