Paris: undated, but ca. January 1869.
Precious unpublished manuscript very likely corresponding to the course on general physiology that Claude Bernard delivered at the Collège de France, or possibly the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. It is illustrated with 44 sketches in pencil and ink, including a watercolor, representing tissues and cells. It is in several different hands, presumably of his students and collaborators (some names are suggested below), and includes numerous marginal corrections and annotations. Only the first few lectures are dated (from 19 to 26 January 1869). Bernard had left the Sorbonne to take up the Chair of General Physiology at the Museum in 1865. The present lectures are evidently a continuation of an earlier course which described how the tissues of the body are composed of cells: it begins with the following passage: “In my last lecture, I introduced the tissues called cells into my theory of tissues from which the body is constructed; you could see, from a series of preparations that, like all the other tissues, they were formed of distinct parts reducing to three essential elements: 1) the skeleton or enveloping membrane, 2) the apparatus of nutrition or nuclei, and 3) the active substance, which in these tissues is represented by a special protoplasm. Thus, I have almost completed the field of histology according to the new ideas that I have explained to you.” The lectures preserved in our manuscript build on that earlier course by studying the structure of the individual cells of different types in the body (nerve cells, vascular cells, muscle cells, etc.). “Claude Bernard (1813-78) is regarded as the most important contributor to experimental physiology in the nineteenth century … Bernard’s contributions are so important and so numerous that it is difficult to select one work to represent them. His major physiological discoveries included the role of the pancreas in digestion, the glycogenic function of the liver, the vasomotor innovation, and the effects of curare on neuromuscular transmission. He also introduced seminal theoretical concepts, such as that of ‘internal secretion,’ and was the author of the landmark medico-philosophical work, Introduction à l'étude de la médecine expérimentale, in which he analyzed the philosophical basis of the scientific method and its application to the study of living beings” (Grolier-Horblit). Although several of Bernard’s courses at the Sorbonne and at the National Museum of Natural History were published in the Revue de Cours Scientifiques and elsewhere, that offered here appears to be unpublished.
Provenance: Donated by the marine biologist and zoologist Paul Portier (1866-1962) to his student the biologist Maurice Fontaine (1904-2009), who was director of the National Museum of Natural History from 1966 to 1970. The manuscript remained in the Fontaine family until it was offered at auction in 2017.
“Born in St. Julien, a village in the wine country of Beaujolais, Bernard's early education was humanistic rather than scientific. He at one time aspired to be a playwright, but when his efforts met with discouragement from the critic Saint Mare-Girardin, he entered the Faculté de Médecine in Paris in 1834. While still a student, Bernard came under the influence of the famous physiologist François Magendie, working as Magendie’s assistant from 1841 to 1844 and learning from him the use of animal vivisection for physiological experimentation. It was under Magendie’s influence that Bernard performed some of his most important researches into the physiology of digestion and nerves” (Grolier-Horblit).
“In December 1847 Bernard was made suppléant [substitute] to Magendie at the Collège de France. At first he gave the course in the winter term, while Magendie continued to teach experimental medicine during the summer semester. In 1852 Magendie retired completely and turned over his chair and his laboratory to Bernard … On 17 March 1853 he received the doctorate in zoology at the Sorbonne after a brilliant presentation of his thesis, Recherches sur une nouvelle fonction du foie.
“Bernard made his principal discoveries early in his scientific career, in the period between his first publication “Recherches anatomiques et physiology quessur la corde du tympan” (1843), and his thesis for the doctorate in science (1853). The discoveries on the chemistry and nerve control of gastric digestion (1843–1845) were followed by the first experiments with curare, the discovery of the role of bile in the digestion of proteins, and research on the innervation of the vocal cords and the functions of the cranial nerves (1844–1845). In 1846 he made his first observations on the mechanism of carbon monoxide intoxication, discovered the difference between the urine of herbivores and that of carnivores, began studies on absorption of fats and the functions of the pancreas, and observed the inhibitory action of the vagus nerveon the heart. He solved the problem of “recurrent sensitivity” in 1847. In August 1848 Bernard discovered the presence of sugar in the blood under fasting conditions (non food-connected glycemia) and the physiological presence of sugar in the liver—which led rapidly to the revolutionary theory attributing a glycogenic function to the liver (October 1848). In February 1849, he published an important paper on the role of the pancreas in digestion and, in the same month, observed for the first time the presence of sugar in the urine after artificial traumatization of some particular cerebral structures. The following year Bernard made other discoveries concerning the metabolism of carbohydrates and resumed fruitful experiments with curare. In 1852 came the discovery of the vasoconstrict or nerves and the description of the syndrome now called the Horner-Bernard syndrome. This period concluded with a critical examination of Lavoisier’s theory on the seat of the production of heat in the animal and with the systematic presentation of discoveries concerning animal glycogenesis …
“Bernard consolidated and completed his physiological discoveries between 1854 and 1860: in 1855 he made the experiment of the perfused liver and discovered glycogen; in 1857 he isolated glycogen; in 1858 he discovered the vasodilating nerves; and in 1859 he made experiments on the glycogenic functions of the placenta and of fetal tissues …
“The transition from laboratory work to dogmatic synthesis was mirrored in Bernard’s teaching and in his Cahier de notes, 1850–1860 (also called the Cahier rouge). The Cahier clearly demonstrates a change of emphasis from the tenacious pursuit of concrete facts to a concentration on research methods and principles of biological science, and may be said to mark the junction between Bernard’s analytical and philosophical work; his teaching led him to the formulation of a comprehensive and didactic theoretical elaboration of his laboratory experience. As early as 1858, Bernard conceived a “plan for a dogmatic work on experimental medicine” in consideration of the new direction indicated by his teaching …
“On 12 December 1868 the chair of general physiology was transferred from the Sorbonne to the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle; as the titular holder of the chair, Bernard succeeded Flourens (who had held the chair as professor of comparative physiology) on the council of professors of the museum. Flourens’s chair was transferred to the Sorbonne, and was awarded to Paul Bert, one of Bernard’s most faithful pupils.
“In January 1869, after a hiatus of three years, Bernard resumed his courses in experimental medicine at the Collège de France. Although he was only a mediocre lecturer, he was able to hold the attention of his audience by the novelty and vividness of his arguments and by the experiments that he improvised in the amphitheater to support his statements. (At the beginning of his career, Bernard’s audiences had been composed almost exclusively of physicians and physiologists, especially foreigners; gradually, however, they became larger, more varied, and more fashionable.)
“Bernard’s teaching at the College was analytical and dedicated to his own research—demonstrating, as he was wont to say, science in the making rather than science already made. His methods attracted such listeners and collaborators as d’Arsonval, Bert, Dastre, Gréhant, Jousset de Bellesme, Moreau, Pasteur (whose notes made from Bernard’s lectures remain unpublished), Ranvier, and Tripier; the Germans Kühne and Rosenthal; the Russians E. de Cyon, Setchenov, and Tarkhanov; the Italians Mossoand Vella; the Dane Panum; the Englishmen Ball and Pavy; such Americans as J. C. Dalton, Austin Flint, W. E. Horner, and S. W. Mitchell; and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil. Even those physiologists and physicians who did not actually attend Bernard’s lectures knew his ideas from the ten volumes of Leçons delivered at the Collège de France, publications that ranged from the Leçons de physiologie expérimentale appliquée à la médecine (1855) to the Leçons de physiologie opératoire (published posthumously, 1879.).
“The courses that Bernard taught at the Sorbonne were, from their inception, of a more general character. His Leçons sur les proprieties des tissues vivant, delivered in 1864 and published in 1866, illustrate these tendencies. In this course, it was Bernard’s aim to “determine the elementary conditions of the phenomena of life,” that is, “to return to the elementary condition of the vital phenomenon, a condition that is identical in all animals.” In contrast to comparative physiology, general physiology “does not seek to grasp the differences that separate beings, but the common points that unite them and which constitute the essence of the vital phenomena.” It is obvious why, when Bernard went to the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in 1868, the name of the chair that he was to occupy was changed.
“In all the courses that he taught at the Muséum, Bernard sought to demonstrate the vital unity of all organisms. In contrast to the naturalists, Bernard was interested only in vital manifestations that did not differ from species to species. Encouraged by the general development of cellular theory and by his own research on the non-specificity of the nutritive processes, he extended his work into plant physiology. In the first volume of his Leçons phénomenes de la vie communs aux animaux et aux végétaux. (1878), he went beyond the framework of traditional physiology to treat problems of general biology. His last experimental researches dealt with anesthesia of animals, influence of the ether application on plants, embryonic development, and fermentation” (DSB).
Manuscript, 145 pages (285 x 195 mm), written on recto and verso (marginal tears with some minor losses, last leaf with larger tear cauisng more significant loss, repaired with adhesive tape).