Ivan Pavlov, the greatest experimental physiologist of his day, was born in a small village in the Riazan district of Russia. Inspired by the success of his father, Pyotr Dmitrievich Pavlov, in rising above the peasant conditions of a country priest, he worked his way from the village school and a theological seminary to the University of St. Petersburg, where he developed his interest in the natural sciences under Medelief. At the Medico-Chirurgical Academy he was so entranced by Von Cyon's researches on digestion that he continued them at the Military Academy under Botkin, and spent his hard-won earnings on two years’ study abroad with Ludwig and Heiderbain. By then every difficulty and disappointment was treated as a challenge; he learned by them to curb his natural impulsiveness, tempering his quick anger against slip-shod work by an endearing geniality, and developing his mental and manual dexterity to the heights of genius. Others might work to or from theory; Pavlov was driven as if by an inexorable logic to find successive facts by new surgical techniques and specially designed apparatus. At forty-one he was appointed professor of pharmacology at the Military Academy and physician to the Institute of Experimental Medicine.
In 1897 his monograph on the intricacies of digestion brought him international fame. At fifty he became physician to the Medico-Chirurigical Academy and, at sixty, one of the four scientific members of the new Academy of Science. Years of drudgery, hunger and lack of equipment following the 1917 Revolution found him entering a new field with undiminished energy: the demonstration of the reflex effects on the cerebrum of the hitherto unnoticed indirect stimuli of everyday life. By his lucid explanations of the production, inhibition and destruction of these stimuli in the normal subject he opened up the still unexhausted study of the abnormal states of the hysterias, neuroses and psychoses.
His honours were many, among them the Nobel prize, the fellowship of the Royal Society and its Copley medal in 1915, and in his last year a pension of 20,000 roubles and a grant of 1,000,000 roubles for his laboratory. Yet it is certain that to him his greatest honour was the acclamation given him at the International Physiological Congress in Russia and at the International Neurological Congress in this country in 1935.
In 1881 he married Seraphima Vasilievna Karchevskaya; they had four sons and a daughter.
Richard R Trail
[Arch. Neurol. Psychiat. (Chicago), 1935, 33, 1082; Brit.med.J., 1936, 1, 507-09 (p), 560-61, 703; Lancet, 1936, 1, 564-6 (p); Obit. Not. roy. Soc., 1936-8, 2, 1-18 (p); Times, 28 Feb. 1936; B. P. Babkin. Pavlov: a biography. London, 1951 (p); H. Cuny. Ivan Pavlov: the man and his theories. London, 1964 (p); Y. P. Frolov. Pavlov and his school. London, 1937 (p); Montreal Neurological Institute. Neurological biographies and addresses. London, 1936, 121-7 (p).]