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To scrutinize the whole of Nature: The Royal Society and its fellows 1660-1730

Jan Swammerdam

Wax injected womb, from; Jan Swammerdam. Miraculum naturæ, sive, Uteri muliebris fabrica. Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden]: apud Severinum Matthæi, 1672 [KCSMD Historical Collection QP251 SWA]Wax injected womb, from; Jan Swammerdam. Miraculum naturæ, sive, Uteri muliebris fabrica. Lugduni Batavorum [Leiden]: apud Severinum Matthæi, 1672 [KCSMD Historical Collection QP251 SWA]The physician Jan Swammerdam (1638-80) never practised medicine but devoted himself to comparative anatomy. In this field he is remembered for making entomology a respectable subject for study and for discoveries in insect embryology. However, his connection with the Royal Society did not arise from this research, but from his investigations concerning reproduction in the human female.

Using the increasingly popular technique of wax injection (in order to make vessels distinct), he determined that those organs which had been known as the female testes were, in fact, ovaries, like those of egg-laying animals. As at least two other scientists had made this discovery at the same time, Swammerdam sent this book, along with the injected specimens to the Royal Society in order to support his appeal to have the discovery ‘awarded’ to him.

The Society decided instead that the Danish anatomist Nicolaus Steno (1638-86) deserved precedence. The Royal Society had acquired such prestige after barely ten years of existence that scientists in even a well-developed intellectual culture as that in the Netherlands were referring disputes to it for arbitration.

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