Marchand, Richard Felix

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(b. Berlin, Germany, 25 August 1813; d. Halle, Germany, 2 August 1850)


The son of a Berlin lawyer, Marchand had already published a substantial amount of original research on organic chemistry while a medical student at the University of Halle, before he graduated in 1837. This work brought him the friendship of Otto Erdmann, professor of technical chemistry at the neighboring University of Leipzig. In 1838 he became lecturer in chemistry at the Royal Prussian Artillery and Engineering School in Berlin, but not until 1840 was he recognized as privatdocent by the University of Berlin. In 1843 he became extraordinary professor of chemistry at the University of Halle (where he had been licensed to teach since 1838), and in 1846 he succeeded to the permanent chair.

Wöhler, writing in 1839, describes Marchand as a tall, elegant youth with “negroid Mephistopheles features, very free and easy in manner almost to a level of impertinence, full of sudden ideas, wisecracks and satirical remarks; all, however, combined with a sure amiability and genius, so that one cannot help liking him,"1 Nicknamed “Dr. Méchant” by Berlin society, during his short life (ended by cholera) he accomplished an impressive amount of experimental research and popular lecturing. In 1844 he married Marianne Baerensprung. One of their three children, Jacob Felix, became a distinguished physiologist.

Marchand’s publications, which are primarily descriptive and analytical, encompass biochemistry, in which he was greatly inspired by Liebig’s Die Thier-Chemie, organic chemistry, and determinations of atomic weights. In 1837 Marchand published an important analytical paper on the controversial subject of the constitution of ethyl sulfuric acid; in this he supported the view of Serullas that it was a bisulfate of ordinary ether.2 Although this challenged the interpretation held by Liebig at this time, Liebig soon saw that Marchand’s work supported the ethyl-radical concept which had been introduced in 1834. Following Dumas, in 1838, Marchand and Erdmann developed a technique for the estimation of nitrogen in organic compounds by using copper oxide in an inert atmosphere of carbon dioxide. In 1842 they extended Hess’s technique for organic analyses, using as oxidizing agents copper oxide and streams of air and oxygen controlled from gasometers. From 1841, following the dramatic reduction of the atomic weight of carbon from 76.43 to 75.08 (O = 100), Marchand and Erdmann devoted their attentions to the accurate redetermination of atomic weights. Their drastic modifications of Berzelian values and their enthusiastic support for Prout’s hypothesis that atomic weights were whole numbers on the hydrogen scale, infuriated Berzelius. He dismissed them unkindly—and erroneously—as careless “apes” and bunglers who always echoed Dumas.3


1. Wöhler to Berzelius, 12 Oct. 1839. See Wallach, p. 138.

2. R. F. Marchand, “Ueber die ätherschwefelsauren Salze,” in Annalen der physik und Chemie, 41 (1837), 596–634.

3. Berzelius to Wöhler, 28 Feb. 1843 and 25 Mar. 1845. See Wallach, pp. 393, 530.


I. Original Works. A list of Marchand’s 132 papers (17 written with Erdmann) is in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, IV, 229–233. Marchand also published Acidium sulphuricum quam vim in alcoholem exerceat quaeque et hinc prodeuntium et similium compositionum natura sit et constitutio (Leipzig, 1838), his diss.; Lehrbuch der organischen Chemie (Leipzig, 1838), Grundriss der organischen Chemie (Leipzig, 1839; Berlin, 1838), also in Dutch trans. (Amsterdam, 1840); Lehrbuch der physiologischen Chemie (Berlin, 1844); Chemische Tafelnzur Berechnung der Analysen (Leipzig, 1847); Ueber die Alchemie. Ein Vortrag im wissenschaftlichen Vereine zu Berlin am 20 Februar 1847 (Halle, 1847); Ueber die Luftschifffahrt. Ein Vortrag im wissenschaftlichen Vereine zu Berlin am 12 Januar 1850 (Leipzig, 1850); and Das Geld (Leipzig, 1852).

With Erdmann he edited the Journal für praktische Chemie, 16–50 (1839–1850).

II. Secondary Literature. There are no formal obituaries. Existing biographical information is based entirely on a vague eulogy in B. F. Voigt, ed., Neuer Nekrolog der Deutschen, no. 28 (1850), (Weimar, 1852), 452. But note J. Jordan and O. Kern, Die Universitäten Wittenberg and Halle vor and bei ihrer Vereinigung (Halle, 1917); and J. Asen, Gesamtverzeichnis des Lehrkörpers der Universität Berlin (Leipzig, 1955), 124.

For contemporary references to Marchand, see J. J. Berzelius, Jahres-Bericht über die Fortschritte der physischen Wissenschaften, XIV–XXIV (Tübingen, 1835–1845), and Vollständiges Sach-und-Namen Register zum Jahres-Bericht (Tübingen, 1847); O. Wallach, Briefwechsel zwischen J. Berzelius und F. Wöhler, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1901), esp. vol. II; and H. G. Söderbaum, ed., Jac. Berzelius Bref (Uppsala, 1912–1935), II, 227–231 (V, to Mulder); III, 212 (VII, to Marignac).

For the joint papers with Erdmann on atomic weights, see Dictionary of Scientific Biography, IV, 395, notes 7–9.

Marchand’s Berlin career may be traced in Acta der Königlichen Friederich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin betreffend die Habilitationen der Privatdocenten(1838–1843), 65–67, 77–82 (Archives of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Philos. Fak. Littr. H, Nro. 1, vol. VI [1203]). See also the lecture registers and faculty records in the archives of Martin Luther-Universität, Halle-Wittenberg. A few letters to Berzelius are preserved at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm.

For the context of Marchand’s contributions to biochemistry see F. Holmes, ed., Liebig’s Animal Chemistry, repr. ed. (New York-London, 1964), vii–cxvi; for his atomic weight research see the secondary literature cited for his collaborator O. L. Erdmann in Dictionary of Scientific Biography.

W. H. Brock

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Marchand, Richard Felix

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