Joseph-Louis Lagrange Biography

Joseph Lagrange was an accomplished mathematician and astronomer who flourished and climbed the ladder of success by his own means. Read on to know more on his childhood, life and timeline.

Joseph-Louis Lagrange

Quick Facts

Gender: Male
Birthday: 25 January 1736
Died: 10 April 1813
Nationality: French
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Spouse/Ex-: Vittoria Conti
Education: University of Turin
Awards: Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, Fellow of the Royal Society, Grand Cross of the Order of the Reunion, Royal Society

Joseph Louis Lagrange, originally considered to be a French Mathematician, was actually of an Italian descent. He was largely self-taught and pushed himself to reach the top of the ladder during the early 18th century. One of the most proficient Mathematicians at the time, Lagrange was responsible in developing many theories related to mechanics and also studied the number system. He studied a wide variety of topics and was also a published astronomer who studied the solar system at great depths. His consistent works in the field of radicals, permutations, and fluid mechanics made him a pioneer of his time. He was awarded and recognized by Napoleon for his efforts and was awarded the Legion of Honor. Apart from publishing massive volumes on the subject of Calculus, Lagrange was also made the first professor of the Ecole Polytechnique post the French Revolutionary period. Lagrange was also given the honor of becoming a member of the Academy of Sciences. With his wide range of admirers and an unbeatable passion for his work, Joseph Louis Lagrange went on to become one of the first and definitely, one of the most influential faces in the history of Mathematics and Science.

Childhood And Early Life

Joseph Louis Lagrange, born as Giuseppe Lodovico Lagrangia, was born to Italian parents, who were of French descent on 25th January 1736. Lagrange’s father was the head of the Sardinian military chest and was at an influential position. Born into a wealthy family, Lagrange never cultivated an interest or taste for the subject of Mathematics. He in fact, had no plans of building his career in this field. Most of Lagrange’s childhood was spent with a lot of disdain and struggles. Although the family was in a wealthy spot, Lagrange’s father gambled many assets and properties away leaving the young boy to fend for himself if he wanted to achieve something in his life.
Joseph Lagrange realized that it was ‘every man for himself’ and climbed his way up the success ladder after a lot of hard work and endurance. Lagrange was raised as a Catholic but he soon turned Agnostic when he had joined college. He studied at various local schools and threw himself at Mathematics at the age of 17 when he fortuitously came across a paper on the subject written by Edmund Halley. This inspired him to study the subject and as a lone being, he decided to accept the challenge and came through as a successful Mathematician at the end of all his struggles and endeavors.

Career

This directly earned Joseph Louis Lagrange his first job as a professor of Mathematics in the artillery school. After serving a brief stint with the institution, he decided to work on a specific division of mathematics that interested him the most; Calculus. He developed theories in the year 1754 and also engaging himself in the subject of classical mechanics. It was during this period; he discovered the functions of tautochrone and also generalized the concepts of Euler’s analysis, after developing the Euler-Lagrange equations. He rose to prominence with his discoveries and even became popular with his students. Along with the help of his pupils in the year 1758, he established a guild called the Turin Academy of Sciences, where he wrote elaborate papers and dissertations called the ‘Miscellanea Taurinensia’ and even discussed at great lengths, the calculus of probabilities. In this paper, Lagrange has pointed out a few errors made by Newton and also discussed theories on the recurring series, dynamics, integral calculus and probabilities. In the year 1764, he deliberated over the ‘three body problem’ and studied other celestial bodies such as Jupiter in the year 1766. His passion to understand the dynamics of the solar system got him to discover various solutions that came to be known as the ‘Lagrangian points’. He defied traditional science and contributed heavily to even ‘Newtonian Mechanics’ which was later known as ‘Lagrangian Mechanics’.
Following his papers and discussions, Frederick of Prussia, who was the King at the time, persuaded Lagrange to reside at his court ‘as the greatest mathematician in Europe’. After much persuasion, Lagrange agreed and moved to Prussia, where he lived for the following two decades. It was here he produced his epic work, the ‘Mecanique Analytique’. Lagrange became extremely popular with the Prussian King, and he enjoyed the space given to him, in terms of a regular life, where he could sit, and effortlessly write his papers without any hindrance or discomfort. He was pleased with his tenure at the court, but it was soon followed by a tragedy, with the death of the King of Prussia in the year 1786.
After the death of Frederick, King Louis XVI coaxed Lagrange to move to Paris, which he did gladly, even after he was asked by a few other royals from Naples and Spain. He was comfortable with the idea of going back to France, and hence he swiftly moved to Paris and was soon accorded a prestigious place at the “French Academy of Sciences”. He lived a solitary life in Paris, and brooded over the French Revolution that took place. Boredom overtook his life to such an extent that he did not even dare open his fabled ‘Mecanique Analytique’ treatise, which lay on his work desk untouched.
Life started to get back on track in the year 1794, when Lagrange was appointed as a professor at the ‘Ecole Polytechnique’, where he was admired and venerated by his pupils who believed that it was honor to be studying under a genius like him. Towards the end of 1795, Lagrange and a few others went on to establish the ‘Bureau des Longitudes’ that was founded for the purpose astronomical observation and standard time keeping. Although Lagrange was determined to escape from France during the revolution, in the following year he was going to be awarded and commemorated for his contribution to the Mathematical world by benefactors such as Napoleon. He was also given the honor of the ‘Mathematical chair’ at the new institution called ‘Ecole Normale’. After much deliberation and research, Lagrange’s theory on the decimal subdivision was finally accepted by the French commission in the year 1799.

Later Years

Prior to his death in the year 1810, he began to correct and revise the “Mecanique Analytique” but he wasn’t able to complete it as he died in the process. Towards the end of his life, he submitted over two hundred dissertations to the Academy of Turin, and had made significant progress in the fluids of motion and their astronomical processes. Towards the end of the 1790’s he made noteworthy discoveries in the field of continued fractions, interpolation, and another treatise called the ‘Lecons sur le calcul des fonctions’ which studied the various aspects of mechanics, calculus and the applications to Geometry. Just before his death, Lagrange was made the Legion officer by Napoleon, and was also awarded the “Grand Croix” of the ‘Ordre Imperial de la Reunion’ in the year 1813.

Personal Life

Joseph Louis Lagrange married twice in his lifetime, though both his marriages were short lived. He married his first wife, who was also his first cousin in the year 1767. Her name was Vittoria Conti and their marriage was a bitter one. Lagrange felt no warmth or attachment to his wife and as a result did not wish to have children with her. After the death of his first wife, he married the second time round in the year 1792, to a woman called Renee-Francoise-Adelaide Le Monnier, who was infact the daughter of one of his colleagues. His second wife was touched by his recluse like personality and empathized with him during a bitter time for Lagrange. She ultimately persuaded Lagrange to marry her and their marriage culminated as a pleasant one. Although Lagrange was a Mathematical and Astronomical prodigy, not much is known of his personal life.

Death And Legacy

Joseph Louis Lagrange died on April 10th 1813 in Paris just a week after he was awarded the ‘Grande Croix’. He left behind a profound legacy and his work became especially active in the years following his death. His contributions to the subjects of Mathematics and Astronomy were utilized and studied by various other Mathematicians and Astronomers and his popular students such as Giovanni Plana, Simeon Poisson and Joseph Fourier carried his epic works into the next generation. He left a mark so deep, that his name was finally adorned on the ’72 names inscribed on the Eiffel Tower’.

Timeline

1736: Joseph Louis Lagrange was born in Turin Piedmont.
1753: Lagrange came across Edmund Halley paper that inspired him to study Mathematics.
1754: Professor of Mathematics Artillery School.
1758: Established the Turin Academy of sciences and wrote ‘Miscellanea Taurinensia’
1764: Identified and studied the ‘3 body problem’ and fluid mechanics.
1766: came up with Lagrangian mechanics.
1767: Married Vittoria Conti, his first cousin.
1789: Death of the King of Prussia; Frederick.
1792: Married Renee-Francoise-Adelaide Le Monnier, who was his colleague’s daughter.
1794: Lagrange was accorded the position of Professor of Ecole Polytechnique.
1795: He established ‘Bureau des longitudes’.
1799: Lagrange studied and came up with the theory on decimal subdivision.
1810: He revised the famous ‘Mecanique Analytique’.
1813: He was awarded the Grand Croix a week before his death in the month of April.

Citation Information

Article Title

Joseph-Louis Lagrange Biography

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Last Updated

June 18, 2019

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