Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 75.djvu/271

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267
POINCARÉ AND THE FRENCH ACADEMY

HENRI POINCARÉ AND THE FRENCH ACADEMY[1]
By M. FRÉDÉRIC MASSON

PARIS ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

THE Académie Française is primarily a literary organization, and its special work is the preparation of a dictionary. But even in this enterprise it is desirable, as M. Masson points out in the document of which I propose to translate a part, to have expert assistance at hand in the matter of the meaning and use of scientific terms. It is probably for this reason that Henri Poincaré, already a member of thirty-five academies, was this year called to membership in the most celebrated of all academies. The great mathematician entered the august body with a eulogy of his predecessor, the poet Sully-Prudhomme—which task was not as strange to him as might seem at first glance, since Sully-Prudhomme was educated for a scientist and all of his work shows a scientific turn—and was received, with the customary biographical welcome, by the historian Frédéric Masson. A study by a layman and for the ears of laymen, M. Masson's address is a thoroughly popular effort; but it has a great deal that is pleasing, and not a little that is suggestive. I quote, with considerable abbreviation, from the part which deals most directly with the new academician's life and work.

You were born, a little more than half a century ago, in that dear and glorious Lorraine which has furnished this body so many men remarkable in lines of activity so diverse; so soon after we have been cruelly touched by the death of Theuriet, of Gebhart and of Cardinal Mathieu, you appear, attesting, by the exercise of a totally different genius, the inexhaustible fecundity of your native province. You come of an old race long established at Neufchâteau, and located at Nancy for a century. Of your name—Pontcaré (square bridge), rather than Poincaré (square point), for, as you have said, one might conceive a square bridge, but scarcely a square point—there have been magistrates, savants, lawyers, soldiers like the Commandant Poincaré, your great-uncle, whose tenderness for his wife and whose sad adventures M. Chuquet has narrated—like that other Poincaré, also an officer, who died for the republic in the year IX., whose son the first consul himself recommended to the ministry of war for a place in their offices, since, a corporal in the Seventh Hussars, "he had lost a leg and a thigh in one of the last battles which adorned the last campaign on the Rhine."

  1. Translated, with an introduction, by Professor Roy Temple House.