Biology & Natural History

Bastian, H. Charlton | The Origin of Life

  • First edition, first impression of the last of Bastian’s works on the origin of life.

    Dr. Henry Charlton Bastian (1837-1915) conducted important research on speech aphasias, the localisation of brain functions, and nematode worms, and he was a firm proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. But he “regarded his true life's work and achievement as the studies he made on the origins of life, despite the opprobrium this brought him. His views on this subject first came to light in the late 1860s when he defended the doctrine of spontaneous generation by both logic and experiment. Mainstream biological opinion assumed that life always came from life—omne vivum ex ovo—and that the actual origins of life, if not the creation of life, occurred at some distant time. Darwin, despite choosing the title On the Origin of Species for his main work on evolution, avoided consideration of the first origin of life and only sought to explain how existing species transmute into other species. None the less, both Darwin and Wallace found Bastian's ideas interesting, for if scientists accepted that life had originated once from non-living matter, then it was illogical to deny that this process might still be occurring. All the more so, when no one knew in what conditions life had first appeared. However, Huxley and other leading Darwinians regarded Bastian's views as unnecessarily contentious and he was ostracized for damaging the cause of evolution. In the 1870s the British debate about spontaneous generation was fought in public over the experimental demonstrations of the phenomenon and the standing of the germ theory of disease. Bastian's main opponent was John Tyndall, who gathered increasing support across the scientific community and in the late 1870s enlisted none other than Pasteur in the cause. Bastian mostly fought alone, though he enjoyed the tacit support of many doctors who thought that germs were the result rather than the cause of infectious and septic diseases. With hindsight, it is clear that Bastian's challenges to what became a consensus on the continuity of life and the bacterial causes of disease helped to shape the new orthodoxy. His work led others to the recognition that certain bacteria could survive boiling and to improved sterilization procedures in bacteriological research.” (ODNB).

    Bastian published three works on the subject in the 1870s, The Modes of Origin of Lowest Organisms (1871), The Beginnings of Life (1872), and Evolution and the Origin of Life (1874) and then seems to have paused his investigations until the turn of the century when he published another series of books, this being the fourth and final.

  • ...Being an Account of Experiments with Certain Superheated Saline Solutions in Hermetically Sealed Vessels. With Ten Plates, Containing Numerous Illustrations from Photomicrographs. London: Watts & Co., 1911.

    Tall octavo. Original green cloth, titles to spine gilt. 10 single-sided plates from photomicrographs, list of works by the author at the rear. Contemporary library ticket to the tail of the spine. Just a little light dampstain to the top edge of the lower board, cloth a little rubbed, corners bumped, occasional light spotting to the contents. Very good condition.