Berthier, Pierre, 1782-1861Alternative names
Athénée de Paris (1792-1853). The Athénée of Paris was a private school for popular scientific instruction in Paris in the late 18th and first half of the 19th century.
The school was founded by Pilâtre de Rozer in 1781 as the Musée de Monsieurand, and offered adult classes in the sciences. In 1785 it was renamed the Lycée, which seemed a more appropriate name for a teaching institution. After the Revolution, in the Fall of 1792 the school experienced financial difficulties and turned to the French Revolutionary Convention for assistance. It was granted 10,000 livres, but also received criticism from the Jacobins for having “indulged in exaggerated statements and . . . principles contrary to the public interest.” Its faculty was subsequently purged and the school was renamed the Lycée republicain. Known as the Athenée de Paris after 1803, it continued to serve as an institution for scientific instruction, popular lectures in the sciences, publishing scientific writings and funding for scientific research. The Athénée of Paris has been described as “one of the most underestimated forces in the evolution of French science.” The institution, which endured until 1849, was committed to the two principles: the independence of science and the utility of science. To further these principles, the Athénée functioned as “a self-financing institution,” that raised revenue to support laboratory and library facilities by offering lecture course to fee-paying subscribers. Unfortunately the Athénée was the victim of bad press in its day. After Louis XVIII’s revival of the Académie des Sciences during the Bourbon restoration, the Athénée was gradually perceived as a second rate institution. Nevertheless, the ranks of its instructors included such eminent French scientists as the chemists Antoine Lavoisier, Fourcroy, and Louis-Jacques Thenard; the mathematician Condorcet; and the naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier. Many of its faculty also held positions in other academic institutions, but the Athénée offered several unique attractions even for established scientists: first, it was generous in providing laboratories and other demonstration facilities that greatly exceeded state facilities or those available at the École Centrale, and second, it established a reputation for encouraging lecturers to “try out” new ideas and to express their latest thoughts before they received the stamp of approval from the established scientific community.
From the guide to the Athénée des arts de Paris letters, 1792-1853, 1792-1853, (American Philosophical Society)
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