Academy,  2 (1870–71), 496–98.

[Review of Embryology of Vermes and Arthropoda, by Aleksandr O Kovalevsky]

Anton Dohrn



Publications reviewed:

Kovalevsky 1871


Zoology, Embryology, Darwinism, Evolution, Taxonomy, Animal Development, Morphology, Biology, Invertebrate Zoology, Descent, Human Species, Controversy, Comparative Anatomy, Entomology, Nomenclature, Error

People mentioned:

Karl W Kupffer , Martin H Rathke , August F L Weismann , Elias Mecznikow , Karl G F R Leuckart

Publications cited:

Darwin 1859 , Müller 1864 , Haeckel 1866

    Although Charles R Darwin himself has perhaps paid too little attention to the subject, there 'can not be the least hesitation in saying' that the 'great amount of embryological work' in recent years is 'in great part due to the Darwinian theory of evolution' (496). Most importantly, the work of Fritz Müller and Ernst H P A Haeckel has established the law that 'ontogenetical development is the short and compressed recapitulation of the phylogenetical development', a law which 'laid open to the students of biology [...] an immense field of problems' but also 'a field which promised extraordinary rewards for strenuous and judiciously made investigation' (496–97). In Germany and Russia 'embryology became the favourite study' and soon elicited 'great excitement'. Indeed, Aleksandr O Kovalevsky's work on the development of the Ascidia and Amphioxus established 'a close genealogical union [...] connecting the Vertebrates with a lower type' and 'fairly bridged over' that 'great gulf, which separated the highest class of animals, including at its very top Man himself, from all the others'. Inevitably, this 'was like an earthquake, shaking the well-established truths of former times, and menacing their complete overthrow and ruin', and it was made worse by Carl Gegenbaur scrapping 'a great deal of the old doctrines' in the second edition of his Grundzüge der vergleichenden Anatomie which has become 'the text-book and base of modern Morphology'. (497) Now in the 'rather unknown field' of the embryology of worms Kovalevsky is seeking to refute the arguments of Mitrofan Ganin and demonstrate the 'genealogical union' of vertebrates, arthropods, and Vermes (497–98). After noting certain points on which 'the mode of demonstration which Kovalevski has taken cannot lead to a successful end', the review concludes that the 'great question of the unity of the organic composition—"l'unité de composition organique" of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire—as opposed to the discrimination of types in the Cuvierian sense, remains therefore still open, though we are inclined to consider Kovalevski's work [...] as a decided step towards a final solution of this great problem' (498).

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