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A History of Science, Volume 5(of 5) by Williams

Kindred spirits find one another out


soon this feeling leaves him. He begins to meet his fellow-workers casually here and there--in the hallways, at the distributing-tanks, in the library. There are no formal gatherings, and there are some workers who never seem to affiliate at all with the others; but in the long-run, here as elsewhere, kindred spirits find one another out; and even the unsocial ones take their share, whether or no, in the indefinable but very sensible influence of massed numbers. Presently some one suggests to the new-comer that he join some of the others of a Wednesday or Saturday evening, at a rendezvous where a number of them meet regularly. He goes, under escort of his sponsor, and is guided through one of those narrow, dark, hill-side streets of Naples where he would hardly feel secure to go alone, to a little wine-shop in what seems a veritable dungeon--a place which, if a stranger in Naples, he would never even remotely think of entering. But there he finds his confreres of the laboratory gathered about a long table, with the most conglomerate groups of Neapolitans of a seemingly doubtful class at their elbows. Each biologist has a caraffa of light wine on the table before him, and all are smoking. And, staid men of science that they are, they are chattering away on trivial topics with the animation of a company of school-boys. The stock language is probably German, for this bohemian gathering is essentially a German institution; but the Germans are polyglots, and you will hardly find yourself
lost in their company, whatever your native tongue.

Your companions will tell you that for years the laboratory fraternity have met twice a week at this homely but hospitable establishment. The host, honest Dominico Vincenzo Bifulco, will gladly corroborate the statement by bringing out for inspection a great blank-book in which successive companies of his guests from the laboratory have scrawled their names, written epigrams, or made clever sketches. That book will some day be treasured in the library of a bibliophile, but that will not be until Bifulco is dead, for while he lives he will never part with it.

One comes to look upon this bohemian wine-shop as an adjunct of the laboratory, and to feel that the free-and-easy meetings there are in their way as important for the progress of science as the private seances of the individual workers in the laboratory itself. Not because scientific topics are discussed here, though doubtless that sometimes happens, but because of that vitalizing influence of the contact of kindred spirits of which I am speaking, and because this is the one place where a considerable number of the workers at the laboratory meet together with regularity.

The men who enter into such associations go out from them revitalized, full of the spirit of propaganda. Returned to their own homes, they agitate the question of organizing marine laboratories there; and it is largely through the efforts of the graduates, so to say, of the Naples laboratory that similar institutions have been established all over the world.

Thanks largely to the original efforts of Dr. Dohrn, nearly all civilized countries with a coast-line now have their marine laboratories. France has half a dozen, two of them under government control. Russia has two on the Black Sea and one on the French Mediterranean coast. Great Britain has important stations at St. Andrews, at Liverpool, and at Plymouth. The Scandinavian peninsula has also three important stations. Germany shows a paucity by comparison, which, however, is easily understood when one reflects that the mother-laboratory at Naples is essentially a German institution despite its location.

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