Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 3

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Blyakher L. History of embryology in Russia from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century (istoryia embriologii v Rossii s serediny XVIII do serediny XIX veka) (1955) Academy of Sciences USSR. Institute of the History of Science and Technology. Translation Smithsonian Institution (1982).

Historic Russian Embryology TOC: 1. Beginning of Embryological Investigations Lomonosov's Epoch | 2. Preformation or New Formation? | 3. Kaspar Friedrich Wolff - Theory of Epigenesis | 4. Wolff: "Theory Of Generation" | 5. Wolff: "Formation of the Intestine" | 6. Wolff's Teratological Works | 7. Wolff: "On the Special Essential Tower" | 8. Ideology of Wolff | Chapter 9. Theory of Epigenesis End of 18th Century | 10. Embryology in the Struggle of Russian Empirical Science Against Naturphilosophie | 11. Louis Tredern - Forgotten Embryologist Beginning of 19th Century | 12. Embryonic Membranes of Mammals - Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus | 13. Embryonic Layers - Kh. I. Pander | 14. Karl Maksimovich Baer | 15. Baer's - De Ovi Mammalium Et Hominis Genesi | 16. Baer's Ober Entw I Cklungsgesch I Chte Der Thiere | 17. Baer Part 1 - Chicken Development | 18. Baer Part 2 - History of Chicken Development | 19. Baer Vol 2 | 20. Third Part of the Bird Egg and Embryo Development | 21. Third Part - Development of Reptiles, Mammals, and Animals Deprived of Amnion and Yolk Sac | 22. Fourth Part - Development of Man | 23. Baer's Teratological Works and Embryological Reports in Petersburg | Chapter 24. Baer's Theoretical Views | 25. Invertebrate Embryology - A. Grube, A. D. Nordmann, N. A. Warnek, and A. Krohn
Online Editor 
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This historic textbook by Bliakher translated from Russian, describes historic embryology in Russia between 1750 - 1850.



Publishing House of the Academy of Science USSR

Moscow 1955

Translated from Russian

Translated and Edited by:

Dr. Hosni Ibrahim Youssef # Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Cairo University

Dr. Boulos Abdel Malek

Head of Veterinary Research Division

NAMRU-3, Cairo

Arab Republic of Egypt

Published for

The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C, by The Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations 1982


Published for

The Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C by The Al Ahram Center for Scientific Translations (1982)


Also available online Internet Archive


Historic Embryology Textbooks

Historic Disclaimer - information about historic embryology pages 
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Pages where the terms "Historic Textbook" and "Historic Embryology" appear on this site, and sections within pages where this disclaimer appears, indicate that the content and scientific understanding are specific to the time of publication. This means that while some scientific descriptions are still accurate, the terminology and interpretation of the developmental mechanisms reflect the understanding at the time of original publication and those of the preceding periods, these terms and interpretations may not reflect our current scientific understanding.     (More? Embryology History | Historic Embryology Papers)

Chapter 3. Kaspar Friedrich Wolff and Substantiation of the Theory of Epigenesis

If in the works of Buffon and other naturalists of the eighteenth century it is possible to find timid attempts to oppose the idea of preformation in its indistinctly formulated and inconsistent form, the predominating doctrine of preformation met a decisive and courageous opponent in K. F. Wolff. Wolff presented logically complete and well-founded facts of the theory of epigenesis, i.e., that the development of individuals involved a new formation.

With great effort B. E. Raikov extracted from undeserved oblivion Wolff's great manuscript and, in addition, included in his book the contents of some of Wolff's published works. However, he was interested mainly in Wolff's transformist presentations, and, supposing that Wolff's embryological works were well known,! Raikov elucidated the latter only briefly. He considered in particular Wolff's remarkable embryological work on the development of the chick's digestive canal. He insufficiently reviewed Wolff's last published theoretical work, "About the Essential Power." Therefore, in order to form an appreciation of Wolff's importance as the forefather of embryological science, it is necessary to elucidate his work in more detail, particularly that on embryonic development. This is also necessary because the biographical and critical literature about Wolff is scanty (19), and sometimes his life and scientific activity is misrepresented.

Even Goethe was interested in Wolff's personality and works, because Wolff was his direct predecessor in the doctrine of the metamorphosis of parts of plants. In relation to the epigenesis theory, Goethe collected only scanty data on Wolff, and, following Kant, Goethe incorrectly evaluated wolff's true role, crediting undeserved recognition to (Johann Friedrich) Blumenbach. (20)


1 . The printed works of Wolff were little known even by his contemporaries .


Wolff's biographer A. Kirchhoff 2 called him the great German physiologist. More than fifty years before this Johann Friedrich Meckel, Jr., in his preface to his translation from Latin to German of Wolff's work, "On the Formation of the Intestinal Canal in the Incubated Chicken Egg," sought to attract attention to the author's work. Wolff is considered German by nationality and one "whom the Germans can speak about with pride and can compare with any great names of any other country." 3 K. F. Wolff was born in Berlin in 1734. 4 He studied medicine in Berlin and then in Halle, where he finished at the university in 1759. In the same year he published his dissertation, "Theoria Generationis ." His work on the same subject, in a more popular form, was published in German in 1764. After this, in early 1767, he moved to Russia, at the invitation of the Petersburg Academy of Science. There he remained to the end of his life. The period of Wolff's scientific activity in Germany covered eight years only. For more than two years he lost touch with his research work because he participated in the Seven Years War as a doctor in a field hospital. The publication of his dissertation, in which Wolff came out against the universally recognized authorities, turned the representatives of official German science against him; his aspiration to become a professor in the Berlin Medico-Surgical Institute was rejected in an insulting way, and this removed all possibility of continuing his scientific work in his motherland.


2. A. Kirchhoff, "Caspar Friedrich Wolff: sein Leben und seine Bedeutung fur die Lehre von der organischen Entwickelung," in JENAISCHE ZEITSCHRIFT FUR MEDIZIN UND NATURWISSENSCHAFT, 4 (1868), pp. 193 220.

3. Introductory article of Meckel, p. 3.

4. This date is considered more exact than that usually indicated, 1733. See J. Schuster, "C . Fr. Wolff. Leben und Gestalt eines deutschen Biologen," SITZ. BER. GES. NATURF., Berlin, 1936 (cited by G(eorg) Uschmann, CASPAR FRIEDRICH WOLFF, EIN PIONIER DER MODERNEN EMBRYOLOGIE (Leipzig: Urania- Verlag , 1955].)


The Petersburg Academy of Science selected Wolff as a member. It gave him those material conditions which he needed for his work, and for twenty-seven years it supported him in his scientific work. He was ensured the right to prepare his works for publication and to publish them. In the year following his arrival at the Petersburg Academy, Wolff began to publish, in "New Commentaries of the Petersburg Academy/' his vast work (nearly 150 pages in quarto) in Latin on the development of the intestine. In 1789 the Academy published Wolff's great theoretical work on the essential power (about 100 pages in quarto), and also in the period from 1770 to 1780, fourteen anatomical and teratological works. What about the great manuscripts of Wolff which remain unpublished? These manuscripts were not completed for print by the author himself and were fragments of a larger work, the work which was interrupted by his sudden death in 1794. The supposition of B. E. Raikov that Wolff's main manuscripts remained unpublished because the representatives of the Russian scientific world, in particular academicians A. P. Protasov and I. I. Lepekhin, did not want to support him, and that Wolff in Russia "lived in ideological loneliness," is a supposition only. It is insufficiently grounded because at that time in Russia, the academicians S. Ya. Rumovsky and F. Epinus, who worked on physiological investigations to which Wolff referred in his work about the essential power (1789) , and also professors M. M. Terekhovsky, N. M. Maksimovich-Ambodic, A. M. Shumlyansky and other investigators, were able to understand Wolff's ideas and to evaluate the significance of his investigations.


There is reason to believe that the educated Russian people were seriously interested in these problems, which constituted the subject of Wolff's scientific investigations and reflections. The discussions of these people, as recorded by Antiokh Dmitrevich and historian Vasily Nikitich Tatishchev, serve as evidence of this. Tatishchev 's work, "Conversation about the benefit of sciences and schools, "5 was begun in 1733 and continued for many successive years; it was published after more than 150 years. It stated, for example, these advanced conclusions about scientific proofs: "In physiological and natural matters no proof is needed; they are proved by themselves, i.e. the natural circumstances must be confirmed" (answer to the 97th question, p. 133). There also, Tatishchev was concerned about the question of the origin of the soul in the developing fetus, and he attempted to find its origin in the "enclosing" of the preformation hypothesis. He wrote:


5. v. N. Tatishchev, RAZGOVOR DVYKH PRIYATELEI POL'ZE NAUK I UCHILISHCH (Conversation of two friends about the benefit of science and schools) , with preface and index by Nil Popov (1887) .


Earlier an opinion existed about weeds , that in the semen of each, something is found which is capable of producing growth of all organs and semen. Leeuwenhoek , through his extremely intricate work with the microscope or magnifying glass, examined the male outpouring of animalcules which are similar to newly born frogs or tadpoles: wide, circular, or oblong bodies with tails, many of which are present in one drop. In real semen they constitute the living things which reach the female ovum where they find nutrition. The body begins to grow, and later on all the parts , although extremely small and immature, grow completely as in man. Adam's semen included all souls that are created. (Answer to the 14th question, p. 8)


Kantemir, on the contrary, announced himself as a supporter of the epigenetic point of view. In work neither published nor completely finished during his life, which in posthumous publication conditionally received the name, "Letters about Nature and Man," 6 Kantemir presented the following discussion:


They [animals] can, in endless ages, extend their kind; their creator put this possibility into them from the beginning. Let us say that the multiplication of their kind begins with the semen of the species which eternally abides in them and prepares a special messenger which exists in them at birth .... The embryos or semen in animals and cattle which have been prepared through infinite ages must possess the form of their bodies according to kind. Through growth in the womb they will be born. There will be further creation of the above mentioned which is impossible to understand. The basis of all that is animal needs, comprehensive. wisdom, and art. However, if it is thus, then: first, the basis of this animal has in its smallest stage all internal and external parts; and, second, it is necessary that each embryo has, in itself also, the possibility to be propagated into infinite kinds. Is it possible that the mind understands the complex preparation in one embryo of a number of creatures? (pp. 43 44)


SOCHENENIYA, PESMA I IZBRANNYE PEREVODY KNYAZYA ANTIOKHA DMITRIEVICHA KANTEMIRA (Works, letters and selected translations of Prince Antiokh Dmitrievich Kantemir) , edited by P(etr) A(leksandrovich) Efremov, vol. 2, 1868.



To this extract it must be added that Wolff's time in Petersburg coincided with that of A. N. Radishchev, who returned from abroad in 1771 and was arrested in 1790. Radishchev, due to his unusual and wide scientific interests and enormous erudition, was acquainted with Wolff's works and related to him with sympathy. It is clear that, in a treatise "About man, his death and immortality," Radishchev definitively stated his epigenetic view (as discussed later) .

From the foregoing, the conclusion can be reached that in Germany Wolff was not evaluated as a first class investigator and advanced thinker. This forced him to move to Russia, and therefore Germany does not have the right to claim Wolff's glory. In fairness he must be considered a Russian scientist. He must not be compared in any case with those foreign academicians of Petersburg, who moved to Russia for a short time for material considerations and did not firmly involve themselves with Russian science. Unjustly, Kirchhoff wrote about Wolff's decision to move to Russia that: "Of course, this was a decision connected with renunciation; he must then live far from his native country, in a cold northern country, without constant renewal from enthusiastic students and intimate contact with European science."


It is well known that the representatives of European science, in the persons of Bonnet, Haller, Meckel Sr. and others, did not wish to admit Wolff into their midst; about these opinions Meckel Jr. and Kirchhoff passed over in silence. Also, B. E. Raikov's' statement that in Russia Wolff had no students or supporters is not completely accurate. (21) Below (see Chapters 9 and 11) it will be shown that epigenetic opinions, based on Wolff's theoretical propositions and observations, enjoyed in Russia at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century sufficiently wide distribution. S. G. Zybelin, D. A. Golitsyn, I. Beseke, M. Kh. Peken, N. M. MaksimovichAmbodic, A. N. Radishchev, and later on L. Tredern, all stated them.


7. Raikov, ESSAYS ON THE HISTORY OF EVOLUTIONARY IDEAS IN RUSSIA, p. 70.


Blyakher1955 fig02.jpg

Figure 2. Silhouette of Kaspar Friedrich Wolff made by F. Anting (1784); the only existing picture of Wolff



Historic Russian Embryology TOC: 1. Beginning of Embryological Investigations Lomonosov's Epoch | 2. Preformation or New Formation? | 3. Kaspar Friedrich Wolff - Theory of Epigenesis | 4. Wolff: "Theory Of Generation" | 5. Wolff: "Formation of the Intestine" | 6. Wolff's Teratological Works | 7. Wolff: "On the Special Essential Tower" | 8. Ideology of Wolff | Chapter 9. Theory of Epigenesis End of 18th Century | 10. Embryology in the Struggle of Russian Empirical Science Against Naturphilosophie | 11. Louis Tredern - Forgotten Embryologist Beginning of 19th Century | 12. Embryonic Membranes of Mammals - Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus | 13. Embryonic Layers - Kh. I. Pander | 14. Karl Maksimovich Baer | 15. Baer's - De Ovi Mammalium Et Hominis Genesi | 16. Baer's Ober Entw I Cklungsgesch I Chte Der Thiere | 17. Baer Part 1 - Chicken Development | 18. Baer Part 2 - History of Chicken Development | 19. Baer Vol 2 | 20. Third Part of the Bird Egg and Embryo Development | 21. Third Part - Development of Reptiles, Mammals, and Animals Deprived of Amnion and Yolk Sac | 22. Fourth Part - Development of Man | 23. Baer's Teratological Works and Embryological Reports in Petersburg | Chapter 24. Baer's Theoretical Views | 25. Invertebrate Embryology - A. Grube, A. D. Nordmann, N. A. Warnek, and A. Krohn

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2019, September 21) Embryology Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 3. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Book_-_Russian_Embryology_(1750_-_1850)_3

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