Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Charles Hermite

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 7
Charles Hermite

by Paul Henry Linehan

Born at Dieuze, Lorraine, 24 December, 1822; d. at Paris, 14 January, 1901; one of the greatest mathematicians of the nineteenth century. He studied at the Collège de Nancy and then, in Paris, at the Collège Henri IV and at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. As a boy he read some of the writings of Lagrange on the solution of numerical equations, and of Gauss on the theory of numbers. In 1842, his first original contribution to mathematics, in which he gave a simple proof of the proposition of Abel concerning the impossibility of obtaining an algebraic solution for the equation of the fifth degree, was published in the "Nouvelles Annales de Mathématiques". The same year he entered the Ecole Polytechnique, where he remained as a student but one year. A correspondence with Jacobi, begun in 1843 and continued in 1844, led to the insertion, in the complete edition of Jacobi's works, of two articles by Hermite, one concerning the extension to Abelian functions of one of the theorems of Abel on elliptic functions, and the other concerning the transformation of elliptic functions. In 1848, Hermite returned to the Ecole Polytechnique as répétiteur and examinateur d'admission. In 1856, through the influence of Cauchy and of a nun who nursed him, he resumed the practice of his religion. On 14 July, of that year, he was elected to fill the vacancy created by the death of Binet in the Académie des Sciences. In 1869, he succeeded Duhamel as professor of mathematics, both at the Ecole Polytechnique, where he remained until 1876, and in the Faculty of Sciences of Paris, which position he occupied until his death. From 1862 to 1873 he was lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Upon his seventieth birthday, on the occasion of his jubilee which was celebrated at the Sorbonne under the auspices of an international committee, he was promoted grand officer of the Legion of Honour.

As a teacher Hermite was inspiring. His correspondence with Stieltjes testifies to the great aid he gave those entering scientific life. His efforts in teaching were directed not towards too rigorous minuteness, but towards exciting admiration for things simple and beautiful. His published courses of lectures have exercised a wide influence. His important original contributions to pure mathematics, published in the leading mathematical journals of the world, dealt chiefly with Abelian and elliptic functions and the theory of numbers. In 1858 he solved the equation of the fifth degree by elliptic functions; and in 1873 he proved e, the base of the natural system of logarithms, to be transcendent. This last was used by Lindemann to prove (1882) the same for pi. The following is a list of his works. "Cours d'analyse de l'Ecole Polytechnique", Paris, 1873; "Cours professé à la Faculté des Sciences", edited by Andoyer, 4th ed., Paris, 1891; "Correspondance", edited by Baillaud and Bourget, Paris, 1905, 2 vols. The "Oeuvres de Charles Hermite" were edited by Picard for the Academy of Sciences, 2 vols., Paris, 1905 and 1908.

BOREL, Charles Hermite in Annuaire des Mathèmaticiens (Paris, 1902); CAPELLI, In commemorazione di Carlo Hermite in Acad. di sci. fis. e mat., Atti, VII (Naples, 1901); DARBOUX, Notice historique sur Charles Hermite in Memoires de l'Acad. des Sci., XLIX (Paris, 1901); KNELLER, Das Christentum und die Vertreter der neueren Naturwissenschaft in Stimmen aus Maria Laach, supplement, no. 84-5. (Freiburg im Br., 1903); MANSION, Charles Hermite, esquisse bioigraphique et bibliographique (Paris, 1901); OVIDIO, Carlo Hermite, commemorazione, R. accad. di sci., Atti, XXXVI (Turin, 1901); PICARD, L'oeuvre scientifique de Charles Hermite in Acta mathematica, XXV; VOIT, Charles Hermite, obituary in Kgl. Akad. d. Wissenschaft, Sitzungsb., math-phys. Classe (Munich, 1902).

Paul H. Linehan.