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In power and deportment the father and the husband were the rePresentatives of the Czar; the domestic economy was the image of the political. Fear was the universal principle of action, and corporal suffering—the natural correlative of this principle-the means of government and authority, in every department, and through all degrees of rank. Russia, in short, exhibited most of the vices of character and gloomy customs, which distinguish the Asiatic despotisms; but her population possessed qualities of which the Asiatics are usually destitute,
energy and acuteness of mind,
vivacity of temper, a spirit of
enterprise and enquiry. The pri
mitive Russians were conspicu
ous for that talent of imitation,
which is still the admiration of travellers in Russia. They excelled, as do their posterity, in the preparation of leather and the crystallization of salt. Their manufacturing industry, was, however, in general, extremely limited and rude. They owed to foreign officers whatever progress they had made in the military art. The Russian soldier displayed indeed the same qualities for which he is now remarkable, and which render him so perfect an instrument of conquest in the hands of a skilful leader. He was to the last degree submissive, and patient of suffering, and seemed to be gifted with a sort of impassibility as to fatigue and hunger. It is proper to have a general idea of what the Russians were at the commencement of the seventeenth century, to understand what progress they have since made in civilization, and what is Vol. I.
to be expected from them on this score for the future. They must appear to less disadvantage contrasted at present with the Western and Southern nations, when it is considered, how far the latter were beyond them, at the period just mentioned. In Italy, the age of Leo X. was even passed. Michael Angelo and Raphael, Ariosto and Tasso, Machiavel and Guicciardini had accomplished their chef d'oeuvres and brought the arts of imagination and narrative to the acmé of excellence. In France, the genius, the learning, the wit and the courtesy which shed so brilliant a light over the age of Louis the fourteenth, were beginning to dawn. England could boast of her More, her Bacon, her Spenser, her Shakspeare, her Harvey, and her sir Philip Sidney; Spain of her Cervantes; Portugal of her Camoens. What was the proficiency of the Germans in knowledge, in the arts, in domestic and social refinement, I need not mention to those who have any acquaintance with the modern history of Europe The case would be, on this side, much stronger, if I spoke of the commencement of the eighteenth century, the era of Peter the Great, from which the comparison between Russia and Western Europe should properly date, an era when the human mind in the latter was in its richest blaze of glory: in full fruition of all the delights and honours of civilization;–when, by the purification of the moral sentiments through the influence of knowledge and religion, our nature was brought as near to its divine original in dignity, as it is probably ever destined to approach.
. 2 P
Read at the Public Sitting of the Institute, the 9th of January, 1815, by - M. Cuvien, Perfetual Secretary.
Translated by H. PATILLo, Esq. of Baltimore.
The sciences have arrived at such a point, that they no longer astonish us so much by the great efforts which they suppose, and the striking truths which they reveal, as by the immense advantages which the application of them procures every day to society. There is not one of them in which, at present, the discovery of a single proposition may not enrich an entire people or change the face of nations; and far from our having to dread that this influence may diminish, it cannot but increase, for it is easy to prove that it originates in the very nature of things. We may be permitted to make some reflections upon this subject, which cannot be improper in this place, or before this assembly. Hunger and cold are the two great enemies of our race, and it is to combat them, that all the arts are applied more or less directly. Now it is only by the combination and disengagement of two or three elementary substances, that they can answer this purpose. To nourish ourselves is nothing else that to replace the quantities of carbon and hydrogen which respiration and perspiration take from us; to warm ourselves, is to retard the dispersion of the caloric with which respiration supplies us. For one or the other of these
purposes are intended the palace | and the cabin; the coarse bread of the poor and the dainties of the sensualist; the purple of kings and the rags of misery. Consequently, architecture and the liberal arts, agriculture and manufactures, navigation, commerce, wars even and the vast display of courage and of genius, the
grand apparatus of strength and
of knowledge which they require,
have for their final object two simple operations of chemistry. Consequently also the smallest discovery concerning the laws of nature in these two operations may reduce public and private expenditure, change the system and the course of commerce, transfer the power of one nation to another, and finish by altering the most fundamental relations of the different classes of society. In fact, this carbon, and this hydrogen which we are incessantly consuming in our fire places, in our clothing and our food, are continually reproduced for a new consumption by vegetation which takes them back again from the atmosphere and from water; but the quantity of vegetation is itself limited by the extent of the soil, by the species of vegetables which are cultivated in it, and by the proportion of wood, of meadow, of corn-land and of cattle. In vain therefore shall the most paternal government attempt to increase
the population of its territory beyond certain limits; all its efforts will be unavailing unless science come to its assistance. But let a philosopher imagine a fire-place of a new construction which shall economise in some degree the consumption of fuel, it is as if he had added in the same degree to our wood lands; let a botanist present us a plant capable of yielding more nourishment in the same space, it is as if he had increased in the same proportion the quantity of our cultivated lands. Immediately there is room for a greater number of inhabitants. Happy conquests which cost no blood, and which repair the disasters of more vulgar ones. Yes! however paradoxical the assertion may appear, it is, in fact, the progress of the sciences which prevents society from sinking under the effects of its own madness. But for chemistry what would have become of our manufactures at a time when we had voluntarily denied ourselves all intercourse with the countries which produce our raw materials? Has not vaccination preserved the children, who are soon to replace those whom war has swept away? And, to consider only the labours of Parmentier and count Rumford, is it not evident to all the world that the perseverance with which the first urged the propagation of the potatoe, has fertilized and rendered habitable entire districts formerly barren, and has saved us from the horrors of famine twice within twenty years; that the discoveries of the other on the most economical use of fuel have counterbalanced the devastation of our forests, and
that applied to the preparation of food, they sustain at this moment a multitude of unfortunate beings, from one extremity of Europe to the other. If we reflect an instant on the effect of the smallest improvement applicable on so vast a scale, we shall find that it is to be calculated by hundreds of millions. If I could bring before you those fathers, who no longer hear around them the mournful cries of want; those mothers who have found their milk return when misery had dried up the sources of it; those children who no longer fall in their infancy, withered like the flowers of spring; if I could inform them to whom they are indebted for these alleviations of their calamities, their cries of gratitude would render my vain discourse unnecessary; there is not one of you who would not renounce with joy his finest discoveries for such a concert of benedictions. You will listen then with some interest to the particulars of the life of this useful man; you will render honour to that kind of labours which the progressive state of civilization most imperiously demands. .Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was born at Montqidier in 1737, of a creditable family which had long been established in that town, where it had occasionally filled some municipal offices. The premature death of his father, and the narrowness of his mother’s fortune, who was left a widow with three young children, confined the early education of M. Parmentier to a little knowledge of Latin, which he received from his mother, a woman of understanding, and better informed than those of her condition generally are. A worthy ecclesiastick had taken upon himself to develope these first germs, imagining that the young man would become a valuable member of the church; but the necessity of maintaining his family soon compelled him to choose a profession which should afford him more prompt resources: he was therefore obliged to desist from the study of letters, and his laborious life never afterwards permitted him to return to them fully; and this explains how his works, so important from their utility, have not always the order and the precision which a regular education and long practice alone can give to a writer. In 1755 he commenced his apprenticeship with an apothecary at Montdidier, and the following year came to Paris, where he continued it with one of his relations who exercised the same profession. Having shown intelligence and industry he obtained in 1757, an employment as apothecary in the hospitals of the army of Hanover. The late M. Bayen, one of the most distinguished men whom this class has possessed, then presided over that department of the service. We all know that he was not less estimable from the elevation of his character than from his talents. He remarked the good qualities and regular conduct of the young Parmentier, attached himself to him, and presented him to M. de Chamousset, intendant general of the hospitals, whose active benevolence has rendered him so celebrated, and to whom Paris and all France are indebted for so many useful establishments. It was from his intercourse
with these two excellent men that M. Parmentier drew the ideas and sentiments which afterwards informed all his labours. He learnt from them two things equally unknown to those whose greatest duty it is to be acquainted with them: the extent, the variety of the miseries from which it is possible to rescue, mankind if their well being were seriously sought; and the number and power of the resources which nature offers against so many scourges, if the knowledge and study of them were encouraged and disseminated. Chemical knowledge, which took its rise in Germany, continued at that time much more diffused in that country than among us; more frequent applications of it had been made; the numerous little sovereigns among whom the country was divided, had attended particularly to the improvement, of their principalities, and the chemist, the speculative husbandman, the friend of the useful arts, found every where something to learn. M. Parmentier, incited by his virtuous masters, profited eagerly of these sources of instruction. When his duty detained him in a town, he examined the manufactures the least known among us; he obtained permission from the most skilful apothecaries to work in their laboratories. In the country he observed the methods t of the farmers. He noted even the interesting objects which struck him on his marches with the troops. Nor did he want opport
tunities of remarking these things in all their varieties, for he was five times made a prisoner, and transported to places where his generals wouldnothave conducted
him; he had occasion even to learn from experience the horrors of want, an experience necessary perhaps to light that fine fire of humanity which burnt within him during the course of his long life. However, before making any use of the knowledge he had acquired, and endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of the people, it was necessary for him to render his own a little less precarious. At the peace of 1763, he returned to the capital, and there recommenced, in a more scientific order, the studies connected with his art. The courses of Nollet, of Rouelle, of Antoine, and of Bernard de Jussieu, enlarged his ideas, and assisted him in arranging them more methodically. He acquired extensive and solid information on all the physical sciences, and an inferior place of apothecary becoming vacant in the invalids in 1766, he obtained it after a warm contest. His subsistence being thus secured, his condition soon became easy. The administrators of the establishment finding that his conduct justified the choice which had been made of him, induced the king in 1772 to confer upon him the direction of the apothecary’s department; a recompence which an - unforeseen incident rendered much more complete than had been intended or than he had ventured to expect. The pharmacy of the invalids had been from the beginning of the establishment under the direction of the sisters of charity. These worthy women, who had been very kind to young Parmentier, while he was a sort of journeyman to them, were not at
all satisfied at his being placed upon their level. They raised such a clamour on the occasion, they set so many springs in motion, that the king at last was obliged to recede, and after two years of controversy, this singular decision was made, that M. Parmentier should continue to enjoy the emoluments, but should no longer discharge the functions of his office. He was thus enabled to surrender himself entirely to his zeal for researches of general utility; and from this moment he never more intermitted them. The first opportunity which he had of publishing some results of his speculations had been afforded by the academy of Besançon in 1771. The dearth of 1769 had called the attention of the ministers and of philosophers to those vegetables which might supply the place of corn, and the . academy had proposed a prize for the history of them, which Parmentier gained. He endeavoured to prove in his dissertation that the most useful nutritive portion of vegetables is the starch, and showed how it may be obtained from the roots and seeds of various indigenous plants, and might be deprived of the acrid and poisonous principles by which it is modified in some. He also pointed out the ingredients which may assist in converting this starch into a tolerable bread, or at least into a kind of biscuit fit to be eaten in soup."
* Memoir which gained the prize on this question: to point out the vegetables which in times of scarcity may supply the place of those that are usually employed jor the nourishment of man, Paris, Knapen, 1773, in 12mo.