At one point the group had to suspend work for eight months while La Condamine rode off to Lima to sort out a problem with their permits. Eventually he and Bouguer stopped speaking and refused to work together. Everywhere the dwindling party went it was met with the deepest suspicions from officials who found it difficult to believe that a group of French scientists would travel halfway around the world to measure the world. That made no sense at all. Two and a half centuries later it still seems a reasonable question. Why didn't the French make their measurements in France and save themselves all the bother and discomfort of their Andean adventure?
The answer lies partly with the fact that eighteenth-century scientists, the French in particular, seldom did things simply if an absurdly demanding alternative was available, and partly with a practical problem that had first arisen with the English astronomer Edmond Halley many years before—long before Bouguer and La Condamine dreamed of going to South America, much less had a reason for doing so.
Halley was an exceptional figure. In the course of a long and productive career, he was a sea captain, a cartographer, a professor of geometry at the University of Oxford, deputy controller of the Royal Mint, astronomer royal, and inventor of the deep-sea diving bell. He wrote authoritatively on magnetism, tides, and the motions of the planets, and fondly on the effects of opium. He invented the weather map and actuarial table, proposed methods for working out the age of the Earth and its distance from the Sun, even devised a practical method for keeping fish fresh out of season. The one thing he didn't do, interestingly enough, was discover the comet that bears his name. He merely recognized that the comet he saw in 1682 was the same one that had been seen by others in 1456, 1531, and 1607. It didn't become Halley's comet until 1758, some sixteen years after his death.