Arrowsmith, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 12

At the moment when Martin met him on the street, Gottlieb was ruined.

Max Gottlieb was a German Jew, born in Saxony in 1850. Though he took his medical degree, at Heidelberg, he was never interested in practicing medicine. He was a follower of Helmholtz, and youthful researches in the physics of sound convinced him of the need of the quantitative method in the medical sciences. Then Koch’s discoveries drew him into biology. Always an elaborately careful worker, a maker of long rows of figures, always realizing the presence of uncontrollable variables, always a vicious assailant of what he considered slackness or lie or pomposity, never too kindly to well-intentioned stupidity, he worked in the laboratories of Koch, of Pasteur, he followed the early statements of Pearson in biometrics, he drank beer and wrote vitriolic letters, he voyaged to Italy and England and Scandinavia, and casually, between two days, he married (as he might have bought a coat or hired a housekeeper) the patient and wordless daughter of a Gentile merchant.

Then began a series of experiments, very important, very undramatic-sounding, very long, and exceedingly unappreciated. Back in 1881 he was confirming Pasteur’s results in chicken cholera immunity and, for relief and pastime, trying to separate an enzyme from yeast. A few years later, living on the tiny inheritance from his father, a petty banker, and quite carelessly and cheerfully exhausting it, he was analyzing critically the ptomain theory of disease, and investigating the mechanism of the attenuation of virulence of microorganisms. He got thereby small fame. Perhaps he was over-cautious, and more than the devil or starvation he hated men who rushed into publication unprepared.

Though he meddled little in politics, considering them the most repetitious and least scientific of human activities, he was a sufficiently patriotic German to hate the Junkers. As a youngster he had a fight or two with ruffling subalterns; once he spent a week in jail; often he was infuriated by discriminations against Jews: and at forty he went sadly off to the America which could never become militaristic or anti-Semitic — to the Hoagland Laboratory in Brooklyn, then to Queen City University as professor of bacteriology.

Here he made his first investigation of toxin-anti-toxin reactions. He announced that antibodies, excepting antitoxin, had no relation to the immune state of an animal, and while he himself was being ragingly denounced in the small but hectic world of scientists, he dealt calmly and most brutally with Yersin’s and Marmorek’s theories of sera.

His dearest dream, now and for years of racking research, was the artificial production of antitoxin — its production in vitro. Once he was prepared to publish, but he found an error and rigidly suppressed his notes. All the while he was lonely. There was apparently no one in Queen City who regarded him as other than a cranky Jew catching microbes by their little tails and leering at them — no work for a tall man at a time when heroes were building bridges, experimenting with Horseless Carriages, writing the first of the poetic Compelling Ads, and selling miles of calico and cigars.

In 1899 he was called to the University of Winnemac, as professor of bacteriology in the medical school, and here he drudged on for a dozen years. Not once did he talk of results of the sort called “practical”; not once did he cease warring on the post hoc propter hoc conclusions which still make up most medical lore; not once did he fail to be hated by his colleagues, who were respectful to his face, uncomfortable in feeling his ironic power, but privily joyous to call him Mephisto, Diabolist, Killjoy, Pessimist, Destructive Critic, Flippant Cynic, Scientific Bounder Lacking in Dignity and Seriousness, Intellectual Snob, Pacifist, Anarchist, Atheist, Jew. They said, with reason, that he was so devoted to Pure Science, to art for art’s sake, that he would rather have people die by the right therapy than be cured by the wrong. Having built a shrine for humanity, he wanted to kick out of it all mere human beings.

The total number of his papers, in a brisk scientific realm where really clever people published five times a year, was not more than twenty-five in thirty years. They were all exquisitely finished, all easily reduplicated and checked by the doubtfulest critics.

At Mohalis he was pleased by large facilities for work, by excellent assistants, endless glassware, plenty of guinea pigs, enough monkeys; but he was bored by the round of teaching, and melancholy again in a lack of understanding friends. Always he sought someone to whom he could talk without suspicion or caution. He was human enough, when he meditated upon the exaltation of doctors bold through ignorance, of inventors who were but tinkers magnified, to be irritated by his lack of fame in America, even in Mohalis, and to complain not too nobly.

He had never dined with a duchess, never received a prize, never been interviewed, never produced anything which the public could understand, nor experienced anything since his schoolboy amours which nice people could regard as romantic. He was, in fact, an authentic scientist.

He was of the great benefactors of humanity. There will never, in any age, be an effort to end the great epidemics or the petty infections which will not have been influenced by Max Gottlieb’s researches, for he was not one who tagged and prettily classified bacteria and protozoa. He sought their chemistry, the laws of their existence and destruction, basic laws for the most part unknown after a generation of busy biologists. Yet they were right who called him “pessimist,” for this man who, as much as any other, will have been the cause of reducing infectious diseases to almost-zero often doubted the value of reducing infectious diseases at all.

He reflected (it was an international debate in which he was joined by a few and damned by many) that half a dozen generations nearly free from epidemics would produce a race so low in natural immunity that when a great plague, suddenly springing from almost-zero to a world-smothering cloud, appeared again, it might wipe out the world entire, so that the measures to save lives to which he lent his genius might in the end be the destruction of all human life.

He meditated that if science and public hygiene did remove tuberculosis and the other major plagues, the world was grimly certain to become so overcrowded, to become such a universal slave-packed shambles, that all beauty and ease and wisdom would disappear in a famine-driven scamper for existence. Yet these speculations never checked his work. If the future became overcrowded, the future must by birth-control or otherwise look to itself. Perhaps it would, he reflected. But even this drop of wholesome optimism was lacking in his final doubts. For he doubted all progress of the intellect and the emotions, and he doubted, most of all, the superiority of divine mankind to the cheerful dogs, the infallibly graceful cats, the unmoral and unagitated and irreligious horses, the superbly adventuring seagulls.

While medical quacks, manufacturers of patent medicines, chewing-gum salesmen, and high priests of advertising lived in large houses, attended by servants, and took their sacred persons abroad in limousines, Max Gottlieb dwelt in a cramped cottage whose paint was peeling, and rode to his laboratory on an ancient and squeaky bicycle. Gottlieb himself protested rarely. He was not so unreasonable — usually — as to demand both freedom and the fruits of popular slavery. “Why,” he once said to Martin, “should the world pay me for doing what I want and what they do not want?”

If in his house there was but one comfortable chair, on his desk were letters, long, intimate, and respectful, from the great ones of France and Germany, Italy and Denmark, and from scientists whom Great Britain so much valued that she gave them titles almost as high as those with which she rewarded distillers, cigarette-manufacturers, and the owners of obscene newspapers.

But poverty kept him from fulfillment of his summer longing to sit beneath the poplars by the Rhine or the tranquil Seine, at a table on whose checkered cloth were bread and cheese and wine and dusky cherries, those ancient and holy simplicities of all the world.

ii

Max Gottlieb’s wife was thick and slow-moving and mute; at sixty she had not learned to speak easy English; and her German was of the small-town bourgeois, who pay their debts and over-eat and grow red. If he was not confidential with her, if at table he forgot her in long reflections, neither was he unkind or impatient, and he depended on her housekeeping, her warming of his old-fashioned nightgown. She had not been well of late. She had nausea and indigestion, but she kept on with her work. Always you heard her old slippers slapping about the house.

They had three children, all born when Gottlieb was over thirty-eight: Miriam, the youngest, an ardent child who had a touch at the piano, an instinct about Beethoven, and hatred for the “ragtime” popular in America; an older sister who was nothing in particular; and their boy Robert — Robert Koch Gottlieb. He was a wild thing and a distress. They sent him, with anxiety over the cost, to a smart school near Zenith, where he met the sons of manufacturers and discovered a taste for fast motors and eccentric clothes, and no taste what ever for studying. At home he clamored that his father was a “tightwad.” When Gottlieb sought to make it clear that he was a poor man, the boy answered that out of his poverty he was always sneakingly spending money on his researches — he had no right to do that and shame his son — let the confounded University provide him with material!

iii

There were few of Gottlieb’s students who saw him and his learning as anything but hurdles to be leaped as quickly as possible. One of the few was Martin Arrowsmith.

However harshly he may have pointed out Martin’s errors, however loftily he may have seemed to ignore his devotion, Gottlieb was as aware of Martin as Martin of him. He planned vast things. If Martin really desired his help (Gottlieb could be as modest personally as he was egotistic and swaggering in competitive science), he would make the boy’s career his own. During Martin’s minute original research, Gottlieb rejoiced in his willingness to abandon conventional — and convenient — theories of immunology and in the exasperated carefulness with which he checked results. When Martin for unknown reasons became careless, when he was obviously drinking too much, obviously mixed up in some absurd personal affair, it was tragic hunger for friends and flaming respect for excellent work which drove Gottlieb to snarl at him. Of the apologies demanded by Silva he had no notion. He would have raged —

He waited for Martin to return. He blamed himself: “Fool! There was a fine spirit. You should have known one does not use a platinum loop for shoveling coal.” As long as he could (while Martin was dish-washing and wandering on improbable trains between impossible towns), he put off the appointment of a new assistant. Then all his wistfulness chilled to anger. He considered Martin a traitor, and put him out of his mind.

iv

It is possible that Max Gottlieb was a genius. Certainly he was mad as any genius. He did, during the period of Martin’s internship in Zenith General, a thing more preposterous than any of the superstitions at which he scoffed.

He tried to become an executive and a reformer! He, the cynic, the anarch, tried to found an Institution, and he went at it like a spinster organizing a league to keep small boys from learning naughty words.

He conceived that there might, in this world, be a medical school which should be altogether scientific, ruled by exact quantitative biology and chemistry, with spectacle-fitting and most of surgery ignored, and he further conceived that such an enterprise might be conducted at the University of Winnemac! He tried to be practical about it; oh, he was extremely practical and plausible!

“I admit we should not be able to turn out doctors to cure village bellyaches. And ordinary physicians are admirable and altogether necessary — perhaps. But there are too many of them already. And on the ‘practical’ side, you gif me twenty years of a school that is precise and cautious, and we shall cure diabetes, maybe tuberculosis and cancer, and all these arthritis things that the carpenters shake their heads at them and call them ‘rheumatism.’ So!”

He did not desire the control of such a school, nor any credit. He was too busy. But at a meeting of the American Academy of Sciences he met one Dr. Entwisle, a youngish physiologist from Harvard, who would make an excellent dean. Entwisle admired him, and sounded him on his willingness to be called to Harvard. When Gottlieb outlined his new sort of medical school, Entwisle was fervent. “Nothing I’d like so much as to have a chance at a place like that,” he fluttered, and Gottlieb went back to Mohalis triumphant. He was the more assured because (though he sardonically refused it) he was at this time offered the medical deanship of the University of West Chippewa.

So simple, or so insane, was he that he wrote to Dean Silva politely bidding him step down and hand over his school — his work, his life — to an unknown teacher in Harvard! A courteous old gentleman was Dad Silva, a fit disciple of Osler, but this incredible letter killed his patience. He replied that while he could see the value of basic research, the medical school belonged to the people of the state, and its task was to provide them with immediate and practical attention. For himself, he hinted, if he ever believed that the school would profit by his resignation he would go at once, but he needed a rather broader suggestion than a letter from one of his own subordinates!

Gottlieb retorted with spirit and indiscretion. He damned the People of the State of Winnemac. Were they, in their present condition of nincompoopery, worth any sort of attention? He unjustifiably took his demand over Silva’s head to that great orator and patriot, Dr. Horace Greeley Truscott, president of the University.

President Truscott said, “Really, I’m too engrossed to consider chimerical schemes, however ingenious they may be.”

“You are too busy to consider anything but selling honorary degrees to millionaires for gymnasiums,” remarked Gottlieb.

Next day he was summoned to a special meeting of the University Council. As head of the medical department of bacteriology, Gottlieb was a member of this all-ruling body, and when he entered the long Council Chamber, with its gilt ceiling, its heavy maroon curtains, its somber paintings of pioneers, he started for his usual seat, unconscious of the knot of whispering members, meditating on far-off absorbing things.

“Oh, uh, Professor Gottlieb, will you please sit down there at the far end of the table?” called President Truscott.

Then Gottlieb was aware of tensions. He saw that out of the seven members of the Board of Regents, the four who lived in or near Zenith were present. He saw that sitting beside Truscott was not the dean of the academic department but Dean Silva. He saw that however easily they talked, they were looking at him through the mist of their chatter.

President Truscott announced, “Gentlemen, this joint meeting of the Council and the regents is to consider charges against Professor Max Gottlieb preferred by his dean and by myself.”

Gottlieb suddenly looked old.

“These charges are: Disloyalty to his dean, his president, his regents and to the State of Winnemac. Disloyalty to recognized medical and scholastic ethics. Insane egotism. Atheism. Persistent failure to collaborate with his colleagues, and such inability to understand practical affairs as makes it dangerous to let him conduct the important laboratories and classes with which we have entrusted him. Gentlemen, I shall now prove each of these points, from Professor Gottlieb’s own letters to Dean Silva.”

He proved them.

The chairman of the Board of Regents suggested, “Gottlieb, I think it would simplify things if you just handed us your resignation and permitted us to part in good feeling, instead of having the unpleasant —”

“I’m damned if I will resign!” Gottlieb was on his feet, a lean fury. “Because you all haf schoolboy minds, golf-links minds, you are twisting my expression, and perfectly accurate expression, of a sound revolutionary ideal, which would personally to me be of no value or advantage whatefer, into a desire to steal promotions. That fools should judge honor —!” His long forefinger was a fish-hook, reaching for President Truscott’s soul. “No! I will not resign! You can cast me out!”

“I’m afraid, then, we must ask you to leave the room while we vote.” The president was very suave, for so large and strong and hearty a man.

Gottlieb rode his wavering bicycle to the laboratory. It was by telephone message from a brusque girl clerk in the president’s office that he was informed that “his resignation had been accepted.”

He agonized, “Discharge me? They couldn’t! I’m the chief glory, the only glory, of this shopkeepers’ school!” When he comprehended that apparently they very much had discharged him, he was shamed that he should have given them a chance to kick him. But the really dismaying thing was that he should by an effort to be a politician have interrupted the sacred work.

He required peace and a laboratory, at once.

They’d see what fools they were when they heard that Harvard had called him!

He was eager for the mellower ways of Cambridge and Boston. Why had he remained so long in raw Mohalis? He wrote to Dr. Entwisle, hinting that he was willing to hear an offer. He expected a telegram. He waited a week, then had a long letter from Entwisle admitting that he had been premature in speaking for the Harvard faculty. Entwisle presented the faculty’s compliments and their hope that some time they might have the honor of his presence, but as things were now —

Gottlieb wrote to the University of West Chippewa that, after all, he was willing to think about their medical deanship. .. and had answer that the place was filled, that they had not greatly liked the tone of his former letter, and they did not “care to go into the matter further.”

At sixty-one, Gottlieb had saved but a few hundred dollars — literally a few hundred. Like any bricklayer out of work, he had to have a job or go hungry. He was no longer a genius impatient of interrupted creation but a shabby schoolmaster in disgrace.

He prowled through his little brown house, fingering papers, staring at his wife, staring at old pictures, staring at nothing. He still had a month of teaching — they had dated ahead the resignation which they had written for him — but he was too dispirited to go to the laboratory. He felt unwanted, almost unsafe. His ancient sureness was broken into self-pity. He waited from delivery to delivery for the mail. Surely there would be aid from somebody who knew what he was, what he meant. There were many friendly letters about research, but the sort of men with whom he corresponded did not listen to intercollegiate faculty tattle nor know of his need.

He could not, after the Harvard mischance and the West Chippewa rebuke, approach the universities or the scientific institutes, and he was too proud to write begging letters to the men who revered him. No, he would be business-like! He applied to a Chicago teachers’ agency, and received a stilted answer promising to look about and inquiring whether he would care to take the position of teacher of physics and chemistry in a suburban high school.

Before he had sufficiently recovered from his fury to be able to reply, his household was overwhelmed by his wife’s sudden agony.

She had been unwell for months. He had wanted her to see a physician, but she had refused, and all the while she was stolidly terrified by the fear that she had cancer of the stomach. Now when she began to vomit blood, she cried to him for help. The Gottlieb who scoffed at medical credos, at “carpenters” and “pill mongers,” had forgotten what he knew of diagnosis, and when he was ill, or his family, he called for the doctor as desperately as any backwoods layman to whom illness was the black malignity of unknown devils.

In unbelievable simplicity he considered that, as his quarrel with Silva was not personal, he could still summon him, and this time he was justified. Silva came, full of excessive benignity, chuckling to himself, “When he’s got something the matter, he doesn’t run for Arrhenius or Jacques Loeb, but for me!” Into the meager cottage the little man brought strength, and Gottlieb gazed down on him trustingly.

Mrs. Gottlieb was suffering. Silva gave her morphine. Not without satisfaction he learned that Gottlieb did not even know the dose. He examined her — his pudgy hands had the sensitiveness if not the precision of Gottlieb’s skeleton fingers. He peered about the airless bedroom: the dark green curtains, the crucifix on the dumpy bureau, the color-print of a virtuously voluptuous maiden. He was bothered by an impression of having recently been in the room. He remembered. It was the twin of the doleful chamber of a German grocer whom he had seen during a consultation a month ago.

He spoke to Gottlieb not as to a colleague or an enemy but as a patient, to be cheered.

“Don’t think there’s any tumorous mass. As of course you know, Doctor, you can tell such a lot by the differences in the shape of the lower border of the ribs, and by the surface of the belly during deep breathing.”

“Oh, yesss.”

“I don’t think you need to worry in the least. We’d better hustle her off to the University Hospital, and we’ll give her a test meal and get her X-rayed and take a look for Boas–Oppler bugs.”

She was taken away, heavy, inert, carried down the cottage steps. Gottlieb was with her. Whether or not he loved her, whether he was capable of ordinary domestic affection, could not be discovered. The need of turning to Dean Silva had damaged his opinion of his own wisdom. It was the final affront, more subtle and more enervating than the offer to teach chemistry to children. As he sat by her bed, his dark face was blank, and the wrinkles which deepened across that mask may have been sorrow, may have been fear. . . . Nor is it known how, through the secure and uninvaded years, he had regarded his wife’s crucifix, which Silva had spied on their bureau — a gaudy plaster crucifix on a box set with gilded shells.

Silva diagnosed it as probable gastric ulcer, and placed her on treatment, with light and frequent meals. She improved, but she remained in the hospital for four weeks, and Gottlieb wondered: Are these doctors deceiving us? Is it really cancer, which by Their mystic craft They are concealing from me who know naught?

Robbed of her silent assuring presence on which night by weary night he had depended, he fretted over his daughters, despaired at their noisy piano-practice, their inability to manage the slattern maid. When they had gone to bed he sat alone in the pale lamplight, unmoving, not reading. He was bewildered. His haughty self was like a robber baron fallen into the hands of rebellious slaves, stooped under a filthy load, the proud eye rheumy and patient with despair, the sword hand chopped off, obscene flies crawling across the gnawed wrist.

It was at this time that he encountered Martin and Leora on the street in Zenith.

He did not look back when they had passed him, but all that afternoon he brooded on them. “That girl, maybe it was she that stole Martin from me — from science! No! He was right. One sees what happens to the fools like me!”

On the day after Martin and Leora had started for Wheatsylvania, singing, Gottlieb went to Chicago to see the teachers’ agency.

The firm was controlled by a Live Wire who had once been a county superintendent of schools. He was not much interested. Gottlieb lost his temper: “Do you make an endeavor to find positions for teachers, or do you merely send out circulars to amuse yourself? Haf you looked up my record? Do you know who I am?”

The agent roared, “Oh, we know about you, all right, all right! I didn’t when I first wrote you, but — You seem to have a good record as a laboratory man, though I don’t see that you’ve produced anything of the slightest use in medicine. We had hoped to give you a chance such as you nor nobody else ever had. John Edtooth, the Oklahoma oil magnate, has decided to found a university that for plant and endowment and individuality will beat anything that’s ever been pulled off in education — biggest gymnasium in the world, with an ex-New York Giant for baseball coach! We thought maybe we might work you in on the bacteriology or the physiology — I guess you could manage to teach that, too, if you boned up on it. But we’ve been making some inquiries. From some good friends of ours, down Winnemac way. And we find that you’re not to be trusted with a position of real responsibility. Why, they fired you for general incompetence! But now that you’ve had your lesson — Do you think you’d be competent to teach Practical Hygiene in Edtooth University?”

Gottlieb was so angry that he forgot to speak English, and as all his cursing was in student German, in a creaky dry voice, the whole scene was very funny indeed to the cackling bookkeeper and the girl stenographers. When he went from that place Max Gottlieb walked slowly, without purpose, and in his eyes were senile tears.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38