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Title: Royal Academy of Sciences
Original Title: Académie Royale des Sciences
Volume and Page: Vol. 1 (1751), pp. 54–55
Author: Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert (biography)
Translator: David Moak [Princeton University]
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): d'Alembert, Jean-Baptiste le Rond. "Royal Academy of Sciences." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by David Moak. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Académie Royale des Sciences," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1. Paris, 1751.
Citation (Chicago): d'Alembert, Jean-Baptiste le Rond. "Royal Academy of Sciences." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by David Moak. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Académie Royale des Sciences," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 1:54–55 (Paris, 1751).

Royal Academy of Sciences. This Academy was established in 1666 through the efforts of M. Colbert: After the peace of the Pyrenees, Louis XIV, wishing to encourage the cultivation of the Sciences, Literature, and the Arts in his Kingdom, charged M. Colbert with forming a society of men distinguished and learned in different genres of literature and science, who assembling under the protection of the King, would share with each other their knowledge and their progress. M. Colbert, after having consulted the most illustrious and enlightened savants, resolved to form a society of persons versed in Physics and Mathematics, to whom would be added others learned in History and matters of erudition, and still others occupied solely with what one calls Belles-Lettres , that is to say, Grammar, Eloquence, and Poetry. It was decided that the Geometers and Physicists of this Society would meet separately on Wednesday, and together on Saturday, in the room of the King’s Library, where one finds books on Physics and Mathematics: that those learned in History would assemble Monday and Thursday in the room where one finds books on History: that finally the class of Belles-Lettres would assemble on Tuesdays and Fridays, and that the first Thursday of each month all the different classes would come together, and would have their Secretaries report on all that they had done in the preceding month.

On such a foundation the Academy could not last long: 1. matters of profane History often being mixed with those of ecclesiastical History, and thus with Theology and the discipline of the Church, it was feared that the Academicians would touch upon delicate questions, the decision of which could cause trouble: 2. those who formed the class of Belles-Lettres, being almost all members of the French Academy, whose object was the same as that of this class, and retaining a strong attachment to their former Academy, asked M. Colbert to extend to that Academy the same privileges that he appeared to want to extend to the new one, and made him aware of the pointlessness of having two different Academies pursuing the same object, and composed of almost the same people. M. Colbert agreed with their reasoning, and shortly after Chancellor Seguier died, the King took the French Academy under his protection, to which the class of Belles-Lettres of which we have been speaking was joined, along with the small Academy of History: so that only the class of Physicists and Mathematicians remained. That of the Mathematicians was composed of Messieurs Carcavy, Huyghens, de Roberval, Frenicle, Auzout, Picard and Buot. The Physicists were Messieurs de la Chambre, Médecine ordinaire of the King; Perault, very learned in Physics and natural History; Duclos and Bourdelin, Chemists; Pequet and Gayen, Anatomists; Marchand, Botanist, and Duhamel, Secretary.

These Savants, and those who would replace them after their death, published many excellent works contributing to the advancement of the Sciences; and in 1692 and 1693, the Academy published, month by month, the remaining pieces which had been read in the assemblies of those years, and which being too short to publish individually, were independent of the oeuvres on which each of the members worked. Many of these first Academicians received considerable pensions from the King, and a perfect equality was maintained between them as in the French Academy.

In 1699 the Abbé Bignon, who had long presided over the Academy of Sciences, thought to render it more useful by giving it a new form. He spoke with M. Chancellor de Pontchartrain, his uncle, and at the beginning of that year the Academy received a new constitution which totally changed its form. Here are the principal articles of this constitution.

  1. The Academy of Sciences shall remain directly under the protection of the King, and receive his orders from whichever Secretary of State it pleases His Majesty to give them.
  2. The Academy is composed of ten Honoraries, one of whom will be President, of twenty Pensioners, three Geometers, three Astronomers, three Mechanics, three Anatomists, three Botanists, three Chemists, a Treasurer and Secretary, the one and the other perpetual; of twenty Associates, to wit, twelve French subjects, of which two Geometers, two Astronomers, etc., and eight foreigners, and of twenty Students, each one of whom is attached to one of the pensioned Academicians.
  3. Only honorary and pensioned Academicians have a say in elections or affairs having to do with the Academy: in matters of Science, the Associates will have a say as well; but the Students shall speak only when invited to do so by the President.
  4. The Honoraries must be French subjects and recommendable by their intelligence in Mathematics and Physics; and the Regular and Religious Clergy can be admitted to this class only.
  5. Nobody may be named a Pensioner, if he is not known for some considerable work, or some important discovery, or some brilliant course.
  6. Each pensioned Academician is obliged to declare at the beginning of the year the work he plans to pursue. Independent of this work, the pensioned and associate Academicians are obliged to present in turn some observations or memoirs. The assemblies shall be held on Wednesday and Saturday of each week, and in case of holiday, the assembly shall meet the day before.
  7. There shall be two public assemblies each year; to wit, the first after St. Martin, and the second after the fortnight of Easter.
  8. The Academy shall not meet the fortnight of Easter, the week of the Pentecost, and from Christmas until Kings, and in addition from the Nativity until St. Martin.

In 1716, the Duke d’Orléans, Regent of the Kingdom, decided to make several changes to this Constitution under the authority of the King. The class of Students was abolished. This class caused some inconvenience, in that it created too much inequality among the Academicians, and thereby occasioned, as experience has shown, some periods of bitterness and contempt. The name alone turned off some persons of considerable merit, and prevented their entry into the Academy. However “the title of Student ,” says M. de Fontanelle, Eloge de M. Amontons , “introduces among us no difference” of merit; it signifies only less seniority “and a sort of survival.” Moreover, several Academicians died at the age of seventy with the title of Student , which appeared inappropriate. The class of Students was therefore abolished, and in its place were created twelve Adjuncts , who like the Associates, were given a say in matters of Science. The number of Honoraries was fixed at twelve. A class of six Free Associates was also created. These Associates are not attached to a particular branch of Science, nor obliged to work; and it was decided that in the future the Regular Clergy could enter into this class only.

The Academy has each year a President and Vice-President, a Director and Under-Director named by the King. The first two are always chosen from among the Honoraries, and the other two from among the Pensioners. Only Pensioners receive dispensations for their presence at assemblies. No Academician can put this title on the frontispiece of a book, unless that book is approved by the Academy.

Since the restructuring in 1699, the Academy has been very exact in publishing each year a volume containing the work of its Members or the Memoirs that they composed and read at the Academy during the year. At the beginning of this volume is the History of the Academy or the extract of Memoirs, and in general of all that was read and said in the Academy; and at the end of the History are the eulogies of Academicians who died during the year.

The position of Secretary was filled by M. de Fontenelle from 1699 until 1740. M. de Mairan succeeded him during the years 1741, 1742, 1743; and it is occupied presently by M. de Fouchy.

The late M. Rouillé de Meslay, Counselor of the Parlement of Paris, funded two prizes, one worth 2500 livres, the other 2000 livres, that the Academy distributes alternatively every year. The subjects of the first prize must concern physical Astronomy. The subjects of the second prize must concern navigation and commerce.

The Academy has as its motto Inventi et perficit .

The assemblies, which used to be held in the King’s Library, have met since 1699 in a very beautiful room of the old Louvre.

In 1713 the King confirmed by Letters Patent the establishment of the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Belles-Lettres.

In addition to the Academies of the Capital, there are many others in the Provinces; in Toulouse, the Academy of Jeux Floraux, composed of forty persons, the oldest in the Kingdom, and in addition an Academy of Sciences and Belles-Lettres; in Montpellier, the Royal Society of Sciences, which since 1706 has formed a single body with the Academy of Sciences of Paris; in Bordeaux, Soissons, Marseille, Lyon, Pau, Montauban, Angers, Amiens, Villefranche, etc. The number of Academies grows from day to day; and without examining here if it is useful to multiply so quickly similar institutions, one can at least admit that they contribute in part to the spread and conservation of the taste for Letters and Study. In the cities where there is no Academy, they form literary Societies which serve basically the same functions.

Now passing to the principal foreign Academies.

In addition to the Royal Society of London, of which we shall speak elsewhere, the most celebrated of these Academies today is that of Berlin called The Royal Academy of Sciences and Belles-Lettres of Prussia . Frederick I, King of Prussia, established it in 1700, and appointed M. Leibniz as President. The most famous names have adorned its list from the beginning. In 1710 it published a first volume under the title of Miscellanea Berolinensia ; and although the successor of Frederick I did not protect Literature, the Academy did not fail to publish new volumes in 1723, 1727, 1734, 1737, and 1740. Finally Frederick II, current King of Prussia, ascended to the Throne. This Prince, the admiration of all of Europe for his warlike and peaceful qualities, for his taste for the Sciences, for his intelligence and for his talents, decided to restore to this Academy a new vigor. He summoned the most distinguished foreigners, enticed the most talented subjects with pensions, and in 1743 there appeared a new volume of Miscellanea Berolinensia , in which one perceives the new steps the Academy has already taken. This Prince did not judge it appropriate to interfere. He thought that the Royal Academy of Sciences of Prussia, which had been almost always under the guidance of a Minister or a Great Lord, would be better directed by a man of letters; he did the Royal Academy of Sciences of Paris the honor of choosing from among its members the President he wanted to give to his own. It was M. de Maupertuis, so well known throughout Europe, whom the King of Prussia through his grace enlisted to come to Berlin and settle there. The King gave at the same time a new constitution to the Academy, and wanted very much to take the title of Protector . This Academy has published since 1743 three volumes in French in almost the same style as the History of the Academy of Sciences of Paris, with this difference, that in the second of these volumes, the extracts of Memoirs were suppressed, and will be apparently in all that follow. These volumes will be followed each year by another. The Academy has two public assemblies; the one in January on the present King’s birthday; the other at the end of May, the day of the King’s accession to the Throne. In this last assembly a prize is distributed consisting of a golden Medal worth 50 ducats, that is to say, a bit more than 500 livres. The subject of this prize is successively Physics, Mathematics, Metaphysics, and Erudition. For this Academy has this particular characteristic, that it embraces Metaphysics, Logic, and Morality, which form the object of no other Academy. It has a specific class occupied with these matters, and it is called the class of speculative Philosophy .