Paris: de l'Imprimerie Royale, 1751.
First edition of the official account of the scientific operations undertaken during the author’s famous geodetic mission to Peru, in conjunction with Bouguer and Godin, to measure the meridian near the equator, and so settle the controversy between the Cartesians and Newtonians as to whether the earth was flattened or elongated at the poles.
This famous expedition to the equinoctial regions of Spanish South America “had as its goal the verification of Newton’s hypothesis on the flattening of the terrestrial globe in the polar regions and, thereby, the resolution of the controversy regarding the form of the earth that was then dividing French scientists. Maupertuis, Clairaut, and Le Monnier went to Lapland to measure several degrees of meridian at the arctic circle, while Godin, Bouguer, and La Condamine were sent to Peru, territory belonging to Philip V of Spain, in order to make the same measurement in the vicinity of the equator” (DSB XV, p. 27)).
La Condamine left Paris on 14 April 1735, arriving in Quito (then in Peru) on 4 June. Work had scarcely begun when tension arose between Louis Godin, the head of the mission, and Piere Bouguer. Relations between the scientist gradually deteriorated and eventually the three were taking measurements and observations independently. The work was finally completed in 1743. The three men returned to Paris separately, La Condamine taking the longest and most dangerous route, south along the Amazon. After many difficulties La Condamine finally arrived in Paris on 23 February 1745, after an absence of almost yen years.
“The scientific result of the expedition was clear; the earth is indeed a spheroid flattened at the poles, as Newton had maintained. Bouger and La Condamine were unable, however, to agree on the joint publication of their works. Their long quarrel continued through a series of memoirs that were essentially mutual refutations of no scientific value; it ceased only with the death of Bouguer in 1758 (Godin died in 1760). The last survivor of the expedition, La Condamine, who was a less gifted astronomer than Godin and a less reliable mathematician than Bouguer, often received the major part of the credit, probably because of his amiable nature and his talent as a writer.
“La Condamine returned from Peru with a project for a universal measurement of length, the unit which would be the length of a pendulum beating once a second at the equator. Although Huygens had already suggested the idea in his Horologium oscillatorium (1673). La Condamine explained it more clearly in a memoir presented to the Academy in November 1747, which was read at a public meeting the following April” (ibid, p. 271). An offprint of this paper is bound in to the present volume.
Maupertuis’ expedition did not encounter the same difficulties as La Condamine’s, and the results of his expedition to Lapland were published several years earlier than the present work, in La figure de la terre (Paris, 1738).
DSB XV: 269-73. Borba de Moraes, p. 447; JCB 947; Norman 1250; Sabin 38483; Bosch 201 II.
4to (242 x 191 mm), pp. [2:title to main work], viii ('Nouveau Projet' offprint), [10:index], 1-266, x. Engraved vignette on title & three folding engraved plates. Contemporary calf, capitals with some chipping, otherwise a fine and unrestored copy.