Peter Medawar

1915 (Petrópolis, Brazil) – 1987 (London)

Medawar paved the way for transplant surgery, and was a brilliant writer about science. Young was his ‘very, very good’ tutor at Oxford. Medawar worked in Florey’s lab, meeting his wife-to-be there, and went and sat at the feet of Rous in America, Rous passing off Medawar’s over-consumption of cocktails as an allergy to pumpkin pie. He met the influential Hašek at an Amsterdam conference. Huxley and Ayer were both friends, and fellow-panelists on a popular radio programme. Among other good friends, Medawar was an influential supporter of Tinbergen’s work, while Perutz and Popper were regular guests at his home.

Peter Medawar knew…

Carl Linnaeus

Carolus Linnaeus;Carl von Linné

1707 (Råshult, Sweden) – 1778 (Uppsala)

Linnaeus was substantially responsible for the binomial classification system for plants and animals still used today. A physician as well as scientist, he met, studied with and became a lifetime friend of Boerhaave, and started an extensive correspondence (and professional love/hate relationship) with Haller. Other significant correspondents (his network was Europe-wide) included van Swieten, Pallas, Gmelin, Müller, Amman, Lexell and Guettard — as well as his disciple Forster, his translator Darwin, and his friend and mentor Jussieu. Solander was his beloved protégé, and Artedi his brilliant young friend.

Ernst Haeckel

1834 (Potsdam, Germany) – 1919 (Jena)

The anatomists Köliker and Müller and the pathologist Virchow all taught him; he also worked briefly as Virchow’s assistant. Müller’s thought informed Haeckel’s own ideas about ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, now shown to be an oversimplification. He was strongly influenced by Darwin and an enthusiastic promoter of his ideas in Germany; as well as Darwin (whose wife had to leave the room because of the loudness of Haeckel’s voice), he met Lyell and T. H. Huxley on a visit to England. Eugène Dubois, discoverer of Java Man, was inspired to do so by a lecture of Haeckel’s, but not taught by him.

Ernst Haeckel knew…

Alcide d’Orbigny

1802 (Couëron, France) – 1857 (Pierrefitte-sur-Seine)

Despite d’Orbigny’s obsolete ideas (including that there had been 28 creations of life, and 27 total extinctions), much of his detailed work has had continued relevance. Audubon was a childhood friend in France (d’Orbigny’s father gave him drawing lessons). Cuvier and Geoffroy taught him, and were responsible for the seven-year South American expedition he undertook (Cuvier died while he was away). Humboldt, met in Paris (and whose colleague Bonpland was a family friend of the d’Orbigny’s), correctly asserted that the funds for the expedition wouldn’t be enough. Darwin corresponded though never met him, and thought his work second only to Humboldt’s.

Richard Owen

Sir Richard Owen

1804 (Lancaster, England) – 1892 (London)

Owen’s exceptional talents and achievements sit contrary to his (not undeserved) reputation as vain, vindictive and a plagiariser. He met Cuvier and attended his debates with Geoffroy, was introduced by Lyell to Darwin and analysed his haul of fossils, and examined Buckland’s, Mantell’s and Agassiz’s blood together at table (he later grew to hate Darwin’s achievement, antagonised Lyell, sabotaged Mantell’s career, and encouraged Buckland’s wife to commit him to an asylum). He knew Carlyle for 40 years, advised Livingston, and befriended Oken, Turner, Eliot, Tennyson and Dickens. Anning took him fossil-hunting; Faraday sent him a three-legged frog.

Edward S. Morse

1838 (Portland, Maine) – 1925 (Salem, Mass.)

Morse was an eminent marine biologist, who did much to extend our knowledge of shells; while working in Japan, he built up university departments, stimulated Japanese archaeology, and wrote a detailed study of Japanese domestic architecture (still in print). He studied marine biology under Agassiz, specialising in the study of seashells, and became a friend of the astronomer Lowell, occasionally making the long journey to his Arizona observatory.

Edward S. Morse knew…

Georges Cuvier

1769 (Mömpelgard, Germany, now Montbéliard, France) – 1832 (Paris)

Many of Cuvier’s friendships and acquaintanceships stem from his leading position in the French scientific establishment, including Berthollet, Arago, Biot and Gay-Lussac. Lesueur and Agassiz studied with him, Agassiz and Humboldt (a valued colleague) going to hear him demolish his influential sponsor Geoffroy’s theory about the anatomy of molluscs. Chevreul, Stendhal, Mirbel and Ampère were all regulars at his Saturday evening salons: also Lyell when he was in Paris. De Candolle was his assistant and friend, Lamarck his antagonised colleague, while Owen (a regular visitor) tired of being compared to him.

Thomas Say

1787 (Philadelphia) – 1834 (New Harmony, Ind.)

Say became a friend of Maclure when he looked after the Museum of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and accompanied him on an expedition to Georgia and Florida. He’d met Lesueur in Philadelphia; they were later members of Maclure and Owen’s famous ‘Boatload of Knowledge’ to New Harmony (Neef joined along the way), and stayed friends for life; Say living frugally, Lesueur working unpaid. Peale (as artist) knew Say (as zoologist) on an expedition up the Missouri, and went on to provide the illustrations for Say’s seminal work on American entomology.

Thomas Say knew…