Oeuvres [Traité de Mécanique Céleste; Exposition du Système du Monde; Théorie Analytique des Probabilités (including, as the introduction, Essai Philosophique sur les Probabilités)].

Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1843-1847.

First edition, a beautiful copy bound in contemporary red morocco with the arms of Napoleon III, of the collected works of Laplace, comprising his principal contributions to celestial mechanics and probability theory. The distinguished American historian of science Charles Gillispie considers Laplace to be “among the most influential scientists in all history” (Pierre-Simon-Laplace, 1749-1827: A life in exact science (1997), p. vii). “Laplace gave the world three great works: the Mécanique Céleste, the Exposition du Système du Monde, and the Théorie Analytique des Probabilités. Besides these he presented numerous important memoires before the French Academy and the Academy of Sciences. Laplace’s works were first published in seven volumes by the French government in 1843” (Richeson, p. 73). This national edition of the works of the ‘Newton of France’ was the result of laws passed by the two legislative chambers in 1842 and 1843, which authorised a special budget of 40,000 francs for publication. Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Napoleon III (1808-73), was President of the French Second Republic (1848-52) and Emperor (1852-70) during the Second French Empire. He succeeded Louis XVIII, under whose rule Laplace had been elevated to the title of Marquis.

The Traité de Mécanique Céleste, which was first published in 1799-1825, codified and developed the theories and achievements of Newton, Euler, d’Alembert, and Lagrange. In the tradition of Newton’s Principia, Laplace (1749-1827) “applied his analytical mathematical theories to celestial bodies and concluded that the apparent changes in the motion of planets and their satellites are changes of long periods, and that the solar system is in all probability very stable” (Dibner 14). “Laplace maintained that while all planets revolve round the sun their eccentricities and the inclinations of their orbits to each other will always remain small. He also showed that all these irregularities in movements and positions in the heavens were self-correcting, so that the whole solar system appeared to be mechanically stable. He showed that the universe was really a great self-regulating machine and the whole solar system could continue on its existing plan for an immense period of time. This was a long step forward from the Newtonian uncertainties in this respect. Laplace also offered a brilliant explanation of the secular inequalities of the mean motion of the moon about the earth - a problem which Euler and Lagrange had failed to solve. He also investigated the theory of the tides and calculated from them the mass of the moon” (PMM).

The Exposition du Système du Monde is “one of the most successful popularizations of science ever composed” (DSB). It is “an elegant, non-mathematical classic on astronomy. It is in this work that Laplace introduced one of his most notable contributions (although he himself did not take it very seriously at first) – the so-called nebular hypothesis, which provided a conjectural account of the origin of the solar system” (PMM). According to this hypothesis, the Sun, planets, and their moons began as a whirling cloud of gas. Laplace argued that as a hot nebula cooled, it would require a proportionately faster rate of rotation in order to conserve its angular momentum, and the increased centrifugal force resulting from this increased speed would throw out material which would eventually condense into planets. In essence, this theory of the origin of the solar system is still accepted.

The Théorie Analytique des Probabilités, first published in 1812, is “the most influential book on probability and statistics ever written” (Anders Hald), which John Herschel called “the ne plus ultra of mathematical skill and power” (Essays from the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews (1857), p. 382). “In the Théorie Laplace gave a new level of mathematical foundation and development both to probability theory and to mathematical statistics. … [It] emerged from a long series of slow processes and once established, loomed over the landscape for a century or more.” (Stephen Stigler, Landmark Writings in Western Mathematics 1640-1940, pp. 329-30). “It was the first full–scale study completely devoted to a new specialty, … [and came] to have the same sort of relation to the later development of probability that, for example, Newton’s Principia Mathematica had to the later science of mechanics” (DSB). The Théorie analytique des Probabilités contains, besides an introduction, two books, Du calcul des Fonctions génératrices and Théorie générale des Probabilités, together with four supplements which appeared over the period 1816-1825.

The Essai Philosophique sur les Probabilités is Laplace’s accessible summary of his work on probability theory. “Inevitably, Laplace’s technical writings have come to have the same sort of relation to the later development of the discipline of probability that, for example, Newton's Principia mathematica had for the later science of mathematics. Even if there were no other reason, that would suffice to explain why most readers who wish to repair to the fountainhead of what is often called the subjective interpretation of probability, in contrast to the frequency view, have recourse to the Essai Philosophique” (DSB). The Essai first appeared as the introduction to the second edition of the Théorie Analytique (1814), and separately in the same year, and is here again included as the introduction to the Théorie Analytique.

“Pierre Simon Laplace was born in Normandy, France, in 1749 and died in 1827. Very little is known of his youth, since in after life he refused to speak of his childhood days. At eighteen through the aid of D’Alembert he secured a position as professor of mathematics at the École Militaire in Paris. He was elected a member of the French Academy and the Academy of Sciences; later he was made President of the Bureau of Longitude. It was during this time that he carried on the greater part of his scientific researches that gained for him the title of “Newton of France”” (Richeson, p. 73).

Richeson, ‘Laplace’s contributions to pure mathematics,’ National Mathematics Magazine 17 (1948), pp. 73-8.



Seven vols., 4to. Vol. I [Traité de Mécanique Céleste]: pp. [vi], xv, 420; Vol. II [ibid.]: pp. [iv], xvi, 440; Vol. III [ibid.]: pp. [viii], xix, 381; Vol. IV [ibid.]: pp. [iv], xxxix, 552, with one folding engraved plate; Vol. V [ibid.]: pp. [vi], v, 540, [2, errata to vols. I-III]; Vol. VI [Exposition du Système du Monde]: pp. [iv], vii, 479; Vol. VII [Théorie Analytique des Probabilités]: pp. [vi], cxcv, 691. Contemporary red morocco, covers decorated in blind and with ‘Concours général des départements’ and arms of Napoleon III stamped in gilt, spines lettered in gilt, a.e.g., moiré endpapers (light browning and foxing). A very fine copy.

Item #4341

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