1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kölliker, Rudolph Albert von

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KÖLLIKER, RUDOLPH ALBERT VON (1817–1905), Swiss anatomist and physiologist, was born at Zürich on the 6th of July 1817. His father and his mother were both Zürich people, and he in due time married a lady from Aargau, so that Switzerland can claim him as wholly her own, though he lived the greater part of his life in Germany. His early education was carried on in Zürich, and he entered the university there in 1836. After two years, however, he moved to the university of Bonn, and later to that of Berlin, becoming at the latter place the pupil of Johannes Müller and of F. G. J. Henle. He graduated in philosophy at Zürich in 1841, and in medicine at Heidelberg in 1842. The first academic post which he held was that of prosector of anatomy under Henle; but his tenure of this office was brief, for in 1844 his native city called him back to its university to occupy a chair as professor extraordinary of physiology and comparative anatomy. His stay here too, however, was brief, for in 1847 the university of Würzburg, attracted by his rising fame, offered him the post of professor of physiology and of microscopical and comparative anatomy. He accepted the appointment, and at Würzburg he remained thenceforth, refusing all offers tempting him to leave the quiet academic life of the Bavarian town, where he died on the 2nd of November 1905.

Kölliker’s name will ever be associated with that of the tool with which during his long life he so assiduously and successfully worked, the microscope. The time at which he began his studies coincided with that of the revival of the microscopic investigation of living beings. Two centuries earlier the great Italian Malpighi had started, and with his own hand had carried far the study by the help of the microscope of the minute structure of animals and plants. After Malpighi this branch of knowledge, though continually progressing, made no remarkable bounds forward until the second quarter of the 19th century, when the improvement of the compound microscope on the one hand, and the promulgation by Theodor Schwann and Matthias Schleiden of the “cell theory” on the other, inaugurated a new era of microscopic investigation. Into this new learning Kölliker threw himself with all the zeal of youth, wisely initiated into it by his great teacher Henle, whose sober and exact mode of inquiry went far at the time to give the new learning a right direction and to counteract the somewhat fantastic views which, under the name of the cell theory, were tending to be prominent. Henle’s labours were for the most part limited to the microscopic investigation of the minute structure of the tissues of man and of the higher animals, the latter being studied by him mainly with the view of illustrating the former. But Kölliker had another teacher besides Henle, the even greater Johannes Müller, whose active mind was sweeping over the whole animal kingdom, striving to pierce the secrets of the structure of living creatures of all sorts, and keeping steadily in view the wide biological problems of function and of origin, which the facts of structure might serve to solve. We may probably trace to the influence of these two great teachers, strengthened by the spirit of the times, the threefold character of Kölliker’s long-continued and varied labours. In all of them, or in almost all of them, the microscope was the instrument of inquiry, but the problem to be solved by means of the instrument belonged now to one branch of biology, now to another.

At Zürich, and afterwards at Würzburg, the title of the chair which he held laid upon him the duty of teaching comparative anatomy, and very many of the numerous memoirs which he published, including the very first paper which he wrote, and which appeared in 1841 before he graduated, “On the Nature of the so-called Seminal Animalcules,” were directed towards elucidating, by help of the microscope, the structure of animals of the most varied kinds—that is to say, were zoological in character. Notable among these were his papers on the Medusae and allied creatures. His activity in this direction led him to make zoological excursions to the Mediterranean Sea and to the coasts of Scotland, as well as to undertake, conjointly with his friend C. T. E. von Siebold, the editorship of the Zeitschrift für Wissenschaftliche Zoologie, which, founded in 1848, continued under his hands to be one of the most important zoological periodicals.

At the time when Kölliker was beginning his career the influence of Karl Ernst von Baer’s embryological teaching was already being widely felt, men were learning to recognize the importance to morphological and zoological studies of a knowledge of the development of animals; and Kölliker plunged with enthusiasm into the relatively new line of inquiry. His earlier efforts were directed to the invertebrata, and his memoir on the development of cephalopods, which appeared in 1844, is a classical work; but he soon passed on to the vertebrata, and studied not only the amphibian embryo and the chick, but also the mammalian embryo. He was among the first, if not the very first, to introduce into this branch of biological inquiry the newer microscopic technique—the methods of hardening, section-cutting and staining. By doing so, not only was he enabled to make rapid progress himself, but he also placed in the hands of others the means of a like advance. The remarkable strides forward which embryology made during the middle and during the latter half of the 19th century will always be associated with his name. His Lectures on Development, published in 1861, at once became a standard work.

But neither zoology nor embryology furnished Kölliker’s chief claim to fame. If he did much for these branches of science, he did still more for histology, the knowledge of the minute structure of the animal tissues. This he made emphatically his own. It may indeed be said that there is no fragment of the body of man and of the higher animals on which he did not leave his mark, and in more places than one his mark was a mark of fundamental importance. Among his earlier results may be mentioned the demonstration in 1847 that smooth or unstriated muscle is made up of distinct units, of nucleated muscle-cells. In this work he followed in the footsteps of his master Henle. A few years before this men were doubting whether arteries were muscular, and no solid histological basis as yet existed for those views as to the action of the nervous system on the circulation, which were soon to be put forward, and which had such a great influence on the progress of physiology. By the above discovery Kölliker completed that basis.

Even to enumerate, certainly to dwell on, all his contributions to histology would be impossible here: smooth muscle, striated muscle, skin, bone, teeth, blood-vessels and viscera were all investigated by him; and he touched none of them without striking out some new truths. The results at which he arrived were recorded partly in separate memoirs, partly in his great textbook on microscopical anatomy, which first saw the light in 1850, and by which he advanced histology no less than by his own researches. In the case of almost every tissue our present knowledge contains something great or small which we owe to Kölliker; but it is on the nervous system that his name is written in largest letters. So early as 1845, while still at Zürich, he supplied what was as yet still lacking, the clear proof that nerve-fibres are continuous with nerve-cells, and so furnished the absolutely necessary basis for all sound speculations as to the actions of the central nervous system. From that time onward he continually laboured, and always fruitfully, at the histology of the nervous system, and more especially at the difficult problems presented by the intricate patterns in which fibres and cells are woven together in the brain and spinal cord. In his old age, at a time when he had fully earned the right to fold his arms, and to rest and be thankful, he still enriched neurological science with results of the highest value. From his early days a master of method, he saw at a glance the value of the new Golgi method for the investigation of the central nervous system, and, to the great benefit of science, took up once more in his old age, with the aid of a new means, the studies for which he had done so much in his youth. It may truly be said that much of that exact knowledge of the inner structure of the brain, which is rendering possible new and faithful conceptions of its working, came from his hands.

Lastly, Kölliker was in his earlier years professor of physiology as well as of anatomy; and not only did his histological labours almost always carry physiological lessons, but he also enriched physiology with the results of direct researches of an experimental kind, notably those on curare and some other poisons. In fact, we have to go back to the science of centuries ago to find a man of science of so many-sided an activity as he. His life constituted in a certain sense a protest against that specialized differentiation which, however much it may under certain aspects be regretted, seems to be one of the necessities of modern development. In Johannes Müller’s days no one thought of parting anatomy and physiology; nowadays no one thinks of joining them together. Kölliker did in his work join them together, and indeed said himself that he thought they ought never to be kept apart.

Naturally a man of so much accomplishment was not left without honours. Formerly known simply as Kölliker, the title “von” was added to his name. He was made a member of the learned societies of many countries; in England, which he visited more than once, and where he became well known, the Royal Society made him a fellow in 1860, and in 1897 gave him its highest token of esteem, the Copley medal.  (M. F.)