Montucla, John Stephen

, a celebrated mathematician, was born at Lyons in the year 1725, and giving early indications of a love of learning, was placed under the instructions of the Jesuits, with whom he acquired an intimate acquaintance with the ancient and modern languages, and some knowledge of the mathematics. At the age of sixteen he went to Toulouse to study the law, and was admitted an advocate, though without much intention of practising at the bar. Having completed his studies, he went to Paris, cultivated an acquaintance with the most distinguished literary characters, and it was owing to his | intercourse with them, that he was induced to undertake his “History of the Mathematical Sciences.” But in the interim he published new editions, with additions and improvements, of several mathematical treatises which were already held in the highest estimation. The first of these was “Mathematical Recreations,” by M. Ozanam, which has been since translated into English, and published in London, in 4 vols. 8vo. To all the works which he edited, after Ozanam’s, he gave the initials of his name. He also contributed his assistance for some years to “The French Gazette;” and in 1755 he was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Berlin. In the following year, when the experiment of inoculation was about to be tried on the first prince of the blood, Montucla translated from the English an account of all the recent cases of that practice, which had been sent from Constantinople, by lady Mary Wortley Montague. This translation he added to the memoir of De la Condamine on the subject. Previously to this publication, he had given to the world his “History of Inquiries relative to the Quadrature of the Circle.” The encouragement which this met with from very able judges of its merit, afforded him great encouragement to apply with ardour to his grand design, “The History of the Mathematics;” and in 1758 he published this “History,” in two volumes, 4to, which terminates with the close of the 17th century. It answered the expectations of all his friends, and of men of science in all countries, and the author was instantly elevated to a high rank in the learned world. His fame was widely diffused, and he was pressed from all quarters to proceed with the mathematical history of the 18th century, which he had announced for the subject of a third volume, and for which he had made considerable preparations; but he was diverted from his design, by receiving the appointment of secretary to the Intendance at Grenoble. Here he spent his leisure hours chiefly in retirement, and in scientific pursuits. In 1764, Turgot, being appointed to establish a colony at Cayenne, took Montucla with him as his “secretary,” to which was added the title of “astronomer to the king,” and although he returned without attaining any particular object with regard to the astronomical observations, for which he went out, he had an opportunity of collecting some valuable tropical plants, with which he enriched the king’s hothouses at Versailles. Soon after his return, he was | appointed chief clerk in an official department, similar to that known in this country by the name of the “Board of Works,” which he retained till the place was abolished in 1792, when he was reduced to considerable pecuniary embarrassments. Under the pressure of these circumstances, he began to prepare a new and much enlarged edition of his “History,” which he presented to the world in 1799, in two volumes, quarto. In this edition are many important improvements; and many facts, which were barely announced in the former impression, are largely detailed and illustrated in this. After the publication of these two volumes, the author proceeded with the printing of the third; but death terminated his labours, when he had arrived at the 336th page. The remainder of the volume, and the whole of the fourth, were printed under the inspection of Lalande. Montucla had been a member of the National Institute from its original establishment. He had obtained various employments under the revolutionary government, though he was but meanly paid for his labour, and had to struggle with many difficulties to furnish his family with the bare necessaries of life. At length he was reduced to seek the scanty means of support by keeping a lottery-office, till the death of Saussure put him in the possession of a pension of about one hundred pounds per annum, which he enjoyed only four months. He died in December 1799, in the 75th year of his age. He was a man of great modesty, and distinguished by acts of generosity and liberality, when it was in his power. He was also friendly, cheerful, and of very amiable manners. 1

1 of the Mathematics, vol. IV. —Rees’s Cyclopædia.