Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Treviranus, Gottfried Reinhold

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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume XXIII  (1888) 
Treviranus, Gottfried Reinhold

TREVIRANUS, Gottfried Reinhold (1776-1837), German naturalist, was born at Bremen, February 4, 1776, studied medicine at Gottingen, in 1797 became professor of mathematics in the Bremen lyceum, and died at Bremen, February 16, 1837.

He made numerous important contributions to comparative anatomy, especially in regard to birds and spiders. Though noted for his learning and acute observation, his studies in geographical distribution cannot be said to have led to any very definite results. It is rather on account of his contributions to ætiology that he deserves to be remembered, though his work in this department has been to a great extent overlooked. In the first of his larger works, Biologie oder Philosophie der Icbenden Natur, which appeared from 1802-1805, he gave clear expression to the theory of "descent with modification." He believed that simple forms (Protists), which he termed "zoophytes," were "the primitive types from which all the organisms of the higher classes had arisen by gradual development." "Every living creature has a potentiality of endless modification of adapting its structure to the changes in the external world." He also maintained that each species has its day or period, at the end of which it does not become extinct, but has simply ceased to be, because it has become something else. That he stated the theory of descent with much clearness, and with a sufficient background of actual knowledge of forms, must be acknowledged by all; the only difficulty relates to the question of priority. The first volume of his biology was published in 1802, but he states that this had been written about 1796. Now it was not till 1801 that Lamarck first began to free himself from the traditional dogma of the immutability of species, and to publish his views of evolution. Neither Goethe nor Oken can be said to have done much more than follow up the ironical insinuations of Buffon (1753-76) and the ingenious suggestions of Erasmus Darwin, whose Zoonomia was translated into German between 1795- and 1797, while both Treviranus and Lamarck tackled the problem not merely of the theory of descent but of the mechanism of evolution. On this point the merits of Lamarck certainly outweigh those of his contemporary. Treviranus laid down as a fundamental proposition "that all living forms are the results of physical influences which are still in operation, and vary only in degree and direction." Like many after him, he directed attention to the influence of the male elements in fertilization as a source of variation, but laid emphasis only on the intra-organismal power of adaptation to surroundings. Whatever opinion he entertained in regard to the priority and the importance of the contribution made by Treviranus to the theory of evolution, it is at least certain that he was a learned naturalist and an acute thinker. His most important later work of a synthetic nature was entitled Erscheinungen und Gesetze des organischen Lebens (1831).

See Evolution; E. Haeckel's Schöpfungsgeschichte, pp. 83-5; Carus, Geschichte der Zoologie, p. 610.