Voltaire Residence

This page shows people who were in the life of Emilie du Châtelet.



Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, engraving after R. de Tournières, 1737
Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis (1698-1759)
born: Sept. 28, 1698 Saint-Malo, France
died: July 27, 1759 Basel, Switz.

Maupertuis was a mathematician, astronomer and physicist. He became a member of the Academy of Sciences in Paris in 1731 and soon became the foremost French proponent of the Newtonian theory of gravitation.

From 1730 to 1734, he was a tutor to Emilie in mathematics. Maupertuis was the most important among Emilie's scientific friends and it was he who introduced her to Clairaut, Koenig and Jean Bernoulli, who were also her tutors in higher mathematics.

Letters to Maupertuis at the end of 1733 and the beginning of 1734 are full of requests that he would come and teach her something new. When he was anywhere in the neighborhood she was angry if he did not visit her every day.

Voltaire also knew Maupertuis and it was likely that they met at the Gradot's, a coffee shop that was frequented by astronomers, geometricians, academicians and serious writers. Voltaire was interested in understanding Isaac Newton's laws of physics, and in 1733 took lessons in mathematics from Maupertuis, so he could better understand Newton's work.



Maupertuis gained notoriety for his participation in verifying Newton's theory that the earth was flattened at the poles. In order to determine the real shape of the earth, the Academy of Sciences decided to measure a degree of astronomic latitude at the Equator and at the Arctic Circle and to compare the findings. It was Maupertuis who appealed to Louis XV to permit him to make an expedition to the polar regions.

Louis XV funded the expeditions sent to the Equator and to Lapland. Maupertuis led the Lapland expedition and returned with a lesser measurement than the expedition that was sent to Equador. Comparison of the measurements provided proof that Newton's theory was correct and the earth was flattened at the poles.

In this portrait, the artist shows Maupertuis dressed in the clothes he had worn on the expedition to Lapland, and with one hand resting on the terrestrial globe as though he were flattening it at the poles. Voltaire wrote the following verse that was added to an engraving that was done of the portrait.

This poorly known world which he knew how to measure,
Becomes a monument from which he derives his glory,
His destiny is to describe the world,
To please and to enlighten it.

Ce globe mal connu, qu'il a su mesurer,
Devient un monument où sa gloire se fonde,
Son sort est de fixer la figure du monde,
De lui plaire et de l'éclairer.
Return to People in Emilie's Life