Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich

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BLUMENBACH, Johann Friedrich, a distinguished physiologist, was born at Gotha on the 11th of May 1752. He studied medicine at Jena, and afterwards at Göttingen, where he took the degree of doctor in 1775. His thesis on that occasion De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa, published in quarto, was the germ of those craniological researches to which so many of his subsequent inquiries were directed; and such was the opinion entertained of his acquirements, that he was appointed an adjunct or extraordinary professor of medicine in the following year, and ordinary professor in 1778; soon after which period he began to enrich the pages of the Medicinische Bibliothek, of which he was editor from 1780 to 1794, with various contributions on medicine, physiology, and anatomy. In physiology he was of the school of Haller, and was in the habit of illustrating his theory by a careful comparison of the animal functions of man with those of the lower animals. His reputation was much extended by the publication of his excellent Institutiones Physiologicæ, a condensed, well-arranged view of the animal functions, expounded without discussion of minute anatomical details. This work appeared in 1787, and between its first publication and 1821 went through many editions in Germany, where it was the general text-book of the science. It was translated into English in America by Caldwell in 1798, and in London by Elliotson in 1807.

Blumenbach was perhaps still more extensively known by his admirable Handbuch of comparative anatomy, of which the German editions were numerous, from its appearance in 1805 to 1824. It was translated into English in 1809 by the eminent surgeon Lawrence, and again, with the latest improvements and editions, by Coulson in 1827. This manual of Blumenbach's, though slighter than the subsequent works of Cuvier, Carus, and others, and not to be compared with such recent expositions as that of Gegenbaur, will always be esteemed for the accuracy of the author's own observations, and his just appreciation of the labours of his predecessors.

One of the most extensive of Blumenbach's works was the Decas Collectionis suæ Craniorum Diversarum Gentium illustrate, in which accurate though slight delineations of the skulls in his noble collection are given, with brief descriptions of each. It appeared in fasciculi, until sixty crania were represented, — exhibiting in a striking manner the peculiarities in form of the skulls of different nations, and justifying the division of the human race into several great varieties or families, of which he enumerated five — the Caucasian or white race, the Mongolian or Tatar, the Malayan or brown race, the Negro or black race, and the American or red race. The classification he thus proposed has been very generally received, and most later schemes have been modifications of it. For these see the article Anthropology, vol. ii. p. 113.

Although the greatest part of Blumenbach's long life was passed at Göttingen, in 1789 he found leisure to visit Switzerland, and gave a curious medical topography of that country in his Bibliothek. He was in England in 1788 and 1792. The Prince Regent conferred on him the office of physician to the royal family in Hanover in 1816, and made him knight companion of the Guelphic order in 1821. The Royal Academy of Paris elected him a member in 1831. He died at Göttingen on the 22d of January 1840.