Catherine Wilson

Catherine Wilson teaches the history of philosophy at the University of Alberta.

The doctrine of preformation, which dominated the theory of generation for most of the 18th century, asserted a single divine act of creation for all plant and animal life. The original ancestor of each species, it was believed, held within its body the entire series of its type, each future organism enclosed inside its parent, waiting to be stimulated into growth at the moment of conception. ‘Ovists’ held that the pre-existing germ resided in the female egg, while ‘spermists’ (Pinto-Correia’s neologism for ‘animalculists’) located it in the ‘spermatic animalcule’ discovered in 1677 by Leeuwenhoek; the dispute between them is the subject of Clara Pinto-Correia’s book.‘

Susan Ryley Hoyle (Letters, 18 June) is right to point out, apropos of my review of Clara Pinto-Correia’s The Ovary of Eve: Egg and Sperm and Preformation, that the belief that children are related to their parents has not been universal. I am nevertheless sceptical about J.M. Good’s much-quoted claim that everyone in the second half of the 18th century with a smattering of medical education ‘was...

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences