Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/June 1881/Sketch of Julius Adolph Stöckhardt

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627381Popular Science Monthly Volume 19 June 1881 — Sketch of Julius Adolph Stöckhardt1881Wilbur Olin Atwater



By Professor W. O. ATWATER.

A FEW miles from Dresden, in one of the many picturesque regions of Saxony, cozily stowed away at the confluence of three lovely valleys, lies the little village of Tharandt, known to a few pleasure-seekers as a charming summer resort, and to the world at large as the seat of a famous school of forestry and agriculture. On an eminence overlooking the village, and itself overlooked by the picturesque ruin of what was once a hunting-castle of the princes of Saxony, is the house; in the village below are the school, the laboratory, and the experiment station; and hard by are the experimental garden and fields where the subject of our sketch, Julius Adolph Stöckhardt, lives and labors. For nearly forty years he has been engaged, by researches, by lectures, by writing, and by the publishing of journals, in promoting and popularizing the science of chemistry, especially in its applications to the culture of the soil. In carrying science to the people, and in presenting it in such ways that the most learned can not criticise nor the most ignorant fail to understand, that every one who reads or listens shall wish to read or listen more, and that the facts when comprehended may be successfully and profitably applied to practice, few living men are his peers. And, as an author as well as interpreter of researches, Stöckhardt ranks among the ablest of the early leaders in this, the golden age of agricultural chemistry.

He was born at Röhrsdorf, near Meissen, in Saxony, January 4, 1809. After receiving a classical education, he studied pharmacy and the natural sciences for several years, and was graduated in 1833 as an apothecary of the first class. In 1834 he traveled in Belgium, England, and France, then devoted himself to pharmaceutical study and research, and in 1838 received the degree of Ph. D. from the University of Leipsic. He then entered upon the teaching of natural science in Dresden, and afterward in the technological school at Chemnitz, and was also appointed inspector of apothecaries. His rare talent for presenting scientific knowledge of matters usually obscure was soon recognized by both students and citizens, and the remarkable power of critical observation displayed in his writings ("Untersuchung der Zwickauer Steinkohle," 1840; "Ueber Erkennung und Anwendung der Giftfarbe," 1844, etc.) was the occasion of almost innumerable applications for the investigation of commercial problems, and demands for his opinion upon scientific and legal questions. In 1843 he traveled in Belgium and France to perfect himself in technological science. In 1846 he published his "Schule der Chemie," which in 1861 had reached its twelfth edition; had been translated into eight different languages, and was used by scores of thousands of students the world over. The current American translation of this work, "Stöckhardt's Principles of Chemistry," is very widely and pleasantly known among teachers and students in this country.

In 1844 Stöckhardt began a course of popular agricultural lectures before the Chemnitz Agricultural Society. To these lectures may be traced the beginning of the movement which, eight years later, resulted in the establishment at Möckern, Saxony, of the first of the agricultural experiment stations, of which there are now over one hundred in Europe and several in the United States, and from whose work, it may be said without exaggeration, has emanated a great part—perhaps the greater part—of our accurate knowledge of the principles of chemistry and physiology that underlie the right practice of agriculture. On the occasion of the celebration, in 1877, of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Möckern Station, three albums, with photographs of the directors of the experiments at that time established, were provided: one for the parent station at Möckern, one for Professor von Wolff, its first director; and one for Professor Stöckhardt in consideration of his services in founding and promoting that and other stations.

From 1846 to 1849 Stockhardt was editor of the "Polytechnisches Centralblatt," and from 1850 to 1855 of the "Zeitschrift für deutsche Landwirthe." In 1848 he was appointed Professor of Agricultural Chemistry in the Royal Academy at Tharandt, where a new chair had been founded purposely for him, and where he has since remained. Since then, extending his idea of popular agricultural instruction, he has given plain conversational lectures to farmers' clubs and societies in Saxony and other parts of Germany, explaining the improvement in agriculture which chemical science has shown to be desirable, and illustrating them with experiments where practicable. The more important of these lectures have been published with the title "Chemische Feldpredigten" ("Chemical Field-Sermons"), and have been translated into several languages. In 1855 he established at Leipsic "Der chemische Ackersmann," a journal which was continued until 1876, when increase of years and cares, and the doing away of its necessity by the establishment, with his aid, of another journal, "Die Landwirthschaftlichen Versuchs-Stationen," occasioned its discontinuance.

But this brief outline of his career gives very little idea of Stockhardt as a man, an investigator, a teacher, and an expounder of the occult facts of science. To know him in these relations one must see him at his home, among his friends, in his study, his laboratory, his lecture-room, with students and farmers, and must read him in his books.

In appearance and demeanor he is plain and quiet. In social intercourse he is approachable, kind, ready for a pleasantry, a laugh, or to impart from the great store of his learning whatever the earnest inquirer may need. In the lecture-room his talk is so simple and familiar that the most abstruse principles seem like every-day facts; and his illustrations, drawn from the ordinary and homely experiences of common life, are so clear, pat, and to the point, that one can neither fail to feel their force nor forget their application. With farmers, be they great landholders or humble peasants, his information and explanations are always plain, attractive, practical, and suited to the occasion and the men. And everywhere he is the earnest, laborious, learned, and reverent student, the kindly, faithful instructor, and the worthy man.

Among the especial services Stöckhardt has rendered as teacher and promoter of science is one which, perhaps, is best illustrated in his text-book of chemistry ("Schule der Chemie"), the setting forth of the idea that the right way to teach science is by bringing the student into direct contact with nature, by making him an observer, an investigator, and thus his own best teacher. In the preface to the twelfth edition of this book, he says:

Experiments must be the foundation of theory. With them the beginner should learn to observe, reflect, and judge; from them he should himself unfold the general chemical relations and truths; he should himself discover, and in this way by his own efforts, along with manual dexterity, acquire an intellectual possession also. Every experiment and every fact observed therein will thus be to him a conquest, and will incite to new exertion.

Accordingly the book abounds with simple experiments to be made with apparatus which any student may get and handle, and is yet sufficient to illustrate, enforce, and impress the truths that are taught, and, what is better, to enable the learner to find the highest inspiration in working out the truths himself. How useful this system of instruction, as thus set forth by Stöckhardt, has proved, may be inferred from the wide circulation of the book as mentioned above, and the facts that sets of apparatus put up to go with it were sent to all parts of Germany, to England, and to Russia, and that a depot for their sale was established in New York.

Of Stöckhardt's greatest work, the promotion of agricultural science, perhaps the best idea may be got from his "Chemical Field Sermons," which show his methods of popularizing science, and especially from his journal, "Der chemische Ackersmann," in which both his popular treatises and his scientific investigations have been published.

As a discoverer, Stöckhardt, though well known, is outranked by other agricultural chemists of his time. Liebig, the father of agricultural chemistry, Wolff, Henneberg, Knop, Nobbe, Stohmann, Kühn, and others in Germany, Boussingault in France, and Lawes and Gilbert in England, have each, perhaps, given the world more of new truth than he. Stöckhardt's chief labor has been to teach, to popularize, to encourage, and thus to promote science, and, withal, to help in its application to practical life. In this great work of mediating between science and the people for whose benefit science is, among those who have done most for agriculture, no man, except, perhaps, Justus Liebig, excels Julius Stöckhardt.

An inkling of the spirit in which Stöckhardt's labors for agriculture has been performed he has himself given us, perhaps unwittingly, in the illustration on the cover of his journal, "Der chemische Ackersmann" ("The Chemical Husbandman"). In the center is a rural scene. In the foreground, cattle and sheep are feeding in the comfort of a peaceful autumn day. Farther away, a reaper is laying down his sickle by the waving grain to follow the heavy load that is trundling homeward from the field. In another field a plowman has left his plow in the furrow, while he and his tired horses are enjoying a brief period of rest. Close by him are the bags of guano and bone dust to replace the precious ingredients of plant-food that have been carried away with the harvest. Beyond is the little village, with its steep-roofed cottages, and the village church surrounded by shade trees and surmounted by the tower whose bell calls the inhabitants to morning work, to vesper rest, and to Sabbath worship. Directly in front the ground has been cut away, and reveals, in the deep recesses toward which the roots of trees and herbs are seen to penetrate, a strange laboratory where imps and kobolds are busy with furnace and crucible, retort and mortar, test-tube and balance, as it were, working over the materials and concocting the compounds that are to be gathered up by the plants, and make the fruit to reward the tiller of the soil. Between this occult laboratory and the farm-work that is going on above are the words "Praxis mit Wissenschaft" ("Practice with science"). But this scene and motto are not all of the picture, nor do they typify the whole of the spirit of Stöckhardt's life and work. Above are clouds with sunbeams streaming brightly through them upon the earth below, and on them is written, "An Gottes Segen ist Alles gelegen" ("On God's blessing all depends").