Review of Reviews,  1 (1890), 537–38.

Our Scientific Causerie. By Mr. Grant Allen. The New Theory of Heredity

Mr Grant Allen, The Nook, Dorking


Regular Feature, Essay


Specialization, Popularization, Science Communication, Heredity, Evolution, Sex, Psychology, Controversy

People mentioned:

Herbert Spencer , Jean-Baptiste P A de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck , Erasmus Darwin , Alfred R Wallace , Theodor Eimer

    Allen begins by disputing William T Stead's contention that the Review of Reviews should regularly print 'a couple of pages of summary' of the latest scientific thought. He asserts that the 'Editor says science has made itself into a Brahmin caste, which holds aloof from the people. Perhaps so; but as the people will not hear, how is that to be remedied?'. (537) Science, he insists, cannot be explained 'off-hand in so short a space to the general public' and no real knowledge can be gained by 'glancing over a page or two of criticism in a general review'. This, he admits, will 'be heresy to the editor'. (538) Allen nevertheless gives a two-page summary of 'the question that now most profoundly agitates the breast [...] of the biologists': the nature of heredity. He expounds the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics held by 'the older evolutionists' who proposed that 'function largely preceded and determined structure'. Even Charles R Darwin, he notes, 'grew gradually in his later years to recognise more and more the importance of this additional factor in evolution'. (537) More recently, however, August F L Weismann's experimental work on germ-plasm has suggested that 'there can be no inheritance of acquired faculties'. Weismann's view, moreover, 'has been enthusiastically accepted in England by the younger Darwinian school'. At the same time though, this hypothesis cannot account for 'the origin of Mind, which has hitherto always been explained by evolutionists as a result of inheritance of accumulated habits', and 'a reaction has set in' against it among many eminent biologists . The 'present state of the biological world', he concludes, is 'divided into an ultra-Darwinian or Weismannesque faction on the one side, and a partly Lamarckian or Spencerian body on the other'. (538)

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