As written by Andre Weil, another great mathematician, in the foreword of his unburied works from the dark recesses of a library corner:
On the 16th of April 1823, a number of fairies, summoned by Ganesha, the god of mathematical wisdom, assembled in Berlin at the cradle of an infant, to grant boons and bestow blessings. This was the first-born of a not too prosperous businessman who had married in June of the previous year; both parents were Jewish but had been baptized into the evangelical faith. Alas, as in all fairy tales, one old witch managed to creep in and resolved to undo, if she could, the work of the fairies.
“He will have genius”, said the first fairy, “and will be a worthy successor of Gauss, Dirichlet, Jacobi.”
“His life will be short and unhappy”, said the witch.
“He will have many brothers and sisters”, said the next fairy, “and will be tenderly attached to them, while remaining his mother’s favorite.”
“He will lose them all”, said the witch, “seventeen years from now he will see the last one, a beloved small sister, die at the age of seven.”
“He will have brilliant teachers at the Gymnasium and will make giant strides in his mathematical studies.”
“But first,” said the witch, “his parents will misguidedly send him for four years to a private school whose rigid discipline will almost break his already fragile health and make him a nervous wreck for the rest of his life.”
“In his first year as a student at the University of Berlin, he will attract the attention of Humboldt, the grand old man of German science, and of Crelle, the editor of the leading mathematical journal of his time, and will have more than twenty papers accepted by Crelle that same year.”
“Maybe,” said the witch, “but first, for his support at the University, his mother will have to accept a paltry sum from the royal indigent fund.”
“So what?” said one big fairy with a strong American accent. “Soon Humboldt will get him a yearly grant of 250 dollars from the Royal Science Foundation, and will get it renewed when needed.”
“OK,” retorted the witch, “but uncertainties about the payment and renewal of this stipend will plague and humiliate him for the rest of his life.”
“No matter,” said the next fairy. “Gauss, one of the hardest men to please in the mathematical world, will invite him, still a first-year student, to a visit in Gottingen, and from then on will take the deepest interest, not only in his work but also in his well-being. Jacobi, intent upon making him a ‘privatdozent’ and anxious to cut bureaucratic red tape, will arrange for him to receive an honorary doctorate at the hands of Kummer in Breslau: surely an unheard-of favor to a second-year student! Gauss, while proposing Dirichlet for a coveted distinction, will let it be known that he has ‘almost hesitated’ between him and young Eisenstein.”
“Much good that will do him!” exclaimed the witch with a sneer. “It will so enrage Jacobi that he will practically accuse your darling of plagiarism, in a wholly unmotivated footnote in Crelle’s Journal.”
“Who knows not what the easily inflamed Jacobi can do once his temper is aroused?” said another good fairy. “This incident will deeply distress the young man for a while but will do him no further harm. Soon he will be a privatdozent, and the great Riemann will be one of his students.”
“Not for long! Riemann will migrate to Gottingen and forget whatever number-theory his young teacher thinks he has taught him. In the meanwhile, I will have seen to it that Kronecker and Heine leave Berlin; the young man will remain isolated without any congenial friend or companion.”
One fairy thought that Gauss’ name had such virtue that it would silence the malevolent creature:
“In 1847, the great Gauss will write a highly flattering foreword for a collection of his protege’s papers.”
“Hardly anyone will read them,” replied the witch with utter contempt. “Then he will be so beaten up by the Prussian soldiery, during the revolutionary upheavals of 1848, that he will have to keep to his bed for a week; for two years he will publish nothing, and the reputation of being ‘red’ will stick to him and threaten to jeopardize his stipend and his career.”
“He will not remain idle during those two years, in spite of all discouragement and ill health; his publications of the year 1850 will show him at the peak of his powers. Dirichlet, with Jacobi’s concurrence, will propose him for membership in the Berlin Academy, and he will finally be elected in 1852, as Jacobi’s successor, a young man of not yet 29 years of age.”
“And then he will die”, said the witch triumphantly.
“But his name will survive”, said a tiny fairy.
“Hardly so,” said the hag. “Following academic usage, Dirichlet will read to the Academy a beautiful and moving eulogy of Jacobi, and Kummer will perform the same service for Dirichlet. But no member of the Academy will ever bother about the memory of the melancholy young man who had died in 1852. Still less will it occur to them to provide for the publication of his works, while voting ample funds for those of Jacobi, Dirichlet, Steiner, and later for Weierstrass and Kronecker. He will be forgotten, once and for all.”
“It is lucky,” said one last fairy in a small voice, “that you remind me of Kronecker. For many years, your curse will indeed prevent him from remembering the companion of his youth. But I will cause him to rediscover his friend’s work before it is too late, and he will make it the theme of the main lecture to be given at the inauguration ceremonies of the German Mathematical Society.”
The witch laughed loudly. “It will be too late! I will kill Kronecker’s wife, and he will cancel his lecture.”
“He will offer to write it up.”
“Before he does, I will kill him too, and then that name, which I do not want even to utter, will sink into final oblivion.”
There were no more fairies; but Ganesha had the last word.
“You forget,” he said, “that all your curses are of limited duration; one hundred and fifty years from today, their force will be spent.”
The founders of modern mathematics.
And so it has been. Eisenstein’s works were unappreciated in their time and it is doubtful that mathematicians today have fully caught up with his ideas. A century before anyone else did, he kicked off the trend of combining algebra and geometry rather than treating them as separate disciplines. Sadly, his name continues to be buried underneath other contemporary greats like Gauss, Euler, and Dirichlet.