Joseph-Louis Lagrange was an Italian mathematician and astronomer, famous for his contributions to number theory and celestial mechanics. Lagrange was born in 1736, and by the age of twenty five he had made a name for himself as one of the greatest mathematicians of his day. King Frederick of Prussia invited Lagrange to join the Berlin Academy in 1766, expressing his wish to have the "greatest mathematician in Europe" reside at his court ("Lagrange, Joseph-Louis, comte de l'Empire"). After FrederickÕs death, Lagrange moved to Paris at the invitation of King Louis XVI, where he became a member of the National Institute. Revolution soon broke out and Louis XVI was executed but Lagrange stayed in France. The French revolutionary governments protected him and Napoleon later honored Lagrange by naming him a senator and a count.

As Lagrange passed from country to country, from regime to regime, he was constantly honored and admired for his brilliance. Carlyle does not deny LagrangeÕs accomplishments but suggests that they do not rival those of the ancient Greek philosophers. Carlyle makes a distinction between technical prowess and philosophical innovation. His claim that Archimedes and Plato could not have read M´canique C´leste, one of LagrangeÕs major works, affirms LagrangeÕs technical ability. However, his claim that the entire French Institute, of which Lagrange was a member, would not understand PlatoÕs famous assertion, "God ," demonstrates the inferiority of mathematics in his time, which he sees as, "little else than a more cunningly-constructed arithmetical mill"

References

"Lagrange, Joseph-Louis, comte de l'Empire." Encyclop¾dia Britannica. 2009. March 15, 2009.

"Joseph-Louis Lagrange." Wikipedia. 2009. March 15, 2009.

Burzio, Filippo. Lagrange. Torino: Unione Tipografico, 1942.


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Thomas Carlyle's Works Discussion Questions

Last modified 15 March 2009