JOSEPH LOUIS LAGRANGE. Senator. Count of the Empire. Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour. Grand Cross of the Imperial Order of the Reunion. Member of the Institute and the Bureau of Longitude. Born in Turin on 25 January 1736. Died in Paris on 10 April 1813.
Lagrange is one of the founders of the calculus of variations. Starting in 1754, he worked on the Problem of tautochrone, discovering a method of maximising and minimising functionals in a way similar to finding extrema of functions. Lagrange wrote several letters to Leonhard Euler between 1754 and 1756 describing his results. He outlined his "δ-algorithm", leading to the Euler–Lagrange equations of variational calculus and considerably simplifying Euler's earlier analysis. Lagrange also applied his ideas to problems of classical mechanics, generalising the results of Euler and Maupertuis.
Euler proposed Lagrange for election to the Berlin Academy and he was elected on 2 September 1756. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1790, a Fellow of the Royal Society and a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1806. In 1808, Napoleon made Lagrange a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour and a Count of the Empire. He was awarded the Grand Croix of the Ordre Impérial de la Réunion in 1813, a week before his death in Paris.
A somewhat similar method had been previously used by John Landen in the Residual Analysis, published in London in 1758. Lagrange believed that he could thus get rid of those difficulties, connected with the use of infinitely large and infinitely small quantities, to which Philosophers objected in the usual treatment of the differential calculus. The book is divided into three parts: of these, the first treats of the general theory of functions, and gives an algebraic proof of Taylor's theorem, the validity of which is, however, open to question; the second deals with applications to geometry; and the third with applications to mechanics.
Euler was very impressed with Lagrange's results. It has been stated that "with characteristic courtesy he withheld a paper he had previously written, which covered some of the same ground, in order that the young Italian might have time to complete his work, and claim the undisputed invention of the new calculus"; however, this chivalric view has been disputed. Lagrange published his method in two memoirs of the Turin Society in 1762 and 1773.
Lagrange was awarded the 1764 prize of the French Academy of Sciences for his memoir on the libration of the Moon. In 1766 the Academy proposed a Problem of the motion of the satellites of Jupiter, and the prize again was awarded to Lagrange. He also shared or won the prizes of 1772, 1774, and 1778.
Most of the papers sent to Paris were on astronomical questions, and among these one ought to particularly mention his paper on the Jovian system in 1766, his essay on the Problem of three bodies in 1772, his work on the secular equation of the Moon in 1773, and his treatise on cometary perturbations in 1778. These were all written on subjects proposed by the Académie française, and in each case the prize was awarded to him.
During the years from 1772 to 1785, he contributed a long series of papers which created the science of partial differential equations. A large part of these results were collected in the second edition of Euler's integral calculus which was published in 1794.
Nonetheless, during his years in Berlin, Lagrange's health was rather poor on many occasions, and that of his wife Vittoria was even worse. She died in 1783 after years of illness and Lagrange was very depressed. In 1786, Frederick II died, and the climate of Berlin became rather trying for Lagrange.
In 1786, following Frederick's death, Lagrange received similar invitations from states including Spain and Naples, and he accepted the offer of Louis XVI to move to Paris. In France he was received with every mark of distinction and special apartments in the Louvre were prepared for his reception, and he became a member of the French Academy of Sciences, which later became part of the Institut de France (1795). At the beginning of his residence in Paris he was seized with an attack of melancholy, and even the printed copy of his Mécanique on which he had worked for a quarter of a century lay for more than two years unopened on his desk. Curiosity as to the results of the French revolution first stirred him out of his lethargy, a curiosity which soon turned to alarm as the revolution developed.
In 1787, at age 51, he moved from Berlin to Paris and became a member of the French Academy of Sciences. He remained in France until the end of his life. He was significantly involved in the decimalisation in Revolutionary France, became the first professor of analysis at the École Polytechnique upon its opening in 1794, was a founding member of the Bureau des Longitudes, and became Senator in 1799.
Lagrange was considerably involved in the process of making new standard units of measurement in the 1790s. He was offered the presidency of the Commission for the reform of weights and measures (la Commission des Poids et Mesures) when he was preparing to escape. And after Lavoisier's death in 1794, it was largely owing to Lagrange's influence that the final choice of the unit system of metre and kilogram was settled and the decimal subdivision was finally accepted by the commission of 1799. Lagrange was also one of the founding members of the Bureau des Longitudes in 1795.
There are also numerous articles on various points of analytical geometry. In two of them, written rather later, in 1792 and 1793, he reduced the equations of the quadrics (or conicoids) to their canonical forms.
In 1794, Lagrange was appointed professor of the École Polytechnique; and his lectures there, described by mathematicians who had the good fortune to be able to attend them, were almost perfect both in form and matter. Beginning with the merest elements, he led his hearers on until, almost unknown to themselves, they were themselves extending the bounds of the subject: above all he impressed on his pupils the advantage of always using general methods expressed in a symmetrical notation.
But Lagrange does not seem to have been a successful Teacher. Fourier, who attended his lectures in 1795, wrote:
Though Lagrange had been preparing to escape from France while there was yet time, he was never in any danger; different revolutionary governments (and at a later time, Napoleon) loaded him with honours and distinctions. This luckiness or safety may to some extent be due to his life attitude he expressed many years before: "I believe that, in general, one of the first principles of every wise man is to conform strictly to the laws of the country in which he is living, even when they are unreasonable". A striking testimony to the respect in which he was held was shown in 1796 when the French commissary in Italy was ordered to attend in full state on Lagrange's Father, and tender the congratulations of the republic on the achievements of his son, who "had done honor to all mankind by his genius, and whom it was the special glory of Piedmont to have produced." It may be added that Napoleon, when he attained power, warmly encouraged scientific studies in France, and was a liberal benefactor of them. Appointed senator in 1799, he was the first signer of the Sénatus-consulte which in 1802 annexed his fatherland Piedmont to France. He acquired French citizenship in consequence. The French claimed he was a French Mathematician, but the Italians continued to claim him as Italian.
Lagrange's lectures on the differential calculus at École Polytechnique form the basis of his treatise Théorie des fonctions analytiques, which was published in 1797. This work is the extension of an idea contained in a paper he had sent to the Berlin papers in 1772, and its object is to substitute for the differential calculus a group of theorems based on the development of algebraic functions in series, relying in particular on the principle of the generality of algebra.
His Résolution des équations numériques, published in 1798, was also the fruit of his lectures at École Polytechnique. There he gives the method of approximating to the real roots of an equation by means of continued fractions, and enunciates several other theorems. In a note at the end he shows how Fermat's little theorem, that is
Another treatise on the same lines was his Leçons sur le calcul des fonctions, issued in 1804, with the second edition in 1806. It is in this book that Lagrange formulated his celebrated method of Lagrange multipliers, in the context of problems of variational calculus with integral constraints. These works devoted to differential calculus and calculus of variations may be considered as the starting point for the researches of Cauchy, Jacobi, and Weierstrass.
The theory of the planetary motions had formed the subject of some of the most remarkable of Lagrange's Berlin papers. In 1806 the subject was reopened by Poisson, who, in a paper read before the French Academy, showed that Lagrange's formulae led to certain limits for the stability of the orbits. Lagrange, who was present, now discussed the whole subject afresh, and in a letter communicated to the Academy in 1808 explained how, by the variation of arbitrary constants, the periodical and secular inequalities of any system of mutually interacting bodies could be determined.
In 1810, Lagrange commenced a thorough revision of the Mécanique analytique, but he was able to complete only about two-thirds of it before his death at Paris in 1813, in 128 Rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. Napoleon honoured him with the Grand Croix of the Ordre Impérial de la Réunion just two days before he died. He was buried that same year in the Panthéon in Paris. The inscription on his tomb reads in translation:
At a later period Lagrange fully embraced the use of infinitesimals in preference to founding the differential calculus on the study of algebraic forms; and in the preface to the second edition of the Mécanique Analytique, which was issued in 1811, he justifies the employment of infinitesimals, and concludes by saying that:
Lagrange is one of the 72 prominent French Scientists who were commemorated on plaques at the first stage of the Eiffel Tower when it first opened. Rue Lagrange in the 5th Arrondissement in Paris is named after him. In Turin, the street where the house of his birth still stands is named via Lagrange. The lunar crater Lagrange also bears his name.
It was not until he was seventeen that he showed any taste for mathematics – his interest in the subject being first excited by a paper by Edmond Halley which he came across by accident. Alone and unaided he threw himself into mathematical studies; at the end of a year's incessant toil he was already an accomplished Mathematician. Charles Emmanuel III appointed Lagrange to serve as the "Sostituto del Maestro di Matematica" (mathematics assistant professor) at the Royal Military Academy of the Theory and Practice of Artillery in 1755, where he taught courses in calculus and mechanics to support the Piedmontese army's early adoption of the ballistics theories of Benjamin Robins and Leonhard Euler. In that capacity, Lagrange was the first to teach calculus in an engineering school. According to Alessandro Papacino D'Antoni, the academy's military commander and famous artillery theorist, Lagrange unfortunately proved to be a problematic professor with his oblivious teaching style, abstract reasoning, and impatience with artillery and fortification-engineering applications. In this Academy one of his students was François Daviet de Foncenex.
where T represents the kinetic Energy and V represents the potential Energy of the system. He then presented what we now know as the method of Lagrange multipliers—though this is not the first time that method was published—as a means to solve this equation. Amongst other minor theorems here given it may suffice to mention the proposition that the kinetic Energy imparted by the given impulses to a material system under given constraints is a maximum, and the principle of least action. All the analysis is so elegant that Sir william Rowan Hamilton said the work could be described only as a scientific poem. Lagrange remarked that mechanics was really a branch of pure mathematics analogous to a geometry of four dimensions, namely, the time and the three coordinates of the point in space; and it is said that he prided himself that from the beginning to the end of the work there was not a single diagram. At first no printer could be found who would publish the book; but Legendre at last persuaded a Paris firm to undertake it, and it was issued under the supervision of Laplace, Cousin, Legendre (editor) and Condorcet in 1788.