Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/168

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164
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE OLD ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, PARIS. 1699-1793
II
By Dr. EDWARD F. WILLIAMS

CHICAGO, ILL.

IN his account of the Old Academy of Science M. Maury expresses the opinion that the history of the development of science in connection with the Old Academy of Science should be read and studied as a chapter in the development of mind, a chapter as important and as interesting as any chapter in the political history of the century. It traces contests in the search for truth. Of hardly less importance in the history of literature is the work done by the two academies of Science and of Inscriptions than that done by the French Academy itself, devoted as that is to literature alone.

The Academy of Science was reorganized in the last year of the seventeenth century by Ponchartrain, minister of state, and put under the control of his nephew, the Abbe Bignon, a man well fitted for the position he was chosen to fill. The decree of reorganization was signed at Versailles on January 26, 1699, and read to the academy on February 4. A change was made in the number and character of the members. Henceforth there were to be four classes of members: active, or pensionary, who were to reside in Paris and give their time to the study of science; honorary members who might be either foreigners or natives of France; associate members; and pupils, young men of promise who were admitted to the academy as students and helpers of its active members with the expectation that some time they would be received into the academy. Under the new arrangement all branches of science were represented. Larger and better rooms than had been occupied, rooms in the Louvre which the King himself had occupied, were set apart for the use of the academy.

A public meeting in honor of the reorganization was held on June 2, 1699. Fontenelle had taken the place of Duhamel, who had held the position of secretary from the establishment of the academy by Colbert in 1666. Fontenelle's eulogies, read at each annual meeting for a third of a century, are a history of the academy in the lives and work of its members. They are famous alike in the annals of science and of literature. The academy had a president, a vice-president, a director, and a sub-secretary, as well as a perpetual secretary. The director and his assistant were selected from the active members of the academy, the