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Charles Dupin

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Baron Charles Dupin (1784-1873)

1820 Charles Dupin, Member of the Institute of France, Became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1875 Obituary [2]

BARON CHARLES DUPIN was born at Varzy, in the Department of the Nievre, France, on the 6th of October, 1784.

In 1801, at the age of seventeen, he entered the Ecole Polytechnique, and, having achieved the highest rank, left, in 1803, to take up a commission in the scientific corps of Naval Engineers.

He was at first employed on the great works for the defence of Antwerp, but soon after made a tour of inspection of the Dutch ports, whence he proceeded to Toulon, and embarked for the Ionian Islands, which had just been seized by France. Stationed at Corfu for the purpose of directing the works of the maritime arsenal, his active mind set about the task of founding, in the old Greek town, an Ionian Academy, of which he became the Secretary.

Here Dupin found time to indulge his love for experimental science, and devoted much pains to demonstrate that the hypothesis by which Galileo, Mariotte, and Leibnitz sought to account for the phenomena indicated by the resistance of materials to flexure was inexact. In a series of beautiful experiments, the results of which were presented to the French Academy of Sciences, Dupin established incontestably those laws which, since verified by prolonged experience, serve as the bases of all calculations relative to the gigantic constructions of the present day. These experiments, with divers memoirs on the higher mathematics, obtained for Dupin the title of Correspondent of the Institute, which he retained for sixty years.

Returning to Toulon, in 1813, Dupin actively assisted in the creation of a naval museum in that town, which afterwards served as a model for a similar establishment at Paris.

But if Dupin was ardent in the pursuit of scientific discovery, not the less was he interested in questions connected with public liberty and the principles of justice. Inspired by patriotism, and eager to study for himself the causes which led to the success attending the efforts of England to unite all Europe in a coalition against Napoleon, Dupin solicited, and without difficulty obtained permission to visit, at his own expense, that great nursery of constitutional progress. Profoundly impressed by the immense advantages which result to an active, energetic, and laborious people from the regular course of a government at once powerful, wisely liberal, and progressive, under the action of which the institutions and the laws are constantly and without shock made to keep pace with the nation's progress, Dupin returned to France more than ever devoted to the cause of public liberty.

In 1820 he scrupled not to publish his profound reflections in the shape of a work on the military power of Great Britain. The manifestation of such lively sympathy for a regime but little known, and still less understood in his own country, excited the susceptibilities of certain members of the Government, and Dupin was requested to suppress some passages in his work, and to submit the remainder to a sort of censure. He proudly refused, and for some time was deprived of the subscriptions he had expected for this book. But in a short time King Louis XVIII., more liberal than his advisers, withdrew this interdict, and soon after the author received the cross of the Legion of Honour.

The numerous and valuable memoirs presented by Dupin to the Academy of Sciences had obtained his admission, in 1818, as a Member of its Mechanical Section ; and his next undertaking was a life of his great teacher, Monge, whom the political 'prejudices of the time had excluded from the Institute. The aim of this work was the national recognition of the benefits which had accrued to French industry from the efforts of Monge in the cause of descriptive geometry. Its success was assured, and, thanks to the liberal support of the Duke de la Rochefoucault, then Inspector- General of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, Dupin was able to assist in the foundation, by that body, of a section of applied sciences.

The instruction was divided into three courses, the chair of geometry and mechanics being occupied by Dupin himself; that of industrial chemistry by Clement Desormes; and one of political economy being confided to J. B. Say. For thirty-five years Dupin held this professorship, his students being members of all grades of society; but especially were his lectures remarkable for the large number of workmen attracted to them by the sympathy he felt for their condition, and to which his words, his gestures, and his personality all combined to give expression.

In 1828 Dupin was made a baron, the monarchical government thus following the example of England. At the same time, too, he found himself mixed up with the political developments of that eventful epoch; and it is here, perhaps, that Dupin’s patriotism urged him to support, with all the ardour of his nature, a policy which, in England at least, is now considered exploded. In the course of two subsequent visits to England for the purpose of studying the commercial legislation there in vogue, at that time based on the system of protection pushed to its most absolute limits, Dupin had been impressed with the wonderful prosperity of the great industries - such as the production of textile fabrics, minerals, and the construction of machinery; and he had, with lively regret, become imbued with a sense of the relative inferiority of his country to her great rival.

Logic naturally led him to the conclusion that a like system in France would produce like results, and consequently he became a violent protectionist. Whatever may now be thought of Dupin’s logic, it must at least be put on record that his partisanship, while resolute and uncompromising, was always pursued in a spirit of honour and fairness, and that in the strife he sustained before the legislative powers he invariably possessed the courage to express his opinions, which were themselves but the result of profound conviction based on the love he bore his country.

In 1832 the great services of Dupin, in all questions relating to public instruction and political economy, obtained his entry into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences.

In 1834 he became Minister of Marine, and profited by a short tenure of office to found a prize of 6,000 francs, which the Academy of Sciences is charged to award periodically for the nlust marked progress in the application of steam power to naval warfare.

The revolution of 1848, in overthrowing the wise and liberal government to which he was sincerely attached, caused Dupin profound sorrow, by seeming to destroy all the hopes he had formed of one day witnessing in France the reign of peace, of order, and of liberty ; but he had at least the consolation of feeling that he had done all in his power for the cause he had at heart. Called by universal suffrage to the National Assembly, Dupin there, as ever, proclaimed himself the energetic defender of those principles which form the basis of civilised society. The clamours of political passion, to which his countrymen are but too prone, never for an instant succeeded in silencing the expression of his convictions.

But his prophetic words were disregarded, and a short time after the Empire was established. Before that decision of universal suffrage, and whatever might have been his opinion on its merit?, Baron Dupin bowed, viewing the Empire at least as a possible means of preserving France from the more to be dreaded horrors of anarchy which at the time seemed imminent. Formerly a peer of France, he accepted in the senate a position which permitted the expression of his political convictions. There, as elsewhere, he amply vindicated the wisdom and independence of his opinions on all subjects affecting the moral, political, and industrial life of his country.

Thus, in unceasing labours not bounded by the narrow, if noble, confines of ordinary patriotism, but consecrated to the benefit of humanity at large, Dupin passed a scientific and political life of more than seventy years. Yet this generous spirit, this soul so intelligent and so vast, was enveloped in but a frail exterior, and one that gave but scant promise of so long and so well occupied an existence; and it is only to the regularity of his life, and the wise adjustment of intellectual work to physical activity, super-added to the incessant, and, perhaps, gently domineering surveillance of a devoted wife, that Dupin’s life was preserved so far beyond the ordinary limits.

Baron Dupin’s connection with the Institution of Civil Engineers dated as far back as the 25th of July 1820, when he was elected, during his sojourn in England, an Honorary Member.

He died at Paris, on the 18th of January, 1873, in the eighty-ninth year of his age.

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