Popular Science Monthly/Volume 8/November 1875/Sketch of Dr. H. C. Bastian

PSM V08 D008 Henry Charlton Bastian.jpg


PROMINENT among the contemporaneous explorers of biological and physiological science, the investigation of which is so active in the present age, is the subject of this notice, who, though still a young man, has achieved an undoubted eminence in the departments of study to which he has devoted himself. Dr. Bastian has done a good deal of excellent scientific work in the medical field, and has gained the wide respect of the profession; but he is more generally known by his researches into the origin of life; and is the author of perhaps the ablest work that has yet appeared on the question of the generation of the lowest animate forms. The careful readers of The Popular Science Monthly are quite aware that the subject of so-called "spontaneous generation" has latterly not only occupied the increasing attention of scientific men, but has been pushed forward by an unprecedented refinement of experimental investigation. The researches recently carried out may have settled it, or they may not, as further determinations and verifications will show; but, whatever may be the fact on this point, the inquiry has certainly been remarkably narrowed, and the whole subject placed in a new attitude, which gives better promise of a decisive solution. Dr. Bastian, as is well understood, is a leading representative of the doctrine of the spontaneous origin of the lowest living forms. He has made an extensive series of delicate and ingenious experiments which, he holds, establish the principle, and which are freely admitted to give the problem a new aspect; and in his elaborate two-volumed work on the "Beginnings of Life," and his subsequent volume on "Evolution and the Origin of Life," he has given us the most comprehensive exposition we have of the philosophy and present position of this highly interesting and important question.

Henry Charlton Bastian was born at Truro, in Cornwall, April 26, 1837. His father, a merchant, died while the son was quite young. He was educated at a private school in Falmouth; and, when about eighteen years of age, began the study of medicine with an uncle, who was a leading medical man of the town of Falmouth.

Young Bastian had already begun to acquire strong tastes for natural-history studies, principally in the direction of botany and marine zoology; these tastes having been much stimulated and encouraged by a retired London surgeon, Mr. W. P. Cocks, who had for some years energetically devoted himself to the fauna and flora of Falmouth and its neighborhood. Dr. Bastian recognizes a profound indebtedness to this gentleman for his influence in urging him to independent inquiry, inciting him to accept nothing on mere authority. During the three years of young Bastian's apprenticeship to his uncle, besides preparing for the matriculation examination of the University of London, he made a special study of botany, and in 1856 published "A Flora of Falmouth and Surrounding Parishes." His educational career was brilliant, and among the numerous university honors which he received may be mentioned the gold medal in botany; the gold medal in comparative anatomy; the gold medal in anatomy and physiology; the gold medal in pathological anatomy; and the gold medal in medical jurisprudence. He took his degree of M. D. in 1866, and became Fellow of the Royal Society in 1868. In 1860, Dr. Bastian became Assistant Curator of the Museum of Anatomy and Pathology under Prof. Sharpey. This office was retained for three years. In 1863, principally on account of his liking for cerebral physiology and philosophical subjects generally, he decided to devote himself to the study of insanity, with the view of becoming a consultant in London in this department of medicine. At the end of 1863 he went as assistant medical officer to the newly-opened State Asylum for Criminal Lunatics at Broadmoor; and here for two years he carried on his investigations concerning the nematoids, which led to a monograph, in which one hundred new species were described. During this time and afterward, Dr. Bastian conducted an interesting and important series of investigations on the specific gravity of the brain. In 1866 he left Broadmoor, came to London, married, became lecturer on pathology and curator of the museum at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School. He now took up the study of the diseases of the nervous system as a whole, rather than the section of it met with in asylums. He was elected Assistant Physician to St. Mary's Hospital, and then shortly left it to accept the professorship of Pathological Anatomy and the position of Assistant Physician to the Hospital of University College. The same year he was also appointed Assistant Physician to the National Hospital for the Paralyzed and Epileptic. He has thus been in the midst of active and pressing professional studies, but Dr. Bastian has still found time for those laborious and purely scientific inquiries for which he is most extensively known. The following is, a list of his chief memoirs and works, in the order of their publication:

"On the Structure and Nature of the Dracunculus or Guinea-Worm." "Trans, of Linn. See," vol. xxiv.
"Monograph on the Anguillulidæ, or Free Nematoids, Marine, Land, and Fresh-water; with Descriptions of 100 New Species." "Trans, of Linn. Sec," vol. xxv.
"On the Anatomy and Physiology of the Nematoids, Parasitic and Free; with Observations on their Zoölogical Position and Affinities to the Echinoderms."
"Philosophical Transactions," 1866.
"On the Mode of Origin of Secondary Cancerous Growths." Medical Mirror, vol. i., No. X.
"On the Specific Gravity of the Different Parts of the Human Brain." Journal of Mental Science, January, 1866.
"On the so-called Pacchionian Bodies." "Trans, of the Microsc. Soc," July, 1866.
"On the Pathology of Tubercular Meningitis." Edinburgh Journal of Medical Science, April, 1867.
"On a Case of Concussion-Lesion of the Spinal Cord, with Extensive Ascending and Descending Secondary Degenerations." "Trans, of Medico-Chir. Soc," 1867.
"On Cirrhosis of the Lungs." "Reynolds's System of Medicine," vol. iii.

Also the sections on "Pathology and Morbid Anatomy" of the following joint articles (by Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Bastian) appeared in "System of Medicine," vol. ii.: "Cerebritis;" "Non-Inflammatory Softening of the Brain;" "Congestion of the Brain;" "Hypertrophy of the Brain;" "Adventitious Products in the Brain."
"Modes of Origin of Lowest Organisms." Macmillan, May, 1871.
"The Beginnings of Life," 2 vols., Appletons, 1872.
"Evolution and the Origin of Life," Macmillan, 1874.
"On Paralysis from Brain-Disease in its Common Forms," Appletons, 1875.