Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier
8) LAVOISIER, ARTS AND TRADES
The Advisory Board for Arts and Trades
The Lycee des Arts
Reflections on Public Education
The Unification of the System of Weights and Meaures
The National Assembly had become used to consulting scientists on all sorts of subjects and then having them share in its action.Craftsmen, for example, needed guidance and members of theAcademy of Sciences gladly provided it.Andthey also gave their advice on hospitals, the monetary system, savings banks, the new republican calendar, steam engines, the oiled taffeta used for military overcoats, water storage on warships...
But as the Academy of Sciences became increasingly controversial, there gradually appeared specialized organizations, such as the Advisory Board for Arts and Trades, the Lycée des Arts and the Weights and Measures Commission,to advise and assist craftsmen.
The Advisory Board for Arts and Trades
In January 1792, the National Assembly created the Advisory Board for Arts and Trades to give both concrete assistance and general encouragement to craftsmen.Ithad a budget of 300,000 livres.Thirty voluntary members, including Lavoisier, met regularlyat the Louvre, writing reports on such diverse subjects as breadmaking, the publication of the "Arts and Trades Collection,"the best method for printing assignats, and projects for educational reform.They brought new scientific techniques to the government"s attention and helped craftsmen to apply them, giving financialaid where necessary.(Cf. Général Morin, "Note sur le bureau de consultation des Arts et Métiers," Annales du Conservatoire impérial des Arts et Métiers, vol. viii, 1867-1868, pp. 5-16.)
In the fall of 1792, the Lycéé, a private school for adults offering courses in the sciences, was experiencing financial difficulties and asked for help from the Convention, which granted it 10,000 livres, but pointed out with regret that "certain members of the Lycééhave indulged in exaggerated statements and exhibited principles contrary to the public interest."(Quoted by G. Kersaint, Antoine François de Fourcroy, sa vie, son oeuvre, Paris, Muséum éd., 1966, p. 47.)
The school, created in 1781 by Pilâtre de Rozier, was initially called the Musée de Monsieurand offered courses in mathematics,physics and chemistry to650 subscribers each of whom paid three louis.When Pilâtre died, it became known as "the Lycée" and the Academicians who taught there, in particular Fourcroy and Lavoisier, became stockholders.But the Revolution had jeopardized the institution's success and on November 4, 1793,Fourcroy demanded a purge of its faculty.The Lycée was then renamed the Lycée républicain.
Lavoisier, who taught chemistry, sensed that it would be prudent to take his distanceand he moved tothe Société Philomatique, created by Augustin Silvestre and a group of young people interested in the sciences.Subjects explored were natural history, anatomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, mechanical arts, rural economics, trade and mathematics.(Notice sur l'Institution de le Société Philomatique, Archives of theAcadémie des Sciences, Lavoisier Collection, no. 162-63.)
The Lycee des Arts
Lavoisier was soon joined there by almost all the members of the Academy of Sciences.Silvestre advised them to createa competitor to the old Lycée, still suspected of conservatism.The Lycée des Arts,of a more republican inspiration, was soon installed in the garden of the Palais-Egalité, formerly the Palais-Royal.It had eight sections: economics and commerce; rural economics; mathematics and its applications; general physics (natural history, zoology, botany, mineralogy, anatomy, physiology, medicine, chemistry); experimental physics; fine arts; literature; and technology (crafts and trades, manufacturing).(Cf. Archives of the Académie des Sciences,Lavoisier Collection, dation Chabrol, box no. 5, file 84.)
Professors were to be paid 24 livres for each lecture, but because of financial difficulties, none had yet been paid in November 1793.According to the rules, the professors were to distance themselvesabsolutely from the aristocracy of the Academy, banish the sluggish and narrow educationalforms prevalent in the private schools, and lead minds to consider the sciences only in their useful relationship to the arts and industry.(Quoted by L. Scheler, Lavoisier et la Révolution française, 1, Le Lycée des Arts,Paris, Hermann, 1956, p. 14.)
Lavoisier underlined the importance of courses in economics and agriculture, history and geography and the mechanical arts.Duringthe meetings for informing the public of recent discoveries, he describedBerthollet's methodfor bleaching cloth, the new naval chronometers and steam engines.Specialists in naval architecture, hydrography and the operation of coal mines also received encouragement and modest subsidies.
On July 7, 1793, the Lycée des Artssent to the Convention a Pétition sur l'Instruction Publique(Petition on Public Education), signed by Lavoisier and Desaudray.The text proposed adding technical instruction adapted to theneeds of farmers, craftsmen and factory employees to theelementary school curriculum.Furthermore, it urged the creation of 2,500 technical training school throughout France, which would provide adults with practical courses in the evenings, on holidays and Sundays.The professors would be trained at the Lycée des Arts.
This effort at spreading technical education would, it was argued, give a new blossoming to the nation's industry and trade and allowFrance to become the richest country in Europe.The wealth of a nation is based on the prosperity of its exterior trade, Lavoisier explained.However, in order to export, ithad to produce goods at competive prices."One succeeds in obtaining an equivalent production at a lower price by improving the arts, trades and agriculture and by developing the physical and moral qualities of workers, farmers and craftsmen."(Pétition présentée à la Convention nationale sur l'instruction publique par le Directoiredu Lycée des Arts, no. 11, July 15, 1793, pp. 1-4.)
Reflections on Public Education
The educational plan for training craftsmen developed by Lavoisier and his colleagues at the Advisory Board for Arts and Trades gave rise to a general plan for public education, inspired by the one proposed earlier by Condorcet. Lavoisier had already taken up this subject, which was so important to him, with Talleyrand (1754-1838) and Condorcet.In June 1791, he wrote in a letter to the Scotsman James Hall that "in a few years, France will have a generation of ignoramuses because of the disorganization of the entire educational system provoked by the Revolution." (James Hall, National Library of Scotland, ms. 6330, p. 162.)
His Réflexions sur l'Instruction publiqueproposed a state education directed towards the applied arts and including four levels: elementary schools, secondary schools, national institutes and lycées,which would be the equivalent of faculties. A CentralSociety of the Arts and Sciences would crown it all.The plan was inspired in large part by Condorcet.(Lavoisier, Oeuvres, vol. VI, pp. 516-558.The archives of the Académie des Sciences contain five important manuscripts, very much revised and corrected, entitled Projet de Décret sur l'Education publique proposé à la Convention nationale par le bureau de consultation des Arts et Métiers, Lavoisier Collection, dation Chabrol, box no. 5, files 77-81.)
But Lavoisier's modern and pragmatic ideas are much in evidence: "We must organize public education in all its aspects, and hence stimulate the arts, sciences, industry and trade.Just consider the way all nations, our rivals, seek ways to compensate for what is lacking to them in strength, population and territorial wealth!A nation that does not participate in this general evolution, a nation in which science and applied science remain stagnant will soon be completely outstripped by its competitors.It will gradually lose allmeans of competing.Its trade, strength, and wealth will fall into foreign hands and it will become prey to whoever wants to invade it.(Lavoisier, Oeuvres, vol. VI, pp. 530-31.)
With Fourcroy and Borda in full agreement, Lavoisier had intendedto submit the plan to the Convention on September 22, but the authors subsequently decided to await more favorable circumstances, which would never come.It was only two years later with the Daunou Law of 3 Brumaire Year IV(October 1795) that France would have a general law on public education.
The Unification of the System of Weights and Measures
In 1790, Lavoisier became responsible for another major reform: the unification of the system of weights and measures.
For a long time he had deplored the incredible diversity of standards of measurement, which hindered trade as well as progress inthe sciences.The value of the perche (pole), toise (6 feet), pied(foot), pouce (inch), ligne (3.175 mm), aune (ell), livre (pound) and muid (hogshead) varied from province to province, from town to town and even from one parish to another.He had long before adopted the decimal system for his personal work and had recommendedthat his chemist colleaguesdo the same "while waiting for the day when men will come together to adopt a single standard for weights and measures."(Lavoisier, Oeuvres, vol. I, p. 249.)
On March 30, 1791 the Constituent Assembly adopted the plan which he had submitted in the name of the Commission on Weights and Measures at the Academy of Sciences.The unit of length would be equal to the ten millionth part of the quadrant of theearth's meridian. Once the unit of length was defined, it would be easy to deduce the unit of capacity by cubing it.And this unit of capacity would make it easy to define the unit of weight, Talleyrand pointed out, "by using the ingenious process of M. Lavoisier, who has determined with the greatest exactitude the weight ofa cubic foot of water distilled at the temperture of 14.4 degrees on the Réamur thermometer, or 18 degrees centigrade." (Talleyrand, Proposition faite à l'Assemblée nationale sur les Poids et Mesures, Paris, 1790.)
Pierre François André Méchain (1744-1804) and Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre (1749-1822) were responsible for surveying the length of the meridian arc from Dunkirk to Barcelona.At the Paris Observatory, Borda and Jacques Dominique Cassini (1747-1845) calculated the number of oscillations made by a pendulum one meter in length and then measured at Bordeaux (at 45° latitude and at sea level) the length of the pendulumticking seconds and compared the number of oscillation of the two pendulums withinone day.Lenoir made the pendulum balls, one in gold, the other in platinum.
In Paris, in January 1793, Lavoisier and the Abbé Juste Haüy (1743-1822) worked together to define the unit of weight: the grave or future kilogram.Starting with the unit of capacity, they determined the weight of a cubic decimeter of distilled water at the temperature of melting ice.In the meantime, Mathurin Jacques Brisson (1723-1806), Vandermonde (1735-1796) and Bertholletwere collectingall the measures of length, capacity and weight used in France, taking them to the Sainte-Geneviève Church (the present Panthéon) and thencomparingthem to the new units.
The Convention wanted to simplify the project in order to move more quickly."That would be," Lavoisier protested, "to substitute a limitedand narrow idea for one of the most beautiful and vast conceptions of the human mind.It would mean preferring a local and particular measure to a general system, which embraces geography, navigational skills, surveying, weights, currency and measurements of solids and liquids.In a word, it would mean losing, perhaps forever, the inestimable advantage of eliminating all calculation problems by the use of decimal divisions."(Lavoisier,Archives of the Académie des Sciences, Lavoisier Collection, ms. 144.)
On August 1, 1793 the Convention decided that the unit of linear measurement would be the meter,thetenmillionthpart of the quarter of the meridian.The unit of surface measurement would be the are (one hundred square meters), the unit of capacity, the cubic decimeter or pinte.The unit of weight wouldbethegrave.
Lavoisier urged the Commission on Assignats and Currency to adopt the decimal system and divide thelivre into ten décimesand each décime into ten centimes."The Convention has one final step to take to complete its work," he wrote."No matter how perfect the metric system may be, it will have been adopted in vain, the monetary divisions of the system will have been linked in vain and this work will lose the greater part of its utility, if the accounting books continue to be divided into 240 parts, that is into 20 solsand the solinto 12 pennies.(Lavoisier, Oeuvres, vol. VI, p. 703.)