Lalande, Joseph Jerome Francis

, a very celebrated French astronomer, was born at Bourg, in the department of l‘Ain, July 11, 1732. His father, who was possessed of property, intended him for the bar, and sent him to Paris to study the law, to which, for some time, he applied with so much assiduity, as to answer the most sanguine expectations of his friends, when the sight of an observatory awakened in him a propensity, which deranged the projects of his parents, and became the ruling passion of his life. He put himself under the instructions of Le Monnier, one of the then most celebrated astronomers of France, and profited so much by the lessons of his able instructor, as to afford him the highest degree of satisfaction, who, on his part, conceived for the young man a truly paternal affection, and was determined to promote his interests. An opportunity soon offered; the great astronomer Lecaille was preparing to set out for the Cape of Good Hope, in order to determine the parallax of the moon, and its distance from the earth. To accomplish this purpose, it was necessary he should be seconded by an observer placed under the same meridian, and at the greatest distance that could be conveniently chosen on the globe. Berlin was fixed on, and Le Monnier signified his intention of undertaking the business himself, but the mo.­ment when he appeared ready to depart, he had the credit to get his pupil appointed in his stead. Frederic, to whom Maupertuis had explained the delicacy and difficulty of the enterprize, could not forbear shewing some astonishment when the youthful astronomer was presented to him; “However,” said he, “the Academy of Sciences has | appointed you, and you will justify their choice.” From that moment his age, being only eighteen, was an additional recommendation; he was admitted at court, welcomed by the academy, and became intimate with the most distinguished persons at Berlin. On his return, the account which he gave of his mission procured him free access to the Academy of Sciences, and its transactions were enriched every year by important communications from the young astronomer. The active part which he took in the labours of the academy, was not confined to the astronomical science: we have from his pen, a description of seven arts, as different from each other, as they are remote from the objects of his habitual meditations. He published the French edition of Dr. Halley’s tables, and the history of the comet of 1759, and he furnished Clairault with immense calculations for the theory of that famous comet. Being charged in 1760 with the compilation of the “Connoissance des Temps,” he entirely changed the form of that work, and of this collection he published thirty-two volumes, viz. from 1775 to 1807.

In 1764, appeared the first edition of his “Traite” Astronomique,“which he afterwards completed, and upon which his chief claim to fame rests. Lalande was the first who calculated the perturbations of Mars and Venus; and in the theory of Satellites, in which but little progress had been made, he explained a motion which Bailli claimed as his own discovery. A literary dispute arose out of this circumstance, which, however, was conducted with every regard to decency; and the probable result, as seen by disinterested spectators, was, that both had been led to the same discovery. He composed all the astronomical articles for the” Encyclopaedia of Yverdun,“those for the. supplements to the” Encyclopedic de Paris,“and those for the” Encyclopedic Methodique," substituting for the articles furnished by d’Alembert, and which he had compiled from the works of Le Monnier, such as were more complete and more modern, from his own observations and improved theories.

To his written works he joined oral instructions during t space of forty-six years; for from 1761 he had replaced the first master, De Lisle, in the chair of astronomy, in the college of France, and gave a new lustre to this curious part of public instruction in a celebrated school, which possessed the most distinguished professors of very kind, | and which enjoyed and merited the extraordinary privilege of out-living the tremendous storms of a revolution, and escaping the almost universal destruction which levelled all around it. As a professor, he taught with so much ability that his school became a seminary of disciples who peopled the different observatories of the world. In the midst of his other labours he drew up his “Voyage d’ Italic,” the most complete collection of curious objects that travellers can consult; his “Traite* des Canaux” and his “Bibliographic Astronomique,” which is an immense catalogue of all the works that have appeared on the subject of that science.

In 1793, Lalande published “Abrege de Navigation historique, theorique, et practique,” containing many valuable rules and tables; and in 1802 he published a new edition of Montucla’s History of Mathematics, in 4 vols. 4to, the last two volumes being prepared from Montucla’s papers, with the assistance of La Place, La Croix, and other French mathematicians. He published also this year a collection of tables of logarithms, sines, tangents, &c. adapted to the pocket.

Associated to almost all the distinguished scientific societies in the world, he was their common bond of union by the correspondences which he maintained; and he promoted a circulation of intelligence from one to another, He employed the credit arising from the universal reputation which he enjoyed, for the general benefit of the sciences and their cultivators. To the extraordinary ardour and activity of his character, he joined a love for the truth, which he carried to the borders of fanaticism. Every degree of concealment appeared to him unworthy of an honest man; and he therefore, without reserve, uttered his sentiments on ^all occasions, and 1 by the bluntness of his manners, he sometimes made himself enemies, who not ! only called in question his real merits, but who excited against him a crowd of detractors, and because they could not rival his high reputation, they attempted to blast his well earned fame. He was not without his singularities sand failings, but they were trifling in comparison of his commendable qualities, yet his long and important services were frequently forgotten in the recollection of trivial lifailings.

Lalande has been charged with profaneness and atheism; llbut, says the writer of his life whom we have follovyed, no | authority is produced to support such charges, which, if true, ought to have been sanctioned by some sort of proof, or by well ascertained facts. The facts, however, as given in the “Biographic moderne,” are these, that, “before the Revolution, Lalande made a public profession of Atheism: in 1793 he delivered a speech at the Pantheon, with the red cap on his head, against the existence of God; in 1805 he published a Supplement to the” Dictionary of Atheists,“by Silvain Mareschal, in which he endeavours to prove there is no Deity; and in support of his opinion he cites not only the dead, but even living persons, one of whom, Francis de Neufchateau, president of the senate, strongly protested in the public prints against this charge.” In the same work, we are likewise told, that the emperor (Bonaparte) on being informed of Lalande' s conduct, enjoined him to publish nothing more with his name, in a letter dated from the palace at Schoenbrunn, Jan. 18, 1806, which was read at a general meeting of the Institute, all the classes of which had been especially summoned. The substance of this letter is, that M. Lalande, whose name had hitherto been united with important labours in science, had lately fallen into a state of childhood, which appeared now in little articles unworthy of his name, &c. Lalande, who was present, rose and said, “I will conform to the orders of his majesty.” These are surely facts of the most decisive kind, and easily to be refuted, if they have no foundation. The editors of the Diet. Hist, borrowing from one of his eulogists, make a very poor defence, by saying that, “he always manifested a benevolent disposition, and approved himself a man of honour, probity, courage, full of activity for all useful things, and of love and zeal in behalf of his fellow creatures. To imitate the great benefactor is the most worthy homage we can pay to the infinite goodness; the supreme intelligence which governs the universe.” He rendered, however, inestimable service toi science during his life, and consulted its interests after his, death, by founding an annual prize to the author of the best astronomical memoir, or most curious observation. He died April 4th, 1807, in the 7 5th year of his age. 1

1 Rees’s Cyclopædia, from the eulogies of De-Lambre an-1 Dtipont. D Hist. Biog. Modcrnf