The Coil of Life: The Story of the Great Discoveries in the Life Sciences

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

IV
WOHLER AND LIEBIG: MAKABLE BY MAN

IN THE SAME YEAR that Bichat published his Treatise on Tissues-- 1800--and forced the world to recognize that the heart and other organs were not mystical entities, another scientist was born who would carry on the attack on mysticism in the study of living things. He would show that the fluids of the body were compounds made up of the same prosaic materials as other matter.

It was not that scientists had failed up to this time to examine the fluids of the body, the blood, the saliva, the urine. They had studied these substances carefully, and on occasion had used them awesomely. But all knew without question that they were the product of the vital forces that animated all living things. They were part of the mysterious working of life itself, and thus beyond the "making" and probably the understanding of man. There was no attempt at analysis or synthesis, for why should man attempt what no man could do?

Young Friedrich Wohler was not undertaking this impossibility of impossibilities when he achieved it. He was simply pursuing the study of chemistry and seeking the answer to questions posed by his curious mind at the time he made one of the great break-through discoveries.

Wohler had always been curious about the natural world around him. As a boy in the village of Eschersheim he watched the armies of Napoleon marching through, but the collection and trading of minerals interested him far more than military pomp. A friend of his father's gave him the use of his chemical

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