FRENCH ASTRONOMER JEAN CHAPPE D'AUTEROCHE (1728-1769) AND CATHERINE II (Francuski astronom Jean Chappe d'Auteroche (1728-1769) i Katarzyna II)
Reverend Jean Chappe d'Auteroche was a French astronomer and a member of the royal Academy of Sciences. In 1760 he was delegated by the Academy to Tobolsk, Siberia to make observations of the transits of Venus predicted for 6 June 1761. The research of this phenomenon aimed at determination of the size of the Solar System and was conducted by a group of scholars all over the world. For Louis XIV, Chappe d'Auteroche's expedition to Russia was also a precedent to acquire new information about the Russian Empire. On his return the astronomer published an account of his travel through Russia entitled Voyage en Siberie fait par orde du roi en 1761 (Travel to Siberia in 1761, on the king's order), containing numerous maps made by himself and an album of exceptionally beautiful drawings by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince. The book, published in 1768 in Paris, was well-received and widely known. Chappe d'Auteroche described in great detail all he had seen: the climate, fauna, flora, but also Russians themselves, their customs, food, religious ceremonies and even their political system. The murky picture arising from these observations contrasted sharply with the image of Russia Empress Catharina II meant to impose on the whole world. That is why the empress got furious after the publication of Chappe d'Auteroche's account and she took a pen to tackle the inconvenient piece of literature. In 1770 a book entitled Antidote ou Refutation du mauvais livre superbement imprime, intitule : Voyage en Siberie, (Antidote, or Research of a bad book, beautifully published under the title The travel to Siberia) was published anonymously in Amsterdam. Page by page Catherine mercilessly points to inconsistencies and errors made by the priest-astronomer. Although the author did not manage to avoid biased descriptions of events or malicious comments, it is extraordinary polemics. Chappe d'Auteroche could not defend himself, as he had died a year before Antidote was published.
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