London: The Ray Society, 1862. First English Language Edition. FIRST EDITION OF THE ONLY WORK OF WILHELM HOFMEISTER’S TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH. “WITH THIS SINGLE PUBLICATION, THE CORE OF BOTANY PASSED FROM ITS MIDDLE AGES TO THE MODERN PERIOD” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography VI, 466). “Friederich Wilhelm Benedikt Hofmeister stands as one of the true giants in the history of biology and belongs in the same pantheon as Darwin and Mendel” (Kaplan, The Genius of Wilhelm Hofmeister). Well ahead of his time, however, Hofmeister is by comparison virtually unknown” (Dibner 34). Still, he inspired Gregor Mendel to begin his research on plant hybridization which led to Mendel’s discoveries on the inheritance of traits, the beginning of the science of genetics.
First published in 1851, Vergleichende Untersuchungen, was Hofmeister’s most famous work, yet prior to its publication this 1862 in English, “English botany had remained largely unaware of the Hofmeisterian revolution” (ibid). A work of comparative morphology, Hofmeister’s volume explained the alternating sexual and asexual generations of cryptogams (non-seed plants). Cryptograms received this name because, prior to Hofmeister, their reproductive mechanisms were hidden. Because of this volume, Hofmeister “is widely credited with discovery of alternation of generations as a general principle in plant life. His work revealed the process of fertilization in non-flowering plants (cryptogams) as a regular alternation of sexual and asexual generations in the mosses, ferns, horsetails and liverworts. The asexual generation propagated by means of spores, alternating with one in which spermatozoids unite with ova." (Dibner 34). This “constituted a unifying theory of plant evolution that was published in 1851, eight years before Darwin's On the Origin of Species" (Wikipedia). “Obviously, the publication of Darwin's [book] made a belated English translation [of Hofmeister’s] imperative. Hofmeister's pre-Darwinian work constitutes the greatest broad evolutionary treatise in botany because it is organized on a basis of increasing complexity” (DSB).
“The genius of Wilhelm Hofmeister [was that his work originated] causal-analytical research in plant development" (American Journal of Botany 83). Without preamble, this English translation of Hofmeister’s 1851 masterpiece begins: ‘The mature plant of Anthoceros appears.’ Hofmeister’s work describes “the details of its structure and life history are described and copiously illustrated, entirely on the basis of original observations, followed by a brief critique of earlier work on the genus. A similar description of the next plant's life history is followed by others, in order of increasing complexity. The amount of new information is immense; the errors are minor and do not affect the overall picture” (DSB).
The 1851 original German edition was published with only 33 plates. Frederick Curry’s 1862 English translation includes 65 plates, was revised throughout and incorporates further research by Hofmeister (a series of supplementary papers and some previously unpublished material) (Norman). Item #1114
CONDITION & DETAILS: London: The Ray Society. Large 8vo (21.9 x 14.3 cm). xvii, 506 pp. 65 lithographed plates by Tuffen West. Ex-libris with a few minor markings (the only exterior ones are two letters at the foot of the spine). Original publisher's blind-stamped cloth rebacked, spine gilt-lettered, gilt emblem of the Ray Society on front cover. Top edge gilt. Minor rubbing and scuffing at the edges. Tightly and solidly bound. Unusually for this work, it is bright and clean throughout.