Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/169

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165
THE OLD ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, PARIS

president and vice-president from the honorary members. They were to represent the king, who nominated them and approved or disapproved all elections. These high officials were all of noble blood.

In the reorganization. of the academy the names of men who had failed to attend its meetings with regularity or to show any real interest in its work were dropped, but old men who were still active were retained in spite of their conservative tendencies. The academy at once put itself into communication with scientific societies in the provinces, and also with academies in other countries in which the problems of physics, astronomy, mathematics and chemistry were studied. Personal relations were established between the astronomer Cassini of Paris and astronomers in England, Holland and Italy. Much attention was given to experiment, and special efforts were made to widen the horizon of observation by travel. Expeditions were equipped and sent out to various parts of the world at the king's expense.

In spite of the conservatism of the academy and discussions which lasted half a century the opinions of Newton in physics were finally accepted and those of Descartes rejected. Discussions over the calculus lasted more than five years. The theories of Newton were received in Holland, at St. Petersburg, and in many parts of Germany before they were current in either England or France. In 1726 the academy crowned a work by Père Mazieres of the Oratory which proved beyond a doubt the existence of the vortices of Descartes! In 1730 Jean Bernouilli published a volume on the same side and in 1736 Cassini de Fleury sought to harmonize the theory of vortices with Kepler's Laws. Fontenelle joined in the effort and was supported by two learned societies in Paris. Le Beau, of the Academy of Inscriptions, spoke jestingly of Fontenelle and Camille Falconyet, as "two old men besieged in a fortress formed of the vortices of Descartes in which they were defending themselves against the attacks of impetuous youth." The final blow against Cartesianism was struck by Buff on in 1747, although the way for the acceptance of the teachings of Newton had been prepared by Cardinal de Polignac.

Notwithstanding the fact that the academy was organized and sustained for purposes of investigation and in order to increase knowledge, and the further fact that its members above all other men were expected to favor and defend new views, it is not unnatural that conservative opinions should prevail. Some who were in the academy cared little for science in the true meaning of the word. Some favored those branches of study in which they were personally interested and had little interest in what was done in other branches. The Church defended the old views. It was opposed to any opinions which might lead to a change in methods of teaching. In the middle of the century France was behind countries like England, Holland and Germany in its knowledge of astronomy, geometry, physics and medicine. True such men as