The Work of Local Societies


THE practical methods of modern biological research have been developed to such a high state of perfection since the introduction of the appliances of physics and chemistry, that the system of training in biology has within a comparatively short period undergone a complete revolution. As one result of this change the student is tempted from the fields and hedgerows, from the downs, heaths and woodlands, from the banks of streams, and from the sea-shore into the laboratory. He knows the structure of a certain number of “types,” but he walks as a stranger among the living animals and plants that surround him. His knowledge is not of that kind attributed to the wise king who “spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes.” The organism is to the modern student not a living entity having a beautifully adjusted relationship to its environment, but a complicated collection of tissues capable by appropriate treatment of being spread out into a panorama of thin slices. His acquaintance with the living plant or animal is of about the same kind as that which a chemist ignorant of mechanics would acquire by endeavouring to understand the working of a watch by making a chemical analysis of its wheels and springs. In brief, the extreme specialisation of laboratory work begins too early in his curriculum. Since the introduction of the system of instruction by “types,” there has arisen an estrangement between the old school of field naturalists and the modern biologist—a result wrhich was not anticipated by the founders of this system, and against which a healthy reaction, led by Mr. Thiselton-Dyer and others, is beginning to take place.


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    See an article by the writer, in NATURE, vol. xxix. p. 19 (1883).

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MELDOLA, R. The Work of Local Societies. Nature 54, 114–116 (1896).

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