Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/269

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257
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF PROFESSOR DUMAS.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF PROFESSOR DUMAS.
By A. W. HOFMANN.[1]

THIS able chemist and distinguished man of science, now eighty years of age, and still fulfilling, with almost youthful freshness, the duties of Permanent Secretary to the Academy of Sciences, has been identified with the progress of science in France during half a century, and has gone through an amount of active, diversified labor which has hardly a parallel among his contemporaries.

Jean-Baptiste André Dumas was born at Alais, in the department of Gard, July 14, 1800. His father was clerk of the municipality, and a cultivated man. He early studied Latin in the college of his native town, and became interested in the classical traditions of his neighborhood, which had many imposing remains of Roman antiquity. But the situation was one calculated to foster an interest also in the objects of nature and the processes of science and art. There were coal-mines, glass-works, brick-yards, tile-works, manufactories of coarse earthenware, lime-kilns, vitriol-factories, and mines of iron, lead, and antimony, all in the immediate region of Alais. The lessons of these industries were not lost upon young Dumas, who, at fourteen years of age, had acquired a rudimentary knowledge of the several natural sciences. At this time he was apprenticed to an apothecary. But there was not much opportunity of scientific study, and this, added to the political and military distraction of the time, inspired him with a strong desire to quit his native town.

In 1816 Dumas accordingly went to Geneva, Here he found scope for study and opportunities to begin a career. He attended the lectures on botany by M, de Candolle, on physics by M. Pictet, and on chemistry by M. Gaspard de la Rive. He had the superintendence of a large pharmaceutical laboratory, which was found deficient in apparatus. But a supply was rapidly improvised. To obtain gas-jars, lamp-chimneys were closed with watch-glasses, cemented on with wax. An old bronze syringe was turned into an air-pump, and barometer-tubes bent over a flame completed the stock of apparatus. Gradually the laboratory improved. As the ambition of the young Professor grew, he began to long for a chemical balance. This wish also was satisfied; with the aid of some workmen in a watch-maker's shop an instrument was constructed which enabled him to begin his analytical researches. He here commenced earnestly the study of chemistry, and began at once the work of research. One of his little discoveries had the following result: When analyzing various sulphates and other salts of commerce, he had observed that the water they contained was

  1. Condensed from the excellent "Life of Dumas" in "Nature," February 6, 1880.