In March 1860, the severity of Bernard's symptoms prompted Rayer and Davaine to seek permission from the Sorbonne and the Collège for him to withdraw temporarily from his duties - and retreat to his haven of peace at St Julien. A change of environment, the passage of time and his mother' tender care would hopefully resolve the strange illness.
For the rest of that year, both his voice and pen were at rest as Bernard allowed his body to recover; yet nothing could quell his thoughts and ideas. It was surely time to analyse how he had researched: to generalize from the specific, and to crystallize out his principles and his concept of 'life'. He had been originally seduced by the positivisme of Auguste Compte: the importance of fact, but the unattainability of absolute knowledge. Now, he had to move on to a philosophy which would embrace method and practice: scientific determinisme. Magendie and so many others had often done experiments on a whim. They had repeated studies until by chance the results coincided or conformed to their pre-formed theories or expectations. Bernard firmly opposed such empiricism. He reasoned that if two seemingly identical experiments had different outcomes, then the conditions of the two experiments must have been different - Bernard's brand of 'scientific determinism'.
Immediately adjoining the family cottage in St Julien still stands a long and elegant manor house disposed on three floors. Its front windows overlook a large lawn, and through a few trees one can glimpse several hectares of vineyards which belonged to the property. Beyond is a shallow valley of even more vines and thickets, the hills of the Dombes and on a clear day, even the outline of Mont Blanc. In 1861, its owner, lawyer Jean-François Lombard de Quincieux decided to sell it, including vineyards, presses, cellars and outhouses. With the help of a mortgage, Bernard purchased it for 60,000 francs; yet he would never persuade his mother to join him there: she was content to remain, clothed in memories within her familiar surroundings of the adjacent family cottage.
Bernard created a study, and converted part of the manor house annex into a small laboratory where he could do experiments. He had the pleasure of looking out at his lilacs, violets, periwinkles, roses and herbs; but in his laboratory he would sometimes 'anaesthetize' his plants with ether or chloroform236,TMB49, or immerse them in fluids to study the toxic effects of increasing concentrations of glucose. On his rambles, the life of ponds and pools also took his interest. He sampled the water so that he could later study the effects of dehydration on the smallest of its inhabitants, the rotifera, and collect frogs so that he could look at the effects of opiates and other poisons. Most importantly, his countryside walks allowed him to contemplate; to expand his ideas on those phenomena of 'life' that were common to animals and plants. This material would only be published - as one of his famous Leçons - some twenty years later.TMB49
Bernard's keen sense of responsibililty dictated that he should return briefly to Paris in the summer of 1861 to give his planned series of lectures at the Collège on the functions of the spinal cord151, and check his assistants' progress with the tasks he had allocated to them in his laboratory. On this visit, he heard of his election to the Académie de Médecine; long delayed because some physicians had criticized him for "...substituting the laboratory for the hospital." In return, Bernard often showed his disapproval of physicians, whom he could never convince that an initial knowledge of physiology was fundamental to understanding pathology. He also deplored physicians' attitudes and commented that "...when a doctor enters a room, he always looks as though he is going to say: 'I have just saved the life of a fellow man."
As usual, Bernard was back in the Beaujolais for the September harvest, now feeling more enterprising. He decided that his 'health sabbatical' would be used to record his ideas and beliefs. It would be his first creative writing since Arthur de Bretagne, twenty-five years earlier. He had no title for his projected book, but it would certainly have to encompass all his principles of experimental medicine. And so he began to make notes....
Firstly, an observation was an important starting point (although one had to be careful not to confuse an observation with a 'fact', which could only be established much further down the line). An observation had to lead to a hypothesis, without which no experiment could even be considered - and the results of that experiment must be shown to be reproducible. Another starting point was imagination, intuition or feeling, leading to reason - and only then to hypothesis and experiment. He would denounce scepticism (except as applied to his perception of the therapeutics of the time). At the same time he would praise scientific doubt and its value in leading to truth. He would condemn the metaphysical greed for identifying primary causes of a disease or phenomenon (the 'why'), and urge scientists to focus only on 'immediate' causes (the 'how') - in effect supporting the scientific positivism of Auguste Comte.
Then he would attack fixed ideas, praise freedom of mind, and caution against blindly accepting authority. He would also attack vitalisme: that vague force and cloak for ignorance which had been invoked by scientists for centuries to explain the otherwise inexplicable in nature. He would stress the importance of always following a positive result with a counterproof experiment, and argue that synthesis was the necessary counterproof of analysis. He would present his case for vivisection, in agreeing with Buffon that "...if animals did not exist, man's nature would be still more incomprehensible." He would also condemn the frequent abuse of statistics and find examples to support his attitude.
What he finally compiled became his most important and enduring bequest to science: the 'Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine' that he completed and published three years later, in 1865TMB29. That book would live on, translated into a dozen languages, to be used in courses on physiology and philosophy for another 100 years or more.
During Bernard's protracted stay, he also probably performed a few experiments on 'ferments' relevant to his increasing interest in alcoholic fermentation. His friend Louis Pasteur also owned vineyards, in the Jura. Whereas Pasteur believed that alcoholic fermentation required living yeasts, Bernard maintained that soluble yeast enzymes sufficed - for what he held to be a chemical and not a biological process. There was irony there, for Pasteur was the chemist and Bernard was the biologist!
Bernard was also involved in addressing the age-old theory of spontaneous generation126 : the notion that new species could arise from decaying and putrid animal tissue. On this particular matter, Bernard and Pasteur did agree - that the theory was nonsense; although proving it to be so would be more difficult. Nevertheless, on his return to Paris at the end of 1862 Bernard was able to announce, as chairman of the awards panel of the Academy of Sciences, that Pasteur had been given the Alhumbert Prize for finally proving that this ancient concept was totally invalid. To his credit, Pasteur acknowledged that Bernard had helped him achieve the necessary proof158. Bernard too presented a paper to the Academy of Sciences: essentially a review of his work on the sympathetic. It dealt with his important discovery of the vasomotor system: the way that sympathetic nerve activity altered blood flow and thus the activity of organs and the generation of 'animal heat'.154-156,TMB49p314,360,TMB13
In early 1863, Bernard and his family moved to a larger apartment at 14, rue St Honoré. Not that he was often there; returning only to eat and sleep. He had little contact with his wife, and discovered that she had drafted their daughters into helping with her anti-vivisection and general animal-protection activities. It was probably at that time that Bernard first suggested a legal separation; a proposal that Fanny firmly rejected on the grounds that it dishonoured her - and contravened her religious principles. Bernard soon developed more abdominal problems, and escaped for a further brief period to St Julien. His Collège laboratory was meanwhile tended by Paul Bert, who had taken over from Auguste Tripier after his long nine-year tour of duty as préparateur.
The year 1864 was memorable more for its social than its professional events. Bernard was honoured by being invited to the Chateau de Compiègne for a week as the guest of Emperor Louis-Napoleon and the Empress Eugénie. Present at these so-called séries were the eminent from many walks of life. Bernard made his mark on many of his fellow guests: architects, engineers, artists and philosophers. The Emperor, with whom he had a two-hour audience was obviously impressed enough to offer him a sizeable award to help with his work. The Emperor's cousin, Princess Mathilde was also present. Their friendship would flourish over many years; his visits to her salons would enable Bernard to meet many people valuable to his professional progress - and to his enjoyment of life.
A Broader Life...