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Lazzaro Spallanzani

Distinguished eighteenth-century scientist, b. at Scandiano in Modena, Italy, January 10, 1729; d. at Pavia, February 12, 1799

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Spallanzani, LAZZARO, a distinguished eighteenth-century scientist, b. at Scandiano in Modena, Italy, January 10, 1729; d. at Pavia, February 12, 1799. His early education was received at the Jesuit College of Reggio. His scientific career began at the University of Bologna under the inspiration of his cousin, Laura Bassi, the famous woman professor of natural philosophy and mathematics. He gave up the study of law and was ordained a priest; at twenty-five he became professor of logic, metaphysics, and Greek in the University of Reggio. His favorite authors were Homer, Demosthenes, and St. Basil, and his work attracted so much attention that he was offered chairs at Coimbra (Portugal), Parma, and Cesena (Italy). He preferred a chair at Modena (1760) and devoted all his spare time to natural science. His work here brought offers of professorships at other Italian universities and from the Academy of St. Petersburg. In 1768, at the personal solicitation of the Empress Maria Theresa, he accepted the chair of natural history in the University of Pavia which was then being reorganized. He greatly enriched the museum here by collections made in journeys in Switzerland and along the Mediterranean. After the death of Vallisneri, whose chair at Padua had been the center of interest in the natural sciences, Spallanzani was invited to take it, but the Austrian authorities doubled his salary and gave him a long leave of absence for a scientific expedition in Turkey to retain him. His home-coming was an ovation. He continued to make scientific journeys and special studies of Vesuvius and the volcanoes of Sicily and of the Lipari Islands. His contributions to every phase of physical science are valuable, but it was in biology that his work counted for most; his studies in regeneration are still classic. He showed experimentally that many animals like the lizard and the snail, if accidentally injured, regenerate important parts of their bodies; the land snail regenerates even its head. It was afterwards shown that this does not contain the brain, but it does contain eyes, mouth, tongue, and teeth, and these are all regenerated. Spallanzani made a long series of interesting experiments on artificial fecundation. His most important work is “Dissertazioni di fisica animate e vegetale” (Modena, 1780). His researches were so much appreciated that he was made a member of academies and learned societies in London, Madrid, Stockholm, Upsala, Gottingen, Holland, Lyons, Bologna, Milan, Siena, Turin, Padua, Mantua, Geneva, and Berlin. The University of Paris, then the most important of universities for the sciences, tempted him to come as a professor. His personal character was charming and he made many friends. His biological work brought him into controversies with Needham and Buffon over spontaneous generation, and with John Hunter over digestion. He came off victorious in both contests but with such gentle courtesy as not to offend, though his opponents in the taste of the time indulged in personalities. His family were devoted to him, and his sister Marianne herself became a distinguished naturalist while helping him. He was devoutly religious, and as Senebier says, “he perceived with firmness his end approaching and endeavored by his piety and his faith to edify those who surrounded him.”

JAMES J. WALSH


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