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FREDERICK GOWLAND HOPKINS JOSEPH NEEDHAM, F.R.S.* It would be die greatest ofhonors and ofpleasures for any biochemist to stand in my place diis evening. Aldiough I am sure that most of my colleagues would perform this function much better and more suitably, I take refuge in die old saying that "die unwordiiness of die minister hinderedi not the effect of die sacrament." For diis assembly, in which others are most welcome, symbolizes die feeling ofdiscipleship which all biochemists have for Frederick Gowland Hopkins, essentially die founder ofmodern biochemistry in the United Kingdom. My wife and I, together with all Cambridge colleagues of our generation, and some from elsewhere too, who had the good fortune to live in daily contact with him for many years, all felt that he was truly in loco parentis to us, far more so dian any ofour college tutors when we were passing dirough our undergraduate days. Although I was never myselfinvolved in research alone or with, odiers on Hopkins' most celebrated subject, die biochemistry and physiology of the "accessory food substances," I can claim one litde thing—I was diere on die occasion ofdie meeting ofdie British Medical Association in Cambridge in 1920 when die protagonists and opponents of the concept of vitamins came into head-on collision, widi die victory going to the former [1]. Forty-one years ago I was still an undergraduate, but one ofthe endiusiastic following diat Hopkins always had, and no doubt because of diis was asked to stay and give some demonstrations to die medical men who were assembling for the conference. The unusual enrolment ofa secondyear student in the biochemical ranks was at die invitation of Hopkins' fidus Achates, Sydney W. Cole, widi whom he had first isolated the amino * Fellowand President ofCaius College, Cambridge. This Frederick Gowland Hopkins Centenary Lecture was presented November 20, 1961, in the University ofCambridge. Its publication here was made possible through the generosity ofThe Burroughs Wellcome Fund. Joseph Needham · Frederick Gowland Hopkins Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Autumn 1962 acid tryptophan. It gave me the opportunity to hear those classical debates often subsequendy summarized by historians of the subject. Presendy I shall return to the epic ofdie discovery ofthe vitamins. I. The Explosion oflnogen Before proceeding further, however, I would like to try to define briefly what it was that made the life ofHopkins such a turning point in die modern history ofbiochemical science. I think he was one ofthe great victors in the perennial contest between optimistic analysis and obscurantist organicism. There is, ofcourse, a true organicism, a true organic philosophy ofnature, which understands that die great problem not only of life and living things but of everything in die natural world concerns dynamic structural relationships in space-time patterns. But die human mindvery oftentendsto regard certain complexphenomenaat a particular level as "inexplicable" when they are really not so. As the decades and centuries pass, men find it possible to penetrate further and further into the mysteries oforganic structure in the universe. In Hopkins two things were significandy combined: die training and tastes ofan organic chemist, and die imagination ofa biologist and physician. Intrinsically, ofcourse, these were his own, but they were induced in him by a rather unusual life history. This I will recount in its place. Before Hopkins' time, a particular kind ofobscurantist organicism was dominant in the field then called "chemical physiology." One can sense it, for example, in a book such as that ofSheridan Lea (Hopkins' predecessor in Cambridge in the '80s and '90s), which I once had die good fortune to pick up in a secondhand bookshop in Cambridge [2]—a slim green volume; in fact, an appendix to Michael Foster's Textbook ofPhysiology. This «0« possumus philosophy implied that aldiough one could analyze die organic and inorganic materials entering into living bodies in the form of food and drink, although one could analyze gaseous exchange and die solid or liquid materials excreted from the body, it would probably never be possible to understand the chemical processes which were going on within die living body itself. The chemical factory behind its high walls was, it was felt, altogether too complicated, substances of comparatively simple...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 2-46j
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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