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11— Leipzig
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Kolbe's Call to Leipzig and Its Context

In an influential monograph published in 1976, Peter Borscheid argued that the reason the academic study of chemistry in Baden took off after 1850 was that the government was concerned to stabilize the country after the economic and agricultural disasters of the 1840s that had led to revolution in 1848-1849; it was thought that Liebig's interrelated prescriptions for reform of academic and agricultural chemistry had potential to do just that, by raising agricultural fertility and productivity. A similar socioeconomic model for the promotion of scientific medicine in Baden has been convincingly articulated by Arleen Tuchman, although she appears to have weakened Borscheid's case inadvertently by commenting that the reform plans for the Heidelberg science institutes began as early as 1844, that is, before the crises


began.[12] In any event, there is no question that after 1850, not just Baden but a number of German states began to move aggressively to upgrade academic chemistry.

The case for state economic interest as helping to justify this academic reform in Baden (especially at its university in Heidelberg) is strong, as long as this single element is not considered as a full explanation. Above and beyond any particular state agenda was the obvious fact that, for whatever reason, chemistry enrollments in most German universities had begun an upward climb around 1840 and showed no sign of leveling off. The retirement of Leopold Gmelin in 1851 gave the Baden authorities the chance to make a real change. Determined to win a "recognized celebrity," they went all out after Liebig, prepared to make any concession necessary, including the promise of a large new laboratory. Liebig, however, played Heidelberg against Munich for several months, until the latter won out. The choice for Heidelberg then came down to Hofmann or Bunsen; Bunsen got the call, arriving from Breslau in 1852.[13] As for Liebig's arrangement at Munich, he was asked to teach one lecture course per semester with no laboratory instruction and was given a 5000 thaler salary.

The Prussian Ministry of Culture had already caught the fever, for they had attracted Bunsen from Marburg to Breslau the previous year by building for him the largest chemistry institute up to that time, at the high cost of 34,000 thalers. (Bunsen's new laboratory in Heidelberg, however, was to cost 44,000 thalers by the time it was completed in 1854.) Liebig had publicly lambasted Prussian academic chemistry in 1840 in an article that raised a storm in the Berlin Ministry and in all the Prussian universities. The deal that temporarily brought Bunsen to Breslau reflected the altered political climate in Prussia regarding the study of chemistry.[14]

Indeed, as in Baden, the Prussian authorities carried out a heroic overhaul of their chemistry facilities during the 1850s and 1860s. In addition to the Breslau upgrade, a new lab at Königsberg cost 16,000 thalers in 1857, Greifswald had a new institute three years later at a cost of no less than 70,000 thalers, and a new laboratory was built at Halle in 1863 for 35,000 thalers.[15] The flagship of the Prussian educational system, the University of Berlin, had a number of local factors inhibiting reform,[16] but the nearly simultaneous deaths of the two Ordinarien for chemistry, Eilhard Mitscherlich and Heinrich Rose in 1863-1864, provided the necessary opening. Coincidentally, the retirement in 1863 of C. G. Bischof at Bonn gave the Prussian Kultusministerium yet another open post to deal with.

It was in fact the Bonn position that first came open.[17] The Prussian authorities had tired of waiting for Bischof to retire or die, and they


began discussions with Hofmann about a possible call as early as the summer of 1861. Besides having become by this time the most famous chemist of his generation, Hofmann had taken a leave of absence from Bonn nearly twenty years earlier to accept his professorship in London and so was the obvious choice. The call to Bonn apparently came in January 1862, but negotiations dragged on well over a year until Hofmann finally assented in March 1863. The deal was princely: essential features included a salary of 2000 thalers (at the time of his retirement, Mitscherlich was earning only 800), a generous budget, and a new laboratory far larger and more expensive (projected to cost 100,000 thalers) than any hitherto contemplated. Accompanied by his Bonn architect, Hofmann toured Germany for a month in the summer of 1863, gathering design ideas from all the modern chemical laboratories.[18]

The situation became more complicated when, in January of that year, Mitscherlich retired and Gustav Magnus began promoting Hofmann's candidacy at Berlin. After Bunsen was offered the position and declined, Hofmann got this second call about November 1863; it included everything in the Bonn contract, plus an even better salary of 2500 thalers and a larger and more expensive lab. Hofmann was assured that the second choice candidate for Bonn, whoever it might be, would receive exactly the same deal as he had been offered even if he were to go to Berlin, so that choosing this alternative would not have the effect of damaging the future of chemistry at Bonn. Still, Hofmann felt bound by his promise, and by 19 December he had "definitively" decided to go to Bonn. Further negotiations with Berlin over the Christmas holidays, however, led to an arrangement whereby Hofmann would not be forced to choose between these positions until both new institutes were built, or at least definitively designed.[19]

Apparently the death of Heinrich Rose in January 1864 shifted the negotiating ground yet again, for Hofmann now was offered what was in effect the successorship of both Berlin chemists. This made a significant difference, since it was not the custom in German universities to have two Ordinarien in the same field, and it was thought that such split professorships create difficult or even impossible situations. This conviction was only reinforced by the circumstances that Rose and Mitscherlich never got along and that their feud had stymied reform of chemistry in Berlin for many years.

Now that Hofmann was being offered the sole chair of chemistry, it seemed inevitable to all as early as February 1864 that he would end up in Berlin, and by June it was regarded in the chemists' gossip network to have been officially settled.[20] They were right, of course. Remarkably, though, Hofmann's leverage was so great that he was able


to exact the explicit condition that the Bonn position remain open and available to him until the end of 1866, should he find the Berliner life not to his liking.[21] The Berlin lab was begun in May 1865, simultaneous with Hofmann's first semester of teaching there; it took four years to complete, accommodated 70 Praktikanten, and cost the amazing sum of 200,000 thalers, not including the cost of the land, furnishings, and equipment.[22]

Meanwhile, Hofmann did not even definitively give up his London post, taking a three-year leave of absence instead. In April 1865, Kolbe expressed frustration to Vieweg that Hofmann now was holding on to no less than three professorships (four, if both the Rose and Mitscherlich chairs were counted).[23] On 30 August 1865, Kolbe and Hofmann both were visiting Bonn, where Hofmann told his friend that he was undecided whether or not he would stay in Berlin. In the following summer, there was still speculation in Germany that he would take the Bonn position after all. Kolbe described the Bonn lab, still in construction, as "a chemical palace, exceeding all my expectations," though he later thought that it was "somewhat too luxuriously and spaciously appointed." As late as March 1868, some English colleagues were still convinced that Hofmann would return to London.[24]

I have gone into the details of the Hofmann calls partly because Kolbe was a highly interested spectator to these events but also because this episode represents a critical transition in the history of German chemistry, indeed in the history of German academic science. The new Hofmann institutes at Bonn and Berlin were on a hitherto unseen scale, and they provided the models for future institutes, not only in chemistry but also in other fields of science and medicine, not least at Leipzig. A recent scholar has rightly referred to the Hofmann laboratories as well as Kolbe's at Leipzig, which was roughly contemporaneous, as inaugurating the "second generation" of German chemistry institutes.[25]

Kolbe, of course, had long been unhappy in Marburg and was desperate to get a call to either Berlin or Bonn. Once Hofmann was out of the picture, and with Liebig, Wöhler, and Bunsen now permanently situated, a number of names kept appearing as possible candidates for Bonn: Adolf Strecker, Georg Staedeler, Carl Löwig, Heinrich Limpricht, and Hermann von Fehling. However, Kolbe and Kekulé were always the leading candidates. From the start, Kolbe made it clear to everyone that his strong preference would be Bonn. "Es ist Alles verkehrt in Preussen," Kolbe complained, meaning of course Berlin. He felt that there were too many "crossing interests" there, a real "intellectual swamp"; it wore people out at a young age; in contrast, at Bonn one could found a true chemical research school.[26]


Kolbe thought that the Bonn succession entirely depended on whom Hofmann recommended, once Hofmann had definitively declined and the post was no longer encumbered. Frankland reported to Kolbe that Hofmann had enthusiastically endorsed Kolbe's candidacy, but Hofmann told Kekulé's friend Hugo Müller that he had impartially proposed both Kolbe and Kekulé, refusing to state a preference between them. He subsequently told Kolbe directly that he had endorsed Kolbe for Bonn.[27] Kolbe could scarcely believe it when he heard that Kekulé was under consideration. He wrote to Vieweg, "His choice would be in my opinion the grossest blunder, but for that reason is all the more probable under the present regime, which always does the most wrongheaded things." In any case, Kolbe thought that (Gerhardtian) type theorists in general had the advantage in professorial calls at that time; indeed, all the candidates under consideration were "typists" except Kolbe.[28]

In the spring of 1867 the call finally came, and it was to Kolbe. Ironically, Kekulé's candidacy appears to have been derailed by one of his rare responses to Kolbe's insults: the passage had come to the attention of an "influential personage" involved in the deliberations, who concluded that Kekulé was no gentleman.[29] Although by this time Kolbe was well ensconced in Leipzig, with a large new laboratory about to be constructed, he very nearly accepted the call. The sticking point was the insistence on the part of the Prussian ministry that Kolbe share a "portion" of the new lab with the physical chemist Hans Landolt, who was being promoted to Ordinarius. There would thus be another split professorship, which Kolbe regarded as unacceptable, and for this reason alone he declined the offer.[30] "Man kann zu Zwei in einem Bette schlafen, aber nicht zusammen ein Institut benutzen," Kolbe observed sourly to Hofmann, or else he would have gladly accepted.[31]

The call to Bonn then went to Kekulé in June 1867, who quickly and successfully negotiated the conditions. In contrast to Kolbe, Kekulé had no trouble coming to agreement with Landolt over how the lab and the fees were to be divided (Kekulé took two-thirds), for he and Landolt were old friends. In the event, this shared arrangement was not of long duration. The lab was completed in 1868—at a final cost of 144,000 thalers exclusive of furnishings—and two years later Landolt accepted a call to Aachen. Kekulé made sure that Landolt's successor was an ausserordentlicher Professor, subservient to him.[32]

Let us now return to Leipzig, where the Kühn succession had been hanging fire all during the Bonn and Berlin negotiations. Asked (according to tradition) for their recommendations, the Medical Faculty declined to advocate an Ordinarius successor to Kühn, largely be-


cause Erdmann was already professor of chemistry and they thought it inappropriate to repeat the mistake of 1830 and divide the professorship. Instead, they suggested a "provisional arrangement" (presumably looking toward Erdmann's retirement or death) whereby Kühn's Assistent, the Privatdozent Heinrich Hirzel, was to become ausserordentlicher Professor for pharmaceutical chemistry and take over direction of Kühn's laboratory, and Wilhelm Knop, then ausserordentlicher Professor for agricultural chemistry in the Philosophical Faculty, was to be further supported in salary, facilities, and lab budget, and be asked to teach organic chemistry as well.[33]

The professor of anatomy Ernst Wagner wrote a dissenting opinion, suggesting that Knop be called as Kühn's successor and that Hirzel be a second Ordinarius in pharmaceutical chemistry. He would have considered proposing a non-Saxon for the first position, were one to be had (he wrote), except that the Berlin episode (the Mitscherlich-Rose enmity and Hofmann's reluctance before Rose's death to accept a split chair) suggested that going for national candidates would never succeed under a split professorship.[34]

Hirzel (1828-1908) was born and educated in Zurich and had been working with Kühn for fifteen years. He had developed a modest reputation in Leipzig, especially for his teaching and popular science writing. Knop (1817-1891), a Ph.D. under Wöhler and an Assistent successively under Wöhler and Erdmann, taught agricultural chemistry for several years at the public trade school in Leipzig. In 1853 he habilitated in the Philosophical Faculty, then three years later became Director of the recently established agricultural experiment station in Möckern, just outside Leipzig. In 1861 he was promoted to ausserordentlicher Professor. In the late 1850s and 1860s, the value of experiment stations began to be appreciated throughout Germany, and agricultural chemistry penetrated the university system. Knop was particularly valued in Saxony for his important contributions to the discipline, and he was thought (not only in collegial circles but also in the Dresden Kultusministerium) to be essentially irreplaceable.[35]

Falkenstein was unhappy with the faculty report. Although Hirzel had been assistant to Kühn, he was in the Philosophical Faculty. Upon his request for promotion the previous year, that faculty (including Erdmann) had judged him to be inadequately qualified for an Extraordinarius, much less—as Falkenstein argued—for what would amount to be a successor to an Ordinarius. For a field of the importance of chemistry, moreover a subject whose enrollments continue to increase every semester, a certifiably superior academic candidate must be found, and Falkenstein asked the faculty once more for names of such candidates, who surely cannot be rare. The appointment could be


either in the Medical or in the Philosophical Faculty, depending on the candidate's background. Regarding Knop, Falkenstein agreed fully with the faculty's plea for further support and promised to provide it for this excellent researcher. He thought, however, that Knop had more than his hands full without asking him to add organic chemistry to his teaching load. Finally, regarding Erdmann, no slight was intended in going for a second Ordinarius in chemistry; considering the enormous significance of the field, he argued, two full professors are by no means too many.[36]

Four documents were submitted in reply to Falkenstein's second directive: an official faculty response, a second dissenting report by Wagner, a long brief by Erdmann (who, being in the Philosophical Faculty, was not officially involved), and a separate report by the medical faculty concerning the unsatisfactory character of Kühn's old lab on the Universitätsstrasse.[37]

In their official response, a substantial thirty-four-page memorandum, the faculty had little to add or to change from their previous position. They did, however, expatiate at length on their reasons for opposing a "doubled" or "split" professorship. Since the deaths of Mitscherlich in Berlin and Kühn in Leipzig, such an arrangement was found nowhere in Germany, and for good reason. Lines of authority were confused, fee rights were uncertain, and an unhealthy competition ensued for students, lab space, budget dollars, salary, and so on. Consequently, resources were splintered and wasted. Recent history demonstrated, they wrote, that it was next to impossible to attract an eminent chemist to a shared post. Certainly no good chemist would ever want to take over Kühn's lab, which was dark, poorly ventilated, continually disturbed by the noise and shaking of heavy traffic in the Universitätsstrasse, and had poor and outmoded furnishings and equipment. Were a substantial name to be attracted to Leipzig, he would undoubtedly demand a new lab building, which would cost 40,000-50,000 thalers or even more. Finally, the faculty argued, why look outside Saxony when such fine local talents as Hirzel and Knop are available?

In his response, Erdmann related the unusual circumstances behind his and Kühn's joint call in 1830, averring that the results had been "unhappy," "inexpedient," and "crippling." He then rehearsed all of the same arguments that the Medical Faculty had used to oppose a second Ordinarius. The custom of one Ordinarius per discipline is all the more compelling for a field of the growing size and importance of chemistry, Erdmann stressed. He also took the opportunity to complain about his lab. A model of excellence when it opened two decades ago, it was now far behind the rapidly advancing state of the art.


(Erdmann related a recent conversation he had had with Bunsen, during which the latter asked him in surprise, "You mean you don't get everything you ask for?")[38]

Erdmann did explore one possible compromise position: to retain him as sole professor of chemistry, but restrict his teaching to inorganic chemistry and appoint a second Ordinarius for organic chemistry. To be sure, organic is not in principle so very distinct, "but in recent times this field has been pursued so preferentially by younger scientists, and their discipline is characterized by such rapid changes, that it seems entirely justifiable to give it a specialized representation by a younger talent"—just as Wöhler and Bunsen had done in Göttingen and Heidelberg, he added.[39]

Falkenstein finally lost patience, and his irritation showed.[40] His third directive represented a firm rejection of the faculty's proposal and a reiteration of his desire to replace Kühn with a second Ordinarius, indeed with the most eminent chemist anywhere to be found. No one could possibly object to a second Ordinarius for a field with the demand and the importance of chemistry; Leipzig already had high enrollments in the field, and they would no doubt continue to grow. The faculty's opinion notwithstanding, a provisional arrangement with local Extraordinarien would have the effect of limiting and diminishing the field. Nor could one Ordinarius be limited to inorganic chemistry, the other to organic chemistry, for that would violate the cherished principle of Lehrfreiheit.

Falkenstein's response indicates that he was trying to loose the faculty's hold on the unstated assumption that money and resources were highly circumscribed (a mistaken notion, as we have seen, that was still made during the negotiations over the Erdmann succession five years later). Leipzig was a large and wealthy university, Falkenstein argued, and we should be thinking in expansive terms. He was untroubled by the faculty's frightened warning about the need for a new institute were the search to be national; if a new institute is needed, we will provide it, he affirmed. He once again asked for a proposed set of national candidates, if necessary coordinated with the Philosophical Faculty, "and [the ministry] does not want to neglect drawing attention among others to the name of Professor Kolbe in Marburg, who has been recommended to us by a number of knowledgeable men."[41]

Since Kolbe was a nonphysician, following receipt of this directive the Medical Faculty asked a committee from the Philosophical Faculty to deliberate with them. In May 1865 they fully capitulated to Falkenstein's requests, reaching a quick and unanimous decision to accept Kolbe's nomination and to make the appointment in the Philosophical


Faculty. The decision was communicated to the Ministerium in memos of 31 May and 13 June from the Medical and Philosophical Faculties, respectively. On the former date, Erdmann wrote Kolbe to tell him of the call.[42]

Kolbe knew as early as 7 February from a letter from his old Marburg acquaintance Carl Ludwig (whom Falkenstein had just called to Leipzig) that his name was under consideration for a call to Leipzig, along with Kekulé and Strecker.[43] Kolbe was inclined to accept such a call, given the proper conditions; he strongly preferred Bonn, but that post was still encumbered to Hofmann.[44] He investigated whether a Bonn call might actually come (the Prussian minister Olshausen later told Kolbe that he wanted to call him, but that his hands were still tied by the Hofmann commitment), while at the same time using Ludwig to help him formulate conditions of acceptance.[45]

Those conditions were to include full equality with Erdmann as second Ordinarius for chemistry; a new laboratory, comparable to the Berlin and Bonn institutes, to be built within two years; a 2500-thaler start-up budget for new equipment and supplies; an annual lab budget of 1000 thalers; three assistants; and a salary matching Bonn's offer to Hofmann of 2000 thalers. The salary was by any measure generous; just in March—presumably in direct response to the early feelers from Dresden—the Kurhessian ministry had given Kolbe a raise from 800 to 1000 thalers.[46] As early as 16 June, he was indicating privately to friends that he intended to accept the Leipzig offer, with or without a new lab, but he continued negotiating for nearly two more months before formally accepting. He traveled to Leipzig on 26 September, staying at the Hotel de Prusse while renting winter lodgings for his family in Königsplatz 14, near Kühn's old lab in the Universitätsstrasse, which he would temporarily inherit. A week later he returned to Marburg to arrange his move. On the first of October, he declared to Vieweg, "Today I am a Saxon!" and on the fourteenth he arrived in Leipzig with his wife and three children. On the sixth of November, he had a highly gratifying audience with King Johann that lasted a quarter hour. The next day he gave the first lecture of his Leipzig career.[47]

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