Margaret H. Peaslee [click here to return to my home page]
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"Contributions of the Members of the Augustinian Monastery in Brno, Focusing on F. M. Klácel, Philosopher and Teacher, and J. G. Mendel, Father of Genetics"
Margaret Heřmánek Peaslee, University of Pittsburgh at Titusville, Titusville, Pennsylvania, USA and
Vítězslav Orel, Emeritus Head of the Mendelianum, Brno, Czech Republic
Close observation of the Augustinian Monastery in Brno during the 19th century reveals an electric environment, created by the intellectual and spiritual activities of its members. The Augustinians had been active in Brno as professors of mathematics and philosophy, and the appointment of F. C. Napp (1792-1867) as abbot in 1824 only served to intensify the artistic and scientific energy surging there. Napp was himself an accomplished scholar, having earned a reputation in philosophy and theology and as a strong proponent of modern agricultural techniques on the monastery farms. F. M. Klácel (1808-82), born in Česká Třebová, Bohemia, entered this milieu in 1827 and added his own contributions as a learned philosopher with a strong interest in the natural sciences. In 1843 J. G. Mendel (1822-84), born in Hynčice, Moravia, joined the monastery, eventually inheriting control of the experimental garden from Klácel. In 1848 the revolutionary movement found Klácel to be an outspoken proponent of Czech national revival and this marked the beginning of his downward spiral, both politically and ecclesiastically. Nevertheless, during the period 1855-65, while Mendel was performing his experiments that would forever change the science of genetics, he was surrounded by a stimulating group of colleagues including Napp, Klácel, P. Křížkovský (1824-85), talented musician and composer, and T. Bratránek (1815-84), scholar of philosophy and natural science. Surely the atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement found at the monastery should receive credit as an incubator for intellectual achievement.
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I wish to take this opportunity to introduce and recognize my coauthor, Professor Vítězslav Orel. The photograph on the left was taken at his home in Brno during the summer of 1996 just after the publication of his definitive biography, Gregor Mendel--The First Geneticist published by the Oxford University Press, New York, 1996. Professor Orel is the Emeritus Head of the Mendelianum in Brno and is internationally recognized as a foremost authority on the members of the Augustinian Monastery in Brno. Photographs on the right were taken just after the Veterinary and Pharmaceutical University in Brno awarded Professor Orel its Golden medal for his "prominent role in the furtherance of genetics at the Veterinary faculty." In appreciation of Professor Orel's scientific achievements, the Historical Section of the Veterinary Surgeons Society, in cooperation with the Czech Branch of the World's Poultry Association, of which Professor Orel was the founding member and of which he was elected the honorary President in 1997, published a list of Orel's selected publications.*
*OD ŠLECHTĚNÍ DRŮBEŽE K MENDLOVI A HISTORII GENETIKY. [FROM POULTRY BREEDING TO MENDEL AND HISTORY OF GENETICS.] VÝBĚR Z PUBLIKACÍ VÍTĚZSLAVA ORLA 1948 - 2002. [THE LIST OF SELECTED PUBLICATIONS BY VÍTĚZSLAV OREL 1948 - 2002.] USPOŘÁDAL: PAVEL PALEČEK [ARRANGED BY PAVEL PALEČEK]. Vydala: Veterinární a farmaceutická univerzita Brno [Published by the Veterinary and Pharmaceutical University of Brno.] Integra a.s. Brno 2002
The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Prelate Quarters of the Augustinian Monastery have not changed much in appearance from the 19th to the 20th century. The environment in the monastery during the 43-year period (1824 - 1867) of Abbot František Cyril Napp was ideal for creativity, scholarship, and research.
Abbot Napp was himself a passionate philosophy and theology student when he arrived at the monastery in 1821. Subsequently he was elected president of the Pomological Association and was a member of the Sheep Breeders’ Association. He recognized the significance of scholarship and enthusiastically accepted the imperial directive for the monastery to prepare its monks for the teaching profession. Toward this purpose he recruited talented individuals to join, among whom are those on whom we focus here, F. M. Klácel and J. G. Mendel. The Augustinian Aurelius Thaler (1796 - 1843) was the first notable botanical expert in Moravia, and in 1830 Abbot Napp gave him permission to establish an experimental garden at the monastery in which he grew rare Moravian plants. Thaler also founded a herbarium at the monastery, which was used by Mendel in his study of natural science.
This photograph of the members of the Augustinian Monastery in Brno taken in about 1862 shows the individuals under consideration here and consists of (standing at the rear from left to right) Benedikt Fogler (1812 - 1886), professor of Romance languages; Anselm Rambousek (1824 - 1901); Antonin Alt (1806 - 1897), teacher of mathematics; Tomás Bratránek (1815 - 1884), philosopher and natural scientist; Joseph Lindenthal (1810 - 1871); Gregor Mendel (1822 - 1884), father of genetics; and Václav Šembera (1807 - 1881). Seated in front from left to right are Pavel Křížkovský (1820 - 1885), musician and composer; Baptist Vorthey (1795 - 1876), Abbot Cyril Napp (1792 - 1867); and Matouš Klácel (1808 - 1882), philosopher.
František Klácel was born April 7, 1808 in Česká Třebová, Bohemia, joined the monastery in 1827, and took the religious name of Matouš. Klácel was a brilliant student, a professor of philosophy, writer, poet, a strong proponent of Czech nationalism, and outspoken on social issues. Klácel was initially placed in charge of the monastery library, an outstanding scholarly resource containing manuscripts, fine old prints, rare illustrated editions, books on theology, and encyclopedias from all time periods. Large portions of the collection deal with science and social issues, and at this time, during the 19th century, the books represented the interests of the members--literary, cultural, social, educational, political, and national.
Tomás Bratránek, a student of both philosophy and natural science, joined the monastery in 1834. Bratránek became interested in the Hegelian philosophy, as did Klácel; Bratránek, however, was much more cautious than Klácel in expressing his beliefs. Both men contributed to Mendel’s understanding of "nature in Action," and his comprehension of the evolutionary teachings of Unger and Darwin.
Upon the death of Thaler in 1843 Klácel was put in charge of the monastery’s experimental garden plot. This same year Johann Mendel entered the monastery, taking the religious name of Gregor. Later this garden plot played a significant role in the genetic research performed by Mendel.
Mendel was born in Hynčice, Moravia, on July 22, 1822 and was a brilliant student, possessing an outstanding scientific curiosity. His agricultural background, coming from an area of the country with a long history of sheep breeding, probably contributed to his interest in the mechanisms of heredity. Iltis (from his 1924 biography of Mendel) can be quoted here, "When Mendel became an Augustinian . . . , the place pulsed with artistic and scientific energy, so that it would have been no exaggeration to describe the monastery of St. Thomas as one of the chief centres of the spiritual and intellectual life of the country."
Another individual joined the monastery shortly after Mendel and that was Pavel Křížkovský, a brilliantly talented musician and composer. He was of Czech descent, collected Czech folk-songs, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Czech nationalist movement. He and Klácel were in the Czech minority at the monastery during that period. Iltis continues, "Among the other conventuals there were several men of conspicuous ability, though perhaps none who could vie with the Bratránek-Klácel-Křížkovský triumvirate."
During the period 1843 to 1848 Klácel became prominent in Czech patriotic activity. This coupled with his spreading of "Hegelian ideas" aroused the ire of both the Catholic Church and the Habsburg aristocracy. His professorship was taken away in 1844. It was during this period that his Listy přitele přitelkyni o pávodu socialismu a komunismu (Letters of a friend to a lady friend about the origin of socialism and communism), written to Božena Němcová, was published.
Klácel wrote and signed a petition, along with five of his fellow Augustinians, P. Gabriel, J. Lindenthal, C. Ciganek, B. Fogler, and G. Mendel, which was sent to the Brno provincial Diet in which they complained of the inferior social standing of monks and asked for rights as citizens. This, coupled with Klácel’s help in organizing the Prague pan-Slavonic congress and his controversial writing served to enhance Klácel’s reputation as rebellious, a nationalistic zealot, communist, socialist, and a freethinker.
Meanwhile, during the early years after joining the monastery, Mendel acquired a broad scientific education in the physical and life sciences. He spent his time studying, teaching, and beginning his series of breeding experiments that would forever change the course of the study of heredity. Mendel began cross-pollination experiments with Pisum sativum, the garden pea. There were several advantages to using the garden pea for experimental work: its distinctive physical traits, the anatomy of its flower which prevented natural cross-pollination, and its ease in cultivation, to name a few. Through artificial pollination Mendel carried out crosses with the peas and counted the results of those crosses. The physical traits counted were round or wrinkled seeds; yellow or green seeds; inflated or wrinkled seed pods; green or yellow seed pods; purple or white flowers; flowers along the stem or at the tip; and tall or dwarf plants. Mendel’s unique contribution to the experimental work stemmed from his broad educational background and his ability to think creatively across disciplines. He collected mathematical data and applied statistical analysis to a biological problem--a revolutionary process. Abbot Napp had been elected vice-president of the Moravian and Silesian Agricultural Society and Mendel became a member of its Natural Science Section. In February and March 1865, Mendel read his papers on the experiments with peas to the Brno Society for the Study of Natural Science, and in 1866 the society published his now-famous paper, Versuche über Pflanzenhybriden [Experiments in Plant-Hybridization]. It received no notice from the scientific community at that time.
Late in 1867 Abbot Napp died, and Mendel succeeded him in his post as abbot of the monastery. Mendel believed that this position would assure him of a dependable income with which he could help his family and would afford him time to continue his experimentation. In the latter he was incorrect; Mendel’s time was completely taken up by the affairs of the monastery. One of his first acts was to obtain permission for Klácel to leave the monastery and emigrate to America. Mendel’s coat of arms as abbot appears in a fresco on the ceiling of the Augustinian library. Evident in it are the flowers that received so much of his attention.
Mendel died in 1884 and was buried in an Augustinian tomb in the central cemetery in Brno. Only later in the year 1900 three researchers from separate countries, Hugo De Vries of the University of Amsterdam, Carl Correns of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology in Berlin, and Erik von Tschermak of the University of Vienna, simultaneously rediscovered Mendel's 1866 paper and recognized its significance.
Now, above Mendel’s grave we find this plaque which can be translated as follows: "Scientist and biologist, in charge of the Augustinian monastery in Old Brno. He discovered the laws of heredity in plants and animals. His knowledge provides a permanent scientific basis for recent progress in genetics."
Through the actions of a number of prominent personalities from the scientific and social world, a group called the "Friends of Science," erected a statue of Mendel in 1910 in the courtyard of the monastery near the well where Mendel took his daily readings of the level of the water table.
The Kimber Genetics Award is now awarded by the National Academy of Sciences of the USA for distinguished contribution to the science of genetics. It bears the likenesses of C. Darwin, J. G. Mendel, W. Bateson, and T. H. Morgan, each considered important in establishing the science of genetics. This is just one of the myriad ways in which the original contributions of J. G. Mendel have been acknowledged.
Meanwhile, from the time of his arrival in the United States in 1869 until his death in 1882, F. M. Klácel, who had adopted the new first name of Ladimír, traveled through the Midwestern United States working as newspaper editor, publisher, writer, and teacher. He lived in at least eight different locations and amassed a large following. These were individuals who recognized and admired his intellect, his courage, and his vision for the future. Others feared his "freethinker" teachings as anti-clerical and socialistic.
A number of Klácel’s students and followers lived in the Chicago area and a monument to him stands in the center of the Klácel Circle at the Bohemian National Cemetery. Surrounding the central monument are six plaques with names of individuals who were guiding forces in Czech American History. The inscription on the Klácel monument reads: "Ladimír Klácel. Born April 7, 1808 in Česká Třebová; died March 17, 1882 in Belle Plaine, Iowa. Let us not be afraid to grow wise. To the sage and great master built by the Czech freethinkers of Chicago. July 26, 1885."
A monument recognizing Klácel was built later (in 1978) in the courtyard of the Augustinian Monastery in Brno. It is of white Bulgarian limestone in the shape of a standing sheaf of papers, symbolizing the manuscript of Klácel’s main social work expressed in his letters to Božena Němcová. On the back of the monument is found the inscription, "National revivalist, philosopher, humanitarian, pedagogue, journalist, Utopian socialist."
A monument was also placed at Klácel’s grave in Belle Plaine, Iowa. In front are curb stones with the inscription that best exemplifies Klácel’s philosophy, "Osmelme se zmoudreti [Let us not be afraid to grow wise]."
What can we conclude is our legacy from the Augustinians in Brno? They inspire in us a love of scholarship, an encouragement toward scientific curiosity, a loyalty to our heritage, and a guiding principle, "Let us not be afraid to grow wise."
You can reach me by E-mail: email@example.com Czech diacritical marks are visible when these pages are viewed with Microsoft Internet Explorer. Photographs and written material are the property of Margaret Heřmánek Peaslee, unless otherwise noted. Copyright, 1998-2007, Margaret Heřmánek Peaslee.
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