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Title: Catholic Churchmen in Science
Author: Walsh, James J. (James Joseph), 1865-1942
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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_Dean and Professor of Medicine and of Nervous Diseases
at Fordham University School of Medicine; Professor
of Physiological Psychology in the Cathedral College, New York;
Member of A.M.A., N.Y. State Med. Soc.,
A.A.A.S., Life Mem of N.Y. Historical Society._



American Ecclesiastical Review

The Dolphin Press


COPYRIGHT. 1906, 1910

American Ecclesiastical Review

The Dolphin Press

"A sorrow's crown of sorrow."




The following sketches of the lives of clergymen who were great
scientists have appeared at various times during the past five years
in Catholic magazines. They were written because the materials for
them had gradually accumulated during the preparation of various
courses of lectures, and it seemed advisable to put them in order in
such a way that they might be helpful to others working along similar
lines. They all range themselves naturally around the central idea
that the submission of the human reason to Christian belief, and of
the mind and heart to the authority of the Church, is quite compatible
with original thinking of the highest order, and with that absolute
freedom of investigation into physical science, which has only too
often been said to be quite impossible to churchmen. For this reason
friends have suggested that they should be published together in a
form in which they would be more easy of consultation than when
scattered in different periodicals. It was urged, too, that they would
thus also be more effective for the cause which they uphold. This
friendly suggestion has been yielded to, whether justifiably or not
the reader must decide for himself. There is so great a flood of
books, good, bad, and indifferent, ascribing their existence to the
advice of well-meaning friends, that we poor authors are evidently not
in a position to judge for ourselves of the merit of our works or of
the possible interest they may arouse.


I have to thank the editors of the _American Catholic Quarterly
Review_, of the _Ave Maria_, and of _The Ecclesiastical Review_ and
_The Dolphin_, for their kind permission to republish the articles
which appeared originally in their pages. All of them, though
substantially remaining the same, have been revised, modified in a
number of particulars, and added to very considerably in most cases.

The call for a second edition--the third thousand--of this little
book is gratifying. Its sale encouraged the preparation of a Second
Series of CATHOLIC CHURCHMEN IN SCIENCE, and now the continued demand
suggests a Third Series, which will be issued during the year. Some
minor corrections have been made in this edition, but the book is
substantially the same.




PREFACE                                                           ix


II.   COPERNICUS AND HIS TIMES                                    15


IV.   LINACRE: SCHOLAR, PHYSICIAN, PRIEST                         79



VII.  ABBÉ HAÜY: FATHER OF CRYSTALLOGRAPHY                       169










A common impression prevails that there is serious, if not invincible,
opposition between science and religion. This persuasion has been
minimized to a great degree in recent years, and yet sufficient of it
remains to make a great many people think that, if there is not entire
incompatibility between science and religion, there is at least such a
diversity of purposes and aims in these two great realms of human
thought that those who cultivate one field are not able to appreciate
the labors of those who occupy themselves in the other. Indeed, it is
usually accepted as a truth that to follow science with assiduity is
practically sure to lead to unorthodoxy in religion. This is supposed
to be especially true if the acquisition of scientific knowledge is
pursued along lines that involve original research and new
investigation. Somehow, it is thought that any one who has a mind free
enough from the influence of prejudice and tradition to become an
original thinker or investigator, is inevitably prone to abandon the
old orthodox lines of thought in respect to religion.

Like a good many other convictions and persuasions that exist more or
less as {4} commonplaces in the subconscious intellects of a great
many people, this is not true. Our American humorist said that it is
not so much the ignorance of mankind that makes him ridiculous as the
knowing so many things "that ain't so." The supposed opposition
between science and religion is precisely an apposite type of one of
the things "that ain't so." It is so firmly fixed as a rule, however,
that many people have accepted it without being quite conscious of the
fact that it exists as one of the elements influencing many of their
judgments--a very important factor in their apperception.

Now, it so happens that a number of prominent original investigators
in modern science were not only thoroughly orthodox in their religious
beliefs, but were even faithful clergymen and guiding spirits for
others in the path of Christianity. The names of those who are
included in the present volume is the best proof of this. The series
of sketches was written at various times, and yet there was a central
thought guiding the selection of the various scientific workers. Most
of them lived at about the time when, according to an unfortunate
tradition that has been very generally accepted, the Church dominated
human thinking so tyrannously as practically to preclude all notion of
original investigation in any line of thought, but especially in
matters relating to physical science. Most of the men whose lives are
sketched lived during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and first half of the
{5} seventeenth centuries. All of them were Catholic clergymen of high
standing, and none of them suffered anything like persecution for his
opinions; all remained faithful adherents of the Church through long

It is hoped that this volume, without being in any sense
controversial, may tend to throw light on many points that have been
the subject of controversy; and by showing how absolutely free these
great clergymen-scientists were to pursue their investigations in
science, it may serve to demonstrate how utterly unfounded is the
prejudice that would declare that the ecclesiastical authorities of
these particular centuries were united in their opposition to
scientific advance.

There is no doubt that at times men have been the subject of
persecution because of scientific opinions. In all of these cases,
without exception, however--and this is particularly true of such men
as Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and Michael Servetus--a little
investigation of the personal character of the individuals involved in
these persecutions will show the victims to have been of that
especially irritating class of individuals who so constantly awaken
opposition to whatever opinions they may hold by upholding them
overstrenuously and inopportunely. They were the kind of men who could
say nothing without, to some extent at least, arousing the resentment
of those around them who still clung to older ideas. We all know this
class of individual very well. {6} In these gentler modern times we
may even bewail the fact that there is no such expeditious method of
disposing of him as in the olden time. This is not a defence of what
was done in their regard, but is a word of explanation that shows how
human were the motives at work and how unecclesiastical the
procedures, even though church institutions, Protestant and Catholic
alike, were used by the offended parties to rid them of obnoxious

In this matter it must not be forgotten that persecution has been the
very common associate of noteworthy advances in science, quite apart
from any question of the relations between science and religion. There
has scarcely been a single important advance in the history of applied
science especially, that has not brought down upon the devoted head of
the discoverer, for a time at least, the ill-will of his own
generation. Take the case of medicine, for instance. Vesalius was
persecuted, but not by the ecclesiastical authorities. The bitter
opposition to him and to his work came from his colleagues in
medicine, who thought that he was departing from the teaching of
Galen, and considered that a cardinal medical heresy not to be
forgiven. Harvey, the famous discoverer of the circulation of the
blood, lost much of his lucrative medical practice after the
publication of his discovery, because his medical contemporaries
thought the notion of the heart pumping blood through the arteries to
be so foolish that they refused to {7} admit that it could come from a
man of common sense, much less from a scientific physician. Nor need
it be thought that this spirit of opposition to novelty existed only
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Almost in our own time
Semmelweis, who first taught the necessity for extreme cleanliness in
obstetrical work, met with so much opposition in the introduction of
the precautions he considered necessary that he was finally driven
insane. His methods reduced the mortality in the great lying-in
hospitals of Europe from nearly ten per cent for such cases down to
less than one per cent, thus saving many thousands of lives every

Despite this very natural tendency to decry the value of new
discoveries in science and the opposition they aroused, it will be
found that the lives of these clergymen scientists show us that they
met with much more sympathy in their work than was usually accorded to
original investigators in science in other paths in life. This is so
different from the ordinary impression in the matter that it seems
worth while calling it to particular attention. While we have selected
lives of certain of the great leaders in science, we would not wish it
to be understood that these are the only ones among the clergymen of
the last four centuries who deserve an honorable place high up in the
roll of successful scientific investigators. Only those are taken who
illustrate activity in sciences that are supposed to have been
especially forbidden to clergymen. It {8} has been said over and over
again, for instance, that there was distinct ecclesiastical opposition
to the study of chemistry. Indeed, many writers have not hesitated to
say that there was a bull, or at least a decree, issued by one or more
of the popes forbidding the study of chemistry. This, is not only not
true, but the very pope who is said to have issued the decree, John
XXII, was himself an ardent student of the medical sciences. We still
possess several books from him on these subjects, and his decree was
meant only to suppress pseudo-science, which, as always, was
exploiting the people for its own ends. The fact that a century later
the foundation of modern chemical pharmacology was laid by a
Benedictine monk, Basil Valentine, shows how unfounded is the idea
that the papal decree actually hampered in any way the development of
chemical investigation or the advance of chemical science.

Owing to the Galileo controversy, astronomy is ordinarily supposed to
have been another of the sciences to which it was extremely indiscreet
at least, not to say dangerous, for a clergyman to devote himself. The
great founder of modern astronomy, however, Copernicus, was not only a
clergyman, but one indeed so faithful and ardent that it is said to
have been owing to his efforts that the diocese in which he lived did
not go over to Lutheranism during his lifetime, as did most of the
other dioceses in that part of Germany. The fact that Copernicus's
book was involved in the Galileo trial has rendered his {9} position
still further misunderstood, but the matter is fully cleared up in the
subsequent sketch of his life. As a matter of fact, it is in astronomy
particularly that clergymen have always been in the forefront of
advance; and it must not be forgotten that it was the Catholic Church
that secured the scientific data necessary for the correction of the
Julian Calendar, and that it was a pope who proclaimed the
advisability of the correction to the world. Down to our own day there
have always been very prominent clergymen astronomers. One of the best
known names in the history of the astronomy of the nineteenth century
is that of Father Piazzi, to whom we owe the discovery of the first of
the asteroids. Other well-known names, such as Father Secchi, who was
the head of the papal observatory at Rome, and Father Perry, the
English Jesuit, might well be mentioned. The papal observatory at Rome
has for centuries been doing some of the best work in astronomy
accomplished anywhere, although it has always been limited in its
means, has had inadequate resources to draw on, and has succeeded in
accomplishing what it has done only because of the generous devotion
of those attached to it.

To go back to the Galileo controversy for a moment, there seems no
better answer to the assertion that his trial shows clearly the
opposition between religion, or at least ecclesiastical authorities,
and science, than to recall, as we have done, in writing the
accompanying sketch of the {10} life of Father Kircher, S.J., that
just after the trial Roman ecclesiastics very generally were ready to
encourage liberally a man who devoted himself to all forms of physical
science, who was an original thinker in many of them, who was a great
teacher, whose writings did more to disseminate knowledge of advances
in science than those of any man of his time, and whose idea of the
collection of scientific curiosities into a great museum at Rome
(which still bears his name) was one of the fertile germinal
suggestions in which modern science was to find seeds for future

It is often asserted that geology was one of the sciences that was
distinctly opposed by churchmen; yet we shall see that the father of
modern geology, one of the greatest anatomists of his time, was not
only a convert to Catholicity, but became a clergyman about the time
he was writing the little book that laid the foundation of modern
geology. We shall see, too, that, far from religion and science
clashing in him, he afterwards was made a bishop, in the hope that he
should be able to go back to his native land and induce others to
become members of that Church wherein he had found peace and

In the modern times biology has been supposed to be the special
subject of opposition, or at least fear, on the part of ecclesiastical
authorities. It is for this reason that the life of Abbot Mendel has
been introduced. While working in {11} his monastery garden in the
little town of Brünn in Moravia, this Augustinian monk discovered
certain precious laws of heredity that are considered by progressive
twentieth-century scientists to be the most important contributions to
the difficult problems relating to inheritance in biology that have
been made.

These constitute the reasons for this little book on Catholic
clergymen scientists. It is published, not with any ulterior motives,
but simply to impress certain details of truth in the history of
science that have been neglected in recent years and, by presenting
sympathetic lives of great clergymen scientists, to show that not only
is there no essential opposition between science and religion, but on
the contrary that the quiet peace of the cloister and of a religious
life have often contributed not a little to that precious placidity of
mind which seems to be so necessary for the discovery of great, new
scientific truths.





All the vast and most progressive systems that human wisdom has
brought forth as substitutes for religion, have never succeeded in
interesting any but the learned, the ambitious, or at most the
prosperous and happy. But the great majority of mankind can never come
under these categories. The great majority of men are suffering, and
suffering from moral as well as physical evils. Man's first bread is
grief, and his first want is consolation. Now which of these systems
has ever consoled an afflicted heart, or repeopled a lonely one? Which
of these teachers has ever shown men how to wipe away a tear?
Christianity alone has from the beginning promised to console man in
the sorrows incidental to life by purifying the inclinations of his
heart, and she alone has kept her promise.--MONTALEMBERT,
Introduction to _Life of St. Elizabeth_.






The association of the name of Copernicus with that of Galileo has
always cast an air of unorthodoxy about the great astronomer. The
condemnation of certain propositions in his work on astronomy in which
Copernicus first set forth the idea of the universe as we know it at
present, in contradistinction to the old Ptolemaic system of
astronomy, would seem to emphasize this suspicion of unorthodox
thinking. He is rightly looked upon as one of the great pioneers of
our modern physical science, and, as it is generally supposed that
scientific tendencies lead away from religion, there are doubtless
many who look upon Copernicus as naturally one of the leaders in this
rationalistic movement. It is forgotten that scarcely any of the great
original thinkers have escaped the stigma of having certain
propositions in some of their books condemned, and that this indeed is
only an index of the fallibility of the human mind and of the need
there is for some authoritative teacher. The sentences in Copernicus's
book requiring correction were but few, and were rather matters of
terminology than of actual perversion of accepted teaching. It was as
such that their modification was suggested. In spite of this, the {16}
impression remains that Copernicus must be considered as a
rationalizing scientist, the first in a long roll of original
scientific investigators whose work has made the edifice of
Christianity totter by removing many of the foundation-stones of its
traditional authority.

It is rather surprising, in view of this common impression with regard
to Copernicus, to find him, according to recent biographers, a
faithful clergyman in honor with his ecclesiastical superiors, a
distinguished physician whose chief patients were clerical friends of
prominent position and the great noblemen of his day, who not only
retained all his faith and reverence for the Church, but seems to have
been especially religious, a devoted adherent of the Blessed Virgin
Mother of God, and the author of a series of poems in her honor that
constitute a distinct contribution to the literature of his time.

All this should not be astonishing, however; for in the list of the
churchmen of the half century just before the great religious revolt
in Germany are to be found some of the best known names in the history
of the intellectual development of the race. This statement is so
contrary to the usual impression that obtains in regard to the
character of that period as to be a distinct source of surprise to the
ordinary reader of history who has the realization of its truth thrust
upon him for the first time. Just before the so-called Reformation,
the clergy are considered to have been so sunk in ignorance, or at
least to {17} have been so indifferent to intellectual pursuits and so
cramped in mind as regards progress, or so timorous because of
inquisition methods, that no great advances in thought, and especially
none in science, could possibly be looked for from them. To find,
then, that not only were faithful churchmen leaders in thought,
discoverers in science, organizers in education, initiators of new
progress, teachers of the New Learning, but that they were also
typical representatives and yet prudent directors of the advancing
spirit of that truly wonderful time, is apt to make us think that
surely--as the Count de Maistre said one hundred years ago, and the
Cambridge Modern History repeats at the beginning of the twentieth
century when treating of this very period--"history has been a
conspiracy against the truth."

Not quite fifty years before Luther's movement of protest began--that
is, in 1471--there passed away in a little town in the Rhineland a man
who has been a greater spiritual force than perhaps any other single
man that has ever existed. This was Thomas à Kempis, a product of the
schools of the Brethren of the Common Life, a teaching order that
during these fifty years before the Protestant Revolution had over ten
thousand pupils in its schools in the Rhineland and the Netherlands
alone. As among these pupils there occur such names as Erasmus,
Nicholas of Cusa, Agricola, not to mention many less illustrious, some
idea of this old teaching institution, that has been very aptly
compared to our {18} modern Brothers of the Christian Schools, can be

Kempis was a worthy initiator of a great half century. He had among
his contemporaries, or followers in the next generation, such men as
Grocyn, Dean Colet, and Linacre in England, Cardinal Ximenes in Spain,
and Copernicus in Germany. Considering the usual impression in this
matter as regards the lack of interest at Rome in serious study, it is
curiously interesting to realize how closely these great scholars and
thinkers were in touch with the famous popes of the Renaissance
period. The second half of the sixteenth century saw the elevation to
the papacy of some of the most learned and worthy men that have ever
occupied the Chair of Peter. In 1447 Nicholas V became pope, and
during his eight years of pontificate initiated a movement of sympathy
with modern art and letters that was never to be extinguished. To him
more than to any other may be attributed the foundation of the Vatican
Library. To him also is attributed the famous expression that "no art
can be too lofty for the service of the Church." He was succeeded by
Calixtus III, a patron of learning, who was followed by Pius II, the
famous AEneas Sylvius, one of the greatest scholars and most learned
men of his day, who had done more for the spread of culture and of
education in the various parts of Europe than perhaps any other alive
at the time.

The next Pope, Paul II, accomplished much {19} during a period of
great danger by arousing the Christian opposition to the Saracens. His
encouragement and material aid to the Hungarians, who were making a
bold stand against the Oriental invaders, merit for him a place in the
rôle of defenders of civilization. To him is due the introduction of
the recently discovered art of printing and its installation on a
sumptuous scale worthy of the center of Christian culture. His
successor, Sixtus IV, deserves the title of the founder of modern
Rome. Bridges, aqueducts, public buildings, libraries, churches--all
owe to his fostering care their restoration and renewed foundation. He
made it the purpose of his life to attract distinguished humanistic
scholars to his capital, and Rome became the metropolis of culture and
learning as well as the mother city of Christendom.

Under such popes it is no wonder that Rome and the cities of Italy
generally became the homes of art and culture, centers of the new
humanistic learning and the shelters of the scholars of the outer
world. The Italian universities entered on a period of intellectual
and educational development as glorious almost as the art movement
that characterized the time. As this was marked by the work of such
men as that universal genius Leonardo da Vinci, of Michael Angelo,
poet, painter, sculptor, architect; of Raphael, Titian, and Correggio,
whose contemporaries were worthy of them in every way, some idea can
be attained of the wonderful era that developed. No {20} wonder
scholars in every department of learning flocked to Italy for
inspiration and the enthusiasm bred of scholarly fellowship in such an
environment. From England came men like Linacre, Selling, Grocyn, and
Dean Colet; Erasmus came from the Netherlands, and Copernicus from
Poland. Copernicus there obtained that scientific training which was
later to prove so fruitful in his practical work as a physician and in
his scientific work as the founder of modern astronomy.

It may be as well to say at the beginning that even Copernicus was not
the first to suggest that the earth moved, and not the sun; and that,
curiously enough, his anticipator was another churchman, Nicholas of
Cusa, the famous Bishop of Brixen. Readers of Janssen's _History of
the German People_ will remember that the distinguished historian
introduces his monumental work by a short sketch of the career of
Cusanus, as he is called, who may be well taken as the typical
pre-Reformation scholar and clergyman. Cusa wrote in a
manuscript--which is still preserved in the hospital of Cues, or
Cusa--published for the first time by Professor Clemens in 1847: "I
have long considered that this earth can not be fixed, but moves as do
the other stars--_sed movetur ut aliae stellae_." What a curious
commentary these words, written more than half a century before
Galileo was born, form on the famous expression so often quoted
because supposed to have been drawn from Galileo by the condemnation
of his doctrine at Rome: {21} _E pur se muove_--"and yet it moves!"
Cusanus was a Cardinal, the personal friend of three popes, and he
seems to have had no hesitation in expressing his opinion in the
matter. In the same manuscript the Cardinal adds: "And to my mind the
earth revolves upon its axis once in a day and a night." Cusanus was,
moreover, one of the most independent thinkers that the world has ever
seen, yet he was intrusted by the pope about the middle of the
fifteenth century with the reformation of abuses in the Church in
Germany. The pope seems to have been glad to be able to secure a man
of such straightforward ways for his reformatory designs.

The ideas of Nicholas of Cusa with regard to knowledge and the liberty
of judgment in things not matters of faith can be very well
appreciated from some of his expressions. "To know and to think," he
says in one passage, "to see the truth with the eye of the mind is
always a joy. The older a man grows, the greater is the pleasure it
affords him; and the more he devotes himself to the search after
truth, the stronger grows his desire of possessing it. As love is the
life of the heart, so is the endeavor after knowledge and truth the
life of the mind. In the midst of the movements of time, of the daily
work of life, of its perplexities and contradictions, we should lift
our gaze fearlessly to the clear vault of heaven and seek ever to
obtain a firmer grasp of, and keener insight into, the origin of all
goodness and duty, the capacities of our own hearts and minds, {22}
the intellectual fruits of mankind throughout the centuries, and the
wondrous works of nature around us; but ever remembering that in
humility alone lies true greatness, and that knowledge and wisdom are
alone profitable in so far as our lives are governed by them."
[Footnote 1] It is no wonder, then, that the time was ripe for
Copernicus and his great work in astronomy, nor that that work should
be accomplished while he was a canon of a cathedral and for a time the
vicar-general of a diocese.

It is now nearly five years since Father Adolph Muller, S.J.,
professor of Astronomy in the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome,
and director of a private observatory on the Janiculum in that city,
wrote his historical scientific study [Footnote 2] of the great
founder of modern astronomy. The book has been reviewed, criticized
and discussed very thoroughly since then, and has been translated into
several languages. The latest translation was into Italian, the work
of Father Pietro Mezzetti, S.J., [Footnote 3] and was published in
Rome at the end of 1902--having had the benefit {23} of the author's
revision. The historical details, then, of Copernicus's life may be
considered to have been cast into definite shape, and his career may
be appreciated with confidence as to the absolute accuracy and
essential significance of all its features.

  [Footnote 1: _History of the German People at the Close of the
  Middle Ages_. By Johannes Janssen  Translated from the German by M A
  Mitchell and A M Christie. Vol I, p. 3.]

  [Footnote 2: _Nikolaus Kopernicus, Der Altmeister der neueren
  Astronomie, Ein Lebens und Kultur Bild_. Von Adolf Muller, S.J.]

  [Footnote 3: Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the Pontifical
  Leonine College of Anagni]

Nicholas Copernicus--to give him the Latin and more usual form of his
name--was the youngest of four children of Niclas Copernigk, who
removed from Cracow in Poland to Thorn in East Prussia (though then a
city of Poland), where he married Barbara Watzelrode, a daughter of
one of the oldest and wealthiest families of the province. His
mother's brother, after having been a canon for many years in the
cathedral of Frauenburg, was elected Bishop of the Province of
Ermland. The future astronomer was born in 1473, at a time when Thorn,
after having been for over two hundred years under the rule of the
Teutonic Knights, had for some seven years been under the dominion of
the King of Poland. There were two boys and two girls in the family;
and their fervent Catholicity can be judged from the fact that all of
them, parents and children, were inscribed among the members of the
Third Order of St. Dominic. Barbara, the older sister, became a
religious in the Cistercian Convent of Kulm, of which her aunt
Catherine was abbess, and of which later on she herself became abbess.
Andrew, the oldest son, became a priest; and Nicholas, the subject of
this sketch, at least assumed, as we shall see, all the {24}
obligations of the ecclesiastical life, though it is not certain that
he received the major religious orders.

Copernicus's collegiate education was obtained at the University of
Cracow, at that time one of the most important seats of learning in
Europe. The five-hundredth anniversary of the founding of this
University was celebrated with great pomp only a few years ago. Its
origin, however, dates back to the times of Casimir the Great, at the
end of the thirteenth or the beginning of the fourteenth century. Its
foundation was due to the same spirit of enthusiastic devotion to
letters that gave us all the other great universities of the
thirteenth century. The original institution was so much improved by
Jagello, King of Poland, at the beginning of the fifteenth century,
that it bears his name and is known as the Jagellonian University. It
was very natural for Copernicus to go back to his father's native city
for his education; but his ambitious spirit was not content with the
opportunities afforded there. He does not seem to have taken his
academic degrees, and the tradition that he received his doctorate in
medicine at the University of Cracow cannot be substantiated by any
documentary evidence.

At Cracow, Copernicus devoted himself mainly to classical studies,
though his interest in astronomy seems to have been awakened there. In
fact, it is said that his desire to be able to read Ptolemy's
astronomy in the original Greek, and {25} to obtain a good copy of it,
led him to look to Italy for his further education. During his years
at Cracow, however, he seems to have made numerous observations in
astronomy, as most of the astronomical data in his books are found
reduced to the meridian of Cracow. The observatory of Frauenburg, at
which his work in astronomy in later life was carried on, was on the
same meridian; so that it is difficult to say, as have some of his
biographers, that, since Cracow was the capital of his native country,
motives of patriotism influenced him to continue his observations
according to this same meridian. Copernicus was anxious, no doubt, to
come in contact with some of the great astronomers at the universities
of Italy, whom he knew by reputation and whose work was attracting
attention all over Europe at that time.

How faithfully Copernicus applied himself to his classical studies can
be best appreciated from some Latin poems written by him during his
student days. These poems are an index, too, of the personal character
of the man, and give some interesting hints of the religious side of
his character. Altogether there are seven Latin odes, each ode
composed of seven strophes. The seven odes are united by a certain
community of interest or succession of subjects. All of them refer to
the history of the Redeemer either in types or in reality. In the
first one the prophets prefigure the appearance of the Saviour; in the
second the patriarchs sigh for His coming; the {26} third depicts the
scene of the Nativity in the Cave of Bethlehem; the fourth is
concerned with the Circumcision and the imposition of the Name chosen
by the Holy Ghost; the fifth treats of the Star and the Magi and their
guidance to the Manger; the sixth concerns the presentation in the
Temple; and the seventh, the scene in which Jesus at the age of twelve
disputes with the doctors in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Copernicus's recent biographers have called attention particularly to
the poetical beauties with which he surrounds every mention of the
Blessed Virgin and her qualities. As is evident even from our brief
resume of the subjects of the odes, the themes selected are just those
in which the special devotion of the writer to the Mother of the
Saviour could be very well brought out. There are, besides, a number
of astronomical allusions which stamp the poems as the work of
Copernicus, and which have been sufficient to defend their
authenticity against the attacks made by certain critics, who tried to
point out how different was the style from that of Copernicus's later
years in his scientific writings. The tradition of authorship is,
however, too well established on other grounds to be disturbed by
criticism of this sort. The poems were dedicated to the Pope. In
writing poetry Copernicus was only doing what Tycho Brahe and Kepler,
his great successors in astronomy, did after him; and the argument
with regard to the difference of style in the two kinds of writings
would hold also as regards these authors.


Copernicus's years as a boy and man--that is, up to the age of
thirty-five--corresponded with a time of great intellectual activity
in Europe. This fact is not as generally recognized as it should be,
for intellectual activity is supposed to have awakened after the
so-called Reformation. During the years from 1472 to 1506, however,
there were founded in Germany alone no less than six universities:
those of Ingolstadt, Treves, Tubingen, Mentz, Wittenberg, and
Frankfort-on-the-Oder. These were not by any means the first great
institutions of learning that arose in Germany. The universities of
Prague and Vienna were more than a century old, and, with Heidelberg,
Cologne, Erfurt, Leipsic, and Rostock, besides Greifswald and
Freiburg, founded about the middle of the fifteenth century, had
reached a high state of development, and contained larger numbers of
students, with few exceptions, than these same institutions have ever
had down to our own day. In most cases their charters were derived
from the pope; and most of the universities were actually recognized
as ecclesiastical institutions, in the sense that their officials held
ecclesiastical authority.

At this time--the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the
sixteenth century--it was not unusual for students, in their
enthusiasm for learning, to attempt to exhaust nearly the whole round
of university studies. Medicine seems to have been a favorite subject
with scholars who were widely interested in knowledge for its own {28}
sake. Almost at the same time that Copernicus was studying in Italy,
the distinguished English Greek scholar, Linacre, was also engaged in
what would now be called post-graduate work at various Italian
universities, and in the household of Lorenzo the Magnificent at
Florence, with whose son--so much did Lorenzo think of him--he was
allowed to study Greek. Linacre (as will be seen more at length in the
sketch of his life in this volume), besides being the greatest Greek
scholar of his time, the friend later of More and Colet and Erasmus in
London, was also the greatest physician in England.

To those familiar with the times, it may be a source of surprise to
think of Copernicus, interested as we know him to have been in
literature and devoted so cordially to astronomy, yet taking up
medicine as a profession. He seems, however, to have been led to do so
by his distinguished teacher, Novara, who realized the talent of his
Polish pupil for mathematics and astronomy and yet felt that he should
have some profession in life. A century ago Coleridge, the English
writer, said that a literary man should have some other occupation.
Oliver Wendell Holmes improved upon this by adding: "And, as far as
possible, he should confine himself to the other occupation." Novara
seems to have realized that Copernicus might be under the necessity of
knowing how to do something else besides making astronomical
observations, in order to gain his living; and as medicine was {29}
satisfyingly scientific, the old teacher suggested his taking it up as
a profession. Copernicus made his medical studies in Ferrara and
Padua, and obtained his doctorate with honors from Ferrara.

Copernicus seems to have taken up the practice of his profession
seriously, and to have persevered in it to the end of his life. His
biographers say that in the exercise of his professional duties he was
animated by the spirit of a person who had devoted himself to the
ecclesiastical life. While he did not publicly practise his
profession, he was ever ready to assist the poor; and he also acquired
great reputation in the surrounding country for his medical attendance
upon clerics of all ranks. This continued to be the case,
notwithstanding the fact that after the death of his uncle his mother
inherited considerable wealth, and the family circumstances changed so
much that he might well have given up any labors that were meant only
to add to his income. In a word, he seems to have had a sincere
interest in his professional work, and to have continued its exercise
because of the opportunities it afforded for the satisfaction of a
mind devoted to scientific research.

Copernicus acquired considerable reputation by his medical services.
His friend Giese speaks of him as a very skilful physician, and even
calls him a second AEsculapius. Maurice Ferber, who became Bishop of
Ermland in 1523, suffered from a severe chronic illness that began
about 1529. He obtained permission from the canons {30} of the
cathedral to have Doctor Copernicus, whose ability and zeal he never
ceased to praise, to come from the cathedral town where he ordinarily
resided to Heilsburg, in order to have him near him. Bishop Ferber's
successor, Dantisco, also secured Copernicus's aid in a severe
illness, and declared that his restoration to health was mainly due to
the efforts of his learned physician. Giese was so confident of the
Doctor's skill that when he became Bishop of Kulm and on one of his
episcopal visitations fell ill at a considerable distance from
Copernicus's place of residence, he insisted on having the astronomer
doctor brought to take care of him.

In 1541 Duke Albert of Prussia became very much worried over the
illness of one of his most trusted counsellors. In his distress he had
recourse to Copernicus, and his letter asking the Canon of the
Cathedral of Frauenburg to come to attend the patient is still extant.
He says that the cure of the illness is "very much at his heart"; and,
as every other means has failed, he hopes Copernicus will do what he
can for the assistance of his faithful and valued counsellor.
Copernicus yielded to the request, and the counsellor began to improve
shortly after his arrival. At the end of some weeks the Duke wrote
again to the canons of the cathedral asking that the leave of absence
granted to Copernicus should be extended in order to enable him to
complete the cure which had been so happily begun. In this second
letter the Duke talks of Copernicus as a {31} most skilful and learned
physician. At the end of the month there is a third letter from the
Duke, in which he thanks all the canons of the cathedral for their
goodness in having granted the desired permission, and he adds that he
shall ever feel under obligations "for the assistance rendered by that
very worthy and excellent physician, Nicholas Copernicus, a doctor who
is deserving of all honor." Not long afterward, when Copernicus's book
on astronomy was published, a copy of it was sent to the Duke, and he
replied that he was deeply grateful for it, and that he should always
preserve it as a souvenir of the most learned and gentlest of men.

There are a number of notes on the art of medicine made by Copernicus
in the books of the cathedral library at Frauenburg. They serve to
show how faithful a student he was, and to a certain extent give an
idea of the independent habit of mind which he brought to the
investigation of medicine as well as to the study of astronomy.
Unfortunately, these have not as yet found an editor; but it is to be
hoped that we shall soon know more of the medical thinking of a man
over whose mind tradition, in the unworthier sense of that word,
exercised so little influence.

In 1530 Copernicus wrote a short prelude to the longer work on
astronomy which he was to publish later. The propositions contained in
this work show how far he had advanced on the road to his ultimate
discovery. After a few words of introduction, the following seven
axioms are laid down:--


1. The celestial spheres and their orbits have not a single center.

2. The center of the earth is not the center of the universe, but only
the center of gravity and of the moon's orbit.

3. The planes of the orbits lie around the sun, which may be
considered as the center of the universe.

4. The distance from the earth to the sun compared with that from the
earth to the fixed stars is extremely small.

5. The daily motion of the heavenly sphere is apparent that is, it is
an effect of the rotary motion of the earth upon it axis.

6. The apparent motions of the moon and of the sun are so different
because of the effect produced by the motion of the earth.

7. The movements of the earth account for the apparent retrograde
motion and other irregularities of the movements of the planets. It is
enough to assume that the earth alone moves, in order to explain all
the other movements observed in the heavens.

It is no wonder that one of his bishop-friends, Frisio, writing to
another bishop-friend, Dantisco, said: "If Copernicus succeeds in
demonstrating the truth of his thesis--and we may well consider that
he will from this prelude--he will give us a new heaven and a new
earth." This shorter exposition of Copernicus's views was found in
manuscript in the imperial library in Vienna only about a quarter of a
century ago. {33} It is mentioned by Tycho Brahe in one of his works
on astronomy in which he reviews the various contemporary advances
made in the knowledge of the heavens.

The publication of Copernicus's great work, "De Revolutionibus Orbium
Celestium," was delayed until he was advanced in years, because his
astronomical opinions were constantly progressing; and, with the
patience of true genius, he was not satisfied with anything less than
the perfect expression of truth as he saw it. It has sometimes been
said that it was delayed because Copernicus feared the storm of
religious persecution which he foresaw it would surely arouse. How
utterly without foundation is this pretence, which has unfortunately
crept into serious history, can be seen from the fact that Pope Paul
III accepted the dedication of the work; and of the twelve popes who
immediately followed Paul not one even thought of proceeding against
Copernicus's work. His teaching was never questioned by any of the
Roman Congregations for nearly one hundred years after his death.
Galileo's injudicious insistence in his presentation of Copernicus's
doctrine, on the novelties of opinion that controverted
long-established beliefs, was then responsible for the condemnation by
the Congregation of the Index; and, as we shall see, this was not
absolute, but only required that certain passages should be corrected.
The corrections demanded were unimportant as regards the actual
science, and {34} merely insisted that Copernicus's teaching was
hypothesis and not yet actual demonstration.

It must not be forgotten, after all, that the reasons advanced by
Copernicus for his idea of the movements of the planets were not
supported by any absolute demonstration, but only by reasons from
analogy. Nearly a hundred years later than his time, even after the
first discoveries had been made by the newly constructed telescopes,
in Galileo's day, there was no absolute proof of the true system of
the heavens. The famous Jesuit astronomer, Father Secchi, says the
reasons adduced by Galileo were no real proofs: they were only certain
analogies, and by no means excluded the possibility of the contrary
propositions with regard to the movements of the heavens being true.
"None of the real proofs for the earth's rotation upon its axis were
known at the time of Galileo, nor were there direct conclusive
arguments for the earth's moving around the sun." Even Galileo himself
confessed that he had not any strict demonstration of his views, such
as Cardinal Bellarmine requested. He wrote to the Cardinal, "The
system seems to be true;" and he gave as a reason that it corresponded
to the phenomena.

According to the astronomers of the time, however, the old Ptolemaic
system, in the shape in which it was explained by the Danish
astronomer Tycho Brahe, who was acknowledged as the greatest of
European astronomers, appeared to give quite a satisfactory
explanation of the {35} phenomena observed. The English philosopher,
Lord Bacon, more than a decade after Galileo's announcement,
considered that there were certain phenomena in nature contrary to the
Copernican theory, and so he rejected it altogether. This was within a
few years of the condemnation by the Congregation at Rome. As pointed
out by Father Heinzle, S.J., in his article on Galileo in the
"Catholic World" for 1887, "science was so far from determining the
question of the truth or falsity of either the Ptolemaic or the
Copernican system that shortly before 1633, the year of Galileo's
condemnation, a number of savants, such as Fromond in Louvain, Morin
in Paris, Berigard in Pisa, Bartolinus in Copenhagen, and Scheiner in
Rome, wrote against Copernicanism."

As we have said, Copernicus's book was not condemned unconditionally
by the Roman authorities, but only until it should be corrected. This
assured protection to the principal part of the work, and the warning
issued by the Roman Congregation in the year 1820 particularizes the
details that had to be corrected. It is interesting to note that
whenever Copernicus is spoken of in this Monitum it is always in
flattering terms as a "noble astrologer"--the word astrologer having
at that time no unworthy meaning. The whole work is praised and its
scientific quality acknowledged.

The passages requiring correction were not many. In the first book, at
the beginning of the {36} fifth chapter, Copernicus made the
declaration that "the immobility of the earth was not a decided
question, but was still open to discussion." In place of these words
it was suggested that the following should be inserted: "In order to
explain the apparent motions of the celestial bodies, it is a matter
of indifference whether we admit that the earth occupies a place in
the middle of the heavens or not."

In the eighth chapter of the first book, Copernicus said: "Why, then,
this repugnance to concede to our globe its own movement as natural to
it as is its spherical form? Why prefer to make the whole heavens
revolve around it, with the great danger of disturbance that would
result, instead of explaining all these apparent movements of the
heavenly bodies by the real rotation of the earth, according to the
words of AEneas, 'We are carried from the port, and the land and the
cities recede'?" This passage was to be modified as follows: "Why not,
then, admit a certain mobility of the earth corresponding to its form,
since the whole universe of which we know the bounds is moved,
producing appearances which recall to the mind the well-known saying
of AEneas in Virgil, 'The land and the cities recede'?"

Toward the end of the same chapter Copernicus, continuing the same
train of thought, says: "I do not fear to add that it is incomparably
more unreasonable to make the immense vault of the heavens revolve
than to admit the {37} revolution of our little terrestrial globe."
This passage was to be modified as follows: "In one case as well as in
the other--that is, whether we admit the rotation of the earth or that
of the heavenly spheres--we encounter the same difficulties."

The ninth chapter of the first book begins with these words: "There
being no difficulty in admitting, then, the mobility of the earth, let
us proceed to see whether it has one or a number of movements, and
whether, therefore, our earth is a simple planet like the other
planets." The following words were to be substituted: "Supposing,
then, that the earth does move, it is necessary to examine whether
this movement is multiple or not."

Toward the middle of the tenth chapter Copernicus declares: "I do not
hesitate to defend the proposition that the earth, accompanied by the
moon, moves around the sun;" while the wording of this proposition had
to be changed so as to substitute the term "admit" for "defend." The
title of the eleventh chapter, "Demonstration of the Triple Movement
of the Earth," was modified to read as follows: "The Hypothesis of the
Triple Movement of the Earth, and the Reasons Therefor." The title of
the twentieth chapter of the fourth book originally read: "On the Size
of the Three Stars [_Sidera_], the sun, the moon, and the earth." The
word "stars" was removed from this title, the earth not being
considered as a star. The concluding words of {38} the tenth chapter
of the first book, "So great is the magnificent work of the Omnipotent
Artificer," had to be cancelled, because they expressed an assurance
of the truth of his system not warranted by knowledge. With these few
unimportant changes, any one might read and study Copernicus's work
with perfect freedom.

Traditions to the contrary notwithstanding, Galileo, because of the
friendship and encouragement of the churchmen in Italy, had been
placed in conditions eminently suited for study and investigation.
Several popes and a number of prominent ecclesiastics were his
constant friends and patrons. The perpetual secretary of the Paris
Academy of Sciences, M. Bertrand, himself a great mathematician and
historian, declares that the long life of Galileo was one of the most
enviable that is recorded in the history of science. "The tale of his
misfortunes has confirmed the triumph of the truth for which he
suffered. Let us tell the whole truth. This great lesson was learned
without any profound sorrow to Galileo; and his long life, considered
as a whole, was one of the most serene and enviable in the history of

Copernicus, like Galileo, had clerical friends to thank for an
environment that proved the greatest possible aid to his scientific
work. His position as Canon of the Cathedral of Frauenburg provided
him with learned leisure, while his clerical friends took just enough
interest in his investigations and the preliminary {39} announcements
of his discoveries to make his pursuit of astronomical studies to some
definite conclusion a worthy aim in life. It was this assistance that
enabled him to publish his book eventually and bring his great theory
before the world.

Copernicus, far from having any leanings toward the so-called "reform"
movement (as has often been asserted), was evidently a staunch
supporter of his friend and patron Bishop Maurice Ferber, of Ermland,
who kept his see loyal to Rome at a time when the secularization of
the Teutonic order and the falling away of many bishops all around him
make his position as a faithful son of the Church and that of his
diocese noteworthy in the history of that time and place. It may well
be said that under less favorable conditions Copernicus's work might
never have been finished. As it was, his book met with great
opposition from the Reformers, but remained absolutely acceptable even
to the most rigorous churchmen until Galileo's unfortunate insistence
on the points of it that were opposed to generally accepted theories.

During all his long life Copernicus remained one of the simplest of
men. Genius as he was, he could not have failed to realize how great
was the significance of the discoveries he had made in astronomy. In
spite of this he continued to exercise during a long career the simple
duties of his post as Canon of the Cathedral of Frauenberg, nor did he
fail to give such time as was asked of him for the medical treatment
of the {40} poor or of his friends, the ecclesiastics of the
neighborhood. These duties--as he seems to have considered them--must
have taken many precious hours from his studies, but they were given
unstintingly. When he came to die, his humility was even more
prominent than during life. It was at his own request that there was
graven upon his tombstone simply the prayer, "I ask not the grace
accorded to Paul, not that given to Peter: give me only the favor Thou
didst show to the thief on the cross." There is perhaps no better
example in all the world of the simplicity of true genius nor any
better example of how sublimely religious may be the soul that has far
transcended the bounds of the scientific knowledge of its own day.

The greatness of Copernicus's life-work can best be realized from the
extent to which he surpassed even well-known contemporaries in
astronomy and from his practical anticipation of the opinions of some
of his greatest successors. Even Tycho Brahe, important though he is
in the history of astronomical science, taught many years after
Copernicus's death the doctrine that the earth is the center of the
universe. Newton had in Copernicus a precursor who divined the theory
of universal gravitation; and even Kepler's great laws, especially the
elliptical form of the orbits of the planets, are at least hinted at
in Copernicus's writings. He is certainly one of the most original
geniuses of all times; and it is interesting to find that the
completeness of his {41} scholarly career, far from being rendered
abortive by friction with ecclesiastical superiors, as we might
imagine probable from the traditions that hang around his name, was
rather made possible by the sympathy and encouragement of clerical
friends and Church authorities. Copernicus, the scholar, astronomer,
physician, and clergyman, is a type of the eve of the Reformation
period, and his life is the best possible refutation of the slanders
with regard to the unprogressiveness of the Church and churchmen of
that epoch which have unfortunately been only too common in the
histories of the time.






Let us, then, banish into the world of fiction that affirmation so
long repeated by foolish credulity which made monasteries an asylum
for indolence and incapacity, for misanthropy and pusillanimity, for
feeble and melancholic temperaments, and for men who were no longer
fit to serve society in the world. Monasteries were never intended to
collect the invalids of the world. It was not the sick souls, but on
the contrary the most vigorous and healthful the human race has ever
produced, who presented themselves in crowds to fill
them.--MONTALEMBERT, _Monks of the West_.




The Protestant tradition which presumes a priori that no good can
possibly have come out of the Nazareth of the times before the
Reformation, and especially the immediately preceding century, has
served to obscure to an unfortunate degree the history of several
hundred years extremely important in every department of education.
Strange as it may seem to those unfamiliar with the period, it is in
that department which is supposed to be so typically modern
the--physical sciences--that this neglect is most serious. Such a hold
has this Protestant tradition on even educated minds that it is a
source of great surprise to most people to be told that there were in
many parts of Europe original observers in the physical sciences all
during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries who were
doing ground-breaking work of the highest value, work that was
destined to mean much for the development of modern science.
Speculations and experiments with regard to the philosopher's stone
and the transmutation of metals are supposed to fill up all the
interests of the alchemists of those days. As a matter of fact,
however, men were making original observations of very {46} profound
significance, and these were considered so valuable by their
contemporaries that, though printing had not yet been invented, even
the immense labor involved in copying large folio volumes by hand did
not suffice to deter them from multiplying the writings of these men
and thus preserving them for future generations, until the
printing-press came to perpetuate them.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, with some of the supposed
foundations of modern chemistry crumbling to pieces under the
influences of the peculiarly active light thrown upon older chemical
theories by the discovery of radium and the radio-active elements
generally, there is a reawakening of interest in some of the old-time
chemical observers whose work used to be laughed at as so unscientific
and whose theory of the transmutation of elements into one another was
considered so absurd. The idea that it would be impossible under any
circumstances to convert one element into another belongs entirely to
the nineteenth century. Even so distinguished a mind as that of
Newton, in the preceding century, could not bring itself to
acknowledge the modern supposition of the absurdity of metallic
transformation, but, on the contrary, believed very firmly in this as
a basic chemical principle and confessed that it might be expected to
occur at any time. He had seen specimens of gold ores in connexion
with metallic copper, and had concluded that this was a manifestation
of the natural transformation of one of these yellow metals into the


With the discovery that radium transforms itself into helium, and that
indeed all the so-called radio-activities of the very heavy metals are
probably due to a natural transmutation process constantly at work,
the ideas of the older chemists cease entirely to be a subject for
amusement. The physical chemists of the present day are very ready to
admit that the old teaching of the absolute independence of something
over seventy elements is no longer tenable, except as a working
hypothesis. The doctrine of matter and form taught for so many
centuries by the scholastic philosophers which proclaimed that all
matter is composed of two principles, an underlying material
substratum and a dynamic or informing principle, has now more
acknowledged verisimilitude, or lies at least closer to the generally
accepted ideas of the most progressive scientists, than it has at any
time for the last two or three centuries. Not only the great
physicists, but also the great chemists, are speculating along lines
that suggest the existence of but one form of matter, modified
according to the energies that it possesses under a varying physical
and chemical environment. This is, after all, only a restatement in
modern terms of the teaching of St. Thomas of Aquin in the thirteenth

It is not surprising, then, that there should be a reawakening of
interest in the lives of some of the men who, dominated by the earlier
scholastic ideas and by the tradition of the possibility of finding
the philosopher's stone, which would {48} transmute the baser metals
into the precious metals, devoted themselves with quite as much zeal
as any modern chemist to the observation of chemical phenomena. One of
the most interesting of these--indeed he might well be said to be the
greatest of the alchemists--is the man whose only name that we know is
that which appears on a series of manuscripts written in the High
German dialect of the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the
sixteenth century. That name is Basil Valentine, and the writer,
according to the best historical traditions, was a Benedictine monk.
The name Basil Valentine may only have been a pseudonym, for it has
been impossible to trace it among the records of the monasteries of
the time. That the writer was a monk there seems to be no doubt, for
his writings in manuscript and printed form began to have their vogue
at a time when there was little likelihood of their being attributed
to a monk unless an indubitable tradition connected them with some

This Basil Valentine (to accept the only name we have), as we can
judge very well from his writings, eminently deserves the designation
of the last of the alchemists and the first of the chemists. There is
practically a universal recognition of the fact now that he deserves
also the title of Founder of Modern Chemistry, not only because of the
value of the observations contained in his writings, but also because
of the fact that they proved so suggestive to certain {49} scientific
geniuses during the century succeeding Valentine's life. Almost more
than to have added to the precious heritage of knowledge for mankind
is it a boon for a scientific observer to have awakened the spirit of
observation in others and to be the founder of a new school of
thought. This Basil Valentine undoubtedly did.

Besides, his work furnishes evidence that the investigating spirit was
abroad just when it is usually supposed not to have been, for the
Thuringian monk surely did not do all his investigating alone, but
must have received as well as given many a suggestion to his

In the history of education there are two commonplaces that are
appealed to oftener than any other as the sources of material with
regard to the influence of the Catholic Church on education during the
centuries preceding the Reformation. These are the supposed idleness
of the monks, and the foolish belief in the transmutation of metals
and the search for the philosopher's stone which dominated the minds
of so many of the educated men of the time. It is in Germany
especially that these two features of the pre-Reformation period are
supposed to be best illustrated. In recent years, however, there has
come quite a revolution in the feelings even of those outside of the
Church with regard to the proper appreciation of the work of the
monastic scholars of these earlier centuries. Even though some of them
did dream golden dreams over their alembics, the love of knowledge
meant {50} more to them, as to the serious students of any age, than
anything that might be made by it. As for their scientific beliefs, if
there can be a conversion of one element into another, as seems true
of radium, then the possibility of the transmutation of metals is not
so absurd as, for a century or more, it has seemed; and it is not
impossible that at some time even gold may be manufactured out of
other metallic materials.

Of course, a still worthier change of mind has come over the attitude
of educators because of the growing sense of appreciation for the
wonderful work of the monks of the Middle Ages, and even of those
centuries that are supposed to show least of the influence of these
groups of men who, forgetting material progress, devoted themselves to
the preservation and the cultivation of the things of the spirit. The
impression that would consider the pre-Reformation monks in Germany as
unworthy of their high calling in the great mass is almost entirely
without foundation. Obscure though the lives of most of them were,
many of them rose above their environment in such a way as to make
their work landmarks in the history of progress for all time.

Because their discoveries are buried in the old Latin folios that are
contained only in the best libraries, not often consulted by the
modern scientist, it is usually thought that the scientific
investigators of these centuries before the Reformation did no work
that would be worth while considering in our present day. It is only
some {51} one who goes into this matter as a labor of love who will
consider it worth his while to take the trouble seriously to consult
these musty old tomes. Many a scholar, however, has found his labor
well rewarded by the discovery of many an anticipation of modern
science in these volumes so much neglected and where such
treasure-trove is least expected. Professor Clifford Allbutt, the
Regius Professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, in his
address on "The Historical Relations of Medicine and Surgery Down to
the End of the Sixteenth Century," which was delivered at the St.
Louis Congress of Arts and Sciences during the Exposition in 1904, has
shown how much that is supposed to be distinctly modern in medicine,
and above all in surgery, was the subject of discussion at the French
and Italian universities of the thirteenth century. William Salicet,
for instance, who taught at the University of Bologna, published a
large series of case histories, substituted the knife for the Arabic
use of the cautery, described the danger of wounds of the neck,
investigated the causes of the failure of healing by first intention,
and sutured divided nerves. His pupil, Lanfranc, who taught later at
the University of Paris, went farther than his master by
distinguishing between venous and arterial hemorrhage, requiring
digital compression for an hour to stop hemorrhage from the _venae
pulsatiles_--the pulsating veins, as they were called--and if this
failed because of the size of the vessel, {52} suggesting the
application of a ligature. Lanfranc's chapter on injuries to the head
still remains a noteworthy book in surgery that establishes beyond a
doubt how thoughtfully practical were these teachers in the medieval
universities. It must be remembered that at this time all the teachers
in universities, even those in the medical schools as well as those
occupied with surgery, were clerics. Professor Allbutt calls attention
over and over again to this fact, because it emphasizes the
thoroughness of educational methods, in spite of the supposed
difficulties that would lie in the way of an exclusively clerical
teaching staff.

In chemistry the advances made during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and
fifteenth centuries were even more noteworthy than those in any other
department of science. Albertus Magnus, who taught at Paris, wrote no
less than sixteen treatises on chemical subjects, and, notwithstanding
the fact that he was a theologian as well as a scientist and that his
printed works filled sixteen folio volumes, he somehow found the time
to make many observations for himself and performed numberless
experiments in order to clear up doubts. The larger histories of
chemistry accord him his proper place and hail him as a great founder
in chemistry and a pioneer in original investigation.

Even St. Thomas of Aquin, much as he was occupied with theology and
philosophy, found some time to devote to chemical questions. After
{53} all, this is only what might have been expected of the favorite
pupil of Albertus Magnus. Three treatises on chemical subjects from
Aquinas's pen have been preserved for us, and it is to him that we are
said to owe the origin of the word amalgam, which he first used in
describing various chemical methods of metallic combination with
mercury that were discovered in the search for the genuine
transmutation of metals.

Albertus Magnus's other great scientific pupil, Roger Bacon, the
English Franciscan friar, followed more closely in the physical
scientific ways of his great master. Altogether he wrote some eighteen
treatises on chemical subjects. For a long time it was considered that
he was the inventor of gunpowder, though this is now known to have
been introduced into Europe by the Arabs. Roger Bacon studied
gunpowder and various other explosive combinations in considerable
detail, and it is for this reason that he obtained the undeserved
reputation of being an original discoverer in this line. How well he
realized how much might be accomplished by means of the energy stored
up in explosives can perhaps be best appreciated from the fact that he
suggested that boats would go along the rivers and across the seas
without either sails or oars and that carriages would go along the
streets without horse or man power. He considered that man would
eventually invent a method of harnessing these explosive mixtures and
of utilizing their energies for his purposes without {54} danger. It
is curiously interesting to find, as we begin the twentieth century,
and gasolene is so commonly used for the driving of automobiles and
motor boats and is being introduced even on railroad cars in the West
as the most available source of energy for suburban traffic, that this
generation should only be fulfilling the idea of the old Franciscan
friar of the thirteenth century, who prophesied that in explosives
there was the secret of eventually manageable energy for
transportation purposes.

Succeeding centuries were not as fruitful in great scientists as the
thirteenth, and yet at the beginning of the fourteenth there was a
pope, three of whose scientific treatises--one on the transmutation of
metals, which he considers an impossibility, at least as far as the
manufacture of gold and silver was concerned; a treatise on diseases
of the eyes, of which Professor Allbutt [Footnote 4] says that it was
not without its distinctive practical value, though compiled so early
in the history of eye surgery; and, finally, his treatise on the
preservation of the health, written when he was himself over eighty
years of age--are all considered by good authorities as worthy of the
best scientific spirit of the time. This pope was John XXII, of whom
it has been said over and over again by Protestant historians that he
issued a bull forbidding chemistry, though he was himself one of the
enthusiastic students of chemistry {55} in his younger years and
always retained his interest in the science. [Footnote 5]

  [Footnote 4: Address cited]

  [Footnote 5: For the refutation of this calumny with regard to John
  XXII, see "Pope John XXII and the supposed Bull forbidding
  Chemistry," by James J. Walsh, Ph. D., LL. D., in the _Medical
  Library and Historical Journal_, October, 1905.]

During the fourteenth century Arnold of Villanova, the inventor of
nitric acid, and the two Hollanduses kept up the tradition of original
investigation in chemistry. Altogether there are some dozen treatises
from these three men on chemical subjects. The Hollanduses
particularly did their work in a spirit of thoroughly frank, original
investigation. They were more interested in minerals than in any other
class of substances, but did not waste much time on the question of
transmutation of metals. Professor Thompson, the professor of
chemistry at Edinburgh, said in his history of chemistry many years
ago that the Hollanduses have very clear descriptions of their
processes of treating minerals in investigating their composition,
which serve to show that their knowledge was by no means entirely
theoretical or acquired only from books or by argumentation.

Before the end of this fourteenth century, according to the best
authorities on this subject, Basil Valentine, the more particular
subject of our essay, was born.

Valentine's career is a typical example of the personally obscure but
intellectually brilliant lives {56} which these old monks lived. It
seems probable, according to the best authorities, as we have said,
that his work began shortly before the middle of the fifteenth
century, although most of what was important in it was accomplished
during the second half. It would not be so surprising, as most people
who have been brought up to consider the period just before the
Reformation in Germany as wanting in progressive scholars might
imagine, for a supremely great original investigator to have existed
in North Germany about this time. After all, before the end of the
century, Copernicus, the Pole, working in northern Germany, had
announced his theory that the earth was not the center of the
universe, and had set forth all that this announcement meant. To a
bishop-friend who said to him, "But this means that you are giving us
a new universe," he replied that the universe was already there, but
his theory would lead men to recognize its existence. In southern
Germany, Thomas à Kempis, who died in 1471, had traced for man the
outlines of another universe, that of his own soul, from its
mystically practical side. These great Germans were only the worthy
contemporaries of many other German scholars scarcely less
distinguished than these supreme geniuses. The second half of the
fifteenth century, the beginning of the Renaissance in Germany as well
as Italy, is that wonderful time in history when somehow men's eyes
were opened to see farther and their minds broadened to gather in more
of the truth of {57} man's relation to the universe, than had ever
before been the case in all the centuries of human existence, or than
has ever been possible even in these more modern centuries, though
supposedly we are the heirs of all the ages in the foremost files of

Coming as he did before printing, when the spirit of tradition was
even more rife and dominating than it has been since, it is almost
needless to say that there are many curious legends associated with
the name of Basil Valentine. Two centuries before his time, Roger
Bacon, doing his work in England, had succeeded in attracting so much
attention even from the common people, because of his wonderful
scientific discoveries, that his name became a by-word and many
strange magical feats were attributed to him. Friar Bacon was the
great wizard even in the plays of the Elizabethan period. A number of
the same sort of myths attached themselves to the Benedictine monk of
the fifteenth century. He was proclaimed in popular story to have been
a wonderful magician. Even his manuscript, it was said, had not been
published directly, but had been hidden in a pillar in the church
attached to the monastery and had been discovered there after the
splitting open of the pillar by a bolt of lightning from heaven. It is
the extension of this tradition that has sometimes led to the
assumption that Valentine lived in an earlier century, some even going
so far as to say that he, too, like Roger Bacon, was a product of the
{58} thirteenth century. It seems reasonably possible, however, to
separate the traditional from what is actual in his existence, and
thus to obtain some idea at least of his work, if not of the details
of his life. The internal evidence from his works enable the historian
of science to place him within a half century of the discovery of

One of the stories told with regard to Basil Valentine, because it has
become a commonplace in philology, has made him more generally known
than any of his actual discoveries. In one of the most popular of the
old-fashioned text-books of chemistry in use a quarter of a century
ago, in the chapter on Antimony, there was a story that I suppose
students never forgot. It was said that Basil Valentine, a monk of the
Middle Ages, was the discoverer of this substance. After having
experimented with it in a number of ways, he threw some of it out of
his laboratory one day, where the swine of the monastery, finding it,
proceeded to gobble it up together with some other refuse. He watched
the effect upon the swine very carefully, and found that, after a
preliminary period of digestive disturbance, these swine developed an
enormous appetite and became fatter than any of the others. This
seemed a rather desirable result, and Basil Valentine, ever on the
search for the practical, thought that he might use the remedy to good
purpose even on the members of the community.

Now, some of the monks in the monastery were of rather frail health
and delicate constitution, {59} and he thought that the putting on of
a little fat in their case might be a good thing. Accordingly he
administered, surreptitiously, some of the salts of antimony, with
which he was experimenting, in the food served to these monks. The
result, however, was not so favorable as in the case of the hogs.
Indeed, according to one, though less authentic, version of the story,
some of the poor monks, the unconscious subjects of the experiment,
even perished as the result of the ingestion of the antimonial
compounds. According to the better version they suffered only the
usual unpleasant consequences of taking antimony, which are, however,
quite enough for a fitting climax to the story. Basil Valentine called
the new substance which he had discovered antimony, that is, opposed
to monks. It might be good for hogs, but it was a form of monks' bane,
as it were. [Footnote 6]

  [Footnote 6: It is curious to trace how old are the traditions on
  which some of these old stories that must now be rejected, are
  founded. I have come upon the story with regard to Basil Valentine
  and the antimony and the monks in an old French medical encyclopedia
  of biography, published in the seventeenth century, and at that time
  there was no doubt at all expressed as to its truth. How much older
  than this it may be I do not know, though it is probable that it
  comes from the sixteenth century, when the _kakoethes scribendi_
  attacked many people because of the facility of printing, and when
  most of the good stories that have so worried the modern dry-as-dust
  historian in his researches for their correction became a part of
  the body of supposed historical tradition.]


Unfortunately for most of the good stories of history, modern
criticism has nearly always failed to find any authentic basis for
them, and they have had to go the way of the legends of Washington's
hatchet and Tell's apple. We are sorry to say that that seems to be
true also of this particular story. Antimony, the word, is very
probably derived from certain dialectic forms of the Greek word for
the metal, and the name is no more derived from _anti_ and _monachus_
than it is from _anti_ and _monos_ (opposed to single existence),
another fictitious derivation that has been suggested, and one whose
etymological value is supposed to consist in the fact that antimony is
practically never found alone in nature.

Notwithstanding the apparent cloud of unfounded traditions that are
associated with his name, there can be no doubt at all of the fact
that Valentinus--to give him the Latin name by which he is commonly
designated in foreign literatures--was one of the great geniuses who,
working in obscurity, make precious steps into the unknown that enable
humanity after them to see things more clearly than ever before. There
are definite historical grounds for placing Basil Valentine as the
first of the series of careful observers who differentiated chemistry
from the old alchemy and applied its precious treasures of information
to the uses of medicine. It was because of the study of Basil
Valentine's work that Paracelsus broke away from the Galenic
traditions, so supreme in medicine up to his time, {61} and began our
modern pharmaceutics. Following on the heels of Paracelsus came Van
Helmont, the father of modern medical chemistry, and these three did
more than any others to enlarge the scope of medication and to make
observation rather than authority the most important criterion of
truth in medicine. Indeed, the work of these three men dominated
medicine, or at least the department of pharmaceutics, down almost to
our own day, and their influence is still felt in drug-giving.

While we do not know the absolute date of either the birth or the
death of Basil Valentine and are not sure even of the exact period in
which he lived and did his work, we are sure that a great original
observer about the time of the invention of printing studied mercury
and sulphur and various salts, and above all, introduced antimony to
the notice of the scientific world, and especially to the favor of
practitioners of medicine. His book, "The Triumphal Chariot of
Antimony," is full of conclusions not quite justified by his premises
nor by his observations. There is no doubt, however, that the
observational methods which he employed did give an immense amount of
knowledge and formed the basis of the method of investigation by which
the chemical side of medicine was to develop during the next two or
three centuries. Great harm was done by the abuse of antimony, but
then great harm is done by the abuse of anything, no matter how good
it may be. For a {62} time it came to be the most important drug in
medicine and was only replaced by venesection.

The fact of the matter is that doctors were looking for effects from
their drugs, and antimony is, above all things, effective. Patients,
too, wished to see the effect of the medicines they took. They do so
even yet, and when antimony was administered there was no doubt about
its working.

Some five years ago, when Sir Michael Foster, M.D., professor of
physiology in the University of Cambridge, England, was invited to
deliver the Lane lectures at the Cooper Medical College, in San
Francisco, he took for his subject "The History of Physiology." In the
course of his lecture on "The Rise of Chemical Physiology" he began
with the name of Basil Valentine, who first attracted men's attention
to the many chemical substances around them that might be used in the
treatment of disease, and said of him:--

  He was one of the alchemists, but in addition to his inquiries into
  the properties of metals and his search for the philosopher's stone,
  he busied himself with the nature of drugs, vegetable and mineral,
  and with their action as remedies for disease. He was no anatomist,
  no physiologist, but rather what nowadays we should call a
  pharmacologist. He did not care for the problem of the body, all he
  sought to understand was how the constituents of the soil and of
  plants might be treated so as to be available for healing the sick
  and how they produced their effects. We apparently owe to him the
  introduction of many chemical substances, for instance, of {63}
  hydrochloric acid, which he prepared from oil of vitriol and salt,
  and of many vegetable drugs. And he was apparently the author of
  certain conceptions which, as we shall see, played an important part
  in the development of chemistry and of physiology. To him, it seems,
  we owe the idea of the three "elements," as they were and have been
  called, replacing the old idea of the ancients of the four
  elements--earth, air, fire, and water. It must be remembered,
  however, that both in the ancient and in the new idea the word
  "element" was not intended to mean that which it means to us now, a
  fundamental unit of matter, but a general quality or property of
  matter. The three elements of Valentine were (1) sulphur, or that
  which is combustible, which is changed or destroyed, or which at all
  events disappears during burning or combustion; (2) mercury, that
  which temporarily disappears during burning or combustion, which is
  dissociated in the burning from the body burnt, but which may be
  recovered, that is to say, that which is volatile, and (3) salt,
  that which is fixed, the residue or ash which remains after burning.

The most interesting of Basil Valentine's books, and the one which has
had the most enduring influence, is undoubtedly "The Triumphal Chariot
of Antimony." It has been translated and has had a wide vogue in every
language of modern Europe. Its recommendation of antimony had such an
effect upon medical practice that it continued to be the most
important drug in the pharmacopoeia down almost to the middle of the
nineteenth century. If any proof were needed that Basil Valentine or
that the author of the books that go under that name was a monk, it
would be found in the {64} introduction to this volume, which not only
states that fact very clearly, but also in doing so makes use of
language that shows the writer to have been deeply imbued with the old
monastic spirit. I quote the first paragraph of this introduction in
order to make clear what I mean. The quotation is taken from the
English translation of the work as published in London in 1678.
Curiously enough, seeing the obscurity surrounding Valentine himself,
we do not know for sure who made the translation. The translator
apologizes somewhat for the deeply religious spirit of the book, but
considers that he was not justified in eliminating any of this. Of
course, the translation is left in the quaint old-fashioned form so
eminently suited to the thoughts of the old master, and the spelling
and use of capitals is not changed:

  Basil Valentine--His Triumphant Chariot of Antimony Since I, Basil
  Valentine, by Religious Vows am bound to live according to the Order
  of St. Benedict, and that requires another manner of spirit of
  Holiness than the common state of Mortals exercised in the profane
  business of this World; I thought it my duty before all things, in
  the beginning of this little book, to declare what is necessary to
  be known by the pious Spagyrist [old-time name for medical chemist],
  inflamed with an ardent desire of this Art, as what he ought to do,
  and whereunto to direct his aim, that he may lay such foundations of
  the whole matter as may be stable; lest his Building, shaken with
  the Winds, happen to fall, and the whole Edifice to be involved in
  shameful Ruine, {65} which otherwise, being founded on more firm and
  solid principles, might have continued for a long series of time
  Which Admonition I judged was, is and always will be a necessary
  part of my Religious Office; especially since we must all die, and
  no one of us which are now, whether high or low, shall long be seen
  among the number of men For it concerns me to recommend these
  Meditations of Mortality to Posterity, leaving them behind me, not
  only that honor may be given to the Divine Majesty, but also that
  Men may obey him sincerely in all things.

  In this my Meditation I found that there were five principal heads,
  chiefly to be considered by the wise and prudent spectators of our
  Wisdom and Art. The first of which is, Invocation of God. The
  second, Contemplation of Nature The third, True Preparation. The
  fourth, the Way of Using. The fifth, Utility and Fruit. For he who
  regards not these, shall never obtain place among true Chymists, or
  fill up the number of perfect Spagyrists. Therefore, touching these
  five heads, we shall here following treat and so far declare them,
  as that the general Work may be brought to light and perfected by an
  intent and studious Operator.

This book, though the title might seem to indicate it, is not devoted
entirely to the study of antimony, but contains many important
additions to the chemistry of the time. For instance, Basil Valentine
explains in this work how what he calls the spirit of salt might be
obtained. He succeeded in manufacturing this material by treating
common salt with oil of vitriol and heat. From the description of the
uses to which he put the end product of his chemical manipulation, it
is evident that under the name of spirit of salt {66} he is describing
what we now know as hydrochloric acid. This is the first definite
mention of it in the history of science, and the method suggested for
its preparation is not very different from that employed even at the
present time. He also suggests in this volume how alcohol may be
obtained in high strengths. He distilled the spirit obtained from wine
over carbonate of potassium, and thus succeeded in depriving it of a
great proportion of its water.

We have said that he was deeply interested in the philosopher's stone.
Naturally this turned his attention to the study of metals, and so it
is not surprising to find that he succeeded in formulating a method by
which metallic copper could be obtained. The substance used for the
purpose was copper pyrites, which was changed to an impure sulphate of
copper by the action of oil of vitriol and moist air. The sulphate of
copper occurred in solution, and the copper could be precipitated from
it by plunging an iron bar into it. Basil Valentine recognized the
presence of this peculiar yellow metal and studied some of its
qualities. He does not seem to have been quite sure, however, whether
the phenomenon that he witnessed was not really a transmutation of the
iron into copper, as a consequence of the other chemicals present.

There are some observations on chemical physiology, and especially
with regard to respiration, in the book on antimony which show their
author to have anticipated the true explanation of the {67} theory of
respiration. He states that animals breathe, because the air is needed
to support their life, and that all the animals exhibit the phenomenon
of respiration. He even insists that the fishes, though living in
water, breathe air, and he adduces in support of this idea the fact
that whenever a river is entirely frozen the fishes die. The reason
for this being, according to this old-time physiologist, not that the
fishes are frozen to death, but that they are not able to obtain air
in the ice as they did in the water, and consequently perish.

There are many testimonies to the practical character of all his
knowledge and his desire to apply it for the benefit of humanity. The
old monk could not repress the expression of his impatience with
physicians who gave to patients for diseases of which they knew
little, remedies of which they knew less. For him it was an
unpardonable sin for a physician not to have faithfully studied the
various mixtures that he prescribed for his patients, and not to know
not only their appearance and taste and effect, but also the limits of
their application. Considering that at the present time it is a
frequent source of complaint that physicians often prescribe remedies
with whose physical appearances they are not familiar, this complaint
of the old-time chemist alchemist will be all the more interesting for
the modern physician. It is evident that when Basil Valentine allows
his ire to get the better of him it is because of his indignation over
the {68} quacks who were abusing medicine and patients in his time, as
they have ever since. There is a curious bit of aspersion on mere
book-learning in the passage that has a distinctly modern ring, and
one feels the truth of Russell Lowell's expression that to read a
great genius, no matter how antique, is like reading a commentary in
the morning paper, so up-to-date does genius ever remain:--

  And whensoever I shall have occasion to contend in the School with
  such a Doctor, who knows not how himself to prepare his own
  medicines, but commits that business to another, I am sure I shall
  obtain the Palm from him; for indeed that good man knows not what
  medicines he prescribes to the sick; whether the color of them be
  white, black, grey, or blew, he cannot tell; nor doth this wretched
  man know whether the medicine he gives be dry or hot, cold or humid;
  but he only knows that he found it so written in his Books, and
  thence pretends knowledge (or as it were, Possession) by
  Prescription of a very long time; yet he desires to further
  Information Here again let it be lawful to exclaim, Good God, to
  what a state is the matter brought! what goodness of minde is in
  these men! what care do they take of the sick! Wo, wo to them! in
  the day of Judgment they will find the fruit of their ignorance and
  rashness, then they will see Him whom they pierced, when they
  neglected their Neighbor, sought after money and nothing else;
  whereas were they cordial in their profession, they would spend
  Nights and Days in Labour that they might become more learned in
  their Art, whence more certain health would accrew to the sick with
  their Estimation and greater glory to themselves. But since Labour
  is tedious to them, they commit the {69} matter to chance, and being
  secure of their Honour, and content with their Fame, they (like
  Brawlers) defend themselves with a certain garrulity, without any
  respect had to Confidence or Truth.

Perhaps one of the reasons why Valentine's book has been of such
enduring interest is that it is written in an eminently human vein and
out of a lively imagination. It is full of figures relating to many
other things besides chemistry, which serve to show how deeply this
investigating observer was attentive to all the problems of life
around him. For instance, when he wants to describe the affinity that
exists between many substances in chemistry, and which makes it
impossible for them not to be attracted to one another, he takes a
figure from the attractions that he sees exist among men and women.
There are some paragraphs with regard to the influence of the passion
of love that one might think rather a quotation from an old-time
sermon than from a great ground-breaking book in the science of

  Love leaves nothing entire or sound in man; it impedes his sleep; he
  cannot rest either day or night; it takes off his appetite that he
  hath no disposition either to meat or drink by reason of the
  continual torments of his heart and mind. It deprives him of all
  Providence, hence he neglects his affairs, vocation and business. He
  minds neither study, labor nor prayer; casts away all thoughts of
  anything but the body beloved; this is his study, this his most vain
  occupation. If to lovers the success be not answerable to their
  wish, or so soon {70} and prosperously as they desire, how many
  melancholies henceforth arise, with griefs and sadnesses, with which
  they pine away and wax so lean as they have scarcely any flesh
  cleaving to the bones Yea, at last they lose the life itself, as may
  be proved by many examples! for such men, (which is an horrible
  thing to think of) slight and neglect all perils and detriments,
  both of the body and life, and of the soul and eternal salvation

It is evident that human nature is not different in our sophisticated
twentieth century from that which this observant old monk saw around
him in the fifteenth. He continues:--

  How many testimonies of this violence which is in love, are daily
  found? for it not only inflames the younger sort, but it so far
  exaggerates some persons far gone in years as through the burning
  heat thereof, they are almost mad Natural diseases are for the most
  part governed by the complexion of man and therefore invade some
  more fiercely, others more gently; but Love, without distinction of
  poor or rich, young or old, seizeth all, and having seized so blinds
  them as forgetting all rules of reason, they neither see nor hear
  any snare.

But then the old monk thinks that he has said enough about this
subject and apologizes for his digression in another paragraph that
should remove any lingering doubt there may be with regard to the
genuineness of his monastic character. The personal element in his
confession is so naive and so simply straightforward that instead of
seeming to be the result of conceit, and so repelling the reader, it
rather attracts his {71} kindly feeling for its author. The paragraph
would remind one in certain ways of that personal element that was to
become more popular in literature after Montaigne had made such
extensive use of it.

  But of these enough; for it becomes not a religious man to insist
  too long upon these cogitations, or to give place to such a flame in
  his heart. Hitherto (without boasting I speak it) I have throughout
  the whole course of my life kept myself safe and free from it, and I
  pray and invoke God to vouchsafe me his Grace that I may keep holy
  and inviolate the faith which I have sworn, and live contented with
  my spiritual spouse, the Holy, Catholick Church. For no other reason
  have I alleaged these than that I might express the love with which
  all tinctures ought to be moved towards metals, if ever they be
  admitted by them into true friendship, and by love, which permeates
  the inmost parts, be converted into a better state

The application of the figure at the end of his long digression is
characteristic of the period in which he wrote and to a considerable
extent also of the German literary methods of the time.

In this volume on the use of antimony there are in most of the
editions certain biographical notes which have sometimes been accepted
as authentic, but oftener rejected. According to these, Basil
Valentine was born in a town in Alsace, on the southern bank of the
Rhine. As a consequence of this, there are several towns that have
laid claim to being his birthplace. M. Jean Reynaud, the distinguished
French {72} philosophical writer of the first half of the nineteenth
century, once said that Basil Valentine, like Ossian and Homer, had
many towns claim him years after his death. He also suggested that,
like those old poets, it was possible that the writings sometimes
attributed to Basil Valentine were really the work not of one man, but
of several individuals. There are, however, many objections to this
theory, the most forceful of which is the internal evidence of the
books themselves and their style and method of treatment. Other
biographic details contained in "The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony"
are undoubtedly more correct. According to them, Basil Valentine
travelled in England and Holland on missions for his Order, and went
through France and Spain on a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella.

Besides this work, there is a number of other books of Basil
Valentine's, printed during the first half of the sixteenth century,
that are well-known and copies of which may be found in most of the
important libraries. The United States Surgeon General's Library at
Washington contains several of the works on medical subjects, and the
New York Academy of Medicine Library has some valuable editions of his
works. Some of his other well-known books, each of which is a
good-sized octavo volume, bear the following descriptive titles (I
give them in English, though, as they are usually to be found, they
are in Latin, sixteenth-century {73} translations of the original
German): "The World in Miniature: or, The Mystery of the World and of
Human Medical Science," published at Marburg, 1609;--"The Chemical
Apocalypse: or, The Manifestation of Artificial Chemical Compounds,"
published at Erfurt in 1624;--"A Chemico-Philosophic Treatise
Concerning Things Natural and Preternatural, Especially Relating to
the Metals and the Minerals," published at Frankfurt in
1676;--"Haliography: or, The Science of Salts: A Treatise on the
Preparation, Use and Chemical Properties of All the Mineral, Animal
and Vegetable Salts," published at Bologna in 1644;--"The Twelve Keys
of Philosophy," Leipsic, 1630.

The great interest manifested in Basil Valentine's work at the
Renaissance period can be best realized from the number of manuscript
copies and their wide distribution. His books were not all printed at
one place, but, on the contrary, in different portions of Europe. The
original edition of "The Triumphal Chariot of Antimony" was published
at Leipsic in the early part of the sixteenth century. The first
editions of the other books, however, appeared at places so distant
from Leipsic as Amsterdam and Bologna, while various cities of
Germany, as Erfurt and Frankfurt, claim the original editions of still
other works. Many of the manuscript copies still exist in various
libraries in Europe; and while there is no doubt that some unimportant
additions to the supposed works of Basil Valentine have come {74} from
the attribution to him of scientific treatises of other German
writers, the style and the method of the principal works mentioned are
entirely too similar not to have been the fruit of a single mind and
that possessed of a distinct investigating genius setting it far above
any of its contemporaries in scientific speculation and observation.

The most interesting feature of all of Basil Valentine's writings that
are extant is the distinctive tendency to make his observations of
special practical utility. His studies in antimony were made mainly
with the idea of showing how that substance might be used in medicine.
He did not neglect to point out other possible uses, however, and knew
the secret of the employment of antimony in order to give sharpness
and definition to the impression produced by metal types. It would
seem as though he was the first scientist who discussed this subject,
and there is even some question whether printers and type founders did
not derive their ideas in this matter from Basil Valentine, rather
than he from them. Interested as he was in the transmutation of
metals, he never failed to try to find and suggest some medicinal use
for all of the substances that he investigated. His was no greedy
search for gold and no accumulation of investigations with the idea of
benefiting only himself. Mankind was always in his mind, and perhaps
there is no better demonstration of his fulfilment of the character of
the monk than this constant {75} solicitude to benefit others by every
bit of investigation that he carried out. For him with medieval
nobleness of spirit the first part of every work must be the
invocation of God, and the last, though no less important than the
first, must be the utility and fruit for mankind that can be derived
from it.






Linacre, as Dr. Payne remarks, "was possessed from his youth till his
death by the enthusiasm of learning. He was an idealist devoted to
objects which the world thought of little use." Painstaking, accurate,
critical, hypercritical perhaps, he remains to-day the chief literary
representative of British Medicine. Neither in Britain nor in Greater
Britain have we maintained the place in the world of letters created
for us by Linacre's noble start. Quoted by Osler in _AEquanimitas_.

[Illustration: THOMAS LINACRE]




Not long ago, in one of his piquant little essays, Mr. Augustine
Birrell discussed the question as to what really happened at the time
of the so-called Reformation in England. There is much more doubt with
regard to this matter, even in the minds of non-Catholics, than is
usually suspected. Mr. Birrell seems to have considered it one of the
most important problems, and at the same time not by any means the
least intricate one, in modern English history. The so-called High
Church people emphatically insist that there is no break in the
continuity of the Church of England, and that the modern Anglicanism
is a direct descendant of the old British Church. They reject with
scorn the idea that it was the Lutheran movement on the Continent
which brought about the changes in the Anglican Church at that time.
Protestantism did not come into England for a considerable period
after the change in the constitution of the Anglican Church, and when
it did come its tendencies were quite as subversal of the authority of
the Anglican as of the Roman Church, Protestantism is the mother of
Nonconformism in England. It can be seen, then, that the question as
to what did really take place in the time {80} of Henry VIII and of
Edward VI is still open. It has seemed to me that no little light on
this vexed historical question will be thrown by a careful study of
the life of Dr. Linacre, who, besides being the best known physician
of his time in England, was the greatest scholar of the English
Renaissance period, yet had all his life been on very intimate terms
with the ecclesiastical authorities, and eventually gave up his
honors, his fortune, and his profession to become a simple priest of
the old English Church.

Considering the usually accepted notions as to the sad state of
affairs supposed to exist in the Church at the beginning of the
sixteenth century, this is a very remarkable occurrence, and deserves
careful study to determine its complete significance, for it tells
better than anything else the opinion of a distinguished contemporary.
Few men have ever been more highly thought of by their own generation.
None has been more sincerely respected by intimate friends, who were
themselves the leaders of the thought of their generation, than Thomas
Linacre, scholar, physician and priest; and his action must stand as
the highest possible tribute to the Church in England at that time.

How unimpaired his practical judgment of men and affairs was at the
time he made his change from royal physician to simple priest can best
be gathered from the sagacity displayed in the foundation of the Royal
College of Physicians, an institution he was endowing with the {81}
wealth he had accumulated in some twenty years of most lucrative
medical practice. The Royal College of Physicians represents the first
attempt to secure the regulation of the practice of medicine in
England, and, thanks to its founder's wonderful foresight and
practical wisdom, it remains down to our own day, under its original
constitution, one of the most effective and highly honored of British
scientific foundations. No distinction is more sought at the present
time by young British medical men, or by American or even Continental
graduates in medicine, than the privilege of adding to their names the
letters "F.R.C.P.(Eng.)," Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of
England. The College worked the reformation of medical practice in
England, and its methods have proved the suggestive formulae for many
another such institution and for laws that all over the world protect,
to some extent at least, the public from quacks and charlatans.

Linacre's change of profession at the end of his life has been a
fruitful source of conjecture and misconception on the part of his
biographers. Few of them seem to be able to appreciate the fact,
common enough in the history of the Church, that a man may, even when
well on in years, give up everything to which his life has been so far
directed, and from a sense of duty devote himself entirely to the
attainment of "the one thing necessary." Linacre appears only to have
done what many another in the history of {82} the thirteenth,
fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries did without any comment; but his
English biographers insist on seeing ulterior motives in it, or else
fail entirely to understand it. The same action is not so rare even in
our own day that it should be the source of misconception by later

Dr. S. Weir Mitchell has, in the early part of _Dr. North and His
Friends_, a very curious passage with regard to Linacre. One of the
characters, St. Clair, says: "I saw, the other day, at Owen's, a life
of one Linacre, a doctor, who had the luck to live about 1460 to 1524,
when men knew little and thought they knew all. In his old age he took
for novelty to reading St. Matthew. The fifth, sixth, and seventh
chapters were enough. He threw the book aside and cried out, 'Either
this is not the Gospel, or we are not Christians.' What else could he
say?" St. Clair uses the story to enforce an idea of his own, which he
states as a question, as follows: "And have none of you the courage to
wrestle with the thought I gave you, that Christ could not have
expected the mass of men to live the life He pointed out as desirable
for the first disciples of His faith?"

Dr. Mitchell's anecdote is not accepted by Linacre's biographers
generally, though it is copied by Dr. Payne, the writer of the article
on Linacre in the (English) _Dictionary of National Biography_, who,
however, discredits it somewhat. The story is founded on Sir John
Cheke's {83} account of the conversion of Linacre. It is very
doubtful, however, whether Linacre's deprecations of the actions of
Christians had reference to anything more than the practice of false
swearing so forcibly denounced in the Scriptures, which had apparently
become frequent in his time. This is Selden's version of the story as
quoted by Dr. Johnson, who was Linacre's well-known biographer. Sir
John Cheke in his account seems to hint that this chance reading of
the Scriptures represented the first occasion Linacre had ever taken
of an opportunity to read the New Testament. Perhaps we are expected
to believe that, following the worn-out Protestant tradition of the
old Church's discouraging of the reading of the Bible, and of the
extreme scarcity of copies of the Book, this was the first time he had
ever had a good opportunity to read it. This, of course, is nonsense.

Linacre's early education had been obtained at the school of the
monastery of Christ Church at Canterbury, and the monastery schools
all used the New Testament as a text-book, and as the offices of the
day at which the students were required to attend contain these very
passages from Matthew which Linacre is supposed to have read for the
first time later in life, this idea is preposterous. Besides, Linacre,
as one of the great scholars of his time, intimate friend of Sir
Thomas More, of Dean Colet, and Erasmus, can scarcely be thought to
find his first copy of the Bible only when advanced in years. This is
{84} evidently a post-Reformation addition, part of the Protestant
tradition with regard to the supposed suppression of the Scriptures in
pre-Reformation days, which every one acknowledges now to be without

Linacre, as many another before and since, seems only to have realized
the true significance of the striking passages in Matthew after life's
experiences and disappointments had made him take more seriously the
clauses of the Sermon on the Mount. There is much in fifth, sixth, and
seventh Matthew that might disturb the complacent equanimity of a man
whose main objects in life, though pursued with all honorable
unselfishness, had been the personal satisfaction of wide scholarship
and success in his chosen profession.

With regard to Sir John Cheke's story, Dr. John Noble Johnson, who
wrote the life of Thomas Linacre, [Footnote 7] which is accepted as
the authoritative biography by all subsequent writers, says: "The
whole statement carries with it an air of invention, if not on the
part of Cheke himself, at least on that of the individual from whom he
derives it, and it is refuted by {85} Linacre's known habits of
moderation and the many ecclesiastical friendships which, with a
single exception, were preserved without interruption until his death.
It was a most frequent mode of silencing opposition to the received
and established tenets of the Church, when arguments were wanting, to
brand the impugner with the opprobrious titles of heretic and infidel,
the common resource of the enemies to innovation in every age and

  [Footnote 7: "The Life of Thomas Linacre," Doctor in Medicine,
  Physician to King Henry VIII, the Tutor and Friend of Sir Thomas
  More and the Founder of the College of Physicians in London By John
  Noble Johnson, M D., late Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians,
  London. Edited by Robert Graves, of the Inner Temple, Barrister at
  Law London: Edward Lumley, Chancery Lane 1835.]

The interesting result of the reflections inspired in Linacre by the
reading of Matthew was, as has been said, the resignation of his high
office of Royal Physician and the surrender of his wealth for the
foundation of chairs in Medicine and Greek at Oxford and Cambridge.
With the true liberal spirit of a man who wished to accomplish as much
good as possible, his foundations were not limited to his own
University of Oxford. After these educational foundations, however,
his wealth was applied to the endowment of the Royal College of
Physicians and its library, and to the provision of such accessories
as might be expected to make the College a permanently useful
institution, though left at the same time perfectly capable of that
evolution which would suit it to subsequent times and the development
of the science and practice of medicine.

It is evident that the life of such a man can scarcely fail to be of
personal as well as historic interest.


Thomas Linacre was born about 1460--the year is uncertain--at
Canterbury. Nothing is known of his parents or their condition, though
this very silence in their regard would seem to indicate that they
were poor and obscure. His education was obtained at the school of the
monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury, then presided over by the
famous William Selling, the first of the great students of the new
learning in England. Selling's interest seems to have helped Linacre
to get to Oxford, where he entered at All Souls' College in 1480. In
1484 he was elected a Fellow of the College, and seems to have
distinguished himself in Greek, to which he applied himself with
special assiduity under Cornelio Vitelli. Though Greek is sometimes
spoken of as having been introduced into Western Europe only at the
beginning of the sixteenth century, Linacre undoubtedly laid the
foundation of that remarkable knowledge of the language which he
displayed at a later period of his life, during his student days at
Oxford in the last quarter of the fifteenth century.

Linacre went to Italy under the most auspicious circumstances. His old
tutor and friend at Canterbury, Selling, who had become one of the
leading ecclesiastics of England, was sent to Rome as an Ambassador by
Henry VII. He took Linacre with him. A number of English scholars had
recently been in Italy and had attracted attention by their geniality,
by their thorough-going devotion to scholarly studies, {87} and by
their success in their work. Selling himself had made a number of firm
friends among the Italian students of the New Learning on a former
visit, and they now welcomed him with enthusiasm and were ready to
receive his protégé with goodwill and provide him with the best
opportunities for study. As a member of the train of the English
ambassador, Linacre had an entrée to political circles that proved of
great service to him, and put him on a distinct footing above that of
the ordinary English student in Italy.

Partly because of these and partly because of his own interesting and
attractive personal character, Linacre had a number of special
opportunities promptly placed at his disposal. Church dignitaries in
Rome welcomed him and he was at once received into scholarly circles
wherever he went in Italy. Almost as soon as he arrived in Florence,
where he expected seriously to take up the study of Latin and Greek,
he became the intimate friend of the family of Lorenzo de' Medici, who
was so charmed with his personality and his readily recognizable
talent that he chose him for the companion of his son's studies and
received him into his own household.

Politian was at this time the tutor of the young de' Medici in Latin,
and Demetrius Chalcondylas the tutor in Greek. Under these two eminent
scholars Linacre obtained a knowledge of Latin and Greek such as it
would have been impossible to have obtained under any other {88}
circumstances, and which with his talents at once stamped him as one
of the foremost humanistic scholars in Europe. While in Florence he
came in contact with Lorenzo the Magnificent's younger son, who
afterwards became Leo X. The friendship thus formed lasted all during
Linacre's lifetime, and later on he dedicated at least one of his
books to Alexander de' Medici after the latter's elevation to the
papal throne.

It is no wonder that Linacre always looked back on Italy as the Alma
Mater--the fond mother in the fullest sense of the term--to whom he
owed his precious opportunities for education and the broadest
possible culture. In after-life the expression of his feelings was
often tinged with romantic tenderness. It is said that when he was
crossing the Alps, on his homeward journey, leaving Italy after
finishing his years of apprenticeship of study, standing on the
highest point of the mountains from which he could still see the
Italian plains, he built with his own hands a rough altar of stone and
dedicated it to the land of his studies--the land in which he had
spent six happy years--under the fond title of _Sancta Mater

At first, after his return from Italy, Linacre lectured on Greek at
Oxford. Something of the influence acquired over English students and
the good he accomplished may be appreciated from the fact that with
Grocyn he had such students as More and the famous Dean Colet. Erasmus
also was attracted from the Netherlands and {89} studied Greek under
Linacre, to whom he refers in the most kindly and appreciative terms
many times in his after life. Linacre wrote books besides lecturing,
and his work on certain fine points in the grammar of classical
Latinity proved a revelation to English students of the old classical
languages, for nothing so advanced as this had ever before been
attempted outside Italy. In one of the last years of the fifteenth
century Linacre was appointed tutor to Prince Arthur, the elder
brother of Henry VIII, to whom it will be remembered that Catherine of
Aragon had been betrothed before her marriage with Henry. Arthur's
untimely death, however, soon put an end to Linacres' tutorship.

As pointed out by Einstein, the reputation of Grocyn and Linacre was
not confined to England, but soon spread all over the Continent. After
the death of the great Italian humanists of the fifteenth century, who
had no worthy successors in the Italian peninsula, these two men
became the principal European representatives of the New Learning.
There were other distinguished men, however, such as Vives, the
Spaniard; Lascaris, the Greek; Buda, or Budaeus, the Frenchman, and
Erasmus, whom we have already mentioned--all of whom joined at various
times in praising Linacre.

Some of Linacre's books were published by the elder Aldus at Venice;
and Aldus is even said to have sent his regrets on publishing his
edition of Linacre's translation of "The Sphere {90} of Proclus," that
the distinguished English humanist had not forwarded him others of his
works to print. Aldus appreciatively added the hope that the eloquence
and classic severity of style in Linacre's works and in those of the
English humanists generally "might shame the Italian philosophers and
scholars out of their uncultured methods of writing."

Augusta Theodosia Drane (Mother Raphael), in her book on "Christian
Schools and Scholars," gives a very pleasant picture of how Dean
Colet, Eramus, and More used at this time to spend their afternoons
down at Stepney (then a very charming suburb of London), of whose
parish church Colet was the vicar. They stopped at Colet's house and
were entertained by his mother, to whom we find pleasant references in
the letters that passed between these scholars. Linacre was also often
of the party, and the conversations between these greatest students
and literary geniuses of their age would indeed be interesting
reading, if we could only have had preserved for us, in some way, the
table-talk of those afternoons. Erasmus particularly was noted for his
wit and for his ability to turn aside any serious discussions that
might arise among his friends, so as to prevent anything like
unpleasant argument in their friendly intercourse. A favorite way
seems to have been to insist on telling one of the old jokes from a
classic author whose origin would naturally be presumed to be much
later than the date the New Learning had found for it.


Dean Colet's mother appears to have been much more than merely the
conventional hostess. Erasmus sketches her in her ninetieth year with
her countenance still so fair and cheerful that you would think she
had never shed a tear. Her son tells in some of his letters to Erasmus
and More of how much his mother liked his visitors and how agreeable
she found their talk and witty conversation. They seem to have
appreciated her in turn, for in Mother Raphael's chapter on English
Scholars of the Renaissance there is something of a description of her
garden, in which were to be found strawberries, lately brought from
Holland, some of the finer varieties of which Mrs. Colet possessed
through Erasmus's acquaintance in that country. Mrs. Colet also had
some of the damask roses that had lately been introduced into England
by Linacre, who was naturally anxious that the mother of his friend
should have the opportunity to raise some of the beautiful flowers he
was so much interested in domesticating in England.

It is a very charming picture, this, of the early humanists in
England, and very different from what might easily be imagined by
those unfamiliar with the details of the life of the period. Linacre
was later to give up his worldly emoluments and honors and become a
clergyman, in order to do good and at the same time satisfy his own
craving for self-abnegation. More was to rise to the highest positions
in England, and then for conscience' sake was to suffer death {92}
rather than yield to the wishes of his king in a matter in which he
saw principle involved. Dean Colet himself was to be the ornament of
the English clergy and the model of the scholar clergyman of the eve
of the Reformation, to whom many generations were to look back as a
worthy object of reverence. Erasmus was to become involved first with
and then against Luther, and to be offered a cardinal's hat before his
death. His work, like Newman's, was done entirely in the intellectual
field. Meantime, in the morning of life, all of them were enjoying the
pleasures of friendly intercourse and the charms of domestic felicity
under circumstances that showed that their study of humanism and their
admiration for the classics impaired none of their sympathetic
humanity or their appreciation of the innocent delights of the

For us, however, Linacre's most interesting biographic details are
those which relate to medicine, for, besides his humanistic studies
while in Italy, Linacre graduated in medicine, obtaining the degree of
doctor at Padua. The memory of the brilliant disputation which he
sustained in the presence of the medical faculty in order to obtain
his degree is still one of the precious traditions in the medical
school of Padua. He does not seem to have considered his medical
education finished, however, by the mere fact of having obtained his
doctor's degree, and there is a tradition of his having studied later
at Vicenza under Nicholas Leonicenus, the most celebrated {93}
physician and scholar in Italy at the end of the fifteenth century,
who many years afterwards referred with pardonable pride to the fact
that he had been Linacre's teacher in medicine.

It may seem strange to many that Linacre, with all his knowledge of
the classics, should have devoted himself for so many years to the
study of medicine in addition to his humanistic studies. It must not
be forgotten, however, that the revival of the classics of Latin and
Greek brought with it a renewed knowledge of the great Latin and Greek
fathers of medicine, Hippocrates and Galen. This had a wonderful
effect in inspiring the medical students of the time with renewed
enthusiasm for the work in which they were engaged. A knowledge of the
classics led to the restoration of the study of anatomy, botany, and
of clinical medicine, which had been neglected in the midst of
application to the Arabian writers in medicine during the preceding
centuries. The restoration of the classics made of medicine a
progressive science in which every student felt the possibility of
making great discoveries that would endure not only for his own
reputation but for the benefit of humanity.

These thoughts seem to have attracted many promising young men to the
study of medicine. The result was a period of writing and active
observation in medicine that undoubtedly makes this one of the most
important of literary medical eras. Some idea of the activity of the
writers of the time can be gathered from the important {94} medical
books--most of them large folios which were printed during the last
half of the sixteenth century in Italy. There is a series of these
books to be seen in one of the cases of the library of the
Surgeon-General at Washington, which, though by no means complete,
must be a source of never-ending surprise to those who are apt to
think of this period as a _saison morte_ in medical literature.

There must have been an extremely great interest in medicine to
justify all this printing. Some of the books are among the real
incunabula of the art of printing. For instance, in 1474 there was
published at Bologna De Manfredi's "Liber de Homine;" at Venice, in
1476, Petrus de Albano's work on medicine; and in the next twenty
years from the same home of printing there came large tomes by
Angelata, a translation of Celsus, and Aurelius Cornelius and
Articellus's "Thesaurus Medicorum Veterum," besides several
translations of Avicenna and Platina's work "De Honesta Voluptate et
Valetudine." At Ferrara, Arculanus's great work was published, while
at Modena there appeared the "Hortus Sanitatis," or Garden of Health,
whose author was J. Cuba. There were also translations from other
Arabian authors on medicine in addition to Avicenna, notably a
translation of Rhazes Abu Bekr Muhammed Ben Zankariah Abrazi, a
distinguished writer among the Arabian physicians of the Middle Ages.

Linacre's translations of Galen remain still the {95} standard, and
they have been reprinted many times. As Erasmus once wrote to a
friend, in sending some of these books of Galen, "I present you with
the works of Galen, now by the help of Linacre speaking better Latin
than they ever before spoke Greek." Linacre also translated Aristotle
into Latin, and Erasmus paid them the high compliment of saying that
Linacre's Latin was as lucid, as straightforward, and as thoroughly
intelligible as was Aristotle's Greek. Of the translations of
Aristotle unfortunately none is extant. Of Galen we have the "De
Sanitate Tuenda," the "Methodus Medendi," the "De Symptomatum
Differentiis et Causis," and the "De Pulsuum Usu." The latter
particularly is a noteworthy monograph on an important subject, in
which Galen's observations were of great value. Under the title, "The
Significance of the Pulse," it has been translated into English, and
has influenced many generations of English medical men.

While we have very few remains of Linacre's work as a physician, there
seems to be no doubt that he was considered by all those best capable
of judging, to stand at the head of his profession in England. To his
care, as one of his biographers remarked, was committed the health of
the foremost in Church and State. Besides being the Royal Physician,
he was the regular medical attendant of Cardinal Wolsey, of Archbishop
Warham, the Primate of England, of Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester,
the Keeper {96} of the Privy Seal, and of Sir Reginald Bray, Knight of
the Garter and Lord High Treasurer, and of all of the famous scholars
of England.

Erasmus, whilst absent in France, writes to give him an account of his
feelings, and begs him to prescribe for him, as he knows no one else
to whom he can turn with equal confidence. After a voyage across the
channel, during which he had been four days at sea--making a passage
by the way that now takes less than two hours--Erasmus describes his
condition, his headache, with the glands behind his ears swollen, his
temples throbbing, a constant buzzing in his ears; and laments that no
Linacre was at hand to restore him to health by skilful advice. In a
subsequent letter he writes from Paris to ask for a copy of a
prescription given him while in London by Linacre, but which a stupid
servant had left at the apothecary shop, so that Erasmus could not
have it filled in Paris.

An instance of his skill in prognosis, the most difficult part of the
practice of medicine according to Hippocrates and all subsequent
authorities, is cited by all his biographers, with regard to his
friend William Lily, the grammarian. Lily was suffering from a
malignant tumor involving the hip, which surgeons in consultation had
decided should be removed. Linacre plainly foretold that its removal
would surely prove fatal, and the event verified his unfavorable
prognosis. Generally it seems to have been considered that his opinion
was of great value in all {97} serious matters, and it was eagerly
sought for. Some of the nobility and clergy of the time came even from
the Continent over to England by no means an easy journey, even for a
healthy man in those days, as can be appreciated from Erasmus's
experience just cited--in order to obtain Linacre's opinion.

One of Erasmus's letters to Billibaldus Pirckheimer contains a
particular account of the method of treatment by which he was relieved
of his severe pain under Linacre's direction in a very tormenting
attack of renal colic. The details, especially the use of poultice
applications as hot as could be borne, show that Linacre thoroughly
understood the use of heat in the relaxation of spasm, while his
careful preparation of the remedies to be employed in the presence of
the patient himself would seem to show that he had a very high
appreciation of how much the mental state of the patient and the
attitude of expectancy thus awakened may have in giving relief even in
cases of severe pain.

The only medical writings of Linacre's that we possess are
translations. We have said already that the reversion at the end of
the fifteenth century to the classical authorities in medicine
undoubtedly did much to introduce the observant phase of medical
science, which had its highest expression in Vesalius at the beginning
of the sixteenth century and continued to flourish so fruitfully
during the next two centuries at most of the Italian universities. His
translations then {98} were of themselves more suggestive
contributions to medicine than would perhaps have been any even of his
original observations, since the mind of his generation was not ready
as yet to be influenced by discoveries made by contemporaries.

The best proof of Linacre's great practical interest in medicine is
his realization of the need for the Royal College of Physicians and
his arrangements for it.

The Roll of the College, which comprises biographical sketches of all
the eminent physicians whose names are recorded in the annals from the
foundation of the College in 1518, and is published under the
authority of the College itself, contains the best tribute to
Linacre's work that can possibly be paid. It says: "The most
magnificent of Linacre's labors was the design of the Royal College of
Physicians of London--a standing monument of the enlightened views
and generosity of its projectors. In the execution of it Linacre stood
alone, for the munificence of the Crown was limited to a grant of
letters patent; whilst the expenses and provision of the College was
left to be defrayed out of his own means, or of those who were
associated with him in its foundation." "In the year 1518," says Dr.
Johnson, [Footnote 8] "when Linacre's scheme was carried into effect,
the practice of medicine was scarcely elevated above that of the
mechanical arts, nor was the majority of its practitioners {99} among
the laity better instructed than the mechanics by whom these arts were
exercised. With the diffusion of learning to the republics and states
of Italy, establishments solely for the advancement of science had
been formed with success; but no society devoted to the interests of
learning yet existed in England, unfettered by a union with the
hierarchy, or exempted from the rigors and seclusions which were
imposed upon its members as the necessary obligation of a monastic and
religious life. In reflecting on the advantages which had been derived
from these institutions, Linacre did not forget the impossibility of
adapting rules and regulations which accorded with the state of
society in the Middle Ages to the improved state of learning in his
own, and his plans were avowedly modelled on some similar community of
which many cities of Italy afforded rather striking examples."

  [Footnote 8: _Life of Linacre_, London, 1835.]

Some idea of the state into which the practice of medicine had fallen
in England before Linacre's foundation of the Royal College of
Physicians may be gathered from the words of the charter of the
College. "Before this period a great multitude of ignorant persons, of
whom the greater part had no insight into physic, nor into any other
kind of learning--some could not even read the letters on the book, so
far forth that common artificers as smiths, weavers and women--boldly
and accustomably took upon them great cures to the high displeasure of
God, great infamy to the faculty, and the grievous hurt, {100} damage,
and destruction of many of the King's liege people."

After the foundation of the College there was a definite way of
deciding formally who were, or were not, legally licensed to practise.
As a consequence, when serious malpractice came to public notice,
those without a license were occasionally treated in the most summary
manner. Stowe, in his chronicles, gives a very vivid and picturesque
description of the treatment of one of these quacks who had been
especially flagrant in his imposition upon the people. A counterfeit
doctor was set on horseback, his face to the horse's tail, the tail
being forced into his hand as a bridle, a collar of jordans about his
neck, a whetstone on his breast, and so led through the city of London
with ringing of basins, and banished. "Such deceivers," continued the
old chronicler, "no doubt are many, who being never trained up in
reading or practice of physics and Chirurgery do boast to do great
cures, especially upon women, as to make them straight that before
were crooked, corbed, or crumped in any part of their bodies and other
such things. But the contrary is true. For some have received gold
when they have better deserved the whetstone." [Footnote 9] Human
nature has not changed very much in the {101} four centuries since
Linacre's foundation, and while the model that he set in the matter of
providing a proper licensing body for physicians has done something to
lessen the evils complained of, the abuses still remain; and the old
chronicler will find in our time not a few who, in his opinion, might
deserve the whetstone. We can scarcely realize how much Linacre
accomplished by means of the Royal College of Physicians, or how great
was the organizing spirit of the man to enable him to recognize the
best way out of the chaos of medical practice in his time.

  [Footnote 9: "To get the whetstone" is an old English expression,
  meaning to take the prize for lying. It is derived from the old
  custom of driving rogues, whose wits were too sharp, out of town
  with a whetstone around their necks.]

"The wisdom of Linacre's plan," wrote Dr. Friend, "speaks for itself.
His scheme, without doubt, was not only to create a good understanding
and unanimity among his own profession (which of itself was an
excellent thought), but to make them more useful to the public. And he
imagined that by separating them from the vulgar empirics and setting
them upon such a reputable foot of distinction, there would always
arise a spirit of emulation among men liberally educated, which would
animate them in pursuing their inquiries into the nature of diseases
and the methods of cure for the benefit of mankind; and perhaps no
founder ever had the good fortune to have his designs succeed more to
his wish."

His plans with regard to the teaching of medicine at the two great
English Universities did not succeed so well, but that was the fault
not of Linacre nor of the directions left in his will, but {102} of
the times, which were awry for educational matters. Notwithstanding
Linacre's bequest of funds for two professorships at Oxford and one at
Cambridge, it is typical of the times that the chairs were not founded
for many years. During Henry VIII's time, the great effort of
government was not to encourage new foundations but to break up old
ones, in order to obtain money for the royal treasury, so that
educational institutions of all kinds suffered eclipse. The first
formal action with regard to the Linacre bequest was taken in the
third year of Edward VI. Two lectureships were established in Merton
College, Oxford, and one in St. John's College, Cambridge. Linacre's
idea had been that these foundations should be University
lectureships, but Anthony Wood says that the University had lost in
prestige so much during Henry VIII's time that it was considered
preferable to attach the lectureships to Merton College, which had
considerable reputation because of its medical school. During
Elizabeth's time these Linacre lectureships sank to be sinecures and
for nearly a hundred years served but for the support of a fellowship.
The Oxford foundation was revived in 1856 by the University
Commissioners, and the present splendid foundation of the lectures in
physiology bears Linacre's name in honor of his original grant.

At the age of about fifty Linacre was ordained priest. His idea in
becoming a clergyman, as confessed in letters to his friends, was
partly in {103} order to obtain leisure for his favorite studies, but
also out of the desire to give himself up to something other than the
mere worldly pursuits in which he had been occupied during all his
previous life. His biographer, Dr. Johnson, says: "In examining the
motives of this choice of Linacre's, it would seem that he was guided
less by the expectation of dignity and preferment than by the desire
of retirement and of rendering himself acquainted with those writings
which might afford him consolation in old age and relief from the
infirmities which a life of assiduous study and application had tended
to produce."

The precise time of Linacre's ordination is not known, nor is it
certain whether he was ordained by Archbishop Warham of Canterbury, or
by Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop of York. He received his first
clerical appointment from Warham, by whom he was collated to the
rectory of Mersham in Kent. He held this place scarcely a month, but
his resignation was followed by his installation as prebend in the
Cathedral of Wells, and by an admission to the Church of Hawkhurst in
Kent, which he held until the year of his death. Seven years later he
was made prebend in the Collegiate Chapel of St. Stephen, Westminster,
and in the following year he became prebendary of South Newbold in the
Church of York. This was in the year 1518. In the following year he
received the dignified and lucrative appointment of presenter to the
Cathedral of York, for which he was indebted to Cardinal Wolsey, to
whom {104} about this time he dedicated his translation of Galen "On
the Use of the Pulse." He seems also to have held several other
benefices during the later years of his life, although some of them
were resigned within so short a time as to make it difficult to
understand why he should have accepted them, since the expenses of
institution must have exceeded the profits which were derived from
them during the period of possession. Linacre owed his clerical
opportunities during the last years of his life particularly to
Archbishop Warham, who, as ambassador, primate, and chancellor,
occupied a large and honorable place in the history of the times.
Erasmus says of him in one of his letters: "Such were his vigilance
and attention in all matters relating to religion and to the offices
of the Church that no concern which was foreign to them seemed ever to
distract him. He had sufficient time for a scrupulous performance of
the accustomed exercises of prayer, for the almost daily celebration
of the Mass, for twice or thrice hearing divine service, for
determining suits, for receiving embassies, for consultation with the
king when matters of moment required his presence, for the visitation
of churches when regulation was needed, for the welcome of frequently
two hundred guests, and lastly for a literary leisure."

As the close friend of such men, it is evident that Linacre must have
accomplished much good as a clergyman; and it seems not unlikely that
his frequent changes of rectorship were rather {105} due to the fact
that the Primate wished to make use of his influence in various parts
of his diocese for the benefit of religion than for any personal
motives on Linacre's part, who, in order to enter the service of the
Church, had given up so much more than he could expect as a clergyman.

Linacre as a clergyman continued to deserve the goodwill and esteem of
all his former friends, and seems to have made many new ones. At the
time of his death he was one of the most honored individuals in
England. All of his biographers are agreed in stating that he was the
representative Englishman of his time, looked up to by all his
contemporaries, respected and admired by those who had not the
opportunity of his intimate acquaintance, and heartily loved by
friends, who were themselves some of the best men of the time.

The concluding paragraph of the appreciation of Linacre's character in
_Lives of British Physicians_ [Footnote 10] is as follows: "To sum up
his character it was said of him that no Englishman of his day had had
such famous masters, namely, Demetrius and Politian of Florence; such
noble patrons, Lorenzo de' Medici, Henry VII and Henry VIII; such
high-born scholars, the Prince Arthur and Princess Mary of England; or
such learned friends, for amongst the latter were to be enumerated
Erasmus, Melanchthon, Latimer, {106} Tonstal, and Sir Thomas More."
His biographer might have added the names of others of the
pre-Reformation period, men of culture and character whose merits only
the historical researches of recent years have brought out--Prior
Selling, Dean Colet (though his friendship was unfortunately
interrupted), Archbishop Warham, Cardinal Wolsey, Grocyn, and further
scholars and churchmen.

  [Footnote 10: London. John Murray, 1830.]

Dr. J. F. Payne, in summing up the opinion of Linacre held by his
contemporaries, in the "Dictionary of National Biography" (British),
pays a high tribute to the man. "Linacre's personal character was
highly esteemed by his contemporaries. He was evidently capable of
absolute devotion to a great cause, animated by genuine public spirit
and a boundless zeal for learning." Erasmus sketches him humorously in
the "Encomium Moriae" (The Praise of Foolishness)--with a play on the
word _Moriae_ in reference to his great friend, Thomas More, of whom
Erasmus thought so much--showing him a tireless student. The
distinguished foreign scholar, however, considered Linacre as an
enthusiast in recondite studies, but no mere pedant. Dr. Payne closes
his appreciation with these words: "Linacre had, it would seem, no

Caius, the distinguished English physician and scholar, himself one of
the best known members of the Royal College of Physicians and the
founder of Caius College, Cambridge, sketches {107} Linacre's
character (he had as a young man known him personally) in very
sympathetic vein. As Dr. Caius was one of the greatest Englishmen of
his time in the middle of the sixteenth century, his opinion must
carry great weight. It is to him that we owe the famous epitaph that
for long in old St. Paul's, London, was to be read on Linacre's

  "_Fraudes dolosque mire perosus, fidus amicis, omnibus ordinibus
  juxta carus_. A stern hater of deceit and underhand ways, faithful
  to his friends, equally dear to all classes,"

Surely this is a worthy tribute to the great physician, clergyman,
scholar, and philanthropist of the eve of the Reformation in England.






Oportet autem neque recentiores viros in his fraudare quae vel
repererunt vel recte secuti sunt; et tamen ea quae apud antiquiores
aliquos posita sunt auctoribus suis reddere.--CELSUS _de Medicina_.






Except in the minds of the unconquerably intolerant, the Galileo
controversy has in recent years settled down to occupy something of
its proper place in the history of the supposed conflict between
religion and science. In touching the subject in the life of
Copernicus we suggested that it has come to be generally recognized,
as M. Bertrand, the perpetual Secretary of the Paris Academy of
Sciences, himself a distinguished mathematician and historian,
declares, that "the great lesson for those who would wish to oppose
reason with violence was clearly to be read in Galileo's story, and
the scandal of his condemnation was learned without any profound
sorrow to Galileo himself; and his long life, considered as a whole,
was the most serene and enviable in the history of science." Somehow,
notwithstanding the directness of this declaration, there is still
left in the minds of many an impression rather difficult to eradicate
that there was definite, persistent opposition to everything
associated with scientific progress among the churchmen of the time of

Perhaps no better answer to this unfortunate, because absolutely
untrue, impression could be in {112} formulated than is to be found in
a sketch of the career of Father Athanasius Kircher, the distinguished
Jesuit who for so many years occupied himself with nearly every branch
of science in Rome, under the fostering care of the Church. He had
been Professor of Physics, Mathematics, and Oriental Languages at
Würzburg, but was driven from there by the disturbances incident to
the Thirty Years' War, in 1631. He continued his scientific
investigation at Avignon. From here, within two years after Galileo's
trial in 1635, he was, through the influence of Cardinal Barberini,
summoned to Rome, where he devoted himself to mathematics at first,
and then to every branch of science, as well as the Oriental
languages, not only with the approval, but also with the most liberal
pecuniary aid from the ecclesiastical authorities of the papal court
and city.

Some idea of the breadth of Father Kircher's scientific sympathy and
his genius for scientific observation and discovery, which amounted
almost to intuition, may be gathered from the fact that to him we owe
the first definite statement of the germ theory of disease; and he
seems to have been the first to recognize the presence of what are now
called microbes. At the same time his works on magnetism contained not
only all the knowledge of his own time, but also some wonderful
suggestions as to the possibilities of the development of this
science. His studies with regard to light are almost as epochal as
those with regard to magnetism. Besides these, he {113} was the first
to find any clue to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and yet found time to
write a geographical work on Latium, the country surrounding Rome, and
to make collections for his museum which rendered it in its time the
best scientific collection in the world. It may very well indeed be
said that visitors to Rome with scientific tendencies found as much
that was suggestive in Father Kircher's museum--the "Kircherianum," as
it came to be called--as artists and sculptors and architects found in
the Vatican collections of the papal city.

All of this work was accomplished within the half century after
Galileo's trial, for Father Kircher died in 1680, at the age of
seventy-eight, having lived, as so many of the great scientists have
done, a long life in the midst of the most persistent activity.
Kircher, more than perhaps any other, can be said to be the founder of
modern natural science. Before any one else, in a practical way, he
realized the necessity for the collection of an immense amount of
data, if science was to be founded on the broad, firm foundation of
observed truth. The principle which had been announced by Bacon in the
"Novum Organon"--"to take all that comes rather than to choose, and to
heap up rather than to register"--was never carried out as fully as by
Father Kircher. As Edmund Gosse said in the June number of _Harper's_,
1904, "Bacon had started a great idea, but he had not carried it out.
He is not the founder, he is the prophet {114} of modern physical
science. To be in direct touch with nature, to adventure in the
unexplored fields of knowledge, and to do this by carrying out an
endless course of slow and sure experiments, this was the counsel of
the 'Novum Organon.'" Bacon died in 1626, and scarcely more than a
decade had passed before Kircher was carrying out the work thus
outlined by the English philosopher in a way that was surprisingly
successful, even looked at from the standpoint of our modern science.
Needless to say, however, it was not because of Bacon's suggestion
that he did so, for it is more than doubtful whether he knew of
Bacon's writings until long after the lines of his life-work had been
traced by his own inquiring spirit. The fulness of time had come. The
inductive philosophy was in the air. Bacon's formulae, which the
English philosopher never practically applied, and Father Kircher's
assiduous collection of data, were but expressions of the spirit of
the times. How faithfully the work of the first modern inductive
scientist was accomplished we shall see.

It may be easily imagined that a certain interest in Father Kircher,
apart from his scientific attainments and the desire to show how much
and how successful was the attention given to natural science by
churchmen about the time of the Galileo controversy, might influence
this judgment of the distinguished Jesuit's scientific accomplishments.
With regard to his discoveries in medicine especially, and above all
his {115} announcement of the microbic origin of contagious disease,
it may be thought that this was a mere chance expression and not at
all the result of serious scientific conclusions. Tyndall, however,
the distinguished English physicist, would not be the one to give
credit for scientific discoveries, and to a clergyman in a distant
century, unless there was definite evidence of the discovery. It is
not generally known that to the great English physicist we owe the
almost absolute demonstration of the impossibility of spontaneous
generation, together with a series of studies showing the existence
everywhere in the atmosphere of minute forms of life to which
fermentative changes and also the infectious diseases--though at that
time this was only a probability--are to be attributed. When Tyndall
was reviewing, in the midst of the controversy over spontaneous
generation, the question of the microbic origin of disease, he said:
"Side by side with many other theories has run the germ theory of
epidemic disease. The notion was expressed by Kircher and favored by
Linnaeus, that epidemic diseases may be due to germs which enter the
body and produce disturbance by the development within the body of
parasitic forms of life."

How much attention Father Kircher's book on the pest or plague, in
which his theory of the micro-organismal origin of disease is put
forward, attracted from the medical profession can be understood from
the fact that it was submitted to three of the most distinguished
physicians in {116} Rome before being printed, and that their
testimony to its value as a contribution to medicine prefaced the
first edition. They are not sparing in their praise of it. Dr. Joseph
Benedict Sinibaldus, who was the Professor of the Practice of Medicine
in the Roman University at the time, says that "Father Kircher's book
not only contains an excellent resume of all that is known about the
pest or plague, but also as many valuable hints and suggestions on the
origin and spread of the disease, which had never before been made."
He considers it a very wonderful thing that a non-medical man should
have been able to place himself so thoroughly in touch with the
present state of medicine in respect to this disease and then point
out the conditions of future progress.

Dr. Paul Zachias, who was a distinguished Roman physician of the time,
said that he had long known Father Kircher as an eminent writer on
other subjects, but that after reading his book on the pest he must
consider him also distinguished in medical writing. He says: "While he
has set his hand at other's harvests, he has done it with so much
wisdom and prudence as to win the admiration of the harvesters already
in the field." He adds that there can be no doubt that it would be a
source of profit for medical men to read this little book and that it
will undoubtedly prove beneficial to future generations. Testimony of
another kind to the value of Father Kircher's book is to be found in
the fact {117} that within a half-year after its publication in Latin
it appeared in several other languages. It is too much the custom of
these modern times to consider that scientific progress in the
centuries before our own and its immediate predecessor was likely to
attract little attention for many years, and was especially slow to
make its way into foreign countries. Anything, however, of real
importance in science took but a very short time to travel from one
country to another in Europe in the seventeenth century, and the fact
that scientific men generally used Latin as a common language made the
spread of discoveries and speculations much easier even than at the
present time. Our increased means of communication have really only
served to allow sensational announcements of a progress in
science--which is usually no progress at all--to be spread quite as
effectually in modern times as were real advances in the older days.

There is no good account of Father Kircher's life available in
English, and it has seemed only proper that the more important at
least of the details of the life of the man who thus anticipated the
beginnings of modern bacteriology and of the relations of
micro-organisms to disease, should not be left in obscurity. His life
history is all the more interesting and important because it
illustrates the interest of the churchmen of the time, and especially
of the Roman ecclesiastical authorities, in all forms of science; for
Father Kircher is undoubtedly one of the greatest scholars of {118}
history and one of the scientific geniuses in whose works can be
found, as the result of some wonderful principles of intuition
incomprehensible to the slower intellectual operations of ordinary
men, anticipations of many of the discoveries of the after-time. There
is scarcely a modern science he did not touch upon, and nothing that
he touched did he fail to illuminate. His magnificent collections in
the museum of the Roman College demonstrate very well his extremely
wide interests in all scientific matters.

The history of Father Kircher's career furnishes perhaps the best
possible refutation of the oft-repeated slander that Jesuit education
was narrow and was so founded upon and rooted in authority that
original research and investigation, in scientific matters
particularly, were impossible, and that it utterly failed to encourage
new discoveries of any kind. As a matter of fact, Kircher was not only
not hampered in his work by his superiors or by the ecclesiastical
authorities, but the respect in which he was held at Rome enabled him
to use the influence of the Church and of great churchmen all over the
world, with the best possible effect, for the assembling at the Roman
College of objects of the most various kinds, illustrating especially
the modern sciences of archeology, ethnology, and paleontology,
besides Egyptian and Assyrian history.

Athanasius Kircher was born 2 May, 1602, at Geisa, near Fulda, in
South Germany. He was educated at the Jesuit College of Fulda, and at
{119} the early age of sixteen, having completed his college course,
entered the Jesuit novitiate at Mainz. After his novitiate he
continued his philosophical and classical studies at Paderborn and
completed his years of scholastic teaching in various cities of South
Germany--Munster, Cologne, and Coblenz--finally finishing his
education by theological studies at Cologne and Mainz.

Toward the end of the third decade of the seventeenth century he
became Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at Würzburg. Here his
interest in Oriental languages began, and he established a special
course in this subject at the University of Würzburg. During the
Thirty Years' War, however, the invasion of Germany very seriously
disturbed university work, and finally in 1631 Father Kircher was sent
by his superiors to Avignon in South France, where he continued his
teaching some four years, attracting no little attention by his wide
interest in many sciences and by various scientific works that showed
him to be a man of very broad genius.

In 1635, through the influence of Cardinal Barberini, he was summoned
to Rome, where he became Professor of Mathematics and Oriental
Languages in the famous Roman College of the Jesuits, which was
considered at that time one of the greatest educational institutions
in the world. His interest in science, however, was not lessened by
teaching duties that would apparently have demanded all his time; and,
as we shall see, he continued to issue books on the most diverse {120}
scientific subjects, most of them illustrated by absolutely new
experimental observations and all of them attracting widespread

Father Kircher began his career as a writer on science at the early
age of twenty-seven, when he issued his first work on magnetism. The
title of this volume, "Ars Magnesia tum Theorematice tum Problematice
Proposita," shows that the subject was not treated entirely from a
speculative standpoint. Indeed, in the preface he states that he hopes
that the principal value of the book will be found in the fact that
the knowledge of magnetism is presented by a new method, with special
demonstrations, and that the conclusions are confirmed by various
practical uses and long-continued experience with magnets of various

Although it may be a source of great surprise, Father Kircher's genius
was essentially experimental. He has been spoken of not infrequently
as a man who collected the scientific information of his time in such
a way as to display, as says the _Encyclopedia Britannica_, "a wide
and varied learning, but that he was a man singularly devoid of
judgment and critical discernment." He was in some respects the direct
opposite of the opinion thus expressed, since his learning was always
of a practical character, and there are very few subjects in this
writing which he has not himself illustrated by means of new and
ingenious experiments.

Perhaps the best possible proof of this is to be {121} found in the
fact that his second scientific work was on the construction of
sun-dials, and that one of the discoveries he himself considered most
valuable was the invention of a calculating machine, as well as of a
complicated arrangement for illustrating the positions of the stars in
the heavens. He constructed, moreover, a large burning-glass in order
to demonstrate the possibility of the story told of Archimedes, that
he had succeeded in burning the enemy's ships in the harbor at
Syracuse by means of a large lens.

But Father Kircher's surest claim to being a practical genius is to be
found in his invention of the magic lantern. It was another Jesuit,
Aquilonius, in his work on optics, issued in 1613, who had first
sought to explain how the two pictures presented to the two eyes are
fused into one, and it was in a practical demonstration of this by
means of lenses that Kircher hit upon the invention of the projecting

After his call to Rome our subject continued his work on magnetism,
and in 1641 issued a further treatise on the subject called "Magnes"
or "De Arte Magnetica." While he continued to teach Oriental languages
and issued in 1644 a book with the title "Lingua AEgyptiaca
Restituta," he also continued to apply himself especially to the
development of physical science. Accordingly in 1645 there appeared
his volume "Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae." This was a treatise on light,
illustrated, as was his treatise on magnetism, by many original
experiments and demonstrations.


During the five years until 1650 the department of acoustics came
under his consideration, so that in that year we have from his pen a
treatise called "Musurgia Universalis," with the subtitle, "The Art of
Harmony and Discord; a treatise on the whole doctrine of sound with
the philosophy of music treated from the standpoint of practical as
well as theoretic science." During the next five years astronomy was
his special hobby, and the result was in 1656 a treatise on astronomy
called "Iter Celeste." This contained a description of the earth and
the heavens and discussed the nature of the fixed and moving stars,
with various considerations as to the composition and structure of
these bodies. A second volume on this subject appeared in 1660.

The variety of Father Kircher's interests in science was not yet
exhausted, however. Five years after the completion of his two volumes
on astronomy there came one on "Mundus Subterraneus." This treated of
the modern subjects of geology, metallurgy, and mineralogy, as well as
the chemistry of minerals. It also contained a treatise on animals
that live under the ground, and on insects. This was considered one of
the author's greatest books, and the whole of it was translated into
French, whilst abstracts from it, especially the chapters on poisons,
appeared in most of the other languages of Europe. Part of it was
translated even into English, though seventeenth-century Englishmen
were loath to draw their inspiration from Jesuit writers.


Jesuits were, however, at this time generally acknowledged on the
Continent to be leaders in every department of thought, sympathetic
coadjutors in every step in scientific progress. Strange as it may
appear to those who will not understand the Jesuit spirit of love for
learning, two of the most distinguished scientists whose names are
immortal in the history of physical sciences in different departments
during this century, Kepler and Harvey, were on intimate terms of
friendship with the Jesuits of Germany. Harvey, on the occasion of a
visit to the Continent, stopped for a prolonged visit with the Jesuits
at Cologne, so that some of his English friends joked him about the
possibility of his making converts of the Jesuits. These witticisms,
however, did not seem to distract Harvey very much, for he returned on
a subsequent occasion to spend some further days with his Jesuit
scientific friends along the Rhine.

In the meantime Father Kircher was issuing notable books on his always
favorite subject of the Oriental languages. In 1650 there appeared
"Obeliscus Pamphilius," containing an explanation of the hieroglyphics
to be found on the obelisk which by the order of Innocent X, a member
of the Pamfili family, was placed in the Piazza Navona by Bernini.
This is no mere pamphlet, as might be thought, but a book of 560
pages. In 1652 there appeared "OEdipus AEgyptiacus," that is, the
revealer of the sphinx-like riddle of the Egyptian ancient languages.
In 1653 a second volume of this appeared, and in 1655 a third {124}
volume. It was considered so important that it was translated into
Russian and other Slav languages, besides several other European
languages. His book, "Lingua AEgyptiaca Restituta," which appeared in
1644, when Kircher was forty-two years of age, is considered to be of
value yet in the study of Oriental languages, and was dedicated to the
patron, Emperor Ferdinand III, whose liberality made its publication

It is often a subject for conjecture just how science was studied and
taught in centuries before the nineteenth, and just what text-books
were employed. A little familiarity with Father Kircher's
publications, however, will show that there was plenty of very
suitable material for text-books to be found in his works. Under his
own direction, what at the present time would be called a text-book of
physics, but which at that time was called "Physiologia
Experimentalis," was issued, containing all the experimental and
demonstrative parts of his various books on chemistry, physics, music,
magnetism, and mechanics, as well as acoustics and optics. This formed
the groundwork of most text-books of science for a full century
afterwards. Indeed, until the beginning of the distinctly modern
science of chemistry with the discoveries of Priestley and Lavoisier,
there was to be little added of serious import in science.

Perhaps the most commendable feature of Father Kircher's books is the
fact that he himself seems never to have considered that he had {125}
exhausted a subject. The first work he published was on magnetism.
Some twelve years later he returned to the subject, and wrote a more
extensive work, containing many improvements over the first volume.
The same thing is true of his studies in sound. In 1650, when not
quite fifty years of age, he issued his "Musurgia Universalis," a
sub-title of which stated that it contains the whole doctrine of sound
and the practical and theoretical philosophy of music. A little over
twenty years later, however, he published the "Phonurgia Nova," the
sub-title of which showed that it was mainly concerned with the
experimental demonstration of various truths in acoustics and with the
development of the doctrine he had originally stated in the

It is no wonder that his contemporaries spoke of him as the _Doctor
centum artium_--the teacher of a hundred arts--for there was
practically no branch of scientific knowledge in his time in which he
was not expert. Scientific visitors to Rome always considered it one
of the privileges of their stay in the papal city to have the
opportunity to meet Father Kircher, and it was thought a very great
honor to be shown through his museum by himself.

Of course, it is difficult for present-day scientists to imagine a man
exhausting the whole round of science in this way. Many who have read
but little more than the titles of Father Kircher's many books are
accordingly prone to speak of him as a mine of information, but
without any {126} proper critical judgment. He has succeeded,
according to them, in heaping together an immense amount of
information, but it is of the most disparate value. There is no doubt
that he took account of many things in science that are manifestly
absurd. Astrology, for instance, had not, in his time, gone out of
fashion entirely, and he refers many events in men's lives to the
influence of the stars. He even made rules for astrological
predictions, and his astronomical machine for exhibiting the motions
of the stars was also meant to be helpful in the construction of
astrological tables. It must not be forgotten, however, that in his
time the best astronomers, like Tycho Brahe and even Kepler, had not
entirely given up the idea of the influence of the stars over man's

As regards other sciences, there are details of information that may
appear quite as superstitious as the belief in astrology. Kircher, for
instance, accepted the idea of the possibility of the transmutation of
metals. It is to be said, though, that all mankind were convinced of
this possibility, and indeed not entirely without reason. All during
the nineteenth century scientists believed very firmly in the absolute
independence of chemical elements and their utter
non-interchangeability. As the result of recent discoveries, however,
in which one element has apparently been observed giving rise to
another, much of this doctrine has come to be considered as
improbable, and now the idea of possible transmutation of {127} metals
and other chemical elements into one another appears not so absurd as
it was half a century ago.

Any one who will take up a text-book of science of a century ago will
find in it many glaring absurdities. It will seem almost impossible
that a scientific thinker, in his right senses, could have accepted
some of the propositions that are calmly set down as absolute truths.
Every generation has made itself ridiculous by knowing many things
"that are not so," and even ours is no exception. Father Kircher was
not outside this rule, though he was ahead of his generation in the
critical faculty that enabled him to eliminate many falsities and to
illuminate half-truths in the science of his day.

Undoubtedly the most interesting of Father Kircher's scientific books
is his work On the Pest, with some considerations on its origin, mode
of distribution, and treatment, which about the middle of the
seventeenth century gathered together all the medical theories of the
times as to the causation of contagious disease, discussed them with
critical judgment and reached conclusions which anticipate much of
what is most modern in our present-day medicine. It is this work of
Father Kircher's that is now most often referred to, and very
deservedly so, because it is one of the classics which represents a
landmark in knowledge for all time. It merits a place beside such
books as Harvey on the Circulation of Blood, or even Vesalius on Human
{128} Anatomy. As we have seen, it is now quoted from by our best
recent authorities who attempt seriously to trace the history of the
microbic theory of disease, and its conclusions are the result of
logical processes and not the mere chance lighting upon truth of a
mind that had the theories of the time before it. In it Father
Kircher's genius is best exhibited. It has the faults of his too ready
credibility; and his desire to discuss all possible phases of the
question, even those which are now manifestly absurd, has led him into
what prove to be useless digressions. But on the whole it represents
very well the first great example of the application of the principle
of inductive science to modern medicine. All the known facts and
observations are collected and discussed, and then the conclusions are

It is very interesting to trace the development of Father Kircher's
ideas with regard to the origin, causation, and communication of
disease, because in many points he so clearly anticipates medical
knowledge that has only come to be definitely accepted in very recent
times. It has often been pointed out that Sir Robert Boyle declared
that the processes of fermentation and those which brought about
infectious disease, were probably of similar nature, and that the
scientist who solved the problem of the cause of fermentation would
throw great light on the origin of these diseases. This prophetic
remark was absolutely verified when Pasteur, a chemist who had solved
the problem of fermentation, also solved {129} the weightier questions
connected with human diseases. Before even Boyle, however, Father
Kircher had expressed his opinion that disease processes were similar
to those of putrefaction. He considered that putrefaction was due to
the presence of certain _corpuscula_, as he called them, and these he
said were also probably active in the causation of infectious disease.

He was not sure whether or not these _corpuscula_ were living, in the
sense that they could multiply of themselves. He considered, however,
that this was very probable. As to their distribution, he is
especially happy in his anticipations of modern medical progress.
While he considered it very possible that they were carried through
the air, he gives it as his deliberate opinion that living things were
the most frequent agents for the distribution of the corpuscles of
disease. He is sure that they are carried by flies, for instance, and
that they may be inoculated by the stings of such insects as fleas or
mosquitoes. He even gives some examples that he knew of in which this
was demonstrated. Still more striking is his insistence on the fact
that such a contagious disease as pest may be carried by cats and dogs
and other domestic animals. The cat seemed to him to be associated
with special danger in this matter, and he gives an example of a
nunnery which had carefully protected itself against possible
infection, but had allowed a cat to come in, with the result that some
cases of the disease developed.


An interesting bit of discussion is to be found in the chapter in
which Father Kircher takes up the consideration of the problem whether
infectious disease can ever be produced by the imagination. He is
speaking particularly of the pest, but there is more than a suspicion
that under the name pest came at times of epidemics many of our modern
contagious diseases. Father Kircher says that there is no doubt that
worry plays an important role in predisposing persons to take the
disease. He does not consider, however, that it can originate of
itself, or be engendered in the person without contact with some
previous case of pest. With regard to the question of predisposition
he is very modern. He points out that many persons do not take the
disease, because evidently of some protective quality which they
possess. He is sure, too, that the best possible protection comes from
keeping in good, general health.

A curious suggestion is that with regard to the grave-diggers and
undertakers. It has often been noted in Italy, so Father Kircher
asserts, that these individuals as a rule did not succumb to the
disease, notwithstanding their extreme exposure, when the majority of
the population were suffering from it. Toward the end of the epidemic,
however, at the time when the townspeople were beginning to rejoice
over its practical disappearance, it was not unusual to have these
caretakers of the dead brought down with the disease--often, too, in
fatal form. Father {131} Kircher considers that only strong and
healthy individuals would take up such an occupation. That the
satisfaction of accomplishing a large amount of work and making money
kept them in good health. Later on, however, as the result of overwork
during the time of the epidemic and also of discouragement because
they saw the end of prosperous times for them, they became predisposed
to the disease and then fell victims.

With regard to the prevention of the pest in individual cases, Father
Kircher has some very sensible remarks. He says that physicians as a
rule depend on certain medicinal protectives or on amulets which they
carry. The amulets he considers to be merely superstitious. The
sweet-smelling substances that are sometimes employed are probably
without any preventive action. Certain physicians employed a
prophylactic remedy made up of very many substances. This is what in
modern days we would be apt to call a "gunshot prescription." It
contained so many ingredients that it was hoped that some one of them
would hit the right spot and prove effective. Father Kircher has
another name for it. We do not know whether it is original with him,
but in any case it is worth while remembering. He calls it a "calendar
prescription," because when written it resembled a list of the days of
the month.

His opinion of this "calendar prescription" is not very high. It seems
to him that if one ingredient did good, most of the others would be
{132} almost as sure to do harm. The main factor in prophylaxis to his
mind was to keep in normal health, and this seemed not quite
compatible with frequent recourse to a prescription containing so many
drugs that were almost sure to have no good effect and might have an
ill effect. It is all the more interesting to find these common-sense
views because ordinarily Father Kircher is set down as one who
accepted most of the traditions of his time without inquiring very
deeply into their origin or truth, simply reporting them out of the
fulness of his rather pedantic information. In most cases it will be
found, however, that, like Herodotus, reporting the curious things
that had been told him in his travels, he is very careful to state
what are his own opinions and what he owes to others and gives place
to, though without attaching much credence to them.

It must not be forgotten that his great contemporaries, Von Helmont
and Paracelsus, were not free from many of the curious scientific
superstitions of their time, though they had, like him, in many
respects the true scientific spirit. Von Helmont, for instance, was a
firm believer in the doctrine of spontaneous generation, and even went
so far as to consider that it had its application to animals of rather
high order. For instance, one of his works contains a rather famous
prescription to bring about the spontaneous generation of mice. What
was needed was a jar of meal kept in a dark corner covered by some
soiled linen. After three weeks these elements {133} would be found to
have bred mice. Too much must not be expected, then, of Kircher in the
matter of crediting supposedly scientific traditions.

It may seem surprising that Father Kircher's book did not produce a
greater impression upon the medical research work and teaching of the
day and lead to an earlier development of microbiology. Unfortunately,
however, the instruments of precision necessary for such a study were
not then at hand, and the gradual loss of prestige of the book is
therefore readily to be understood. The explanation of this delay in
the development of science is very well put by Crookshank, who is the
professor of comparative pathology and bacteriology at King's College,
London, and one of the acknowledged authorities on these subjects in
the medical world. Professor Crookshank says, at the beginning of the
first chapter of his text-book on bacteriology, in which he traces the
origin of the science, that the first attempt to demonstrate the
existence of the _contagium vivum_ dates back almost to the discovery
of the microscope:--[Footnote 11]

    [Footnote 11: _A Text-Book of Bacteriology_. Including the
    Etiology and Prevention of Infectious Diseases By Edgar M.
    Crookshank. Fourth Edition London, 1896]

  Athanasius Kircher nearly two and a half centuries ago expressed his
  belief that there were definite micro-organisms to which diseases
  were attributable. The microscope had revealed that all decomposing
  {134} substances swarmed with countless micro-organisms which were
  invisible to the naked eye, and Kircher sought for similar organisms
  in disease, which he considered might be due to their agency. The
  microscopes which he describes obviously could not admit of the
  possibility of studying or even detecting the micro-organisms which
  are now known to be associated with certain diseases; and it is not
  surprising that his teaching did not at the time gain much
  attention. They were destined, however, to receive a great impetus
  from the discoveries which emanated not long after from the father
  of microscopy, Leeuwenhoek.

This reference to Kircher's work, however, shows that more cordial
appreciation of his scientific genius has come in our day, and it
seems not unlikely that in the progress of more accurate and detailed
knowledge of scientific origins his reputation will grow as it
deserves. With that doubtless will come a better understanding of the
true attitude of the scholars of the time--so many of whom were
churchmen--to so-called physical science in contradistinction to
philosophy, in which of course they had always been profoundly
interested. The work done by Kircher could never have been
accomplished but for the sympathetic interest of those who are falsely
supposed to have been bitterly opposed to all progress in the natural
sciences, but whose opposition was really limited to theoretic phases
of scientific inquiry that threatened, as has scientific theory so
often since, to prove directly contradictory to revealed truth.





God makes sages and saints that they may be fountain-heads of wisdom
and virtue for all who yearn and aspire: and whoever has superior
knowledge or ability is thereby committed to more effectual and
unselfish service of his fellow-men. If the love of fame be but an
infirmity of noble souls, the craving of professional reputation is
but conceit and vanity. To be of help, and to be of help not merely to
animals, but to immortal, pure, loving spirits this is the noblest
earthly fate.--BISHOP SPALDING: _The Physician's Calling and





In the sketch of the life of Father Athanasius Kircher, the
distinguished Jesuit scientist, mathematician, and Orientalist, I
called attention to the fact that, at the very time when Galileo was
tried and condemned at Rome, because of his abuse of Scripture for the
demonstration of scientific thesis, a condemnation which has been
often since proclaimed to be due to the Church's intolerant opposition
to science, the ecclesiastical authorities at Rome invited Father
Kircher, who was at that time teaching mathematics in Germany, to come
to Rome, and during the next half-century encouraged him in every way
in the cultivation of all the physical sciences of the times. It was
to popes and cardinals, as well as to influential members of his own
order of the Jesuits, that Father Kircher owed his opportunities for
the foundation of a complete and magnificent museum, illustrating many
phases of natural science--the first of its kind in the world, and
which yet continues to be one of the noteworthy collections.

During the decade in which the condemnation of Galileo and the
invitation of Father Kircher to Rome took place, there was born, at
{138} Copenhagen, a man whose career of distinction in science was to
prove even more effectively than that of Kircher, if possible, that
there was no opposition in ecclesiastical circles in Italy, during
this century, to the development of natural science even in
departments in respect to which the Church has, over and over again,
been said to be specially intolerant. This scientist was Nicholas
Stensen, the discoverer of the duct of the parotid gland, which
conducts saliva into the mouth, and the founder, in the truest sense
of the word, of the modern science of geology. Stensen's discovery of
the duct which has since borne his name was due to no mere accident;
for he was one of the really great anatomists of all time, and one
distinguished particularly for his powers of original observation and
investigation. To have the two distinctions, then, of a leader in
anatomy and a founder in geology, stamps him as one of the supreme
scientific geniuses of all time, a man not only of a fruitfully
inquiring disposition of mind, but also one who possessed a very
definite realization of how important for the cause of scientific
truth is the necessity of testing all ideas with regard to things
physical, by actual observations of nature and by drawing conclusions
not wider than the observed facts.

Notwithstanding this characteristically scientific temper of mind,
which, according to most modern ideas, at least, would seem to be sure
to lead him away from religious truth, Stensen at the {139} very
height of his career as a scientist, while studying anatomy and
geology in Italy, became a convert from Lutheranism, in which he had
been born, to Catholicity, and thereafter made it one of the prime
objects of his life to bring as many others as possible of the
separated brethren into the fold of the Church. When he accepted the
professorship of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, it was with
the definite idea that he might be able to use the influence of his
position to make people realize how much of religious truth there was
in the old Church from which they had been separated in the preceding
century. After a time, however, his zeal led him to resign his
position, and ask to be made a priest, in order that he might be able
more effectively to fulfil what he now considered the main purpose of
his life, the winning of souls to the Church. As, since his
conversion, he had given every evidence of the most sincere piety and
humble simplicity, his desires were granted. His book on geology,
however, was partly written during the very time when he was preparing
for sacred orders, and was warmly welcomed by all his Catholic
friends. After spending some time as a missionary, and attracting a
great deal of attention by his devout life and by the many friends and
converts he succeeded in making, the recently converted Duke of
Hanover asked that the zealous Danish convert should be made bishop of
his capital city. This request was immediately granted, and Stensen
spent several years {140} in the hardest missionary labor in his new
field. As a matter of fact, his labors proved too much for his rather
delicate constitution, and he died at the comparatively early age of
forty-eight. The visitor to the University of Copenhagen marvels to
find among the portraits of her professors of anatomy one in the robes
of a Roman Catholic bishop. This is Stensen. In 1881, when the
International Geographical Congress met at Bologna, it adjourned at
the end of the session to Florence to unveil a bust of Stensen, over
his tomb there. Here evidently is a man whose life is well worth
studying, because of all that it means for the history of his time.

Nicholas Stensen--or, as he is often called, Steno, because this is
the Latin form of his name, and Latin was practically exclusively
used, during his age, in scientific circles all over Europe--was born
20 January, 1638, in Copenhagen. His father died while he was
comparatively young, and his mother married again, both her husbands
being goldsmiths in high repute for their skill, and both of them in
rather well-to-do circumstances. His early education was obtained at
Copenhagen, and the results displayed in his attainments show how well
it must have been conducted. Later in life he spoke and wrote Latin
very fluently and had, besides, a very thorough knowledge of Greek and
of Hebrew. Of the modern languages, German, French, Italian, and Low
Dutch he knew very well, mainly from residence in the various
countries in which they {141} are spoken. A more unusual attainment at
that time, and one showing the ardor of his thirst for knowledge, was
an acquaintance with English. In early life he was especially fond of
mathematics and, indeed, it was almost by accident that this did not
become his chosen field of educational development.

At eighteen he became a student of the University of Copenhagen, and
after some preliminary studies in philosophy and philology devoted
himself mainly to medicine. At this time the Danish University was
especially distinguished for its work in anatomy. The famous family of
Bartholini, who had for several generations been teaching there, had
proved a copious source of inspiration for the students in their
department, and as a consequence original investigation of a high
order, with enthusiasm for the development of anatomical science, had
become the rule. The external situation was not favorable to learning,
for Denmark was engaged in harassing and costly wars during a
considerable portion of the seventeenth century; yet the work
accomplished here was, undoubtedly, some of the best in Europe. Young
Stensen had the advantage of having Thomas Bartholini as his
preceptor, and soon, because of his enthusiasm for science, as friend
and father.

Stensen had been at the University scarcely two years when the city of
Copenhagen was besieged by the Swedes. Professor Lutz, of the
University of St. Louis, who has recently written {142} an article on
Stensen, which appeared in the _Medical Library and Historical
Journal_ for July, 1904, says of this period:

  A regiment of students numbering two hundred and sixty-six, called
  "the black coats" on account of their dark clothes, was formed for
  the defence of the city; upon its roster we find the name of young
  Steno. During the day they were at work mending the ramparts, and
  the nights were spent in repelling the attacks of the enemy. In the
  course of this long siege, the city was compelled to cope with a
  more formidable enemy than the Swedes--famine with all its
  horrors--before relief came in the shape of provisions and
  reinforcements furnished by the Dutch fleet. Throughout these
  turbulent days the student soldiers rendered valuable services to
  their country, and though it be true that "inter arma silent
  musae"--"the war gods do not favor the muses"--it appears
  nevertheless that Steno attended the lectures and dissections which
  were conducted by the teachers in the intervals when the student
  were not on duty.

After some three years spent at the University of Copenhagen, Stensen,
as was the custom of the times, went to pursue his post-graduate
studies in a foreign university. Bartholini furnished him with a
letter of recommendation to Professor Blasius, who was teaching
anatomy at Amsterdam in Holland. Amsterdam had become famous during
the seventeenth century for the very practical character of its
anatomical teaching. As the result of the cordial commendation of
Bartholini, Stensen became an inmate of the house of Professor
Blasius, and was given {143} special opportunities to pursue his
anatomical studies for himself. He had been but a very short time at
Amsterdam, when he made the discovery to which his name has ever since
been attached, that of the duct of the parotid gland. Stensen's
discovery was made while he was dissecting the head of a sheep. He
found shortly afterwards, however, that the canal could be
demonstrated to exist in the dog, though it was not so large a
structure. Blasius seems to have been rather annoyed at the fact that
a student, just beginning work with him, should make so important a
discovery, and wished to claim the honor of it for himself. There is
no doubt, however, now, notwithstanding the discussion over the
priority of the discovery which took place at the time, that Stensen
was the first to make this important observation.

Not long before, Wharton, an English observer, had demonstrated the
existence of a canal leading from the submaxillary gland into the
mouth. This might have been expected to lead to the discovery of other
glandular ducts, but so far had not. As a matter of fact, the function
of the parotid gland was not well understood at this time. During the
discussion as to priority of discovery, Steno pointed out one fact
which he very properly considers as the most conclusive proof that
Blasius did not discover the duct of the gland. He says: "Blasius
shows plainly in his treatise 'De Medicina Generali' that he has never
sought for the duct, for he does not assign {144} to it either the
proper point of beginning or ending, and assigns to the parotid gland
itself so unworthy a function as that of furnishing warmth to the ear,
so that if I were not perfectly sure of having once shown him the duct
myself, I should be tempted to say that he had never seen it."

Bartholini settled the controversy, and at the same time removed any
discouragement that might have arisen in his young pupil's mind, by
writing to him:--

  Your assiduity in investigating the secrets of the human body, as
  well as your fortunate discoveries, are highly praised by the
  learned of your country. The fatherland congratulates itself upon
  such a citizen, I upon such a pupil, through whose efforts anatomy
  makes daily progress, and our lympathic vessels are traced out more
  and more. You divide honors with Wharton, since you have added to
  his internal duct an external one, and have thereby discovered the
  sources of the saliva concerning which many have hitherto dreamed
  much, but which no one has (permit the expression) pointed out with
  the finger. Continue, my Steno, to follow the path to immortal glory
  which true anatomy holds out to you.

Under the stimulus of such encouragement, it is no wonder that Stensen
continued his original work with eminent success. He published an
extensive article on the glands of the eye and the vessels of the

Bartholini wrote to him again: "Your fame is growing from day to day,
for your pen and your sharp eye know no rest." Later he wrote {145}
again: "You may count upon the favor of the king as well as upon the
applause of the learned." After three years at the University of
Amsterdam, Steno returned to Copenhagen, where he published his
"Anatomical Observations Concerning the Muscles and Glands." It was in
this book that he announced his persuasion that the heart was a
muscle. As he said himself, "the heart has been considered the seat of
natural warmth, the throne of the soul; but if you examine it more
closely, it turns out to be nothing but a muscle. The men of the past
would not have been so grossly mistaken with regard to it, had they
not preferred their imaginary theories to the results of the simple
observation of nature." It is easy to understand that this observation
created a very great sensation. It had much to do with overthrowing
certain theoretic systems of medicine, and nearly a century later the
distinguished physiologist, Haller, did not hesitate to proclaim the
volume in which it occurs, as a "golden book."

Stensen's studies in anatomy stamp him as an original genius of a high
order, and this is all the more remarkable because his career occurs
just in those years when there were distinguished discoverers in
anatomy in every country in Europe. When Stensen began his work in
anatomy, Harvey was still alive. The elder Bartholini, the first who
ever established an anatomical museum, was another of his
contemporaries. Among the names of distinguished anatomists {146} with
whom Stensen was brought intimately in contact during the course of
his studies in Holland, France and Italy are those of Swammerdam, Van
Horne, and Malpighi. There is no doubt that his intercourse with such
men sharpened his own intellectual activity, and increased his
enthusiasm for original investigation in contradistinction to the mere
accumulation of information.

His contemporaries, indeed, exhausted most of the adjectives of the
Latin language in trying to express their appreciation of his acuity
of observation. He was spoken of as _oculatissimus_--that is, as
being all eyes, _subtilissimus, acutissimus, sagacissimus_ in his
knowledge of the human body, and as the most perspicacious anatomist
of the time. Leibnitz and Haller were in accord in considering him one
of the greatest of anatomists. In later years this admiration for
Stensen's genius has not been less enthusiastically expressed. Haeser,
in his "History of Medicine," the third edition of which appeared at
Jena in 1879, says: "Among the greatest anatomists of the seventeenth
century belongs Nicholas Steno, the most distinguished pupil of Thomas
Bartholini. Steno was rightly considered in his own time as one of the
greatest of anatomical discoverers. There is scarcely any part of the
human body the knowledge of which was not rendered more complete by
his investigations."

The most valuable discovery made by Stensen was undoubtedly that the
heart is a muscle. It {147} must not be forgotten that in his time,
Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the blood was not yet
generally accepted; indeed, there were many who considered the theory
(as they called it) of the English investigator as one of the passing
fads of medicine. Two significant discoveries, made after Harvey,
served, however, to establish the theory of the circulation of the
blood on a firm basis and to make it a definite medical doctrine. The
most important of these was Malpighi's discovery that the
capillaries--that is, the minute vessels at the end of the arterial
tree on the surface of the body and in various organs--served as the
direct connexion between the veins and the arteries. This demonstrated
just how the blood passed from the arterial to the venous system.
Scarcely less important, however, for the confirmation of Harvey's
teaching was Stensen's demonstration of the muscular character of the
tissue of the heart.

Some of his observations upon muscles are extremely interesting, and,
though he made many mistakes in explaining their function, he added
not a little to the anatomical and physiological knowledge of the time
in their regard. He seems to have been one of the first to recognize
the fact that in the higher animals the heart may continue to beat for
a considerable time after the animal is apparently dead; and, indeed,
that by irritation of the removed heart, voluntary contractions may be
brought about which will continue spontaneously for some moments.


With regard to the objections made by some, that such studies as these
upon muscles could scarcely be expected to produce any direct result
for the treatment of disease, or in the ordinary practice of medicine,
Stensen said in reply that it is only on the basis of the anatomical,
physiological, and pathological observation that progress in medicine
is to be looked for. In spite, then, of the discouragement of the
many, who look always for immediate practical results, Stensen
continued his investigation, and even proposed to make an extended
study of the mechanism of the muscular action.

In the meantime, however, there had gradually been coming into his
life another element which was to prove more absorbing than even his
zeal for scientific discovery. It is this which constitutes the
essential index of the man's character and has been sadly
misunderstood by many of his biographers.

Sir Michael Foster, of Cambridge, England, in his "Lectures on the
History of Physiology," originally delivered as the Lane Lectures at
Cooper Medical College, San Francisco, said:--

  While thus engaged, still working at physiology, Stensen turned his
  versatile mind to other problems, as well as to those of comparative
  anatomy, and especially to those of the infant, indeed hardly as yet
  born, science of geology. His work "De solido intra solidum" is
  thought by geologists to be a brilliant effort toward the beginning
  of their science

  In 1672 he returned for a while to his native city of {149}
  Copenhagen, but within two years he was back again at Florence; and
  then there came to him, while as yet a young man of some thirty-six
  summers, a sudden and profound change in his life.

  In his early days he had heard much, too much perhaps, of the
  doctrines of Luther. Probably he had been repelled by the austere
  devotion which ruled the paternal roof. And, as his answer to
  Bossuet shows, his university life and studies, his intercourse with
  the active intellects of many lands, and his passion for inquiry
  into natural knowledge, had freed him from passive obedience to
  dogma. He doubtless, as did many others of his time, looked upon
  himself as one of the enlightened, as one raised above the barren
  theological questions which were moving the minds of lesser men

Yet it was out of this sceptical state of mind, that life in Italy and
intimate contact with ecclesiastics and religious, so often said to be
likely not to have any such effect, brought this acute scientific mind
into the Catholic Church. Nor did he become merely a formal adherent,
but an ardent believer, and then an enthusiastic proselytizer. One
American writer of a history of medicine, in his utter failure to
comprehend or sympathize with the change that came over Stensen,
speaks of him as having become at the end of his life a mere
"peripatetic converter of heretics." This phase of Stensen's life has,
however, as ample significance as any that preceded it.

Steno's expectations of the professorship of anatomy at Copenhagen
were disappointed, but the appointment went to Jacobson, whose work
indeed is scarcely less distinguished than that of {150} his
unsuccessful rival. The next few years Stensen passed in Paris, where
he was assiduous in making dissections, and where he attracted much
attention; and then, somewhat later, in Italy; in 1665 and 1666 he was
in Rome. Thence he went to Florence, in order to perfect himself in
Italian. The next few years he spent in this city, having received the
appointment of body physician to the Grand Duke, as well as an
appointment of visiting physician, as we would call it now, to the
Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova.

It was while at Florence that the whole current of Stensen's life was
changed by his conversion to Catholicity. His position as physician to
the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova brought him frequently into the
apothecary shop attached to the hospital. As a result he came to know
very well the religious in charge of the department, Sister Maria
Flavia, the daughter of a well-known Tuscan family. At this time she
had been for some thirty-five years a nun. Before long she learned
that the distinguished young physician, at this time scarcely thirty
years of age, who was such a pleasant gentleman in all his ways, was a
Lutheran. She began, as she told afterwards, first by prayer, and then
by friendly suggestions, to attempt to win him to the Catholic Church.
Stensen, who seems already to have been well-disposed toward the
Church, and who had always been known for a wonderful purity of heart
and simplicity of character, listened very willingly to the naive
words of the {151} old religious, who might very well have been his

Many years later, by the command of her confessor, the good Sister
related the detailed story of his conversion. She began very simply by
telling him one day that if he did not accept the true Catholic faith,
he would surely go to hell. He listened to this without any
impatience, and she said it a number of other times, half jokingly
perhaps, but much more than half in earnest. As he listened so kindly,
she said to him one day that he must pray every day to God to let him
know the truth. This he promised to do and, as she found out from his
servant (what is it these nuns do not find out?) he did pray every
evening. One day, while he was in the apothecary shop, the Angelus
bell rang, and she asked him to say the Angelus. He was perfectly
willing to say the first part of the Hail Mary, but he did not want to
say the second part, as he did not believe in the invocation of the
Blessed Virgin and the saints. Then she asked him to visit the Church
of the Blessed Virgin, the Santissima Nunziata, which he did. After
this she suggested to him that he should abstain from meat on Fridays
and Saturdays, which he promised to do, and which the good nun found
out once more from his servant, he actually did do. And then the
religious thought it was time to suggest that he should consult a
clergyman, and his conversion was not long delayed.

Young Stensen seems to have been the object {152} of solicitude on the
part of a number of the good, elderly women with whom he was brought
in contact. He discussed with Signora Arnolfini the great difficulty
he had in believing the mystery of the Eucharist. Another good woman,
the Signora Lavinia Felice, seeing how interested he was in things
Catholic, succeeded in bringing him to the notice of a prominent
Jesuit in Florence. As his friend, Sister Maria Flavia, had
recommended the same Father to him, he followed the advice all the
more readily, and it was not long before his last doubts were solved.

It was after his conversion that Stensen received his invitation to
become the professor of anatomy at the University of Copenhagen. Much
as he had become attached to Florence, the thought of returning to his
native city was sweet; and then besides he hoped that he might be able
to influence his countrymen in their views toward the Catholic Church.
It was not long, however, before the bigotry of his compatriots made
life so unpleasant for him in Copenhagen that he resigned his position
and returned to Italy. Various official posts in Florence were open
for him, but now he had resolved to devote himself to the service of
the Church, and so he became a priest. His contemporary, the Cardinal
Archbishop of Florence, said with regard to him: "Already as a member
of a Protestant sect he had lived a life of innocence and had
practised all the moral virtues. After his conversion he had marked
out for himself so severe a method of life and had {153} remained so
true to it that in a very short time he reached a high degree of
perfection." The Archbishop does not hesitate to say that he had
become a man of constant union with God and entirely dead to himself.
There was very little hesitation, then, in accepting him as a
candidate for the priesthood, and as his knowledge of theology was
very thorough, most of the delay in raising him to that dignity came
from his own humility and his desire to prepare himself properly for
the privilege. He made the exercises of St. Ignatius as part of his
preparation, and after his ordination it was a source of remark with
how much devotion he said his first and all succeeding Masses. It was
not long before the piety of Stensen's life attracted great attention.
At this time he was in frequent communication with such men as Spinoza
and Leibnitz, the distinguished philosophers. It is curious to think
of the ardent mystic, the pantheistic philosopher, and the speculative
scientist, so different in character, having many interests in common.

It was during these years in Italy that Stensen did what must be
considered, undoubtedly, his most important work, even more important,
if possible, than his anatomical discoveries. This was his foundation
of the science of geology. As has been well said in a prominent
text-book of geology, his book on this subject sets him in that group
of men who as prophets of science often run far ahead of their times
to point out the path which later centuries will follow in the road of
{154} knowledge. It is rather surprising to find that the seventeenth
century must enjoy the privilege of being considered the cradle of
geological knowledge. There is no doubt, however, that the great
principles of the science were laid down in Stensen's little book,
which he intended only to be an introduction to a more extensive work,
but the latter was unfortunately never completed, nor, indeed, so far
as we are able to decide now, ever seriously begun.

One of the basic principles of the science of geology Stensen taught
as follows: "If a given body of definite form, produced according to
the laws of nature, be carefully examined, it will show in itself the
place and manner of its origin." This principle he showed would apply
so comprehensively that the existence of many things, hitherto
apparently inexplicable, became rather easy of solution. It must not
be forgotten that before this time two explanations for the existence
of peculiar bodies, or of ordinary bodies, in peculiar places, had
been offered. According to one school of thought, the fossils found
deep in the earth, or sometimes in the midst of rocks, had been
created there. It was as if the creative force had run beyond the
ordinary bounds of nature and had produced certain things, ordinarily
associated with life, even in the midst of dead matter. The other
explanation suggested was that the flood had in its work of
destruction upon earth caused many anomalous displacements of living
things, and had buried some of the {155} animals under such
circumstances that later they were found even beneath rocks, or deep
down in the earth, far beyond where the animals could be supposed to
have penetrated by any ordinary means during life.

Stensen had observed very faithfully the various strata that are to be
found wherever special appearances of the earth's surface were
exposed, or wherever deep excavations were made. His explanation of
how these various strata are formed will serve to show, perhaps better
than anything else, how far advanced he was in his realization of
ideas that are supposed to belong only to modern geology. He said:
"The powdery layers of the earth's surface must necessarily at some
time have been held in suspension in water, from which they were
precipitated by their own weight. The movement of the fluid scattered
the precipitate here and there and gave to it a level surface."

"Bodies of considerable circumference," Stensen continues, "which are
found in the various layers of the earth, followed the laws of gravity
as regards their position and their relations to one another. The
powdery material of the earth's strata took on so completely the form
of the bodies which it surrounded that even the smallest apertures
became filled up and the powdery layer fitted accurately to the
surface of the object and even took something of its polish."

With regard to the composition of the various strata of the earth, the
father of geology {156} considered that if in a layer of rock all the
portions are of the same kind there is no reason to deny that such a
layer came into existence at the time of creation, when the whole
surface of the earth was covered with fluid. If, however, in any one
stratum portions of another stratum are found, or if the remains of
plants or animals occur, there is no doubt that such a stratum had not
its origin at the time of creation, but came into existence later.

If there is to be found in a stratum traces of sea salt, or the
remains of sea animals, or portions of vessels, or such like objects,
which are only to be encountered at the bottom of the sea, then it
must be considered that this portion of the earth's surface once was
below the sea level, though it may happen that this occurred only by
the accident of a flood of some kind. The great distance from the sea,
or other body of water, at the present time, may be due to the sinking
of the water level in the neighborhood, or by the rising up of a
mountain from some internal terrestrial cause in the interval of time.
He continues:--

  If one finds in any layer remains of branches of trees, or herbs,
  then it is only right to conclude that these objects were brought
  together because of flood or of some such condition in the place
  where they are now found. If in a layer coal and ashes and burnt
  clay or other scorched bodies are found, then it seems sure that
  some place in the neighborhood of a watercourse a fire took place,
  and this is all the more sure when the whole layer consists of ashes
  and {157} coal. Whenever in the same place the material of which all
  the layers is composed is the same, there seems to be no doubt that
  the fluid to which the stratum owes its origin did not at different
  times obtain different material for its building purposes.

In respect to the mountains and their formation, Stensen said very

  All the mountains which we see now have not existed from the
  beginning of things. Mountains do not, however, grow as do plants.
  The stones of which mountains are composed have only a certain
  analogy with the bones of animals, but have no similarity in
  structure or in origin, nor have they the same function and purpose.
  Mountain ranges, or chains of mountains as some prefer to call them,
  do not always run in certain directions, though this has sometimes
  been claimed. Such claims correspond neither to reason nor to
  observation. Mountains may be very much disturbed in the course of
  years. Mountain peaks rise and fall somewhat. Chasms open and shut
  here and there in them, and though there are those who pretend that
  it is only the credulous who will accept the stories of such
  happenings, there is no doubt that they have been established on
  trustworthy evidence.

In the course of his observations in Italy, Stensen had seen many
mussel shells, which had been gathered from various layers of the
earth's surface. With regard to the shells themselves, he said that
there could be no doubt that they had come as the excretion of the
mantle of the mussel, and that the differences that could be noted in
them were in accordance with the varying forms of these animals. He
pointed out, however, that some of the mussel shells found in {158}
strata of rock were really mussel shells in every respect as regards
the material of which they were composed as well as their interior
structure and their external form, so that there could be no possible
question of their origin. On the other hand, a certain number of the
so-called mussel shells were not composed of the ordinary materials of
which such shells are usually made up; but had indeed only the
external form of genuine shells. Stensen considered, however, that
even these must be regarded as originating in real mussel shells, the
original substance having been later on replaced by other material. He
explained this replacement process in very much the same way that we
now suggest the explanation of various processes of petrification.
There is no doubt that in this he went far beyond his contemporaries,
and pointed out very clearly what was to be the teaching of
generations long after his own.

The same principles he applied to mussel shells, Stensen considered
must have their application also to all other portions of animal
bodies, teeth, bones, whole skeletons, and even more perishable animal
materials that might be found buried in the earth's strata. His
treatment of the question of the remains of plants was quite as
satisfactory as that of the animals. He distinguished between the
impressions of plants, the petrification of plants, the carbonization
of plants, and then dwelt somewhat on the tendency of certain minerals
to form dendrites, that is, branching {159} processes which look not
unlike plants. He pointed out how easy it is to be deceived by these
appearances, and stated very clearly the distinction between real
plants and such simulated ones.

It will be scarcely necessary for us to apologize for having given so
much space to Stensen's work on geology. Many distinguished
scientists, however, have insisted that no greater advance at the
birth of a science was ever made than that which Stensen accomplished
in his geological work. Hoffman says that after carefully studying the
work, he has come to the conclusion that of the successors of Stensen,
no student of the mountains down to Werner's day had succeeded in
comprehending so many fruitful points of view in geology. None of his
great successors in geology has succeeded in introducing so many new
ideas into the science as the first great observer. For several
centuries most of his successors in geology remained far behind him in
creative genius, and so there is little progress worth while noting in
the knowledge of the method of earth formation, until almost the
beginning of the nineteenth century, though his little book was
written in 1668 and 1669.

Leibnitz regretted very much that Stensen did not complete his work on
geology as he originally intended. Had he succeeded in gathering
together all of his original observations, illustrated by the material
he had collected, his work would have had much greater effect. As it
was, the golden truth which he had expressed in such {160} few words,
without being able always to state just how he had come to his
conclusions, was only of avail to science in a limited way. Men had to
repeat his observations long years afterwards in order to realize the
truth of what he had laid down. Leibnitz considered that it took more
than a century for geological science to reach the point at which it
had been left by Steno's work, and which he had reached at a single
bound. There is scarcely a single modern geologist interested at all
in the history of the science who has not paid a worthy tribute to
Steno's great basic discoveries in the science. It was not a matter
for surprise, then, that the International Congress of Geologists
which met at Bologna in 1881 assembled at his tomb in Florence in
order to do him honor, after the regular sessions of the Congress had
closed. They erected to his memory a tablet with the following

  "Nicolae Stenonis imaginem vides hospes quam aere collato docti
  amplius mille ex universo terrarum orbe insculpendam curarunt in
  memoriam ejus diei IV cal. Octobr. an. MDCCCLXXXI quo geologi post
  conventum Bononiae habitum praeside Joanne Capellinio equite hue
  peregrinati sunt atque adstantibus legatis flor Municipii et R.
  Instituti Altiorum doctrinarum cineres viri inter geologos et
  anatomicos praestantissimi in hujus templi hypogaeo laurea corona
  honoris gratique animi ergo honestaverunt." [Footnote 12]

    [Footnote 12: You behold here, traveller, the bust of Nicholas
    Steno as it was set up by more than a thousand scientists from all
    over the world, as a memorial to him, on the fourth of the Kalends
    of October, 1881. The geologists of the world, after their meeting
    in Bologna, under the presidency of Count John Capellini, made a
    pilgrimage to his tomb, and in the presence of the chosen
    representatives of the municipality, and of the learned professors
    of the University, honored the mortal ashes of this man,
    illustrious among geologists and anatomists.]


Stensen's work brought him in contact with some of the distinguished
men of the seventeenth century, all of whom learned to appreciate his
breadth of intelligence and acuity of judgment. We have already
mentioned his epistolary relation with Spinoza, and have said
something about the controversy with Leibnitz, into which, in spite of
his disinclination to controversy generally, he was drawn by the
circumstances of the time and the solicitation of friends. Another
great thinker of the century with whom he was brought into intimate
relationship was Des Cartes, the distinguished philosopher. In fact,
Des Cartes's system of thought influenced Stensen not a little, and he
felt, when describing the function of muscles in the human body, and
especially when he demonstrated that the heart was a muscle, that the
mechanical notions he was thus introducing into anatomy were likely to
prove confirmatory of Des Cartes's philosophic speculations. Almost
more than any other, Stensen was the father of many ideas that have
since become common, with regard to the physics of the human body and
its qualities as a machine.

With his breadth of view, from familiarity {162} with the progress of
science generally in his time, Steno's discussions of the reason for
the lack of exact knowledge and for the prevalence of error, in spite
of enthusiastic investigation, are worth while appreciating. He
considered that the reason why so many portions of natural science are
still in doubt is that in the investigation of natural objects no
careful distinction is made between what is known to a certainty and
what is known only with a certain amount of assurance. He discusses
the question of deductive and inductive science, and considers that
even those who depend on experience will not infrequently be found in
error, because their conclusions are wider than their premises, and
because it only too often happens that they admit principles as true
for which they have no sure evidence. Stensen considered it important,
therefore, not to hurry on in the explanation of things, but, so far
as possible, to cling to old-time principles that had been universally
accepted, since nearly always these would be found to contain fruitful
germs of truth.

He was universally acknowledged as one of the greatest original
thinkers of his time, and his conversion to the Church did much to
dissipate religious prejudices among those of German nationality. His
influence over distinguished visitors who came to Florence, and who
were very glad to have the opportunity of making his acquaintance, was
such that not a few Northern visitors became, like himself, converts
to the Church.


It was in the midst of this that the request of the Duke of Hanover
came that he should consent to become the bishop of his capital city.
It was only after Stensen had been put under holy obedience that he
would consent to accept the proffered dignity. His first thought was
to distribute all his goods among the poor, and betake himself even
without shoes on his feet, on a pedestrian journey to Rome. First,
however, he made a pilgrimage to Loretto, where he arrived so overcome
by the fatigue of the journey that the clergyman who took care of him
while there, insisted on his accepting a pair of shoes from him,
though he could not prevail upon him to travel in any other way than
on foot.

His first action, after his consecration as bishop, was to write a
letter, sending his episcopal benediction to Sister Maria Flavia, to
whom he felt he owed the great privilege of his life. His lasting
sense of satisfaction and consolation in his change of religion may be
appreciated from what is, perhaps, the most interesting personal
document that we have from Stensen's own hand, in which, on the
eighteenth anniversary of his conversion, he writes to a friend to
describe his feelings. "To-morrow," he says, "I shall finish, God
willing, the eighteenth year of my happy life as a member of the
Church. I wish to acknowledge once more my thankfulness for the part
which you took under God in my conversion. As I hope to have the grace
to be grateful to Him forever, so I sigh for the opportunity to
express {164} my thankfulnes to you and your family. I can feel that
my own ingratitude toward God, my slowness in His service, make me
unworthy of His graces; but I hope that you who have helped me to
enter his service will not cease to pray, so that I may obtain pardon
for the past and grace for the future, in order in some measure to
repay all the favors that have been conferred on me."

The distinguishing characteristic of his life as a bishop was his
insistence on poverty as the principal element of his existence. He
refused to enter his diocese in state in the carriage which the Duke
offered to provide for him, but proceeded there on foot. No question
of supposed dignity could make him employ a number of servants, and
his only retainers were converts made by himself, who helped in the
household and whom he treated quite as equals. He became engaged in
one controversy on religious matters, but said that he did not
consider that converts had ever been made by controversies. He
compared it, indeed, to the gladiatorial contests in which the
contestants had their heads completely enveloped in armor, so as to
prevent any possible penetration of the weapons of an opponent. He
insisted especially that in religious controversies the contending
parties do not realize the significance given to words by each other,
and that therefore no good can result.

After a time, Stensen did not find his work in Hamburg very
satisfactory, because it was typically a missionary country, and the
Jesuit {165} missionaries who had been introduced were accomplishing
all that could be hoped for. Accordingly, when the Duke of
Mecklenburg-Schwerin became a convert to the Catholic Church, and
asked that Stensen should be sent as a bishop into his dukedom, the
request was complied with. Here, in the hardest kind of labor as a
missionary, and in the midst of poverty that was truly apostolic,
Stensen worked out the remaining years of his life. At his death he
was looked upon as almost a saint. Notwithstanding his close
relationship with two reigning princes, he did not leave enough
personal effects to defray the expenses of his funeral. Besides his
bishop's ring, and the very simple episcopal cross he wore, he had
nothing of any value except some relics of St. Francis Xavier, St.
Ignatius Loyola, and St. Philip Neri, which he had prized above all
other treasures.

His missionary labors had not been marked by any very striking success
in the number of converts made. In this his life would seem to have
been a bitter personal disappointment. He never looked upon it as
such, however, but continued to be eminently cheerful and friendly
until the end. As a matter of fact, the influence of his career was to
be felt much more two centuries after his death than during his
lifetime. At the present moment, his life is well known in northern
Germany, thanks to the biographic sketch written by Father Plenkers
for the _Stimmen aus Maria Laach_, which has been very widely {166}
circulated since its appearance in 1884. Something of the reaction
among scientific minds in Germany toward a healthier orthodoxy of
feeling, with regard to great religious questions, is undoubtedly due
to the spread of the knowledge of the career of the great anatomist
and geologist who gave up his scientific work for the sake of the
spread of the higher truth.

After his death the Medici family asked for and obtained the privilege
of having his body buried in San Lorenzo at Florence, with the members
of the princely Medici house. More and more do visitors realize that
the tablet over his remains chronicles the death of a man who was
undoubtedly one of the world's great scientists, and one of the most
original thinkers of his time, and that time a period greatly fertile
in the history of science.





They continue this day as they were created, perfect in number and
measure and weight, and from the ineffaceable characters impressed on
them we may learn that those aspirations after accuracy in
measurement, truth in statement, and justice in action, which we
reckon among our noblest attributes as men, are ours because they are
essential constituents of the image of Him who in the beginning
created not only heaven and earth, but the materials of which heaven
and earth consist.--CLERK MAXWELL _On the Molecule_, "Nature," Vol.
VIII. 1873.

[Illustration: RÉNÉ JUST HAÜY]




  [Footnote 13: Pronounced a-ue (Century Dictionary), Nearly
  Represented By _ah-we_.]

Modern learning is gradually losing something of the self-complacency
that characterized it in so constantly harboring the thought that the
most important discoveries in physical science came in the nineteenth
century. A more general attention to critical history has led to the
realization that many of the primal discoveries whose importance made
the development of modern science possible, came in earlier centuries,
though their full significance was not then fully appreciated. The
foundations of most of our modern sciences were, indeed, laid in the
eighteenth century, but some of them came much earlier. It is genius
alone that is able to break away from established traditions of
knowledge, and, stepping across the boundary into the unknown, blaze a
path along which it will be easy for subsequent workers to follow.
Only in recent years has the due meed of appreciation for these great
pioneers become part of the precious traditions of scientific

We have seen that clergymen were great original investigators in
science in the older times and we shall find, though it may be a
source of {170} astonishment to most people that even our modern
science has had some supreme original workers, during the last two
centuries, in the ranks of the Catholic clergy.

The eighteenth century was not behind the seventeenth in original
contributions made to science by clergymen. About the middle of the
century, a Premonstratensian monk, Procopius Dirwisch by name, of the
little town of Prenditz in Bohemia, demonstrated the identity of
electrical phenomena with lightning, thus anticipating the work of our
own Franklin. Dirwisch dared to set up a lightning-conductor, by which
during thunderstorms he obtained sparks from clouds, and also learned
to appreciate the danger involved in this experiment. When, in 1751,
he printed his article on this subject, he pointed out this danger.
His warning, however, was not always heeded, and at least one
subsequent experimenter was struck dead by a charge of electricity.

Just at the junction of the last two centuries, Father Piazzi enriched
the realm of science by one of the most important of modern
discoveries in astronomy. On the night of 31 December, 1800--1
January, 1801, he discovered the little planet Ceres. This was the
first of the asteroids, so many more of which were to be revealed to
astronomical study during the next half-century. Father Piazzi's
discovery was made, not by accident, but as the result of detailed
astronomical work of the most painstaking character. He {171} had set
out to make a map of the heavens, and to determine and locate the
absolute position of all the visible stars. He had succeeded in
cataloguing over 7,000 stars when his attention was called to one,
hitherto supposed to be fixed, which he found had moved, during the
interval between two observations, from its original position. He made
still other observations, and thus determined the fact that it was a
planetoid and not a fixed star with which he had to deal. Needless to
say, his discovery proved a strong incentive to patient astronomical
study of the same kind; and it is to these, rather than to great
single discoveries, that we owe whatever progress in astronomy was
made during the nineteenth century.

Contemporary with both of these last-mentioned men, and worthy to
share in the scientific honors that were theirs, was the Abbé Haüy,
who toward the end of the second half of the eighteenth century
founded the science of crystallography; made a series of observations
the value of which can never be disputed, originated theories some of
which have served down to our own time as the basis of crystal
knowledge, and attracted the attention of many students to the new
science because of his charming personal character and his winning
teaching methods. His life is a typical example of the value of work
done in patient obscurity, founded on observation, and not on
brilliant theories; and what he accomplished stamps him as one of the
great {172} scientific geniuses of all time--one of the men who
widened the bounds of knowledge in directions hitherto considered
inaccessible to the ordinary methods of human investigation.

It is a commonplace of the lecturer on popular science at the present
day, that the impulse to the development of our modern scientific
discoveries which became so marked toward the end of the eighteenth
century, was due in a noteworthy degree to the work of the French
Encyclopedists. Their bringing together of all the details of
knowledge in a form in which it could be readily consulted, and in
which previous progress and the special lines of advance could be
realized, might be expected to prove a fruitful source of suggestive
investigation. As a matter of fact, however, a detailed knowledge of
the past in science often seems to be rather a hindrance than a help
to original genius, always prone to take its own way if not too much
disturbed by the conventional knowledge already gained. Most of the
great discoverers in science were comparatively young men when they
began their careers as original investigators; and it was apparently
their freedom from the incubus of too copious information that left
their minds untrammelled to follow their own bent in seeking for
causes where others had failed to find any hints of possible

This was certainly the case with regard to many of those distinguished
founders who lived in centuries prior to the nineteenth. Most of {173}
them were men under thirty years of age, and not one of them had been
noted, before he began his own researches, for the extent of his
knowledge in the particular department of science in which his work
was to prove so fruitful. Their lives illustrate the essential
difference there is between theory and observation in science. The
theorizer reaches conclusions that are popular as a rule in his own
generation, and receives the honor due to a progressive scientist; the
observer usually has his announcements of what he has actually seen
scouted by those who are engaged in the same studies, and it is only
succeeding generations who appreciate how much he really accomplished.

This was especially exemplified in the case of the Abbé Haüy, whose
work in crystallography was to mean so much. What he learned was not
from books, but from contact with the actual objects of his department
of science; and it is because the example of a life like this can
scarcely fail to serve a good purpose for the twentieth-century
student, in impressing the lesson of the value of observation as
opposed to theory, that its details are retold.

Réné Just Haüy was born 28 February, 1743, in the little village of
Saint-Just, in the Department of Oise, somewhat north of the center of
France. Like many another great genius, he was the son of very poor
parents. His father was a struggling linen-weaver, who was able to
support himself only with difficulty. At first {174} there seemed to
be no other prospect for his eldest son than to succeed to his
father's business. Certainly there seemed to be no possibility that he
should be able to gain his livelihood by any other means than by the
work of his hands.

Fortunately, however, there was in Haüy's native town a
Premonstratensian monastery, and it was not long before some of the
monks began to notice that the son of the weaver was of an especially
pious disposition and attended church ceremonies very faithfully. The
chance was given to him to attend the monastery school, and he
succeeded admirably in his studies. As a consequence, the prior had
his attention directed to the boy, and found in him the signs of a
superior intelligence. He summoned the lad's parents and discussed
with them the possibility of obtaining for their son an education.
There were many difficulties in the way, but the principal one was
their absolute financial inability to help him. If the son was to
obtain an education, it must be somehow through his own efforts, and
without any expense to his parents.

The prior thereupon obtained for young Haüy a position as a member of
a church choir in Paris; and, later, some of those to whom he had
recommended the boy secured for him a place in the college of Navarre.
Here, during the course of a few years, he made such an impression
upon the members of the faculty that they asked him to become one of
the teaching corps of the institution. It was a very modest position
that he {175} held, and his salary scarcely more than paid for his
board and clothes and a few books. Haüy was well satisfied, however,
because his position provided him with opportunities for pursuing the
studies for which he cared most. At this time he was interested mainly
in literature, and succeeded in learning several languages, which were
to be of considerable use to him later on in his scientific career.

After some years spent in the college of Navarre he was ordained
priest, and not long afterward became a member of the faculty of the
college of Cardinal Lemoine. Here his position was somewhat better,
and he was brought in contact with many of the prominent scholars of
Paris. He seems, however, to have been quite contented in his rather
narrow circle of interests, and was not specially anxious to advance
himself. It is rather curious to realize that a man who was later to
spend all his time in the pursuit of the physical sciences, knew
practically nothing at all about them, and certainly had no special
interest in any particular branch of science, until he reached the age
of almost thirty years.

Even then his first introduction to serious science did not come
because of any special interest that had been aroused in his own mind,
but entirely because of his friendship for a distinguished old
fellow-professor, whose walks he used to share, and who was deeply
interested in botany. This was the Abbé Lhomond, a very {176}
well-known scholar, to whom we owe a number of classic text-books
arranged especially for young folk.

The Abbé's recreation consisted in botanizing expeditions; and Haüy,
who had chosen the kindly old priest as his spiritual director, was
his most frequent companion. Occasionally, when M. Lhomond was ailing,
and unable to take his usual walks, Haüy spent the time with him. He
rather regretted the fact that he did not know enough about botany to
be able to make collections of certain plants to bring to the
professor at such times, in order that the latter might not entirely
miss his favorite recreation. Accordingly, one summer when he was on
his vacation at his country home, he asked one of the
Premonstratensian monks, who was very much interested in botany, to
teach him the principles of the science, so as to enable him to
recognize various plants. Of course his request was granted. He
expected to have a pleasant surprise for Abbé Lhomond on his return,
and to draw even closer in his friendly relations with him, because of
their mutual interest in what the old Abbé called his _scientia
amabilis_ (lovely science). His little plan worked to perfection, and
there was won for the study of physical science a new recruit, who was
to do as much as probably any one of his generation to extend
scientific knowledge in one department, though that department was
rather distant from botany.

Haüy's interest in botany, however, was to {177} prove only temporary.
It brought him in contact with other departments of natural history,
and it was not long before he found that his favorite study was that
of minerals, and especially of the various forms of crystals. So
absorbed did he become in this subject that nothing pleased him better
than the opportunity to spend long days in the investigation of the
comparative size and shape of the crystals in the museum at Paris. A
friend has said of him that, whether they were the most precious
stones and gems or the most worthless specimens of ordinary minerals,
it was always only their crystalline shape that interested Haüy.
Diamonds he studied, but only in order to determine their angles; and
apparently they had no more attraction for him than any other
well-defined crystal--much less, indeed, than some of the more complex
crystalline varieties, which attracted his interest because of the
difficulty of the problems they presented.

Like many another advance in science, Haüy's first great original step
in crystallography was the result of what would be called a lucky
accident. These accidents, however, be it noted, happen only to
geniuses who are capable of taking advantage of them. How many a man
had seen an apple fall from a tree before this little circumstance
gave Newton the hint from which grew, eventually, the laws of gravity!
Many a man, doubtless, had seen little boys tapping on logs of wood,
to hear how well sound was {178} carried through a solid body, without
getting from this any hint, such as Laennec derived from it, for the
invention of the stethoscope. So, too, many a person before Haüy's
time had seen a crystal fall and break, leaving a smooth surface,
without deriving any hint for the explanation of the origin of

According to the familiar story, Haüy was one day looking over a
collection of very fine crystals in the house of Citizen Du Croisset,
Treasurer of France. He was examining an especially fine specimen of
calcspar, when it fell from his hands and was broken. Of course the
visitor was much disturbed by this accident. His friend, however, in
order to show him that he was not at all put out at the breaking of
the crystal, insisted on Haüy's taking it with him for purposes of
study, as they had both been very much interested in the perfectly
smooth plane of the fracture. As Haüy himself says, this broken
portion had a peculiarly brilliant lustre, "polished, as it were by
nature," as beautifully as the outer portions of the crystal; thus
demonstrating that in building up of so large a crystal there must
have been certain steps of progress, at any of which, were the
formation arrested, smooth surfaces would be found.

On taking the crystal home, Haüy proceeded further to break up the
smaller fragment; and he soon found that he could remove slice after
slice of it, until there was no trace of the original prism, but in
place of it a rhomboid, {179} perfectly similar to Iceland spar, and
lying in the middle of what was the original prism. This fact seemed
to him very important. From it he began the development of a theory of
crystallization, using this observation as the key. Before this time
it had been hard for students of mineralogy to understand how it was
that substances of the same composition might yet have what seemed to
be different crystalline forms. Calcspar, for instance, might be found
crystallized in forms, apparently, quite at variance with one another.

By his studies, however, Haüy was able to determine that whenever
substances of the same composition crystallized, even though the
external form of the crystals seemed to be different, all of them were
found to have the same internal nucleus. Whenever the mineral under
observation was chemically different from another, then the nucleus
also had a distinctive character; and so there came the law that all
substances of the same kind crystallized in the same way,
notwithstanding apparent differences. Indeed, one of the first results
of this law was the recognition of the fact that when the crystalline
forms of two minerals were essentially different, then, no matter how
similar they might be, there was sure to be some chemical difference.
This enabled Haüy to make certain prophecies with regard to the
composition of minerals.

A number of different kinds of crystals had been classed together
under the name of {180} heavyspar. Some of these could not, by the
splitting process, be made to produce _nuclei_ of similar forms, and
the angles of the crystals were quite different. Haüy insisted that,
in spite of close resemblances, there was an essential distinction in
the chemical composition of these two different crystalline
formations; and before long careful investigation showed that, while
many of the specimens called heavyspar contain barium, some of them
contain a new substance--strontium--which had been very little
studied heretofore. This principle did not prove to be absolute in its
application; but the amount of truth in it attracted attention to the
subject of crystallography because of the help which that science
would afford in the easy recognition of the general chemical
composition of mineral substances. The most important part of Haüy's
work was the annunciation of the law of symmetry. He emphasized the
fact that the forms of crystals are not irregular or capricious, but
are very constant and definite, and founded on absolutely fixed and
ascertainable laws. He even showed that, while from certain
crystalline nuclei sundry secondary forms may be derived, there are
other forms that cannot by any possibility occur. Any change of
crystalline form noticed in his experiments led to a corresponding
change along all similar parts of the crystal. The angles, the edges,
the faces, were modified in the same way, at the same time. All these
elements of mensuration within the crystal Haüy thought could be
indicated by rational coefficients.


Crystallography, however, did not absorb all Haüy's attention. He
further demonstrated his intellectual power by following out other
important lines of investigation that had been suggested by his study
of crystals. It is to him more than to any other, for instance, that
is due the first steps in our knowledge of pyro-(or thermo-)
electricity. Mr. George Chrystal, professor of mathematics at the
University of St. Andrews, in the article on electricity written for
the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia, says it was reserved for the
Abbé Haüy in his Treatise on Mineralogy to throw a clear light on this
curious branch of the science of electricity.

To those who are familiar with the history of the development of this
science it will be no surprise to find a clergyman playing a prominent
role in its development. During the days of the beginning of
electricity many ecclesiastics seem to have been particularly
interested in the curious ways of electrical phenomena, and as a
consequence they are the original discoverers of some of the most
important early advances. Not long before this, Professor Gordon, a
Scotch Benedictine monk who was teaching at the University of Erfurt,
constructed the first practical electrical machine. Kleist, who is one
of the three men to whom is attributed the discovery of the principle
of storing and concentrating electricity, and who invented the Leyden
Jar, which was named after the town where it was first manufactured,
was also a member of a Religious Order. As {182} we have already
stated, Dirwisch, the Premonstratensian monk, set up a
lightning-conductor by which he obtained sparks from the clouds even
before our own Franklin.

Abbé Haüy was only following a very common precedent, then, when he
succeeded by his original research in setting the science of
pyro-electricity firmly on its feet. It is true, others before him had
noted that substances like tourmaline possessed electrical properties.
There is even some good reason for thinking that the _lyncurium_ of
the ancients which, according to certain of the Greek philosophers,
especially Theophrastus, who seems to have made a close study of the
subject, attracted light bodies, was really our modern tourmaline. In
modern times the Dutch found this mineral in Ceylon and, because it
attracted ashes and other light substances to itself, called it
_aschentriker_--that is, attractor of ashes. Others had still further
experimented with this curious substance and its interesting
electrical phenomena. It remained for Abbé Haüy, however, to
demonstrate the scientific properties of tourmaline and the relations
which its electrical phenomena bore toward the crystalline structure
of the mineral. He showed that the electricity of tourmaline decreases
rapidly from the summits or poles toward the middle of the crystal. As
a matter of fact, at the middle of the crystal its electrical power
becomes imperceptible.

He showed also that each particle of a crystal {183} that exhibits
pyro-electricity is itself a source of the same sort of electricity
and exhibits polarity. His experimental observations served to prove
also that the pyro-electric state has an important connexion with the
want of symmetry in the crystals of the substances that exhibit this
curious property. In tourmaline, for instance, he found the vitreous
charge always at the summit of the crystal which had six faces, and
the resinous electricity at the summit of the crystal with three

His experiments soon showed him, too, that there were a number of
other substances, besides tourmaline, which possessed this same
electrical property when subjected to heat in the crystalline stage.
Among these were the Siberian and Brazilian topaz, borate of magnesia,
mesotype, sphene, and calamine. In all of these other pyro-electrical
crystals, Haüy detected a corresponding deviation from the rules of
symmetry in their secondary crystals to that which occurs in
tourmaline. In a word, after he had concluded his experiments and
observations there was very little left for others to add to this
branch of science, although such distinguished men as Sir David
Brewster in England were among his successors in the study of the
peculiar phenomena of pyro-electricity.

It may naturally enough be thought that, born in the country, of poor
parents, and compelled to work for his living, Haüy would at least
have the advantage of rugged health to help him in his {184} career.
He had been a delicate child, however; and his physical condition
never improved to such an extent as to inure him to hardships of any
kind. One of his biographers has gone so far as to say that his life
was one long malady. The only distraction from his almost constant
suffering was his studies. Yet this man lived to be nearly eighty
years of age, and accomplished an amount of work that might well be
envied even by the hardiest.

In the midst of his magnificent success as a scientist, Haüy was
faithful to all his obligations as a priest. His name was known
throughout Europe, and many of the scientific societies had considered
that they were honoring themselves by conferring titles, or degrees,
upon him; but he continued to be the humble, simple student that he
had always been.

At the beginning of the Revolution, Abbé Haüy was among the priests
who refused the oath which the Republican government insisted on their
taking, and which so many of them considered derogatory to their duty
as churchmen. Those who refused were thrown into prison, Haüy among
them. He did not seem to mind his incarceration much, but he was not a
little perturbed by the fact that the officers who made the arrest
insisted on taking his precious papers, and that his crystals were all
tossed aside and many of them broken. For some time he was kept in
confinement with a number of other members of the faculty of the
University, mainly {185} clergymen, in the Seminary of St. Firmin,
which had been turned into a temporary jail.

Haüy did not allow his studies to be entirely interrupted by his
imprisonment. He succeeded in obtaining permission to have his
cabinets of crystals brought to his cell, and he continued his
investigation of them. It was not long before powerful friends, and
especially his scientific colleague, Gregory St. Hilaire, interested
themselves in his case, and succeeded in obtaining his liberation.
When the order for his release came, however, Haüy was engaged on a
very interesting problem in crystallography, and he refused to
interrupt his work and leave the prison. It was only after
considerable persuasion that he consented to go the next morning. It
may be added that only two weeks later many from this same prison were
sent to the guillotine.

It is rather remarkable that the Revolutionary government, after his
release, did not disturb him in any way. He was so much occupied with
his scientific pursuits that he seems to have been considered
absolutely incapable of antagonizing the government; and, as he had no
enemies, he was not denounced to the Convention. This was fortunate,
because it enabled him to pursue his studies in peace. There was many
another member of the faculty of the University who had not the same
good fortune. Lavoisier was thrown into prison, and, in spite of all
the influence that could be brought to bear, the great discoverer of
oxygen met his death by the guillotine. At least {186} two others of
the professors in the physical department, Borda and De Lambre, were
dismissed from their posts. Haüy, though himself a priest who had
refused to take the oath, and though he continued to exercise his
religious functions, did not hesitate to formulate petitions for his
imprisoned scientific friends; yet, because of his well-known
gentleness of character, this did not result in arousing the enmity of
any members of the government, or attracting such odious attention as
might have made his religious and scientific work extremely difficult
or even prevented it entirely.

Notwithstanding the stormy times of the French Revolution and the
stirring events going on all round him in Paris, Haüy continued to
study his crystals in order to complete his observations; and then he
embodied his investigations and his theories in his famous "Treatise
on Crystallography." This attracted attention not only on account of
the evident novelty of the subject, but more especially because of the
very thorough method with which Haüy had accomplished his work. His
style, says the historian of crystallography, was "perspicuous and
elegant. The volume itself was noteworthy for its clear arrangement
and full illustration by figures." In spite of its deficiencies, then
deficiencies which must exist in any ground-breaking work--this
monograph has had an enduring influence. Some of the most serious
flaws in his theory were soon brought to light because of the very
stimulus afforded by his investigations.


As to the real value of his treatise, perhaps no better estimate can
be formed than that given by Cuvier in his collection of historical
eulogies (Vol. III, p. 155): "In possession of a large collection, to
which there flowed from all sides the most varied minerals, arranged
with the assistance of young, enthusiastic, and progressive students,
it was not long before there was given back to Haüy the time which he
had apparently wasted over other things. In a few years he raised up a
wondrous monument, which brought as much glory to France as it did
somewhat later to himself. After centuries of neglect, his country at
one bound found itself in the first rank in this department of natural
science. In Haüy's book are united in the highest degree two qualities
which are seldom associated. One of these is that it was founded on an
original discovery which had sprung entirely from the genius of its
author; and the other is that this discovery is pursued and developed
with almost unheard-of persistence down even to the least important
mineral variety. Everything in the work is great, both as regards
conception and detail. It is as complete as the theory it announces."

It was not surprising, then, that, after the death of Professor
Dolomieu, Haüy should be raised to the chair of mineralogy and made
director of that department in the Paris Museum of Natural History.
Here he was to have new triumphs. We have already said that his book
was noted for the elegance of its style and its perspicuity. {188} As
the result of this absolute clearness of ideas, and completeness and
simplicity of expression, Haüy attracted to him a large number of
pupils. Moreover, all those interested in the science, when they came
in contact with him, were so charmed by his grace and simplicity of
manner that they were very glad to attend his lectures and to be
considered as his personal friends. Among his listeners were often
such men as La Place, Berthollet, Fourcroy, Lagrange and Lavoisier.

It was not long before honors of all kinds, degrees from universities
and memberships in scientific societies all over Europe, began to be
heaped upon Haüy. They did not, however, cause any change in the
manners or mode of life of the simple professor of old times. Every
day he continued to take his little walks through the city, and was
very glad to have opportunity to be of assistance to others. He showed
strangers the way to points of interest for which they inquired,
whenever it was necessary, obtained entrance cards for them to the
collection; and not a few of those who were thus enabled to take
advantage of his kindness failed to realize who the distinguished man
was to whom they owed their opportunities. His old-fashioned clothing
still continued to be quite good enough for him, and his modest
demeanor and simple speech did not betray in any way the distinguished
scientist he had become.

Some idea of the consideration in which the {189} Abbé Haüy was held
by his contemporaries may be gathered from the fact that several of
the reigning monarchs of Europe, as well as the heirs apparent to many
thrones, came at some time or other to visit him, to see his
collection, and to hear the kindly old man talk on his hobby. There
was only one other scientist in the nineteenth century--and that was
Pasteur, toward the end of it--who attracted as much attention from
royalty. Among Haüy's visitors were the King of Prussia, the Emperor
of Austria, the Archduke John, as well as the Emperor of Russia and
his two brothers, Nicholas and Michael, the first of whom succeeded
his elder brother, Alexander, to the throne, and half a century later
was ruling Russia during the Crimean War. The Prince Royal of Denmark
spent a portion of each year for several years with Haüy, being one of
his intimates, who was admitted to his room while he was confined to
his bed, and who was permitted to share his personal investigations
and scientific studies.

His most striking characteristic was his suavity toward all. The
humblest of his students was as sure to receive a kindly reception
from him, and to have his difficulties solved with as much patience as
the most distinguished professor in this department. It was said that
he had students of all classes. The attendants at the normal school
were invited to visit him at his house, and he permitted them to learn
all his secrets. When they came to him for a whole {190} day, he
insisted on taking part in their games, and allowed them to go home
only after they had taken supper with him. All of them looked upon him
as a personal friend, and some of them were more confidential with him
than with their nearest relatives. Many a young man in Paris during
the troublous times of the Revolutionary period found in the good Abbé
Haüy not only a kind friend, but a wise director and another father.

It is said that one day, when taking his usual walk, he came upon two
former soldiers who were just preparing to fight a duel and were on
their way to the dueling ground. He succeeded in getting them to tell
him the cause of their quarrel, and after a time tempted them to come
with him into what I fear we should call at the present day a saloon.
Here, over a glass of wine, he finally persuaded them to make peace
and seal it effectually. It is hard to reconcile this absolute
simplicity of character and kindness of heart with what is sometimes
assumed to be the typical, distant, abstracted, self-centered ways of
the great scientist.

Few men have had so many proofs of the lofty appreciation of great
contemporaries. Many incidents serve to show how much Napoleon thought
of the distinguished scholar who had created a new department of
science and attracted the attention of the world to his splendid work
at Paris. Not long after he became emperor, Napoleon named him
Honorary Canon of the {191} Cathedral of Notre Dame; and when he
founded the Legion of Honor, he made the Abbé one of the original
members. Shortly after these dignities had been conferred upon him, it
happened that the Abbé fell ill; and Napoleon, having sent his own
physician to him, went personally to call on him in his humble
quarters, saying to the physician: "Remember that you must cure Abbé
Haüy, and restore him to us as one of the glories of our reign." After
Napoleon's return from Elba, he told the Abbé that the latter's
"Treatise on Crystallography" was one of the books that he had
specially selected to take with him to Elba, to while away the leisure
that he thought he would have for many years. Abbé Haüy's independence
of spirit, and his unselfish devotion to his native country, may be
best appreciated from the tradition that after the return from Elba,
when there was a popular vote for the confirmation of Napoleon's
second usurpation, the old scientist voted, No.

In spite of his constant labor at his investigations, his uniformly
regular life enabled him to maintain his health, and he lived to the
ripe age of over seventy-nine. Toward the end of his career, he did
not obtain the recognition that his labors deserved. After the
Restoration, he was not in favor with the new authorities in France,
and he accordingly lost his position as professor at the University.
The absolute simplicity of life that he had always maintained now
stood him in good stead; and, notwithstanding the {192} smallness of
his income, he did not have to make any change in his ordinary
routine. Unfortunately, an accidental fall in his room at the
beginning of his eightieth year confined him to his bed; and then his
health began to fail very seriously. He died on the 3 June, 1822.

He had shown during his illness the same gentleness and humility, and
even enthusiasm for study whenever it was possible, that had always
characterized him. While he was confined to his bed he divided his
time between prayer, attention to the new edition of his works which
was about to appear, and his interest for the future of those students
who had helped him in his investigations. Cuvier says of him that "he
was as faithful to his religious duties as he was in the pursuit of
his studies. The profoundest speculations with regard to weighty
matters of science had not kept him from the least important duty
which ecclesiastical regulations might require of him." There is,
perhaps, no life in all the history of science which shows so clearly
how absolutely untrue is the declaration so often made, that there is
essential opposition between the intellectual disposition of the
inquiring scientist and those other mental qualities which are
necessary to enable the Christian to bow humbly before the mysteries
of religion, acknowledge all that is beyond understanding in what has
been revealed, and observe faithfully all the duties that flow from
such belief.




There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers having
been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one;
and that, while this planet has gone circling on according to the
fixed law of gravity from so simple a beginning, endless forms, most
beautiful and most wonderful, have been and are being evolved.--
Closing sentence of DARWIN'S _Origin of Species_.


[Illustration: GREGOR MENDEL]




  [Footnote 14: The portrait of Abbot Mendel which precedes this
  sketch was kindly furnished by the Vicar of the Augustinian
  Monastery of Brünn. It represents him holding a fuchsia, his
  favorite flower, and was taken in 1867, just as he was completing
  the researches which were a generation later to make his name so
  famous. The portrait has for this reason a very special interest as
  a human document. We may add that the sketch of Abbot Mendel which
  appears here was read by the Very Rev. Klemens Janetschek, the
  Vicar of the Monastery, who suggested one slight change in it, so
  that it may be said to have had the revision of one who knew him and
  his environment very well.]

Scientific progress does not run in cycles of centuries, and as a rule
it bears no relationship to the conventional arrangement of years. As
has been well said--for science a new century begins every second.
There are interesting coincidences, however, of epoch-making
discoveries in science corresponding with the beginning of definite
eras in time that are at least impressive from a mnemonic standpoint,
if from no other.

The very eve of the nineteenth century saw the first definite
formulation of the theory of evolution. Lamarck, the distinguished
French biologist, stated a theory of development in nature which,
although it attracted very little attention {196} for many years after
its publication, has come in our day to be recognized as the most
suggestive advance in biology in modern times.

As we begin the twentieth century, the most interesting question in
biology is undoubtedly that of heredity. Just at the dawn of the
century three distinguished scientists, working in different
countries, rediscovered a law with regard to heredity which promises
to be even more important for the science of biology in the twentieth
century than was Lamarck's work for the nineteenth century. This law,
which, it is thought, will do more to simplify the problems of
heredity than all the observations and theories of nineteenth-century
workers, and which has already done much more to point out the methods
by which observation, and the lines along which experimentation shall
be best directed so as to replace elaborate but untrustworthy
scientific theorizing by definite knowledge, was discovered by a
member of a small religious community in the little-known town of
Brünn, in Austria, some thirty-five years before the beginning of the
present century.

Considering how generally, in English-speaking countries at least, it
is supposed that the training of a clergyman and particularly that of
a religious unfits him for any such initiative in science, Father
Mendel's discovery comes with all the more emphatic surprise. There is
no doubt, however, in the minds of many of the most prominent
present-day workers in biology that his {197} discoveries are of a
ground-breaking character that will furnish substantial foundation for
a new development of scientific knowledge with regard to heredity.

Lest it should be thought that perhaps there is a tendency to make
Father Mendel's discovery appear more important here than it really
is, because of his station in life, it seems desirable to quote some
recent authoritative expressions of opinion with regard to the value
of his observations and the importance of the law he enunciated, as
well as the principle which he considered to be the explanation of
that law.

In the February number of _Harper's Monthly_ for 1903, Professor
Thomas Hunt Morgan, Professor of Biology at Bryn Mawr, and one of the
best known of our American biologists, whose recent work on
"Regeneration" has attracted favorable notice all over the world,
calls attention to the revolutionary character of Mendel's discovery.
He considers that recent demonstrations of the mathematical truth of
Mendel's Law absolutely confirm Mendel's original observations, and
the movement thus initiated, in Professor Morgan's eyes, gives the
final _coup de grace_ to the theory of natural selection. "If," he
says, "we reject Darwin's theory of natural selection as an
explanation of evolution, we have at least a new and promising outlook
in another direction and are in a position to answer the oft-heard but
unscientific query of those who must cling to some dogma: if you
reject Darwin, what better have you to offer?"


Professor Edmund B. Wilson, the Director of the Zoological Laboratory
of Columbia University, called attention in _Science_ (19 December,
1902) to the fact that studies in cytology, that is to say,
observations on the formation, development, and maturation of cells,
confirm Mendel's principles of inheritance and thus furnish another
proof of the truth of these principles.

Two students working in Professor Wilson's laboratory have obtained
definite evidence in favor of the cytological explanation of Mendel's
principles, and have thus made an important step in the solution of
one of the important fundamental mysteries of cell development in the
very early life of organisms.

In a paper read before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences last
year, Professor W. E. Castle, of Harvard University, said with regard
to Mendel's Law of Heredity:--

  What will doubtless rank as one of the greatest discoveries in the
  study of biology, and in the study of heredity, perhaps the
  greatest, was made by Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, in the garden
  of his cloister, some forty years ago. The discovery was announced
  in the proceedings of a fairly well-known scientific society, but
  seems to have attracted little attention, and to have been soon
  forgotten. The Darwinian theory then occupied the centre of the
  scientific stage, and Mendel's brilliant discovery was all but
  unnoticed for a third of a century. Meanwhile, the discussion
  aroused by Weissman's germ plasm theory, in particular the idea of
  the non-inheritance of acquired characters, put the scientific
  public into a more receptive frame of mind. Mendel's law was
  rediscovered {199} independently by three different botanists,
  engaged in the study of plant hybrids--de Vries, Correns, and
  Tschermak, in the year 1900. It remained, however, for a zoologist,
  Bateson, two years later, to point out the full importance and the
  wide applicability of the law. Since then the Mendelian discoveries
  have attracted the attention of biologists generally.
  [Footnote 15]

    [Footnote 15: This paper was originally published in part in the
    _Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences_, Vol.
    xxxviii, No. 18, January, 1903. It may be found complete in
    _Science_ for 25 September, 1903.]

Professor Bateson, whose book on Mendel's "Principles of Heredity" is
the best popular exposition in English of Mendel's work, says that an
exact determination of the laws of heredity will probably produce more
change in man's outlook upon the world and in his power over nature
than any other advance in natural knowledge that can be clearly
foreseen. No one has better opportunities of pursuing such work than
horticulturists and stockbreeders. They are daily witnesses of the
phenomena of heredity. Their success also depends largely on a
knowledge of its laws, and obviously every increase in that knowledge
is of direct and special importance to them.

After thus insisting on the theoretic and practical importance of the
subject, Professor Bateson says:--

  As regards the Mendelian principles which it is the chief aim of
  this introduction to present clearly before the reader, it may be
  said that by the {200} application of those principles we are
  enabled to reach and deal in a comprehensive manner with phenomena
  of a fundamental nature, lying at the very root of all conceptions
  not merely of the physiology of reproduction and heredity, but even
  of the essential nature of living organisms; and I think that I use
  no extravagant words when, in introducing Mendel's work to the
  notice of the Royal Horticultural Society's Journal, I ventured to
  declare that his experiments are worthy to rank with those which
  laid the foundation of the atomic laws of chemistry.

Professor L. H. Bailey, who is the Director of the Horticultural
Department at Cornell University and the editor of the authoritative
_Encyclopedia of Horticulture_, was one of the first of recent
scientists to call attention to Mendel's work. It was, we believe,
because of a reference to Mendel's papers by Bailey that Professor de
Vries was put on the track of Mendel's discoveries and found that the
Austrian monk had completely anticipated the work at which he was then
engaged. In a recent issue of _The Independent_, of New York,
Professor Bailey said:--

  The teaching of Mendel strikes at the root of two or three difficult
  and vital problems. It presents a new conception of the proximate
  mechanism of heredity. The hypothesis of heredity that it suggests
  will focus our attention along new lines, and will, I believe,
  arouse as much discussion as Weissmann's hypothesis, and it is
  probable that it will have a wider influence. Whether it expresses
  the actual means of heredity or not, it is yet much too early to
  say. But the hypothesis (which Father Mendel evolved in order to
  explain the reasons for his law as he saw them) is even a {201}
  greater contribution to science than the so-called Mendel's Law as
  to the numerical results of hybridization. In the general discussion
  of evolution Mendel's work will be of the greatest value because it
  introduces a new point of view, challenges old ideas and opinions,
  gives us a new theory for discussion, emphasizes the great
  importance of actual experiments for the solution of many questions
  of evolution, and then forces the necessity for giving greater
  attention to the real characters and attributes of plants and
  animals than to the vague groups that we are in the habit of calling

It is very evident that a man of whose work so many authorities are
agreed that it is the beginning of a new era in biology, and
especially in that most interesting of all questions, heredity, must
be worthy of close acquaintance. Hence the present sketch of his
career and personality, as far as they are ascertainable, for his
modesty, and the failure of the world to recognize his worth in his
lifetime, have unfortunately deprived us of many details that would
have been precious.

Gregor Johann Mendel was born 27 July, 1822, at Heinzendorf, nor far
from Odrau, in Austrian Silesia. He was the son of a well-to-do
peasant farmer, who gave him every opportunity of getting a good
education when he was young. He was educated at Olmutz, in Moravia,
and after graduating from the college there, at the age of twenty-one,
he entered as a novice the Augustinian Order, beginning his novitiate
in 1843 in the Augustinian monastery Königen-kloster, in Altbrünn. He
was very successful in {202} his theological studies, and in 1846 he
was ordained priest. He seems to have made a striking success as a
teacher, especially of natural history and physics, in the higher
Realschule in Brünn. He attracted the attention of his superiors, who
were persuaded to give him additional opportunities for the study of
the sciences, particularly of biological science, for which he had a
distinct liking and special talents.

Accordingly, in 1851 he went to Vienna for the purpose of doing
post-graduate work in the natural sciences at the university there.
During the two years he spent at this institution he attracted
attention by his serious application to study, but apparently without
having given any special evidence of the talent for original
observation that was in him. In 1853 he returned to the monastery in
Altbrünn, and at the beginning of the school year became a teacher at
the Realschule in Brünn. He remained in Brünn for the rest of his
life, dying at the comparatively early age of sixty-two, in 1884.
During the last sixteen years of his life he held the position of
abbot of the monastery, the duties of which prevented him from
applying himself as he probably would have desired, to the further
investigation of scientific questions.

The experiments on which his great discoveries were founded were
carried out in the garden of the monastery during the sixteen years
from 1853 to 1868. How serious was his scientific devotion may be
gathered from the fact that in {203} establishing the law which now
bears his name, and which was founded on observations on peas, some
10,000 plants were carefully examined, their various peculiarities
noted, their ancestry carefully traced, the seeds kept in definite
order and entirely separate, so as to be used for the study of certain
qualities in their descendants, and the whole scheme of
experimentation planned with such detail that for the first time in
the history of studies in heredity, no extraneous and inexplicable
data were allowed to enter the problem. Besides his work on plants,
Mendel occupied himself with other observations of a scientific
character on two subjects which were at that time attracting
considerable attention. These were the state and condition of the
ground-water--a subject which was thought to stand at the basis of
hygienic principles at the time and which had occupied the attention
of the distinguished Professor Pettenkofer and the Munich School of
Hygiene for many years--and weather observations. At that time
Pettenkofer, the most widely known of sanitary scientists, thought
that he was able to show that the curve of frequency of typhoid fever
in the different seasons of the year depended upon the closeness with
which the ground-water came to the surface. Authorities in hygiene
generally do not now accept this supposed law, for other factors have
been found which are so much more important that, if the ground-water
has any influence, it can be neglected. Mendel's observations in the
matter {204} were, however, in line with the scientific ideas of the
time and undoubtedly must be considered of value.

The other subject in which Mendel interested himself was meteorology.
He published in the journal of the Brünn Society of Naturalists a
series of statistical observations with regard to the weather. Besides
this he organized in connexion with the Realschule in Brünn a series
of observation stations in different parts of the country around; and
at the time when most scientists considered meteorological problems to
be too complex for hopeful solution, Mendel seems to have realized
that the questions involved depended rather on the collation of a
sufficient number of observations and the deduction of definite laws
from them than on any theoretic principles of a supposed science of
the weather.

The man evidently had a genius for scientific observations. His
personal character was of the highest. The fact that his fellow-monks
selected him as abbot of the monastery shows the consideration in
which he was held for tact and true religious feeling. There are many
still alive in Brünn who remember him well and cannot say enough of
his kindly disposition, the _fröliche Liebenswürdigkeit_ (which means
even more than our personal magnetism), that won for him respect and
reverence from all. He is remembered, not only for his successful
discoveries, and not alone by his friends and the fellow-members of
the Naturalist Society, but by practically all his {205}
contemporaries in the town; and it is his lovable personal character
that seems to have most impressed itself on them.

He was for a time the president of the Brünn Society of Naturalists,
while also abbot of the monastery. This is, perhaps, a combination
that would strike English-speaking people as rather curious, but seems
to have been considered not out of the regular course of events in

Father Mendel's introduction to his paper on plant hybridization,
which describes the result of the experiments made by him in deducing
the law which he announces, is a model of simple straightforwardness.
It breathes the spirit of the loftiest science in its clear-eyed
vision of the nature of the problem he had to solve, the factors which
make up the problem, and the experimental observations necessary to
elucidate it. We reproduce the introductory remarks here from the
translations made of them by the Royal Horticultural Society of
England. [Footnote 16] Father Mendel said at the beginning of his
paper as read 8 February, 1865:--

    [Footnote 16: The original paper was published in the
    "Verhandlungen des Naturforscher-Vereins," in Brünn, Abhandlungen,
    iv, that is, the proceedings of the year 1865, which were
    published in 1866. Copies of these transactions were exchanged
    with all the important scientific journals, especially those in
    connexion with important societies and universities throughout
    Europe, and the wonder is that this paper attracted so little

  Experience of artificial fertilization such as is affected with
  ornamental plants in order to obtain new variations in color, has
  led to the experiments, the {206} details of which I am about to
  discuss. The striking regularity with which the same hybrid forms
  always reappeared whenever fertilization took place between the same
  species, induced further experiments to be undertaken, the object of
  which was to follow up the developments of the hybrid in a number of
  successive generations of their progeny.

  Those who survey the work that has been done in this department up
  to the present time will arrive at the conviction that among all the
  numerous experiments made not one has been carried out to such an
  extent and in such a way as to make it possible to determine the
  number of different forms under which the offspring of hybrids
  appear, or to arrange these forms with certainty, according to their
  separate generations, or to ascertain definitely their statistical

These three primary necessities for the solution of the problem of
heredity--namely, first, the number of different forms under which the
offspring of hybrids appear; secondly, the arrangement of these forms,
with definiteness and certainty, as regards their relations in the
separate generation; and thirdly, the statistical results of the
hybridization of the plants in successive generations, are the secret
of the success of Mendel's work, as has been very well said by
Bateson, in commenting on this paragraph in his work on Mendel's
"Principles of Heredity." This was the first time that any one had
ever realized exactly the nature of the problems presented in, their
naked simplicity. "To see a problem well is more than half to solve
it," and this proved to be the case with Mendel's straightforward
vision of the nature of the experiments required for advance in our
knowledge of heredity.


While Mendel was beginning his experiments almost absolutely under the
guidance of his own scientific spirit, and undertaking his series of
observations in the monastery garden without any reference to other
work in this line, he knew very well what distinguished botanists were
doing in this line and was by no means presumptuously following a
study of the deepest of nature's problems without knowing what others
had accomplished in the matter in recent years. In the second
paragraph of his introduction he quotes the men whose work in this
science was attracting attention, and says that to this object
numerous careful observers, such a Kölreuter, Gärtner, Herbert, Lecoq,
Wichura and others, had devoted a part of their lives with
inexhaustible perseverance.

To quote Mendel's own words:--

  Gärtner, especially in his work, "Die Bastarderzeugung im
  Pflanzenreiche," [Footnote 17] has recorded very valuable
  observations; and quite recently Wichura published the results of
  some profound observations on the hybrids of the willow. That so far
  no generally applicable law governing the formation and development
  of hybrids has been successfully formulated can hardly be wondered
  at by anyone who is acquainted with the extent of the task and can
  appreciate the difficulties with which experiments of this class
  have to contend. A final decision can only be arrived at when we
  shall have before us the results of the changed detailed experiments
  made on plants belonging to the most diverse orders. It requires
  some courage indeed to undertake a labor of such far-reaching
  extent; it appears, however, to be the only right way by which we
  can finally reach the solution of a question the importance of which
  can not be overestimated in connexion with the history of the
  evolution of organic forms.

  The paper now presented records the results of such a detailed
  experiment. This experiment was practically confined to a small
  plant group, and is now after eight years' pursuit concluded in all
  essentials. Whether the plan upon which the separate experiments
  were conducted and carried out was the best suited to attain the
  desired end is left to the friendly decision of the reader.

    [Footnote 17: The Production of Hybrids in the Vegetable Kingdom.]


Mendel's discoveries with regard to peas and the influence of heredity
on them, were founded on very simple, but very interesting,
observations. He found that if peas of different colors were taken,
that is to say, if, for instance, yellow-colored peas were crossed
with green, the resulting pea seeds were, in the great majority of
cases, of yellow color. If the yellow-colored peas obtained from such
crossing were planted and allowed to be fertilized only by pollen from
plants raised from similar seeds, the succeeding generation, however,
did not give all yellow peas, but a definite number of yellow and a
definite number of green. In other words, while there might have been
expected a permanence of the yellow color, there was really a
reversion in a number of the plants apparently to the type of the
grandparent. Mendel tried the same experiment with seeds of different
shape. Certain peas are rounded and certain others are wrinkled. When
these were crossed, the next generation {209} consisted of wrinkled
peas, but the next succeeding generation presented a definite number
of round peas besides the wrinkled ones, and so on as before. He next
bred peas with regard to other single qualities, such as the color of
the seed coat, the inflation or constriction of the pod, as to the
coloring of the pod, as to the distribution of the flowers along the
stem, as to the length of the stem, finding always, no matter what the
quality tested, the laws of heredity he had formulated always held

What he thus discovered he formulated somewhat as follows: In the case
of each of the crosses the hybrid character, that is, the quality of
the resultant seed, resembles one of the parental forms so closely
that the other escapes observation completely or cannot be detected
with certainty. This quality thus impressed on the next generation,
Mendel called the dominant quality. As, however, the reversion of a
definite proportion of the peas in the third generation to that
quality of the original parent which did not appear in the second
generation was found to occur, thus showing that, though it cannot be
detected, it is present, Mendel called it the recessive quality. He
did not find transitional forms in any of his experiments, but
constantly observed that when plants were bred with regard to two
special qualities, one of those qualities became dominant in the
resultant hybrid, and the other became recessive, that is, present
though latent and ready to produce its effects upon a definite
proportion of the succeeding generation.


Remembering, then, that Mendel means by hybrid the result of the
crossing of two distinct species, his significant discovery has been
stated thus: The hybrid, whatever its own character, produces ripe
germ cells, which bear only the pure character of one parent or the
other. Thus, when one parent has the character "A," in peas, for
example, a green color, and the other the character "B," in peas once
more a yellow color, the hybrid will have in cases of simple dominance
the character "AB" or "BA," but with the second quality in either case
not noticeable. Whatever the character of the hybrid may be, that is
to say, to revert to the example of the peas, whether it be green or
yellow, its germ cells when mature will bear either the character "A"
(green), or the character "B" (yellow), but not both.

As Professor Castle says: "This perfectly simple principle is known as
the law of segregation, or the law of the purity of the germ cells. It
bids fair to prove as fundamental to a right understanding of the
facts of heredity as is the law of definite proportions in chemistry.
From it follow many important consequences."

To follow this acute observer's work still further by letting the
crossbreds fertilize themselves, Mendel raised a third generation. In
this generation were individuals which showed the dominant character
and also individuals which presented the recessive character. Such an
observation had of course been made in a good many instances before.


But Mendel noted--and this is the essence of the new discovery in his
observations--that in this third generation the numerical proportion
of dominants to recessives is in the average of a series of cases
approximately constant--being, in fact, as three to one. With almost
absolute regularity this proportion was maintained in every case of
crossing of pairs of characters, quite opposed to one another, in his
pea plants. In the first generation, raised from his crossbreds, or,
as he calls them, hybrids, there were seventy-five per cent dominants
and twenty-five per cent recessives.

When these plants were again self-fertilized and the offspring of each
plant separately sown, a new surprise awaited the observer. The
progeny of the recessives remained pure recessive; and in any number
of subsequent generations never produced the dominant type again, that
is, never reverted to the original parent, whose qualities had failed
to appear in the second generation. When the seeds obtained by
self-fertilizing the plants with the dominant characteristics were
sown, it was found by the test of progeny that the dominants were not
all of like nature, but consisted of two classes--first, some which
gave rise to pure dominants; and secondly, others which gave a mixed
offspring, composed partly of recessives, partly of dominants. Once
more, however, the ratio of heredity asserted itself and it was found
that the average numerical proportions were constant--those with pure
dominant {212} offspring being to those with mixed offspring as one to
two. Hence, it was seen that the seventy-five per cent of dominants
are not really of identical constitution, but consist of twenty-five
per cent which are pure dominants and fifty per cent which are really
crossbreds, though like most of the crossbreds raised by crossing the
two original varieties, they exhibit the dominant character only.

These fifty crossbreds have mixed offspring; these offspring again in
their numerical proportion follow the same law, namely, three
dominants to one recessive. The recessives are pure like those of the
last generation, but the dominants can, by further self-fertilization
and cultivation of the seeds produced, be again shown to be made up of
pure dominant and crossbreds in the same proportion of one dominant to
two crossbreds.

The process of breaking up into the parent forms is thus continued in
each successive generation, the same numerical laws being followed so
far as observation has gone. As Mendel's observations have now been
confirmed by workers in many parts of the world, investigating many
different kinds of plants, it would seem that this law which he
discovered has a basis in the nature of things and is to furnish the
foundation for a new and scientific theory of heredity, while at the
same time affording scope for the collection of observations of the
most valuable character with a definite purpose and without any
theoretic bias.


The task of the practical breeder who seeks to establish or fix a new
variety produced by cross-breeding in a case involving two variable
characters is simply the isolation and propagation of that one in each
sixteen of the second generation offspring which will be pure as
regards the desired combination of characters. Mendel's discovery, by
putting the breeder in possession of this information enables him to
attack this problem systematically with confidence in the outcome,
whereas hitherto his work, important and fascinating as it is, has
consisted largely of groping for a treasure in the dark. The greater
the number of separately variable characters involved in a cross, the
greater will be the number of new combinations obtainable; the greater
too will be the number of individuals which it will be necessary to
raise in order to secure all the possible combinations; and the
greater again will be the difficulty of isolating the pure, that is,
the stable forms in such as are similar to them in appearance, but
still hybrid in one or more characters.

The law of Mendel reduces to an exact science the art of breeding in
the case most carefully studied by him, that of entire dominance. It
gives to the breeder a new conception of "purity." No animal or plant
is "pure," simply because it is descended from a long line of
ancestors, possessing a desired combination of characters; but any
animal or plant is pure if it produces _gametes_--that is, particles
for conjugation of only one sort--even though its grandparents may
among {214} themselves have possessed opposite characters. The
existence of purity can be established with certainty only by suitable
breeding tests, especially by crossing with recessives; but it may be
safely assumed for any animal or plant, descended from parents which
were like each other and had been shown by breeding tests to be pure.

This naturally leads us to what some biologists have considered to be
the most important part of his work--the theory which he elaborated to
explain his results, the principle which he considers to be the basis
of the laws he discovered. Mendel suggests as following logically from
the results of his experiments and observations a certain theory of
the constitution of germinal particles. He has put this important
matter so clearly himself and with such little waste of words that it
seems better to quote the translation of the passage as given by
Professor Bateson, [Footnote 18] than to attempt to explain it in
other words. Mendel says:--

    [Footnote 18: Bateson: _Mendel's Principles of Heredity_.
    Cambridge. The University Press. 1902.]

  The results of the previously described experiments induced further
  experiments, the results of which appear fitted to afford some
  conclusions as regards the composition of the egg and pollen-cells
  of hybrids. An important matter for consideration is afforded in
  peas (_pisum_) by the circumstance that among the progeny of the
  hybrids constant forms appear, and that this occurs, too, in all
  combinations of the associated characters. So far as experience
  goes, we find it in every {215} case confirmed that constant progeny
  can only be formed when the egg-cells and the fertilizing pollen are
  of like character, so that both are provided with the material for
  creating quite similar individuals, as is the case with the normal
  fertilization of pure species.

  We must therefore regard it as essential that exactly similar
  factors are at work also in the production of the constant forms in
  the hybrid plants. Since the various constant forms are produced in
  one plant, or even in one flower of a plant, the conclusion appears
  logical that in the ovaries of the hybrids there are formed as many
  sorts of egg-cells and in the anthers as many sorts of pollen-cells
  as there are possible constant combination forms, and that these egg
  and pollen-cells agree in their internal composition with those of
  the separate forms.

  In point of fact, it is possible to demonstrate theoretically that
  this hypothesis would fully suffice to account for the development
  of the hybrids in the separate generations, if we might at the same
  time assume that the various kinds of egg and pollen-cells were
  formed in the hybrids on the average in equal numbers.

Bateson says in a note on this passage that this last and the
preceding paragraph contain the essence of the Mendelian principles of
heredity. Mendel himself, after stating this hypothesis, gives the
details of a series of experiments by which he was able to decide that
the theoretic considerations suggested were founded in the nature of
plants and their germinal cells.

It will, of course, be interesting to realize what the bearing of
Mendel's discoveries is on the question of the stability of species as
well as on the origin of species. Professor Morgan, in his {216}
article on Darwinism in the "Light of Modern Criticism," already
quoted, says the important fact (with regard to Mendel's Law) from the
point of view of the theory of evolution is that "the new species have
sprung fully armed from the old ones, like Minerva from the head of
Jove." "From de Vries's results," he adds, "we understand better how
it is that we do not see new forms arising, because they appear, as it
were, fully equipped over night. Old species are not slowly changed
into new ones, but a shaking up of the old organization takes place
and the egg brings forth a new species. It is like the turning of the
kaleidoscope, a slight shift and the new figure suddenly appears. It
needs no great penetration to see that this point of view is entirely
different from the conception of the formation of new species by
accumulating individual variations, until they are carried so far that
the new form may be called a new species."

With regard to this question of the transformation of one species into
another, Mendel himself, in the concluding paragraphs of his article
on hybridization, seems to agree with the expressions of Morgan. He
quotes Gärtner's opinion with apparent approval: "Gärtner, by the
results of these transformation experiments was led to oppose the
opinion of those naturalists who dispute the stability of plant
species and believe in a continuous evolution of vegetation. He
perceives in the complete transformation of one species into another
an indubitable proof that {217} species are fixed within limits beyond
which they cannot change." "Although this opinion," adds Mendel,
"cannot be unconditionally accepted, we find, on the other hand, in
Gärtner's experiments a noteworthy confirmation of that supposition
regarding the variability of cultivated plants which has already been
expressed." This expression of opinion is not very definite, and
Bateson, in what Professor Wilson of Columbia calls his "recent
admirable little book on Mendel's principles," adds the following note
that may prove of service in elucidating Mendel's meaning, as few men
have entered so fully into the understanding of Mendel's work as
Bateson, who introduced him to the English-speaking scientific public,
"The argument of this paragraph appears to be that though the general
mutability of natural species might be doubtful, yet among cultivated
plants the transference of characters may be accomplished and may
occur by _integral steps_ [italics ours], until one species is
definitely 'transformed' into the other."

Needless to say, this is quite different from the gradual
transformation of species that Darwinism or Lamarckism assumes to take
place. One species becomes another _per saltum_ in virtue of some
special energy infused into it, some original tendency of its
intrinsic nature, not because of gradual modification by forces
outside of the organisms, nor because of the combination of influences
they are subjected to from without and within, because of tendency to
evolute plus {218} environmental forces. This throws biology back to
the permanency of species in themselves, though successive generations
may be of different species, and does away with the idea of missing
links, since there are no gradual connecting gradations.

A very interesting phase of Mendel's discoveries is concerned with the
relative value of the egg-cell and the pollen-cell, as regards their
effect upon future generations. It is an old and oft-discussed problem
as to which of these germinal particles is the more important in its
influence upon the transmission of parental qualities. Mendel's
observations would seem to decide definitely that, in plants and, by
implication, in animals, since the germinal process is biogenetically
similar, the value of both germinal particles is exactly equal.

In a note, Mendel says:--

  _In pisum_ (i. e. in peas), it is beyond doubt that, for the
  formation of the new embryo, a perfect union of the elements of both
  fertilizing cells must take place. How could we otherwise explain
  that, among the offspring of the hybrids, both original types
  reappear in equal numbers, and with all their peculiarities? If the
  influence of the egg-cell upon the pollen-cell were only external,
  if it fulfilled the role of a nurse only, then the result of each
  artificial fertilization could be no other than that the developed
  hybrid should exactly resemble the pollen parent, or, at any rate,
  do so very closely. These experiments, so far, have in no wise been
  confirmed. An evident proof of the complete union of the contents of
  both cells is afforded by the {219} experience gained on all sides,
  that it is immaterial as regards the form of the hybrid which of the
  original species is the seed cell, or which the pollen parent!

This is the first actual demonstration of the equivalent value of both
germinal particles as regards their influence on transmission
inheritance in future generations.

It is only by simplifying the problem so that all disturbing factors
could be eliminated that Mendel succeeded in making this
demonstration. Too many qualities have hitherto been considered with
consequent confusion as to the results obtained.

It is of the genius of the man that he should have been able to
succeed in seeing the problem in simple terms while it is apparently
so complex, and thus obtain results that are as far-reaching as the
problem they solve is basic in its character.

Bateson, in his work Mendel's _Principles of Heredity_, says:--

  It may seem surprising that a work of such importance should so long
  have failed to find recognition and to become current in the world
  of science. It is true that the Journal in which it appeared is
  scarce, but this circumstance has seldom long delayed general
  recognition. The cause is unquestionably to be found in that neglect
  of the experimental study of the problem of species which supervened
  on the general acceptance of the Darwinian doctrine. The problem of
  species, as Kölreuter, Gärtner, Naudin, Wichura, and the hybridists
  of the middle of the nineteenth century conceived it, attracted
  thenceforth no workers.


  The question, it was imagined, had been answered and the debate
  ended. No one felt much interest in the matter. A host of other
  lines of work was suddenly opened up, and in 1865 the more original
  investigators naturally found these new methods of research more
  attractive than the tedious observations of hybridizers, whose
  inquiries were supposed, moreover, to have led to no definite

  In 1868 appeared the first edition of Darwin's _Animals and Plants_,
  marking the very zenith of these studies with regard to hybrids and
  the questions in heredity which they illustrate, and thenceforth the
  decline in the experimental investigation of evolution and the
  problem of species have been studied. With the rediscovery and
  confirmation of Mendel's work by de Vries, Correns and Tschermak in
  1900 a new era begins. Had Mendel's work come into the hands of
  Darwin it is not too much to say that the history of the development
  of evolutionary philosophy would have been very different from that
  which we have witnessed.

  That Mendel's work, appearing as it did at a moment when several
  naturalists of the first rank were still occupied with these
  problems, should have passed wholly unnoted, will always remain
  inexplicable, the more so as the Brünn society exchanged its
  publication with most of the great academies of Europe, including
  both the Royal and the Linnean societies of London.

The whole history of Mendel's work, its long period without effect
upon scientific thought, its thoroughly simple yet satisfactory
character, its basis in manifold observations of problems simplified
to the last degree, and its present complete acceptance illustrate
very well the chief defect of the last two generations of workers in
biology. {221} There has been entirely too much theorizing, too much
effort at observations for the purpose of bolstering up preconceived
ideas--preaccepted dogmas of science that have proved false in the
end--and too little straightforward observation and simple reporting
of the facts without trying to have them fit into any theory
prematurely, that is until their true place was found. This will be
the criterion by which the latter half of nineteenth century biology
will be judged; and because of failure here much of our supposed
progress will have no effect on the current of biological progress,
but will represent only an eddy in which there was no end of bustling
movement manifest but no real advance.

As stated very clearly by Professor Morgan at the beginning of this
paper, and Professor Bateson near the end, Darwin's doctrine of
natural selection as the main factor in evolution and its practically
universal premature acceptance by scientific workers in biology are
undoubtedly responsible for this. The present generation may well be
warned, then, not to surrender their judgment to taking theories, but
to wait in patience for the facts in the case, working, not
theorizing, while they wait.

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