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Analysis owes to Laplace mainly the full development of the co-efficients, of the potential and of the theory of probabilities. In the line of celestial mechanics his glory was made by the discovery (announced in 1773) of the invariability of the planetary mean motions and the consequent stability of the solar system. The "Exposition du Système du Monde", in which the results are presented without mathematical deductions, showed such linguistic excellence that it secured him a seat among the Forty of the French Academy (1816) and for a time the presidency of that body (1817). The five volumes of the "Mécanique Céléste" made him the Newton of France. He was admitted to the French Academy of Sciences, first as associate (1773) and then as member (1785), and took a prominent place in the Institute, into which the Academy developed (1796). He was one of the founders of the Bureau of Longitudes and for a while its president. The Royal Society of London and the principal academies of Europe honoured him with membership. Great scientists, like Berthollet, Cuvier, Humboldt, dedicated their works to him. The collected works of Laplace were printed twice: by the Government in seven volumes (1843-47), the Chamber granting forty thousand francs; and again, at the expense of General Laplace (who left seventy thousand francs for the purpose) and his niece the Marquise of Colbert, in thirteen volumes (1878-1904), under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences. An English translation of the "Mécanique Céléste" by Dr. Bowditch appeared in Boston (1829-39) in four volumes.
Laplace was born and died a Catholic. It has been asserted that to Laplace the Creator was an hypothesis. The origin of this assertion lies in the misinterpretation of a passage of the "Système du Monde" (Oeuvres, VI, 1835, p. 480), where it is evident that by "vain hypotheses" Laplace meant the Deus ex machina of Newton and the "perpetual miracle" of Leibniz's Harmony. It is true that Laplace indulges in a frivolous remark against Callistus III both in the "Theory of Probabilities" (Introduction, also separately as "Essai Philosophique") and in the "System of the World" (IV, iv). He partly atoned for it by omitting the remark in his fourth edition of the "Essai". Death prevented him from doing the same in the sixth edition of the "Système du Monde", the correcting of which he had commenced during his last illness. He died at his home in Paris, Rue du Bac, attended by the curé of the Foreign Missions, in whose parish he was to be buried, and the curé of Arcueil, whom he had called to administer the last comforts of religion (de Joannis, p. 27).
POISSON, Discours pononcé aux Obsèques de M. le Marquis de Laplace in Connaissance de Temps pour l'an 1830; FAYE,Sur l'Origine du Monde (Paris, 1884); DE JOANNIS, Formation Mécanique du Système du Monde (Amiens, 1897), reprinted from Etudes, LXXI (Paris, 1897); FOURIER, Eloge historique de Laplace in Mèmoires de l'Acadèmie des Sciences (Paris, 1831).
John G. Hagen.