Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/511

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IN science as in history, it often happens that facts bare and dry in themselves are infused with a sympathetic human interest, when viewed as events in the lives of men. Such an interest, focused in a single devoted investigator, and intensified by the pathos of his death, attaches to the name of Friedrich Miescher, late professor of physiology in Basel. In 181)5 by more than twenty years of laborious investigation, he had brought to a successful conclusion one of the most brilliant and important researches ever attempted in biological chemistry. Up to that time few and incomplete reports of these results had appeared in print, the personal modesty and scientific caution of the investigator tempting him to delay publication. So it happened that the great mass of his researches was recorded in notes which only their author could decipher, when Miescher was seized by a mortal disease, and after a lingering illness, with the chapters describing his work completed in his brain, but with no strength to transfer them to paper, he died in the bitterness of a life work completed, but unpublished.

It may indeed be doubted whether the value of Miescher's work would have received full recognition twenty years ago, since many of his investigations then completed bear on problems which had formed themselves in the minds of few biologists of that time. To-day, however, these problems are of universal interest. The recent publication of two volumes[1] containing the few papers which Miescher had published, both on the salmon and on other subjects (which by themselves would entitle him to a high place among physiologists), together with extracts from his letters to his colleagues describing his work, and such of his notes as could be utilized, dates Miescher's work from the present time rather than the period of its performance.

For a proper understanding of the extraordinary tissue changes which he discovered in the breeding salmon, Miescher found it necessary to investigate fully the life and habits of these fish during their sojourn in fresh water. Of this subject little more was known than such practical knowledge as fishermen had developed. The position of Basel close to the head waters of the Rhine, the breeding ground of the

  1. Friedrich Miescher, 'Histochemische und Physiologische Arbeiten'; Leipzig, F. C. W. Vogel, 1897.