in Gauss's Section in 'The World of Mathematics' Gauss is said to have declared that :

If others would but reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and as continuously as I have, they would make my discoveries.

is this from one of Gauss's letters? the section on Gauss is written by Eric Temple Bell, and as far as I can see there is no Indication throughout the text as to what is the source of this quote so I am doubting whether the quote is true or not. there are many other instances like this in the book where the author does not give a source for the quote. Eric Temple Bell seems to be careful about the authenticity of his claims, for example when he quotes something from Gauss's surviving relatives he says whether they were old and whether the data is reliable or not. so it seems odd to me that he repeatedly quotes many figures without giving a source, is there a specific reason for this?


2 Answers 2


the Book Carl Friedrich Gauss, Titan of Science: A Study of His Life and Work written by G. Waldo Dunnington, is the definitive biography of Gauss. the quote mentioned in my question is present in this book. the writer devoted 30 years to writing this book and it is evident from the preface that he did it in an academic and scholarly manner. in a part of the preface the author says :

The present volume is derived almost entirely from contemporary sources, both manuscript and printed works. The letters and collected works of Gauss have been a rich mine of information. Reminiscences of his friends and students have been useful. His descendants have been very kind in allowing me to use letters, pictures, and other material. I have drawn freely from what I found. The nearest approximation to a biography of Gauss is the memorial monograph by his friend Sartorius A856). Any biographer must use it. For some aspects of his life it is the only source. I have profited by the learning of those who have covered the ground before me.

in another part of the preface the book reads as follows :

It is hoped that the Appendixes will serve as a place of reference to primary sources. The reader will observe that Chapter XXIV and Appendix I are largely quotation, since it seems advisable to allow Gauss and certain authorities to speak for themselves. An effort has been made to keep footnotes to a minimum. In a work of this character it has not been deemed advisable to cite in footnotes bibliographical references to published letters. These are arranged chronologically in the published correspondence and can be easily found by anyone who is interested. The published correspondence is listed completely in the bibliography.

other similar remarks in the preface make it quite clear(at least to me) that the data in this book is genuine and reliable. the original quote of my question is on page 231 :

It was his custom to tell his friends that if others would meditate as long and as deeply as he did on mathematical truths, they would be able to make his discoveries. He said that often he meditated for days on a piece of research without finding a solution, which finally became clear to him after a sleepless night. His conversation with friends sometimes was interrupted for meditation; sometimes the conversation would be continued after a gap of several days.

as a side note, there is an excellent site which contains all of of Gauss's known letters, completely sorted and listed. Currently the site provides scans, digitized printed editions and/or transcriptions of about 83% of the letters. the link is : https://gauss.adw-goe.de/ the site is currently maintained by the university of gottingen.


That chapter on Gauss in The World of Mathematics is taken from Bell's book Men of Mathematics.
You are right, it has no references. It is a "popular" account, not a "scholarly" one.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.