Death notice for Henry Sully

Last updated on May 28, 2021

Source: Octobre 1728 – Mercure de France – Pages 2271-2274(translated by Robert St-Louis 2020)

The death notice for English horologist Henry Sully (1680 – 1728) appeared in the French weekly paper le Mercure de France, in October of 1728. The notice indicates that Sully passed away on the 13th of that month, so must have been written very shortly after his death. Unlike death notices appearing in newspapers today, this one makes no mention of his surviving wife and children, his parents, etc. It just focuses on Henry’s life and lays out the main highlights and achievements rather factually and correctly, so whoever wrote the notice was familiar with Henry’s life and work. It could have been written by his widow, though if that were the case one would think she would have mentioned herself and the children – quite probably, this was just not a common practice at the time.

Another possibility is that it could have been written by his longtime friend and past collaborator the venerated French horloger Julien Le Roy (1686 – 1759) who would in 1737 write a lengthy memoir focusing on Sully’s life and work (which was published in the 1737 re-edition of Sully’s book “Règle artificielle du temps“).

Possibly, the notice could also have been written by the priest of St-Sulpice Church where Sully was buried, Jean-Baptiste Languet de Cergy (1675-1750), for whom Sully had accomplished his last horological work (the gnomon and meridian line). Languet de Cergy was also a member of the Société des Arts, in which Sully played a prominent role, so would have known Sully from both a personal and professional perspective. A final possibility is that the notice could have been written by a writer for the Mercure, having discussed Sully with one or more of the people mentioned above.

Below is a section of the Plan Turgot of Paris in the eighteenth century. At the time of his death, Sully lived on Rue de la Comédie (on the left hand side) which is only about three blocks from the imposing St-Sulpice church on the right hand side. So it would have been easy for Sully to walk to the church and do the initial work on his gnomon and meridian line for Languet de Cergy. Likewise, it would have been easy for the priest to walk to Sully’s house and administer last catholic rites.

The notice correctly states that Henry Sully was born in Somerset County in England, something that is rarely mentioned in contemporary documents or the short biographical pieces about Sully that were published in various articles and books in the centuries that followed. Only those close to him would likely have known that fact.

The photo below is of the gnomon (the white obelisk) and meridian line whose installation Sully had started before his sudden illness and death. Sully’s funeral and burial took place in the church and was officiated by Languet de Cergy, although the exact location of his resting place is now unknown (some have said under the floor, others in the crypt). As the notice indicates, Sully had abjured the Protestant (Anglican) religion in favour of the Catholic one some time before his death, which allowed him burial in the Catholic church.

/start of translation by Robert St-Louis

Mr. Henry Sully, English, from Somerset County, and watch/clockmaker to his Highness Mr. the Duke of Orleans, living in France for a long time, died in Paris on the 13th of this month, in his 48th year, after having renounced the Anglican religion in the hands of Mr. the priest of S. Sulpice, and received the sacrements given the evidence of exemplary faith and piety.  He was not only skillful in his profession, but distinguished in all that relates to mechanics, navigation, and even astronomy.  From a very young age, he showed great interest in the sciences and the arts.  He learned the profession of watch/clockmaker in London, and started right then to work on machines to measure time at sea.  He moved to Hollande, and had printed in Leyde his first book in French, titled: “Instructions to regulate watches and clocks”.  He wrote and spoke very well in French, English, Dutch, German and Italian, his other works are:

  Artificial regulation of time, in French, first printed in Vienna Austria, then later in Paris at Dupuis, S. Jacques Street.  He had gone on several trips to Germany with the Duke of Aremberg, who gave him a pension.

  A new edition of his Instructions to regulate clocks, much expanded, at the same publisher.

  He was director of a watch factory, established in Versailles.  After this he again put his efforts on his Marine clock with levers, which had very good results, according to experimentation done in Bordeaux.  He has written descriptions of it which were printed in Paris and in Bordeaux, and we have given an exact account, detailed in previous Mercures.

  He gave to the public many other works and various instruments of his own invention, equally industrious and useful, consisting of several parts of mathematics, and displaying an inventive mind full of concern for perfecting arts and professions.  Moreover, he was a great communicator and very helpful, and we have heard from several skillful masters of horology that they owed much to him.  There are many works from him on this subject, that have not yet seen the light of day, and that we will bring to the public in the near future.

  His last work, that he didn’t get the pleasure to see perfected, is the meridian line in the S. Sulpice church, a description of which we provided in the July Mercure; but all is traced, and only 7 degrees 30 minutes are needed to be at the Equinoxes, which is to say to the signs of upsilon and omega.  In addition, he left all instructions necessary.

/end translation

/original text from Mercure de France

  M. Henry Sully, Anglois, du Comté de Sommerset, & horlogeur de S.A.S. M. le Duc d’Orleans, établi en France depuis long-tems, mourut à Paris le 13 de ce mois, dans la 48e année de son âge, après avoir abjuré la Religion Anglicane entre les mains de M. le Curé de S. Sulpice, & reçû les Sacremens dans les sentimens d’une foi & d’une pieté exemplaire.  Il étoit non-seulement fort habile dans sa Profession, mais distingué dans tout ce qui regarde les Mécaniques, la Navigation, & même l’Astronomie.  Dès sa plus tendre jeunesse, il eut beaucoup d’ardeur pour les Sciences & pour les Arts.  Il apprit la Profession d’Horlogeur à Londres, & commença dès ce temps-là à travailler à des Machines pour mesurer le tems sur Mer.  Il s’établit en Hollande, & fit imprimer à Leyde, son premier Ouvrage en François, intitulé: Instruction pour régler les Montres & les Pendules.  Il écrivoit & parloit fort bien le François, l’Anglois, l’Hollandois, l’Allemand & l’Italien, ses autres Ouvrages sont: 

  Règle Artificielle du Tems, en François, imprimé d’abord à Vienne en Autriche, & ensuite à Paris chez Dupuis, rue S. Jacques.  Il avoit fait plusieurs voyages en Allemagne avec le Duc d’Aremberg, dont il était Pensionnaire.

  Une nouvelle édition de son Instruction pour régler les Pendules, beaucoup augmentée, chez le même Libraire.

  Il fut directeur d’une manufacture de Montres, établie à Versailles.  Après quoi il s’appliqua de nouveau à sa Pendule Marine à Levier, qui a très-bien réussi, selon les expériences faites à Bordeaux.  Il en a fait des Descriptions qui ont été imprimées à Paris & à Bordeaux, & nous en avons rendu un compte exact, détaillé dans nos précedens Mercures.

  Il a donné au public plusieurs autres Ouvrages & divers Instrumens de son invention, également industrieux & utiles, possedant fort bien quelques parties des Mathématiques, & ayant un esprit inventif & plein de sagacité pour perfectionner divers Arts & Professions.  Il étoit de plus très communicatif & très-serviable, & nous avons oui dire à plusieurs habiles Maîtres que l’Orlogerie lui avoit de grandes obligations.  Il y a plusieurs Ouvrages de lui sur cette matiere, qui n’ont point encore vû le jour, & qu’on donnera au Public dans peu de tems.

  Son dernier Ouvrage, qu’il n’a pas eu le plaisir de voir dans sa perfection, est la ligne Méridienne de l’Eglise de S. Sulpice, dont nous avons donné la Description dans le Mercure de Juillet; mais tout est tracé, & il ne s’en faut plus que 7. degrez 30. m pour être aux Equinoxes, c’est-à-dire, aux Signes d’(symbole pour upsillon) et de (symbole pour oméga).  Il a de plus laissé toutes les instructions nécessaires.

/end original text

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