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14— Pride and Prejudice
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Pride and Prejudice


Kekulé, Hofmann, and Kolbe, the three premier German chemists in the generation after Liebig, form interesting contrasts, in their personal lives as in their science. Kekulé was cosmopolitan and patrician in style, and much inclined toward internationalism. After Giessen, he enjoyed four and a half years' worth of three successive foreign Wanderjahre ; then a brief period in Heidelberg was but a prelude to nine years as a professor in French-speaking Belgium. By the time he was called to Bonn, he had spent thirteen of the previous sixteen years abroad; he could speak English and French almost without accent and fluent Italian as well. He was also principal organizer of the first international chemical congress. Hofmann, for his part, spent twenty happy and productive years in England. Like Kekulé a suave sophisticate, Hofmann's oral and written English was so masterly that he did not hesitate to correct the language of his English students. Armstrong's thumbnail sketches are apt:

Kekulé was a born aristocrat in manner. An intellectual of a high order, many-sided in his interests, he was too critical and cynical to be a leader of men in the way that Hofmann was, though even superior to him as an orator; he attracted through his clear-cut talent, his gift of precise speech and his great command of knowledge. . . . Kolbe was equally simple [as Frankland], never a man of the world, a good lecturer and a far better writer but not an orator: the best chemist of them all. Hofmann and Kekulé were cosmopolitans; . . . Kolbe—just the dear old German,


academic pedagogue of the highest class: there is no other way of describing him.[2]

Indeed, Kolbe's was a very different character. With the single exception of Jacob Berzelius, whom he considered an honorary countryman, all of Kolbe's models were German, above all, the heroes of the classical period of the rise of German chemistry: Wöhler, Liebig, and Bunsen. Linguistically as well, Kolbe forms a contrast: although he learned a reasonable amount of English in the eighteen months he spent in London, he soon forgot most of it, at least as far as oral communication is concerned.[3] There is no evidence he ever mastered or even seriously studied any other foreign language. Apparently he could read French, although certainly he avoided doing so as much as possible. As for foreign travel, aside from his one postdoctoral stint and a brief laboratory tour to England, a fishing vacation in Norway with Eduard Vieweg, and his semiannual "cures" taken often in Swiss resorts, he did not leave the German Confederation or Empire. He particularly avoided the Catholic countries of Austria and France.

Kolbe's first recorded derogation of the French dates from the period in 1848 just after the February revolution in Paris and the "March days" in Germany, but his language became much sharper when it appeared that the reformers might really carry the day. His concern and anger can be discerned in the first fascicle of his textbook, published in 1854. To Eduard Vieweg, he confessed his desire to continue Berzelius' critical tradition against the "extravagances" of foreigners, now that the heroic Swede was no longer alive.

But Berzelius was not Kolbe's only model for ferocious critiques; he also followed the pattern established by his other great hero, Liebig. Liebig's views of foreign chemistry are best exemplified by examining his relationship with his greatest rival, J. B. Dumas—as we have done at the beginning of chapter 4. In their worst period, the late 1830s and the 1840s, Liebig continually accused Dumas of the vilest motives and actions. Dumas and his friends returned the sentiments. J. B. Boussingault wrote Dumas, "I am never so good a Frenchman as when I am along the banks of the Rhine, it is truly shameful that an evil hole like Giessen is a focal point of science. . ."[4] Despite the vehemence of these opinions, Liebig and Dumas eventually reestablished their friendship. However, this reconciliation was still in the future when Kolbe imbibed his extremely negative views of Dumas from Liebig, whose diatribes were often openly published in the scientific literature. Berzelius and Wöhler, two other major influences on Kolbe, also had opinions of Dumas and other French chemists which were not much more positive than Liebig's.


Kolbe's prejudices against foreigners, especially the French, were not necessarily tied to conservative political sentiments. We have seen in chapter 3 that Kolbe's general political orientation during his thirties was quite typical of his class and time period, namely, center to center-right liberalism. He had nothing but contempt for the reactionary Kurhessian regime, vaguely distrusted Prussia but despised Austria, feared republicans, extreme democrats, and socialists, and hoped for German unification, presumably under Prussian leadership but with constitutional guarantees. He looked with deep suspicion on Bismarck's and King Wilhelm's struggles of the 1860s with the Prussian Landtag . When in the spring of 1866 war with Austria threatened, Kolbe (with most fellow Germans) feared a catastrophe, for it was by no means clear that the Prussian army was sufficient to the task, and the Austrian yoke promised to be infinitely more onerous than that of Prussia. "Lieber Bismarckisch (so schlimm das auch ist)," commented Kolbe to Frankland about the alternative outcomes of the approaching war, "als österreichisch-jesuitisch!" Moreover, Saxony was sandwiched ominously between Prussia and Austria, and everyone expected the battle zone to be close to Leipzig.[5]

In the event, the decisive battle occurred at Sadowa (Königgrätz), two hundred miles southeast of Leipzig, and was handily won by the Prussian army. Kolbe's sentiments, again like those of most of his countrymen, were profoundly altered by this military success and by the prospect of a unified German nation. "Say what you like against Bismarck," Kolbe wrote Frankland, "one cannot deny that he is a decisive, quietly reflective man, the premier statesman of Europe ."

The situation is perhaps the following. Had Austria won the upper hand and destroyed Prussia, Germany would be lost and we would have Austrian conditions: lies, Jesuitism, concordat, systematic corruption, general moral disintegration, destruction of material prosperity, abolition of free scientific research, etc. With the battle of Königgrätz a new star rose over Germany; from this day Germany is a unified nation. Further, our political, material, moral and scientific development will receive a new impetus.

In short, Kolbe was convinced that "Prussia's victory signifies freedom and free development in every direction."[6]

A French or German Science?

Kolbe's long-simmering hatreds burst into the public domain at the time of the Franco-Prussian War. The decline of his influence in theoretical chemistry, along with his general isolation in the collegial


community, must have increased Kolbe's ill temper, and after January 1870 he had his own journal to express his unexpurgated opinions. The war, along with the uproar over Wurtz' opening of his recently published history of chemistry, that "chemistry is a French science," provided the occasion for his outbursts.[7] In a polemical article "On the State of Chemistry in France" published simultaneously with the French declaration of war (and obviously modeled on Liebig's similarly titled essays on Prussian and Austrian chemistry), Kolbe lambasted the French for their dissolute ways and their feeble scientific establishment. There is no French university, he declared, that can compare with any German university for chemical education.[8]

As the war proceeded, Kolbe was even further radicalized. He was delighted by the Prussian victories at Sedan and Metz, but impatiently abided the long siege of Paris; he did not understand why Moltke held off on the bombardment for so long.[9] To Varrentrapp he wrote,

The French are truly a nation of half children, half madmen. I have had deep hatred and contempt for the French, but I had never considered them so uncivilized, barbarous and base as we now see them to be. I believe France is now in a rapid decline, and will never recover. . . . The whole nation puts no value at all on honor, only on gloire.[10]

The sharpest contrast in this respect could be drawn between the French and the Germans, Kolbe thought, as he wrote to Frankland,

The Germans, who seek their gloire in the arts of peace, and go to war only as a last resort, would never sacrifice their sons to the whim of anyone, even if a narrow-minded, fanatical, bellicose German emperor should one day accede to the throne. In our country the only kind of war that will be popular and possible is one that defends the fatherland.

Frankland ought therefore to have no fear of future German aggression. Furthermore, Kolbe bristled at Frankland's sentiments in favor of a republic, for the example of the United States illustrates that a republic is no more than "a playground for swindlers and adventurers, on which the insolent mediocrity bring their influence to bear, a language in whose dictionary the word 'gentleman' does not appear. . . . My dear friend, for heaven's sake no republic." We, like you (Kolbe concluded), would rather have a king than an emperor, and not one from Prussia; "aber die Nothwendigkeit hat eiserne Arme," and he and his compatriots were delighted with their new situation.[11]

When the French Academy of Sciences neglected to remove from the wrapper of their Comptes rendus mention of the Alsatian cities of Strasbourg and Mulhouse, and Metz in Lorraine, after their transfer to Germany, Kolbe was enraged.[12] He wrote Liebig,


My contempt for the whole contemporary French chemical world is beginning more and more to turn into pity. Even the Parisian Academy appears to have no idea how ridiculous it appears to the scholarly world by this miserable bickering, for which Herr Pasteur constituted the ferment. Forgive my expectoration. The behavior of this lost and lying nation sometimes makes me a little passionate.[13]

But Liebig's was a sympathetic ear. The French, Liebig complained, were displaying "insane arrogance," demonstrating that they were a "dissolute race"; the "megalomania of this unfortunate nation is certainly capable of anything."[14] "How terrible it must be for this vain and arrogant nation to have achieved not a single advantage in battle."[15] Bismarck's adroit behind-the-scenes manipulations maneuvering both countries toward crisis had been essentially invisible to the German public, and the war propaganda was skillful. Even Kekulé was induced to denounce the "nation of scoundrels" they were fighting.[16]

Emotions began to cool, at least on the German side, after peace was concluded, but Kolbe kept up the heat, continuing his Francophobic polemics for more than two years. Having been elected, along with Liebig, Wöhler, and Bunsen, a charter honorary member of the German Chemical Society, Kolbe resigned in 1871 out of anger that the Society had not defended his critique of Wurtz' dictum when that critique had met public foreign opposition. Meanwhile Kekulé, together with Volhard and Erlenmeyer, successfully persuaded the Society to become less provincial. Among other reforms suggested by this group, after 1872 the Society only named foreigners as Honorary Members. But to Kolbe the Society had already been far too internationally oriented.[17]

Hofmann, who very much wished to soothe the raw feelings between the two countries, picked up the cue at this point, proposing Auguste Cahours as the first Frenchman to receive such an honorary membership after the war ended. This was the last straw for Kolbe, who protested loudly, both publicly and privately (but without effect, partly because he had now resigned). In his journal he asserted that there were "dozens" of more deserving Germans. "What a disgrace," he wrote Varrentrapp, "again with Cahours; what is the purpose of this international coquetting with France? Hofmann unfortunately lost the fatherland in England."[18]

Kolbe's tone became even harsher in his final years, when he became truly irrationally preoccupied with his various crusades. Ironically, the French were far less oriented toward structure theory than the Germans; Kolbe noticed this fact with alarm, for to him it indicated a


surprising source of French strength that was dangerous for the future health of the German chemical community. "I know full well," he wrote Volhard,

. . . that if Prussia continues to ruin chemistry . . . the time will soon return when, as in the second decade of this century, German chemists will go to Paris to educate themselves in chemistry. As at that time, when everyone in Germany was crazy about the Naturphilosophie of Hegel and Schelling, this swindle made no headway in France, and for that very reason France was far superior to us in science, so today, with the single exception of Wurtz, French chemists keep away from the naturphilosophische swindle of the modern structural and bonding chemistry, and therefore they will gain a head start on us once more.[19]

The irony was, as Kolbe well knew and loved to point out, that this same unscientific structural chemistry was a direct product of French chemistry—namely, an outgrowth of the type theories of Dumas, Laurent, Gerhardt, and Wurtz. Kolbe thought this was where Kekulé had gone wrong; he had followed not only the bankrupt theories of the French but also their larcenous behavior. The more highly Kekulö's textbook was valued, the more Kolbe railed against the "tendentious forgeries" committed by its author.[20]

Despite Kolbe's quirkiness, he saw a number of points quite clearly. Kekulö was indeed an internationalist at heart, and he had been decisively influenced by the French chemists Dumas, Laurent, Gerhardt, and Wurtz. He and other (predominantly German and German-influenced) chemists—such as Erlenmeyer, Crum Brown, Frankland, Ladenburg, Butlerov, Baeyer, Fischer, Victor Meyer, Graebe, and Wislicenus—had developed structural chemistry from that essentially French background. Kolbe was also correct in viewing Kekulö and Wurtz as flawed historians, for the latter did have hidden agendas in mind and neglected the very real contributions of those they disagreed with—especially Kolbe, Frankland, and Couper. Finally, Kolbe was right to see Wurtz as one of the few prominent representatives of structural chemistry in France.

Indeed, Wurtz' isolation in France was sort of a mirror image of Kolbe's in Germany, placing the contretemps over his chauvinist historical comment in even sharper relief. Read with attention to the thematic orientation of the entire work and placed in context with Wurtz' other interpretive, historical, and polemical writings of the 1860s, the apparently gratuitous chauvinism of his opening motto is subject to a different, or at least additional, interpretation. Wurtz had accepted essential parts of the Gerhardtian reform in 1853; by 1858 he was a full and enthusiastic convert. But continued opposition among


his colleagues led him, rather isolated in France, to initiate a concerted campaign for the new chemistry, including structural ideas. He started a new journal (Répertoire de chimie pure ) and a new society (Société Chimique de Paris); became a leader, along with Kekulé, of the Karlsruhe Congress organizers; wrote a heavily subtexted éloge for Gerhardt and Laurent; presented invited historical lectures to the Société Chimique, the Collège de France, and the Chemical Society of London; wrote a textbook; and finally, published a full, formal history prefacing a multivolume dictionary. All were designed to propagate the new chemistry in a country still dominated by older ideas. None were notably successful.[21]

I want to suggest, in short, that Wurtz' "chemistry is a French science" has a thematic load that was heavier than mere chauvinism. It was not so much Lavoisier and the first chemical revolution that Wurtz wanted to promote, but rather Lavoisier's countrymen Laurent and Gerhardt (not to mention Wurtz himself, aided by foreign Francophiles such as Williamson and Kekulé)—these being the authors of the still incompletely consummated second revolution. The work was directed inward rather than outward, its intended audience Wurtz' fellow Frenchmen. What better way to persuade them to join the new movement than to appeal to their patriotism by arguing for the continued dominance of French chemistry in the international arena? If I am right, we have here an example of nationalism put to rhetorical purposes, but for a cognitive goal—and not for mere chauvinist puffery. But it was difficult for foreigners to get past that first fearsome line.

Kekulé practiced the same technique. His 1859 history of chemical theory, prefacing his textbook, had a number of significant omissions. As was the case with Wurtz, these were partly due to selfish priority interests, and chauvinism may have also played a role; but there was also a rational didactic or rhetorical intent promoted by the distortions. He had a new theory to push, and he needed to tell the history behind it in such a way as to make the theory appear rational, even inevitable. The work of Kolbe and Frankland in particular failed to fit into the neat story Kekulé wanted to tell. This historical-didactic technique was, of course, very old and well attested.[22] It had been practiced with particular skill by Lavoisier himself. Although such a procedure may be devious and covert (or perhaps self-deluding), chauvinism was only at best a secondary motive.

The historical work of Hermann Kopp, a close friend to Kolbe, Hofmann, and Liebig, forms a sharp contrast to Kekulé's and Wurtz' partisan histories. Despite having been commissioned to write a history of chemistry in Germany , moreover just at the time of the Franco-


Prussian War and in the immediate aftermath of Wurtz' apparent chauvinism, Kopp's Entwickelung der Chemie in der neueren Zeit was aggressively and explicitly international in orientation. The case of Kopp is sufficient to show that chauvinist currents were by no means all-pervading, even during the most jingoistic of times.[23]

The optimistic interpretation to which such considerations lead—that chauvinism in science is perhaps less damaging than has hitherto been thought—can be further supported by looking again at some of the protagonists in our story. Liebig, for instance, exhibited prominent elements of Francophilia as well as Francophobia, and not only because his first rigorous scientific education took place in Paris. His biographers have emphasized his international outlook, which was often in evidence.[24] As the war with France progressed, Liebig expressed compassion and concern for his French colleagues, some of whom were good friends. In September 1870, Liebig told Wöhler that he had just written his brother-in-law, the army physician Karl Thiersch, then with the Prussians in Versailles,

. . . that he might seek out Regnault and offer him his help. I wonder how our friends in Paris, Dumas, Peligot, Boussingault, etc. are doing? If only it were possible to do something for them, but they will not be allowed out of Paris. The lovely city, what suffering she faces![25]

Through Thiersch, Liebig succeeded in getting a letter to Deville in Paris from his wife, a refugee in Geneva. He sent 500 francs to C. L. Barreswil's wife in Boulogne, under the presumption that she needed it; he considered the same charity for Madame Deville.[26]

In the first meeting of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences after cessation of hostilities, Liebig delivered a speech assessing the causes of Prussian victory and French defeat. He suggested that German superiority was an indirect but very real consequence of wise governmental policies that, inter alia, gave sufficient support to academic research, which led in the long term to efficacious scientific rather than mere rote applications; but he made a particular point of praising the glories of French science. Liebig, like Kekulé, had begun his career as a Francophile, showing nothing but contempt for his previous German teachers; he always revered his French mentors Arago, Dulong, The-nard, and above all Gay-Lussac. He subsequently formed an exceedingly close relationship with J. T. Pelouze and others, spoke and wrote French fluently, and until his death kept in close contact with the leading figures of the Parisian establishment. In 1845 he wrote Wöhler, "Indeed, Frenchmen have something exceptionally appealing and amiable that is generally missing from the Germans."[27] As we have seen,


he successfully reconciled with Dumas. Even Gerhardt, whom he had accused publicly of being an assassin and a highwayman, eventually managed to elicit kind and generous comments from his former teacher and became fully reconciled before his death in 1856.

Liebig concluded his speech by saying

A warm sympathy for all that is noble and great and an unselfish hospitality are among the finest traits of the French character; these features will be rekindled and reactivated on the neutral ground of science, on which the best minds of the two nations must meet in their endeavors toward the high goal common to both; thus will the ineradicable feeling of brotherhood gradually contribute in the field of science to soothe the bitterness that the deeply wounded French national pride feels toward Germany, as a result of the war which they forced upon us.[28]

Partisan emotion was clearly showing through here, but we must grant that Liebig's heart was in the right place and at a difficult time for German as well as French hearts. Liebig's good side often eventually won out over his outbursts of chauvinism, selfishness, and temper.

It may be noted parenthetically that Liebig's relations with English chemists were also very close. Despite disparaging comments on English dilettantism and their lack of attention to pure science, as well as a public attack on the idol of English experimentalism, Francis Bacon, Liebig's high regard for English chemists and his continuous collegial contact with them has prompted one prominent English Liebig scholar to refer to Liebig quite justly as "very much an honorary Englishman."[29]

In conclusion, there is no evidence that Liebig was prey to the sort of pathological national prejudice that might have chronically interfered with his appreciation of foreigners' work and thus with his pursuit of science. None of this is to deny a certain hot-headed and instinctual chauvinism at the heart of Liebig's character, but the judgment of one historian that "Liebig was the undisputed champion of this growing and squalid German nationalism in scientific affairs"[30] is quite unjust.

Many would want to award such championship honors to Hermann Kolbe, and in truth it would be hard to find a better candidate. And yet, close examination of Kolbe's career reveals an interesting irony. No one had more contempt for the French or their theories in the late 1840s and early 1850s than Kolbe. However, the striking new reactions and brilliant arguments by Gerhardt, Williamson, Wurtz, and Frank-land during the early 1850s that convinced most of Kolbe's German colleagues to accept the French-English theories were by no means lost on Kolbe either. By 1857, he had developed a theory of his own


that was strikingly similar to the Williamson-Gerhardt newer type theory, namely, that all common organic compounds could be regarded as substitution products of carbonic acid. He retained this theory almost without modification for the rest of his life.

Colleagues, friends, and rivals all pointed out, from the late 1850s until Kolbe's death, both publicly and privately, that Kolbe had become a de facto convert to Gerhardt's system. Kolbe denied it with all the energy at his command. Despite some substantive distinctions between what Kolbe called his own "real types" and the purely "formal types" of Gerhardt's theory, however, the similarities were striking, both to Kolbe's contemporaries and to modern observers. In 1868, two years before the war broke out, Kolbe even converted to modern atomic weight formulas, the last highly visible difference between him and the structuralists-and a step that most French chemists did not take for another quarter century.

To put the matter a bit simplistically, Kolbe's pathological chauvinism had failed to prevent him from understanding and being persuaded by the hated French ideas; it had only operated to prevent him from believing he had adopted them. Using his faux types during his most productive years in the 1860s, Kolbe practiced substantively and very successfully the same sort of theoretical chemistry being pursued simultaneously by the structuralists. In short, to the extent that he was an exceptionally good scientist—and there is little doubt that he was—he was also an internationalist in spite of himself. It would be wrong to suggest that Kolbe's bigotry did not damage the quality of his science, for I believe it is clear that it did, especially after 1870. But what is striking is that a man of such violent and ineradicable prejudices against the very direction that we have come to know as modern chemistry was able essentially to become a modern chemist in spite of himself.

I would not want to push my argument too far, for there are well known instances in the history of science when national feelings have seriously damaged the free interplay of scientific ideas. But the present case demonstrates that the Germans accepted the French-English chemical reforms of the 1850s astonishingly rapidly. In fact, it is a striking irony that these essentially French reforms were pursued much more aggressively and enthusiastically in Germany than in France; by the 1860s, structure theory had become a quintessentially German field, while Wurtz felt his to be a voice in the French wilderness. Thus, the prevalence of nationalist fervor provides much less predictive guidance in explaining the growth, development, and differential national reception of some scientific theories than one might have expected.


The German Jew as Chemist

Besides xenophobic chauvinism, Kolbe's other great prejudice was antisemitism. Of course, he was not the only one in his culture to suffer from this malady, and so some background will be helpful in establishing context.

The autobiography of the great German organic chemist Richard Willstätter (1873-1942) provides a sobering reminder of how hard it was for a talented German Jewish scholar to build a career in the first third of the twentieth century.[31] It is insufficiently appreciated how different the academic world looked a generation earlier. Albert Ladenburg (1842-1911) received perhaps the earliest call for an unconverted Jew to be a full professor of chemistry in a German university—to Kiel, in 1872. Yet there is not a single mention of antisemitism or even prejudice throughout his autobiography; he was astonished to receive the call, he wrote—but only because he was still young and very little known.[32] In fact, our views of the position of Jewish scientists in Germany before the rise of the antisemitic movement have been excessively influenced by our knowledge of the horrors that came after. Moreover, there were some unique aspects about chemistry in particular that for a time held hope for Jewish academic careers, aspects that were not present to the same extent in other fields—not even in other fields of science.

Traditionally barred from owning land and from the civil service—hence also from academia—German Jews concentrated their efforts in many of the professions that became stereotypically Jewish, especially business, banking, law, medicine, journalism, and the book trade. Liberated from the ghetto after the Napoleonic wars, full "emancipation"—strict civil and legal equality with gentiles—was granted only upon establishment of the North German Confederation in 1869, which was extended to the entire German Empire two years later.[33] Before this time, most Jews who felt the lure of chemistry naturally gravitated to the chemical industry, such as Heinrich Caro, Franz Oppenheim, Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and Ludwig Mond. The fact that chemistry was the earliest of the pure sciences to have broad applications to industry clearly served as an incentive for the study of that science at universities. In the great expansion of chemistry enrollments around mid-century, Jews were represented in far greater percentage than their proportion of the population.

In view of the circumstances that there were virtually no Jewish students before 1800 and that before 1869 true professorial calls were essentially impossible for Jews, there were surprisingly many Jews in the periphery of German academia during the middle decades of the


century. The more effective exclusion of Jews from other fields meant a concentration of Jewish students in the sciences as well as in medicine and law, a trend that was reinforced by a certain congruence between German Jewish culture and the scientific Weltanschauung. This nineteenth-century German phenomenon represented the first significant Jewish scientific cohort in history. In the field of chemistry, the cohort group was very large indeed. Many of these Jews were simply learning the trade preparatory to entering industry, but many also had been smitten by love for pure science and were willing to tolerate a dead-end career. One recent compilation of "important" German Jewish scientists and mathematicians of the second half of the century suggests that nearly two-thirds were chemists—an amazing proportion.[34]

Even casual prosopography reveals commonalities in Jewish academic career paths in the years before emancipation.[35] Perpetual residence among the ranks of the Privatdozenten, occasional teaching posts at trade academies or technische Hochschulen, or scientific writing and editing provided some of the means of maintaining a presence in academia despite being barred from entering the mainstream. Conversion by baptism was always an option and provided a route into that mainstream for many; however, silent prejudice against converts who obviously still retained their "Jewishness" proved a powerful barrier, both before and after legal restrictions were removed.

There were, to be sure, some exceptions to the exclusion of Jews from academia. A partial loosening of the Prussian legal barriers soon after Friedrich Wilhelm IV acceded to power in 1840 made entry at least possible. Gustav Magnus, a student of Berzelius and a prolific, wide-ranging researcher, became ausserordentlicher Professor at Berlin in 1833 and attained the Ordinarius in 1845. K. F. Rammelsberg ascended from Privatdozent to Extraordinarius in 1846. F. L. Sonnenschein, a third Jewish Dozent at Berlin, had the best chemical laboratory at the university during the 1850s, but did not become ausserordentlicher professor until 1869. Any or all three of these men may have undergone baptism.[36] It is said that the first call to an Ordinarius position for an unconverted Jew was the Göttingen mathematician M. A. Stern, in 1859.[37]

Jews in all walks of life, no matter how well assimilated, had to fight against widely held negative stereotypes in bourgeois society; even those Germans without active prejudices were influenced by these caricatures. Partially emancipated early in the century, many German Jews did achieve status and wealth by the middle decades, and many were apparently fully assimilated into society. However, the negative stereotypes, deepened by such novelists as Gustav Freitag and Wilhelm Raabe, slowed the movement toward granting of complete


civil equality. Active antisemitism such as that of Richard Wagner was unusual during the economically prosperous years of the 1850s and 1860s, but the increase in fervor of German ethnic nationalism and aspirations toward a unified state, as well as the new perception of a connection between Jews and radical or anarchic politics, allied with the older perception of even assimilated Jews as "foreigners," laid the groundwork (even among liberals) for the later emergence of an organized antisemitic movement.

Bismarck included Jewish emancipation as an element of the liberal side of his agenda, and full emancipation followed the founding of the Reich. Prosperous Jews played a full role in the overheated economic expansion of the Gründerjahre in the early 1870s and were correspondingly popular scapegoats in the inevitable crash and depression, which plagued the German economy for over two decades after 1873. These circumstances help explain why it was precisely this period that saw the emergence of an organized and virulent antisemitic movement in Germany.[38]

Emancipation produced an influx of Jews into the German professoriate, at first very modest in scope and concentrated largely in the sciences and in medicine. Antisemitism, usually of the silent variety, still provided a rather effective barrier for the most prestigious universities, even for baptized Jews, but less so for the more peripheral and especially eastern universities such as Berlin, Breslau, Königsberg, Rostock, and Kiel. Baden, with the most progressive political tradition of all the German states, also provided relatively greater opportunities for Jews at its University of Heidelberg. Albert Ladenburg, as mentioned, was one of the first Jewish chemists to receive a respectable call (although Kiel was then the newest of the German universities). The first to break into the "majors" was probably Victor Meyer, who was called to Wöhler's old chair at Göttingen in 1885 and then to be Bunsen's successor at Heidelberg in 1889. Kekulé's protégé Otto Wallach, an openly professing Jew, was named Extraordinarius at Bonn in 1876; he succeeded Meyer at Göttingen. By 1874, four percent of German Ordinarien were of Jewish descent, the large majority of these Jews having been baptized. Fifteen years later the percentage had risen to more than six percent. By 1909, twenty-one percent of all German Privatdozenten, although only seven percent of Ordinarien, were Jewish by conviction or immediate descent.[39]

Berlin was the one major university that saw Jews enter its professorial ranks soon after 1869. Among those in the chemical community, in addition to Magnus, Rammelsberg, and Sonnenschein, were the pharmacologist Oscar Liebreich and the organic chemist Alphons Oppenheim; Carl Liebermann was successor to Adolf Baeyer (whom


the Nazis were to consider a Jew) at the Berlin Technische Hochschule. Together with the steady stream of Privatdozenten that passed through the university and the large number of chemical industrialists and entrepreneurs, Berlin had by far the largest chemical community in the Reich, and a good many of them were Jewish. By 1874, a fourth of the teaching force (including Privatdozenten) and six percent of the Ordinarien at Berlin were Jewish.[40]

As mentioned, antisemitism in Germany grew during the depression years after 1873 and explosively after 1878; however much the ground had been prepared for this movement, it was perceived as novel by proponents and opponents alike. In his justly celebrated study of the German nonscience professoriate during the Wilhelmian and Weimar periods, Fritz Ringer has emphasized the instinctively conservative, socially snobbish, and antimodernist tendencies among the normally "liberal" academic community, a set of attitudes he compares to that of the mandarin elite of China.[41] The sudden lurch of German students into full-throated nationalism, political illiberalism, and antisemitism is more puzzling than that of their elders because the predominant tone of student culture had been, since the days of the early nineteenth-century Burschenschaft, notably liberal. As recently as the opening years of the depression, many had openly flirted with socialism and Marxism. But from 1879 on, there was no mistaking the grass-roots popularity of academic antisemitism, from both sides of the lectern.

The Collision of Kolbe and Hofmann

Kolbe and Hofmann viewed this new movement in very different ways. After his return from England, Hofmann energetically pursued his own agenda in Berlin, which after the Austro-Prussian war became the leading center of political and military power, not only in Germany but in Europe as a whole. With his scientific brilliance, his rock-solid health, and his remarkable natural eloquence, poise, and diplomacy, Hofmann inevitably became the universally acknowledged dean of Berliner, and indeed of German, chemists. Hofmann was benevolent and broad-minded, but also savvy and ambitious. In the years after 1866, all sorts of pan-German associations began to spring up in Berlin, including the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft. Hofmann became the first president of the DCG and served as either president or vice-president the last twenty-five years of his life. In his own estimation, as well as in everyone else's, Hofmann was the German Chemical Society. From modest beginnings, within a handful of years, the DCG became a large and extremely successful organization, its Berichte sur-


passing Liebig's venerable Annalen as the leading European chemical journal.

Kolbe was not alone in having mixed feelings regarding Prussia after the founding of the Reich. Ardent in his support of Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm and immoderately proud of his powerful and newly unified country, he was at the same time suspicious of domestic Prussian imperialism. Hofmann's decision to name the new society "German" rather than "of Berlin" revealed to him an ugly element of hubris and overreaching ambition, as we shall see later. Hofmann's relative neglect of his old friend (probably a result of Kolbe's increasingly intemperate attacks) did not help; Kolbe's visits to Berlin were not reciprocated, and their correspondence became spotty and stiff. Privately and orally Hofmann began to refer to Kolbe's periodical as the "Journal für polizeiliche Chemie."[42] It was perhaps partly to quiet his obstreperous friend that Hofmann added Kolbe's name to those of the elder spokesmen Liebig, Wöhler, and Bunsen as charter Honorary Members of the society.

Matters came to a head after Wurtz' nationalist dictum was published. However much Wurtz tried subsequently to exonerate himself by claiming only to have indicated the birthplace of chemistry, the chauvinist implications drew fire, especially from across the Rhine. In 1870, Kolbe wrote a blistering and highly insulting critique of contemporary French chemistry, and his former student Volhard published an interesting historical essay whose premise was that Lavoisier was more a physicist than a chemist. Thereupon four prominent Russian chemists published a declaration in the St. Petersburger Zeitung castigating Kolbe and Volhard for further inflaming nationalist sentiments during wartime.[43]

With Liebig's assistance, Volhard wrote a temperate response to the Russians, which Kolbe published in his journal. There the matter might have rested, had a second protest by the entire Russian Chemical Society not been translated and printed in the Berichte as part of a correspondent's report on chemical news from Russia.[44] Kolbe's fury—against the Russians, against the DCG, against Hofmann, and against Hofmann's "henchmen"—knew no limits. His reaction to this incident revealed a burning hatred for Berlin Jewry. Kolbe wrote Baeyer, then president of the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft,

I won't say anything about the fact that the [German] Chemical Society uttered not a word of disapproval or rejection of the shameless insolent statement by Wurtz that "chemistry is a French science," or against his book that begins with these words, because it is well known that the international tendencies within the pale of the Society are too great. But that . . . this inappropriate communication [by the Russian Chemical


Society] was ultimately accepted even into the reports of the Berlin Chemical Society testifies truly to a great disrespect to its Honorary Members, which understandably makes it impossible for me to continue any further relationship with it. . . . Moreover, I regret the fact, as an indication of the ever apparent lack of self-confidence and self-respect among us Germans, that the Berlin Chemical Society has given its approval to the Petersburg declaration by accepting it in silence, and has thereby further expressed the view that it finds nothing worthy of reproach in Wurtz' book.[45]

Baeyer replied with a tactful letter, pointing out that the Society per se never takes responsibility for authors' views and commenting that most members disagreed with the Russian statement.[46]

But Kolbe could not be mollified. The Society had insulted not only him but also Liebig, since he understood that the Society was considering a plan either to purchase Liebig's Annalen outright or to found a new companion journal for the Berichte that would be devoted to longer articles and would therefore compete directly with the Annalen . Baeyer replied that such an objection sounded odd coming from the editor of another journal that already competed with the Annalen .[47] Kolbe shot back a letter claiming (quite disingenuously, as surviving correspondence documents[48] ) that he had only accepted the editorship of Journal für praktische Chemie under the prior express approval of Liebig. Moreover,

If the Chemical Society has really founded a new journal, it will soon no longer be Hofmann and Wichelhaus who decide the direction and orientation of the journal, but the masses, the rabble of young chemists preparing themselves in the Chemical Society. The Chemical Society is after all already known as a hotbed of Jewry in chemistry.[49]

It was just at this time that Hofmann returned to Berlin from London, where he had been visiting his seriously ill wife. Brought up to date by Baeyer, he wrote his friend, feigning astonishment that Kolbe had taken offense:

You expressed your views on French chemists, this was not to the taste of the Russians, they expressed themselves in the Chemical Society in St. Petersburg, and our correspondent, who reports regularly on the meetings of the society, mentions this announcement as well. How could this constitute an insult to our valued honorary members? I must confess I have a different view. To me it seems only fair that, after one has expressed himself on a question concerning which (it cannot be denied) very different views are possible, others be permitted to express their opinions as well.[50]


Kolbe could not be swayed. "Don't tell me that I am judging the matter falsely," he retorted with anger. "I am no child, forming my judgment without mature reflection."[51] He demanded that the DCG publish an expression of regret over the incident; Baeyer and the Executive Committee refused. Kolbe then resigned. The incident was discussed in the Society's annual report, printed in the Berichte , with the final comment by President Baeyer that the editor (Wichelhaus) had acted fully within the Society's bylaws in publishing the Russian declaration. Kolbe described the affair in a letter to Liebig, saying that he felt he had gotten the better of "die Berliner Herren," that they had never expected he would actually resign.[52] To Volhard he wrote,

Let us stick closely together, that the (this between us) fraudulent spirit of the Berlin Chemical Society and the Jewry that flourishes there not take root in Germany. The editor of a journal has a good weapon, and should indeed use it for defense.[53]

He did use this weapon, with all the skill of a dedicated polemicist, especially in his annual retrospectives. The DCG came in for repeated criticism: for having the arrogance and imperialist ambition to call itself "German," for its internationalist and social-democratic tendencies, and for electing Cahours and then (even worse!) Wurtz himself as honorary members. The Berliners, he suggested, were trying to grab power and centralize the discipline in their city; but this was a mistake that the overly centralized French had committed, to their sorrow. He even lambasted the Society for its mode of organization and the style of editing the Berichte .[54] In their annual meetings, Hofmann and other officers of the Society defended themselves in the pages of the Berichte against these attacks.[55] To various correspondents, Kolbe complained of Hofmann's towering ambition and vanity. He would openly challenge Hofmann, he suggested, were it not for his old friendship; moreover, Hofmann habitually used any of a number of lackeys to do his dirty work, Kolbe thought.[56]

Kolbe was by no means alone in his dismay over the events in Berlin. He succeeded in eliciting sympathetic comments against the DCG from Bunsen, Liebig, Kekulé, Lothar Meyer, Franz Varrentrapp, and Volhard, although neither Bunsen nor Liebig would allow his name to be used openly.[57] Friedrich Beilstein needed no prompting; he despised Hofmann, as well as his obsequious "personal footman," Wichelhaus, and detailed his outrage at their conduct in letters to Erlenmeyer.[58] But Kolbe pushed his position too strongly, and some of his language, especially in published pieces, exceeded the bounds of decency. Lother Meyer wrote Baeyer,


You can imagine that I really had to laugh over Kolbe's silly exit from the society of cultured chemists. But the matter also has its serious side. K. now writes so much strange noise in the style of infallibility that I begin to fear for his health. I have given his new piece against Virchow to a number of impartial people, and every one used the expression, "This man is certainly crazy." Indeed, I am beginning to believe that K. is suffering softening of the brain, whose symptom is of course megalomania. A pity on the man, who deserves something better.[59]

In his correspondence with good friends such as Volhard, Varrentrapp, and Kopp, Kolbe's language was even cruder. He was disgusted, he said, over the actions of the "Berlin Chemical Jew-Society"; moreover, the "Jew-boys" seemed to have Hofmann under their control as much as the other way around. But they would not succeed; once Baeyer leaves, Kolbe predicted, Hofmann would be the only chemist of note left in Berlin, and the Society would collapse of its own weight.[60] "It's sad," he wrote Varrentrapp, "that he was so long in England and forgot the customs [Sitte] of German scholars. . . . Hofmann unfortunately lost the fatherland in England."[61] In fact, he said he feared for Hofmann, for the Jews might well want to discard him after using him for their own purposes. He told Hofmann this directly in a letter of February 1873.[62] Hofmann never answered this letter. On Kolbe's next visit to Berlin four months later, Hofmann managed to avoid him.[63] Their relationship was essentially over.

Hofmann Versus the Antisemites

All this occurred just before antisemitism began to flourish as a distinct movement in Germany. Its outbreak in Berlin in 1879 caught Hofmann in its wake, for in the following year he was elected rector of the university.

The birth of modern German antisemitism in that year began with the agitation of journalist Wilhelm Marr and preacher Adolf Stöcker, but what made the movement especially powerful was the academic respectability given it by the famous historian Heinrich von Treitschke, one of the most popular and respected professors at the University of Berlin. While distancing himself from rabid and racist agitators such as Marr, Treitschke considered the Jews "an element of national disintegration" and called on them to assimilate fully to their fatherland as the price of emancipation.[64]

The liberals were not silent in the face of these developments. A "declaration of notables" condemning the attacks was issued by 73 prominent Berliners, among them 17 of Treitschke's faculty


colleagues—including fellow historian Theodor Mommsen, biologist Rudolf Virchow (both founding members of the Progressive Party), and Rector August Wilhem Hofmann. But the movement caught fire among the students. In Leipzig in October 1880, Bernhard Förster began to circulate an academic petition with radical demands for restrictions of the rights of Jews. Within eighteen months, 255,000 German students, about one-fourth of all matriculants, signed.[65]

At the same time in Berlin, an eloquent and popular law student named Erich yon Schramm began to organize a "German Students' Union" (Verein deutscher Studenten), whose main purpose was to be antisemitic agitation. Fortunately, he needed official approval for registration of the society, either by the university or by the police, so that Hofmann had the power to prevent the group from forming at the university. Throughout the 1880-1881 academic year, he rejected three successive drafts of the proposed bylaws, disguising his fundamental opposition in legal technicalities and in the neutral argument that "political" organizations, of whatever orientation, are inappropriate in the academy and would lead only to discord among the students. Most of Hofmann's colleagues supported this reasoning. Finally Schramm gave up and registered the Union with the police. However, after a final revision of statutes in 1881, the university officials were forced to admit the Union as a registered student society.

The German Student's Union, born in Berlin, spread quickly to other universities, even before its official certification. In Leipzig, Halle, Göttingen, Kiel, and Greifswald, many hundreds of students joined.[66] Hofmann was sorely troubled by these events; it is said that early in 1881 he contemplated resigning his office.[67] For its part, the Union never forgave Hofmann for his interference and boycotted every Hofmannfest in Berlin, even his funeral in 1892.[68]

No doubt Hofmann was delighted that the antisemites stayed away from the various appreciations given him in his last years. Despite the hard feelings and jealousies engendered by Hofmann's crowning himself "king" of chemistry and creating a sort of chemical court around himself, few chemists have been so well and so vocally feted during their lifetimes. His scientific productivity was little diminished even into his old age, and he was honored by most scientific societies around the world. Even his death was fortunate in a sense, for his health continued to be nearly perfect until a sudden stroke or heart attack killed him at the age of seventy-four. The flowers sent from around the world filled his home to overflowing. The funeral was attended by 1500 mourners.[69]

Kolbe's mature years were very different in tone. His friends began to slowly disassociate themselves from the "thunderer of Waisenhaus-


strasse," as Lothar Meyer called him.[70] Jacob Volhard was caught in the middle. Kolbe regarded his former student as a good friend and loyal comrade in arms, with whom he could be completely open and trusting—after all, Volhard had shared the Russians' censure for his nationalistic piece on Lavoisier in 1870.[71] But Kolbe had forgotten, or perhaps was unaware, that Volhard was the son of an extremely liberal and idealistic attorney, that he had an internationalist outlook similar to that of Hofmann, and that both he and his parents had long been intimate friends with the Hofmanns and with the Kekulés (as well as with the Liebigs) from their hometown relationships in Darmstadt.[72] By the mid-1870s, Volhard was also remonstrating with Kolbe and sometimes not altogether gently, despite his feelings of respect and friendship.

We have seen that Kekulé became Kolbe's favorite target for vilification. Kolbe even claimed that Volhard himself was suffering from Kekulé's machinations, since Kekulé had engineered a call for his student Theodor Zincke to Marburg—like Kekulé, an uncultured, incapable man—and Kolbe maintained that Volhard would otherwise have gotten the call. His bitterness was no doubt heightened by the fact that this had been his chair until 1865. Kekulé, he concluded with characteristic coarseness, "has succeeded in transforming the chemical chair at Marburg University into a night chair [Nachtstuhl , or chamber pot] for a large number of years."[73] In the fall of 1882, Kolbe blasted Baeyer with the same viciousness as he had Kekulé.[74] In a letter to Frau Baeyer, Volhard expressed sympathy:

My old friend Kolbe is behaving truly irresponsibly. A pity on the man; since he began to devote himself to insults he has produced nothing more of value. . . . Once one has delivered oneself up to vanity, one does not realize to what degree of madness this will lead him.[75]

Obituaries provide some estimation of contemporary respect for the departed, especially if one knows how to read between the lines. Volhard wrote a long, highly laudatory biography of Hofmann, one of three book-length treatments of his life and career that were published in the first decade after his death (a fourth appeared in 1918, simultaneously Hofmann's hundredth birthday and the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft).[76] In his description of Hofmann's battles with the antisemitic students, Volhard left no doubt regarding his own hatred for the "disgusting Jew-baiting" of the students, and his admiration for Hofmann's persistent resistance.[77]

As for Kolbe, Volhard made an appreciative speech at the unveiling


of a plaque in his honor, but it was never published. Hofmann composed a somewhat stiff and very short obituary for the Berichte , departing notably from his customary exuberant style.[78] It is well known that Hofmann was an enthusiastic and energetic obituarist in his old age, filling three substantial volumes of collected "Memories of Departed Friends."[79] Kolbe was not among these friends; Kolbe's hated French rivals Dumas and Wurtz, along with three Jews (Gustav Magnus, Alphons Oppenheim, and Paul Mendelssohn-Bartholdy), were. In fact, there may have been an unstated message in the fact that he chose to memorialize both Wurtz, author of the line about French chemistry that caused so much pain, and Oppenheim, Wurtz' Jewish student who translated the work into German.[80] The Wurtz biography, published in German, is by far the longest and best biography ever written of this major French chemist.

In general, Kolbe has fared very poorly regarding obituaries and biographies. The authors of the two most authoritative obituaries were at once relatives and former students of Kolbe (his son-in-law Ernst von Meyer and his nephew Hermann Ost). Significantly, a primary objective of both of these obituaries was to resurrect Kolbe's tarnished reputation and to try to place his attacks in the best possible light. With the presumed exception of the present effort, Kolbe's life and career have not been properly studied—a fact that is surely in some measure a consequence of his conduct, especially after 1870.

A principal focus of this chapter has been intolerance, antisemitism in particular. If that prejudice is a disease from which one suffers (as many, even antisemites themselves, have described it),[81] then Kolbe can be said to have contracted a serious, even pathological, case. To what extent was he typical of his peers in the academic chemical community? Any direct answer must be carefully qualified. It is obvious that most Christians in German academia, even those who worked closely and happily with Jews, were influenced by the negative stereotypes that prevailed in Bismarckian society;[82] however, I have found little evidence for widespread and active prejudice among the peer community described here.[83] Hofmann stands out as a particular example of almost aggressive philosemitism, but many others in the community—Bunsen, Wöhler, Kekulé, and Volhard, for example—were invariably kind and fair-minded regarding their Jewish students and colleagues.

Many of the great names in German chemistry, including those just cited, had numerous Jewish students, assistants, and associated Privatdozenten. Bunsen recommended Victor Meyer as his successor at Heidelberg, and Kekulé did everything he could to advance the career of Wallach. It is certain that many recipients of letters from Kolbe con-


taining antisemitic slurs did not welcome them—namely, correspondents such as Volhard, Kopp, Hofmann, and Baeyer. Even noted antisemites could act kindly toward individual Jews: Oppenheim was one of Treitschke's few friends during his student days, and Treitschke loved him dearly his entire life.[84] Even Kolbe could have kind words of respect for Ladenburg and Victor Meyer.[85]

Were scientists in general any different from humanist scholars during this period? An unequivocal answer is not possible. Scientists are certainly full members of their wider collegial community as well as the general culture of the society of their day. As Ringer has shown, the Wilhelmian academic community, imbued with the neohumanist ethos of Kultur , had a number of characteristics that appear to us as arrogant, narrow-minded, and antimodernist. Most academic scientists during our somewhat earlier period shared many of these values, especially a sense of the ineffable qualities and inestimable importance of the neohumanist Gymnasium as a means of forming a sensitive, cultured, and broadly educated mind. Both Hofmann and Kolbe fought tenaciously—Hofmann with his accustomed tact and Kolbe with his usual abrasiveness—against the movement to weaken Gymnasium education as preparatory to university. "To have read Homer," waxed Hofmann lyrical,

. . . quickens one's life. The face of a gray-headed public servant, upon which the pencil of time has engraved the unmistakable traces of official monotony, will lighten, if perchance the full-sounding hexameter of the Iliad strikes unexpectedly upon his ear. It is as though his youth suddenly flickered up again within him. What the Bible is to the common people, such is in many respects Homer to the educated.[86]

Clearly, in many respects scientists shared the humanists' value system. Nor do I mean to set up chemists as paragons of virtue and tolerance during this period of increasing illiberalism. Kolbe is a particularly virulent counterexample on the side of the chemists, and the historian Mommsen's staunch progressivism was a counterweight to colleague Treitschke's bigotry.

And yet, there is a certain danger in underestimating the cultural differences between academic scientists and humanists considered as groups, in the last century as in this. William Coleman has written vaguely, but I think accurately, about "a veritable culture of science" which took root in early nineteenth-century Germany, a thesis I have attempted to address more fully in the first chapter of this book.[87] This scientific culture gathered force through the century, especially as the sciences and (until late in the century) chemistry above all looked in-


creasingly important for promoting German industrialization and political-military power. David Rowe has also argued that Ringer's conclusions from his study of the nonscience German professoriate cannot unproblematically be extended to the science community.[88] This suggestion is reinforced by the fact that however hard it may have been for Jews to succeed in science, it was virtually impossible in fields such as literature or languages, where the first Jewish Ordinarius was not appointed until the Weimar period.

It must be noted, however, that real strains had begun to develop in Bismarckian scientific culture, and the Kolbe case illustrates some of these. In a sensitive and revealing monograph on the astrophysicist Karl Friedrich Zöllner, a colleague of Kolbe's at the University of Leipzig, Christoph Meinel has explored "the fragility of the culture of science in Imperial Germany, and its hidden antinomies."[89] Zöllner, like Kolbe, was a vehement (and antisemitic) critic of modernity, who attacked Hofmann and other prominent liberal scientists of his day. (Hofmann himself thought the two were in league, though apparently this was not the case.)[90] The situation thus had become sufficiently complex to frustrate any simple generalizations.

The price of prejudice, in every discipline, must not be underestimated. Even the perpetrators of prejudice were victims: one object lesson from this study, a "cautionary example" to use Volhard's phrase, is the self-inflicted demolition of Kolbe's erstwhile brilliant career. Much more destructive than the actions of a single man, though difficult to gauge, were the institutional barriers that existed until the Empire was founded, which acted to exclude a talented community of intellectuals from German universities. Institutional and legal barriers were, of course, re-erected after Hitler's accession to power in 1933; Alan Beyerchen has masterfully depicted the consequent impact on the German physics community.[91] A final factor that is most difficult to document or study in detail is silent prejudice, since it may not even be revealed in private letters. There is no question that qualified Jews in every field continued to be discriminated against even after full emancipation. Nor was antisemitism confined to Germany; the difficulty of Charles Gerhardt to achieve career success in France was surely at least in part a function of his Jewish heritage. It is also true that antisemitism was a serious and in many cases insuperable barrier to Jewish advancement in the elite universities of the United States during this same period.

Historians sometimes forget that, however much we try to depict the apparent inevitability of later historical events from earlier contexts, factors, and trends, history is actually a contingent process, manufactured by freely acting and often unpredictable human beings.


The apparent progress that Jews made in academia during the 1870s and even in the 1880s was not foreordained to be reversed. When Friedrich III ascended the throne early in 1888, he represented the great hope of German liberals. One of his first acts was to force the resignation of the reactionary interior minister R. V. von Puttkamer. Consequently, there was real reason to believe that the elements of liberal democracy were finally in the ascendant, in the academy as elsewhere. Tragically, Friedrich was already dying when he became emperor, and he ruled only ninety-nine days; he was succeeded by Wilhelm II, a very different man from his father.

Five months after Friedrich's death, Hofmann published his collected biographies, with its liberal subtext, and dedicated the volumes to Friedrich's widow, Victoria. Victoria was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and had studied informally with Hofmann in her youth. Upon Hofmann's death four years later, Victoria wrote a long letter of condolence to Hofmann's widow and directed that busts of two scientists be placed flanking a statue of her to be erected in the Tiergarten: Helmholtz and Hofmann.[92] About Wilhelm, the new emperor, she is said to have commented, "Don't for a moment imagine that my son does anything from any motive but vanity."[93] The German Reich then had begun its trajectory toward war and holocaust.

Last Years

When Kolbe arrived in Leipzig in 1865, he brought with him his wife Charlotte, nine-year-old Carl, eight-year-old Johanna, and five-year-old Maria. (He also brought several members of his Praktikanten "family" from Marburg, including Drechsel, Finkelstein, Glutz, Wischin, Zaitsev, and Ziegler.) A third daughter, Elisabeth, was born in January 1868. The family lived in an apartment next to the old laboratory on Universitätsstrasse for three years, then in October 1868 moved into the spacious and elegant residence in the new institute on Waisenhausstrasse. At about this time, an unmarried sister of Kolbe's, "Tante Rutsch," moved in with the family permanently.

Kolbe's first decade in Leipzig was a time of great satisfaction. His research group was extremely productive, he had literally crowds of students (both auditors and Praktikanten), and after January 1870 he even had a journal at his disposal. He was regarded rightly as one of the preeminent chemists in Germany, and plenty of distinctions came his way. The Russian government granted him the Stanislaus Medal for his work with Russian students, and the Universities of Kazan and Moscow gave him honorary degrees. He was given the Davy Medal of


the Royal Society, Wöhler successfully nominated him Correspondent of the Göttingen Societät der Wissenschaften, and dearest to his heart, Liebig proposed him as Knight of the Bavarian Maximilians-Orden. That same month (December 1872) he was appointed a Saxon Geheimrat (privy councilor), the highest honorific a German state could confer on a university professor. He was also made Honorary Member of the new Deutsche Chemische Gesellschaft at its creation, along with Liebig, Wöhler, and Bunsen. When the Prussian Akademie der Wissenschaften made him Corresponding Member in 1875, he declined and sent the certificate back—partially because the document read Heinrich Kolbe.[94]

Then as now, the hard currency of reputation is the demand for services. The University of Bonn called Kolbe in 1867, but he declined, leaving this prize to Kekulé. It was known that Liebig always desired that Kolbe should be his successor at Munich. When Liebig died in April 1873, his junior colleague ausserordentlicher Professor Volhard wrote to Kolbe, delicately inquiring about his possible conditions for a possible call. Kolbe made it clear (or at least tried to) that he would be inclined to accept a call were the conditions sufficiently generous, and outlined his current emoluments and facilities. To Kolbe's disappointment, these expensive hints were enough to put the Bavarian authorities off the scent. Nonetheless, Kolbe was able to use the feeler at home to gain a raise in his laboratory budget (to 4500 thalers) and an expansion of his auditorium.[95] (The Munich call actually went to Kekulé, who declined and used it for leverage in Bonn;[96] finally, in 1875 Baeyer was called as Liebig's successor and he accepted.) The Liebig succession understandably excited the chemical rumor mills. In the middle of the negotiations, Adolf Lieben wrote Erlenmeyer, then at the Munich Technische Hochschule,

What's happening with Liebig's succession? You no doubt have heard that the mere thought of Kolbe (for an actual call is said not to have taken place) sufficed to make him privy councilor. I am glad of it, with not the slightest touch of envy. As long as the earth lasts, perhaps no man lives who is more appropriate, who is better equipped by nature, to be a privy councilor than Kolbe. God, who ordered all things by measure and number and weight, once created Hermann Kolbe, not in his own image, but rather after the type of the Geheimrat, and said that it was good![97]

It is because of Volhard's inquiry that we know that Kolbe was earning close to 8000 thalers in salary, honoraria, and fees, several times what he had been making in Marburg.[98] Certainly his relatives were impressed. In a letter to his sister, he emphasized the various


financial obligations that were connected with his position, arguing that the income was not as magnificent as it might appear: 200 thalers annually for entertaining, 300 each year for a medically necessary spa "cure," 100 for school, 100 for piano lessons, 100 each for a gardener and a maid, 240 for utility bills, 600 for life insurance, 100 for taxes, and 100 for medical expenses, not to mention food and clothing for seven people.[99] This enumeration alone suggests quite comfortable bourgeois domesticity, especially in light of the fact that his residence was gratis. Considering that he was not able (or in any case failed) to pay off the last of his personal debt to the Vieweg family until 1877,[100] it is clear that he had learned how to spend money. This is especially true after 1874, when he was able to earn many thousands of thalers additional income from salicylic acid manufacture, as we saw in chapter 12.

All of this does not include income from writing and publishing, for which figures are not available, but which could not have been negligible. In addition to his journal, Kolbe had a number of writing projects. In the spring of 1868, he published a brochure describing his new (then not yet completed) laboratory, and four years later he edited a large volume containing reprints of all the articles he and his students had published since 1865. Both works were based on existing published models.[101] In the meantime, Kolbe's detailed textbook of chemistry, begun about 1848(!), was still not finished. He continued to work away on the third volume until Heinrich Vieweg finally persuaded him in 1871 to give it over to others, at which time he lost all control over the project.

About the time the textbook was finally completed (1878), Kolbe put his son-in-law to work on a second edition. That this work was more an obligation than a free choice for Meyer is indicated by the fact that, upon Kolbe's death, Meyer put a halt to the project, at a time when only two parts of the work had appeared. This was not just an updating but an extensive rewrite of the first edition, and Meyer had full authority for its contents. Throughout this work, Meyer used linear structural formulas (e.g., leucine as CH(NH2 )[CH2 CH(CH3 )2 ]COOH) and propounded an aromatic theory that was neither Kolbe's nor Kekulé's. He did, however, use ortho/meta/para nomenclature, assert the chemical equivalence of all benzene hydrogen atoms, deny the existence of salylic acid, and affirm the need for three isomers for every diderivative of benzene. All of these were Kolbean heresies, which illustrates once more the extent to which committed members of Kolbe's school often proceeded in a very non-Kolbean fashion.[102]

Meanwhile, a new project began to take up Kolbe's time and occupied him off and on the rest of his life: a short textbook of chemistry.


Begun in 1872, the first (inorganic) volume was finished by 1877 and the second (organic) volume was out by 1883. This work proved far more popular than his long textbook of organic chemistry. A second edition and an English translation had begun to appear before his death in 1884.[103]

The last source of Kolbe's income that needs to be mentioned is a category that was gradually becoming more significant in the lives of scientists: connections with industry. Evidence from his correspondence suggests that from the late 1850s on, Kolbe was looking for possible applications from his scientific work. His investigation of salicylic acid in 1873 was at least partially motivated by his desire to find a route to indigo synthesis, and he always paid attention to novel compounds with potential as dyes. None of these ideas bore fruit until the salicylic acid work created an ideal entrepreneurial opportunity. Finally, it appears that in 1869-1870 he was financially involved in an American company that was attempting to apply Liebig's formula for extract of beef to Texas cattle (the company failed), and shortly thereafter he did consulting and quality control work for a similar concern in Montevideo.[104]

In many respects, Kolbe's personal life hit apogee around 1875. His wife had never enjoyed robust health but was then doing acceptably, as might be judged by the fact that the Kolbes, who lived very quietly between 1857 and 1869, had rediscovered an active social life. The two oldest children were teenagers in the early 1870s, and their parents gave them occasional large parties and balls.[105] The oldest child, Carl, graduated from the Leipzig Gymnasium in March 1875, then absolved his one-year military service before studying chemistry with his father. He made a successful career in the chemical industry.[106] The next oldest, Johanna, was courted by Ernst von Meyer, and they were married in March 1876. Meyer eventually succeeded Rudolf Schmitt at the Dresden Technische Hochschule. The two youngest daughters, Maria and Elisabeth, were married within two months of each other in the fall of 1887.[107] Unfortunately, Charlotte Kolbe barely lived to see Johanna married. She suffered from a variety of ailments, especially a severe lung infection in late 1875. Two months later, not yet recovered, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A successful operation by Carl Thiersch failed to cure the disease; after a period of apparent recovery she declined rapidly in the fall of the year before succumbing on 26 December 1876.

About the same time, Kolbe's own health began to decline. He had always suffered from periodic severe colds and influenzas and at least annual bouts of painful rheumatism, sometimes lasting two weeks or more. He was overweight, suffered from atherosclerosis, and ate un-


healthily (by modern standards, at least).[108] The death of his wife led to a month of serious mental and physical illness, which gradually abated, but he never quite recovered from the grief.[109] As we have seen, several close friends had died in the early 1870s, and his war with the structuralists was not going well.

Then in early May 1879, a nearly fatal poisoning episode (breathing phosphorus pentachloride) precipitated severe bronchitis that developed into chronic asthma and emphysema. Kolbe had long become accustomed to semiannual "cures" at such resorts as Nauheim, Marienbad, Sassnitz on the Baltic, and Gersau or Brunnen on the Lake of Lucerne; now his holidays became even more frequent and extended. During the last six years of Kolbe's life, he constantly shuttled between Leipzig and these resorts. He was able to do a substantial amount of literary work (especially on the Kurzes Lehrbuch and his various polemical articles), but little actual laboratory supervision or research. After a bad winter of 1883-1884, Kolbe's health became better the following summer than it had been in years. On 25 November 1884, Meyer wrote to tell Ostwald that Kolbe was doing exceedingly well so far that winter. A hurriedly written postscript reported a massive heart attack suffered that evening by "my excellent father-in-law."[110] The thunderer of Waisenhausstrasse was dead.


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