Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 9

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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 9. The Theory of Epigenesis is in Russia at the End of the 18th Century

It is impossible to believe that the scientific effect of Wolff's ideas was not realized until many years after his death. During his life his scientific opinions were cited and discussed. Thus the epigenetic ideology was held by Zybelin (30), a professor of the medical faculty of Moscow University and Wolff's contemporary. Beginning with Lomonosov's materialistic principles, Zybelin established that all living creatures come from fluid. "All of mankind, even legendary giants as solid and strong as Hercules, whales and elephants all started from fluid. At their beginning they were nothing but one drop of fluid, from which fibers, membranes, muscles, cartilage and hard bones developed into man, the eternal astonishment of human intellect."! Solving the question about the beginning of individual development from the point of view of epigenesis, Zybelin did not see the necessity for explaining "the union of the parts" by assuming a particular "attractive force." He considered it "not appropriate to exaggerate things and ideas unnecessarily and hence only make science difficult. "2

In the eighteenth century in Russia, an attempt was made to interfere experimentally in the process of embryogenesis .


The thoughts about the reason behind the internal union of the parts and about the resulting strength in the human body were expressed when Semen Zybelin received the title of Professor in the Imperial Moscow University of Medicine on August 23, 1768. These words had not been previously published. (Opyt trudov vol"nogo sobraniya pri imp. Moskovskom universitete, Chast' vtoraya, 1775, pp. 152 - 185 [citation on pp. 160 - 161)) . Zybelin, p. 180.

Acceptance of the possibility of some outside effect on its course signifies the assumption of the ep'igenetic nature of embryonic development, because from the point of view of preformation the development of the fetus is predetermined in every detail from the beginning. The experimental investigation mentioned above is that of the physicist D. A. Gallitzin (Evdokiia Golitsyna) (31) . In his letter to the Petersburg Academy of Science, "On Some Electric Objects," 3 Gallitzin reported his experiments on electric manifestations. In conclusion, he wrote the following: "I cannot hold to ... , or state here the results of a particular single experiment which was carried out in the last year. Because this experiment is a single one, it is completely possible that its results are of an accidental nature; I am hoping that this year I will have the opportunity to repeat it. On July 5,1 electrified for half an hour, eight eggs which had been incubated for nine days and left four eggs without electrification. A hen continued to sit on the eggs. On the 17th day of that month, at midday, the young chicks started to hatch; by evening all had appeared and all had black feathers. On the evening of the 18th only one chick hatched from the four non-electrified eggs. One egg was found broken and contained a white chick. The two remaining eggs were found to be nonfertilized. The brood hen was white" (p. 15) .

What is interesting here, of course, is not the result of the experiment itself but the idea, indicating the spread of epigenesis among Russian scientists. Wolff's ideas had gained significance in one of the early manuals of the history of biology — in the presentation of J. Beseke's AN ATTEMPT AT A HISTORY OF THE HYPOTHESIS ABOUT THE GENERATION OF ANIMALS, which appeared in Russia in 1797, 4 This book and its author deserve to be extracted from the injustice of oblivion (32) .


Lettre sur quelques objets d'electricite adressee a l'Academie Imperiale des Sciences de St. Petersbourg par S. E. Mr le prince Dimitri de Gallitzin, St. Petersb. , De l'imprim. de l'Acad., 1778, 16 pp. in quarto. Beseke, VERSUCH EINER GESCHICHTE DER HYPOTHESEN UBER ERZEUGUNG DER THIERE . . ., Mitau, 1797.


Johann Beseke (1746 - 1802) , during the last twenty-eight years of his life, was professor of law in the academic high school in Mitau (now Elgava, Latvian SSR) . Besides his philosophical, juridical and educational presentations, three fragments of his common works (33) were published; these were devoted to his thoughts on the history of all natural sciences throughout twenty centuries and more. The work on these subjects was interrupted by the author's death.

In the book of 1797, Beseke reviewed all the different hypotheses proffered up to the middle of the eighteenth century for the explanation of animal regeneration and development. He divided them into two groups, because one of the hypotheses confirms that organic bodies actually are the outgrowth of other organic bodies, and others consider that organic bodies exist from the beginning of the world. The first group of hypotheses is related to epigenesis, or the true conception and development, and the last to the system of evolution in the broad meaning of the word, which does not allow for the possibility of true development. Some representatives of the second point of view claimed that the preformed organic rudiments are not actually identified from the beginning with the organic bodies and that only by interpenetrating with the latter do they acquire the capability of turning into formed organic bodies (system of dissemination) ; others presumed that these rudiments are contained in the organic bodies themselves (system of evolution in the narrow meaning of the word) . In agreement with the latter theory, the preformed rudiments are situated, one into the other, either in the male or in the female body. The first assumption is the theory of preformation, or the system of Leeuwenhoek, and the second is the system of evolution in the narrowest sense of the word, or the system of Malpighi.


Against all these preformation theories, Beseke with great feeling decidedly set the epigenetic doctrines of Wolff. Wolff, according to Beseke. "has acted against the theoretical possibility of preformation as well as against its factual existence and has confirmed that everywhere in nature there is a true education of what previously was not present." (p. 62) Beseke reproached Wolff only because the latter did not try to declare the contents of the "essential force" which manages the development. Wolff, in Beseke' s view proved that development is accomplished epigenetically, and this is his most important achievement; but he did not give the features of development its necessary explanation. "Was it possible," Beseke asked,' "to explain what is called the essential force by using the hydrostatic, aerostatic and chemical laws, or by using the laws of attraction, gravity, chemical affinity, dissolving, precipitation, elastic fluids and so on?" (pp. 65 - 66) Beseke ! s raising of these questions itself shows that he considered it necessary to make concrete the materialistic understanding of the "essential force," which Wolff did not actually try to do.


His criticism of Wolff's ideas did not keep Beseke from acknowledging the progressive importance of the opinions of the Russian academician, whose system, according to Beseke, "was so insightful and was based on such accurate observations that it had exceptional success and was highly evaluated even by Haller, who himself was the head of the new evolutionary sect" (p. 70).


Summarizing Wolff's discussion with Bonnet, who was the most candid supporter of the doctrines about the preformed body and rudiments inserted into each other, Beseke remained sympathetic to Wolff's opinions. "None of the thinking natural investigators," Beseke wrote, "after what Wolff taught would dare to sway him . . . The nature-investigators who have been trying to explain philosophically the mystery of nature have, for a long time, fluctuated between truth and confusion; however more and more they are inclined towards the side of epigenesists, whose new detachment was headed with dignity by the excellent genius Wolff." (pp. 75 - 76)


Even in the educational manuals, which usually give only the commonly accepted theories, Wolff's ideas received equal consideration with the opposing ideas of such well known authors of the time as Haller. Professor M. K. Pekken's manual of physiology (34) 5 can serve as an illustration. In one of his concluding chapters, Pekken discussed the questions of embryology; hence he gave the students an idea about the existing theories. He did not commit himself openly to any of the opinions and presented them as not more than "intellectual conditions and conjectures." "Not adhering to them and not getting into the discussions resulting from these teachings," Pekken wrote, ". . .1 only intend to present briefly the most important opinions and studies about the beginning and origin of animals, about which (Albrecht von) Haller so elegantly wrote in the entire sense of natural science" ($ 495, pp. 323 - 324).


5. THE ELEMENTARY BASICS OF PHYSIOLOGY OR SCIENCES OF THE NATURE OF HUMANS. The Works of Matvei (Khristianovich) Pekken, outside consultant and professor in the Kronshtadt Medical School, 1787.


The new living existence originates, in the opinion of some, in the maternal organism under the influence of natural creative force (by epigenesis) , and, in the opinion of others , exists in the parent organism from the beginning. This latter opinion exists in the basic studies about the pre-existence (praeexistentia) , or predesignation (praedelineatio) , or the assessment and development of the fetus (evolutio) . (5 498, pp. 324 - 325)


It is wonderful that Pekken mentioned epigenesis in the first place. No less important is the fact that he considered epigenesis that theory of development which is concerned with the influence of natural conditions, at the same time quietly confirming that the studies about preformation, or evolution, cannot be managed without the influence of the other forces. Next he stated the opinions of the animal investigators, "the famous man from Delft, Leeuwenhoek," Swammerdam, and Malpighi. Turning to the question about the motivating forces of development and labelling as "ridiculous opinions" all the talk about this subject of "complicated sophistications," Pekken rejected such opinions as those about "the accidental attraction of the nutritional particles, about the internal patterns, and also about the concurrence of the spontaneous beginning, about the soul -foundation, and other s."^


6. Here, not mentioned by name, Descartes, Buff on, and Stahl are considered.


Stahl's animistic vitalism is especially antipathetic to Pekken, who wrote the following: "The famous Stahl has confirmed that in the human, the soul itself organizes the body; hence it must be in the embryo endlessly more intelligent than in maturity. The birth marks, whose origin is still in question, serve as the main evidence by which this idea is confirmed and defended." C5 499, p, 328)


Mentioning J. T. Needham as one of the supporters of epigenesis, who acknowledged "in the same substance the diffusing and the opposing force," Pekken turned to Wolff's opinion. "K. F. Wolff, a member of the Imp. Russian Academy of Science, proposed a certain essential force (vis essentialis) , which acts on the unformed initial substance, distributes it, forms the vessels, constructs and creates the body. His opinion has many defenders and successors; however those opposing him also disprove it with important evidence." Presenting Haller's idea ("scientific sophistication") which he characterized as "conventional, although it was disproved by many important arguments," and Blumenbach's studies about "the formative efforts (nisus formativus)," Pekken concluded as follows: "However, all that is known about creation is not covered by true studies and is higher than the human intellect." (S 501, p. 331)


Mundir, who was a bureaucrat and professor, evidently obliged Pekken, especially in the manual, by being careful in expressing opinions in a certain way so that they appeared as opposing the official approbated church opinions. This, apparently explains Pekken' s conclusive agnostic declarations. However, from all that he had said previously it appears that his scientific sympathy is on the side of epigenesis, on the side of explaining the manifestations of development by essential reasons.


Within four years after Pekken 's book appeared, a manual of natural science appeared in the Russian language. This was issued in Petersburg by the academician, N. Ozeretskovskii. Although this work is not original but a translation of the German textbook of N. Leske, 8 it played an important role in the spread of natural-scientific knowledge in Russia. In the second section of this book, which was devoted to the general properties of organized ("constructed") bodies, Leske, and following him, Ozeretskovskii, discussed three methods of multiplication (and development) of living creatures — "accidental (spontaneous — L. B.) birth," gradual formation (Wolff's theory of epigenesis and Buffon's theory of panspermia) and unfolding, and the theory of evolution of Haller, Leeuwenhoek and others. In this manual not a single one of these presentations about the multiplication or reproduction and development ("generation") of living creatures is considered "universal," but the most widespread idea in the organic world is considered by the authors to be that of gradual formation, i.e. epigenesis (S 33 - 42).


THE INITIAL BASICS OF NATURAL HISTORY CONCERNS THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, PLANTS AND INSECTS. THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, issued by the Academician Nikolai Ozeretskovskii for the systematics of the animals, translated by G. Leske into German and written in St. Petershurg, 1791.


Great interest is due to the famous Russian obstetrician N. M. Maksimovich-Ambodik's book (35), PHYSIOLOGY OR THE NATURAL HISTORY OF MAN, which was printed in 1787. 9 Even as a popular work geared to the young reader, this presentation is entirely scientific. Embryological questions are discussed in Chapter II ("About the Rudiments of the Infant") and in Chapter III ("About Pregnancy").

Noticing that the process of conception has appeared unclear to many, and refusing to discuss the "many diverse theories," Ambodik gave the following: "The opinion of the majority of scientists about human conception is closer to the truth."


8. Nathanael Gottfried Leske, ANFANSGRUNDE DER NATURGESCHICHTE. ZWOTE VERBESSERTE UND VIEL VERMEHRTE AUSGABE (Leipzig, 1784).

9. PHYSIOLOGY OR THE NATURAL HISTORY OF MAN CONCERNING HIS CONCEPTION, BIRTH NATURE, STRUCTURE OF THE BODY AT DIFFERENT AGES, ACTS OF LIFE, THE DIFFERENCE IN THE HUMAN GENUS, DISEASES, AGEING OR GETTING OLD, AND DEATH. FOR THE SAKE OF RUSSIAN YOUTH. By the efforts and independence of Nestor Mak simovich- Ambodik , Doctor of medicine and professor, in his first publication. With typography by the Naval Gentry Military School. In the city of St. Peter, 1787, CLII pp. Nestor Maksiraovich Maksimovich-Ambodik


The most successful semen of the male penetrate through the cervix of the uterus into its most internal cavity and from there they rush . . . through the gaping openings of the uterine tubes and particularly to that one,.... which is raised upwards with a wide termination bending to the ovary itself, and firmly fitting closely to it with its wide mouth. The ovum in the female ovary, or in the nest, matures and is fertilized by the male sperm; from there it separates and is freely nurtured by the corresponding tube, and there it is freely acquired and little by little it is carried to the hollow of the uterus itself, where with its greatest part facing towards the internal bottom, its surface grows first to a very thin hold, by which it is rooted. Little by little it receives a new increment by which the new uterine fetus impartially grows and assumes its personification, (p. IV - V) .


Here almost every sentence causes a feeling of amazement for such accuracy and correct description of the features which would be for some years the subject of unjustified guesses and fantastic imagination. Right before 1827, when K. M. Baer discovered the ovum of mammals and man, the most inaccurate assumptions about the process of fertilization were developed, especially by the supporters of speculative nature philosophy.


Ambodik talked, presumably, about the earliest stages of development of the embryo, but here he approached quite closely the actual relationships which were also recognized with certainty significantly later.


"Hopefully, and it is highly probable, the new embryo in the first days of its existence in the uterus has the shape of a vesicle like a small ball. After three or four days from conception this ball takes a rounded shape with a diameter of about ten millimeters" Cp. IV). His description of the subsequent stages does not leave any doubt that Ambodik stuck to the epigenetic idea, because he described the organs developing one after the other from undifferentiated rudiments.


After a lapse of seven days it is possible to see some small fibers which are mutually connected among themselves. These are nothing but the initial parts of the embryo in an acceptable form. All that, at first, appears to be of a semi transparent composition, sticky like jelly. After two weeks it is possible to distinguish in it the head and even the features of the face. The nose is represented in the form of a small raised perpendicular line, the eyes appear in the form of two small black points, the ears in the form of small orifices, the mouth opens, the internal structures appear in the form of soft and delicate parts .... In six weeks the embryo has a length of about two inches; at that time movement of the heart is noted in the form of a moving spot, and the signs of its sex are clearly distinguished . In two months . . . the bones start to form in the shape of rounded cartilaginous spots appearing in the middle of the clavicle, elbows , hips , and others . Bones serving for the enclosing and protection of the body's sense organs get their form more quickly than the others, (pp. IV - V)

In the given extract it is possible to observe without doubt the attempt to describe the processes of bone histogenesis; in particular, the appearance of ossification is noted.

In still more detail Maksiraovich-Ambodik described bone histogenesis in another work, his ANATOMICAL PHYSIOLOGICAL DICTIONARY, which had seen the light of day four years before. The corresponding place in this book reads as follows:

It is impossible to determine for certain that time in the embryo in which the conversion of the soft parts into hard bones starts. It is only known that in each embryonic body, in the parts where bones are located, in the middle of the soft substance a white spot first develops, from which fibers gradually extend in different directions. Hour by hour they get new extension in length, width and thickness? then in an unrecognizable manner they are turned into actual bones. 10


Wolff's embryo logical as well as his teratological investigations did not remain without effect on the Russian sciences at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century. The academician V. F. Zuiew described the shark embryo from the collection of the Academy of Science. ^ The Petersburg physician H. Knakshtedt (37) issued a separate report describing a monster without brain or skull. 12 j n this small memorandum containing Russian and German texts, its authors "did not get into the investigation of the specific explanations ... of monsters." It gives an honest anatomical description of onencephalia which he had encountered in his practice.


10. ANATOMICAL-PHYSIOLOGICAL DICTIONARY, in which are named all parts of the human body which relate to anatomy and physiology from the works of different physicians. They are collected in Russian, Latin and French, and are clearly and briefly stated with short description. For the benefit of Russian youth, it was first printed by the efforts and independence of Nestor MaksimovichAmbodik, Doctor of Medicine and professor of the medical arts. In the typography of the Naval Gentry of the military school. In the city of St. Peter, 1783. xviii + 160 + 136 pp. (36)


11. V. F. Zuiew, "Foetus squali singularis . Dorso mutico, dentibus acutis ; cum pinna ani . Linnaei Syst . Nat . Descriptus" a Bas. Zuiew, NOVA ACTA ACAD. SC . IMP. PETR0P0L., V, 1789, pp. 239 - 242.

12. "Anatomical Description of Monsters Born Alive without Brain or Cephalic Skull, in the form of an invitation letter reported by Kristofer Elias Knakshtedt, Doctor of Medicine and Surgery and well known Professor of Sciences of the bones and their diseases in the Medico- Surgical Institute, and translated into the Russian language by Karl Meisner, who is a student of this institute." With accompanying figures. In the city of St. Peter, 1791, 23 pp.


Blyakher1955 fig15.jpg

Figure 15. Title-page of Maksimovich-Ambodik's PHYSIOLOGY


PHYSIOLOGY, OR NATURAL HISTORY OF MAN, CONCERNING HIS CONCEPTION, BIRTH, NATURE, STRUCTURE OF BODY AT DIFFERENT AGES, ACTS OF LIFE, REMARKABLE DIFFERENCES IN THE HUMAN GENUS, DISEASES, AGEING, AND DEATH. For the benefit of Russian youth, by the efforts and independence of Nestor Maksimovich-Ambodik, Doctor of Medicine and Professor. First edition. In the Typography of Naval Gentry of the Military School, in the City of St. Petersburg, 1787.


Wolff's unpublished notes and drawings on teratology interested the academicians V. Tilezius and P. A. Zagorskii (38) . The first informed the conference of the Academy about the presence in the archive of Wolff's handwritten manuscript, and in 1814 the latter requested permission to "take it from the archive to review the notes and drawings remaining after the death of Professor Wolff." Permission was obtained, and Zagorskii got involved in studying the archival materials as well as the human monsters or anomalies in the anatomical museums of the Academy of Science and the Medico-Surgery Academy. The result of these investigations was a series of work about monsters, anatomical anomalies and variations, of which the first, of 1805, concerns the time of discovery, and carries the name "Anatomical Report, containing descriptions and drawings of the rare monstrous human abortions J""

This article is illustrated by the description of the monstrous human fetus which was devoid of head and upper extremities. There was extreme interest in P. A. Zagorskii 's report, "Formation of different human monsters, "^ in which he gives a specific teratological classification dividing the monsters into the following groups: 1) Changes in the body or its relevant parts in type, color, size and location; 2) Imperfection in the structure or deficiencies; 3) Absence of parts; 4) Complicated monsters, i.e. composed or appear to be composed of two accreted bodies. Zagorskii stopped at the essential sources of monsters, which develop "by accidents and also by errors of nature." He claimed that the reasons for development of monsters have a mechanical basis and that monstrosity does not depend "on forces of imagination and indignation of the soul, to which many people relate the errors." C38a)


13. Zagorskii, "Commentatio anatomica abortus huraani monstrosi rarissimi descriptionem ac delineationem sistens," NOVA ACTA ACAD. SCIENT. PETROPOLITANAE , v. xv (1805), pp. 473 - 482.

14. SPECULATIVE INVESTIGATIONS OF THE IMP. ST.. PETERSBURG ACADEMY OF SCIENCE, v. ill, 1812, pp. 265 - 277.


At the turn of the nineteenth century, philosophical and scientific thought in Russia after Lomonosov again rose to great heights in the reports of A. N. Radishchev. Here is not the place to review in any detail Radishchev' s significance in the history of Russian and world philosophy, 15 It is sufficient to say that Radishchev, whose ideas were established under the influence of acute social dispute in Russia in the second half of the eighteenth century, had extended Lomonosov's materialistic traditions to Russian philosophy. Radishchev represented the establisher of the revolutionary-democratic directions of Russian philosophical thought. He independently established and solved a number of important problems about the relationships between material, consciousness, the development of psychics and so on. Being deeply and broadly educated, in particular in the natural sciences, Radishchev saturated his main philosophical treatise, "About man, his death and immortality," with numerous examples from different branches of the biological science. Relevant to the content of the present chapter, Radishchev' s discussions hold particular interest. Those discussions handled the acute conflict between the already obsolete ideas of preformation and the developing theory of epigenesis.


15. In 1949, 200 years after the day of his birth,

A. N. Radishchev was widely mentioned in Soviet scientific literature. It is possible to cite the book of M. A. Gorbunov, PHILOSOPHICAL AND SOCIO-POLITICAL OPINIONS OF A. N. RADISHCHEV and his article "Philosophical and Sociological Ideas of Radishchev" CUCHENYE ZAP. AKAD . OBSHCH. NAUK, 5, 1949, pp. 36 - 38) and the article of I. Ya. Shchipanov, "Sociopolitical and Philosophical Ideas of Radishchev" (from the history of Russian philosophy IZ ISTORII RUSSKOI FIL0S0FII, 1949, pp. 181 - 226). The scientific opinions of A. N. Radishchev are stated also in: Kh. S. Koshtoyants, OUTLINES OF PHYSIOLOGY IN RUSSIA, (Ocherki po istorii fiziologii v Rossii) , Edition of the Academy of Science USSR, pp. 37 - 43, and S. L. Soboly HISTORY OF THE MICROSCOPE Ustoriya mikroskopa) , pp. 376 - 377.


Studying Bonnet's report, Radishchev quoted the idea of the unity of natural bodies ranging from the inorganic to common human existence. Bonnet's chain of being which represents, in his opinion, only an expression of "Law of Continuity," for Radishchev acquired a significantly deeper materialistic meaning and, in contrast to Bonnet, an evolutionary sense. Radishchev wrote about what he called "the steps of being"^^ the following inspired words :

Staring at everything, you see your environment is alive. Direct your curiosity to what we consider inanimate : from the stones where the power of coupling seems to be clearly single, ... to man whose composition is so skillful, in whom the elements are represented in different compositions, in whom all the influences which are known in nature work together, an organization of the highest sense . . . from stones to man the graduation is evident, which deserves reverential amazement. The substance of the steps is evident; the graduation is already known in that all genera have little individuality, even though they can confidently be distinguished one from the other; the steps or graduation of ruby, iron, mercury, and gold are homogenous or identical with aloe, tulip, cedar, oak; these successions are in essence analogous to butterfly, snake, eagle, lark, sheep, elephant, man; the steps on which crystallization and mineralization become the forces of plants, the steps on which coral, lips, moss grow and are conceived, the steps by which force the plants extend their energy into other compositions, are transferred little by little into an irritation and from that into sensitiveness.*'


16. A(leksandr) N(ikolaevich) Radishchev talks not about the stairs of creatures (echelle des etres) but about the stairs of substance, stressing by this the materialistic content .

17. Radishchev, ON MAN, HIS DEATH, AND IMMORTALITY.

A complete collected work, vol. 2, issued by the Academy of Science, USSR, 1941, p. 110.


The most difficult, of course, is the question about the rightful situation of man in one continuous line with other living creatures. The acceptability of that does not cause Radishchev any doubt. "The interior of man," he wrote, "is homogenously identical with the interiors of animals." Reviewing in this connection the structure of different systems of organs of man and animals, he concluded; "We do not underestimate man if we say that beasts have the capability of reflecting or meditating; and there is not in man any inclination or any virtue which we do not find in animals. "18 For Radishchev, man's mental activity did not constitute any difficulty when compared with animal behavior because he held a materialistic view about the unity of body and mental features, based on the view that the appearance of spiritual activities represent the functions of the brain. ^

Using Bonnet's idea about the graduation of creatures and materialism, Radishchev rejected the preformation idea of the Swiss naturalist and joined the epigenetic opinion about individual development which had been established by the Petersburg academician K. F. Wolff.

The basic philosophical question about the nature of man and his mental (spiritual) activities Radishchev proposed solving through the study of human development. "Previously (as though a certain new prophet) I said that man will be or could be present before birth .... Where were you until your organs were formed; before you reached daylight?"20

Man is conceived in the uterus of woman. This is the essential event. He is conceived in the uterus of the wife; in it he grows, and ripens in nine months in the uterus of the mother, goes out to light provided with his organs of sensation, action and thinking, which can improve gradually? this is known to everyone. But before birth the embryo is formed, grows, improves; there is a secret motivation. Our curiosity to know this secret is satisfied by the possibility that we can see how gradually the animal grows after its conception. The happy coincidence was that, by unquenchable curiosity, the observations were scientific. In Russia we have a wonderful collection of embryos from almost the first day of conception up to birth. 21 By what means does conception and nutrition or the increment of growth occur? Another question remains/ which with some assumptions has a solution .... We see that the sperm from which the embryo is conceived exists in some animals in the uterus before fetal development; but for explaining unfolding or growth, this explanation is weak. This we see clearly in feathered animals. The ovum is a seed, and before fetal formation it contains in itself the same essentials of its composition, the parts of albumin and yolk .... About plants and birds it is possible to say, not with probability but with definite clarity, that sperm exist not only before conception but also before fetal formation .... From this conclusion, according to the rule of similarity, it is possible to say the same about all animals and about man himself. Thus we conclude that man existed before his conception, or more correctly that the seeds containing the future man existed; but life, i.e. the capability to grow and formulate, is absent. 22


18. Ibid ., p. 48.

19. Ibid ., pp. 88, 89.

20. IfaLd., pp. 39 - 40.


If it is not certain, but probable, that man existed prior to conception in the sperm, then in essence there are two possibilities where these sperm existed. The probability that they started in the wife is the most probable of the assumptions. But let us say a word about the sperm. Either the sperm were contained in one which had existed before and which contained all sperm, one containing the next endlessly. Or the later sperm are a part of the earlier, which were a part of those which had appeared prior to them and which could divide into as many new parts or sperms as possible: the uniform and separated parts which can be packed and divided endlessly. 23


21 . Radishchev means the preparations of the Cabinet of Natural History, the basic stock of which is composed of the collection acquired by Peter I (see p. 14) .

22. A. N. Radishchev, ON MAN, HIS DEATH, AND IMMORTALITY, pp. 40 - 41.

23. Ibid., p. 43.


The first of those possibilities which Radishchev rejected is obviously the hypothesis of "emboitement," and the second, as S. L. Sobol' correctly noted, 24 was very similar to Weisraann's idea about the continuity of germ plasma. Radishchev' s agnostic base for these opinions is obvious. "Continuity . . . how senseless we are! All that cannot be defined by its limits is eternal . ""

Radishchev opposed another idea: "But why can we not confirm, as we have said above, that the sperm are formed in the wife? For if sensitivity, thought, and all the properties of man (not talking about animals and plants) are formed in him gradually and are improved, why do we not say that the life which is in the sperm and which can exist in a depository until it appears in development, is formed in the organs of man?" 26

Therefore, Radishchev posed the question about embryonic development epigenetically. In the same epigenetic understanding, he interprets growth of the individual as illustrating his opinion of development of avian egg:

Take the egg as an example; you know that by means of incubation it can survive and become a bird. But is the chick seen in the egg, although there is no doubt that it is contained there? And if we want to trace the transfer of the egg into a chick and if we will observe it daily, so we shall see its gradual growth. At first the beginning of life appears — heart, then eyes, then waist and other parts gradually up to that hour, after 21 days, when it breaks the egg shell and appears to the creator of light already alive, crying as if to say: to the glorification of you! From this example you recognize how many conditions the egg must pass through before it become a chick. From that you see that all these conditions are continuous and come essentially out of one another. Consequently, the egg and chick essentially develop from one another; by incubation the chick hatches from the egg if nothing hinders that process . In this manner there is a procession of essential forces; once they begin, they continue and produce the gradual changes which we see in time . ^ 7


24. Sobol' , p. 377.

25. Radishchev, p. 43.

26. Ibid.


Thus, this progressive theory of developmental events by essential causes, i.e. the epigenetic character of individual development which was suggested, worked out and defended by the establisher of the Russian and world embryology K. F. Wolff, had gained the support of the advanced materialistic philosophy of that time, as represented by A. N. Radishchev.


27. Ibid ., p. 99 140



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, October 16) Embryology Book - Russian Embryology (1750 - 1850) 9. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Book_-_Russian_Embryology_(1750_-_1850)_9

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