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The Four Curves of Alexis Clairaut: Provenance of the Text

Taner Kiral (Wabash College), Jonathan Murdock (Wabash College), and Colin B. P. McKinney (Wabash College)

For the transcription of this text, “Quatre Problèmes sur de Nouvelles Courbes,” we worked with a digitized copy of Miscellanea Berolinensia, volume 4, on Google Books that had been digitized from an original copy held by Princeton University Library. We also consulted another original copy, located at the University of Illinois, to clarify any ambiguities in the digital version. The Illinois copy was also invaluable because Google’s digital version does not include the figures; they were printed on fold-out sheets, which were not unfolded by the digitizer.

The copy at Illinois contains a very ornate bookplate, ex libris C.S. Iordani, et amicorum [the book of C. S. Jordan and friends]. The bookplate depicts a well-stocked library with several men and angels. The Latin at the top and bottom are both from Virgil: the top, Dulces ante omnia musae [above all, the dear Muses], is from the Georgics; the bottom, Deus nobis haec otia fecit [God has granted us this rest], is from the Eclogues.

Bookplate from the University of Illinois's copy of Miscellanea Berolinensia, volume 4.
Figure 4: Bookplate as it appears in the University of Illinois copy.
The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

We learn from Rzepka, Sosnowski, and Tylus (in [13]) that the book was from the library of Charles-Etienne Jordan. Jordan was born 27 August 1700 in Berlin and died on 24 May 1745. The family were Huguenot refuges, apparently originally from the province of Dauphiné, settling in Berlin. His father was a merchant, who desired for his son to take up an ecclesiastical career. Jordan studied philosophy and theology, before becoming a pastor at the French-speaking churches in Putzlow and later Prenzlau, both in the northwest of modern Germany, which was then the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1736 he entered the service of then-Prince Frederic II (later Frederick the Great). He was an avid collector of books. After his death, his collection seems to have been split up. Many of his works ended up in the the Royal Library of Berlin. The exact details of how this copy of Miscellanea Berolinensia came from Jordan’s collection to Illinois are currently unknown.

The reader may have wondered at this point if the mathematician Camille Jordan (1838–1922) was related to Charles-Etienne. This is in fact the case, though probably not directly. It seems that members of the family returned to France, where they lived in Lyon and the province of Dauphiné. The family in Lyon were merchants, from whom the orator Camille Jordan (1771–1821) descends. This Camille Jordan had a nephew, Alexis Jordan, who was a botanist. Alexis Jordan (1814–1897) was the first-cousin (oncle à la mode de Bretagne) of the mathematician Camille Jordan. For more information on the family and relevant biographical details, see [11, pp. x–xiv] and [1, pp. 255 et seq.].

Taner Kiral (Wabash College), Jonathan Murdock (Wabash College), and Colin B. P. McKinney (Wabash College), "The Four Curves of Alexis Clairaut: Provenance of the Text," Convergence (November 2020)