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Topic: [HM] Laplace Quotation
Replies: 5   Last Post: Aug 4, 2004 12:12 AM

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David R. Derbes

Posts: 34
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [HM] Laplace Quotation
Posted: Jul 21, 2004 3:41 PM
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W. W. Rouse Ball, in his "A Short Account of the History of Mathematics",
tells the story, but this is nearly a full century after the event,
and can hardly be the first citation. The Dover Publications edition
has it on page 417, and for those who haven't read it, here it is:

"Laplace went in state to beg Napoleon to accept a copy of his work,
and the following account of the interview is well authenticated, and
so characteristic of all the parties involved that I quote it in full.
Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of the name
of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions,
received it with the remark, "M. Laplace, they tell me you have written
this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even
mentioned its Creator." Laplace, who, though the most supple of
politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy,
drew himself up and answered bluntly, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette
hypoth\ese-l\a." Napoleon, greatly amused, told this to Lagrange, who
exclaimed, "Ah! c'est un belle hypoth\ese; c_)a explique beaucoup de
choses."

I have been unable to find any source in the text for this quote, alas.
Rouse Ball remarks that "An analysis of the contents is given in the
_English Cyclopaedia_." Maybe that work cites the story, and provides
a reference?

David Derbes






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