The Evariste Galois Archive

'Tout voir, tout entendre,  ne perdre aucune idée', Evariste 

    Galois, 29/Oct/1831

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Evariste Galois Biography

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School Days

In 1823, at the age of twelve, Galois entered the lycée of Louis-le-Grand in Paris, which was his first school. Bell says in his biography "Genius and Stupidity", that the place was a dismal horror. "Barred and grilled, and dominated by a provisor who was more of a political gaoler than a teacher, the place looked like a prison, and it was." Bell - though not totally wrong - was exaggerating or even misinterpreting what he found in earlier biographies. The turbulent political events of the time - i.e. the unbalanced power triangle between church, royalists and republicans - left their marks on the school as well. A rapid change of headmasters and there was a rebellion during his first school year and 40 pupils were expelled from the school. Galois being a freshman was not yet involved in any politcal activity. According to his school report, Evariste did very well in the first school year and he received several prizes too. There are a lot of obscurities to be found concerning the sequence of his school years. The main reason to my mind results from the fact that the enumeration of classes used by French lyceums was confusing: The first school year was called the "sixth class" and the last year at school was the first class. Evariste had been admitted to the "fourth" class at the Louis-le-Grand as a boarder, i.e. he was remitted the first two years. His successful start at school and the first two years show, that his mothers preparation was well founded, but during the 1825-26 school years his attitude to school changed. During the winter he was troubled by serious earache, which was caused by the bad conditions in the college buildings. Bell romanticized this year by writing, that during this time his mathematical genius was already stirring. At the end of the school year his father received a letter by the headmaster, advising him to let his son repeat the class, because he didn't seem mature for the last class (called rethorique) Due to his father's strong resistance he was put up but a few months later, in January he had to go back to the second class. In February 1827 Galois enrolled in his first mathematics class, a course by M. Vernier. It was during this course that Galois worked with Legendre's text on geometry and he was maybe for the first time acquainted with the theory of equations by Lagrange's works. His attitude towards the other subjects didn't change. His teachers complained that he didn't participate in lesssons and hardly did any homework. But in the second school report of this class they wrote: "Whats's dominating him is the fury of mathematics; also, I think that it would be better for him if his parents would agree to let him study solely mathematics. He is wasting his time here and he does nothing but torment his teachers and by doing so heaps punishments on himself." His attitude doesn't change when he is finally admitted to the "first" class. Some teachers mentioned as Dupuy writes in his biography: "His fast apprehension is a legend by now, in which soon nobody will believe; there is a trace of particularness and of carelessness in his homework, if he does it at all; he is constantly busy with things, which he does not have to do, but is affecting him."

Written by Bernard Bychan; Last Modified: September 15, 2017

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