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The Catalina Islander
Avalon, California
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February 18, 1931     The Catalina Islander
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February 18, 1931
 

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PAGE EIGHT A GREAT FAILURE By W. E. Allen Biological Feature Service In looking up certain items in the history of Science my attention has been attracted by some points of in- terest in the life of Jan Swammer- dam, one of the most talented biolo, gists of Holland of the Seventeenth Century. In the first place I am in- terested in the results of an error made by his father because this error is so exactly like those made by mil- lions of parents through hundreds of generations in all civilized countries. It seems that almost all varent~ think they know more than Nature, or think that by sheer obstinacy and bull- headed'negs they can destroy Nature, and that they can make their children into what they want them to be in- stead of what these children are qual- ified by Nature to be. True enough, the elder Swammer- dam did make concessions and give support which must have seemed tre mendous to him, but he still failed to aid his.son to pursue the line of work on which his fame was to rest. This is all the more strange because the father himself had taken considerable interest in natural science. Never- theless, Ire had set his heart on seeing Jan a clergyman and when it finally became certain that the boy would not do for that profession he insisted that the latter become a doctor. Probably because of disagreements and dissensions incident to their dif- ferences in ideals and plans for the future Jan did not graduate in med- icine until he was thirty years old. ,However, he had persisted in his own studies of living things throughout the years, and it is llkelv that certain stimulating friendships formed in c,~n- neetion with his medical studies went far toward compensating him for lime spent upon prepaPation for the med- ical profession. As a physician ~:m was a total fail- ure. He was so intensely intereste,l in studying the structure of honey-: bees, flies, beetles, and many c~ther kinds of small animals that he paid no attention to getting or keeping pa- licnts and he had to live entirely at the expense of his father. The latter became so exasperated at Jan's con- tinued dependence that at the end of about six years he refused to allow any more funds for support. Mean- while, through attacks of malaria and bad health incurred by too close at- tention to his exhausting studies, Jan had come to the point where he could no longer continue his investigations and he wandered around, largely de- pending upon friends until the time of his death at" the age of forty-two. A total failure at his profession but a great success as a biologist, he held a leading place in the biological field for more than a hundred years. And this leading place among the great scientists of his age was earned in the sixyears that he was earning failure in the profession which he had been forced to adopt. When confronted with such a case one is tempted to speculate on -,~hat might have happened if a sympathe- tic parent had recognized Jan's genius and had given him the home and the financial support which the father was well able to do. It seems so easy to suppose that thus the voun.~ man ,night have been enabled to extend his fruitful period of research over twenty or thirt3/ years instead of six and to have reached a total produc- tion having value three or four times as great. But that would not neces- sarily follow. His important ideas of those few years may have been all that his mind ever could have afford- ed and the work done in adversity may have been much more valuable than what he might have done in con- ,titions of ease. Nor is the father's attitude to be lightly condemned. To him it may have appeared pefectly clear that the son could become a successful physician if he chose, a credit to a respected and lucrative profession instead of a zealot in studies of insects which brought no financial return and no community prestige. The father made a mistake in try- ing to force the son into an uhsuit- able profession but he surely was right in trying to get the latter to learn to take care of himself. % Your voice reaches ;r cities i speed and clarity IT'S easy to place an inter-city call. Just ask for the place and number you want. If you don't know the number, the operator will help you. If you will talk with anyone who answers, instead of a particular person, the charge is usually even lower. 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