Popular Science Monthly/Volume 76/January 1910/The Progress of Science

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Anton Dohrn.


ANTON DOHRN, 1840-1909

In the death of Anton Dohrn zoology mourns a veteran leader, and many zoologists feel—though some of these may not have known him personally—that they have lost a genial and helpful friend. Every one knew him directly or indirectly, and one may even say that there are but few zoologists who are not in some way or another in his debt. For he founded the great station at Naples, and fostered its activities in many directions. It is no mean test of his successful management that it is supported by the funds of many nations and of many diverse institutions.

Dohrn's monument will ever be the Stazione Zoologica: its inception was his, its upbuilding, its policy and its completion—if such a work can ever be called completed. From the time of his early studies—while indeed he was in Messina, in the sixties—he had ever before him the vision of a completed zoological station, an international one, vast in size, splendid in equipment. And with prophetic eye he selected Naples as the field of his life-work. He soon found that his project was not an easy one to carry out, especially in, days when sea-side laboratories were t rare and obscure, and when indeed zoology had hardly come to its own in the scheme of sciences. But Dohrn surmounted the difficulties, scientific, political and financial. In the last regard, when the Academy of Berlin failed to endorse his project, he showed to friends and enemies his faith in his convictions by putting his personal funds, almost all of them, into the melting pot. In the end his arguments were so convincing that the German government granted him a handsome annual subsidy, and insured the success of his undertaking.

Dohrn's history can here be given only in the briefest lines. He was born in 1840, the son of a North German Fabrikbesitzer of scientific tastes. He became a student of Schnell in Jena, devoting himself especially to the study of the arthropods. He was appointed privat-docent; then he traveled, theorized and wrote, hut he taught little; apparently he did not care for the class-room, and even at the end he could point to but few whom he had directly trained. At the outbreak of the war of 1870, Dohrn became a soldier and fought through the campaign; then he returned to his | great plan of the stazione and his struggles in its behalf. The opening of the first building was in 1874, the publications (Mittheilungen and Memoirs) of the station began in 1879, the second building was completed in 1890, the third building (for physiology) in 1907. Through all these years he continued his difficult researches, publishing his results in a series of memoirs. From the first to the last Dohrn showed a rare many-sidedness; to many he was ever the genial friend, to a few the explosive and repentant enemy; at one moment he was the tactful executive, at another the amateur of music and art, at all times the idealist and the profound and conscientious scholar, ever ready (too ready some said) to accept the evidence of facts and to change his scientific views. He had qualities, all in all, which made him a personage of first magnitude in the annals of zoology.

Dohrn's activities in research could readily be made the theme of a volume. For he was a tireless worker and his publications touch many of the most important problems of his day. His earlier years were spent in the study of the embryology of the anthropods (1858-81): of this period is to be mentioned his beautiful monograph on the pantopods. In 1875 appeared his paper "On the Origin of the Vertebrata and on the Principle of the Change of Function"; it was a small brochure, but it touched with a master's hand some of the great problems of its day. This paper Brooks declared should be read by every one of his pupils before he would give him his doctorate—this in spite of Brooks's lack of sympathy with the tenets which Dohrn had laid down. It was this paper which paved his way for researches which were to extend over a third of a century. And one may follow the development of the subject—and of Dohrn himself—in a series of twenty-five voluminous memoirs.

It was the "momentous problem of the beginnings of the back-boned animals" which Dohrn sought to solve. And upon this matter his writings are encyclopedic. Vertebrates were to him descendants of chætopod worms; their typical organs did not arise de novo but as transformations of organs having a different function; animals of simple structures were not as often primitive as Haeckel, for example, would teach, but were frequently degenerate; Amphioxus and Ascidians were not in the line of descent of the higher vertebrates, nor were lampreys—the latter were rather degenerate bony-fishes. In his early papers his readers are carried along on the crest of a splendid wave of enthusiasm. "The problem is solved, . . . all but solved, . . . soon to be solved." But this stage of conviction comes to pass darkly into the background, new difficulties keep appearing, and in later papers one hardly realizes the genetic bearing of the data which Dohrn is bringing together. The method of the paper of 1875, which was essentially deductive, gradually gave place to an elaborate inductive method; separate organs of the vertebrata are studied in turn, especially in the head region, and the difficulties are traced gradually into finer and finer ramifications, until in the end he deals with what appears to be purely the puzzle of nerve histogenesis. For Dohrn would not admit that the head problem in the vertebrate was not to be solved with the present materials or by the aid of the

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The Naples Zoological Station.

logical method; and one feels that he kept hoping against hope that some cine would yet be found to lead him triumphantly out of his labyrinth of difficulties. So he held fast to his plan of research, undismayed when his fellow workers deserted him. "The problem is difficult, not dead," he is said to have declared, when others entered some new and attractive field—" and it is in the difficulties of an old problem that one learns, not in beginning a new one."

Dohrn suffered, there can be no doubt, in noticing that as time went on "the problems of the head" attracted fewer workers. But such a man must have realized, none the less, that this was an inevitable result when new lines of investigation are suddenly developed and when the number of investigators available for all fields is small. And in his heart he must have felt that his theme would always be given a high place, even by those to whom it became "unfashionable." On the other hand if there was no general sympathy for his embryological work there was certainly no lack of appreciation of his work for the Naples station. He lived to see it in the position which he had planned for it, and he took keen satisfaction in seeing his son Reinhart installed as its executive. So he may well have felt in the end, as the solace of his long illness, that his work had been well done.


The Carnegie left Brooklyn, N. Y., on August 21 last, to carry out her first cruise, extending to St. John's N. F., thence to England and returning to New York, early next year, via Madeira and Bermuda. As may be recalled, this vessel has been built practically without any iron, or other magnetic materials, in order to adapt her to the needs of a magnetic survey of the oceans under the direction of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

She arrived at St. John's on September 25 and left again on October 2 with the director, Dr. L. A. Bauer, on board, accomplishing the passage across the Atlantic to Falmouth, England, in twelve days. She is now en route to Madeira and Bermuda under the command of W. J. Peters. In addition to the scientific and navigation staff, composed of seven persons, there are on board two watch officers, two cooks and nine seamen, or twenty persons in all.

The tests and observations made thus far have proved that the desired nonmagnetic conditions where the various instruments are placed have been actually secured, so that no corrections whatsoever need be applied to the magnetic data obtained on the Carnegie. In consequence the work has been greatly facilitated and for the first time it has become possible to make known the results immediately upon conclusion of a voyage. The instruments, largely designed and constructed in the workshop of Dr. Bauer's department, have reached a high stage of perfection, permitting satisfactory observations to be made even under adverse conditions of sea and weather.

The introduction of sheltering observatories, circular in shape and having revolvable domes similar to those of astronomical observatories, is one of the new features which has contributed to the success achieved. Inside these observatories, of which there are two, the after one being shown in the view, both astronomical and magnetic observations may be made with full protection to the observer and instrument from wind and weather.

During a period of six weeks the work of this vessel has already disclosed errors in the magnetic data supplied to mariners of sufficient practical importance to require attention. Thus it was found that from Long Island to a point off St. John's the charts show too small west magnetic declination by
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The "Carnegie."

amounts running up to one degree and a half, i. e., the compass was found to point farther to the west of north than indicated by the charts. On the portion of the trip from St. John's to Falmouth, an error in the reverse direction was revealed, showing that the compass did not, in general, point as far west as given by the mariner's charts—the errors almost reached a degree.

The effect of these chart errors, on account of their systematic and peculiar run, is to set both inward-and outward-bound vessels towards Sable Island or Cape Race whenever sole reliance must be placed upon the compass, as is the case when no sun or stars may be sighted. It appears that captains have been aware of these systematic errors and have learned how to make allowance for them, but their precise cause has not been known until this work of the Carnegie.

Another feature in which considerable interest attaches is the development of the producer-gas engine for t he purposes of auxiliary marine propulsion. The Carnegie is said to be the first sea-going vessel equipped with such a plant. Her engine is of 150 horse-power, sufficient to drive her six; knots in calm weather and give her a cruising radius of 2.000 miles with a coal consumption of but 25 tons, or at a cost of about $100.


The American Asociation for the Advancement of Science and the national scientific societies affiliated with it will meet at Boston, beginning on December 27. There is good reason to look forward to a meeting of unusual interest, perhaps to the largest and most important scientific gathering in the history of the country. In the summer of 1898 the American Association celebrated at Boston the fiftieth anniversary of its foundation with 903 members in attendance, almost the largest meeting up to that time, the largest having also been held in Boston—in 1880—with an attendance of 997. In 1898 the membership of the association was 1,729; it is now over 8,000. In the meanwhile, beginning with the Washington meeting of 1902-3, the convocation week meetings have been organized, and the national scientific societies devoted to the natural and exact sciences meet together during the week following Christmas. The attendance of scientific men at these meetings has been in the neighborhood of two thousand, and the number of scientific papers presented has approached a thousand. The meeting has become more technical in character, and it seems that the interests of those not professionally engaged in scientific work have been somewhat neglected. At the Boston meeting, however, it is proposed to leave the special papers to the special societies, while the association and its twelve sections will present programs of general interest.

Dr. T. C. Chamberlin, of the University of Chicago, eminent as a geologist and for his services to education, will, as retiring president, give the annual address on the evening of Monday, December 27. The address will be at the Sanders Theater, Harvard University, and will be followed by a reception in Memorial Hall. The vice-presidential addresses will be given by Professor Keyser, of Columbia University; Professor Sumner, of Yale University; Professor Herrick, of the University of Chicago; Professor Guthe, of the University of Michigan; Professor Richards, of Columbia University; Professor Kahlenberg, of the University of Wisconsin; Professor Howell, of the Johns Hopkins University; Professor Swain, of Harvard University; Professors Dewey and Woodworth, of Columbia University. All these addresses should be of interest to a wide audience, and each section is expected to arrange a discussion or series of papers that will not be technical in character.

The special societies meeting at Boston cover practically the whole range of the natural and exact sciences. The American Society of Naturalists has this year arranged a program devoted to problems of experimental evolution, which includes papers by the leading workers in this subject. The address of the president, Professor T. H. Morgan, of Columbia University, is on "Cause or Purpose in the Evolution of Adaptations." The American Chemical Society, which is the largest of the special societies, must be divided into numerous sections for the reading of papers. There are, however, general sessions, before one of which Dr. Whitney, of the General Electrical Company, will give the presidential address on the chemistry of artificial light. The mathematicians, the physicists, the geologists, the paleontologists, the biological chemists, the physiologists, the anatomists, the bacteriologists, the zoologists, the entomologists, the botanists, the anthropologists, the psychologists and other groups will hold meetings whose programs would fill many pages.

The railways have allowed the usual reduction in rates on the certificate plan. Apart from scientific programs of unusual attractiveness the educational and other institutions of Boston can under such circumstances be visited to special advantage. Those who are professionally engaged in scientific work and those who are interested in following the progress of science can to equal advantage be present at Boston during convocation week.


The Nobel prizes for the present year have been awarded as follows: For Physics—Divided between Mr. Guglielmo Marconi and Professor Ferdinand Braun, of Strassburg. For Chemistry—Professor Wilhelm Ostwald, of Leipzig. For Physiology or Medicine—Professor Theodor Kocher, of Berne. For Literature—Selma Langerlof, the Swedish authoress. For the Promotion of Peace—Baron D'Estournelles de Constant, president of the French parliamentary group for international arbitration, and M. Beernaert, former Minister of State of Belgium.

The Royal Society has awarded its Copley medal to Dr. G. W. Hill, of Nyack, N. Y., for his researches in mathematical astronomy; royal medals to Professor A. E. Love, for his researches in the theory of elasticity and cognate subjects and to Major Ronald Ross, for his researches in connection with malaria; the Davy medal to Sir James Dewar, for his researches at low temperatures, and the Hughes medal to Dr. R. T. Glazebrook, for his researches on electrical standards.

The Philosophical Society of Washington held on December 4 a meeting commemorative of the life and services of Professor Simon Newcomb, late president of the society. The program included addresses by the Honorable James Bryce, Dr. Milton Updegraff, Dr. R. S. Woodward, Dr. L. 0. Howard and Dr. E. M. Gallaudet.

At the recent meeting of the board of trustees of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Dr. Ira Remsen, president of Johns Hopkins University, and Dr. Charles R. Van Hise, of the University of Wisconsin, were elected trustees to fill vacancies caused by the resignations of Dr. Charles W. Eliot, of Harvard University, and Dr. E. H. Hughes, of De Pauw University. Provost Charles E. Harrison, of the University of Pennsylvania, was elected chairman of the board to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Dr. Eliot.

By the will of the late George Crocker, of New York City, valuable property, said to be worth about $1,500,000, has been bequeathed to Columbia University for researches on the cause, prevention and cure of cancer.—The board of trustees of the Reed Institute will establish at Portland, Ore, a College of Arts and Sciences, with the bequest of $2,000,000 left by the late Mrs. Amanda W. Reed.