Benjamin Franklin Papers
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To Benjamin Franklin from Soulavie, 21 October 1782

From Soulavie

LS: University of Pennsylvania Library

paris ce 21 8bre 1782

Monsieur

J’ai Lu avec un plaisir extreme vos raisonnemens très profonds9 qui caracterisent le Beau genie de leur auteur et à moins que je ne reçoive des ordres contraires, je me ferai un grand honneur de les inserer dans mon tome 5 qui S’imprime,1 avec les Memoires que Vous M’avez promis de me renvoyer, & qui ont besoin d’etre corrigés. Alors Mon Volume aura un Merite inapreciable. Je demeure dans la rue des Vieilles thuileries à Lhotel de Mr. L’evêque de Bayeux2 ou j’ai un Logement.

Voila une place Vacante à L’academie des Sciences;3 il Se presente Mrs. fontaine, Avit, Descemet personnes ignorées du public;4 je N’ai personne, Monsieur, pour me porter dans ce Corps, je ne Connois qu’un peu M. le Roi parcequ’il fut nommé Comissaire de l’edition que j’ai donnée des œuvres de Mr. Hamilton.5

Je Vous devrai donc, illustre philosophe, cet avantage Si Votre bonté peut vous porter à Vous interresser pour Moi, Vous êtes de cette academie, Vous êtes lié avec tous Ses membres et avec M. Amelot6 qui est le ministre dans le departement de qui Se trouve L’academie.

Aucun de Ceux qui Se presentent N’a autant travaillé que moi pour L’academie: je n’ai publié aucun Volume sans Son approbation, et j’ai lû huit memoires differens. L’esprit de L’academie est de recevoir des adjoints jeunes & zelés et qui N’ont d’autre occupation que les Sciences. Et Comme C’est la classe dhistoire naturelle et surtout des plantes je dois presenter dans peu de tems mon tome I des Vegetaux dont j’ai eu Lhonneur de Vous entretenir.7

Si Sans Vous Compromettre, Sans Vous gener, Vous pouvez me rendre ce Service, je ne l’oublierai jamais de la vie, je M’abandonne à Vos bontés avec toute la Confiance.

Je suis avec un profond respect Monsieur Votre très humble et très obeissant Serviteur

LABBÉ SOULAVIE

rue des Vieilles thuileries hotel de M. lévêque de Bayeux

Notation: Solavie 21. Oct 1782

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9BF’s letter of Sept. 22.

1Soulavie intended his Histoire naturelle de la France méridionale to comprise two divisions: Part I was “mineraux” (geology) and Part II would concern plants and animals. The four volumes he had published so far were all on geology, and these had provoked the abbé Augustin de Barruel to attack him for contradicting the Biblical account of creation. Though vol. 5 of the “mineraux” series was in press, as Soulavie here tells BF, it was not published until 1784. He blamed the two-year delay on the death of his cartographer (as he explained in the “avis aux souscripteurs”), but that did not explain why the second section of the text was only printed in 1784. Soulavie may have delayed publication because of the ongoing religious controversy, which threatened to block his clerical advancement. When vol. 5 was finally issued, the latter section included a “profession of faith” which attempted to reconcile his theories with Biblical truth. Soulavie left out all mentions of BF and his theory of the formation of the earth.

The dispute between Soulavie and the abbé Barruel is the subject of Léon Aufrère, Soulavie et son secret (Paris, 1952). An analysis of the 1782 and 1784 portions of vol. 5 of Histoire naturelle …, with the “profession of faith” quoted, is on pp. 113–20, 158–64. See also Albin Mazon, Histoire de Soulavie … (2 vols., Paris, 1893), I, 32–5.

2Joseph-Dominique de Cheylus: XXXV, 361n.

3The Academy was organized by scientific disciplines, and, within each discipline, by a prescribed hierarchy. Membership at all levels was limited, and the death of a senior member allowed for promotions and the induction of a new member at the lowest rank, adjoint. Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau died in August, creating a vacancy in botany. See Roger Hahn, The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution … (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 1971), pp. 78–9, 99, and for Duhamel du Monceau, Dictionary of Scientific Biography; Index biographique des membres et correspondants de l’Académie des sciences de 1666 à 1939 (Paris, 1939), p. 148.

4Botanist René Louiche Desfontaines (Des Fontaines) (1750–1833), recently named docteur régent in the Faculty of Medicine, was admitted to the Academy on March 2, 1783, as adjoint botaniste surnuméraire. He later became professor of botany at the Jardin royal: DBF; Index biographique …, p. 136; Almanach royal for 1783, p. 483.

We have not identified Avit. Jean Descemet (1732–1810), docteur régent in the Faculty of Medicine and royal censor, made contributions in botany and medicine: DBF; Almanach royal for 1782, pp. 477, 487.

5BF’s friend Jean-Baptiste Le Roy was a pensionnaire ordinaire and thus in a position to vote in the election of new members: Almanach royal for 1782, p. 502; Hahn, The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution, pp. 129–33. He was evidently on the committee that evaluated the French edition of Sir William Hamilton’s works, Œuvres complètes de M. le chevalier Hamilton … (Paris, 1781), which dealt with volcanoes in Italy and contained 158 pages of commentary by Soulavie that emphasized the importance of direct observation in the natural sciences. That edition was published in December, 1782, and carried the approbation of the Academy. Albin Mazon, Histoire de Soulavie … (2 vols., Paris, 1893), II, 117–18; Pahin de La Blancherie’s Nouvelles de la république …, issue of Dec. 11, 1782.

6Amelot de Chaillou had been president of the Academy in 1779: XXIX, 285n.

7Soulavie’s Histoire naturelle de la France méridionale was published with the approbation of the Académie des sciences, but as we noted above, he had not yet published any of the volumes on botany. Part II of the series, entitled “Les Végétaux,” was (as he says here) in progress; vol. 1 was published in 1783, bound with vol. 6 of “Minéraux.” Soulavie never was elected to the Academy.

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