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

One thing before others that has endeared Jena to Haeckel


The same complete candor of expression has marked every stage of the unfolding of Professor Haeckel's philosophical pronouncements. This fact is the more remarkable because Professor Haeckel is, so far as I am aware, the only scientist of our generation who has felt at liberty to announce, absolutely without reserve, the full conclusions to which his philosophy has carried him, when these conclusions ran counter to the prevalent prejudices of his time. Some one has said that the German universities are oases of freedom. The remark is absolutely true of Jena. It is not true, I believe, in anything like the same degree of any other German university, or of any other university in the world. One thing before others that has endeared Jena to Haeckel, and kept him there in the face of repeated flattering calls to other universities, is that full liberty of spirit has been accorded him there, as he knew it would not be accorded elsewhere. "When a man comes into the atmosphere of Jena," says Professor Haeckel, "he perforce begins to think--there is no escape from it. And he is free to let his thoughts carry him whithersoever they honestly may. My beliefs," he added, "are substantially the beliefs of my colleagues in science everywhere, as I know from private conversations; but they, unlike myself, are not free to speak the full truth as they see it. I myself would not be tolerated elsewhere, as I am well aware. Had I desired to remain in Berlin, for example, I must have kept silent. But here in Jena one is free."

And he smiles benignly as he says it. The controversies through which he has passed and the calumnies of which he has been the target have left no scars upon this broad, calm spirit.

HAECKEL AS MAN AND TEACHER

It is indeed a delightful experience to meet Professor Haeckel in the midst of his charming oasis of freedom, his beloved Jena. To reach his laboratory you walk down a narrow lane, past Schiller's house, and the garden where Schiller and Goethe used to sit and where now the new observatory stands. Haeckel's laboratory itself is a simple oblong building of yellowish brick, standing on a jutting point of land high above the street-level. Entering it, your eye is first caught by a set of simple panels in the wall opposite the door bearing six illustrious names: Aristotle, Linne, Lamarck, Cuvier, Mueller, Darwin--a Greek, a Swede, two Frenchmen, a German, and an Englishman. Such a list is significant; it tells of the cosmopolitan spirit that here holds sway.

The ground-floor of the building is occupied by a lecture-room and by the zoological collection. The latter is a good working-collection, and purports to be nothing else. Of course it does not for a moment compare with the collections of the museums in any large city of Europe or America, nor indeed is it numerically comparable with many private collections, or collections of lesser colleges in America. Similarly, when one mounts the stairs and enters the laboratory proper, he finds a room of no great dimensions and nowise startling in its appointments. It is admirably lighted, to be sure, and in all respects suitably equipped for its purpose, but it is by no means so large or so luxurious as the average college laboratory of America. Indeed, it is not to be mentioned in the same breath with the laboratories of a score or two of our larger colleges. Yet, with Haeckel here, it is unquestionably the finest laboratory in which to study zoology that exists in the world to-day, or has existed for the last third of a century.

Haeckel himself is domiciled, when not instructing his classes, in a comfortable but plain room across the hall--a room whose windows look out across the valley of the Saale on an exquisite mountain landscape, with the clear-cut mountain that Schiller's lines made famous at its focus. As you enter the room a big, robust man steps quickly forward to grasp your hand. Six feet or more in height, compactly built, without corpulence; erect, vigorous, even athletic; with florid complexion and clear, laughing, light-blue eyes that belie the white hair and whitening beard; the ensemble personifying at once kindliness and virility, simplicity and depth, above all, frank, fearless honesty, without a trace of pose or affectation--such is Ernst Haeckel. There is something about his simple, frank, earnest, sympathetic, yet robust, masculine personality that reminds one instinctively, as does his facial contour also, of Walt Whitman.


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