Published First Paper at 24
"His exceptional abilities had begun to show themselves before he
was 10 and by the time he was 12
he was recognized as a quite abnormal boy. Some curious stories
are told of his early years. They
say, for example, that, soon after
he had begun the study of trigonometry, he discovered for himself
Euler's theorems for the sine and
cosine, and was very disappointed
when he found later that they were
known already.
"Until he was 16 he had never
seen a mathematical book of any
higher class. It was a book by
George Shoobridge Carr of Cambridge that first aroused his full
powers. Through this new world
thus opened to him Ramanujan
was ranging with delight. It was
this book which awakened his ge-
"He was an orthodox high-caste
Hindu, and always adhered (indeed
with a severity most unusual in
Indians resident in England) to all
the observances of his caste. He
had promised his parents to do so
and he kept his promises to the
letter.
"He was a vegetariaji in the
strictest sense—this proved a terrible difficulty later when he was ill
—and all the time he was in Cambridge he cooked all his food himself, and never cooked it without
first changing into pajamas.
"His first substantial paper was
published in 1911, when he was 24,
and in 1912 his exceptional powers
began to be understood. Sir Francis Spring and Sir Gilbert Walker
obtained a special scholarship for
him of 60 pounds a year, sufficient
for a married Indian (he was married in 1909) to live in tolerable
comfort. At the beginning of 1913
he wrote to me, and Professor
Neville and I, after many difficulties, got him to England in 1914.
"Here he had three years of uninterrupted activity, the results of
which you can read in his papers.
He fell ill in the Summer of 1917
and never really recovered, though
he continued to work, rather spasmodically, but with no real sign of
degeneration, until his death in 1920.
"Inelastic" Schooling Is Assailed
"The real tragedy about Ramonu-
jan was not his early death. It is,
of course, disaster, that any great !
man should die young, but a mathematician is often comparatively old
at 30, and his death may be less of
a catastrophe than it seems.
"The tragedy of Ramanujan \
that, during his five unfortunate
years, which began at 17 after he
failed to gain at the government
college at Kumbakonam, India, because he had neglected his other
studies due to his absorption
mathematics, his genius was
directed, sidetracked and to a certain extent distorted.
"There was no gain at all wr
the college at Kumbakonam
jected the one great man they had
ever possessed, and the loss was i-
reparable. It is the worst instan
that I know of the damage that Ci
be done by an inefficient and i
elastis educational system.
"So little was wanted, 60 pounds
a year for five years, occasional
contact with almost any one who
had real knowledge and a little
imagination, for the world to have j
gained another of its greatest math- ]
ematicians.
"Opinions may differ about the |
importance of Ramanujan's work,
the kind of standards by which it
should be judged, and the influence j
which it is likely to have on
mathematics of the future. It has
not the simplicity and the inevita- j
bleness of the very greatest work; |
it would be greater if it were less
strange. One gift it shows which
no one can deny, profound and in- |
vincible originality.
"He would probably have been t
greater mathematician if he could
have been caught and tamed a little in his youth; he would have discovered more that was new, and
that, no doubt of greater import- j
"There is a good deal which he
should like to know now and which
I could have discovered quite easily.
Here I must admit that I am to
blame. I saw Ramanujan almost
every day, and could have cleared
of the obscurities by a lit
tle „„
"He was not in the least disposed
to make a mystery of his achieve
ments. I hardly asked him a sin
gle question that would enable u
to draw the line between what h
may have picked up somehow am
what he must have found out fo
New Theorems Almost Daily
"I am sorry about this now, bu
it does not really matter very much I
and it was entirely natural. In the
first place, I did not know that
Ramanujan was going to die. He
was not particularly interested in
his own history or psychology, he
was a mathematician anxious to go
on with his job.