Popular Science Monthly/Volume 62/March 1903/The Vienna Academy of Science




EARLY in the fifteenth century scholars on the continent of Europe began to discuss questions in little companies out of which grew what are now known as academies of science. At first these societies were made up of thoughtful men who met to compare their ideas on questions and discoveries which were exciting universal interest. The Academia Pontaniana in Naples was organized in 1433; the Academia Platonica in Florence in 1474. The proceedings in these academies were for the most part open to the public, and the work accomplished through them became the means of the formation of the academies of science, which, in most of the capitals of Europe, have filled so prominent a place the past century and have done so much to utilize and spread abroad historical, philosophical and scientific knowledge.

The history and the work of one of these academies, that in Vienna, will, it is believed, be of interest.

A private academy, the Literaria Sodalitas Danubia, started in Ofen in 1490 by Konrad Pickle, a Frenchman known as Celtes, was moved to Vienna in 1497, where it received into its membership philosophers, jurists, doctors of medicine and privy councillors. Its prime object was declared to be to broaden out 'the Humanism' of the time. It continued to prosper while Celtes was its directing spirit, but after his death in 1508 its influence gradually declined.

Early in the eighteenth century Leibnitz was anxious that an academy should be established in the Austrian capital, similar to the one which in 1700 he had persuaded the King of Prussia to organize in Berlin.

The central position of Vienna, the prestige of the Austrian government and the low estate into which universities all over Europe had fallen led him to visit the city and seek aid from those in authority in carrying out his project. Although his plans received favorable attention, wars with the Turks, opposition from Roman Catholics, especially from the Jesuits, and the difficulty of obtaining means for the support of an academy prevented their execution. Still Leibnitz persisted in urging his plans, and on his fifth visit in 1712 began to be confident that the greatly needed academy would soon be organized. His death the following year led to the abandonment of the project for the time. A Leipzig professor, by the name of Gottsched, in 1749 sought to revive the plan of Leibnitz, but although courteously received nothing came from his efforts. He wanted to be a professor in the university and president of the academy, but the fact that he was a protestant undoubtedly stood in his way. Still others than he were interested in the establishment of an academy. A plan presented by Baron von Petrasch in 1746 at the request of Count Haugnitz was laid before the government in 1750 and carefully considered. Under the terms science and the fine arts it proposed to cover the whole field of knowledge. Nothing came of this effort nor of another put forth in 1774, perhaps because the government feared the influence of the union of men so prominent for learning and ability, and perhaps because it did not see whence the means for its support were to come. The project for an Academy was not taken up again in earnest till 1837, when twelve men met in Vienna to talk the matter over. They recognized and emphasized the fact that in most of the large cities on the continent academies had been founded not only to the benefit of their members but to the credit of the cities in which they had their seat. Patriotism, they insisted, required the union of the scholarship of Vienna in an academy as a channel of communication with the learned world. As all who met to discuss the formation of an academy were of one mind as to its necessity, they formulated a plan of work, suggested means for its support and signed a petition to the government for its immediate organization. A small stamp tax on certain articles and the right of the academy to publish a calendar would, they thought, produce the necessary funds. The petition was seriously discussed. Men high in office, of noble birth and near the emperor were in favor of granting the request. The plan now presented was compared with that drawn up in 1750. Public sentiment as represented by the learned class was tested. The professors in the university were asked for their opinion. Some thought there were already too many institutions in the city and that there was neither room nor place for another. The medical faculty as a whole was not in favor of an academy. Some thought its work could not fail to come into conflict with that of the university. But the dean of the faculty of arts, Professor J. J. von Luttrow, wrote that the two could not come into conflict, that a university is a place for imparting knowledge already acquired and tested, while an academy seeks to increase knowledge by investigations and discoveries and furnishes a place where scientific men may compare their theories, criticize them and weigh carefully and judicially the evidence upon which they have been formed. For years the discussions about the forming of an academy continued. The matter was referred, in May, 1838, to a special commission formed by the court. This commission reported favorably in June of the following year. Nothing however was really done till 1847, although several commissions had meanwhile been appointed and without exception had reported that they looked upon the project of an academy with approval. Tired of waiting the movements of the government, a private academy was organized in January, 1846. Its members favored an academy with two classes, historical philosophical, and mathematical scientific, and did their work along these lines. When the petition for the formation of an academy reached the prime minister, Metternich, he simply said that it was unnecessary as he had long since determined to found an academy and had secured a plan for it. From its discussions he proposed to exclude theology, literature, politics and ethics, and limit them to the subjects connected with positive science. In presenting his plan to the emperor, which received his approval, the minister said that the conservatism of the academy would counteract prevailing disturbances in thought, especially in politics, and furnish a center around which monarchical ideas would crystallize. It was decided that a prince of the reigning house should be curator, that the president should be a nobleman, that there should be 48 active members, as many corresponding members, and one public meeting a year; that the cost should be borne by the government, but must be limited to 40,000 gulden annually; that for each of the two classes a secretary should be chosen, to whom, with the dean and the president, small salaries should be paid, but that ordinary members should receive nothing, inasmuch as many of them, professors in the university and in other offices, were already in the service of the government. Final and favorable action was taken in November, 1847, though the formation of the academy had been officially announced in May of that year. The Academy consisted of 40 active members, 18 of them resident in Vienna, the others representing various sections of the realm. Many reasons prevented the curator, Archduke John, from issuing a call for the meeting of the academy till February, 1848. It had been agreed that in addition to the forty members named by the emperor out of the lists furnished him, these forty should have the privilege of choosing eight more members and, subject to the emperor's approval, of electing its president, its secretaries and its dean. The cost of printing the papers presented to the academy was to be met by the government, but to the request that these papers be free from police supervision a negative answer was returned. This was in the revolutionary year 1848. The day after the request for freedom of publication had been denied a mob gathered in Vienna, the emperor surrendered his absolute power and granted the academy the liberty it desired. He also permitted the academy to increase its membership, by 12 in each class, and to elect an equal number of corresponding members. Though providing amply for the study of history and philosophy, the first place was given to science. Hammer Purgstall was chosen the first president. "An academy," said he, "is a union of spiritual forces for the advance of knowledge in its highest development and power. It does not busy itself with the instruction of youth but with protecting and stimulating men of learning. It is a sort of judgment seat to which scientific attainments are brought and at which their real value is appraised."

Though hesitating so long over the establishment of an academy, having permitted its organization, the government did not fail to favor it in every possible way and to provide handsomely for its support. Rooms were set aside for its sessions and its work, in the Polytechnic Institute. Since 1857, it has had a home of its own in a building long used as barracks for soldiers, but designed, according to tradition, by the Empress Maria Theresa for the academy which she herself intended to found. Here the general secretary resides, and as the building is very large, several scientific societies have courteously been granted shelter. The correspondence of the members of the academy within the realm goes free. Save in the summer months, sessions are held every week and, with the exception of a single meeting each month, the different sections of the academy meet by themselves. The proceedings of the meetings fill many volumes and form a collection of scientific, historical, philosophical and archeological papers of almost inestimable value. Twenty-four active members now reside in Vienna. Strangers properly introduced are permitted to attend the sessions of the academy, though none of these sessions are open to women.

The means at the disposal of the academy, though they cannot be given with absolute accuracy, are for an institution of the kind quite large. They make it clear that its members have the confidence of the public and that the work they are doing appeals to men of wealth and lovers of learning. From the sale of an almanac which contains brief reports of the proceedings of the academy the profits are not inconsiderable. Extraordinary grants from the government and gifts from rich men have from time to time been made for special purposes. That infirm officers of the academy may receive pensions, since 1898 the government has given 50,000 gulden annually, instead of the 40,000 previously received. To this sum are added 20,000 gulden for printing, and 7,000 gulden to each class for pressing needs. Property left to the academy for prizes, or to be used in any way which in the judgment of its members will increase knowledge and promote its diffusion, now produces a large income. Since 1890, Prince John of Lichtenstein has given 5,000 gulden annually for excavations in Asia Minor, and since 1900 has doubled the amount.

Experience has convinced the academy that the giving of prizes is not the best way to use money. Only such are awarded as are made necessary by the terms of a bequest. The offer of prizes, it is affirmed, only stimulates a man who has work in hand to complete it, but rarely induces one to begin new work or to enter upon investigations which may result in important discoveries and valuable additions to human knowledge. So far as possible the income of the academy, which is now between forty and fifty thousand dollars a year from its own funds, is employed in subventions, to aid in printing important treatises, for travel, for excavations or special work. A brief reference to what has been accomplished will justify the demands of the friends of the academy for its establishment. It has provided for the publication of the 'Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticarum Rerum' in many volumes and of many volumes of reports of the excavations of the prehistoric commission for whose work it furnished the means. It has nearly completed the petrographic study of the central chain of the Eastern Alps, and has made a map of the region. In 1894 it joined in an international enterprise to discover the weight of the earth. In 1897 it sent, at a cost of more than 20,000 gulden, an expedition to Bombay to study the bubonic plague. Its bacillus was discovered, but the young man in charge of the expedition lost his life. In 1898 and 1899, it had a commission at work in southern Arabia, and on the island of Socotra. In 1897 it completed deep sea soundings in the Mediterranean, especially in what is called the Adriatic Sea. In 1899 it sent a double expedition to India to study meteors and the eclipse and in 1891 it sent a botanic expedition to Brazil. The results of all these expeditions and of others almost as important have been carefully edited and given to the world through the press.

In 1901 36 annual 'advertisers' had appeared and 49 'almanacs.' These were filled with information not elsewhere to be obtained. At that time the philosophical class had published 48 volumes of works prepared under its direction and 141 volumes of 'Proceedings.' The scientific class had published 68 volumes of special treatises and 108 volumes of 'Proceedings.' Five parts of the 'Report of the Prehistoric Commission' had also appeared. For twenty years and more monthly reports of the condition of chemistry in Europe and throughout the world have been printed and circulated. Of the 'Archives for Austrian History' 88 volumes have appeared, of the 'Sources (Fontes) for Austrian Affairs,' 8 volumes in the First Part, 51 in the Second Part; of 'Announcements from the National Archives,' 2 volumes, of the 'Monumenta Concilliorum,' 2 volumes, and 4 volumes of Part III. Of the 'Hapsburg Memorials,' divisions two and three of Vol. I. have been printed and one part of Vol. II. Ten volumes of the 'Tables of Codices' have appeared, three of the 'Venetian Dispatches' and the second division of Vol. II.

The Academy claims to have suggested and obtained the appointment of a committee to consider the sources of Indian lexicography; to investigate the condition of the Corpus Scriptorum of Oriental knowledge; to look after Grecian grave inscriptions and to create a commission for the study of oceanography. It shares with the Berlin Academy and with the academies of Munich, Göttingen and Leipzig in the preparation of a Latin dictionary. The work is done in Munich and on a scale which may require twenty years to complete. Together with the academies of Munich, Göttingen and Leipzig, it has carried through and nearly completed an 'Encyclopedia of Mathematics and Related Knowledge,' and has agreed to join with them in the future in any work which ought to be undertaken, but which is too large for the resources of a single academy. It joined the international association of academies in 1900, and is taking part in the publication of the international catalogue of scientific literature. Statements by the secretary of what was done during the year 1899-1900 show the great place the academy now fills. The Prehistoric Commission, he says, continued its investigations at Töplitz near Krain, and discovered in graves which had never been opened many articles belonging to a prehistoric race. The work is nearly complete and full reports of it will soon be published. Successful efforts have been made to obtain a complete collection of objects needed for the 'Phonographic Archives' of the academy. The third part has been published of the report of the Austrian Plague Commission on the morphology and biology of the bacillus, and on the means to be used for the disinfection of man and beast and their future protection against danger from this source. A report of the visit to India to photograph meteors and observe the eclipse has been printed. Opportunity was taken during this visit to secure measurements of the intensity of the sun's heat and to collect twenty specimens of orchids. The petrographic survey of the Alps has been continued and provision made for publishing part A of Vol. VI. of the 'Mathematical Encyclopedia.' The material is in hand for nearly all the work. The Earthquake Commission has made observations in Istria and Dalmatia, in Krain and Görz. The number of earthquakes studied is 190, in the previous year 209. Reports from several hundred meteorological stations have been received and tabulated for use not only in the study of meteorology but for the study of terrestrial magnetism.

Under the patronage of the 'historical class' of the academy important publications have been brought out on the early history of Austria-Hungary. Some new historical facts have been discovered during the year. Work on the edition of the Latin church fathers has continued, and the writings of Arnobius Minor have been worked over by J. Schnarnagl, those of Cæsar Arelatorius by G. Morris, those of Prudentius by J. Bergmann. It is hoped to get these writings into such shape as to make them valuable. The collection of manuscripts belonging to the library, through the aid of other libraries and by purchase, has been greatly increased. As the result of an archeological journey to Permesos in Pisidia nine graves, differing in type from any yet opened, were carefully examined. Vol. I. of this report has now been published.

The Academy is trying to obtain for its 'Phonographic Archives': (1) Exact representations of the sounds of European languages and dialects at the beginning of the twentieth century, (2) representations of the best musical accomplishments of the present time and of the musical productions of peoples of different degrees of culture as a basis for comparison, (3) representations of the tones of the voices of distinguished men. These tones the phonograph will preserve. The results of the expedition to southern Arabia and Socotra will soon appear in a large number of volumes, giving an account of reptiles, fishes, insects, lepidoptera, diptera, coleoptera, neuroptera, etc. The gains for linguistics and epigraphy are said to be very great.

The study of the results of the commission to India to gather information in regard to the cause of the bubonic plague has discovered its bacillus and made it possible to prevent the spread of the plague in the future. An essay on 'Die Porcia von Socotra,' published by the academy, has pointed out the possible relation of this Porcia to the Portia of Shakespeare. Several tales current among the people of Socotra and on the coast were carefully written down and will not only show how stories of this character travel from country to country, but will add to our knowledge of folk-lore. Work which promises to be of importance has been done in the study of the syntax and philology of the Slavic languages, and several publications have appeared on the political history and philosophy of the Slavic peoples. The Academy is attempting to investigate and study accurately the history, archeology, philology and ethnology of the entire Balkan peninsula.

The archeological work of the academy proved to be of such importance and extent that a special society was formed to carry it forward. Explorations in Ephesus were made in 1897, preliminary reports of which have appeared, and also of work done in Cilicia. In the spring of 1898 measurements were made in Luxor, Egypt, to determine the influence of winter climate on atmospheric electricity, in Siberia to discover the influence of extreme cold, and in a balloon at the height of 4,000 meters. The Academy has taken part with the German academies in preparing an Encyclopedia of Mohammedanism and it shares with the academies of Berlin and Munich the income of the Savigny bequest for the study of Law, German and Roman, and the law of all nations. The subventions, which cover almost every department of scientific research, and those made for historical and philosophical purposes, over fifty in number, now exceed in amount 75,000 florins annually. They indicate an activity in research equaled by no other academy save that of Berlin on the continent and are producing results in which the members of the academy may justly take great pride.

In closing this brief account of what a single academy of science on the continent of Europe has done, it may not be out of place to add that, as the work of the academy has expanded, other societies, chiefly scientific or archeological, have grown out of it, thus proving it to be, as was predicted long before its formation that it would be, the mother of scientific and historical learning in Austria. The academy in Buda Pesth has larger resources of its own than the Vienna Academy and has pushed its work with untiring zeal. Barriers of language render the results of its work less accessible than those of the German academies. Two academies in Prague, one for the Germans of the city and of Bohemia, and one for the Czechs, both under the protection of the government and in receipt of grants from it year by year, have done excellent work, but on a smaller scale than at Vienna. Of lesser academies in various cities in the empire, or of learned societies it is unnecessary to speak, inasmuch as the Vienna Academy is the model which, so far as possible, all of them try to follow.