First state of this provocative thesis written by a French astronomer in response to Voltaire, arguing that modern civilization owes its scientific roots to Asia rather than Europe.
LETTRES SUR L'ORIGINE DES SCIENCES, ET SUR CELLE DES PEUPLES DE L'ASIE
"I am convinced that all comes to us from the banks of the Ganges."
Called "The French Revolution's Benjamin Franklin, " Bailly made a name for himself as a historian of science in the years leading up to the Revolution. In the course of researching his HISTORY OF ANCIENT ASTRONOMY (1775), he became convinced that many of the most important astronomical innovations occurred in India, ahead of the Greeks. "It was Indian astronomy above all, with its useful tables, that fascinated academicians... The first exact knowledge informed Europeans had about India concerned the traditions of mathematical astronomy." (Peiffer in Dauben and Scriba, 15). In this work, Bailly first wonders whether the Indian innovations had deeper roots in China, but eventually begins to theorize that Plato's lost Atlantis was the beginning of civilization, influencing all others. At the end of the work are Voltaire's letters to Bailly, written in response to the HISTORY OF ANCIENT ASTRONOMY, also printed here for the first time.
Bailly was a friend of both Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, and the only person after Fontenelle to achieve membership in all three French academies. He went on to play a central role in the early French Revolution, becoming the Mayor of Paris the day after the storming of the Bastille, and presiding over the Tennis Court Oath; he was guillotined in 1793.
A complex work of Enlightenment-era comparative mythology and history of science.
Read more: Dauben and Scriba, editors, Writing the History of Mathematics: Its Historical Development; Pierre Beaudry, "Jean-Sylvain Bailly: The French Revolution's Benjamin Franklin"; Bretelle-Establet, Looking at it from Asia: the Processes that Shapes the Sources of History of Science.
"A Londres... Et A Paris" [Paris]: Chez M. Elmesly... Chez les Freres Debure, Quai des Augustins, 1777. Full title: Lettres sur l'origine des sciences, et sur celle des peuples de l'Asie, addressés à M. de Voltaire par M. Bailly, & précédées de quelques Lettres de M. de Voltaire à l'Auteur. Octavo. 7.5'' x 4.5''. Full contemporary mottled calf, gilt-stamped spine compartments, raised bands, red goatskin spine label, marbled pastedowns, red stained text block edges. Vignette on title page and type ornament headpiece on page 1. Erratum printed on final page. , 348 pages. Bookplate on front pastedown of Nelly S. Hoyt, Achilles Professor of History at Smith College; ink ownership signature of Italian historian Gennaro Ravizza (1776-1836) on title page. Front joint cracked but sound, light wear to extremities with some wormholing on lower board. Offsetting from binding turn-ins to first and last leaves, text gently toned.
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