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William M. Connolley's page about Fourier 1827: MEMOIRE sur les temperatures du globe terrestre et des espaces planetaires

I became interested in this paper as a source (perhaps the original) for the greenhouse effect. It becomes clear that it isn't that, but nonetheless I decided to do a translation.

Read my wurble, or go straight to the text.

Having got about 2/3 of the way into the translation, I came across "Joseph Fourier, the 'greenhouse effect', and the quest for a universal theory of terrestrial temperatures" by James R. Fleming (Endeavour, v23(2), p72-75, 1999. A link to an apparently similar abstract is here). Apart from a lot of interesting context about the paper, and an analysis of its (mis)citation history, JRF points out that Fourier wrote earlier papers on this subject (well, that becomes quickly obvious, true, because he keeps referring to them for all the equations) *and* that there exists an english translation. Ho hum. That was published in 1837 (Ebenezer Burgess, Amer. J. Sci., 32, 1-20: Cambridge UL shelfmark p340.1.c.87 (now on rare book shelves) if you happen to be in C). Actually it is a translation of Fourier's 1824 in the Annales de Chimie et de Physique, but the 1827 paper appears to be a reprint of the 1824 one so thats OK.

Why should you prefer my translation?

  1. You can read it here, whereas the 1837 one is not readily accessible to most.
  2. Although I didn't read EB's translation before finishing mine, I have read and compared his after, so hopefully you get the best of both.
  3. Mine comes with helpful annotations.
  4. Either he has omitted material, or more likely the 1827 paper differs slightly from the 1824 one, because apart from minor differences (see below) there are about 6 pages in total not present in the EB translation.

My translation is available here.

Trivia point: Exactly how should the paper be cited? It is, variously, Fourier_J, Fourier_JB, Fourier_JBJ. I think it should be just Fourier, on the grounds that in the original no initial is given, just "M. Fourier". In fact it is rarely cited as Fourier_M, but thats obviously a mistake. The various initials, by the way, are "Joseph" and "Jean-Baptiste". I have been given to understand that one possible reason for this is that JB was the original, and that plain Joseph went down better in Napoleonic times. Who knows? Perhaps you do: then mail me: wmc@bas.ac.uk. [30/06/2001: alternative theory: Joseph was his fathers name, which he added to his own in tribute; source: Gale Christianson (1998) The 200 year history of the Greenhouse Effect, reported by Kees van der Veen].

Notes on the EB translation

The following differences exist between my and EB's translation. Some of them may be errors. Others may reflect differences between the 1824 and 1827 versions. Page/para/line numbers are from EB. Note that the phrase "EB omits" doesn't imply that he just didn't bother with those bits: quite likely they were not in the 1824 version.

  1. p1, l6: "admitted" for "omitted"
  2. p2, end of para "We shall..." includes "For the purpose of giving a general idea of this great question, and showing at a glance the results of our researches, we present them here in the following summary, which is in some measure a synoptic table of the contents of this article,a nd of several which have preceded it." which is not in the 1827 version.
  3. p2, last para, (much more than 30,000 years) omitted after "many ages"
  4. p4, para 2, l6: mistranscription of "pressure" for "presence".
  5. p4, para 4: "girdle" is much better than my "encircling region"
  6. p5, end of para 2: "they superpose freely like the natural oscillations of bodies" left in the original french, presumably because it was incomprehensible: see my note [22].
  7. p5, para 4: this is 2 paragraphs in the 1827 version (by golly, how trivial can I get?)
  8. p6, line 7: after "archives", "of the academy of sciences" is omitted.
  9. p7, para 3: split into 2 at "The question" in 1827.
  10. p7, para 4,5: but, these 2 paras are one in 1827... there are too many such examples... I give up with para splitting after this.
  11. p8, end of para 2: EB translates "rapportee au" and "considered in relation to" instead of "divided by". But I don't know which is right.
  12. p9, end of para 3: sentence is a contraction of "Animated bodies and plants could not resist at all an action so strong and prompt, which would reproduce in an opposite sense at the rising of the sun" which is what I have.
  13. p9, start of para 4: EB has "could not increase the external temperature of space" which makes no sense. I have "could not supplement...".
  14. p9, para 4: EB has "is measured at the poles", I have "would be measured". A small difference, perhaps, but at least F knew that the polar temperature had not yet been measured.
  15. p10, last line: EB puts in "Uranus" to replace "the planet discovered by Herschell".
  16. p11, line -4: EB replaces "octogesimale" with "Reaumur" but leaves me no wiser [2004/10: solved!].
  17. p12, line 7: EB uses "inferences" instead of "consequences"
  18. p13, para 2, line 8: EB adds "The design of the experiment is, to ascertain if the present temperature of the surface of the globe can yet undergo any sensible changes."
  19. p14. EB adds to end of para 1: "The experiments ith which we have lately entertained the Academy, relating to the heat of springs, confirm the results of preceeding observations."
  20. p15, end of para 2: EB adds "It is important to notice the agreement of these two kinds of observatiosn."
  21. p15, paras 3/4: bits of these paras appear in a different order. EB includes a cite of a memoir of 1807 not mentioned in the 1827 paper.
  22. p17, para 3: paper cited somewhat differently, as being an abstract in the Annales de Chimie et de Physique of a paper not yet published.
  23. p17, before para -2: a large piece of the 1827 paper is missing, from The reading of this extract... to ...this study and the system of the world, about 3 pages worth (mostly about oceans).
  24. p18, near end of para 2: EB omits the specification of the temperature, ie -40 degrees "octogesimale".
  25. p19, end of para 2: EB adds "For this reason, we heard with the greatest interest the reading of the memoir presented by Prof Pouillet; and if in the course of this article we have not mentioned his experimental researches, it is simply from the wish not to anticipate the report which will soon be made."
  26. p19, para 3: before "It would be possible to resolve all doubts..." the 1827 version has "I hoped that the geometers would not only go in their researches into questions of calculus, but that they would consider also the importance of this subject.
  27. p20. Before the only para, EB omits several pages, from "One of the principal characteristics of the analysis..." to "...of all hypotheses of the interior state of the earth.", about 3 pages.

There is a letter reproduced under p 1 of the EB translation, evidently from a person of eminence to the journal editor:

To professor Silliman.

Dear Sir - Although it is several years since they were published in France, I have never met with a translation of any of Baron Fourier's able papers on the temperature of the globe, nor seen in the English language a full view of the important principles which they develope. I have, therefore, requested Mr. Ebenezer Burgess, a tutor in Amherst College, to make a translation from the 27th No. of the Annales de Chimie et de Physicque, of an article of Fourier, in which he gives a summary of the results to which he has come on the subject, by the use of mathematical analysis. And should your views on the value of this paper correspond with my own, I hope you may find a place for it, even at this late day, in your Journal.
With much respect,
Edward Hitchcock.

This document may exist in multiple places. The best reference one is at: http://www.wmc.care4free.net/sci/fourier_1827/. All others are mirrors...

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