From Agepedia

Jump to: navigation , search

LALANDE, Joseph Jerome le Francate de, one of the most distinguished astronomers of the last century, was born of a respectable family, at Bourg en Bresse, in France, July 11,1732. Educated with a minute attention to religious duties, he displayed his abilities when veiy young, by composing sermons and mystical romances. The remarkable comet of 1744 first drew his attention to the heavenly bodies; and his taste for astronomy was fixed by the observations of father Beraud, mathematical professor at the college of Lyons, on the great eclipse of July 27, 1748. He wished to become a Jesuit, that he might devote himself entirely to study ; but his friends, objecting to this plan, sent him to Paris, where he studied the law, and was admitted an advocate. He became acquainted with Delisle, who had established an observatory in the nouse in which he resided, and obtained permission to assist him in his operations. He also attended the lectures on astronomy delivered by Messier, at the college de France, and obtained the friendly patronage of Lemonnier, who lectured on natural philosophy at the same college. The academy sent him to Berlin to make observations for the purpose of determining the parallax of the moon, while Lacaille went to the cape of Good Hope for the same purpose. At the sight of so young an astronomer (for he was scarcely 19 j^ears of age), Frederic the Great could not conceal his astonishment. Lalande, however, proved himself worthy of the choice of the academy at Paris, and was not only received at court, but was made a member of the academy of Berlin. After having finished his operations at Berlin, he was chosen member of the academy of sciences in Paris, in the year 1753. Thenceforward no volume of their transactions appeared which did not contain some important communications from him; nor did he confine his labors to astronomical subjects merely. The French are indebted to him also for an edition of Halley's tables, as well as for the historical account of the comet of 1759. For the identifying of this remarkable comet, he presented to Clairault the deepest and most ingenious calculations. As the editor of the Connaissance des Temps, he entirely changed the plan and management of this useful work, and thereby set a good example to his successors. In 1761, he produced a chart, which showed the phases of the remarkable transit of Venus over the sun's disk for all places on the globe. In 1764, he published his Astronomiea classical work, which was afterwards printed in three volumes quarto, and reached the third edition, and of which he made an abridgment [Abve'ge' tfAsironomie, published at Paris in 1795) a work which cannot be too highly recommended to lovers of this science. In 1765"and 1766, he made a journey to Italy; a description of which (in 8 vols., 12mo.) contains much valuable information. He composed all the astronomical articles for the great Encyclopedic, and also wrote them anew for the Encyclopedic methodique. In 1761, he succeeded his first instructer, Lemonnier, in the astronomical professorship of the college de France, where he knewr how to give to his lectures a peculiar 33* attraction. His lecture room was a kind of nursery, from which a multitude of his scholars were transplanted to the directorship and management of domestic and foreign observatories. His work Des Canaux de Navigation et specialement du Canal de Languedoc (1778, folio) contains a general history of all the ancient and modern canals, wrhich had previously been undertaken, accomplished, and even projected. Such a work had, till then, been a desideratum, and this is now of the greatest advantage to the engineer. His Bibliographic astronomique (1 vol., 4to.) is a copious catalogue of all the works that had ever appeared on the subject of astronomy. As he was a member of all the great academies, he formed, as it were, a common bond of union between them, while he communicated, from one to the other, whatever each one produced worthy of notice. His activity was remarkable. Lalande enjoyed for a long time a splendid reputation ; but his imprudent freedom, the independence with which he expressed his opinion in the most turbulent times, the often offensive severity which he was accustomed to use against systems which deserved no notice, and the habit of publicly declaring his sentiments where he might better have been silent,all this made him numerous enemies, who persecuted him, and succeeded so far, that his real merit has been called in question. His character was, in fact, a strange mixture of great and commendable qualities united with striking singularities, which may have proceeded from vanity and the desire to attract attention. Lalande, however, was kind, generous, full of feeling, and, in his own way, religious, although his enemies accused him of atheism. His death took place April 4, 1807.