William Nicholson on Buée's Recherches Mathematiques


William Nicholson writes in W Nicholson, Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts 3 (G G and J Robinson, 1800) about Adrien Quentin Buée's outline for his proposed publication 'Recherches Mathematiques sur la Texture intime des corps'. It appears that only the outline was published, presumably because fewer than 150 subscribers paid half a guinea each for the publication of the full work.


Recherches Mathematiques sur la Texture intime des corps.

Proposals have been circulated by Mr A Q Buée, a French clergyman at Bath, for publishing, by subscription, a work entitled 'Recherches Mathematique sur la Texture intime des corps'; or, 'Mathematical enquiries concerning the intimate texture of bodies'; of which he is the author. It will be printed on fine paper, and illustrated with fix copperplates. The manuscript is in the hands of the printer, and the work will be put to press as soon as one hundred and fifty subscribers shall be obtained at half a guinea each: the price will be greater to non-subscribers. Messrs Dulau and Co, Cox, White and Phillips, are authorised to receive subscriptions.

The author of the above treatise has drawn up and printed (in French) an outline of its contents, in twenty-five octave pages. From the perusal of this, I gather that it is a work of considerable novelty and importance. Whether any philosopher has before undertaken to solve the phenomena of nature, by the universal combination of projectile forces with the attractive power, in the particles of matter, is to me unknown; and it is evidently impossible for me to speak of the manner in which he has treated this curious subject. I am aware also, of the difficulties and probability of mistake attendant on an endeavour to give an outline of an outline. In fact, there must be a large part of the author's sketch which will be unintelligible, without reference to the treatise itself; notwithstanding which considerations, I am persuaded that my readers will be pleased to know something more of this object.

The author begins his sketch, by stating that we are acquainted with two facts concerning the intimate texture of bodies: namely, their crystallization, which shows that their elements are disposed in right lines; and their dilation by heat, which shows that those elements are not in contact. From the two grand laws of attraction, following the inverse ratio of the squares of the distances, and that of inertia, the mutual action of the elements upon each other may be expressed by an algebraic equation: this may be called the equation of the material universe. The author could not enter upon it in his sketch, and therefore only observes, that, according to this equation, each element describes a line, which if there were but three elements present, would be the same as is well-known in physical astronomy in the 'problem of the three bodies', but universally is the result of as many small arcs of conic sections as there are other elements.

As some of the conic sections return into themselves, and others do not, the elements will be some planetary, and some cometary; the latter being distinguished from the former, by a greater initial velocity. But the cometary elements arriving in the vicinity of other elements; the planetary elements oscillate.

Absolute repose or equilibrium has, therefore, no place in bodies, except eventually and for minute portions of time; but apparent repose is produced by the rapidity of oscillation in the planetary elements, and the constancy of their greatest and least distances: this apparent repose implies symmetrical arrangement and the great agents of this symmetry are the cometary elements.

The doctrine of symmetry is applied to the explanation of chemical facts. Four kinds of aggregation include all the possible systems of elements: 1. Igniform aggregations; containing only cometary elements: 2. Aeriform; containing more comets than planets: 3. Liquidiform: in which the plants exceed the comets: 4. Solidiform; containing planets only. These states may not, perhaps, exist purely and distinctly from each other in nature. Another fifth state is, that in which no aggregation takes place. The latter cometary elements are the particles of light, of which the colours, the reflection, refraction, diffraction, absorption, double refraction, the Newtonian fits, &c. are explained by analysis; together with those results, in which light is said to enter into combination. The formulae, which relate to the igneous aggregation, are applied to caloric, electricity and magnetism. The aeriform aggregation exhibits the phenomena of fluidity, compressibility, hydrostatics, and sound; and under the article of solidiform aggregations, some observations are made respecting impulse, elasticity, mechanical division and reunion: and the causes which produce crystalization, vegetation, and amimalization. When two different bodies approach each other as nearly as possible, without ceasing to be distinct, and by the influence of the elements of the one upon the elements of the other, their centres of gravity acquire a new motion; this operation is called impulse. Mechanical division is the separation of the parts of a body, by contrary impulsions given to those parts: if the direct contrary operation could be performed, mechanical union would take place; this is performed to a certain extent when polished surfaces adhere by application to each other.

With regard to the other doctrines of crystalization, vegetation, and amimalization, in which, I presume, there must be some principles assumed as data, which may require farther experiment; it would answer no useful purpose to enumerate the results. For the development of these, we must wait till the work shall appear.


JOC/EFR January 2020