Augustin-Louis Cauchy


Augustin-Louis Cauchy : biography

df=y September 8 – 23 May 1857

In September 1812, now 23 years old, after becoming ill from overwork, Cauchy returned to Paris. Another reason for his return to the capital was that he was losing his interest in his engineering job, being more and more attracted to abstract beauty of mathematics; in Paris, he would have a much better chance to find a mathematics related position. Although he formally kept his engineering position, he was transferred from the payroll of the Ministry of the Marine to the Ministry of the Interior. The next three years Augustin-Louis was mainly on unpaid sick leave, and spent his time quite fruitfully, working on mathematics (on the related topics of symmetric functions, the symmetric group and the theory of higher-order algebraic equations). He attempted admission to the First Class of the Institut de France but failed on three different occasions between 1813 and 1815. In 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, and the newly installed Bourbon king Louis XVIII took the restoration in hand. The Académie des Sciences was re-established in March 1816; Lazare Carnot and Gaspard Monge were removed from this Academy for political reasons, and the king appointed Cauchy to take the place of one of them. The reaction by Cauchy’s peers was harsh; they considered his acceptance of membership of the Academy an outrage, and Cauchy thereby created many enemies in scientific circles.

Professor at École Polytechnique

In November 1815, Louis Poinsot, who was an associate professor at the École Polytechnique, asked to be exempted from his teaching duties for health reasons. Cauchy was by then a rising mathematical star, who certainly merited a professorship. One of his great successes at that time was the proof of Fermat’s polygonal number theorem. However, the fact that Cauchy was known to be very loyal to the Bourbons, doubtless also helped him in becoming the successor of Poinsot. He finally quit his engineering job, and received a one-year contract for teaching mathematics to second-year students of the École Polytechnique. In 1816, this Bonapartist, non-religious school was reorganized, and several liberal professors were fired; the reactionary Cauchy was promoted to full professor.

When Cauchy was 28 years old, he was still living with his parents. His father found it high time for his son to marry; he found him a suitable bride, Aloïse de Bure, five years his junior. The de Bure family were printers and booksellers, and published most of Cauchy’s works.Bradley & Sandifer page 9 Aloïse and Augustin were married on April 4, 1818, with great Roman Catholic pomp and ceremony, in the Church of Saint-Sulpice. In 1819 the couple’s first daughter, Marie Françoise Alicia, was born, and in 1823 the second and last daughter, Marie Mathilde.

 Cauchy had two brothers: Alexandre Laurent Cauchy, who became a president of a division of the court of appeal in 1847, and a judge of the court of cassation in 1849; and Eugène François Cauchy, a publicist who also wrote several mathematical works. 

The conservative political climate that lasted until 1830 suited Cauchy perfectly. In 1824 Louis XVIII died, and was succeeded by his even more reactionary brother Charles X. During these years Cauchy was highly productive, and published one important mathematical treatise after another. He received cross appointments at the Collège de France, and the Faculté des Sciences of the University.

In exile

In July 1830 France underwent another revolution. Charles X fled the country, and was succeeded by the non-Bourbon king Louis-Philippe (of the House of Orléans). Riots, in which uniformed students of the École Polytechnique took an active part, raged close to Cauchy’s home in Paris.

These events marked a turning point in Cauchy’s life, and a break in his mathematical productivity. Cauchy, shaken by the fall of the government, and moved by a deep hatred of the liberals who were taking power, left Paris to go abroad, leaving his family behind. He spent a short time at Fribourg in Switzerland, where he had to decide whether he would swear a required oath of allegiance to the new regime. He refused to do this, and consequently lost all his positions in Paris, except his membership of the Academy, for which an oath was not required. In 1831 Cauchy went to the Italian city of Turin, and after some time there, he accepted an offer from the King of Sardinia (who ruled Turin and the surrounding Piedmont region) for a chair of theoretical physics, which was created especially for him. He taught in Turin during 1832-1833. In 1831, he had been elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.