William Bateson Collection, 1902-1921

Mss.B.B319

Date: 1902-1921 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet

Abstract

Consisting of photocopies of letters written by the geneticists Erwin Baur and Leonard Doncaster to their British colleague William Bateson (1861-1926), the Bateson Collection contains important material relating to the early history of Mendelian genetics in Britain and particularly to Bateson's opposition to the chromosomal theory of inheritance. The originals are held in the William Bateson Papers in the Archives of the John Innes Horticultural Institute.

Background note

One of the principle figures of turn of the century anti-Darwinian evolutionism, and an early and ardent advocate of Mendelian genetics, William Bateson (1861-1926) was professor at Cambridge University and the John Innes Horticultural Institute. The second of six children born to Anna Aikin and William Henry Bateson, William was raised in an unorthodox and intellectually challenging environment. Like his father, the reformist master of St. Johns College at Cambridge University, the children developed academic tendencies, and each of the Bateson children inherited their parents' habits of independent thought matched with a headstrong and disputatious nature. As a boy, William harbored an interest in natural history quickened by an early exposure to the new theories of Charles Darwin. Although he met with little encouragement at Rugby School, where his academic performance veered from indifferent to unprofitable, William's matriculation at Saint Johns in 1879 provided a wealth of new opportunities. Under the influence of the embryologist Francis Maitland Balfour, Bateson excelled in zoology, and as a postgraduate, he spent two years in the United States studying the embryology and phylogeny of an obscure "worm," Balanoglossus. The choice of projects was propitious. In a painstaking analysis, Bateson identified a host of ontogenetic and anatomical affinities between Balanoglossus and vertebrates, instantaneously rewriting the evolutionary history of the class and gaining a measure of recognition sufficient to earn him election as a fellow at St. Johns in 1885.

After two years of scientific travel in the Russian Steppes and Egypt, Bateson returned to Cambridge in 1887 to absorb himself in the central problems of Darwinian theory: the nature of variation and the mechanism of heredity. For much of a decade, he accumulated data on variation in natural populations, and by the early 1890s, he had begun to situate himself with the ranks of anti-Darwinian evolutionists, emphasizing the discontinuities between species rather than the continuities predicted by Darwinian orthodoxy. Variation, Bateson suggested, could be expressed as a rhythmic or "vibratory" phenomenon analogous to natural phenomena such as ripples, zebra stripes, or morphological segmentation, clearly bounded by natural breaks, with the implication that the evolutionary process was radically different than the gradual incrementalism espoused by Darwin. Bateson's most thorough statement of his evolutionary theories at the time, Materials for the Study of Evolution (1894), was typically exhaustive and forcefully argued, and while it won few converts to either the vibratory theory or discontinuity, it established its author as one the leading anti-Darwinians on the period. Self-confident, intemperate, skeptical, and highly critical of work that he considered shoddy, Bateson was unphased by the lack of response, and continued to toil away at his underpaid position in Cambridge. Moving increasing into experimental studies of evolution, by 1899 he was offering undergraduate courses on "the practical study of evolution."

The last year of the nineteenth century was a watershed in Bateson's career. In April 1900, the Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries sent a copy of an overlooked article that he had recently rediscovered in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brunn for 1866. Written by the Bohemian monk Gregor Mendel, the paper outlined a theory of heredity that Bateson immediately grasped could provide a means to account for the discontinuities in organismal variation. In typically pugnacious style, Bateson took up the Mendelian cause against the Galtonians associated with the journal Biometrika and, much later, he continued its defense against the chromosomal theory of heredity advocated by the T. H. Morgan group at Columbia. At the annual meeting of the British Association in 1904, Bateson's ringing defense of Mendel was an important moment in turning aside the biometricians, and his books Mendel's Principles of Heredity: A Defence (1902) and Mendel's Principles of Heredity (1909) were widely read and enormously influential. At Cambridge, he attracted a core of young biologists to his laboratory and left his mark on the field as well by coining much of the terminology associated with modern Mendelian genetics, from allele and zygote to the term genetics itself.

Although his efforts were rewarded with an appointment to a new chair in biology in 1909, Bateson tired of the low pay at Cambridge and departed in 1910 to become the first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in Merton, Surrey. Presented with a blank slate, he built the Innes into a formidable center for the study of plant breeding and genetics, devoting his own research time to investigating exceptions to Mendel's laws. He was awarded the Darwin Medal in 1904 and the Royal Medal in 1920, was elected as president of the British Association in 1924, and was Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution. After a brief illness, he died at his home in Merton on February 8, 1926.

Scope and content

Consisting of photocopies of letters written by the geneticists Erwin Baur and Leonard Doncaster to their British colleague William Bateson, the Bateson Collection contains important material relating to the early history of Mendelian genetics in Britain and particularly to Bateson's opposition to the chromosomal theory of inheritance. The originals are held in the William Bateson Papers in the Archives of the John Innes Horticultural Institute.

As early as January 1913, Doncaster (a professor at Birmingham and successor of Bateson's at Cambridge) attempted to persuade Bateson of the validity of the chromosomal theory, a topic about which admitted he was "obsessed", and while Baur initially sided with Bateson in opposition to the Morgan lab, he too came to disagree. Doncaster's more extensive correspondence is particularly revealing, despite his constitutional politeness and reserve. All letters are written to Bateson with the exception of one letter from Beatrice Bateson to Baur (reinitiating contact after the First World War), one letter from William Bateson to Doncaster, and one letter from J. Stanley Gardiner to Bateson regarding Doncaster.

Collection Information

Restrictions

Restrictions on Use:

None. Permission to copy and quote conveyed to the APS by the John Inness Institute.

Provenance

Copied and donated by William Coleman, 1977 (accn. no. 1978-284ms).

Location of originals:

From originals held in the Archives of the John Innes Horticultural Institute, Merton, Surrey, England.

Preferred citation

Cite as: William Bateson Collection, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2003.

Related material

The largest collections of the papers of William Bateson are housed in the archives of the John Innes Institute and in the University Library, Cambridge University. The Innes collections were described in Mendel Newsletter 25 (1985).

The APS Library has six reels of microfilm (William Bateson papers, HS Film 26) containing material selected and microfilmed by William Coleman in 1964 (now at Cambridge), including correspondence from Bateson to his wife, Catharine Beatrice, and colleagues such as Francis Galton, E. Roy Lankester, Alfred Newton, and Charles Scott Sherrington; lectures given between 1897-1904; and some genealogical and miscellaneous material. Personal letters relate Bateson's observations and reflections during his trips to the United States to lecture at universities (1907, 1921-1922), and to Siberia (1887). Other correspondence discusses such topics as cytology.

The Bateson Family Papers (Ms. Coll. 2) at the APS includes 2 linear feet of correspondence between William Bateson, his wife Beatrice, their children John, Martin, and Gregory, as well as other family members, mostly dating from 1890-1922.

Genetics Note

AuthorFormatDate
Baur, ErwinCorrespondence (10 items)1910-1921
Doncaster, LeonardCorrespondence (47 items)1902-1920

Indexing Terms


Corporate Name(s)

  • Cambridge University

Personal Name(s)

  • Bateson, Beatrice
  • Bateson, William, 1861-1926
  • Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933
  • Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920
  • Gardiner, John Stanley, 1872-1946
  • Hagedoorn, Arend Lourens, 1880
  • Morgan, Thomas Hunt, 1866-1945
  • Punnett, Reginald Crundall, 18

Subject(s)

  • Cats -- Genetics
  • Chromosomes
  • Cytogenetics -- Great Britain
  • Genetics -- Great Britain
  • Mendel's law
  • Sex linkage (Genetics)


Detailed Inventory

William Bateson Collection
1902-1921 box 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1910-192110 itemsfolder 1

Subject(s): Johannsen, Wilhelm; Drosophila genetics; Cytogenetics; History of biology, especially genetics -- Mendel, Gregor

Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1910 May 102p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1912 April 251p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1913 October 301p.folder 1
Bateson, Beatrice.
TLS to Erwin Baur
1914 February 14 102p. (and extract)folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1914 June 91p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1919 December 291p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1920 January 62p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1920 March 142p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1920 April 182p.folder 1
Baur, Erwin, 1875-1933.
TLS to William Bateson
1921 October 282p.folder 1
Leonard Doncaster Correspondence
1902-192047 item(s)

Subject(s): Drosophila genetics; Cytogenetics; History of biology, especially genetics -- Mendel, Gregor; Genetics -- Cats; Mouse genetics; Human genetics

Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1902-191111 itemsfolder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1902 August 64p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1907 April 254p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1908 January 144p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1908 January 204p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1908 February 183p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1908 March 132p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1908 March 202p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1908 June 198p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1909 October 54p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1911 January 243p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1911 March 144p.folder 2
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912-191315 itemsfolder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 January 54p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 October 175p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 October 294p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 November 164p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 November 244p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 December 264p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1912 December 297p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 January 134p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 January 254p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 January 304p.folder 3
Gardiner, John Stanley, 1872-1946.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 February 82p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 March 84p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 March 114p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 August 164p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1913 October 14p.folder 3
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1916-19206 itemsfolder 4
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1916 September 243p.folder 4
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1916 November 24p.folder 4
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1917 August 222p.folder 4
Bateson, William, 1861-1926.
ALS to Leonard Doncaster
1917 August 273p.folder 4
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1917 August 294p.folder 4
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
1920 August 291p.folder 4
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.d.15 itemsfolder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. Mar. 163p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. March 184p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. March 192p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. April 132p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. June 74p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. June 218p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. July 81p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. July [21]?6p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. July 294p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. August 194p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. August 264p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. September 224p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. September 2924p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. October 271p.folder 5
Doncaster, Leonard, 1877-1920.
ALS to William Bateson
n.y. Nov. 52p.folder 5