1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anville, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'
ANVILLE, JEAN BAPTISTE BOURGUIGNON D’ (1697–1782), perhaps the greatest geographical author of the 18th century, was born at Paris on the 11th of July 1697. His passion for geographical research displayed itself from early years: at the age of twelve he was already amusing himself by drawing maps for Latin authors. Later, his friendship with the antiquarian, Abbé Longuerue, greatly aided his studies. His first serious map, that of Ancient Greece, was published when he was fifteen, and at the age of twenty-two he was appointed one of the king’s geographers, and began to attract the attention of the first authorities. D’Anville’s studies embraced everything of geographical nature in the world’s literature, as far as he could master it: for this purpose he not only searched ancient and modern historians, travellers and narrators of every description, but also poets, orators and philosophers. One of his cherished objects was to reform geography by putting an end to the blind copying of older maps, by testing the commonly accepted positions of places through a rigorous examination of all the descriptive authority, and by excluding from cartography every name inadequately supported. Vast spaces, which had before been covered with countries and cities, were thus suddenly reduced almost to a blank.
D’Anville was at first employed in the humbler task of illustrating by maps the works of different travellers, such as Marchais, Charlevoix, Labat and Duhalde. For the history of China by the last-named writer he was employed to make an atlas, which was published separately at the Hague in 1737. In 1735 and 1736 he brought out two treatises on the figure of the earth; but these attempts to solve geometrical problems by literary material were, to a great extent, refuted by Maupertuis’ measurements of a degree within the polar circle. D’Anville’s historical method was more successful in his 1743 map of Italy, which first indicated numerous errors in the mapping of that country, and was accompanied by a valuable memoir (a novelty in such work), showing in full the sources of the design. A trigonometrical survey which Benedict XIV. soon after had made in the papal states strikingly confirmed the French geographer’s results. In his later years d’Anville did yeoman service for ancient and medieval geography, accomplishing something like a revolution in the former; mapping afresh all the chief countries of the pre-Christian civilizations (especially Egypt), and by his Mémoire et abrégé de géographie ancienne et générale and his États formés en Europe après la chute de l’empire romain en occident (1771) rendering his labours still more generally useful. In 1754, at the age of fifty-seven, he became a member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, whose transactions he enriched with many papers. In 1775 he received the only place in the Académie des Sciences which is allotted to geography; and in the same year he was appointed, without solicitation, first geographer to the king. His last employment consisted in arranging his collection of maps, plans and geographical materials. It was the most extensive in Europe, and had been purchased by the king, who, however, left him the use of it during his life. This task performed, he sank into a total imbecility both of mind and body, which continued for two years, till his death in January 1782.