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Chapter 4
From this day natural philosophy, and particularly chemistry, in the most comprehensive
sense of the term, became nearly my sole occupation. I read with ardour those works, so
full of genius and discrimination, which modern inquirers have written on these subjects.
I attended the lectures and cultivated the acquaintance of the men of science of the
university, and I found even in M. Krempe a great deal of sound sense and real
information, combined, it is true, with a repulsive physiognomy and manners, but not on
that account the less valuable. In M. Waldman I found a true friend. His gentleness was
never tinged by dogmatism, and his instructions were given with an air of frankness and
good nature that banished every idea of pedantry. In a thousand ways he smoothed for me
the path of knowledge and made the most abstruse inquiries clear and facile to my
apprehension. My application was at first fluctuating and uncertain; it gained strength as I
proceeded and soon became so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the
light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory.
As I applied so closely, it may be easily conceived that my progress was rapid. My ardour
was indeed the astonishment of the students, and my proficiency that of the masters.
Professor Krempe often asked me, with a sly smile, how Cornelius Agrippa went on,
whilst M. Waldman expressed the most heartfelt exultation in my progress. Two years
passed in this manner, during which I paid no visit to Geneva, but was engaged, heart and
soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries which I hoped to make. None but those who have
experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as
far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific
pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder. A mind of moderate capacity
which closely pursues one study must infallibly arrive at great proficiency in that study;
and I, who continually sought the attainment of one object of pursuit and was solely
wrapped up in this, improved so rapidly that at the end of two years I made some
discoveries in the improvement of some chemical instruments, which procured me great
esteem and admiration at the university. When I had arrived at this point and had become
as well acquainted with the theory and practice of natural philosophy as depended on the
lessons of any of the professors at Ingolstadt, my residence there being no longer
conducive to my improvements, I thought of returning to my friends and my native town,
when an incident happened that protracted my stay.
One of the phenomena which had peculiarly attracted my attention was the structure of
the human frame, and, indeed, any animal endued with life. Whence, I often asked
myself, did the principle of life proceed? It was a bold question, and one which has ever
been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of
becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries. I
revolved these circumstances in my mind and determined thenceforth to apply myself
more particularly to those branches of natural philosophy which relate to physiology.
Unless I had been animated by an almost supernatural enthusiasm, my application to this
study would have been irksome and almost intolerable. To examine the causes of life, we