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Abnormal Development and Congenital Malformations
(Part 15)

(15) Scientific Studies

The scientific appreciation of monsters hardly began before the 18th century; even so great a rationalist in surgical practice as Ambroise Paré (1517-1590), although he was attracted as a scholar in later life to the subject, did not advance in it materially beyond the fantastic and credulous standpoint of the time, which is exemplified in the elaborate treatise of Lycosthenes, Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon, Basel, 1557.

Throughout the 17th century fabulous monsters continued to be described along with actual specimens; the embryological studies of Harvey (1651) were doubtless calculated to help in the growth of rational opinion about monsters, though Harvey himself mentions them only casually.

The first systematic discussion of them from a strictly objective or anatomical point of view occurs in various writings of Haller from 1735 to 1753, and the subject continued after that to engage a large amount of precise and philosophical thought on the part of Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1735-1794), who first stated the relation of monstrosities to embryonic deviations in words that even now hardly require to be altered, and in Blumenbach, Sömmering, Autenrieth, Tiedemann, and others.

The engrossing interest of the subject in the early oart of the 19th century is shown by the fact that J. F. Meckel’s Handbuch der pathologischen Anatomie (1817) was largely occupied with congenital malformations. Geoffrey St-Hilaire, the father, gave them a prominent place in his Philosophie Anatomique (Paris, 1822), and his son Isidore made them the subject of a special and very elaborate treatise in 3 vols. (Paris, 1832-37), illustrated by a small and inadequate atlas of plates.

Monstrosities were at this period a prominent part of all text-books of morbid anatomy. From 1840 to 1850 may be regarded as the period in which human teratology reached its highest point; in 1840-42 the special treatise of Vrolic was published (2 vols., Amsterdam), containing an introduction on the normal development, and his sumptuous and incomparable atlas to the same followed in 1849; in 1841 Otto published at Warsaw as description of 600 monsters with 30 folio plates; and in 1842 the embryologist Bischoff contributed to Wagner’s Handwörterbuch der Physiologie, vol. i., an article on teratology as elucidated by the best information on mammalian development.

An article by Allen the London and Edinburgh Monthly Journal of Medical Science, July 1844, followed by a critical survey in the next number, is of the first importance for the theory of double monsters, and it is one of the few notable English contributions to animal teratology apart from museum catalogues, --the general article in Todd’s Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology having been written by Vrolik, while the special subject of Hermaphroditism is treated of in a long and learned article by J. Y. Simpson (reprinted in his collected works).

One of the latest important works on monsters is that by Förster (Jena, 1861), Die Missbildungen des Menschen systematisch darestellt, with an atlas of 264 to plates containing 524 figures (on a small scale), of which 162 were drawn from original specimens, mostly in the Würzburg Museum; this work has a very great variety of illustrations from all sources, and most copious bibliographical references.

The newest treatise is Ahlfeld’s Missbildungen des Menschen (Leipsic, 1880-82), with an extensive atlas of folio plates, as comprehensive as Förster’s and on a larger scale.

Monsters have of late been assigned a comparatively subordinate position in pathological teaching owing, doubtless, to the more immediate interest of microscopic and experimental pathology.

Among recent pathological textbooks that of Perls (Stuttgart, 1877-79) may be named as containing an adequate treatment of the subject. The two most considerable contributors to teratology recently have been Panum (Berlin, 1860), and Dareste (Paris, 1877), both of whom have occupied themselves mainly with producing monstrosities artificially in the bird’s egg by varying the temperature in the hatching oven.

See also L. Gerlach, Die Entstehungsweise der Doppelmissdrildungen bei den höheren Wirbelthieren, Stuttgart, 1883.

The above article was written by Charles Creighton, M.A., M.D. Aberdeen; author of A History of Epidemics in Britain, Jenner and Vaccination, etc.

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