Striking World Map with Astronomical Instruments by Renowned French Inventor and Astronomer -- Includes A Remarkable Note on the Existence of Antarctica
Fine, innovative world map by the astronomer, mathematician, and inventor Louis Flecheux. The map is surrounded by Flecheux’s theories about celestial phenomena and their courses relative to the earth’s surface, as well as descriptions of two of his inventions, the Loxocosme and the Quart de Cercle.
The map is a dual-hemisphere depiction of the world, with the Pacific hemisphere bisected. The hemispheres are displayed vertically, rather than horizontally, making this map quite distinct from other contemporary projections. Flecheux is aware of the novelty and remarks in the Observations that the arrangement and his inversion of the usual arrangement of north and south makes this projection “contrary to all other maps.”
The purpose of the map is to show the mutual dependence of geography and astronomy. The world map is detailed and information-dense. Rhumb lines radiate from several coastal points, including the Cape of Good Hope. Political entities are separated by dotted lines, while rivers and significant towns fill the interior of the continents. At sea, several explorers’ tracks wend their way around the world, including James Cook’s three voyages and the Spanish treasure galleon of 1743, which was captured by Commodore George Anson.
Toward the North Pole, Flecheux includes a note about prospective Arctic islands as indicated in the letters of Admiral de la Fonte. As described in two letters originally published in London in 1708 and discussed throughout the eighteenth century, Fonte supposedly sailed from the Pacific northeast across waterways in the interior of what is today Canada. Later, the voyage was found to be apocryphal, but the veracity of the letters was still a matter for debate in Flecheux’s time.
At the South Pole, Flecheux suggests the existence of Antarctica when he says:
The ice can only be formed by rivers that feed them from neighboring lands. We must therefore think that there is an immense cap of land enclosed by this Polar Circle and which, according to the configuration of the ice, announces that the diameter of this cap cannot be less than 40 degrees, which would make more than 3000 leagues of circumference.
Whereas the existence of a large southern continent had long been hypothesized, Cook’s second voyage (1772-5) into far southern latitudes had gone a long way toward reducing the expectations that such a landmass would ever be found. In 1782, Flecheux still believed that the evidence suggests a continent over the south pole and, after Bellingshausen’s voyage in 1820, Flecheux would be proven correct.
Geographic hypotheses and features are far from the only information shared on this map. At left and right of the equator are zodiac signs, some marked with suns, and the height of the sun at various times of year. In the left column are two sketches of inventions. The top instrument is a loxocosm, which is designed to show how the inclination of the earth’s axis causes the days to lengthen and shorten according to the season. The other drawing is of a quarter circle, a type of quadrant used to measure altitude.
To the right of the projection is an explanation of the placement of the sun and earth in the ecliptic, followed by a climate table. Then, there is an explanation of the course of fixed celestial bodies across the earth due to its rotation, followed by a table illustrating the concept. At bottom, Flecheux explains antipodal points on the globe.
The map was engraved by Charles Picquet in Paris in 1782. It is highly original and an excellent example of Enlightenment geography and astronomy.
The map is extremely rare. We locate only the copies in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Munich), Library of Congress and New York Public Library.
Louis Flecheux was a French astronomer and mathematician.
Flecheux moved to Paris, living in Montmartre from at least 1775 until his death in 1793, where he constructed a celestial observatory for making observations from the heights of the hill.
In 1780, He sent his first work to the Academy of Sciences, Planétaire mobile ou planisphère nouveau, which explained an ingenius machine created by Flecheux. Its purpose was to facilitate the study of the movement of the stars and to trace a convenient route for celestial exploration. This was followed shortly thereafter by his Carte générale dela Terre appliquée à l'astronomie, a curious map intended to illustrate celestial phenomenon as they transited the earth.
Four years later, he published his Loxocosme ou démonstrateur du mouvement annuel tropique et diurne de la Terre autour du Soleil, et causes des phénomènes des saisons, de l'inégalité des jours, du lever et du coucher du Soleil par toute la Terre, du cours de la Lune et des planètes, etc., avec des réflexions sur le système de Copernic. In it, he describes an ingenious invention, a machine supposedly remarkable for its simplicity and precision. The machine was demonstrated at the College de France and later for the Queen of England, and various scientists from Denmark, Germany, and Italy.
Flécheux was also the inventor of a quarter circle to take the height of the sun, draw meridians, and adjust watches and clocks.
In 1793, during the fanaticism that accompanied the French Revolution, Flecheux's nocturnal visits to his observatory made him suspect of witchcraft; he was put on the list of suspect individuals. He fled Montmartre, distressed and disgusted; he organized his affairs and then burned himself to death.