no instance have these feelings been more winningly and pathetically exhibited, and at so small an expense of our more rigid notions, than in the biographies of the distinguished father and son now before us.

André-Marie Ampère and Jean-Jacques, his son-both of them still fresh in the memory of many yet living-were men who may be said to have divided between them a large area of nature's richest gifts. The highest qualities-those of the heart-they held in common; in intellectual endowment each more than supplied what the other lacked; along most paths of mental supremacy they walked proudly and lovingly hand in hand; in those where they parted company each had the culture and sympathy to appreciate the aim of the other. In temperament they were much alike-sensitive, ardent, and devoted; with the tenderness of women, the guilelessness of children, the naiveté of genius. From earliest years both had the same insatiable cravings for light and truth; the father, the great physiologist and mathematician, elaborating the most subtle laws of nature and the abstrusest problems in mathematics; the son, with the poetic faculty highly developed, dealing with the problems of ancient languages, history, and literature, and, in works of imagination, with the phenomena of the human heart. Each was equally irresistible and inexhaustible in charm of conversation; each equally generous, impulsive, and blundering in matters of business; and each loved the other, if not with deeper warmth, yet with far greater effusion than our repressive habits between fathers and sons ever exhibit. These volumes under every view are a well of the deepest interest. The first of the three, which appeared in 1872, consisting like the rest in letters and journals, gave the earlier years of the father's history; comprising his gifted and darkened boyhood, the idyllic period of his love and marriage, and that bereavement which at twenty-nine years of age left him writhing under the stroke of widowhood. This earlier volume may not be sufficiently fresh in the memory of the reader for us to dispense with a slight outline of its contents.

André-Marie Ampère, the only son of respectable citizen parents, was born at Lyons in 1775. The south of France, and, notably, the city of Lyons, has sent forth a large percentage of the most eminent Frenchmen of later times, and the young boy, by his thirst for knowledge, soon gave evidence of his birthright in this respect. Mathematics and geometry took the lead in the keen and almost universal appetite of the infantine mind. He thought, reasoned, and calculated while other children were at play. For such a mind there was small

question of instruction from others, nor could any power have arrested the instinct by which he instructed himself He simply devoured every scientific book on which he could lay his little hands-the 'Encyclopédie' from beginning to end; and when recovering from failure of strength, easy to have predicted, and tenderly denied the materials for undue application, he managed to work his problems with no other appliance than little bits of biscuit. The father, a man of no ordinary type, unable to check, did his best to guide. Finding that his son cared less for classic than for scientific studies, he suffered him to follow his own bent. And when the boy, then eleven years old, raised a cry of passionate despair on finding that the works of Euler were in a language to which he had not the key, the father interpreted them for him.

But if André-Marie Ampère ranks on the same level with the great thinkers and explorers of natural phenomena who preceded and were contemporary with him, he differed from them in one important respect. Such men as Newton, La Place, Cuvier, Davy, retained in the ordinary affairs of life the common sense of commoner men. They knew the material value of the travail of their brains, were becomingly jealous of its offspring, and naturally ambitious of its prizes. But Ampère had none of those lower qualities which direct and protect the higher gifts. Every pursuit with him was in turn an object of headlong ardour, before which, till he had followed it to the utmost limits of the human capacity, all other things had to give way. What some men's lower passions are to them Ampère's brain was to him-he knew not how to restrain its impetuous desires. But when the mental chase had fairly run down and captured what he coveted, he had no idea of hoarding the prize. Anyone might rifle the contents of the precious bag.' In French phraseology he was un puits 'ouvert.' His nature, accordingly, while one of the noblest and most unselfish ever created, was at the same time one of the unwisest and least self-asserting. Unguarded by the usual egotisms; unamenable to the usual cautions; incapable alike of husbanding for worldly use the most arduously earned discoveries, experience, or money; and true to himself in all these respects from childhood to grey hairs, André-Marie was an object of perpetual wonder, admiration, and respectful compassion to all competent to understand him. In these facts, doubtless, may be found the cause, otherwise inexplicable, why the fame of such a mind has not spread more widely in proportion to its depth.



Upon this sensitive and unprotected nature there fell in his

early youth a blow so crucial in intensity as to overthrow its balance. M. Barthélemy de St. Hilaire has given to the world the posthumous writings of the great physicist, edited by his son, under the title of Les deux Ampère.' But it is to Madame Henriette Cheuvreux-one of those devoted friends. whom Frenchmen are so fortunate as to attach--to whom we are indebted for a short notice of the grandfather who properly heads the touching group of Les trois Ampère.'

[ocr errors]

The life of that good man fell upon the evil times of the Great Revolution. In the year 1793 he filled the post of Juge de Paix in Lyons, and during the excesses which distracted that city, stood courageously forth on the side of order. When the revolutionary bands entered the city after the siege, he became one of the first victims to their revenge. Some of his letters addressed to his wife from his prison, signed Jean'Jacques Ampère, époux, père, ami, et citoyen fidèle,' have been preserved. A passage about his son shows his paternal foresight: Quant à mon fils, il n'y a rien que je n'attende de lui.' A few hours after this was penned he mounted the scaffold. This judicial murder of the father well-nigh killed the son, then only just eighteen. A dormant state of the brain ensued, which probably saved his life. For fully a year he existed in a semi-idiotic condition, spending his time out of doors, listlessly scraping together little heaps of earth. The first thing that roused him effectually was that which not unseldom has been the recreation of the profoundest minds-namely, the study of botany. Rousseau's letters had fallen into his hands, and he threw himself into the pursuit with the ardour and exactness which in all things characterised him. Next came a fit of classic enthusiasm, inspired by the Latin poets. The language was soon mastered, and the heart-stricken lad wandered about the country, with his hands full of wild flowers, murmuring verses from Horace. The passion for the classics now kindled the poetic spark in himself. Between 1795 and 97 he threw out an exuberance of poetical creation-tragedies, songs, madrigals, an epic on Columbus; all showing, as might have been expected, more facility and fertility than sense of He also mastered Greek and modern languages, studied physiology, chemistry, philosophy--thus laying those foundations on which twenty years later he based a new classification of the whole cycle of sciences. At the same time, while teaching himself he earned his own and his mother's bread by teaching others.


We now approach the sweet May-time of his chequered life. His mother lived in the country, at Polémieux, near Lyons,


and at the end of his laborious week he would spend the Sunday with her. There, in the vicinity, he fell in with a family of the now better-known name of Carron; the youngest of whom was a daughter, Julie by name. This young girl, calm, modest, and beautiful, with simple good sense and not a spark of romance, was predestined to attract and to suit a young man of Ampère's stamp. She had already committed havoc in that way with certain Lyonese savants, but no one had yet prevailed with her to leave her family. The coast was therefore clear, and André-Marie entered the lists with his usual impetuosity and awkwardness. From this time he kept a journal-far too foolish and pretty to be literally quoted in these pages,-on the fly-leaf of which the word amorum,' superfluously plural, was inscribed. This tells how he first saw Julie; how she lent him a book; how he found her in the garden and tried to speak, but was sternly 'rem'bourré' (Anglicè, shut-up'). The chief incidents, indeed, are the frequent shuttings-up inflicted on a shy young lover, sighing like furnace, who never knows when to take leave, and sometimes has to be told twice. But in due time the reward of patience falls to his share. In short, it becomes necessary to consider the state of life in which André-Marie could hope to maintain a wife. Julie and her family had not the remotest conception of the order of mind with which they were dealing, their only idea of appropriately utilising a great mathematical genius being that he should engage in the business of an agent de change. It is true the lessons he gave, or was ready to give, in chemistry, mathematics, Latin, Italian, what not?-were not so remunerative as le commerce, while Julie's health, after the birth of her child, began to require more than those devices could supply. On this account Ampère accepted the Professorship of Physics at Bourg, twelve leagues from Lyons, even though it involved the separation of the tenderly attached young couple; for Julie's health forbade her accompanying him. This separation gave rise to a correspondence more sane than the journal, and equally as pretty. At once a reflex of tender hopes and fears, of petty economical details, and lofty intellectual aspirations, both husband and wife are seen in it as in a mirror. Ampère ever blundering, confessing, musing, divining-always working; Julie gently chiding, reminding, guiding, and managing. He using part of the linen she had carefully mended, for stoppers to his chemical instruments; unsewing the lining of his coat for unheard-of purposes; or destroying his blue stockings and new pantalons with what Julie calls ce maudit acide qui

'brûle tout.' She ever anxious that he should go tidily dressed, and not forget to eat his meals, or lock up his bureau. But through all these domestic trifles there rise from time to time the earnest and dignified accents of such profound thought as few minds have been capable of sustaining:

'Seven years ago, my Julie, a problem of my own invention occurred to me, which I was not able to solve in a direct manner. Accidentally I hit upon its solution, and was convinced of its accuracy, without being able to demonstrate it. This haunted my mind, and twenty times did I seek to see my way, but without success. For the last few days the idea has haunted me everywhere; and, at last, I know not how, I have found the solution, and with it a crowd of novel and curious suggestions, bearing on the theory of probabilities. As I believe that there are few mathematicians in France who could work the problem in less time, I cannot doubt that its publication in the form of a brochure of some twenty pages will be a good way of helping me to a chair of mathematics. This small work of pure algebra will be ready the day after to-morrow.'

And again:

'I made an important discovery yesterday regarding the theory of play. . . I am preparing to insert it in the same work, which it will not greatly increase. I am pretty sure it will give me a place in the Lycée, for, in the present state of things, there is no mathematician in France (I repeat it) capable of such a work. I tell you all this just as I think, but you must tell it to no one.'

Thus arose his work entitled 'Considérations sur la Théorie 'du Jeu-a subject attempted by Buffon and others, but never, it is acknowledged, so solved before. It cost him infinite anxiety lest the idea should have been in any way forestalled. But he was soon satisfied on that point. One of the official examiners, feeling for others as ignorant as himself, urged his bringing it within the reach of a larger number of readers, by putting his algebraic formula in the shape of figures. This the young author, who, with all his readiness to part with his ideas, did not want to see them ill treated, stoutly resisted. I will give a few examples, but I insist on printing my work as it is. Such examples as he proposes would give it the look of a schoolboy's performance.' It is true the little folio did not sell, and no one who has seen it can be surprised at that.

[ocr errors]

Meanwhile the French Republic, in other words Buonaparte, had offered a reward of 60,000 francs for a discovery in electricity and galvanism, comparable to those made by Volta and Franklin. Ampère longed to enter into competition, but, while labouring all day in and out of school, had no leisure to

« ElőzőTovább »