I Have Not Time
October 25, 2012By Patti Harrell of Vardaman High School
“I have not time. I have not time,” he scribbled frantically in the margins. Years of studying and formulating mathematical concepts, years of developing a method to solve higher order equations – all would be forfeited if he failed to complete this letter before the dawn. As death’s dark cloud hung over him, the twenty-year-old mathematician scribbled notes that would keep mathematicians busy for years to come.
The life of Evariste Galois reads like fiction. Born October 25, 1811 in France to well-educated parents, Galois spent the first twelve years of his life being educated by his mother. He then attended the College of Louis-le-Grand (a preparatory school in Paris) where he received awards in Latin verse. After two years of success, Galois was asked to repeat his third year due to poor work in rhetoric. It was at this point that Galois enrolled in his first mathematics course.
During his mathematics course, Galois discovered the writings of such greats as Abel, Legendre and Lagrange. He soon became so absorbed and engrossed in his independent studies of mathematics that he neglected all other work. Even his family and friends began to consider him to be strange.
At the age of sixteen, Galois applied to the École Polytechnique (a school that had nurtured many celebrated mathematicians). He failed the entrance examination, which left him bitter but determined. Galois enrolled in another mathematics course and wrote a paper on the solubility of equations of prime degree which he submitted to École Polytechnique, earning the interest of the famous mathematician Cauchy. Days before he was scheduled to take the entrance exam, his father committed suicide. Needless to say, Galois failed the exam a second time.
Accepting defeat, Galois enrolled in a teacher academy. However, he was expelled as a result of a highly critical letter he wrote to the director. In frustration and disillusionment, he joined France’s National Guard. Midway through his nineteenth year of life, Galois attended a Republican dinner party where he learned of the king’s intention to disband the guard. Angered, Galois stood and raised both a dagger and a glass and offered a sarcastic toast to the king, “To Louis-Philippe if he betrays!”
The next morning, Galois was arrested for threatening the life of the king. Questioning the legitimacy of the threat, the jury acquitted Galois. However, it wasn’t long before he was sentenced to six months in jail for wearing the uniform of the outlawed guard. While imprisoned, Galois continued to be outspoken about the unethical practices of the new regime, opinions earning the contempt of the prison guards. After only a couple of months, many political prisoners were released due to an outbreak of cholera; Galois was among them.
Galois had little time to enjoy his freedom. During the night hours of May 29, 1832, Evariste Galois penned his final letters. Knowing his death was imminent, he wrote to friends and colleagues. He penned his final thoughts on the theory of equations and on integral fractions. Then, with the dawn, the twenty-year-old genius ventured to the field where his life would end. Evariste Galois died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen. His short life ended in a duel over a woman and at the hand of a friend.