Edmund Beecher Wilson - The Stazione Zoologica in Naples and Music

With a loan from his older brother, Wilson went to Europe following his graduation.  First he visited Cambridge, where he met the renowned physiologist Michael Foster, who was also a secretary of the Royal Society of London. While in the UK, Wilson presented a paper to the Royal Society before continuing on to Germany. He had heard about the mecca for biologists at the Stazione Zoologica in Naples, but he could not afford the fees.  Fortunately, the Stazione had a system by which universities subscribed to tables.  Wilson’s cousin, Samuel Clarke, was a professor at Williams College and got permission for Wilson to work at the Stazione for a year in exchange for Wilson’s teaching for a year at Williams College.

Stazione Zoologica, Naples ca. 1901

The Stazione had the same inspiring effect on Wilson that it did on many young biologists of the day.  Wilson later referred to his year there as one of the best times of his life, full of science, companionship with others of like interests, exposure to the newest techniques and equipment, and access to an astonishing diversity of organisms to study. 

In Naples, Wilson got to know the founding director, Anton Dohrn, and he became part of the community of music.  Dohrn felt that any scientific institution should also embrace music and the arts, so he adorned the walls with paintings and murals and he welcomed musicians.  Wilson’s pictures from the Stazione include the apparatus of science, and also the music.