He Was, Like Some Of Whom Browning Has Written, A "Person Of
Some Importance In His Day," And His Writings On Physics Are Still
Mentioned With Respect In Works Devoted To The History Of Science.
is perhaps chiefly remembered as the savant whom Frederick the Great
attracted to his court during a period of aloofness from the
scintillating Voltaire, and who consequently became a writhing target for
the jealous ridicule of that waspish wit.
Poor Maupertuis, unhappy in his
exit from life, would appear to have been restless after it, for his
ghost is averred to have stalked in the hall of the Academy of Berlin,
and to have been seen by a brother professor there, the remarkable
phenomenon being solemnly recorded in the Transactions of that learned
body.* (* See Sir Walter Scott's Demonology and Witchcraft, Letter 1.)
But of far more practical importance than the appearance of his perturbed
shade, was the effect of his Petites Lettres, which suggested twelve
projects for the advancement of knowledge, one of which was the promotion
of discovery in the southern hemisphere.
Shortly after its publication, Maupertuis' proposition was discussed by a
society of accomplished students meeting at Dijon, the ancient capital of
Burgundy. A member of the Society to whom much deference was paid, was
Charles de Brosses, lawyer, scholar, and President of the Parlement of
the Province.* (* The local parliaments were abolished in the reign of
Louis XV, reinstated by Louis XVI, and finally swept away in the stormy
demolition of ancient institutions to make ground for the constitution of
1791.) De Brosses was an industrious student and writer, the translator
of Sallust into French, and author of several valuable historical and
philological works, including a number of learned papers which may be
read - or not - in the stout calf-bound quartos enshrining the records of
the Academy of Inscriptions.* (* His papers in that regiment of tomes
range over a period of fifty years, from 1746 to 1796.
Enter page number
Page 140 of 299
Words from 38752 to 39080