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Reviewed by:
  • Rudolf Virchow und Emil du Bois-Reymond: “Briefe, 1864–1894”
  • Francis Schiller
Klaus Wenig. Rudolf Virchow und Emil du Bois-Reymond: “Briefe, 1864–1894.” Marburg, Germany: Basilisken-Presse, 1995. 214 pp. Ill. DM 110.00.

Both living in Berlin before the introduction of the telephone and at some distance from one another, these two Wissenschaftspersönlichkeiten apparently met almost exclusively at official gatherings, such as the meetings of the Prussian Academy of Sciences where du Bois-Reymond was the Secretary (and had preceded Virchow as a member). Du Bois-Reymond’s letters are preserved in the Academy’s archives, Virchow’s in the Berlin State Library. Their equally high status in the scientific community and their liberal political persuasion gave rise to this friendly, professionally oriented correspondence, starting in their forties. The volume contains fourteen letters by Virchow and fifty-five by du Bois-Reymond; Virchow addressed du Bois-Reymond as “Honored friend,” against the latter’s “Dear Virchow.” In addition to the correspondence, there is a forty-one-page section of “documents” (pp. 155–96), which include du Bois-Reymond’s three-and-one-half-page motion for Virchow’s election to the Academy, and their joint appeals for the erection of the Humboldt statue, as well as a proposition for the use of the Humboldt funds to support overseas research. There is also an appeal for financial support regarding some anthropological research in Armenia, signed by Virchow and du Bois-Reymond’s widow, an active anthropologist, as well as one short note to her in 1899, three years after her husband’s demise.

Virchow’s first letter is an instructive and lively summary of his cellular pathology—for example, “The diseased cell has become the ens morbi.” It was written to underpin du Bois-Reymond’s proposal of electing him to membership in the Academy, which took place nine years later on account of political opposition (letter 11, p. 81). Several letters concern the erection of a statue for Alexander von Humboldt; others are in support of overseas expeditions for the [End Page 163] study of anthropological and similar projects, or refer to the reactionary attitude to Darwin in Prussia, as opposed to the attitude of the British who buried him in Westminster Abbey (letter 48, p. 111; note, p. 142).

The editor has provided an excellent fifty-page summary of the two men’s “Development and Life Stations,” and there are a few pictures of contemporary Berlin sculptures and buildings. To all those who rightly appreciate the enormous basic contribution by these two personalities to neuropathology and neurophysiology, respectively, this very well annotated correspondence will be a welcome additional resource.

Francis Schiller
University of California, San Francisco

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