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1793 - 1816

by Jean Leclant, Secrétaire perpétuel de l’Académie

 The period between suppression and revival (1793-1816)

On August 8, 1793, the Convention brutally decreed that “all literary societies or academies established or endowed by the Nation” would be abolished (Article I). It was a final blow to the royal academies that were already weakened by the November 27, 1792 decree that forbade them to seek replacements for members who had passed away—the sole exception being the Académie des Sciences. If Article I of August 1793 seemed to close a door, however, Article III of the same decree opened a window. This article, which shows the influence of the “abbé” Grégoire, constitutional bishop of the Loir-et-Cher, provided for the academies to be replaced by “a society created for the advancement of the sciences and the arts.” This society’s layout had to be drawn up by the Comité de l’Instruction publique. The decree suggests ( in the language of the Revolution), that the old structure should be replaced by a new one with all of the virtues of the previous structure and none of its faults—i.e. everything that had to do with the Ancien Régime. The difficulties associated with the Terror led to a postponement of the project and it was not until August 22, 1795, that the Constitution of the year III declared the creation of a “national institute responsible for the gathering of discoveries, and for the perfecting of the sciences and the arts” (Article 298). According to a report by Daunou, the day before the Convention split, they passed the organic law of the 3rd of brumaire, year IV (October 25, 1795). Title IV of this law called for the creation of a national institute of sciences and arts composed of 144 members divided into three groups (Sciences physiques et mathématiques, Sciences morales et politiques, and Littérature et Beaux-Arts). Each group elected its own board and had the use of a meeting hall, but—and this was what set them apart as innovators—all members were equal in title, privileges, honors, and pay. Thus the ideal of the Republic, one and indivisible, was mirrored in the intellectual sector. Daunou expressed this beautifully when he described this act as the creation of a “a living encyclopedia” where the interaction and the teaching of the most diverse types of learning could make all progress possible.

Creating an atmosphere of interchange among disciplines and unifying knowledge are goals that seem noble and intellectually stimulating in theory. To actually achieve them, however, in a rigid administrative structure proved somewhat more difficult. This was illustrated by the official opening meeting of the Institut on April 4, 1769 in the Louvre. Here is a sampling of some of the highlights of that meeting that bordered on the surreal. After several pompous speeches and a discourse by Daunou on the future of the Institut and its responsibilities and rights with respect to the government, the official poet Collin d’Harveville read an interminable poem in verse titled appropriately La grande Famille réunie. Having slightly dozed off, the audience could barely perk up for either Fourcroy’s talk on the explosion of superoxygenated potassium muriate, or the other scientific talks that followed closely behind it. Just in time, the audience was saved from terminal torpor by Monvel, an actor in the Comédie française, who recited a long poem by Andrieux. This lyrical respite was followed by more “technical” presentations, among which Cuvier’s talk on the different subspecies of elephants stands out. Finally, the audience was awakened once again by an ode by Lebrun and the session closed to the blasting noise of muriat exploding during an experimental demonstration by Fourcroy. It is easy to understand why as soon as the Consulat was in place, this structure was abandoned. On January 23, 1803, Chaptal, the minister of interior, proposed a new organization.

The reformed Institut national would henceforth be made up of four divisions, corresponding to the academies that the Revolution had abolished: Sciences physiques et mathématiques (which was equivalent to the Académie royale des Sciences), Langue et Littérature françaises (the term Académie française was still out of favor), Histoire et Littérature anciennes (known previously as the Académie royale des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres) and Beaux-Arts (that brought together the academies of painting, sculpture, music and architecture). The four divisions were allowed to return to their previous autonomous status, but they continued to form the parts of one body, the Institut. They also continued to have common meetings, which took place only four times a year. As for the division of Sciences morales et politiques, it was dissolved as a unified body as a result of the opposition that some of its members voiced against the Concordat. It was, however, reinstated in 1832 by Guizot, the father of the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques. It should be noted that it was in 1805 that the Institut de France was moved to the prestigious location of the old Collège des Quatre-Nations, founded by Mazarin. Then the famous cupola of the quai de Conti has become a principal emblem of the French scholarly world.



Le Friday 24 May
– Allocution de bienvenue du Secrétaire perpétuel Michel ZINK.
– Allocution de S. M. NORODOM Sihamoni.
– Note d’information de M. Hang Peou : « La découverte d’une barque d’époque angkorienne dans l’ancien lit de la rivière Siem Reap, au nord du site d’Angkor ».
– Communication de M. Azedine BESCHAOUCH, associé étranger de l’Académie, et de Mme Chau Sun Kérya : « 25 ans de travaux à Angkor, sous l’égide du Comité international de Coordination (CIC) ».

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Le Friday 24 May
25 ans de contributions cambodgienne, française et internationale à la conservation et au développement d’Angkor, patrimoine culturel de l’humanité (UNESCO)

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