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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/208

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of the most gifted women the world has ever seen. Laura Caterina Bassi was born at Bologna, October 31, 1711. She was the daughter of a distinguished lawyer and littérateur, and at a tender age manifested extraordinary precocity, being able while still a child to translate fluently most difficult Latin and Greek. Encouraged by her father, she pursued her studies under the guidance of eminent masters; she learned physiology and medicine with the erudite physician Gaetano Tacconi, mathematics with Manfredi, and natural philosophy with the disciples of Gassendi, and she astonished these profound philosophers by her talents. Laura Bassi studied for the pure love of knowledge, and had no ambition to seek public honors, but, to gratify the pardonable pride of a father as well as the earnest desires of her instructors, she consented to support a philosophical thesis before a learned audience of professors. This event took place on the 17th of April, 1732, before she had reached the age of twenty-one years. The occasion was made one of festivity by the whole city, who turned out to do her honor; the assemblage was presided over by two cardinals, Lambertini, afterward Pope Benedict XIV, and Grimaldi.

According to custom her thesis was opposed by seven learned men; to these she replied in elegant Latin with great success and amid the applause of the distinguished audience. A month later the degree of Doctor was conferred upon her, and she was honored by a position in the Faculty of Philosophy. The Senate subsequently bestowed upon her the chair of Physics, and commemorated the event by striking a medal which bore her own portrait. She held the professorship twenty-eight years with marked success, paying particular attention to mathematics and physics, also to belles-lettres. Several academies of learning elected her to membership. In 1738 she was married to J. J. Veratti, a physician, and became in the course of time the mother of twelve children. A learned French littérateur who visited Bologna in her day thus describes her appearance: "Laura Bassi has a countenance slightly marked with small-pox, but of a sweet and modest expression; her black eyes are sparkling, yet tranquil, and she is serious and composed in demeanor without affectation or vanity. Her memory is tenacious, her judgment sound, and her imagination active." She died in the year 1778, at the age of sixty-seven.

Laura Bassi does not seem to have pursued medical studies, and certainly never engaged in practice; but any account of the gifted women of Bologna who labored in this direction would be incomplete without a brief notice of Madame Veratti.

Contemporary with this interesting woman lived another, less gifted but scarcely less renowned. Anna Morandi was born at Bologna five years later than Laura Bassi, and died four years earlier. She became the wife of Giovanni Manzolini, a poor, hard-working maker of anatomical models. Manzolini was an expert painter and modeler in wax, and was employed by one Lelli to construct a series of anatomical