Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/November 1879/The Inauguration of Arago's Statue


THE statue to Arago recently unveiled at Perpignan is not the first erected to that great astronomer and greater physicist. In 1867 M. Isaac Pereire, then representative of the native place of Arago in the Imperial Chamber of Deputies, erected one at his own expense at Estagel. The inauguration was accompanied by speeches delivered by the generous donor, M. Bertrand, the Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences, and others. It was stated then that Arago had supported against his own party the construction of the railways by public companies, and had been grossly abused by some of his political friends. Although a political leader, it must be said, to the glory of Arago, that he never was influenced by party considerations. He was always writing, and speaking, and voting according to the dictamina of his own judgment. These facts should be remembered, as efforts have been made, in the recent Arago celebration, to degrade him into a mere politician, which never was the case. Arago was made a member of the Provisional Government of France in February, 1848; it was owing to his personal exertion that the abolition decree was proclaimed before the convocation of the National Assembly. It is true that he was appointed in the beginning of May one of the quinquemvirs of the Executive Commission. But this Government was overthrown by the popular rising of the end of June, and from that time he abstained from taking any prominent part in politics.

Arago was not rich, his works having been mostly published in the "Annuaire du Bureau des Longitudes" without any copyright, and sold for the benefit of the Bureau, of which he was the most influential member. His paying works were all of them posthumous, and edited by M. Barras, the Perpetual Secretary of the Agricultural Society of France. The sale was not so large as anticipated, and the publisher who purchased the copyright from the inheritors failed. The sale of the "Annuaire" was so large during Arago's lifetime that the Bureau had a profit by it. Since his death it has become necessary to provide special funds for the publication of that useful work.

Arago had no salary at all as director of the Observatory. He was appointed every year by the Bureau, receiving only £200 for his membership. His other salaries were £50 as a member of the Academy of Sciences, £250 as Perpetual Secretary, and when he was lecturing on astronomy, £50. The functions of deputy and member of Municipal Council of Paris being entirely gratuitous, he was no receiver of any other public moneys. Under the republic his membership of the Assembly brought him one pound a day.

From the eloquent éloge pronounced by M. Paul Bert at the recent inauguration, we take the following extract: "To contemplate Arago under all the aspects that may attract the admiration of posterity we must think of him as a man of science overturning the Newtonian hypothesis of the emission of light, determining the physical constitution of the sun, explaining the scintillation of the stars, the, nature of the aurora borealis, discovering magnetization by currents, the origin of the electric telegraph, extending to all bodies magnetic properties; finally, for I must limit myself to the most prominent points, indicating to the most eminent of his disciples the star still unknown and invisible, whose discovery introduced order among the perturbed planets, and which still remains the most extraordinary mark of the power of human genius. As a professor, again, before three thousand auditors at the Observatory, or in his chair as Perpetual Secretary, writing his incomparable scientific notices, or dictating, when blind, his popular astronomy, always, by speech or by pen, marvelous for his clearness, his accuracy, his power and fullness, elevating all he touched, returning to the astonished inventor his discovery developed and fertilized, sowing broadcast his ideas, and rejoicing when others, friends or foes, were enriched by the precious fruits of his genius. As a scientific historian he excelled Condorcet, equaled Cuvier and Fontenelle, and was characterized above all others by his eagerness to give every one his due, and his jealous love of justice. As an orator he carried into the tribune the vigor and clearness of the scientific chair, vivified by the emotions of master-spirits, and dominating the assembly by his lofty stature, with his beautiful southern head, and his eye full of fire. He was a man, in fact, in whom the will to act was united with the consciousness of power, an intelligence marvelously comprehensive and powerfully creative, so bold and yet so prudent at times that it never committed an error that required to be retracted. Of an ardent but loyal nature, ready for power, but incapable of hatred, and thirsting for justice, a heart sensitive and valiant, sometimes drawn, says a contemporary, to show itself severe to the strong in order to support the weak; a soul austere but a brow serene; a father and citizen worthy of the ancient legends, and able, like Carnot, on quitting life to bear the noble witness, 'My hands are clean and my heart pure.' From the extent of the sketch you may judge what will be the nature of the picture."—Nature.