Chappe D'Auteroche, John

, an eminent French astronomer, was born at Mauriac, a town in Upper Auvergne, on the 23d of May, 1728, of John Chappe, lord of the barony of Auteroche, and Magdalen de la Farge, daughter of Peter de la Farge, lord of larPierre. From his birth he enjoyed the valuable advantage of not being under the necessity of struggling, like many men of genius, with adversity and penury. The distinguished rank which his parents held in their province, added to their wealth and opulence, enabled them to bestow upon their son an excellent education, the foundation of which was laid at Mauriac, where he began his studies. Having made considerable progress here, he went afterwards to finish them at the college de Louis le Grand. M. Chappe, from his earliest infancy, shewed a surprising turn for drawing and the mathematics. Descartes was scarcely eight years of age when he was styled a philosopher, and Chappe at that age might have been called a mathematician. An irresistible impulse, and singular disposition, as if innate, led him to draw plans and make calculations; but these pursuits, quite forojgn to the studies in which he was then engaged, occupied no part of that time which was allotted for them. He applied to the former only at those moments which the regulations. of the college suffered him to call his own.

His active genius discovered to him in the silence and solitude of the cloister resources which he had little expected. During his course of philosophy, he formed an acquaintance with a carthusian, named Dom Germain, from whom he learned the elements of the mathematics and of astronomy. In these two sciences he made a rapid progress; for the zeal of the master was well seconded by the diligence of the scholar, who followed his literary pursuits with the same ardour and enthusiasm as the generality of young men follow dissipation and pleasure. So singular a phenomenon could not long remain unknown. Father de la Tour, then principal of the college, being struck with young Chappe, mentioned him to M. Cassini, and spoke of the progress he had made in such high terms, that the latter became very desirous to see some of his works. After causing him to make a few experiments in his presence, that celebrated academician could not help admiring his happy disposition; but he did not confine himself to praises only. Being a warm patron and protector of merit, | he from that moment resolved to cultivate young Chappe' s talents, and to endeavour to render them useful to society. With this view he employed him in taking plans of several of the royal buildings, and made him assist in delineating the general map of France.

The abbe Chappe, however, made himself known in the astronomical world by a work of much greater importance. This was a translation of the works of Dr. Halley from the English. This translation appeared in 1752; and the additions made by the translator, and the new inferences he drew from the labours of the English astronomer, placed him almost on a level with the author. The abbe Chappe had now given too striking a specimen of his talents not to attract the notice of government. The king having ordered plans of several places in the district at Bitche in Lorraine to be taken, and the forest in the neighbourhood of the town of that name to be surveyed, the abbe Chappe’s merit procured him the superintendance and direction of this business; and the event shewed, that the ministry could not have chosen a person more deserving of their confidence. On his return from this expedition he was elected a member of the royal academy of sciences; and on the 17th of January 1759, he obtained the place of assistant astronomer, vacant by the promotion of M. de la Lande to that of associate.

The two comets which appeared in 1760 gave the abbe an opportunity of shewing that he was not unworthy of the honour conferred on him; he observed them both with the greatest assiduity and attention, and the result of his observations was published in the memoirs of that year, with reflections on the zodiacal light, and an aurora boreal is which appeared about the same period. As the transit of Venus over the sun’s disk, which Halley announced would happen on the 6th of June 1761, seemed to promise great advantage to astronomy, it very much excited the curiosity of the learned throughout all Europe. It was necessary, however, in order to derive benefit from it, that it should be observed in some very remote places; and as Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia, and the island of Roderigo in the East- Indies, were thought to be the properest, the difficulty was to find astronomers bold enough to transport themselves thither. But what will not the love of science prompt men to do M. Pinge offered to go to the island of Roderigo, and Tobolsk remained to the abbé Chappe, | who, had the matter been left to himself, would have made no other choice.

The abbe set out for the place of his destination in the month of November 1760. After encountering a variety of almost incredible difficulties, he arrived at Tobolsk, where ignorance and superstition prepared new danger for him. The simple Russians, attentive to all his actions, beheld his preparations with the utmost terror; the observatory which he caused to be erected, and the instruments he transported thither, increased their alarm; and the overflowing of the river Irtish, which inundated part of the city, a natural consequence of the thaw that took place, served still more to confirm them in their suspicions. The governor of Tobolsk, a man of education, to whom the world is indebted for a correct chart of the Caspian, was obliged to give the abb a guard for his protection. The moment so long wished for, and purchased by such fatigue and peril, being at length arrived, the abbe", on the 5th of June, made every necessary preparation for observing the transit; but the pleasure which he anticipated from the success of his expedition was not free from a mixture of pain, for the sky, during the night, became quite overcast. This was a new source of uneasiness to the abbe; but luckily for science, a favourable wind, which sprung up at sun-rise, revived his hopes, by withdrawing the veil that obscured the object of his researches. The observation was made with the necessary precision, in presence of M. Ismailof, count Poushkin, and the archbishop of Tobolsk: and the academy of sciences at Paris, as well as that of Petersburg, received the particulars of this event soon after by a courier whom M. Ismailof immediately dispatched. The glory of this observation had preceded the abbé, and prepared new honours for him at St. Petersburg. The empress, with a view of inducing him to settle there, made him an offer, by means of baron de Breteuil, of the distinguished place which had been occupied by M. Delisle. But choosing rather to pass his days at home, he rejected the offers made him. On his arrival in France hebegan, to prepare an account of his journey, which was published in 1768, in 3 vols. 4to, elegantly printed and adorned with engravings. Besides the account of the particular object of his journey, the philosopher finds in it the history of mankind and of nature; and the statesman the political system and interest of nations. The great labour required | to prepare this work for publication did not interrupt the abba’s astronomical pursuits. He enriched the memoirs of the academy with several instructive pieces; and that which he presented in 1767 is the more valuable, as it confirms the experiments made upon electricity at Tobolsk, and demonstrates the identity of the electric fluid with lightning.

Another transit of Venus, which, according to astronomical calculation, was to happen on the 3d of June 1769, afforded the abbe Chappe a new opportunity of manifesting his zeal for the advancement of astronomy. California was pointed out as the properest place in that quarter for observing this phenomenon; and the abbe, who had triumphed over the rigours of the north, thought he could brave also the ardours of the torrid zone. He departed therefore from Paris in 1768, in company with M. Pauli, an engineer, and M. Noel, a draftsman, whose talents gave reason to hope, that he might contribute to render the expedition interesting in more respects than one. He carried with him also a watchmaker, to take care of his instruments, and to keep them in proper repair. On his arrival at Cadiz, the vessel belonging to the Spanish flota, in which he was to embark for Vera Cruz, not being ready in time, he obtained an order for equipping a brigantine, which carried twelve men. The fragility of this vessel, which would have alarmed any other person, appeared to the abbe as adding to the merit of the enterprise. Judging of its velocity by its lightness, he considered it as better calculated to gratify his impatience; and in this he was not deceived: for he arrived safe at the capital of New Spain, where he met with no delay. The marquis de Croix, governor of Mexico, seconded his activity so well, that he reached St. Joseph nineteen days before the time marked out for the observation. The village of St. Joseph, where the abbé landed, was desolated by an infectious disorder, which had raged for some time, and destroyed great numbers of the inhabitants. In vain did his friends, from a tender solicitude for his preservation, urge him to remove from the infection, not to expose himself imprudently, and to take his station at some distance towards Cape San Lucar. His lively and ardent zeal for the promotion of science, shut his ears against all these remonstrances; and the only danger he dreaded was, that of losing the opportunity of accomplishing the object of his | wishes. He had the good fortune, however, to make his observation in the completest manner on the 3d of June but, becoming a victim to his resolution, he was three days after attacked by the distemper which seemed hitherto to have respected him. Surrounded by his acquaintances, either sick or dying, and destitute of that assistance which he had given them as long as health remained, the abbé was struggling between life and death, when by his own imprudence he destroyed every ray of hope, and hastened that fatal period which deprived the world of this valuable member of society. The very day he had taken physic he insisted upon observing an eclipse of the moon; but, scarcely had he finished his observation, when his disorder grew considerably worse, and the remedies administered not being able to check its progress, he died on the 1st of August 1769, in the 42d year of his age.

Had it not been for the care of a very respectable French academician, the fruits of this observation would have been entirely lost to the learned. The abbé Chappe having at his death committed his papers to the care of M. Pauli, they were afterwards arranged and published by M. Cassini, the son, who at an age when others only afford hopes of their future celebrity, had acquired the highest reputation; and if any thing could console the public for the loss occasioned by the abbé being prevented from putting the last hand to his work, it certainly was the seeing it appear under the auspices of so able an editor.

The evening before his departure from Paris, being at supper with count de Merci, the Imperial ambassador, several of his friends represented to him, that he ought not to undertake such a voyage, and offered to lay a considerable wager that he would never return. “Were I certain,” replied the abbé“,” that I should die the next morning after I had made my observation, I would not hesitate a moment, nor be in the least deterred from embarking." An heroic sentiment, which paints in a few words the character of this learned man.

The published works of M. Chappe, are, 1. “The Astronomical Tables of Dr. Halley; with observations and additions,1754, 3vo. 2. 4< Travels into Siberia,“1763, 2 vols. fol. 3.” Voyage to California to observe the transit of Venus over the Sun, the 3d of June 1769," 1772, 4to. 4. He had a considerable number of papers inserted in the Memoirs of the Academy, for the years | 1760, 1761, 1764, 1765, 1766, 1767, and 1768, chiefly relating to astronomical matters. 1


From the last edit, of this Dictionary.—Dict. Hist.