His unusual talents manifested themselves particularly during the years devoted to literary and philosophical
studies at the Collegio Romano, the most celebrated of the colleges of the Society of Jesus. Thus, for example,
young Boscovich discovered for himself the proof of the theorem of Pythagoras. His professor, especially
Father Horatio Borgondi, professor of mathematics, knew how to cultivate talents, and he made such progress, especially
in mathematics, that he was able to take the place of his former professor at the Roman College even before the completion
of his theological studies......
He performed the duties of this office with much distinction for a whole generation, as is evidenced by the numerous
Latin dissertations which he published nearly every year, according to the custom of the time. These show Boscovich's
preference for astronomical problems. Among them may be mentioned:
* The Sunspots (1736);
* The Transit of Mercury (1737);
* The Aurora Borealis (1738);
* The Application of the Telescope in Astronomical Studies (1739);
* The Figure of the Earth (1739);
* The Motion of the heavenly Bodies in an unresisting Medium (1740);
* The Various Effects of Gravity (1741);
* The Aberration of the Fixed Stars (1742).
Problems in pure mathematics as well as philosophical speculations regarding the various theories on the constitution
of matter also engaged his attention and he took an active part in all scientific discussions which agitated the learned
world of his time. To these belong his The Deviation of the earth from the probable Spherical Shape; Researches
on Unusual Gravitation; The Computation of a Comet's Orbit from a Few Observations, etc........
Pope Benedict XIV commissioned him and his fellow Jesuit, Le Maire, to carry out several precise meridian arc
measurements, and it seems to have been due chiefly to his influence that the same pope, in 1757, abrogated the
obsolete decree of the Index against the Copernican system.......
Many universities outside of Italy sought to number Boscovich among their professors. He himself was full of the spirit
of enterprise, as was shown when King John V of Portugal petitioned the general of the Jesuits for ten Fathers to make
an elaborate survey in Brazil. He voluntarily offered his services for the arduous task, hoping thus to be able to carry
out an independent survey in Ecuador, and so obtain data of value for the final solution to the problem of the figure
of the earth, which was then exciting much attention in England and France. His proposal lead to the initiation
of similar surveys in the Papal States, the pope taking this means of retaining him in his own domain.
Besides his work in mathematical astronomy, we also find Boscovich speculating, upon scientific grounds, on
the essence of matter and endeavoring to establish more widely Newton's law of universal gravitation. As early
as 1748 we meet essays from his pen in this field of thought, e.g. De materiae divisibilitate et du principiis
corporum dissertatio (1748); De continuitatis lege et ejus consectariis pertinentibus ad prima materiae elementa
eorumque vires (1754); De lege virium in natura existentium (1755); Philosophiae naturalis theoria redacta ad
unicam legem virium in natura existentium (1758). Boscovich, according to the views expressed in these
essays, held that bodies could not be composed of a continuous material substance, nor even of contiguous material
particles, but of innumerable point-like structures whose individual components lack all extension and divisibility.
A repulsion exists between them which is indeed infinitesimal but cannot vanish without compenetration taking place.
This repulsion is due tocertain forces with which these elements are endowed. It tends to become infinite when
they are in very close proximity, whereas within certain limits it diminishes as the distance is increased and finally
becomes an attractive force. This change is brought about by the diverse direction of the various forces. Boscovich
divided his last-mentioned exhaustive work into three parts, first explaining and establishing his theory, and
then pointing out his applications to mechanical problems, and finally showing how it may be employed in physics.
His attempt to reduce the complicated laws of nature to a simple fundamental law aroused so much interest
that in 1763 a third, and enlarged edition of his "Theoria philosphiae naturalis" (Venice, 1763) had become necessary.
The publisher added as an appendix a catalogue of Boscovich's previous works. There are no less than sixty-six treatises
dating from 1736--a proof of his literary activity. Some have already been mentioned, and to these may be added his
"Elementorum matheseos tomi tres," in quarto (1752)......
While in England he gave the impulse to the observations of the approaching transit of Venus, on 6 June, 1761,
and it is not unlikely that his proposal to employ lenses composed of liquids, to avoid chromatic aberration, may have
contributed to Dolland's success in constructing achromatic telescopes......
Boscovich, by his rare endowments of mind and the active use which he made of his talents, was preeminent among
the scholars of his time. His merits were recognized by learned societies and universities, and by popes and princes who
honored him and bestowed favors upon him. He was recognized as a gifted teacher, an accomplished leader in
scientific enterprises, an inventor of important instruments which are still employed (such as the ring-micrometer, etc.) and
as a pioneer in developing new theories............
The invention of the ring-micrometer, just mentioned, which Boscovich describes in his memoir "De novo telescopii
usu ad objecta coelestia determinanda" (Rome, 1739), has been ascribed without reason by some to the Dutch natural
philosopher Huygens. The chief advantage of the simple measuring instrument designed by Boscovich consists in
its not requiring any artificial illumination of the field of the telescope. This makes it useful in observing faint objects,
as its inventor expressly points out in connection with the comet of 1739. The novel views of Boscovich in the domain
of natural philosophy have not, up to the present time, passed unchallenged, even on the part of Catholic
scholars. Against his theory of the constitution of matter the objection has been raised that an inadmissible actio in
distans is inevitable in the mutual actions of the elementary points of which material bodies are supposed to be
composed. The theory therefore leads to Occasionalism. Acknowledgement must, however, must be
made of the suggestiveness of Boscovich's work in our own day, and the germs of many of the conclusions of modern
physics may be found in it. His illustrious successor at the Observatory of the Collegio romano, Father Angelo Secchi, in
his "Unita delle forze fisiche" has in many respects followed in his footsteps, and in fact the cosmological
views held by many later natural philosophers furnish unequivocal proof of the influence of the theories maintained by
Among his many smaller works (for a full list, cf. Sommervogel, cited below), the following deserve special attention:
De annuis stellarum fixarum aberrationibus (Rome, 1742); De orbitus cometarum determinandis ope trium observationem
parum a se invicem remotarum (Paris, 1774); De recentibus compertis pertinentibus ad perficiendam dioptricam (1767).
His chief works, however, are:
* De litteraria expeditione per Pontificam ditionem (1755);
* Theoria philosophiae naturalis (1758);
* Opera pertinentia ad opticam at Astronomiam maxima ex parte nova et omnia hucusque inmedita (1785).