G. J. Mendel and his low resistance to stress

Several times in Mendel’s life, his low resistance to stress became apparent. According to documents, he struggled with certain mental problems from a young age during his high school studies. He writes in his biography that he got into a deplorable position when he had to take care of himself on his own, but that he managed to earn at least enough by private tuition that he could “live in misery”. For him, this hardship was both a physical burden and a mental strain, and it caused him to become seriously ill on Pentecost while in the 5th grade. His father took him home to recover, and Mendel did not return to school until after the holidays.

3 Oct 2022 Jiřina Relichová Kateřina Radová Zuzana Jayasundera Leoš Verner Kevin Francis Roche

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During his next two years at the School of Philosophy, his unhappy situation of lack of necessary funds continued; as he writes in his biography after graduating from high school in 1840, his first concern was to secure the necessary funds to continue his studies. Therefore, he repeatedly tried to offer his services as a private teacher in Olomouc, but all his efforts remained unsuccessful because he had no friends and thus no recommendations. The gloomy prospects of disappointed hopes, the anxious, sad prospects for the future, impressed him so much that he became ill and had to spend a year with his parents to recover”. After completing both years of philosophy, he felt that he would not be able to continue to bear such a burden, and he was therefore forced to enter a state that would free him from bitter existential worries; his circumstances determined his choice”. The choice was to enter the monastery, where his material position changed significantly and he also regained his courage and strength, so that he studied with great gusto and love the classical subjects prescribed for the probationary year”. His unstable psyche manifested itself repeatedly during extreme nervous strain. When he was ordained as a priest at the age of 25, he became a chaplain in the parish of Old Brno, and one of his duties was the clerical service at a nearby hospital on Pekařská Street. There, his mental illness reappeared. Abbot Napp wrote about this in a letter to the bishop of Brno “...looking at the sick and suffering, he suffered from invincible fear, as a result of which he became dangerously ill...”. His illness at the time was probably more serious, as he had been bedridden for 34 days. The cause of this psychic lability may have been the loss of hope that he would succeed in realising his dream of becoming a teacher.

Abbot Napp knew of his predilection for science and his desire to become a teacher, and in his generosity, he arranged for Mendel to teach at a grammar school in Znojmo. As Mendel did not have the required teaching examinations, the headmaster of the grammar school enrolled him in for examinations at the University of Vienna, stating in the application that the candidate had diligently studied science without outside help.

However, he failed these tests and once again fell into a situation he could not handle mentally; he was very frightened and we can assume that the cause was the fear that he would fail and not be able to teach. Nevertheless, the commission’s report stated that the candidate lacked diligence and talent”. After this failure, he returned to the monastery. He was allowed to complete his science education at the age of 29 by studying for two years at the University of Vienna; however, he failed for a second time when he repeated the teacher examinations; apparently, he had new knowledge about plant fertilisation and got into a dispute with the examination commission. Abbot Napp found a suitable position for Mendel as a teacher at Brno high school, and expected him to pass the teacher’s exams and become a doctor. Apparently, the fear that he might disappoint him again paralysed him so much that he was not even able to write a dissertation. He returned to Brno sick and unhappy. However, even these events did not deter him from his lifelong love, the study of the natural sciences, which ultimately resulted in the great discovery of the laws of heredity.

Translation: Kevin F. Roche
Editor: Zuzana Jayasundera

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