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The rise of embryology. By Arthur William Meyer. Stanford University Press 1939. xv + 367 pages 97 figures. Price $6.00

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T I I E RISE O F EXIBRYOLOGP. B y A r t h u r William Meyer. Stanford University Press, 1939. xv + 367 pages, 97 figures. Price, $6.00.
A nation-wide interest in medical history is a recent development i n
Sinerica. Corner’s Anatomical Texts of the Earlier hiitldle Ages,
Sarton’\ IIistory of Science, Breasted’s Smith Papyrus, J l c N u r r i c h ’ ~
I~eonardoda Vinci, Fnlton’s Readings i n the History of Physiology,
Boyden’s Talmudic Anatomy, are products of the last 13 years. Professor A. w. Meyer, whose “Analysis of Harvey’s De Generatioiie”
has alrrady won him a place in this distinguished coterie, dedicates
his new volume “ i n due humility to thc nascent but traiiicendent
came of the history of science.”
“The Rise of Embryology” is concerned almost whollg with events
preceding the epochal discovery of von Baer-that
“accidental ”
ernergrnce of an egg f r o m the Graafian follicle of a clog, reported iii
1827. Chapter I sketches the ignorance of primitive peoples in regard
to sex, with photographs of Australian aboriginees and African pygmies. Out of such depravity the science of embryology arose. “ E a r l y
historic ideas of geiieration’ ’ follow. Here Dr. 3Ieyer might h a r e
mentioned that Creasted considered possible as carlp a date as 3000
B.C. for th e Egj-ptian reference to t h e “throbbing weak place of a n
infant’s crown, ” in the ancient description of mciiiiipes exposed in
a compound fractnre of the skiill. The functions of ovary and testis,
as Dr. Meyer reports. were sufficiently understood in China so that
castration is mentioned as early as 1100 E.C. In ancient China s o w
were spayed, and boars and cocks mntilatecl, for endocrine and other
effects. I n India, “before thc sixth century B.C.,” viviparous and
oriparons animals mcrr distingnished from a third class produced f r o m
germs, yet such distinctions, if unknown to Aclani, would have been
told liini by his boys.
With long prehistory, Greek medicine and science dawned, with a
multiplicity of doctors, surgeons, natnralists and philosophers. Limiting the story to ten pages, Dr. Neyer can (lo little more than introduce
the great names-IIippocrates, Aristotle, and Galeri-with casual reference to certain others. Chapter I 1 concludes with embryology systrmatized by Galcn. It coniprises foiir stages of development, yiz.
(1) the formless genitnrc ; ( 2 ) the embryo, of certain consistency, with
heart, brain and l i w r still indistinct; ( 3 ) the fetus, with its major
365
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BOOK REVIEW
organs clearly present and some indications of the others; and (4) the
infant with all its parts, growing until term.
Thus introduced, Dr. Meyer proceeds with a series of thirteen
essays, or remaining chapters, on such fundamental topics as spontaneous generation, the search for the iiiammalian ovum, the problem
of malformation, and the growth of morphology. Each essay begins
with early speculations-with Plato, Aristotle, or a passage from Holy
Writ. S o t all the pioneers i w r e on the right track. Strait is the gate
arid narrow is the way which leadeth unto truth, as unto life; and
Dr. Meyer “steeped in the literature not only of generation but of
anatomy before and during IIarvey’s time,” tells of those who lost
the trail quite as effectively as the climb of those who found it.
As to “Spontaneous Generation’’ (Ch. I I I ) , who knows whether
it occurs? Only b y forgetting t h a t “we ourselves remain uncertain
regarding the nature a n d origin of ultrascopic viruses” can we conclude that “ Pasteur ’s experiments aflorded a complete explanation, ”
and “finally disposed of the theory of spontaneous generation. ” B u t
Paracelsus held that all things were o r could be generated by the help
of putrefaction. €Ie gave directions for inaliing a true and living infant in a retort. On the title page of his Opera, i n the vignette which
Dr. Meyer shows enlarged, does not Jlinerva wink? She is shown
above a three-line inscription, S C I E N T I A IMMUTA BILIS, i n which
lurk more appropriate suggestions than Scientia immutabilis.
Allied to spontaneom generation, the doctrine of epigenesis (Ch.
1V) teaches t h a t the embryo develops from some amorphous generative substance i n which the future organs are not specifically represented. The Psalmist (Ps. 139, v. 1 6 ) and Aristotle “espoused this
fruitful idea,” later defended bj7 Wolff, and “finally established” by
Pander and von Baer, who respectively “sounded the doom” and
“tolled the death knell” of the opposing doctrine of preformation.
Preformation (Ch. V) means that the future organism is potentially
and causally present i n the germ-the future organs are already there.
“ S o part of the aninial body is created after another and all are
created and appear a t the same time,” wrote IIaller, mentioning the
second teeth and the stag’s antlers. Blalpighi, Swaminerdam, Rhaumur,
Connet, and Spallanzarii were preformationists ; and as Dr. hfeyer
further notes, “prominent biologists of the present day have held t h a t
the embryo is after all, in a certain sense, preformed i n the ovum.”
After the brief chapters ( V I and V I I ) on pangenesis and panspermia, in which a n opportunity to exploit the diverting views of
Father Icircher on anthropomorphous orchids has been declined, Dr.
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367
Meyer writes fully and ably on the discovery of the ovum and spermatozoon (Chs. V I I I and I X ) . H e revives the excitement of the
search and the fantastic suggestions of amateur microscopists who
drew what they imagined and took each other seriously. The only
modern pictures i n the book a r e those here introduced, a f t e r Stieve,
representing human spermatozoa, one showing a head with parallels
of latitude a n d meridians of longitude, a n d Inicrosomes a t their points
of intersection.
With the recognition of sperniatozoa and ova, the problem of fertilization is seen in a new light, and the advance to Hertwig’s superb
demonstration, though well beyond the period set, is briefly noted
(Ch. X ) . The short chapters on hybrids (Ch. XI, The Role of the
“Mule”), and on monstrosities including maternal impressions (Ch.
XI1 j , revert to ancient lore.
As a digression or intermission (Ch. XIII) Dr. Jleyer turns to the
early history of the microscope, the invention of the microtome, and
the introduction of embedding and staining methods, o n which the
advances about to be reported depend, as well as many of those
already considered. I n the preceding essays Dr. Meyer has dealt with
the “leading older beliefs regarding reproduction and genesis, quoting
a t some length the words of the early scholars to reveal the intellectual
atmosphere of their time, and carrying these ideas to the modern
viewpoint’’ (Professor Torrey’s comments). It remains to sketch the
basic studies of organogenesis, carried out chiefly on the chick, which
form the rather vast subject of chapter X I V .
Aldrorandi (1522-1605) was “the first biologist since Aristotle to
open the eggs of hens regularly during their incubation” a n d record
what is found therein. H e publishes a large clear picture, drawn by
a Dr. Ulm, of the ovary, pedunculated yolks, uterus and the shellcovered egg i n situ-a
worthy predecessor of figure 1 in Duval’s
“Atlas d’Embryologie.’’ It is an error, therefore, to adopt Dr. Needham’s statement concerning Aldrovandi that “ unfortunately there is
only one picture of embryological interest, namely, a chick i n the act
of hatching.” More precisely the figure t o which Dr. Needham refers
is to show the position of the chick i n the egg just prior to hatching.
Presumably it is reversed i n printing : possibly it is one of the abnormal presentations, some of which make hatching impossible. Between
the unlaid egg and the chick ready to hatch, there are no figures.
Aldrovandi quotes what peasant girls say (aiuiat mzclierculae) about
the shedding of the protuberance of the beak in newly hatched chicks
-a structure which he is the first to record. From the same source
he learned that the chalazae are the sperm of the cock ; and he believed
it, contrary to Aristotle. “It seems very strange,” we are told, “ t h a t
368
BOOK BEVIEW
h r should have decided that t.he thoracic organs are formed from the
seed of the C O C ~ C . ” But the reader should not infer that Altlrovandi
segregated the thoracic organs as having a special origin. H e is said
also “ t o have stated that the heart is formed on the yolk.” Like the
rest of tlie chick, i n his opinion, the heart formed in tlie fertilized
white (apparebat i n albzcniinc), and the yolk is nutriment.
Prompted by Aldrovandi, with w-hom he was studying a t Bologna,
Coitei-, in May of 1564, ordered two setting hens, with twenty-three
eggs apiece, and wrote liis better version of the daily disclosures. H e
could draw (skeletons in other papcm) , yet did not rentnre to pictiire
the chick.
Coiter is mentioned ; and a ~ ~ r a g r a pfollows
h
about Spigelius, too
brief f o r clarity. I t assnnies that the reader k n o m that Spigelius
I)elit.ved that an allantoic sac occurs i n man-though none exists. With
tlie autliorities a t odds, Spigelius -\\-as in a qiiandary. “ P e t I think
it’s there,” he said, for there is just as mncli ncecl of it a s in the
cwbryos “of other quadrupeds. ” To have the urine spread hither
and thither between chorion and amnion (foes not sewi consonant with
nature. “Another reason is that niy fellon.-countryiiiaii, dndreas
Vesalius, has pictured it in the human fetus, like the intestine froin
which sausages are made” ( ! Fabrica, Lib. V, cap. 1 7 ) . Dr. Illeyer
atltls, “ It also is surprising that Spigc.lins seems to have ofTered no
explanation for the presence of so peculiar a thing a s the vernis
cascosa, Tvliicli he described.” His explanation is in Capnt VIII of
“ I)(?forrnato foetu. ” Tint Fabriciris is well and adequately presented,
arid for IIarrey there is Dr. 3 1 e y c ~ ’ sseparate boolr, indispensable on
that topic.
“Deseartes deserves no place in tlie history of embryology.” I n
that field “it wonld be unneccssary to mention t.he reno~vnedFrenchnian . . . except . . . that he attempted to explain the derelopnient
of all animals on a nieclianical basis.” Dr. Pvleyer of coiirse recognizes
the fruitful mechanist conception, but finds not a whit of tangible
evidencc to support it in Dcscartcs’ “Formation d n Foetus. ”
I n contrast, Blalpighi, with no words about the animal machine,
described what takes place i n the lien’s egg, sending his l c t t t ~ sof
revelation to the Royal Society. “The greatest of the ~ n i c r ~ ~ c o p i s t s , ”
-- “ not only one of nictiicinc’s greatest names, but one of its niost
attractive personalities” (Garrison). Dr. Meyer devotes t w o pages
to Malpighi, supplemented by casnal references scattered throngh tlie
boolr. “The space allotted to an author does not ncctwarily correspond with his importance,” Dr. hIeyer has warned in liis Preface.
Debraw, on bees, perhaps because ‘less well-known, receives five pages.
The discovery and crude portrayal of thc origin of the brain and cord
BOOK BEVIEW
369
as a fnrrow in the skin would seem to need more than tlie statement,
“he noticed the elevation of the medullary folds.” As to tlie heart,
Singer is quoted that some of Malpighi’s figures “though inadequately
described, are yet so good that they would fit a modern text-book without much alteration.” The fascinating figures are, i n fact, easily
reproduced, and the way in which IIiuiter ’s drawings interpret thein
has been briefly presented in Dr. Cushiiig’s “ Eicentenary of the Birth
of John Hu n t e r ” ( S .13. J . of Ned., 1929, 1701. 200, p. 820).
Hunter, with eight page\, is more sympathetically and substantially
treated, an d the book closes, touching upon Pander, r o n Baer, P u r lrinje, Schwann, and Koellilter. The hrief final chaptcr ( X V ) , on
Early Experimental Enibryology, is sufficient t o show t h a t Roux. i n
1859, was not ‘ ‘the creator of cxperiniental embryology’ ’-nor was
Claude Bernard, as Dr. Mej-er might ha~7eadded, “ t h e fonndcr of
experimental medicine. ” The csperiinental method is as old as mankind. It proceeds froin “ the dark unfathomcd retrospect. ”
“ F o r what is the present after a11 hut a growth out of the past?
( A s a projectile form’d, inipell’d, passing a certain line, still keeps on,
So the present, u t t r r l j forni’d, iinpell’d by the past.) ”
I n postscript, some unusual features aiid errata iiiay be noted. The
rolixnie is attractively printed i n Eodoni type, spactd so RS to be easily
read. The running heads are off center, indented a half-inch froin the
outer margins of the pages, where in fact they are more readily seen on
turning the leaves; but the page numbers must then be placcd at the
bottom of the page. The ninety-seven figures (half-tones and line cuts)
are printed as plates, on both sides of glazed unnumbered leaves, scattercid through the book either singly or in groups of six or eight pages
of pictures. Very few of theiii are referred to in the text, for they tell
their own story. The running head, “ T h e Rise of Embryology,” with
black rules, is placed above all the pages of figures. often i n t h e margin of a portrait, in a way not altogether agreeable; a n d t h e plates
a r e all brought to a larger size t h a n the letter-press, often opposite.
Thus there a r e several innovations.
The plates range widely in quality. Some are excellent, others badly
made and badly printed, occasionally too pale, but more often overinked. Such, for example, are Kedi’s cherry flies (fig. 1 8 ) ; F r a u n hofer’s dru m microscopc. (fig. 66) ; and the execrable bedraggled fowl
(fig. 77) which blacken Lederinuller’s poor cops of Xalpighi’s pictures, the final chick, out on the farm, being his own addition. Figure
91, Pander’s beautiful plate, is upside down aiid ascribed to oon Bacr.
The portraits range from the two ancient busts so fainiliarly called
Hippocrates and Rristotle that we mistake them for authentic like-
370
BOOK REVIEW
nesses (compare Sarton, in Isis, 1939, XXX, p. 226), down to the
bewigged Redi, from the Opere, 1809, “through the courtesy of Professor Evans.’’ Dr. Jleyer considers the latter a better likeness than
the “magnificent” folio portrait by Tempesti, issued with Eedi’s
Sonetti of 1702. The Redi a n d four plates from Stirling’s “Apostles”
have been needlessly enlarged, so that their texture is coarsened. The
nineteen portraits include but one unfamiliar face-that
of Abbe
Nollet (1700-1770). H e made taffety breeches for some male frogs in
a patient study of their mating.
There are some typographical errors, such as primae concepta (p.
101) for priini conceptus; testis niuliebre (104) for testis muliebris;
testes muliebre (pp. 100, 104, 105) for testes muliebres; osteogenia
foetuni (297) for osteogenia foetunm ; animalculi (146) for animalcula; epididynies (136, in a quotation) for epiclidyinides. One i q reminded of the impassioned appeal to an audience of Boston doctors,
made by one of their number: “ W e must educate,” he exclaimed,
“we must educate the genus naedicus!”
I n the IIaighton quotation
(p. 128) inadequate has been substituted f o r adequate; in the first line
of p. 214, height should read eighth.
“Restriction and selection of material mere unavoidable, ” yet the
valuable bibliography extends orer 19 pages. It contains no reference to Aldrovandi, nor to a book especially relerant to chapter IXI. F. Ashley-Montague, “ Coming into Being among the Australian
Aboriginees: A n examination of all the evidence bearing upon the
procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia, ” London, 1937.
The barnacle story i n chapter I11 is told without reference to HeronAllen’s book, “Barnacles in Nature and in N y t h ,” Oxford, 1928, on
which the author “wasted most pleasantly a year” (but his work was
soon out of p r i n t ) ,
I n company with Needham’s “History of Embryology” and Singer’s
“Evolution of Anatomy,” Dr. Bleyer’s “Rise of Embryology” should
be in every biological library and laboratory, for laboratory studies
without such orientation can hardly yield members of a learned prof ession.
___
_.
______
‘Correctly, genus medicum. Rfmy of us, perhaps, can join Professor Stierc in
his remark ( F o b Anat. Jap., 1937, XV, p. 152) : WBhrelld der neun Jahrc, i a
dcnen ich meine Hosen auf den Schulbanken eines humanistischen Gymnasiulns
blank scheuerte, habe ich niich ausfuhrlich genug init allen solchen Dingen
beschaftigt.
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FREDERIC
T. LEWIS
Harvard Medical School
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