We begin this issue of Notes and Records with what I hope will be the first of a series of occasional articles in which we invite an author of a recently published biography to write about the book, discuss the subject of the work and perhaps mention other aspects that for one reason or another were left out of the final published volume. In this case the author is Judith Zinsser and the subject of her biography is Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise Du Châtelet, the tercentenary of whose birth was celebrated in 2006. Among the many events in France marking this anniversary was an exhibition in Paris at the Bibliothèque nationale de France accompanied by a symposium in which Judith Zinsser took part. Émilie Du Châtelet, as she is usually referred to, was one of the luminaries of the French Enlightenment. She was widely admired in her lifetime and is the person who, largely through her annotated translation into French of Newton's Principia, really introduced Newtonian physics to the continent of Europe. Born into a noble French family, Émilie was the daughter of Louis Nicolas le Tonnelier de Breteuil, an official at the Court of Louis XIV at Versailles. Her well-loved brother became Abbé de Breteuil, who, as Chancellor of Louis d'Orléans at Saint Cloud, was given the Trianon de Saint Cloud as his official residence in 1743. This same building in the Parc de Saint Cloud later took the name of Pavillon de Breteuil when Louis Auguste le Tonnelier, Baron de Breteuil, nephew of the Abbé de Breteuil, was at the Court of Louis XVI. As well as being a minister of the King, Louis Auguste conducted important reforms in the Paris hospitals, and as a friend of Cassini was instrumental in obtaining funds for the refurbishment and purchase of instruments for the Paris Observatory. His career ended, however, when he became first Minister of the King during that rather inauspicious period from 11 to 16 July 1789. The Pavillon de Breteuil was put up for sale in 1793 as ‘Maison occupé ci-devant par l'émigré Breteuil’. It did not find a buyer and subsequently remained a property of the State, despite unsuccessful attempts to retrieve it by the Baron on his return to France in 1802. In 1875 the Pavillon de Breteuil became the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures and was, until recently, occupied by your editor when he was Director of that institution. In a short history of the Pavillon de Breteuil that I put together in 1990, I referred to Louis Auguste le Tonnelier, Baron de Breteuil, as the most distinguished member of the de Breteuil family. Were I to write such a history today I would take a different view. The most distinguished member of the de Breteuil family was, without any shadow of a doubt, Émilie. How was it that her fame as one of the great intellectual luminaries of France became slowly extinguished over the course of more than two centuries to be replaced by that of simply being the clever mistress of Voltaire? In her article, Judith Zinsser discusses this and, as you might guess, the reason is almost entirely that as a woman it became increasingly unfashionable through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to admit that Émilie had any intellectual prowess. The article is mainly concerned, however, with those individuals whom Judith Zinsser calls Émilie's mentors, the mathematicians and philosophers with whom she held the deep and intimate discourses necessary for any high mathematical and scientific activity. These took place, of course, outside the walls of the Académie royale des sciences, entry to which was forbidden to women, although the Académie in 1744 published her essay ‘Dissertation sur la nature et la propagation du feu’, the first time it had published a scientific work by a woman. Among Émilie's mentors portrayed by Judith Zinsser were the mathematicians Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, his pupil Alexis-Claude Clairaut and Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan, to say nothing of Voltaire, with whom she lived at the Château de Cirey for many years. Émilie had three children by her husband, the marquis Du Châtelet, but died in childbirth in 1749 at the early age of 43 years. On her deathbed she signed the manuscript of her translation of Principia: 10 September 1749. A few days later, Voltaire wrote to Frederic II of Prussia ‘Un grand homme qui n'avait de défaut que d'être femme’.
In the next article by John Rowlinson, another but quite different friend of Voltaire's appears: John Freind FRS. In 1726, after insulting a powerful aristocrat in Paris, Voltaire was exiled to England, where he was obliged to live until October 1728. In Orléans la Source he had previously met an English aristocrat, Viscount Bolingbroke, who had fled there from England when suspected of treason for signing the Treaty of Utrecht the previous year. By the time that Voltaire arrived in London. Bolingbroke had returned after being pardoned, and introduced Voltaire to Freind as well as to several others in the literary intellectual and social milieu of London. A man of many parts, John Freind was a distinguished classical scholar educated at Christ Church, Oxford, as well as being a physician and a chemist. He became an enthusiast for Newtonian science, as did Voltaire during his stay in London. Although he was never exiled or felt the need to flee England, Freind spent three months in the Tower of London, having been suspected of taking part in the Atterbury plot. Atterbury and Freind, among others, were convinced that the rights and privileges of the Church of England would be better protected under a Catholic Stuart king than under a Protestant Hanoverian. The plot was, of course, discovered, although Freind's part in it was never proved. His release was probably helped by the fact that he was already a Fellow of the Royal Society with influential friends. His stay in the Tower did not jeopardize his Fellowship of the Royal Society! In his article John Rowlinson recounts the life of John Freind, his many scientific and political activities, in particular his enthusiasm for Newtonian physics, and his influence on, and friendship with, Voltaire.
Robert Hooke figures in the next article, which contains previously unpublished material from his Memorandum Book or diary for the periods March to July 1672 and January 1681 to May 1683. These parts were omitted from the 1935 edition of Hooke's Diary published by Robinson and Adams because they considered the content, mostly consisting of weather observations with barometric and thermometric data, difficult to interpret and thus of little interest. In her article, Felicity Henderson shows that as well as these observational data the diary for these periods contains a significant amount of unknown material of interest to scholars. For my part, I would add that the observational data on the weather are not at all without interest. It is now well known that Robert Hooke was the first person to set up a temperature scale using an objective method of calibrating a thermometer, which he described in Micrographia, and the thermometers he calibrated were widely used in England at about that time. His scale was based on marking the stem of his thermometer with equal increments of volume starting at the freezing point of water (see my remarks on this in Notes and Records, vol. 60, p. 204 (2006)). Hooke began his diary for the ostensible purpose of simply recording the things he wished not to forget or wished to be able to recall for future reference—a reason that many people keep a diary. The content developed to include the broad subject categories of work, money, books, natural philosophy, news, health and household affairs. The problem with a diary such as this is that without an index, something Hooke never seemed to have made, it becomes increasingly difficult to find things as the years go by. Towards the end of his life, in 1697 in fact, Hooke wrote in his diary that he intended to produce an autobiography, listing the topics he intended to include. Unfortunately no record exists of such an autobiography, although his Memorandum Book was obviously planned to be an important part of it. Among the things in the diary printed here are records of the payments he received for his many and multifarious activities, some of them with Christopher Wren, related to the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. He also records some of the many disputes he had with various people, for example that with Sir John Cutler over payments for the Cutlerian Lectures, a dispute that remained unresolved until 1696. Although towards the end of his life the diary became somewhat sporadic, Felicity Henderson emphasizes our great fortune in having such a long and detailed account of the many activities of such a great man as Robert Hooke and how these additional passages add yet more to what is already known.
In the next article we come to what has often been considered a conundrum, namely, why did Darwin apparently wait so long to publish his theory of evolution? The current received wisdom is that Darwin conceived his theory in the 1830s but waited until 1858 to publish when Alfred Russel Wallace came up with a strikingly similar theory. In his article on this question John van Wyhe essentially demolishes the whole idea that Darwin deliberately waited or in any way kept his ideas secret. It seems that this idea of Darwin's delaying publication is one that appeared only in the 1940s and 1950s. The complete corpus of Darwin's work now available to scholars clearly shows that this is a wholly false idea. On the contrary, he worked continually on his theory of evolution, discussed it with many people and never considered it a secret. In fact, Darwin considered the period between the 1830s and 1858 as simply the time it took for his ideas to develop and crystallize into the final form that he published when he decided the time was ripe.
Coral reefs are now often in the news because they are sensitive indicators of changes in climate, in ocean temperatures and acidity. A pioneer in the scientific study of coral reefs, John Stanley Gardiner FRS conducted a classical study of reefs in the Indian Ocean, undertaking three expeditions there in 1899–1900, 1905 and 1908. At that time little was known of the life cycle, morphology and general feeding and reproduction processes of coral reefs. As a result of these major expeditions a vast amount of new knowledge was obtained and material published. Indeed, so thorough was the study that there are some reefs in the northern Maldivian atolls that have not been revisited, even today. Gardiner used the experience gained in these expeditions in the preparation of the 1928–29 Great Barrier Reef Expedition, in which he was very closely involved. This was organized at the request of the Governor General of Queensland by a specially formed Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Although the leader of the expedition was C. M. Yonge (later FRS), Gardiner—already close to retirement at that time—remained much involved before, during and after the expedition. In her article, Barbara Brown describes in some detail the influence Gardiner's ideas had on the development of reef science. She shows that although Gardiner's early work provided the foundation of much of what has since taken place, his seminal ideas in reef science became overshadowed by those of others, mainly because of the 1928–29 Great Barrier Reef Expedition, and that it is time for this to be corrected, which is what her article sets out to do.
Although it was the invention of steam-powered engines that really led to the need for mechanically powered transmission trains, devices for transmission of rotary movement not in a straight line had existed since at least the fourteenth century. In his article on the Hooke universal joint, Alan Mills refers to a clock in Strasbourg Cathedral in which the clock face was situated above and to the side of the driving mechanism. He also notes of course that practically all modern automobiles use two such joints in the transmission. The main thrust of his article, however, is to explain how the Hooke joint's particular properties allow it to be used to produce a variable-rate movement that can mimic the movement of the shadow of the Sun across the face of a sundial, as indeed was proposed by Hooke. He gives the results of various experiments with models, which would have no doubt pleased Hooke, and relates the Hooke joint to what these days would be called a gimbal or Cardan suspension.
There then follows a short report by Clara Anderson, our Assistant Archivist, on the Blagden Papers held by the Society. Sir Charles Blagden FRS was Secretary of the Royal Society from 1784 to 1797. He was a physician, a chemist and was a man who travelled much in Europe but also served with the British Army during the American War of Independence. As a result of his European contacts he became involved in the controversy between Cavendish, Watt and Lavoisier related to the dispute as to who had discovered the composition of water. Apparently Blagden had well-meaningly, but perhaps indiscreetly, communicated to Lavoisier the results of certain experiments and conclusions of Cavendish and Watt. The Blagden papers were purchased by the Society in 1947 and include many letters and other papers related to personal, financial and scientific matters as well as a diary written in Blagden's almost illegible hand!
The last piece in this issue is the short presentation made by Dr Ralph Kohn FRS on the occasion of his induction as an Honorary Fellow of the Society in July 2006, with a short introduction by the President.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the work done by Jilliene Jewell, who is now leaving the Society after seven years as Publishing Editor of Notes and Records, during which time she contributed much to the success of our journal.
- © 2007 The Royal Society