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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/449

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445
ZOOLOGY

eighteenth century, contended that the germ was a minute replica of the adult which formed it, a multum in parvo which simply unfolded and enlarged to produce another adult organism; Wolff, however, showed that this view lacked a basis in fact, and that as we now universally believe, embryonic history is a true development from the simple and unorganized to the progressively more and more specialized later conditions—that it is, in a word, an epigenesis. The great name of the infancy of embryology is that of Von Baer (1792-1876). This acute observer and thinker was struck by the similarity of early stages in the development of quite different adult animals. Birds and reptiles and even mammals pass through stages when they possess gill-slits like those of fishes, related to heart and blood-vessels like the similar structures in lower vertebrates; butterflies and flies and beetles are somewhat alike in their larval stages, when as caterpillars and maggots and grubs they not only resemble one another remarkably but they are also very like worms. Under the influence of the evolution doctrine, then becoming more generally accepted, Von Baer and a host of followers extended the science of comparative embryology until Haeckel in 1866 ventured to state the "Law of Recapitulation," or the "Biogenetic Law," in the following rigid terms: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. (The development of an individual reviews the past history of its species.) Led by their enthusiasm many of the later nineteenth century zoologists followed too implicitly the lines of the embryonic record, though Haeckel himself, the most radical advocate of the law, pointed out that there are many serious omissions in the narrative, that false passages are inserted as the result of purely larval and embryonic needs and adaptations, while many alterations in the way of anachronisms have been made. Of late years there has been a strong reaction from the complete acceptance of the principle as a reliable mode of interpreting embryonic histories. But I believe zoologists generally feel that used with due caution the law has a high value for the student of evolution, and they realize that embryology is perhaps more significant in other respects than in showing exactly how in past times any given species has evolved. The present tasks in this department, now so thoroughly investigated, are to distinguish between the false and the true portions of the record, between the new and the old, and to ascertain the physiology of development, in order to gain a more complete knowledge of racial history and of the dynamics of organic nature.

The study of the fossil remains of animal organisms, or paleontology, is the fourth division of structural zoology, which as an independent branch dates back to the time of Cuvier, scarcely a hundred years ago. Vestiges of creation were indeed known long before that time, but they were variously regarded as freaks of geological forma-