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Joseph Galien

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Dominican, professor of philosophy and theology at the University of Avignon, meteorologist, physicist, and writer on aeronautics; b. 1699, at Saint-Paulien, near Le Puy, in Southern France; d. 1762 in the Dominican monastery at Le Puy — or, according to other accounts, in 1782 at Avignon. He entered the order at Le Puy. He studied philosophy and theology at the Dominican institution in Avignon with such success that he was sent to Bordeaux as professor of philosophy as early as 1726. From the year 1745 on he held the chair of theology at Avignon, and from 1747 the chair of philosophy. He seems to have resigned his professorship in 1751 to devoted his energies entirely to the study of meteorology and physics. He published: "Lettres théologiques touchant l'état de pure nature, la distinction du naturel et du sur-naturel, et les autres matières qui en sont de conséquences" (Avignon, 1745); also the "Explication physique des effets de l'électricité" (Avignon, 1747). But Galien's most important contribution was a booklet that he issued anonymously in 1755 at Avignon under the title: "Mémoire touchant la nature et la formation de la grêle et des autres météores qui y ont rapport, avec une conséquence ultérieure de la possibilité de naviger [sic] dans l'air à la hauteur de la région de la grêle. Amusement physique et géométrique". The second edition of this booklet, this time with the name of its author, appeared as early as 1757. The change in its title renders it easy to discern what made the monograph so interesting. It was now called: "L'art de naviguer dans les airs, amusement physique et géométrique, précédé d'un mémoire sur la formation de la grêle." After propounding his theory regarding hail storms, Galien calculates how large an airship would have to be in order to transport an entire army with its equipment to Africa His scheme was to construct a gigantic cube-shaped vessel of good, strong canvas of double thickness plastered with wax and tar, covered with leather and reinforced in places with ropes and rigging; its edge was to be 1000 toises (roughly 6,500 feet), and each surface 1,000,000 sq. toises (approx. 42,250,000 sq. feet) in area. In both length and breadth it would be larger than the city of Avignon, and would resemble a fair-sized mountain. This vessel would have to float in the atmospheric strata of the hail belt, as the atmosphere there is a thousand times lighter than water, while in the strata above this, into which the top of the cube would extend, the air is two thousand times lighter than water. For the scientific principles of his proposal Galien relied on Lana, S.J., perhaps also on Schott, S.J.* His chief claim to importance lies in the fact that the Montgolfier brothers were acquainted with him, or at least his booklet. His birthplace was very near to theirs, and like Galien the Montgolfiers began with meteorological observations; moreover, the elder of the brothers made a first ascension at Avignon in 1782. In aeronautical works Galien is, for the most part, unfairly treated; as the writers assume that his scheme was meant seriously, contrary to his statement given on the title page.

About this page

APA citation. Wilhelm, B. (1909). Joseph Galien. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Wilhelm, Balthasar. "Joseph Galien." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Patty Cleary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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