Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/February 1883/Sketch of Henri Milne-Edwards
ON the 3d of April, 1881, a medal, bought with the subscriptions of the scientific men and friends of science of various nations, was presented to M. Henri Milne-Edwards by a committee of representative French men of science, in honor of the completion of his great work on "Comparative Physiology and Anatomy." This magnificent treatise—of which M. Blanchard, in making one of the presentation speeches, said: "Many authors have, with more or less of success, published treatises for those who were studying; M. Milne-Edwards alone has made one for masters"—was the fitting consummation to which nearly sixty years of scientific labor had consistently led.
M. Milne-Edwards was born on the 23d of October, 1800, at Bruges, Belgium, of English parentage, his family having come from Jamaica. After the invasion of Belgium, in 1814, the family removed to Paris, and established themselves there. M. Milne-Edwards studied medicine under the direction of his brother, William Edwards, author of a work on the influence of physical agents upon life, and afterward a member of the Institute, and was graduated as Bachelor in Letters in 1821, and Doctor of Medicine, at Paris, in 1823. In the latter year he presented several memoirs to the Academy of Sciences, among which was one on "The Influence of the Nervous System upon Digestion," which he prepared in conjunction with Breschet. In 1825 he published, in connection with Vavaseur, a "Manual of Materia Medica," of which a second edition appeared in 1828, and translations were made into English and German. His attention was afterward concentrated upon the zoölogical branches of science; and from this time on the history of his life is a record of his researches and his publications in those branches, the briefest satisfactory account of which would fill the space of an article.
In 1826 he began, with V. Audouin, a long series of researches on the anatomy, physiology, and zoölogy of the marine animals of the French coasts, for the purposes of which he, either alone, or with his co-laborers, made several sojourns at different points on the sea-shore. Between 1826 and 1830 he thus explored in succession the coasts of Granville, of the Chaussey Islands, of St. Malo, Noirmontiers, and collected the materials for his work on "The Littoral of France," in two volumes, one of which is devoted to the history of the Annelids, and was the subject of a long report by Cuvier. In the beginning of 1827 he presented to the Academy a memoir which he had prepared, in connection with M. Audouin, on the circulation of the blood in the Crustacea, which received the prize in Experimental Physiology. His "Manual of Surgical Anatomy," published in the same year, was translated into Dutch and English. During a few years following he was engaged much of his time in chemical investigations in the laboratory of M. Dumas, whose pleasure it was, in making one of the speeches on the presentation of the medal, to speak of himself as the oldest of his friends and the closest witness of the labors by which his life was made illustrious.
In 1832 he was appointed Professor of Natural History in the Collége Henri IV, and Professor of Public Hygiene and Natural History in the Central School of Arts and Manufactures. In the next year he prepared the zoölogical part of an elementary work on natural history, by himself and Achille Comte. In 1834 he published his "Elements of Zoölogy," an elementary book on zoölogy for lyceums, which is included, with a "Botany" by Jussieu and a "Mineralogy" by Beudant, in the "Elementary Course of Natural History," and a general work on the Crustacea, in three large volumes and an atlas, the last volume of which appeared in 1836. It was while he was engaged upon this work—"which has become classic, and has been the point of departure for all the studies in that grand division of the animal kingdom"—that M. Blanchard became acquainted with him, and it was of this period of his career that that friend said, in his presentation speech: "At that time much was said of your discoveries on the organization of marine animals, and of your researches on the littoral of France. . . . Generally, naturalists have studied marine animals in the cabinet; you were of the opinion that it would be better to observe them on their domain, in the actions of their life. The learned world applauded."
In 1834 he made a journey to Algeria, and on his return presented to the Academy several memoirs on the marine animals of the African coast, and also one on the changes in the color of the chameleon. His researches on the Polyps, the results of which were published in 1838, were begun at this time, and continued with the co-operation of M. J. Haime.
In 1839 he published a work on the Ascidians, prepared after investigations at St. Vaast la Hogue and Nice, and passed several months at Roscoff in making observations on the blood-circulation of the Annelids. In 1841 he published a special work on the Acalephs, Spermatophores, Cephalopods, and Eolidians. In 1844 he went to Sicily with MM. de Quatrefages and E. Blanchard, on a mission the scientific results of which were embodied in a work in three volumes, the first of which contained the account of his studies on the circulation of the mollusks. On his return from this journey, he was appointed a professor in the Faculty of Sciences in Paris, in place of M. E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, in a position to which he had already been inducted as a substitute in 1838, while he had also been appointed Professor of Natural History in the Museum, in place of V. Audouin, in 1841. It is of this period that M. Blanchard said in his eulogy: "You became professor in the Museum, and found me assistant naturalist to the chair to which all the votes designated you. I have forgotten nothing of that time from which nearly forty years now separate us. One thought ruled you, dear master, that of giving a strong impetus to our science. You excited to research by your example; by your counsel, you indicated to young naturalists the ways they should pursue. Desiring to make explorations in the warm parts of the Mediterranean littoral, you took M. de Quatrefages and myself to Sicily. We returned from there with a harvest. You brought a new light to science: you showed for the first time how certain vital functions are performed when the organic apparatus are still in a condition of relative imperfection. You were able in a short time* to furnish a thousand proofs that the sign of the highest perfection of organisms is given by the division of physiological labor. You were still young, Monsieur Milne-Edwards, but you were already saluted as a master and recognized as a chief. Witnesses of that epoch, now becoming a little rare among us, recollect how, everywhere that science was in honor, interest was taken in the investigations on the organization of marine and inferior animals that were going on in our country. We had among us, in the course of a few years, the greater portion of the zoölogists, anatomists, and physiologists of the world. The first door at which they knocked was yours. At that fortunate period for science, your health was considered quite delicate. It has since appeared to all that your love for science gave you the strength which nature had refused you."
To these investigations succeeded his studies on the structure and classification of recent and fossil Polyps, and his monograph on British fossil corals, both prepared in connection with J. Haime (1848 to 1852), and in 1851 a series of memoirs on the morphology and classification of the Crustaceans (since collected in a volume of "Carcinological Miscellanies"). His "General Tendencies of Nature," which appeared in the same year, was on a subject which had occupied him for a long time; for his first publications on the vitality of the different parts of the animal organism, and on the law of the perfectionment of animated beings by the division of physiological labor, date from 1826, and were published in the "Classical Dictionary of Natural History." A monograph on the fossil Polyps of the Palæozoic formations, published also in 1851 in co-operation with M. J. Haime,forms nearly the whole of the fifth volume of the "Archives of the Museum." Between 1857 and 1860 he published his "Natural History of the Corals Proper," and in 1858 a large volume on the "Recent Progress of Zoölogy in France."
The crowning work of his life, the "Lessons on the Comparative Anatomy and Physiology of Man and Animals," was begun in 1857, and was completed on the publication of the fourteenth volume, of five hundred pages, in 1880. This work includes all the lectures which were delivered by the author at the Museum of Natural History during the twenty-three years that it was in preparation. Professor Michael Foster said of this work, the "beautiful legacy," as Bernard has called it, of the venerable author, reviewing the ninth volume in 1870, in "Nature": "At a time when a 'differentiation' of study is carried to such an extent that many physiologists know very little about other animals than frogs, rabbits, dogs, and men, and many zoologists have a very meager acquaintance with the results of experimental physiology, such a work as this, which skillfully weaves together all the main facts of animal biology, is most wholesome reading."
M. Milne-Edwards was nominated an officer of the Legion of Honor in 1847, and a commander in the same order in 1861. He received the Copley medal of the British Royal Society in 1856, and the Boerhaave medal of the Scientific Society of the Netherlands in 1880, being the first person upon whom that medal had been conferred.
M. de Quatrefages, addressing the subject of this sketch on the occasion of the presentation of the medal to him in 1881, said: "We present this medal to you in the name of the scientific men of the world. . . . All of us here recognize your merits; we all know why our appeal for homage to be given to you has been so widely answered. The first memoir you read to the Academy was in 1823. Since that time you have unceasingly continued to enlarge the field of science by your personal researches, and to teach, by speech or the pen, your rivals first, then the generations which grew up at your side. These labors, this teaching, then, have continued for nearly sixty years. And, to crown your work, you have collected into a single book the immense treasures of knowledge amassed by this long and noble labor. Your 'Lessons' present a complete picture of the past and present of the anatomical and physiological sciences, with their infinite details and co-ordinating general ideas, always as precise as elevated. The book marks a real epoch in the history of these sciences. It is from this time for us, it will be for our posterity, what the writings of Haller were for his contemporaries and for posterity. This is what even mere strangers to your habitual studies comprehend; and this is why we are authorized to present this medal to you in the name of the whole world."
M. Dumas said: "The Academy beholds in you the guardian of the noble traditions of the learned and the most authorized representative of French science. With passion for the truth, the boldness of a strong mind, and the prudence of a wise one, you have drawn a complete picture of life in all its aspects, as a consummate anatomist, as a sharp-sighted physiologist, as a physician, and as a skilled chemist. With you, physiology, in its highest and widest acceptation, has entered permanently into the study of the classification of beings. You have had the rare happiness, my dear friend, to begin young, to pursue in your maturity, and to terminate in the fullness of your vigor, a work which will remain a monument."
The list of his works, said M. Gaston Tissandier, in his notice of them in "La Nature," in May, 1881, "has not closed, for the eminent naturalist, in spite of his years, preserves all the ardor and activity of youth; without allowing himself rest, he consecrates all his efforts to scientific progress, offering one of the finest examples it is possible to cite of a magnificent career incessantly fertilized by labor and genius."
His son, M. A. Milne-Edwards, is pursuing the same course of research with the father, and displays in it the same characteristic activity and thoroughness.