Collection Spotlight

Notions élémentaires de physique, avec planches, à l’usage des maisons d’éducation

Published in 1841 in Québec City, Notions élémentaires de physique, avec planches, à l’usage des maisons d’éducation is the first physics textbook written by a French-Canadian. 

According to the preface, author Joseph Cauchon (also known as Joseph-Édouard Cauchon) wanted to publish a handbook that focused on practical scientific concepts that could be understood by school-aged students and “all classes of society.” He grouped the text in two main themes: corps pondérables (or things that can be weighed), which describes concepts relating to matter, including solids, liquids and gases; and fluides impondérables (or fluids that cannot be weighed), which describes concepts of caloric energy (heat), electricity, magnetism, light (optics) and meteorological phenomena.

Notions élémentaires de physique was written when Quebec was becoming increasingly industrialized and interest in the sciences was growing. At the time of publication, Cauchon was a 25-year-old law student working for the influential Le Canadien newspaper. He was likely inspired to write the book by the physics lessons he took at the Petit Séminaire du Québec a few years earlier.

Not much is known about how the book was received by schools and the wider public. According to historians, only a few hundred copies were ever sold and it was never re-edited. Some argue that it had limited value in teaching.

Cauchon continued working as a journalist but he was also drawn to politics. Highlights of his long and successful political career include: Member of the Assembly of the Province of Canada for Montmorency from 1844 to 1867, Speaker of the Senate from 1867 to 1872, and Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba from 1877 to 1882.


  • The Library of Parliament’s copy measures 23 cm high and contains 124 pages with three foldout plates of illustrations. The spine is bound in leather and the boards are covered in marbled paper.
  • More information about Joseph Édouard Cauchon’s career in federal politics is available on Parlinfo.
Book with leather spine and marbled paper covers on a black surface
Leather-bound spine with marbled paper boards
Opened book showing the text of the title page
Title page
Black and white photograph of Joseph Cauchon in 1862, wearing a long jacket, standing beside a plinth with a book
Joseph Cauchon in 1862 (Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-008004)