Mailbox

Bernard Bolzano
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This week in Mailbox: We reveal the identity of the mystery man from Radio Prague's October quiz and announce the names of this month's winners. We also have a brand new competition question for you. We quote from e-mails sent by: Hans Verner Lollike, Helmut Matt, Pier Carlo Acchino, Jin Ok Um, Samuel Maddox, Charles Konecny, David Eldridge, Henry Umadhay, and Colin Law.

Welcome to Mailbox. Today is the day we announce the correct answer to our October competition. As well as disclosing the identity of last month's mystery man, we will name the four lucky competition winners who will receive small prizes for their correct answers.

The name of the Prague-born German speaking priest, mathematician, theologian, philosopher and logician is...

"The mysterious person you are looking for is Bernard Bolzano. Being a mathematician and a theologian myself I should have known him, but I had to look him up."

That answer from Hans Verner Lollike from Denmark. From Germany, Radio Prague's faithful listener Helmut Matt writes:

"In my philosophy lessons at Freiburg University I heard his name as an opponent of Immanuel Kant, but to be honest, I must confess that I never read his philosophical works. As there are many interesting websites concerning his life and work I think I will take the opportunity to read more about this universal scholar."

From Italy, Pier Carlo Acchino wrote:

"The mystery Czech is Bernard Placidus Johann Nepomuk Bolzano. I know him from my chemical engineering studies; peculiarly, I remember the Bolzano-Weierstrass Theorem."

Jin Ok Um is writing from South Korea:

"Indeed he is famous for his contributions in many sciences, but he succeeded mostly in mathematics. He established definitions for basic geometric concepts and was the first person to state the Jordan curve theorem, that a simple closed curve divides a plane into two parts. Also in the theory of real numbers he came up with some important discoveries including the Bolzano-Weierstrass theorem, a modern definition of a continuous function and the non-differentiable Bolzano function."

Samuel Maddox follows our programmes in Prague:

"He was a man of many talents and a notable anti-militarist. Living in the era of the Napoleonic wars, Bolzano was openly opposed to armed conflict between nations, finding such endeavors to be worthless and wasteful. Not surprisingly, he provoked the ire of the Viennese authorities, and his writings were suppressed. An obscure but nonetheless fascinating character who can be greatly admired today for ideas that likely seemed quite unusual in his own time."

Charles Konecny is writing from Ohio:

"It is amazing how much one can accomplish in life. To study philosophy, mathematics, and physics, and yet be ordained a priest is quite an accomplishment. It is also interesting that he was not afraid to stand up to the Austrian-Hungarian authorities in expressing his belief in Czech nationalism. His many mathematical models and reasoning compound the wonderment of this man...A truly great Czech."

Although Bolzano was born in Prague, his background was Italian-German, as David Eldridge from England writes:

"His father, an art dealer, had emigrated to Prague from northern Italy and his German speaking mother was the daughter of a Prague merchant. Bolzano was a Christian though he had many disagreements with his contemporaries over Christian interpretation. In 1805 Bolzano entered competitions for two Chairs in Charles University in Prague and won both. It was perhaps unfortunate for Bolzano that the university preferred to give him the chair of the philosophy of religion. Bolzano's attitudes to his Christian beliefs were in conflict with the strategic political requirements of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the time. The incompatibility led to his suspension from the post at the university in 1819, twelve years after his appointment."

And this is what Henry Umadhay from the Philippines wrote about what followed:

"Bolzano spent much of his time thereafter with the family of his friend and benefactor, A. Hoffmann, at their estate in southern Bohemia. He had difficulty getting his later publications through the Metternich censorship. Some of his books were put on the Index, and many appeared only posthumously. Some manuscripts are yet to be published; the most important of these are in the National Museum and the University Library in Prague, others are in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna."

Colin Law from New Zealand sent a long e-mail along with a few pictures. Let us quote the part about Bolzano's late life:

"From 1823 he spent summers near Techobuz in southern Bohemia and winters living in with his brother Johann in Prague. In 1841 Bernard moved to Prague permanently. He had always suffered from respiratory problems and as he grew older the condition became more severe until he caught a cold in the winter of 1848 and because of his weakened lungs it led to his death. Bernard Bolzano was buried in Olsany cemetery in Prague."

And finally Colin Law included an interesting detail:

"Prague was once called the City of One Hundred Spires. Prague's towers were first counted by Bernard Bolzano and he got to the number of 103, without counting water towers and private houses. Apparently Prague now has around 500 spires."

Once again, your answers were impressive in the amount of detail you were able to find about our mystery person. Thank you very much for those. But alas, only four of you can win each month. Those lucky ones who have been drawn this month are: Stephen Hrebenach from the United States, Jin Ok Um from South Korea and Shubham Singh and Prasanta Kumar Padmapati from India. Well done and congratulations! Your parcels will be on their way tomorrow. Now quickly, our November quiz question:


This time we are looking for the name of a Moravian-born American economist and political scientist. Some of his most important contributions to global economic thinking include his theories of business cycles and development, entrepreneurship, his theory of growth, and creative destruction.

We await your answers by the end of November at english@radio.cz or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. Until next week, thanks for listening and take care.