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The Shadowed Side of Spallanzani

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THE SHADOWED SIDE OF SPALLANZANI JAMES B. HAMILTON An historical study of a man tends to emphasize certain char- acteristics to the exclusion of others. This, of course, enables the reader to gain more readily a mental picture, but the question arises as to whether or not a well-rounded conception can be obtained from consideration of a limited number of traits. Lazaro Spal- lanzani has been indelibly traced as a religious scientist whose force of character dominated the scientific world of his time. That is true enough, but fails in the presentation of a balanced perspective. It may be worth while, then, to dispel part of the shadows that dim his character, to portray a tricky, clever man, every bit as prone to fault as other men, one who gained his ends by craftiness when "strong- handed" means failed-a sly, greedy, yet likeable scientist who placed his work foremost. As a boy, Spallanzani exhibited the wiliness that he was to fall back on in later years at times when straight-forward domineering met with obstacles. His father, a lawyer, set the carefree son to follow in paternal footsteps, but the young lad had other indinations, slipping outside to while away the day in skipping stones over nearby waters. The story is told that while wondering what caused the stones to skip, he pondered how he could escape an approaching life of jurisprudence. An idea occurred. He left off skipping stones to study Logic, Greek, and French. After acquiring somewhat of a background, he artfully laid his plight before the great teacher, Vallisnieri, a native of Spallanzani's birthplace, Scandiano, Italy. Oddly enough, Vallisnieri's position at Padua was later to be offered to the boy who now sought him. On behalf of the young lad, Vallisnieri pressed an interview with Spallanzani Senior so successfully that the boy was not only freed from a prospective career of studying legal documents, but was given an opportunity to study under a famous relative, Laura Bassi of Bologna. Most historians mark this as the turni

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