Ohio History Journal

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A Translation from His Promenade en Amerique




Jean-Jacques Ampere (1800-1864) was born in the village of

Polimieux, near Lyons, in the house where his father was born and

where his grandfather had lived. This grandfather was a merchant

and also a justice of the peace who had remained at his post during

his government's attempt to suppress the Jacobins, and when the

city of Lyons fell to the terrorists in 1793, was thrown into prison

and eventually paid for his fidelity with his head. Henry James, in

his essay "The Two Amperes" (1878), indicates the character of this

victim of the guillotine:

In prison, before his death, he wrote his wife a letter, which we regret

not having the space to quote; it gives one a better opinion of human nature.

"Do not speak to Josephine," he says at the end, "of her father's mis-

fortune; take good care that she does not know it; as for my son, there

is nothing I do not expect from him. So long as you possess them and they

possess you, embrace each other in memory of me. I leave my heart to all

of you." For so pure an old stoic as this to say on the edge of the scaffold

that there was nothing he did not expect from his only son, left the sole

support of two desolate women-this was a great deal.

This son, Andre-Marie Ampere (1775-1836), for whom         his

father's trust in his future conduct and industry is so simply ex-

pressed, along with an implied confidence in his abilities, became

a distinguished physicist who laid the foundation of the science of

electrodynamics. His name, in lower case, is known in every Amer-

ican household as the unit of electric current.

To return to our Ampere, his tastes early led him to the study

of philology and history. His father, who had suffered from the

straightened circumstances of the family, had hoped his son would

follow some lucrative occupation, but it soon became obvious

that Jean-Jacques was a born man of letters, just as his father had

been a born man of science. Upon his return from an extended