Portrait of Laplace by Sophie Feytaud (1842). Académie des sciences, Paris.

Portrait of Laplace by Sophie Feytaud (1842). Académie des sciences, Paris.

Detail map of Paris, Île-de-France, France Overview map of Paris, Île-de-France, France

A: Paris, Île-de-France, France

Pierre-Simon Laplace Issues "Traité de méchanique céleste" in a Bibliographically Complex Manner

1799 to 1827

French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace published Paris Traité de méchanique céleste in 5 volumes with several supplements from 1799 to 1827. This work was "a treatise on celestial mechanics in the tradition of Newton’s Principia. Here Laplace applied his mathematical theories of probability to celestial bodies and concluded that the apparent changes in the motion of planets and their satellites are changes of long periods, and that the solar system is in all probability very stable. He gave methods for calculating the movements of translation and rotation of heavenly bodies and for resolving problems of tides, from which he deduced the mass of the moon” (Dibner, Heralds of Science [1980] no. 14). Laplace’s system of celestial mechanics (a term he coined) marked an advance over that of Newton, who had posited the necessity of a Deity in the universe to correct planetary irregularities; Laplace on the other hand, when asked by Napoleon why his system contained no mention of the Creator, replied “I had no need of such a hypothesis.”

The bibliographical makeup of Mécanique céleste is among the most complex of science classics; see Horblit and the Norman library catalogue for collations and paginations. Two issues of Vols. I-II exist, one with the imprint of Crapelet and Duprat alone and the French Republican date “An VII”; and one dated “1799” with the additional imprint reading “Berlin: chez F. T. de la Garde, Libraire,” printed for European distribution. The third volume contains a single separately paginated supplement (“Supplément au Traité de mécanique céleste . . . présenté au Bureau des Longitudes, le 17 août 1808”); the fourth volume has two separately paginated supplements (“Supplément au dixième livre du Traité de mécanique céleste. Sur l’action capillaire” and “Supplément à la théorie de l’action capillaire”). The fifth volume’s supplement,  (“Supplément au 5e volume du Traité de mécanique céleste . . .”) appeared in 1827. It is not unusual for sets to be lacking one or more of the supplements. Vol. V, comprising a series of addenda to the first four volumes, appeared twenty years after Vol. IV; according to Laplace’s “Avertissement” to this volume, each of its five books was issued separately in the month indicated on its part-title.

Horblit, One Hundred Books Famous in Science no. 63. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1277. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 252.

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