Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 84.djvu/571

This page has been validated.
567
CLAUDE BERNARD

CLAUDE BERNARD
By D. WRIGHT WILSON

ONE hundred years ago, in a little village in eastern France, there was born of humble parentage a man who was to become one of the greatest physiologists of France and of the world. Though a pioneer in a field despised and looked down upon at the time, he was to make discoveries which were of fundamental importance to physiology and medicine and were to influence the whole general aspect of biology toward certain questions.

Claude Bernard was born in the little village of Saint Julien, department of Rhone, July 12, 1813. His father was a small land owner of the district and earned a comfortable living from the fruit of his vineyard. Bernard later came into possession of the estate and spent his vacations there, working out of doors among his trees and vines. He describes it thus:

My dwelling is on the hill slopes of Beaujolais which look toward the Dombe. The Alps give me my horizon and when the air is clear I catch sight of their white summits. At the same time I see spread out before me for two leagues the prairies of the Sa┼Źne. The slope on which I dwell is surrounded on all sides by vineyards stretching away apparently without limit; these would give the country a monotonous appearance were not this broken by wooded valleys and brooks running down from the mountains to the river. My cottage, situated though it is on a rise, is a very nest of verdure, thanks to a little wood which shades it on the right and to an orchard which flanks it on the left; a great rarity in a land in which they stub up even the coppices in order to plant vines.

Bernard and a sister were the only children. He was apparently a bright child, for the cure made him a choir boy and taught him Latin. Later, he went to the small Jesuit college at Villefranche and from there went to Lyons, where he soon left school to enter a practical pharmacy. At first he received only board and lodging for his services, but soon his manual dexterity won for him a small salary. He remained here two years, but his employers mode of business made him sceptical of medical and pharmaceutical practise of the day as shown by the following story related by Sir Michael Foster.

As was usual at that epoch the clients of the shop, especially the old women of the outlying vilages, made a constant demand for a syrup which seemed to cure everything; and Bernard, to his astonishment, found that this favorite syrup was compounded of all the spoilt drugs and remnants of the shop. Whenever Bernard reported a bottle of stuff had gone wrong, "Keep it for syrup," replied the master; "that will do for making syrup."