Astronomie. Tome premier [- seconde].

Paris: Desaint & Saillant, 1764.

First edition, a fine set from the library of Erik Prosperin, of this major work by the celebrated French astronomer, which served as the introductory text for a generation of astronomers. “Next to his indefatigable efforts to improve astronomical tables, Lalande’s greatest contribution was as a writer of textbooks, the most important being his Traité d’astronomie of 1764, with subsequent editions in 1771 and 1792. It became a standard textbook and had the advantage over other texts of containing much practical information on instruments and methods of calculation” (DSB). “Lalande (1732-1807) became interested in astronomy while he was lodging at the Hôtel de Cluny, where the noted astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle had his observatory. In 1751 Lalande went to Berlin to make lunar observations in concert with the work of Nicolas Louis de Lacaille at the Cape of Good Hope. The success of this task and the subsequent calculation of the Moon’s distance secured for Lalande, before he reached the age of 21, admission to the Academy of Berlin and the post of adjunct astronomer to the Academy of Paris. Lalande then devoted himself to the improvement of planetary theory, publishing in 1759 a corrected edition of the tables of Halley’s Comet. He helped organize international collaboration in observing the transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769; the data obtained made possible the accurate calculation of the distance between Earth and the Sun. In 1762 Lalande was appointed to the chair of astronomy in the Collège de France, Paris, a position that he held for 46 years. A popularizer of astronomy, he instituted the Lalande Prize in 1802 for the chief astronomical contribution of each year” (Britannica).

Provenance: Erik Prosperin (inscribed ‘Upsala d. 11. Nov. 1765. Erik Prosperin’, ‘Exempl. (?) 180 (currency ?) - Bandet 27 (currency) and the addition in all ‘207’, thus stating the cost of the acquired work and the cost of its binding); Is. Sam. Widebeck (from Upsala); C.F. Lindman (Swedish mathematician). Prosperin was a well known Swedish astronomer who calculated orbits for a total of 84 comets, notaby ‘Comet Messier’, ‘Comet Bode’, and the new planet ‘Uranus’ (discovered in 1781 and initially thought to be a comet); he was also one of the first to calculate the orbit of the first asteroid, 1 ceres in 1801. He was professor of physics and mathematics at Upsala University from 1767, Professor of astronomy 1797-98, member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences etc.

“Lalande’s father was Pierre Le Françis, director of the post office at burg and also director of the tobacco warehouse. his mother was the former Marie-Anne-Gabrielle Monchinet. Lalande used the simple patronym Le François until 1752 when he began to write Le Francois de la Lande. With the abolition of noble titles during the Revolution he became simply Lalande. Apparently he had no brothers or sisters and was never married. His ‘nephew,’ Michel-Jean-Jérôme Lefrancais de Lalande, who became an astronomer under Lalande’s tutelage, was actually a grandson of Lalande’s uncle. Lalande also frequently referred to Michel’s wife as his niece or daughter and occasionally employed her in the calculation of astronomical tables.

“Lalande was extremely well known during his lifetime, partly because of the enormous bulk of his writings and partly because of his love for the limelight. Nothing pleased him more than to see his name in the public press, a weakness that he readily confessed; ‘I am an oilskin for insults and a sponge for praise.’ He was first and foremost a practical astronomer, a maker of tables and an excellent writer of astronomical textbooks. His enormous energy and active pen could never be confined to astronomy, however; and he also wrote on the practical arts, published travel literature, and was very active in the scientific academies.

“Lalande was educated by the Jesuits at the Collège de Lyon and at first indicated an intention to join the order. His parents persuaded him to study law at Paris instead. During his student years he lived at the Hôtel de Cluny, where the astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle had his observatory. Lalande followed Delisle’s lectures at the Collège Royal and assisted him in his observations. He also attended the lectures of Pierre-Charles Le Monnier on mathematical physics, and it was Le Monnier who obtained for Lalande his first important assignment as an astronomer. In 1751 Abbé Nicolas de La Caille departed on an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope, one of the main purposes of which was to measure that lunar parallax. It was important that simultaneous measurements be made in Europe at some point on the same meridian. The most advantageous site was Berlin, which unfortunately lacked an adequate instrument. Le Monnier permitted Lalande to go in his place, entrusting to him his quadrant, which was generally considered to be the best in France. At Berlin, Lalande was admitted to the Prussian Academy, where he enjoyed the company of Maupertuis, Euler, and the marquis d’Argens. He published his observations in the Acta eruditorum, the Histoire of the Berlin Academy, and the Mémoires of the Paris Academy, which led almost immediately to his election to the latter on 4 February 1753 as adjoint astronome. He was promoted to associé in 1758 and became pensionnaire in 1772.

“Lalande became involved in a series of controversies on astronomical questions. The first was with his teacher Le Monnier over the best way to correct of the flattening of the earth in calculating the lunar parallax. A commission appointed by the Academy to judge the dispute decided in Lalande’s favor. His enthusiasm in pressing his claim caused ill will on the part of his former teacher and resulted in a rupture of their friendship.

“A more important controversy arose over Alexis Clairaut’s prediction of the return of Halley’s comet. Halley had predicted that the comet of 1682 would return late in 1758 or early in 1759, but his prediction was based on the gravitational attraction of the sun alone, without considering the perturbations caused by the other planets. Clairaut determined to calculate the orbit more precisely and was aided in the extremely laborious calculations by Lalande and Mme. Lepaute, the wife of a famous French clockmaker. The comet appeared on schedule, as Clairaut predicted, and his feat was acclaimed in the popular press as a great vindication of Newton’s law of gravitation.

“The work of Clairaut and Lalande was made possible by the recently discovered mathematical methods of approximating solutions to the three-body problem. Clairaut, d’Alembert, and Euler had all been competing to solve this particular problem during the 1740’s; and at one point it seemed that Newton’s law would be shown to be in error, since the more precise calculations of the astronomers gave the wrong figure for the motion of the lunar apsides. A bitter controversy ensued between d’Alembert and Clairaut over the best method of approximation. D’Alembert was closely associated with Le Monnier and Lalande with Clairaut, and the recent rupture between Lalande and Le Monnier increased the hostility between the two camps. When the controversy was resumed over the return of Halley’s comet, Lalande joined enthusiastically in the polemics. Many of the letters in the controversy were anonymous, however, and the extent of Lalande’s involvement is difficult to determine. He published his account of the comet in his Histoire de la comète de1759, which contained a new edition of Halley’s planetary tables.

“There followed new successes for Lalande. He was chosen to succeed G. D. Maraldi as editor of the astronomical almanac Connaissance des temps, which he greatly expanded during his years as editor from 1760 to 1776, adding accurate tables of lunar distances from the stars and the sun and other information of value for navigation. He also made it a chronicle of important astronomical events. During the Revolution, Lalande returned again to the Connaissance des temps and edited it from 1794 until his death in 1807. Also in 1760 he succeeded Delisle as professor of astronomy at the Collège Royale. Lalande was an excellent teacher and had many distinguished pupils during his forty-six years of service at the Collège Royale, including J. B. J. Delambre, G. Piazzi, P. Méchain, and his nephew, Michel Lalande …

“Throughout his life Lalande drew attention to himself by his numerous publications, by frequent letters to the Paris journals, by organisational activities, and by more bizarre episodes, such as a balloon ascent and a campaign to lessen the fear of spiders (he ate several to prove his point). He was an indefatigable worker, and the total volume of writing that flowed from his pen prodigious. As a creative scientist he was not outstanding, but in the teaching and practical operations of astronomy he made major contributions. He remained an important figure in French astronomy until his death in 1807” (DSB).

Houzeau & Lancaster I: 9258. Honeyman 1889; Poggendorff I, 1349; Sotheran 2390. 

Two vols. 4to (264 x 214mm), pp. xlviii, 752, 44; [4], (753)-1544, xxxiv, [2], including half-titles, titles with woodcut device, woodcut head- and tail-pieces, index and privilege leaf at end of vol. II, 36 engraved plates, one large and folded (light soiling to some plates and a few scattered brown spots, mainly marginal). Contemporary mottled calf with five raised bands, spines richly gilt in compartments and with gilt leather title-labels (spines and edges lightly rubbed, upper part of front hinge of vol. II a little weak).

Item #5787

Price: $6,000.00

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