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Boullanger, Nicolas-Antoine

Boullanger, Nicolas-Antoine

(b. Paris, France, 11 November 1722; d. Paris, 1 September 1759)

geology philosophy.

Boullanger received a classical education at Beauvais College in Paris, then studied mathematics and architecture. He later joined the army as an engineer. In 1745 he joined the Département des points et Chausées as superintendent of works. He was appointed deputy engineer in 1749; two years later he posted to the generality of Paris and, sometime afterward, to that of Tours.

As early as 1745 Boullanger became interested in the morphology of the Marne Basin and the peculiarities of the sedimentary terrains under its workings. In the freestone quarries he paid special attention to the soft layers, but he mistook the oolites for the eggs or embryos of shellfish. He continued his observations as far as the confluence of the Seine and the Marne, where he mistook oolites for the Miliola fossils of the rough limestone of the Paris region. He published these observations before d’Archiac (1862) pointed 1753. Although this work was republished several times, no naturalist before d’ Archaic (1862)pointed out its errors.

Boullanger collected his observations and comments on the courses of the Loire and the Marne in “Anecdotes de la nature” Having determined that most of the strata involved had been formed from the remains of marine shellfish, he deduced that these deposits had originally constituted continuous layers in the ocean and that after the sea had retreated they had been eroded by the currents. He did not, however, study stratigraphic succession or identify the fossils in the various layers. Instead of adhering to observation, he sought to develop a theory on the deluge. Boullanger retained Descartes a universal deludge. Boullanger retained Descartes’shypothesis of a subterranean stratum of water, and attributed the deluge to a vast and sudden eruption of this water through springs. Since he could not assume the age of the earth to be that assigned it by biblical chronology, he read and cited the ancient authors in their original languages.

The modern distribution of the oceans suggested a complementary hypothesis, that of the elasticity of the earth’s strata, half of which had, by bending, caused the elevation of the other half. Boullanger presented this hypothesis in this Mėmoire sur une nouvelle mappemonde (1753) and Nouvelle mappemonde dédiée au progrès de nos connoissances (1753). His map showed two in 1758 with the rank of engineer. its center near Paris, comprised most of the continents; the maritime contained practically all the oceans. Boullanger considered the lifting or sinking of the earth’s strata to have been the origin of the universal deluge He expressed this theory in the article “Déluge” in the Encyclopédie (1754). Boullanger retired in 1759 with the rank of engineer.


I. Original Works. Boullanger’s published works are Mémoire sur une nouvelte mappemonde (Paris, 1753); Nouvelle mappemonde dédiée au progrès de nos connoissiances (Paris-Nuremberg, 1753; Paris, 1760; “Déluge,” in L’encyclopédie, IV (1754); Recherches sur l’origine du despotisme oriental (Geneva, 1761; Paris, 1763; Amsterdam, 1766); and L’antiquité dévoilée par ses usages…(Amsterdam, 1766). An unpublished MS is “Anecdotes de la nature sur l’orgine des vallées, des montagnes et des autres irrégulariés extérieures et intérieures du globe de la terre…” Library of the Muséum d’histoire Naturelle, MS 869. It was sent to Buffon about 1750, and he borrowed part of the description of the Langres Plateau for Les époques de la nature (the borrowing was reported to the Journal de littérature, science et arts by Nicolas Gobert). The MS was abstracted by Nicolas Desmarest as part of the article “Géographie physique,” in L’encyclopédie méthodique, I (Paris, an III), 8–28.

II. Secondary Literature. The basic source of information on Boullanger’s life is the anonymous introduction to L’antiquité dévoilée (Amsterdam, 1766), attributed to Diderot by Grimm (see Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique par Grimm, Maurice Tourneux, ed., VI [Paris, 1878], 468). Other sources are John Hampton, Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger et la science de son temps (Geneva-Lille, 1955); and Jacques Roger, “Un manuscrit inédit perdu et retrouvé: Les Anecdotes de la Nature de Nicolas-Antonie Bolanger.” in Revue des sciences humaines (Lille) (July-Sept. 1953), 231–254.

Arthur Birembaut

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