Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 14
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Blyakher L. History of embryology in Russia from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century (istoryia embriologii v Rossii s serediny XVIII do serediny XIX veka) (1955) Academy of Sciences USSR. Institute of the History of Science and Technology. Translation Smithsonian Institution (1982).
Publishing House of the Academy of Science USSR
Translated from Russian
Translated and Edited by:
Dr. Hosni Ibrahim Youssef # Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Cairo University
Dr. Boulos Abdel Malek
Head of Veterinary Research Division
Arab Republic of Egypt
The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C, by The Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations 1982
The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C by The Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations (1982)
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Chapter 14. Outline of the Life and Scientific Activities of Karl Maksimovich Baer
If K. F. Wolff is considered the central personality in embryology in the second half of the eighteenth century, then in the first half of the nineteenth century tV Russian academician K. M. Baer was most significant. Baer devoted his long life totally to the service of science. Starting with questions of zoology, comparative anatomy, and especially embryology, Baer later concentrated on geographic problems, applied zoology and especially ichthyology, ethography, and finally the methodology of the natural sciences, especially biology (81). The limitations of the present book permits us to judge only Baer's embryological work, with which he left the deepest and most permanent mark. A short biographical sketch will preface discussion of Baer's embryological investigations and his related theoretical ideas.
Karl Maksimovich Baer was born on February 17, 179-2 in Pip in the neighborhood of Jerwen in Estonia. Receiving his early education at home, Baer then spent four years in the middle school in Revel (now Tallin). In 1810 he was admitted to the medical faculty of the university in Dorpat (now Tartu) . Among the professors of Dorpat University who had an influence on the young Baer were (Karl Friedrich von) Ledebour, who taught zoology, botany, geology and mineralogy, and especially Karl Friedrich Burdach, who taught physiology and the history of evolution.
In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, where the army of Napoleon's General Macdonald besieged Riga, Baer and other Dorpat medical students volunteered to go to the fighting area, where they worked under very difficult conditions. They struggled with a typhus epidemic, and Baer himself nearly died of the disease. In 1814 he finished his medical education, and on August 24, he presented his dissertation on "The Endemic Diseases of Estonians," after which he went abroad for advanced courses in practical medicine.
On travelling through Berlin in 1814 he met Pander, with whom he had studied at Dorpat University, and Pander warmly urged him to stay in Berlin to study natural science "In Berlin," Baer wrote in his autobiography,!
I met Pander, the future embryologist and paleontologist. He had been there already for one or two semesters and strongly urged me to stay in Berlin. He talked with admiration about the zoological museum, about the botanical garden and about the lectures -he had heard. All that was very tempting, but I wanted to be a true practical physician and was afraid that these fascinations would be distracting. Hence I became hard and decided not even to look at these sirens. (pp. 205 206 (163) (150))
Instead, Baer decided to carry out his intended plan and departed to Vienna, where he was admitted to clinical studies. But soon he felt dissatisfaction with this work and learned that his true interests were the biological sciences. He then left Vienna to seek a German university where he could study comparative anatomy, in which he was especially interested. In the town of Wasserburg (Ed.: on one of his botanical expeditions in the Alps) Baer met the naturalists Hoppe and Martius; they advised him to go to Wiirzburg, to Do 1 linger.
NACHRICHTEN UBER LEBEN UND SCHRIFTEN. See footnote on p. 136. This was first given in the Russian language in 1950 (Academician Baer, K. M. , AUTOBIOGRAPHY, edited by Academician E.N. Pavlovskii, Translation and commentary by Prof. B. E. Raikov, Edition of AS USSR, 544 pp.). After that the chapters of the present book devoted to Baer were written. On referring to AUTOBIOGRAPHY, citations are given to the pages in the Russian translation and the German original (in rounded brackets) . (Ed. : Corrected page references to NACHRICHTEN (JBER LEBEN UND SCHRIFTEN, 1864; Hannover-Dohren: Verlag Hannov. Hirschheydt, 1972, reprint of 1886 printing.)
When he reached Wiirzburg, Baer was depressed to learn that Db'l linger would not teach comparative anatomy in that autum semester of 1815. Dollinger, noticing the young man's depression, said to him: "Why do you want lectures? Bring some animal and dissect it, and another, and study their structure." Next morning Baer appeared in the laboratory with leeches bought from the pharmacy, and under Dol linger' s supervision he started studying their anatomy. After that, he explored other invertebrates and read the monographic literature. Baer later remembered with gratitude Dollinger' s assistance at the first stages of his independent studies. 2 In fact, in 1815 Dollinger had directed Baer's interest to embryology, although the circumstances were such that Baer's studies of the history of evolution came later on and were done entirely independently.
Besides working with Dollinger, Baer visited the obstetrical clinic of Siebold and listened to the course of Professor Wagner "which the students called Naturphilosophie, because all general ideas were considered Naturphilosophie and depended on a less solid basis," Baer wrote ironically in his memoirs. 3 "i was very curious," he continued,
to follow the systematic work of Schelling's philosophy; one heard about Naturphilosophie everywhere and found it referred to in many books, without being able to understand it if one did study Schelling's systematically. I therefore registered with Wagner, although Dollinger had told me that I would not find too much there. Actually, I found a high-level, wonderful schema for all things and all relationships, to the extent that at the beginning I was attracted by its novelty. Soon, however, it seemed so empty and artificial that I could not listen to the course to the end 4 . ... My thirst was quieted for a long time. Dollinger was himself in favor of Naturphilosophie; however, he was strict and substantial. 5 (82)
2. Baer, NACHRICHTEN, p. 227 (193) (168).
3. Ibid., p. 232 (182) (170).
On characterizing the ideas of his teachers, Baer wrote about Dollinger that
With philosophical views he looks at imperfections in understanding, without being able to fill the holes, which should be slowly begun by chemical and minute physical investigations. He never tries to fill these holes by means of philosophical deduction .... He had earlier diligently studied Kant, then was in admiration of Schelling, with whom he was .particularly familiar .... Later he unwillingly spoke of this time and looked forward to the successful synthesis of physiology of specific observations with a philosophical spirit."
It is possible to think that Dollinger' s influence to a certain extent helped Baer to overcome the fashionable temptation of Naturphilosophie and to return to the strict and accurate studies of the features of nature. In this case he reached the ideas expressed in the following words: "The route from the particular to the abstract is not only the natural way, but also the most fruitful route, because only through the correct understanding of particular phenomena is it possible to come to correct abstraction. "7 In another section of his autobiography, Baer again returned to his philosophical searching. At the beginning of his twentieth year, Baer sought a solid general basis for the problems of anthropology, psychology, and embryology. At one time he apparently thought that Schelling' s philosophy could serve as such a foundation. About his search Baer wrote that
4. Ibid . , pp. 232-233 (182) (170)
5. Ibid ., p. 233 (182-183) (171).
6. Ibid ., p. 252 (196) (184).
7. Ibid., p. 248 (193) (181).
Schelling's philosophy, I thought, cannot be so entirely empty as it was decried by some, because many scientists have felt the warmth of its rays. I have tried to study it, but by a short route, partly because my profession was far from philosophy and did not allow time to study all the series of Schelling's works or other natural philosophers, but partly because I was repulsed when I realized the foggy uncertainty .... The great distinctness of this expression and the sequence of the outstanding ideas in this work attracted me, but also often stimulated my decided opposition, for example with the negation of all limits and the absence of all quality. 8
Naturphilosophie proved important for much of Baer's later work, especially his studied in anthropology and the history of evolution.
Before considering those later works, however, it is necessary to return to an earlier period. In the spring of 1816, Pander arrived in Wiirzburg, called there by Baer's cheerful description of the working conditions in Dollinger's laboratory. On Baer's recommendation, Pander accepted Dollinger's suggestion that he study chick development." Baer himself was very interested in this work but could not participate in it because he felt he did not have sufficient funds or time. At that time his former Dorpat professor, Karl Burdach, arrived in Konigsberg and invited Baer to take up the responsibilities of a prosector there. Baer accepted in July 1817 and travelled to Konigsberg.
In Konigsberg, Baer first read the practical course of invertebrate comparative anatomy and by 1819 was considered an Extraordinary Professor of the zoology course. In subsequent years, the organization of the department of comparative anatomy and the zoology museum took much of his time (83). By 1826 Baer was already an Ordinary Professor of anatomy and director of the anatomy museum. His administrative and teaching responsibilities did not hinder Baer from his unparalleled capability to study the development of different vertebrates, and also to perform a number of special investigations in zoology, comparative anatomy, and anthropology (84) . In 1826 Baer, during the course of his embryological investigations, made a wonderful discovery by observing the ovum in the ovary of mammals. This discovery he reported the following year in an extensive letter to the Petersburg Academy of Science, 10 which in answer selected Baer as corresponding member.
8. Ibid . , p. 248 (193) (181).
9. Sno CUapter 12.
In 1827 the Petersburg academician, botanist (Karl Bernhard) Trinius, suggested to Baer that he occupies Pander's position as an academician, since Pander had left his post. In 1828 Baer's election as a member of the Petersburg Academy of Science occurred, and by the end of the next year he arrived in Petersburg. Apparently, once there Baer could not satisfy what he considered the necessary conditions for work, and he returned to Konigsberg, apologizing for his refusal of the academic post. In the following three to four years, Baer continued with his highly intensive study of embryology, and as a result the first volume of his classical work, UBER ENTWICKLUNGSGESCHICHTE DER TH I ERE, came to light in 1828. In order to accomplish this work Baer had to overcome considerable organizational and material difficulties created by the unfriendly attitudes of the Ministry of Education towards him. This strengthened his desire to return to Russia. Travel to the mother country and his family estate in Estonia corresponded with the second selection of Baer to the Petersburg Academy of Science, and from 1834 he remained permanently in Russia.
10. Baer, DE OVI MAMMALIUM ET HOMINIS GENESI EPISTOLA AD ACAD. IMP. SCIENTIARIUM PETROPOLITANAM. Leipzig, 1827.
In Petersburg Baer was involved in various studies, which to a considerable extent drew him away from his embryological investigations. At this time he accomplished and published only some special work in embryology; his attention was particularly drawn to mutations, which he considered as interesting with the normal course of development. The study of mutations he considered important for promoting understanding of the normal course of embryogenesis. Baer devoted much more time in Petersburg to geographical investigations, however, and he made a number of trips, with great difficulty, to Nova Zembla, to Chudov Lake, to the Volga, and to the coast of the Black and Caspian seas. From 1841 to 1852 Baer was a professor of anatomy and physiology in the Medical-Surgical Academy, giving much attention and time to his teaching activities. He also performed considerable work as director of the library of the Academy of Science. In the summer months of 1845 and 1846, Baer travelled to the Mediterranean (Genoa, Venice and Trieste) , where he again studied embryology and made a number of interesting observations on the development of marine invertebrates.
Many times Baer gave public lectures and speeches. Among the latter, the speech entitled "A View of the Development of Science" given to the Academy of Science in 1836 had considerable importance. Similarly important was his speech, "The Correct View on Living Nature and the Application of This View to Entomology," given May 10, I860 at the opening of the Russian Entomological Society, of which Baer was first President. These two speeches and others were later included in two collections of speeches and articles. 11
In 1862 Baer retired and was selected a member of honor in the Academy of Science. On August 18, he solemnly celebrated the fifty-year jubilee of receiving his doctoral degree. The hero of the anniversary, then seventy- three years old, gave a concluding speech at the ceremony interspersed with jokes. He invited all the participants to his next jubilee after another fifty years.
In 1867 Baer arrived in his native university city of Dorpat. Being unburdened there by any official responsibilities, he gave himself up to literary work by commenting on current biological science, particularly Darwin's theory, which already had received wide distribution. He also continued some historical work.
11. Baer, REDEN , GEHALTEN IN WISSENSCHAFTLICHEN VERSAMMLUNGEN UND KLEINERE AUFSATZE VERMISCHTEN INHALTES. Part I: REDEN, GEHALTEN IN WISSENSCHAFTEN VERSAMMLUNGEN, pp. vi + 296. Part II:STUDIEN AUS DEM GEBIETE DER NATURWISSENSCHAFTEN , pp. xxv + 480. Braunschweig, 1886.
On November 16, 1870, Baer died, after a short illness. He was only three months short of his eighty-fifth birthday. On the tenth anniversary of his death, the sculptor A. M. Opekushin, who also did the well-known statue of Pushkin in Moscow, designed a statue of Baer in Dorpat.
In his speech, "Features of the Activities of K. M. Baer and the Significance of His Work, "12 the academician (Filipp Vasil'evich) Ovsiannikov said the following:
The activities and work of this sceintific genius, who died at the end of the past year in Dorpat, the Member of Honor of the Academy K. M. Baer, . . . must represent a great interest to all people of intellect. We have lost in him not only a firstclass scientist, not only a great founder of scientific embryology, but also a man of the highest spiritual qualities, a man of deep interest to our country. (p. 1)
Highlighting the significance of Baer's most important scientific work, Ovsiannikov in conclusion once again pointed out his greatness as a scientist and his grandeur as a man who had given all his life to the service of science, which he had considered the source of prosperity to people. "He lived not for himself, not for his family- he lived for science, for his country, and for civilization. He was not of Russian origin, yet it is rare to meet anyone who could have been as faithful to Russia and her interests as he was" (p. 24) .
A concise but pithy outline of Baer's scientific activities was given by Dorpat University Professor E. Rosenberg, in a speech at the dedication of Baer's statue. 13
A discussion of Baer's work in embryology should begin with his discovery of the mammalium. ovum, then turn to review his greatest accomplishment, his UBER ENTWICKLUNGSGESCHICHTE , and also his remaining embryological and teratological work. At the conclusion, this account will consider his theoretical reports related to problems of the history of development.
12. Given at the beginning of 1877, published in 1879.
13. E. Rosenberg, FESTREDE AM TAGE DER ENTHULLUNG DES IN DORPAT ERRICHTETEN DENKMALS FUR KARL ERNST VON BAER. Dorpat, 1886, 33 pp.
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