1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bernard, Claude

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BERNARD, CLAUDE (1813–1878), French physiologist, was born on the 12th of July 1813 in the village of Saint-Julien near Villefranche. He received his early education in the Jesuit school of that town, and then proceeded to the college at Lyons, which, however, he soon left to become assistant in a druggist’s shop. His leisure hours were devoted to the composition of a vaudeville comedy, La Rose du Rhône, and the success it achieved moved him to attempt a prose drama in five acts, Arthur de Bretagne. At the age of twenty-one he went to Paris, armed with this play and an introduction to Saint-Marc Girardin, but the critic dissuaded him from adopting literature as a profession, and urged him rather to take up the study of medicine. This advice he followed, and in due course became interne at the Hôtel Dieu. In this way he was brought into contact with the great physiologist, F. Magendie, who was physician to the hospital, and whose official préparateur at the Collège de France he became in 1841. Six years afterwards he was appointed his deputy-professor at the collège, and in 1855 he succeeded him as full professor. Some time previously he had been chosen the first occupant of the newly-instituted chair of physiology at the Sorbonne. There no laboratory was provided for his use, but Louis Napoleon, after an interview with him in 1864, supplied the deficiency, at the same time building a laboratory at the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes, and establishing a professorship, which Bernard left the Sorbonne to accept in 1868—the year in which he was admitted a member of the Institute. He died in Paris on the 10th of February 1878 and was accorded a public funeral—an honour which had never before been bestowed by France on a man of science.

Claude Bernard’s first important work was on the functions of the pancreas gland, the juice of which he proved to be of great significance in the process of digestion; this achievement won him the prize for experimental physiology from the Academy of Sciences. A second investigation—perhaps his most famous—was on the glycogenic function of the liver; in the course of this he was led to the conclusion, which throws light on the causation of diabetes, that the liver, in addition to secreting bile, is the seat of an “internal secretion,” by which it prepares sugar at the expense of the elements of the blood passing through it. A third research resulted in the discovery of the vaso-motor system. While engaged, about 1851, in examining the effects produced in the temperature of various parts of the body by section of the nerve or nerves belonging to them, he noticed that division of the cervical sympathetic gave rise to more active circulation and more forcible pulsation of the arteries in certain parts of the head, and a few months afterwards he observed that electrical excitation of the upper portion of the divided nerve had the contrary effect. In this way he established the existence of vaso-motor nerves—both vaso-dilatator and vaso-constrictor. The study of the physiological action of poisons was also a favourite one with him, his attention being devoted in particular to curare and carbon monoxide gas. The earliest announcements of his results, the most striking of which were obtained in the ten years from about 1850 to 1860, were generally made in the recognized scientific publications; but the full exposition of his views, and even the statement of some of the original facts, can only be found in his published lectures. The various series of these Leçons fill seventeen octavo volumes. He also published Introduction à la médecine expérimentale (1865), and Physiologie générale (1872).

An English Life of Bernard, by Sir Michael Foster, was published in London in 1899.