Open main menu

Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Bloch, Mark Eliezer

BLOCH, Mark Eliezer, a German naturalist, born at Ansbach, of very poor Jewish parents, about the year 1730. Having entered the employment of a surgeon at Hamburg, he was enabled by his own exertions to supply the want of early education, and made great progress in the study of anatomy, as well as in the other departments of medical science. After taking his degree as doctor at Frankfort-on-the-Oder he established himself as a physician at Berlin, and found means to collect there a valuable museum of objects from all the three kingdoms of nature, as well as an extensive library. His first work of importance was an essay on the different species of worms found in the bodies of other animals, which gained the prize offered by the Academy of Copenhagen. Many of his papers on different subjects of natural history, comparative anatomy, and physiology, were published in the collections of the various academies of Germany, Holland, and Russia, particularly in that of the Friendly Society of Naturalists at Berlin. But his greatest work was his Allgemeine Naturgeschichte der Fische (12 vols., 1782-95), which occupied the labour of a considerable portion of his life, and is considered to have laid the foundations of the science of ichthyology. The publication was encouraged by a large subscription, and it passed rapidly through five editions in German and in French. Bloch made little or no alteration in the systematic arrangement of Artedi and Linnæus, although he was disposed to introduce into the classification some modifications depending on the structure of the gills, especially on the presence or absence of a fifth gill, without a bony arch. To the number of genera before established he found it necessary to add nineteen new ones; and he described 176 new species, many of them inhabitants of the remotest parts of the ocean, and by the brilliancy of their colours, or the singularity of their forms, as much objects of popular admiration as of scientific curiosity. In 1797 he paid a visit to Paris, in order to examine the large collections of such subjects of natural history as had been inaccessible to him on the shores of the Baltic; and he returned to Berlin by way of Holland. His health, which had hitherto been unimpaired, began now to decline. He went to Carlsbad for its recovery, but his constitution was exhausted, and he died there on the 6th of August 1799.