Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

X
THE INFLUENCE OF DARWIN ON THE STUDY OF ANIMAL EMBRYOLOGY

BY A. SEDGWICK M.A., F.R.S. Professorof Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in the University of Cambridge.

THE publication of The Origin of Species ushered in a new era in the study of Embryology. Whereas, before the year 1859 the facts of anatomy and development were loosely held together by the theory of types, which owed its origin to the great anatomists of the preceding generation, to Cuvier, L. Agassiz, J. Müller, and R. Owen, they were now combined together into one organic whole by the theory of descent and by the hypothesis of recapitulation which was deduced from that theory. The view 1 that a knowledge of embryonic and larval histories would lay bare the secrets of race-history and enable the course of evolution to be traced, and so lead to the discovery of the natural system of classification, gave a powerful stimulus to morphological study in general and to embryological investigation in particular. In Darwin's words: "Embryology rises greatly in interest, when we look at the embryo as a picture, more or less obscured, of the progenitor, either in its adult or larval state, of all the members of the same great class 2." In the period under consideration the output of embryological work has been enormous. No group of the animal kingdom has escaped exhaustive examination and no effort has been spared to obtain the embryos of isolated and out of the way forms, the development of which might have an important bearing upon questions of phylogeny and classification. Marine zoological stations have been established, expeditions have been sent to distant countries, and the methods of investigation have been greatly improved. The result of this activity has been that the main features of the developmental history of all the most important animals are now known and the curiosity as to developmental processes, so greatly excited by the promulgation of the Darwinian theory, has to a considerable extent been satisfied.

____________________
1
First clearly enunciated by Fritz Müller in his well-known work, Für Darwin, Leipzig, 1864; ( English Edition, Facts for Darwin, 1869).
2
Origin (6th edit.), p. 396.

-171-

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