The Cycle of Life:
An History of Experimental Ecology

Sterling Memorial
Kline Sciences
Medical Historical
Exhibit Map

Jean Baptiste Dumas, Essai de Statique Chimique, 3rd Edition, 1844

In 1842, Jean Baptiste Dumas published a series of lectures he had presented at the Sorbonne as An Essay on Chemical Statics. Dumas published the first edition of this book just after Justus Liebig published his own physiological view of nature in his influential Animal Chemistry. The two struggled to be the higher authority in organic chemistry. This quarrel was founded on a series of priority disputes related to advancing chemistry as the best science for investigating Nature’s economy. Both drew heavily on Lavoisier’s work.

In the final lecture of his book, Dumas collaborated with Boussingault on the topic: “The Balance of Organic Nature.” Here they described the nature as a chemical laboratory with “the animal kingdom constituting an immense apparatus of combustion and the vegetable kingdom and immense apparatus of reduction.” The “mysterious cycle of organic life on the globe” worked by vegetables drawing matter from the atmosphere to create organic substances, these pass into animals when they are eaten, the plants and animals return these materials to nature’s grand reserve upon their death and ultimate decay.”

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Lloyd Ackert
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