The Duelist

This is how the end began. Évariste could see it all so clearly now. His muscles were no longer tense. The sweat on his brow had dried up. His heart was no longer racing. He could see Pescheux d’Herbinville standing 20 feet away, positioning himself comfortably. Death was a certainty. Évariste Galois had known this for the last 24 hours. The audience had no knowledge how he had chosen to spend those 24 hours. Not an iota of his time was spent in preparing for this duel. Évariste had stayed up all night writing letters to his Republican friends and composing what would become his mathematical testament, the famous letter to Auguste Chevalier outlining his ideas, and three attached manuscripts. He was not aware that he had solved a problem standing for 350 years! He had been able to determine a necessary and sufficient condition for a polynomial to be solvable by radicals.

Both Augustin-Louis Cauchy and Siméon Poisson had refused to publish his papers. Poisson had declared his work “incomprehensible”, declaring that “Galois’ argument is neither sufficiently clear nor sufficiently developed to allow us to judge its rigor”. However, in these last hours, he was glad he had chosen to take their comments postively. He did not feel any hatred toward them. He did not feel any disappointment that he had studied in École Normale, a far inferior institution for mathematical studies, as compared to the École Polytechnique, where he should have belonged. Now here he was, dressed in the same uniform he had worn on Bastille day last year. He had been at the head of a protest that day, wearing the uniform of the disbanded artillery, and had come heavily armed with several pistols, a rifle, and a dagger. He laughed at how he was sentenced to six months in prison for illegally wearing a uniform!

It all seemed so insignificant now. Mademoiselle Stéphanie-Félicie Poterin du Motel was not in the audience today. It was too late to realize that he had been a victim of an infamous coquette and her dupes. His last thoughts were those of his younger brother, Alfred. If Alfred had been here today, Évariste wouldn’t have let him cry. He needed all his courage to die at twenty. As he lifted his pistol, he said a small prayer that Jacobi or Gauss would understand the importance of his theorems. He just hoped that someone would decipher his mess.

Written on November 20, 2017