1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Maupertuis, Pierre Louis Moreau de

MAUPERTUIS, PIERRE LOUIS MOREAU DE (1698–1759), French mathematician and astronomer, was born at St Malo on the 17th of July 1698. When twenty years of age he entered the army, becoming lieutenant in a regiment of cavalry, and employing his leisure on mathematical studies. After five years he quitted the army and was admitted in 1723 a member of the Academy of Sciences. In 1728 he visited London, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1736 he acted as chief of the expedition sent by Louis XV. into Lapland to measure the length of a degree of the meridian (see Earth, Figure of), and on his return home he became a member of almost all the scientific societies of Europe. In 1740 Maupertuis went to Berlin on the invitation of the king of Prussia, and took part in the battle of Mollwitz, where he was taken prisoner by the Austrians. On his release he returned to Berlin, and thence to Paris, where he was elected director of the Academy of Sciences in 1742, and in the following year was admitted into the Academy. Returning to Berlin in 1744, at the desire of Frederick II., he was chosen president of the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1746. Finding his health declining, he repaired in 1757 to the south of France, but went in 1758 to Basel, where he died on the 27th of July 1759. Maupertuis was unquestionably a man of considerable ability as a mathematician, but his restless, gloomy disposition involved him in constant quarrels, of which his controversies with König and Voltaire during the latter part of his life furnish examples.

The following are his most important works: Sur la figure de la terre (Paris, 1738); Discours sur la parallaxe de la lune (Paris, 1741); Discours sur la figure des astres (Paris, 1742); Éléments de la géographie (Paris, 1742); Lettre sur la comète de 1742 (Paris, 1742); Astronomie nautique (Paris, 1745 and 1746); Vénus physique (Paris, 1745); Essai de cosmologie (Amsterdam, 1750). His Œuvres were published in 1752 at Dresden and in 1756 at Lyons.