Transit of Venus-1769

Early Scientific Expedition to California

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87. CHAPPE D’AUTEROCHE, Jean. Voyage en Californie pour l’observation du passage de Vénus sur le disque du soleil, le 3 Juin 1769. Contenant les observations de ce phénomene , & la description historique de la route de l’Auteur à travers le Mexique. Par M. Chappe D’Auteroche, de la Académie Royale des Sciences. Rédigé & publié par M. De Cassini fils, de la même Académie, Directeur en survivance de l’Observatoire Royal de Paris, &c. Paris: Chez Charles-Antoine Jombert, Libraire du Roi pour l’Artillerie & Le Gènie; rue Dauphine, à l’Image Notre-Dame, 1772. [4], [1] 2-170, [2, royal privilege] pp., 3 copper-engraved plates (natural history and Transit of Venus), folded letterpress scientific table, copper-engraved folded map: Plan de la Ville de Mexico [lower right below neat line] de la Gardette Sculp., neat line to neat line: 38.4 x 51.5 cm; overall sheet size: 41.8 x 57 cm. 4to (25.6 x 20.3 cm), contemporary marbled boards expertly rebacked at an early date with sympathetic tan calf, spine with red morocco label and raised bands. Except for scattered minor marginal foxing, fine, plates and map excellent. Engraved armorial bookplate on front pastedown. Early ink ownership signature of C. Hutton on front flyleaf. Ink library stamps of Library of the London Clockmakers Company on title verso, versos of plates, and a few pages of text.  

     First edition of one of the earliest scientific expeditions to California. Barrett, p. 508. Cowan I, p. 46. Cowan II, p. 114. Hill I, pp. 49-50. Hill, II:278. Howes C299. Mathes, California Colonial Bibliography 61: “The author, a member of the French academy, contracted malaria at San José del Cabo and died there. His observations to determine the distance of the sun from Earth were continued by Joaquín Velázquez de León, noted astronomer from New Spain. The work appeared in an English edition in 1778.” Palau 67059. Sabin 12003. Wagner, Spanish Southwest 158a. Streeter Sale 2443:

A thrilling account of a race against time to reach Lower California before the transit of Venus occurred. After nerve-racking delays, which began in Spain, and narrow escapes from disaster, the goal was reached late in May. Two days after the transit was observed a malignant fever spread through the little group and Chappe d’Auteroche [1728-1769], who nursed the sick and dying, took it himself and died on the first of August. Mr. Cowan is quite incorrect in his note on this book, saying ‘this celestial phenomenon was visible only upon the coast of California.’ It was in fact visible throughout the western hemisphere and expeditions to observe it were sent to numerous stations. Also Spain not only knew of the expedition, but in the end co-operated in every way to make it a success.

     The French government sent out two expeditions to observe the transit of Venus of 1769: one to the Philippines and this one to Baja California, which was accompanied by two Spanish scientists. Chappe d’Auteroche’s account ends on p. 39. The remarks on California are not considered of critical value, but the expedition itself was viewed with such suspicion by the Spanish that it resulted in the dispatch of Gaspar de Portolá in 1769 and hastened settlement of Upper California. Trabulse (Historia de la Ciencia en Mexico, pp. III, pp. 462-466) illustrates title pages to this edition and the English edition, the plates, and provides a partial Spanish translation of the work.

    According to most sources, the engraved map of Mexico City probably was based on one by José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez. Toussaint (Planos de la Ciudad de Mexico, pp. 25-26) states that apparently Alzate lent his map to Chappe d’Auteroche when he passed through Mexico City; the map, however, was not up-to-date and appears to show the city as it was before 1750 rather than in 1770. Despite this, Toussaint says it is an important map. Carrera Stampa (Planos de la Ciudad de Mexico 212-213, dimensions incorrect). Illustrated as Plate 138 in Vol. I of Atlas Historico de la Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City: Smurfit, 1966).


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