Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 128.djvu/781

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THE TWO AMPERES.

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THE TWO AMPERES.[1]

A saying is current among Roman Catholics that there is no purgatory for France; the French being either too good for the need, or too bad for the efficacy, of the purifying fires. Plenty of contrasting examples in point will immediately start up from history to confirm this proverb, and, if we judge our neighbours correctly, the readiness with which they will endorse it may be taken as a further proof of its truth. But, in sober earnest, there is nothing more difficult than for one nation fairly to judge of another. What lies on the surface will ever be only superficially judged; the deeper strata are seldom laid bare to investigation or comprehension. As a rule it may be admitted that the distinguishing merits of the French and English races—like the distinguishing beauties of the sister arts—lie in their very differences; and hence are the less amenable to mutual sympathy and intelligence. We puzzle our French brethren in one way; they us in another. We chill them by the undemonstrativeness of our social habits; they, in some measure, shock us by the laxity of theirs. Our home strictness is, or has been, our national pride; their warmth of friendship their national charm. Accordingly, by a natural inversion, all true pictures of French inner life, by the strength and fidelity of the friendships they record, are singularly calculated to touch and even reprove us. And in no instance have these feelings been more winningly and pathetically exhibited, and at so small an expense of our more rigid notions, than in the biographies of the distinguished father and son now before us.

André-Marie Ampère and Jean-Jacques, his son—both of them still fresh in the memory of many yet living—were men who may be said to have divided between them a large area of nature's richest gifts. The highest qualities—those of the heart—they held in common; in intellectual endowment each more than supplied what the other lacked; along most paths of mental supremacy they walked proudly and lovingly hand in hand; in those where they parted company each had the culture and sympathy to appreciate the aim of the other. In temperament they were much alike—sensitive, ardent, and devoted; with the tenderness of women, the guilelessness of children, the naiveté of genius. From earliest years both had the same insatiable cravings for light and truth; the father, the great physiologist and mathematician, elaborating the most subtle laws of nature and the abstrusest problems in mathematics; the son, with the poetic faculty highly developed, dealing with the problems of ancient languages, history, and literature, and, in works of imagination, with the phenomena of the human heart. Each was equally irresistible and inexhaustible in charm of conversation; each equally generous, impulsive, and blundering in matters of business; and each loved the other, if not with the deeper warmth, yet with far greater effusion than our repressive habits between fathers and sons ever exhibit. These volumes under every view are a well of the deepest interest. The first of the three, which appeared in 1872, consisting like the rest in letters and journals, gave the earlier years of the father's history; comprising his gifted and darkened boyhood, the idyllic period of his love and marriage, and that bereavement which at twenty-nine years of age left him writhing under the stroke of widowhood. This earlier volume may not be sufficiently fresh in the memory of the reader for us to dispense with a slight outline of its contents.

Andée-Marie Ampère, the only son of respectable citizen parents, was born at Lyons in 1775. The south of France, and notably the city of Lyons, has sent forth a large percentage of the most eminent Frenchmen of later times, and the young boy, by his thirst for knowledge, soon gave evidence of his birthright in this respect. Mathematics and geometry took the lead in the keen and almost uni-

  1. 1. Journal et Correspondence de André-Marie Ampère. Publiés par Mme. H. C. Paris: 1872.
    2. André-Marie Ampère et Jean-Jacques Ampère. Correspondance et Souvenirs (de 1805 à 1864). Recueiilis par Mme. H. C Paris: 1875.
    3. Madame Récamier; with a Sketch of the History of Society in France. By Mme. M———. London: 1862.