1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bert, Paul
BERT, PAUL (1833-1886), French physiologist and politician, was born at Auxerre (Yonne) on the 17th of October 1833. He entered the École Polytechnique at Paris with the intention of becoming an engineer; then changing his mind, he studied law; and finally, under the influence of the zoologist, L. P. Gratiolet (1815-1865), he took up physiology, becoming one of Claude Bernard’s most brilliant pupils. After graduating at Paris as doctor of medicine in 1863, and doctor of science in 1866, he was appointed professor of physiology successively at Bordeaux (1866) and the Sorbonne (1869). After the revolution of 1870 he began to take part in politics as a supporter of Gambetta. In 1874 he was elected to the Assembly, where he sat on the extreme left, and in 1876 to the chamber of deputies. He was one of the most determined enemies of clericalism, and an ardent advocate of “liberating national education from religious sects, while rendering it accessible to every citizen.” In 1881 he was minister of education and worship in Gambetta’s short-lived cabinet, and in the same year he created a great sensation by a lecture on modern Catholicism, delivered in a Paris theatre, in which he poured ridicule on the fables and follies of the chief religious tracts and handbooks that circulated especially in the south of France. Early in 1886 he was appointed resident-general in Annam and Tonkin, and died of dysentery at Hanoi on the 11th of November of that year. But he was more distinguished as a man of science than as a politician or administrator. His classical work, La Pression barométrique (1878), embodies researches that gained him the biennial prize of 20,000 francs from the Academy of Sciences in 1875, and is a comprehensive investigation on the physiological effects of air-pressure, both above and below the normal. His earliest researches, which provided him with material for his two doctoral theses, were devoted to animal grafting and the vitality of animal tissues, and they were followed by studies on the physiological action of various poisons, on anaesthetics, on respiration and asphyxia, on the causes of the change of colour in the chameleon, &c. He was also interested in vegetable physiology, and in particular investigated the movements of the sensitive plant, and the influence of light of different colours on the life of vegetation. After about 1880 he produced several elementary text-books of scientific instruction, and also various publications on educational and allied subjects.