Scientific American Supplement, No. 299, September 24, 1881

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Scientific American Supplement, No. 299, September 24, 1881

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The death of this distinguished man must be recorded. An interesting résumé of his labors by M. Daubree has appeared, from which we take the following facts. After a training in his native town at the Lyceum of Metz, which furnished so many scholars to the Polytechnic school, Delesse was admitted at the age of twenty to this school. In 1839 he left to enter the Corps des Mines. From the beginning of his career the student engineer applied himself with ardor to the sciences to which he was to devote his entire existence. The journeys which he undertook then, and continued later, in France, Germany, Poland, England, and Ireland, helped to confirm and develop the bent of his mind. He soon arrived at important scientific results, and was rewarded, in 1845, by having conferred to him by the university the course of mineralogy and geology in the Faculty at Besançon, where Delesse at the same time fulfilled the duties of engineer of mines. Five years later he returned to Paris, where he continued his university duties, at first as deputy of the course of geology at the Sorbonne, then as master of the conferences at the Superior Normal School. Besides this, he continued his profession of engineer of mines as inspector of the roads of Paris. The first original researches of the young savant concern pure mineralogy; he studied a certain number of species, of which the chemical nature was yet uncertain or altogether unknown, and his name was appended to one of the species which he defined. He studied also, and with success, the interesting modifications called pseudomorphism—the mode of association of minerals, as well as their magnetic properties. The attributes of a practical mineralogist aided him greatly in the culture of a branch of geology to which Delesse has rendered eminent services, in the recognition of rocks of igneous origin and of others allied to them. He studied in the field, as well as by investigations in the laboratory, for fifteen years, with an intelligent and indefatigable perseverance, and, aided by the results of hundreds of analyses, eruptive masses of the most varied kind, the knowledge derived from which threw light upon the principles of science, from granites and syenites to melaphyres and basalts. After thirty years of study and progress, other savants, without differing from him, progressed further in the intimate knowledge of rocks; but the historian of science will not forget that Delesse was the precursor of this order of research. His studies of metamorphism will long do him honor. The mineralogical modifications which the eruptive rocks have undergone in the mass are the permanent witnesses which attracted all his attention. The chemical comparison of the metamorphic with the normal rock pointed out distinctly the nature of the substances acquired or lost. One of the principal results of these analyses has been to lessen the importance attributed until then to heat alone, and to show in more than one case the intervention of thermal sources and of other emanations from below, to which the eruptive rocks have simply opened up tracks.

It is not only upon subjects relating to the history of rocks that Delesse has touched. Witness his work on the infiltration of water, as well as his volume relating to the materials of construction, published on the occasion of the Exhibition of 1855. The nature of the deposits which operate continually at the bottom of the sea offers points of interest which well repay the labor of the geologist. He finds there, indeed, a precious field to be compared with stratified deposits; for in spite of the enormous depth to which they form a part of continents, they are of analogous origin. Delesse laboriously studied the products of the innumerable soundings taken in most of the seas. He arranged the results in a work which has become classical with the beautiful atlas of submarine drawings which accompany it. Though he never slackened in his own especial work, he made much of the work of others. The "Revue des Progrès de la Géologie," with which he enriched the "Annales des Mines" for twenty years, would have been sufficient to engross the time of a less active scientific man, and one less ready to grasp the opening of a discovery. This indefatigable theorist never neglected the applications of science: the nature and the changes of the layers which form the under earth; the course and the depth of the subterraneous sheets of water; the mineralogical composition of the earth's vegetation, were represented by him on several charts and plans drawn out in proper form. His maps which follow the route of many of the great French lines of railway explain the kind of soil upon which they are laid, and are of daily use. In the pursuit of his numerous scientific works, Delesse never failed in discharging his duties in the Corps des Mines. Having in 1864 quitted the service of the Government of Paris, which he had occupied for eighteen years, he was made professor of agriculture, of drainage, and irrigation, at the School of Mines, where he established instruction in these before being called to found the course of geology at the Agricultural Institution. Promoted to be Inspector-General of Mines in 1878, and charged with the division of the south east of France, he preserved to the end of his life these new duties, for which, to the regret of the School of Mines, he gave up his excellent lessons there. During the year of 1870 Delesse fulfilled his duties as a citizen, as engineer in preparation of cartridges in the department.

His nomination to the Academy of Sciences, which took place on the 6th of January, 1879, satisfied the ambition of his life. He was for two years President of the Central Commission of the Geographical Society; he was also President of the Geological Society. He was not long to enjoy the noble position acquired by his intelligence and his work. He suffered from a serious malady, which, however, did not weaken his intellect, and he continued from his bed of suffering to prepare the reports for the Council-General of Mines, and that which recently he addressed to the Academy on the occasion of his election....