Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/555

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By Professor CHARLES A. JOY.

FREDERICK WÖHLER, the Nestor of German chemists, was born July 31, 1800, in the little hamlet of Eschersheim, near Frankfort-on-the-Main, in the house of the village pastor who was his uncle by marriage. How it happened that the mother was away from home at such an important period—for this was not her residence—is worthy of record, as it shows that there were heroic elements in the family for the son to inherit. The father held the office of equerry to the Elector of Hesse-Cassel in the early part of this century. This Elector is celebrated in history for the violence of his temper. He was one day visiting the royal stables in company with the equerry, and on this occasion was so particularly insulting and unreasonable that, endurance having ceased to be a virtue, Wöhler seized a horsewhip, and then and there gave his Royal Highness such a castigation as he had often enough richly merited, but doubtless never expected to receive. The equerry then jumped upon the back of the fleetest horse in the stables, and, accompanied by a groom who was to return the steed, soon put a safe distance between himself and the impending wrath of his sovereign. The august Elector, fearing ridicule, thought it wisest to let the matter drop, and never pursued the fugitive. It became necessary, however, for the family to make a hasty retreat from Cassel, and the wife took refuge in the house of her sister, where she remained until the birth of the subject of our sketch. The parents subsequently purchased a small estate at Rödelsheim, where they resided until 1812, when they removed to Frankfort.

Frederick's first instruction in writing, drawing, and later in French, was imparted by his father, who was a university-bred man of unusual intelligence. When he was about seven years old he attended the public school, and received, in addition, private lessons in Latin, French, and music. A fondness for experiments and for making collections early manifested itself, and was judiciously encouraged by his father and an intimate friend who had, in the capacity of private tutor to a nobleman, spent some time at the University of Göttingen, and had, while there, devoted special attention to the study of the natural sciences. This friend owned considerable chemical and physical apparatus, with which he exhibited experiments to the boy, and also allowed the youth to practice his skill, particularly with the battery, which was the great novelty of the day. In addition to these experiments, all sorts of minerals which presented any peculiarity of appearance were collected for future examination.

In 1814 Wöhler entered the high school (gymnasium) at Frankfort,