Spallanzani, Lazarus

, a celebrated modern naturalist, was born at Scandiano, in Italy, Jan. 10, 1729, and studied polite literature under the Jesuits at Reggio de Modena, whence he removed to Bologna, where his relation Laura Bassi, a lady deservedly celebrated for her genius, eloquence, and knowledge of natural philosophy and mathematics, was at that time one of the most illustrious professors of Italy. Under this instructor, he improved his taste for philosophy, but bestowed at the same time much attention in the cultivation of his native language, and became a very accomplished Latin, Greek, and French scholar. His father had destined him for the law as a profession, but Vallisneri, the professor of natural history at Padua, was the means of diverting him from this pursuit, and he soon acquired such reputation, that in 1754, the university of Keggio chose him professor of logic, metaphysics, and Greek. This, however, was not his final | destination, for, during the six years that he held this office, he devoted all his leisure hours to those physical researches which constituted the basis of his fame. Some new discoveries excited his passion for natural history, which was continually augmented by the success of his early efforts; and his observations upon the animalculae in infusions attracted the attention of Haller and Bonnet, and various universities, Coimbra, Parma, and Cesena, tempted him with flattering offers, but he preferred an invitation to be professor at Modena, in 1760, where about five years afterwards he published a pamphlet, in which he proved by many ingenious experiments the anirnality of microscopical animalcuia; and in the same year a truly original dissertation “De lapidibus ab aqua resilientibus.” Here he demonstrates, by the most strking experiments, contrary to the received opinion, that the phenomenon which is called by children “ducks and drakes,” is not produced by the elasticity of the water, but by the change of direction which the stone undergoes in its motion after having struck upon the water when it ascends the inflection of the cavity indented by the shock.

In 1768 he published his “Prospectus on the reproduction of animals,” which explains the method that ought to be followed in this dark research, and contains many unexpected facts; particularly the existence of tadpoles, prior to the period of fecundation in many species of toads and frogs: the regeneration of the head in decapitated bodies of snails, which he had already communicated to Bounet in 1766. This he finally demonstrated some time afterwards in a work entitled “Memorie della Societa Italiana.” The physiology of Haller, which Spallanzani studied, fixed his attention upon the circulation of the blood, in which he discovered many remarkable phenomena, and published some tracts on the subject containing a series of curious observations and experiments.

When the university of Padua was re-established upon a more extensive plan, the empress Maria-Theresa, invited Spallanzani to fill the chair of professor of natural history; and in commencing his duties, he selected Bonnet’s “Contemplation de la Nature” as his text-book, supplying its deficiencies, and illustrating Bonnet’s theory by his own experiments. He likewise published an Italian translation of it, enriched with notes and a preface, 1769 and 1770, in 2 vols. His study and admiration of Bonnet’s works led | him particularly to researches on the generation of organic bodies, a subject which for a considerable time engrossed his whole attention. In 1776 he published the first two volumes of his “Opusculi di Fisica Animale e Vegetable,” which consist of illustrations of a part of the microscopical observations which had already appeared. In the mean time, having been placed at the head of the university’s cabinet of natural history, then in a very low state, he greatly enriched it, in the course of his repeated travels by land and sea, in Europe and Asia, some of which he afterwards published. In 1780 appeared his two new volumes of a “Dissertation on the physiology of animals and vegetables.” The first contains some experiments made by him on digestion, the result of which is a confirmation of the agency of the gastric fluid in man and other animals, and the second treats of the generation of animals and plants. In 1791, he published a letter addressed to professor Fortis, upon the Pennet hydroscope; he there relates the experiments which he had directed to be made for ascertaining the degree of confidence which might be allowed to the singular talents of this man; but he ingenuously confesses, that he is not decided upon the reality of the phenomenon. Spallanzani, however, in 1792-3, made a discovery of this kind, by which we learn that the bats, if blinded, act in every respect with the same precision as those which have their eyes; that they in the same manner avoid the most trifling obstacles, and that they know where to fix themselves on ceasing their flight. These extraordinary experiments were confirmed by several natural philosophers, and gave occasion to suspect a nevr sense in these birds, because Spallanzani thought he had evinced that the other senses could not supply the deficiency of that sight, which he had deprived them of.

These numerous works did not, however, contain all the series of Spallanzani’s labours. He had been occupied a considerable time upon the phenomena of respiration; their resemblances and differences i:i a great number of species of animals; and he was busily employed in reducing to order his researches upon this subject. He left a large collection of experiments, and new observations upon animal reproductions, upon sponges, the nature of which he determines, and upon many interesting phenomena, which he knew how to draw out of obscurity. He had almost finished his voyage to Constantinople, and had amassed considerable materials for a history of the sea, | France, Germany, and England, were all eager to avail themselves of his works by means of translations, tie was admitted into the academies and learned societies of London, Stockholm, Gottingen, Holland, Lyons, Bologna, Turin, Padua, Mantua, and Geneva. He was a correspondent of the academy of sciences of Paris and of Montpelier: and received from the great Frederick himself the diploma of member of the academy of Berlin, holding even often a direct correspondence with him. This eminent philosopher died Feb. 17, 1798, not less admired for his private very amiable character, than for the extensive reputation which his lectures, his experiments, and his publications had established. Highly, however, as his experiments have been commended, we must enter our protest against the cruelty with which they were mostly accompanied, and cannot think that the value of the object to be attained, or indeed any object, can justify the destruction of so many living creatures by the most painful and lingering torments.1

1 Life by Tourdes, prefixed to his “Experiments on the Circulation of the Blood,” translated by Dr. Hall, Lonch 1801, 8vo. Eloge by Senebicr, prefixed lo Lis “Memoir on Respiration,1804, 8vo.