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Mersenne, Marin

1. Dates
Born: Oize (Maine), 8 Sept. 1588
Died: Paris, 1 Sept. 1648
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 60
2. Father
Occupation: Laborer
We are told only that Mersenne was born into a family of laborers.
I assume that can only mean his circumstances were poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Paris
Mersenne began his grammar studies at the College of Mans. He entered the new Jesuit college at La Fleche in 1604 and remained there until 1609. In the next two years he studied theology at the Sorbonne. There is no mention of a degree, but it seems quite impossible not to say that he had the equivalent of a B.A.
There is no word about how the studies of the son of a laborer were financed. It appears that the Jesuits supported him at La Fleche. There is no word about the two years of study in Paris. I suspect that he entered the Minims as a means to further education and an intellectual life (as, for example, Coronelli later did), but that still leaves the two years unaccounted for. He didn't live on air.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic
He joined the order of Minims in 1611. He spent his novitiate at Nigeon and Meaux. Following some courses in theology and Hebrew, he returned to Paris. In October 1612, Mersenne received his holy orders from the Bishop at the Place Royale. He celebrated his first mass on 28 October 1613.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Scientific Communication, Natural Philosophy, Music
Subordinate: Physics
Mersenne is most well-known for his network of correspondents. In addition to his many letters, Mersenne wrote several works on varying topics. His Quaestiones in Genesim (1623) defended orthodox theology against deists and atheists. La Verité des Sciences (1625) was Mersenne's defense of the possibility of true human knowledge against the rising skepticism represented by Montaigne. In response to the work of Galileo, Mersenne wrote his Traité des mouvements (1633) and Les mechaniques de Galilée (1634). His Traité d'harmonie universelle (1627) was a work on music, acoustics and instruments which he continued to improve throughout his life.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Secondary: Patronage
He entered the new Jesuit college at La Fleche in 1604 and remained there until 1609. After two years of theology at the Sorbonne, in 1611 he joined the Order of Minims. He taught philosophy and then theology at Nevers from 1614-1618. In 1619, he returned to Paris to the Minims de l'Annociade near Place Royale where he was elected Correcteur. There he remained, except for brief journeys, until his death in 1648.
Later in his career one Jacques Hallé helped Mersenne with money and with the use of his library. The early years remain a problem in my eyes.
8. Patronage
Types: Eccesiastic Official, Aristrocrat, Scientist, Government Official
He dedicated his Cogita physica (1644) to the general of the order of Minims, P. Laurent, whom he thanked for protecting the sciences in the Order. After some hesitation, I will list this. My hesitations vanished when I found that Mersenne earlier dedicated Synopsis mathematica (1626)to P. Simon Bachelier, who was then general of the order.
I think some unnamed Jesuit fathers have to have been behind his years of study in La Fleche. His family had no money.
Peiresc, Montmor, and Louis de Valois all helped Mersenne publish his works.
He dedicated one section of the Harmonie universelle to Etienne Pascal.
He dedicated Questiones in Genesim (1623) to the Bishop of Paris.
He dedicated L'impiété des déistes (1624) to Richelieu (who seems here to stand as a Cardinal of the church).
He dedicated works to Jacques Hallé, Henri de Refuge, and Habert de Montmor, all governmental officials.
He dedicated La verité des sciences (1625) to Gaston d'Orleans and Harmonie universelle (1636) to the Comte d'Alais.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
He conducted an experiment with the seconds pendulum to measure time and confirmed the "duplicate property" between length and period. (At one point I listed this under Instruments, but this listing no longer seems correct to me.)
He insisted on careful specifications of experimental procedures, repetition of experiments, and publication of numerical results of actual measurements distinct from those from theory. I'll leave this information in, but I do not consider it a form of technology.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
From 1623 Mersenne began to make the careful selection of savants who met at his convent in Paris or corresponded with him from all over Europe and as far afield as Tunisia, Syria, and Constantinople. His regular visitors or correspondents came to include Peiresc, Gassendi, Descartes, the Roman musicologist Giovanni Battista Doni, Roberval, Beeckman, J.B. van Helmont, Fermat, Hobbes, and the Pascals. This correspondence is being published. It was in Mersenne's quarters that in 1647 the young Blaise Pascal met Descartes. His role as secretary of the public of scientific letters, with a strong point of view of his own, became institutionalized in the Academia Parisiensis, which he organized in 1635.
  1. R. Lenoble, Mersenne ou la naissance du mecanisme, (Paris, 1943.) B1899.M4L5 Hilarion de Coste, La vie du R.P. Marin Mersenne, theologien, philosophe et mathematicien, de l'Ordre der Peres Minim, (Paris, 1649).
  2. Mersenne's Correspondence, C. de Waard, R. Pintard, and B.
  3. Rochot, eds., (Paris, 1932 - ), 1, xix-lv. BX4705.M53A3 Jean Mesnard, "Le mécénat scientifique avant l'Académie des sciences," in L'âge d'or du mécénat. Roland Mousnier and Jean Mesnard, eds. (Paris, 1985), pp. 107-17, esp. pp. 111- 13.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. "Mersenne," in Pierre Costabel and Minette Martinet, Quelques savants et amateurs de science au XVIIe siècle, (Paris, 1986), pp. 3-19. Jean-Robert Armogathe, "Le groupe de Mersenne et la vie académique parisienne," XVIIe siècle, 44 (1992), 131-9.
  2. Armand Beaulieu, "Le group de Mersenne: Ce que l'Italie lui a donné, ce qu'il a donné à l'Italie," in M. Bucciantini and M. Torrini, eds. Geometria e atomismo nella scuola galileiana, (Firenze, 1992), pp. 17-34.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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©1995 Al Van Helden
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