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D'ARCY THOMPSON AND GRO WTH AND FORM P. B. MEDAWAR, F.R.S.* D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson was an aristocrat of learning whose intellectual endowments are not likely ever again to be combined within one man. He was a classicist ofsufficient distinction to have become President ofthe Classical Associations ofEngland and Wales and ofScotland; a mathematician good enough to have had an entirely mathematical paper accepted for publication by the Royal Society; and a naturalist who held important chairs for sixty-four years, that is, for all but the length oftime into which we must nowadays squeeze the whole ofour lives from birth until professional retirement. He was a famous conversationalist and lecturer (the two are often thought to go together, but seldom do), and the author ofa work which, considered as literature, is the equal ofanything ofPater's or Logan Pearsall Smith's in its complete mastery ofthe bel canto style. Add to all this that he was over six feet tall, with the build and carriage ofa Viking and with the pride of bearing that comes from good looks known to be possessed. D'Arcy Thompson (he was always called that, or D'Arcy) had not merely the makings but the actual accomplishments ofthree scholars. All three were eminent, even if, judged by the standards which he himself would have applied to them, none could strictly be called great. If the three scholars had merely been added together in D'Arcy Thompson, each working independently ofthe others, then I think we should find it hard to repudiate the idea that he was an amateur, though a patrician among amateurs; we should say, perhaps, that great as were his accomplishments , he lacked that deep sense ofengagement that marks the professional scholar ofthe present day. But they were not merely added to- * Department ofZoology, University College, London. This essay was written as a postscript to the book D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson by Ruth D'Arcy Thompson, published bythe Oxford University Press, 1958. It is reprinted here by permission. 220 P. B. Medawar · D'Arcy Thompson Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Winter 1962 gether; they were integrally—Clifford Dobell said chemically—combined . I am trying to say that he was not one ofthose who have made two or more separate and somewhat incongruous reputations, like a composerchemist or politician-novelist, or like the one man who has both ridden in the Grand National and become an F.R.S.; but that he was a man who comprehended many things with an undivided mind. In the range and quality ofhis learning, the uses to which he put it, and the style in which he made it known, I see not an amateur, but, in the proper sense of that term, a natural philosopher—though one dare not call him so without a hurried qualification, for fear he might be thought to have practised what the Germans call Naturphilosophie. Let me now try to describe the environment in which D'Arcy the scientistlivedandworked. WhenD'Arcyflourished, Britishzoology, after fifty years, was still almost wholly occupied with problems of phylogeny and comparative anatomy, that is, with the apportioning out of evolutionary priorities and the unravelling of relationships of descent. Comparative anatomy has many brilliant discoveries to its credit; for example , the discovery that the small bones ofthe middle ear—those which transmit vibrations from the ear drum to the organ ofhearing—are cognate with bones which in the remote ancestors of mammals had formed part of the hinges and articulations of the lower jaw; that the limbs of terrestrial vertebrates had evolved along a just discernible pathway from the paired fins offish; that the muscles which move the eyeballs derive in evolution from the anterior elements ofa segmental musculature which at one time occupied the body from end to end. But although later work refined upon them or corrected them here or there, all these discoveries had been made in the nineteenth century. When D'Arcy took his chair, the greattheorems ofcomparative anatomy hadalready beenpropounded, and nearly all the great dynasties in the evolutionary history ofanimals were already known. By 1917, the date of the first edition ofD'Arcy's essay On Growth and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 220-232
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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