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1779 - RARE FRENCH SCIENTIFIC LETTER TO ROMÈ DE L'ISLE
THE FATHER OF CRYSTALLOGRAPHY
en français

Item Ref:  BSL - Romè de L'Isle

1779 TO ROMÈ DE L'ISLE - PROFESSOR AT THE ACADEMY OF SCIENCE
 FROM MONSIEUR L'ABBÉ BERTHOLON, PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY
JESUIT SEMINARY OF BEZIERS DATED 20 JUNE 1779
A FANTASTIC SCIENTIFIC LETTER LINKING THREE NOTED SCIENTISTS,
ELECTRICITY, CRYSTALLOGRAPHY AND CHEMISTRY

 


Romè de L'Isle

Jean-Baptiste Louis Romè de L'Isle (1736-1790)
The Father of Crystallography
---------------------------
Balthazar George Sage (1740-1824)
Founder of the College of Mines, Paris
---------------------------
L'Abbé Pierre Bertholon
Author of Treatises on Electricity and

Correspondent of Benjamin Franklin


Balthazar Sage


A Wonderful Scientific Letter from L'Abbé Pierre Bertholon, Jesuit Seminarian, noted experimenter and author on Electrical Theory and the Aurora Borealis and a correspondent of Benjamin Franklin - to Romè de L'Isle, a noted mineralogist considered to be the Father of Crystallography and Balthazar Sage, the Founder of the College of Mines in Paris and whose donation of geological samples formed the foundation of the Institute's Collection. Here is Bertholon's transmittal letter wherein he sends mineralogical samples to them both for study and includes a comment about his recently published work on the Aurora Borealis, De L'Isle's Essay on Crystallography and Sage's experiments with the volatile alkali of fluoride. A Great Eighteenth Century French Scientific Letter!
 


Page 1 - Click to enlarge

Romè de L'Isle Docketing Notation

Page 2 - Click to enlarge


Biographical Notes

Jean-Baptiste Louis Romè de L'Isle (1736-1790)

The 18th century saw the publication of the original seminal work on mathematical crystallography by Romè de Lisle which established the precise compositional reasons for the mysterious differences between steel, cast iron and wrought iron.

Romè de L'Isle, a French mineralogist, was born on the 26th of August 1736 at Gray, in Haute-Sane. As the secretary of a company of artillery he visited the East Indies, and was taken prisoner by the English and held in captivity for three years. He had an early interest in chemistry together with Balthazar Sage and then developed a passion for mineralogy, collecting a world class collection of crystals. He followed the ideas of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the Father of Taxonomy, and proposed that it was possible to classify crystals according to their external form, an idea, which at the time, caused great opposition. He was the author of Essay of Crystallography (1772), the second edition of which, regarded as his principal work and was published as Crystallography (3 vols. and atlas, 1783). In his Essay he employed the descriptive concepts of "primitive forms" and "truncations". These works enabled the measurement of crystals and made it possible to precisely measure the plane angles of the crystalline faces, leading him to state his "law of constancy of the angles". Crystallography now had a quantitative parameter, the respective slope of the faces, from which classifications, on the one hand, and the theories of the structure, on the other hand, were able to develop. He later broke with Sage and Bertholon but remained distinguished for his researches on mineralogy and crystallography. He died at Paris on the 7th of March 1790.

Balthazar George Sage (1740-1824)

Balthazar Sage was born in Paris on 7 May 1740, the son of a pharmacist. He studied at the Mazarin college and was devoted to the study of mineralogy and docimastic chemistry (determining the nature and quantity of metallic substances contained in any ore or mineral). Through influence with Louis XV, Sage was admitted to the Academy of Science at 30 years of age. Sage taught analytical chemistry at the Academy of Sciences where his incompetence was an embarrassment. There were some who did not think he merited the distinction. Grimaux presented him as being "an awkward experimenter, whimsical imagination, whose published writings piled up errors, many, many, many errors".  He was known for his experiments with the volatile alkali of fluoride as a remedy for asphyxiation and snake bites.  A study to which Bertholon makes reference in this letter.
     Sage joined with Monnet to denounce the theories of Lavoisier, and those of Haüy. Together they made the last futile defense in favour of the phlogistic theory, at a time when all other scientists had discarded it in favor of Lavoisier's theories. Sage went blind in 1805 and was stripped of his lifetime pension following changes in the political climate. He died in poverty and disregard in 1824.
     The major capstone to his career was not scientific but rather his dominating role in the creation of the School of the Mines of Paris in 1783. Sage was the first Principal of the Mines where he taught mineralogy and docimasy from 1783 to 1790. From 1760 Sage had assembled one of the finest mineral collections in Paris, France; he sold to the King for a lifetime stipend of 5,000 livres per year. His collection remained intact at the Royal Mint until 1824, when they were split between the Museum of Natural History and the School of Mines.

 Pierre Bertholon de Saint-Lazare (1742-1800)

A most amazing curate. Born in 1842 he entered the Jesuit Seminary at Bezier. He later was a professor of experimental physics for the Montpellier Academy of Science and the States General of Languedoc. In 1789 Abbé Pierre Bertholon, described a keyboard instrument called the Clavecin Magnétique (Magnetic Harpsichord), which utilized electricity and is perhaps the first proposed electric musical instrument. He constructed experiments and published works on the effects of electricity on plants, humans, and electrical conduction being a correspondent of Benjamin Franklin in America. He suggested a device to prevent earthquakes and volcanoes, believing them to be connected to electrical imbalances. He published works on the Aurora Borealis as well as on the electrical properties of meteors. He corresponded with all the major scientists of his era, sometimes taking the wrong side of hotly disputed theories. Bertholon was also involved in Robespierre's first significant case against the inventor Vissery (which he won) who was brought to trial for erecting a lightning rod which was considered a public menace. Vissery's attorney Buissart corresponded with Abbé Bertholon to get supporting scientific testimony and described him as an experimental physicist with "an apostolic zeal for electricity". Bertholon declared the guilty verdict an “ignominious pretension and without any foundation to claim one cannot erect a lightning rod without police authorization,” and sent a copy of the findings to Benjamin Franklin in America.

 


[

Image from one of Bertholon's Treatise wherein he introduced electrical fields among plants to measure its effect on their growth]

[Image from one of Bertholon's Treatise wherein he believed disease could be treated by exposure to electricity]

Just as plants respond to music, they also respond to wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. In the late 1770's, Nollet, Toaldo, and Bertholon gave strong proof that "electricity somehow had profound effects on the growth functions of life forms." Toaldo proved that plants grew better near a lightning rod. Bertholon invented an electrovegetometer to collect electricity from the air, via an antenna, which was then passed to his plants.

As a sidebar: Not all considered the good Abbé a godsend.  In 1790, Count Alessandro Volta (1745 - 1827), father of the Volt and the voltaic pile (the first battery) delivered a graduation speech at the University of Pavia, in Italy where he was the Professor of Physics. He was in competition with Giovanni Battista  Beccaria the Professor of Physics at the University of Turin, in Italy, for pre-eminence in the field of electrical studies. He made note that there was now another “fanatical worshipper” to take into account, a new admirer of Beccaria, another one of the “many or few followers” of his, abbé Pierre Bertholon, who in 1787 had published a work bearing the eloquent title of De l’électricité des météores.  Bertholon and Beccaria followed Benjamin Franklin's theory of fluidity relative to electrical energy.
 

4 page Document – Signed and Dated: September 1, 1727
Text Translated in English as Follows:

My dear Sir,
     It has been quite some time that I have been waiting for news from you, it seems to me that I wrote to you twice without having had a response. I fear that you have been sick, and I beg you to set aside my fears. After you give me news of your health, give me news regarding your work, that’s to say, your successes, for your old ones are still renowned.
     I asked you in my two last letters 1st, your feeling for this spongy iron sample that I sent to you the last time, 2nd, the feeling of our friend Mr. Sage who didn’t tell me anything. I recently sent you, a packet and you will probably receive it several days after this letter, if you haven’t already received it beforehand, you will receive, I said, a little packet containing 3 articles, marked N°1, N°2, N°3; The 1st one appears to be a ferruginous pyrite that I am decomposing, it seems to me to prove your doctrine well. The 2nd one, you will not be surprised, is an earthy iron sample having the form of a plant, the 3rd one is a lava rock with swirl(?). Give me your opinion, as well as Mr. Sage’s, on these articles. The packet is doubled, there is one for him if you would have to the goodness to give it to him.
     When will he [Balthazar George Sage] give his 4th edition of the volatile fluorine alkali that I really made known here? I would be charmed if you would give me, in your 2nd letter, the address of this secretary of Mr. Amelot, friend of Mr. Sage, so that I may write him this way if need be; I forgot his name. On the second day, I will send to you a new, beautiful sample.
      Note for me, if you would, what you think of my two theses on the Aurora Borealis, that you saw in the physics journal at the end of last year, observations, criticisms, would do me better than praise.
      I wrote to you two days ago, but this letter that I don’t count here, was given to an able Swedish director of iron mines of Sweden, Mr. de Stockenshom. I spoke to him concerning you and your work and your interesting office, and my letter and a letter of recommendation concerning you. You will not see it but in several months. I also gave him a letter for Mr. Sage. When I see an instructed foreigner, and I see them often, I do not miss, during the course of the conversation, [the opportunity] to mention to them my intense sentiments of admiration which I hold for Messrs. de Romé de L'Isle and Sage.
     Did they sell the Offices of Natural History this year in Paris? If it is so, save for me the complete catalogue, which I will then pick up at your home.
     Excuse me if I send you but a half-letter; it is because I am putting two others in a friendly letter, and I don’t want the package to be too big.
     Remember, Sir, one of your admirers, and one of your most affection servants.
(signed) Bertholon
at Bezier, 20 June 1779

(Addressed)
To Sir
Monsieur de Romé de L’Isle, member of several science academies on the rue Neuve de Bons Enfants, Home of Mr. D’Enneri.
In Paris

Docketed From: Mr. M Abbé Bertholon, of several academies, professor of theology at the Seminary of Béziers in Béziers.

4 page Document – Signed and Dated: September 1, 1727
Text Transcribed in French as Follows:

Il y a bien longtemps, Mon très-cher monsieur, que j’attends de vos nouvelles il me semble que je vous ai écrit deux fois sans avoir de réponse. Je crains que vous n’ayez été malade, et je vous prie de me tirer de peine. Après m’avoir donné des nouvelles de votre santé, donnez-moi de celles qui regardent vos travaux, c’est-à-dire vos succès, car vos veilles sont toujours couronnées.
Je vous demandai dans mes deux dernières 1e votre sentiment sur cette mine de fer spongieuse que je vous ai envoyée ci-devant. 2e le sentiment de notre ami Mr. Sage, qui ne m’en a rien dit. Je vous ai envoyé depuis peu, par occasion, et probablement vous le recevrez quelques jours après cette lettre, si vous ne l’avez reçu peu avant; vous recevrez, dis-je, un petit paquet contenant 3 articles, marqués N°1, N°2, N°3 ; Le N°1 paraît une pyrite ferrugineuse qui se décompose, elle me paraît bien prouver votre doctrine. Le N°2 ne vous paraît-il pas aussi une mine de fer terreuse ayant figure de plante; le N°3 est une lave avec schorl. Donnez-moi aussi votre avis, ainsi que celui de Mr. Sage sur ces articles. Le paquet est double, il y en a un pour lui que vous aurez la bonté de lui remettre.
Quand est-ce qu’il donnera sa 4e édition de l’alkali volatil fluor; j’ai fait beaucoup connaître ici cet ouvrage? Je serai charmé que vous me donneriez dans votre 2e lettre l’adresse de sa secrétaire de Mr. Amelot, ami de Mr. Sage, afin que je puisse lui écrire pour ce moyen dans le besoin; j’ai oublié son nom. Je vous envoyerai au 2e jour une belle mine nouvelle.
Marquez moi, s’il vous plaît, ce que vous pensez de mes deux mémoires sur l’aurore Boréale, que vous avez vus dans le journal de physique, à la fin de l’année dernière, des observations critiques me feraient encore plus de plaisir que des éloges.
Je vous ai écrit depuis deux jours, mais cette lettre que je ne compte point ci, a été remise à un habile suédois, directeur des mines de fer de Suède, Mr. De Stockenshom; je lui ai beaucoup parlé de vous de vos ouvrages, et de votre intéressant cabinet, et ma lettre et une lettre de recommandation auprès de vous. Vous ne le verrez que dans quelques mois. Je lui aussi donné une lettre pour Mr. Sage. Quand je vois ici quelqu’étranger instruit, et j’en vois souvent, je ne manque pas dans le cours de la conversation de leur faire part des vifs sentiments d’admiration dont je suis pénétré pour Mssrs. De Romé de l’Isle et Sage.
A- t-on vendu cette année à Paris des cabinets d’histoire naturelle? Si cela est, conservez moi le catalogue le mieux fourni, que je ferai retirer ensuite de chez-vous.
Excusez-moi sue je ne vous envoie qu’une demi-lettre; c’est que j’en mets deux autres dans une lettre d’ami, et je ne veux pas rendre le paquet trop gros.
Souvenez vous, Monsieur, d’un de vos admirateurs, et d’un de vos plus affectionés serviteur.
(signé) Bertholon
à Beziers le 20 juin 1779

(Adressé)
A Monsieur
Monsieur de Romé de L’Isle, membre de plusieurs Académies de Sciences, de rue Neuve de Bons Enfants, maison de Mr. D’Enneri.
A Paris

A Mr. M. l’abbé Bertholon, de plusieurs Académies, professeur en theologique au séminaire de Béziers à Béziers.

Document Specifications:  Letter is 4 pages on 1 folded sheet ≈ 230mm x 180mm. Each page measures ≈ 115mm x 180mm. Text on two pages - address on one page - docketing on one page. Condition: Very Fine  Batonne Laid Paper w/ no watermark. Some light induced staining on front cover.  The letter is written on two pages and there is an address leaf as well as a docketing notation likely in de L'Isle's hand.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd. .................................  $ Listed on eBay
 

End of Item - BSL - Romè de L'Isle

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