Biology in Transition

Biology in Transition

The Life and Lectures of Arthur Milnes Marshall

  • A unique insight into early lectures on evolution
  • Rediscovers the work of a hugely inspiring academic whose life was cut tragically short
  • A time capsule of 19th century biology - a critical turning point in understanding life on earth

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  • biology
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  • Darwin
  • evolution
  • history of science


Arthur Milnes Marshall was a 19th Century scientist who gave lectures addressing the biological debates of his time. Covering topics including evolution, embryology, development and inheritance, with Charles Darwin’s name and those of other important biologists distributed liberally through the text.

Marshall was a zoologist, embryologist, anatomist and Darwin enthusiast, as well as an accomplished mountaineer and sportsman. He was a humanist, an admired academic teacher and brilliant public educator. The lectures reveal his passion for communicating his subject, to his students and to the working men and women of Manchester, and provide a remarkable snapshot of biological science at the close of the 19th century.

His death in 1893, aged only 41, on a climbing expedition in the Lake District, leaves us with a fascinating time capsule of lectures from a critical transitional period in the history of biology. Evolution by natural selection was the established doctrine but genes were undefined, with Mendel’s work yet to be recognised. Embryology was suggesting recapitulation but ancestry, genetics and missing links awaited liberation from theoreticians and the stones of palaeontology. Microscopy was flourishing and cell science was finding its feet, but DNA and molecular science were far in the future.

If Marshall had lived and worked into the 20th century these lectures would undoubtedly have been superseded and forgotten. Instead, they reveal biology’s transformation from a descriptive pastime to an experimental science, its move away from beliefs in purpose and design in evolution, and the repositioning of its axis from mainland Europe towards the UK and the US.

Professor Martin Luck has re-discovered these lectures (published by CF Marshall in two volumes shortly after his brother’s death) languishing in a university corridor. His careful curation, introductions to each lecture and copious annotations on the organisms, theories and scientists discussed, illuminate their significance as prequels to modern biology. Marshall’s own back story brings the lectures and their social context into sharp relief.

Biology in Transition will interest anyone curious about the history of science, especially biology, evolution, genetics and its 19th Century pioneers.


Anyone with an interest in the history and development of the biological sciences. The book provides an overview of major biologists of the 19th century. It also examines the development of biological education and research.

Table of Contents

Apology: History by Serendipity

Volume 1: Biological Lectures and Addresses
Lecture 1: The Modern Study of Zoology
Lecture 2: The Influence of Environment on The Structure and Habits Of Animals
Lecture 3: On Embryology as An Aid to Anatomy
Lecture 4: The Theory of Change of Function
Lecture 5: Butterflies
Lecture 6: Fresh-Water Animals
Lecture 7: Inheritance
Lecture 8: The Shapes and Sizes of Animal
Lecture 9: Some Recent Developments of The Cell Theory
Lecture 10: Animal Pedigrees
Lecture 11: Some Recent Embryological Investigations
Lecture 12: Death
Lecture 13: The Recapitulation Theory
Interlude: A Revealing Book Review

Volume 2: Lectures on The Darwinian Theory
Lecture 14: History of The Theory of Evolution
Lecture 15: Artificial Selection And Natural Selection
Lecture 16: The Argument from Palaeontology
Lecture 17: The Argument from Embryology
Lecture 18: The Colours of Animals and Plants
Lecture 19: Objections to The Darwinian Theory
Lecture 20: The Origin of Vertebrated Animals
Lecture 21: The Life and Work of Darwin List of Authorities
Biography: Arthur Milnes Marshal and His Family

About the Author

Martin Luck is Emeritus Professor of Physiological Education at the University of Nottingham, UK. He holds degrees from the Universities of Nottingham, Leeds and the Open University and is a National Teaching Fellow and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. His early research career in reproductive biology and endocrinology took him to Germany and Australia, before returning to a faculty position at Nottingham in 1990. He has a longstanding interest in the links between teaching and research and helped to found a leading journal devoted to publishing research by undergraduate students. He has written books on student research and endocrinology and is currently co-authoring a major textbook for biology students.

Bibliographic Information

  • 432 pages
  • B/w figures
  • BISAC SCI034000, SCI008000, SCI027000