Science in the face of her Parisian representatives was very much exercised, if not offended, lately, by what is viewed as an unpardonable freak of nature—we are not sure that we ought not to say disrespect—to the Academy of Sciences. It had been repeatedly declared that men of great intellectual powers were always possessed of large brains. The brain of Cuvier, the great French naturalist, weighed 1,829 grammes (over 60 oz.); that of Napoleon an ounce or two less; that of Byron 1,400, and that of General Skobeleff—1,427 grammes. Why should Gambetta’s brain then, which had manifested one of the greatest intellects of the day, weigh less than 39 ounces, or 1,100 grammes? The great authority, Dr. Broca, was so disgusted that he is reported to have viciously remarked that had he been shown the cerebral organ of Gambetta, without knowing to whom it had belonged, he would have declared it to have filled the cranial cavity of a woman of extremely ordinary capacities. This impolite fling at the fair sex by the by, was uncalled for, since the quality of the brain is more important than its quantity, and Tiedemann and other anthropologists have shown, that the female brain, though smaller than that of the male, is far larger when compared with the size of the body. Anyhow there lay before the men of science the brain-matter of one of the greatest orators living, of a genius among the modern statesmen, and—it weighed 42 grammes less than that of his female cook!
Doctor Ivanofsky, of St. Petersburg, undertakes to solve the mystery.
It is evident, he says in a letter to the Novoyé Vremya, that the weight of the brain, in its normal condition, i.e., free from organic pathological changes—has its importance and meaning. But—as Professor Syetchenoff has it in his work on “The Reflex Actions of the Brain”—even while admitting that the soul is not the product of the activity of the brain, yet, since in every case, the brain is the organ of the soul, that organ must change its quantity and even quality in accordance to the use and misuse it had been subjected to by the soul. Indeed, when viewed in this light the men of science will find that relatively speaking Gambetta’s brain was not as light as it seemed to them, when weighed on their scales. The doctor goes further, and asserts that it can be proved that the said brain weighed no less than that of Byron and nearly equalled the brain of Skobeleff.
To prove his assertion, Dr. Ivanofsky reminds the gentlemen of the science and the profane public that, to begin with, Gambetta had but one eye (the left one); and that as a direct consequence the nervous apparatus of the right missing eye, designed by nature for the reception, the transmission and the concentration of the rays of light and their projection into space—remained inactive for long years. Now this eye apparatus is composed, as everyone knows, of a retina, of the optic nerve and the optic centre in the brain. Its prolonged inactivity, that covered a period of thirty years in his case, must have unavoidably produced an atrophy of the cerebral optical centre, which atrophy has naturally influenced greatly the subsequent weight of the brain-matter.
Leaving aside the retina and that portion of the optic nerve which had to be severed during the withdrawal of the brain from the cranial cavity, this atrophy of the optic cerebral centre of the right side alone, taking into consideration its long duration, must have shown a deficit of 120 grammes at the least in the weight of the brain. Besides this fact giving us already as the absolute weight of Gambetta’s brain 1,220 instead of 1,100 grammes, we have to consider likewise the deteriorating process of the illness that ended so fatally. As a well-known anatomist well remarks:
“until more attention is paid to the condition of the blood vessels and to the quantity of the freely circulating serious liquid, which soaks through the brain or its vesicles—the weighing of the brain matter will prove itself of very little importance.”
Thus taking into serous consideration Gambetta’s long illness and the localization of the disease; as also his long abstinence from food, or rather the regular starvation he suffered from, for days before his end, it will be found that his brain must have necessarily exhibited the symptoms of the greatest want of blood in it. This, then, if we remember still further that the quantity of blood and serous liquid that had filled the brain and vesicles, was neither ascertained nor weighed, would show an extra deficit of 200 grammes, which, accounting for its abnormal lightness, will give us as the absolute weight of Gambetta’s brain 1,420 grammes, viz., a few grammes more than that of Byron’s and a few grammes less than the weight of Skobeleff’s brain.
The decision upon the worth of this scientific explanation is left with those who have made the study of the human brain and eye their specialty. We simply publish the hypothesis.