It is easy to zoom through Beaumont-en-Auge on the way somewhere else. South, to taste ancient Calvados at Pierre Huet perhaps or North, to collect fossils on the beach at Villers-sur-mer.
The best decisions
In the minute it takes to drive through the village you will notice a street of perfect beamed houses, one of many in the Pays d’Auge.
The clever thing is to remember to come back and have a better look.One summer evening, fed up with busy A roads, we took the slow road home through Beaumont-en-Auge. Our plan was Honfleur and seafood from one of the cheerful restaurants on Rue Haute.
As we drove into this ancient Pays d’Auge village we were distracted by the cheerful lights from a restaurant shining out over the little square that harbours the old statue of M. Laplace.
A brilliant son
Born in the village, Pierre-Simon Laplace was an outstanding mathematician, physicist, astronomer and apparently more than a bit pleased with himself.
What he lacked in modesty he more than made up for in theories and was one the first scientists to hypothesise about black holes and possible origins of the universe. This was all between 1749 (born) and 1827 (died) and his ideas are still talked about today
Not one to suffer fools gladly – particularly if they were fellow scientists who’s lesser theories he could enthusiastically shred – Laplace did respect human nature enough to be a survivor during some of France’s most turbulent years. He sensibly removed himself from Paris during the worst of the revolution, in the process perhaps avoiding strategic denouncement by colleagues he had insulted.
Having avoided the guillotine and once things in Paris calmed down a bit he returned as a trusted supporter of Napoleon.
Their relationship had some memorable moments. Laplace presented to Napoleon his work ‘Celestial Mechanics’ containing his radical thesis on mathematical astronomy. When Napoleon questions the curious lack of God in his theories Laplace famously pronounced ‘I had no need of that hypothesis’.
Their closeness cooled considerably when Laplace’s son Emile was a soldier in Napoleon’s 1812 campaign into Russia. Having conquered most of Europe Napoleon made the fatal error of over stretching his resources by marching into the vast, soon frozen (his timing was awful) wastes of this complex country. Thousands of soldiers died of hunger and cold.
End of a friendship
Emile survived but Laplace’s friendship with his old political comrade did not. When Napoleon’s empire failed and France went briefly back to having a King, Laplace changed allegiance to the extent that he was elevated to Marquis.
Many of his old colleagues were rather scathing about his lack of political consistency. They were also quite jealous of his success.
Back in Beaumont-en-Auge
A farming community for over 1000 years Beaumont-en-Auge may have been surprised to produce one of the greatest scientific minds the world has ever known.
But it is also proud and the statue by Delandre is very grand. Collar high, yards of cloak stylishly draped and hair tidier than the average scientist, Laplace has one hand resting on a bronze globe.
The other hand is raised with a finger crooked by his chin. Laplace is thinking.
Tidy limes and a good dinner
After matching an old postcard view we paid our respects to this remarkable man, then strolled under tidy lime trees to the famous Beaumont-en-Auge viewpoint over La Vallée de la Touques. Mist rose from numerous little streams criss-crossing the valley as a pink sunset settled in the west. Far away the twinkling lights of Deauville showed us the edge of Normandy.
Lots about M. Laplace online and if you are very keen some of his books are still published.