Courtivron, Gaspard Le Compasseur De Créquy-Montfort, Marquisde

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Courtivron, Gaspard Le Compasseur De Créquy-Montfort, Marquisde

(b. Château de Courtivron, Côte-d’Or, France, 28 February 1715; d. Château de Courtivron, 5 October 1785)

mechanics, optics, technology.

A noble of the sword, Courtivron interrupted his formal education in 1730 by joining the regiment of his maternal uncle. After the armistice of 1735, he began studying science for the purpose of advancing his military career. But he soon became interested in science for its own sake and carefully studied the work of Clairaut. An injury received during the War of the Austrian Succession caused him, in 1743, to give up the military and turn to science as a career.

In mechanics Courtivron hoped to unite statics and dynamics by building on the proposition that a system of rigidly connected bodies acted on by arbitrary forces finds static equilibrium at the position in which it has maximum vis viva (mv2) while moving. By so bringing together Leibniz’ concept of “living forces,” Johann I Bernoulli’s principle of virtual “speeds” (work), and d’Alembert’s principle of accelerating forces, he moved toward a formulation of the concept of the conservation of work. Indeed, his principle implied that the change in work equals the change in kinetic energy.

In his treatise on optics Courtivron assailed the Cartesian concept of light and championed the Newtonian. He did not servilely follow Newton, however, for in his view color results from differences in speed rather than from those in weight. Furthermore, in affirming that dense mediums slow down light corpuscles, he made use of Fermat’s principle of least time, recently revived by Maupertuis. He burdened the balance of his treatise with translations of Robert Smith’s Compleat System of Opticks so slavishly that he even contradicted his own theory of colors.

Courtivron contributed to the Academy’s Description des arts et métiers by directing Étienne Jean Boucher in the writing of a treatise on forges and iron furnaces that incorporated material drawn from the papers and plates of Réaumur and included a translation of Swedenborg’s Minerale de ferro. Numerous examples of iron smelting practice and an explanation of the properties of iron in terms of Stahl’s phlogiston theory offer an intimate view of eighteenth-century scientific practice.

Indeed, Courtivron’s career, which covers a broad spectrum of scientific endeavor, reflects the style of Enlightenment science. In 1744 his early research in mechanics earned him a seat in the Academy of Sciences, but in 1765 he became inactive and retired to his country estate.


I. Original Works. Courtivron’s major scientific works are “Recherches de statique et de dynamique, où I’on donne un nouveau principe général pour la considération des corps animés par des forces variables, suivant une lois quelconque,” in Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences for 1749 (1753), 15–27; Traité d’optique, où I’on donne la théorie de la lumière dans le système newlonien, avec de nouvelles solutions des principaux problèmes de dioptrique et de catoptrique (Paris, 1752); and, with E. J. Boucher, “Art des forges et fourneaux à fer…,” in Académie des sciences, Description des arts et métiers, VII and VIII (Paris, 1761–1762), also sometimes bound with other texts treating the same subject, and also with Boucher, Observations sur l’art du charbonnier (Paris, 1767). Minor scientific works are found in the following issues of Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences for 1744 (1748), 384–394; ibid., 405–414; for 1745 (1749), 1–8; for 1747 (1752), 287–304; ibid., 449–458; for 1748 (1752), 133–147; ibid., 323–340; for 1755 (1759), 287–292; for 1778 (1781), 10–11. Reports on minor scientific works are given in the following issues of Histoire de l’Académie des sciences for 1743 (1746), 120; for 1744 (1748), 13–14; for 1751 (1755), 73–75; for 1757 (1762), 32–33. Courtivron was co-author, with Charles de Beosses de Tournay and Thésut de Verrey, of Catalogues et armoiries des gentilshommes qui ont assisté à la tenue des États Généraux du Duch´ de Bourgogne, depuis l’an 1548 jusqu’à l’an 1682… (Dijon, 1760).

II. Secondary Literature. There is an obituary by Condorcet in Êloges des académiciens…, 4 (1799), 120–135. E. Jouguet, in Lectures de mécanique, I (Paris, 1908), 75, 197–198, discusses Courtivron’s mechanics. E. Mach, The Science of Mechanics (La Salle, III., 1960), p. 84, errs in stating Courtivron’s principle. Mention of Courtivron’s treatise on optics is found in E. Whittaker, A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity, I (New York, 1960), 99; A. Wolf, A History of Science, Technology, and Philosophy in the 18th Century, I (New York, 1961), 162–163; and J. Priestly, The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light, and Colours (London, 1772), pp. 401–403. Courtivron’s contributions to iron technology are discussed in T. A. Wertime, The Coming of the Age of Steel (Chicago, 1962), passim; L. Beck, Die Geschichte des Eisens in technischer and kulturgeschichtlicher Beziehung, III (Brunswick, 1897), passim; and B. Gille, Les origines de la grande industrie métallurgique en France (Paris, 1947), pp. 85–95. J. F. Montucla, Histoire des mathématiques, III (Paris, 1802), 61, discusses Courtivron’s solution of algebraic equations presented in a paper published in Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences for 1744, 405–414.

Robert M. McKeon

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Courtivron, Gaspard Le Compasseur De Créquy-Montfort, Marquisde

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