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It may seem somewhat out of place to dwell on the life and doings of one who is still amongst us; but we have, so to speak, his own authority for it. On the 29th of August, 1864, he celebrated the jubilee of his Doctorate, on which occasion the Ritterschaft-or, as we should say, the county families-of his native province presented him with a splendidly printed and elegantly bound copy of an autobiography and list of published works, which he had prepared at their request. It is from this quaintly written and interesting volume that we have gathered the following incidents of his life, and we very much regret that, owing to its having been printed for private circulation only, the general public are not invited to the perusal of the work : for, besides being pleasant reading, it contains many valuable discussions and wise sayings on the principles of education, the position of science and scientific men, and topics of a like nature.
Karl Ernst von Baer was born at the family estate of Piep, in Esthland (Esthonia), on the 28th of February, 1792, and is a striking instance that the offspring of cousins are not necessarily degenerate in body or mind. While still an infant he was adopted by an uncle and aunt, who were childless, and was carried away to live with them at Lassila, in Wierland. The uncle, a dry pedantic trifler, an agriculturist, amateur glazier, and family shoemaker, thought that the best way of educating his adopted son was to let him run about as much as he pleased. It was not till he was nearly eight years of age, that Baer was brought back to his father's house to begin to learn his letters. But neither he nor his father had any reason to regret such a prolonged period of freedom. 'I count it,' says he, among the happiest circumstances of life that I was not too early troubled with lessons. By the time I left my uncle I had so far grown in mind that I was heartily ashamed of being unable to read, and most eager to learn.' Instead of trudging unwillingly to school, so vigorously did he set to work, that in about three weeks he could read in the ordinary way with ease, and in a few more he had gained the unusual accomplishment of reading a book held upside down before him without trouble. Within three years we find him studying Latin, Mathematics, History, Geography, and French, under the guidance of a tutor of solid worth, with a mathematical turn of mind, who, however, was soon succeeded by a man of a different stamp, a dilettante, with a leaning towards poetical literature and the natural sciences.
The world in general, and men of science in particular, speak lightly of dilettanti, and often count them as worse than useless. But they have at least this merit, that they are frequently the means of starting true men on their proper career. They act,
as it were, the part of matches or tapers; they themselves are of no use for illumination, and yet serve to light up many a brilliant lamp. So was it with Herr Glanström. He himself has vanished, leaving no visible work behind; but it was through him that the young Baer was led into his own true path of biological science.
Medicine, however, was the first pursuit of the future anatomist, and accordingly, after a sojourn of three years in the High School of Reval, where the irregular development of home culture was clipped and trained into a more orderly and orthodox growth, he entered the University of Dorpat as a medical student. This university, now one of the most famous in Europe, was at that time in a condition the like of which could hardly be found at the present day, at least in Germany. The medical and scientific chairs especially were very inadequately filled. Parrot, the Professor of Physics, took Chemistry also, and taught next to nothing. Ledebour, who held the chair of Natural History, and who was supposed to lecture on Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, and Geology, was competent in the second only of these subjects. Burdach, it is true, called forth among the students a temporary enthusiasm by his ingenious and doctrinaire lectures on Physiology; but the chair of Anatomy, that keystone of every medical school, was occupied by Cichorius, an eccentric character, animal curiosum, who in the daytime shut his shutters and lived by candlelight, and who taught his students to classify all animals into the wholly fluid and the semifluid. The Professor of Medicine was a good practitioner, but no teacher; while Surgery was wholly wanting. Where there was not ignorance there was pedantry, and in most chairs learning was reckoned as knowledge. One professor lectured one day on the necessity of medical students being masters of Greek, because Hippocrates was a master of medicine, and the next day bade his pupils learn Arabic, in order that they might read Rhazes and Avicenna in the original. There was no physical or chemical laboratory, no physiological institute, there were none of those truly royal roads to the learning of physical science, which are now to be found everywhere in Germany. The university was too new to have become well trained in the old ways, and the Directors had too little courage and perhaps too little knowledge to throw themselves heartily into the new ways. Here for some three years young Baer studied, amid no little doubt and bewilderment, making real progress in Botany, but achieving scarcely anything worth the name of knowledge in anything else. No wonder that on concluding his studies, after a short episode of practical life at Riga during an epidemic of fever, he took his degree with the uncomfortable conviction that, though now a Doctor Medicinæ in name, he was as yet wholly unfit to enter upon the
duties of an actual healer. Dorpat, however, could serve him no longer; he must go elsewhere. He wanted to learn anatomythat which Cichorius could never teach him. He wanted
especially to study practical medicine. Some diseases he had seen at Dorpat, as also various kinds of treatment; but the cases to which his attention had been called by the professor were for the most part curious rather than common, and the treatment was indiscriminate and unaccountable. He wanted to learn something of the real science of medicine, to be taught some general rules which he might always carry with him, to modify and apply as occasion demanded. He felt that he had not got to the bottom of the matter - indeed, was beginning to ask if there were a bottom at all. Had any patient at this time asked him to recommend a doctor, he would have been inclined to answer, Choose
any one you please, provided it is not myself.'
About this time several great physicians and surgeons were making Vienna famous as a school for practical medicine and surgery. So Baer went to Vienna, excited with the expectation of really learning the art he had chosen, and firmly determined to keep down all those botanical fancies and longings which at times sorely tempted him astray, until this, the chief business, was accomplished. He threw himself with zeal into all the courses of lectures.
In surgery he attended the genial Rust. Unhappily at this time Rust's custom was to pay attention to great operations only, and to neglect all minor matters. Cases which a practitioner might see once or twice in a lifetime were dwelt upon with a loving fulness, while the smaller ills and hurts, the cure of which makes up the life of a country surgeon, were passed over as unworthy of notice. But it was just the cure of these lesser things that Baer had come so far to learn. So, not without groaning, he turned to the great Hildenbrand, who had just made himself famous by his work on fever. Here, at least, said he, I shall find what I seek. But alas! Hildenbrand was that year busily engaged in carrying out what is called the expectant method, which means that the doctor shuts the patient's mouth to all medicines and opens his own eyes to see what Nature will send in the way of result. It is a method very much in vogue among the poor and those who dislike a doctor. Hildenbrand was about to write a work on catarrh, and so he was filling his wards with picked cases and studying the natural' history of the malady, trying to find out what it was like when not disturbed by medicines. It was hardly worth while, thought Baer, to have come all the way to Vienna, and to struggle daily in the crowd of students that followed the professor, like a comet's tail, in order to hear liquorice and barley-water prescribed for a common cold. Hardly more satisfactory was the clinique of the distinguished Kern, whose energies were, for the time being, wholly devoted to a war of extermination against bandages and plaisters; or of Boer, who was daily declaiming against a meddlesome midwifery. In short, all these great lights seemed to Baer to be very busy in turning on the dark shade, to be enthusiastic in nothing save in the great art of folding the hands. The men of Vienna were no better than the men of Dorpat, perhaps in some sense worse, for more was expected of them.
Stunned and bewildered by the discovery that he had come out so far to see a shadow, in despair at ever becoming an adept in the medical art, or rather at ever finding out what was that medical art in which he wished to become an adept, he wandered one day, as the winter session was closing and the early summer was coming on, on a walking excursion with a friend to a hill in the neighbourhood of the city. Coming there suddenly upon an Alpine fora, most of whose members were new to him, all his old natural history longings came back. For a while he was at home and happy, and the descent back to the city seemed to be a return to prison. The visit was frequently renewed ; and each time he breathed the fresh mountain air and gathered a hidden flower, the medical art and the expectant method seemed more and more hopeless, and the call to a life of pure science more and more clear. Botany alone, however, did not offer much chance of a livelihood, nor was it enough, by itself, to satisfy his mind. Zoology looked more likely; above all, there floated before him visions of a certain Comparative Anatomy, of which he was as yet wholly ignorant, but which seemed to be full of golden though uncertain promise. So he took up his scrip and his staff, shook off from his feet the dust of the hospitals and the expectant method, and started to walk through Germany, hoping somewhere to find some one who would teach him this unknown science. Whilst on his journey a trifling incident determined his career. Stopping one day at a little inn near Salzburg, and being requested to write something in the visitors' book, he simply expressed in a few lines his regret at not having met Dr. Hoppe, a well-known botanist residing near, to whom he wished to submit some botanical difficulties. A few days after, while still in the same neighbourhood, he was met in the street by two men, one old, the other young, who stopped him and asked if he were Dr. Baer. The elder was Hoppe, the younger Martius, since well known for his works on palms.
* Where can I learn Comparative Anatomy?' cried Baer. Go to Döllinger, in Würtzburg,' said they ; . we will give you an introduction. The interview in the street lasted only five minutes, but it
was long enough: Baer went straight to Würtzburg, and the course of his life was decided.
Döllinger received him with open arms, took him into his study, gave him a leech, showed him how to dissect it, and set him to work at once. Day by day Baer sat in the worthy old man's study, carefully working away at his dissection, receiving from time to time words of advice and solutions of his difficulties. When he had finished the leech, another animal was brought out for examination, and then afterwards some other, and for each one Döllinger knew exactly what to tell him, helping him also with monographs and volumes of plates. In less than three weeks Baer felt that he had got into the right path. Here was no confusion, but instead of it increasing clearness. Every night he went to bed with the strange new sensation, that he had made progress during the day. The clouds that gathered in Vienna gradually rolled back again. He kept steadily working on with widening light during the whole of the winter. Very strongly did he feel the beneficial influence of confining himself to one line of study. Previously he had striven, after the fashion of students, to drive half-a-dozen courses of lectures abreast, and had, as usual, found the reins very apt to get entangled. Now one subject only occupied his thoughts, and his mind began to range about in it with a freedom and a spring unknown to him before. In the summer, Christian Pander came to Würtzburg and began with Döllinger those researches on the development of the chick in the egg, to which Baer was destined afterwards to add so much. At this time, however, Baer merely looked on.
He could not afford to give up the whole of his time to the inquiry, and he soon found that nothing less than that would suffice to give him a real share in the work. Very pleasant, nevertheless, was it for him to hear from his friends how matters were going on—to receive week by week, at their social meetings in Nees von Esenbeck's country house at Sickershausen, reports of the progress that had been made, of the difficulties that had been cleared up, to learn how this strange problem of the making of a bird had become clearer in this point or in that.
Towards the end of the summer he received from Burdach, who had removed to Königsberg, an invitation to become Prosector of Anatomy at that University. He accepted the invitation, chiefly because it offered to him the opportunity of clinging for a year or two longer to the skirts of science. Great as was his love for anatomy, the chance of its ever affording him a livelihood seemed dismally small; practice loomed before him, as that to which he must at last, in all probability, come, however long he might defer the fatal time, After spending a winter in Berlin,