F.C.J. Mertens, biographical remarks

According to
Gottwald, Siegfried; Ilgauds, Hans-Joachim; Schlote, Karl-Heinz
Lexikon bedeutender Mathematiker
Leipzig, BI 1990 Mertens was born (on March 20, 1840) in Wreschen (German name) - Wrez/snia (Polish name). Having studied in Berlin, he received his doctoral degree 1864 , became a.o.professor in Krakau (German name) - Krakow (Polish name) in 1865, full professor there in 1869, and from there continued as full professor in Graz 1884 and in Vienna from 1894 until 1911 (where he died on March 5, 1927).

Some of circumstances of this information illustrate - to our eyes curiosities of - the Polish-German connections during the last century.

Between 1795 and 1918 an independent state of Poland did not exist; its territories had been divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia, and a settlement - so to speak final until 1918 - had been arranged at the congress of Vienna in 1815 . According to that, the territories under Prussian administration formed the Grandduchy of Posen (German name) - Poznan (Polish name), and that they remained until, after the unpleasantness of 1848, they were reorganized as a Prussian province. Still, it remained the Prussian policy until about 1871 to consider that territory as Polish and not German - with a Polish diet, independent language and Polish schools (mainly in the hands of the Polish catholic clergy). About the time of Mertens birth, the Polish population in towns such as Poznan made up around 80 percent, and in the villages more than 90 percent - a situation that had come about over centuries of slow immigration from the West of tradespeople and craftsmen in the towns, and of invited groups of settlers in the farmlands. The abolition of serfdom in the Prussian administered territory took place in 1823, in the Austrian administered one after 1848, while in the Russian administered territory it had to wait until the 20th century. A policy of enforced Germanization in the province of Posen was begun after the German unification of 1871 .

From the form of Mertens' first name(s), Franciszek in Mr. Cabillon's source, and Franz Carl Joseph in the other, it is not clear whether his parents considered themselves as Polish or as German; the family name 'Mertens' is not of Polish origin (but may also come from the Netherlands which in earlier times as well had contributed settlers). In any case, Mertens chose to live in German speaking cultures - first in Berlin, then at Krakau belonging to the Austrian university system, and continuing in the Austrian towns of Graz and Vienna.

Posted on the Historia Matematica Mailing List by Walter Felscher ( on Sun, 26 Sep 1999