Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

On Malformation From Pre-natal Influence
on the Mother (S479: 1893)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A communication to the 15 September 1893 session of Section D, Biology, at the annual British Association for the Advancement of Science meetings, held that year in Nottingham. It was later printed in Volume 63 of the Association's Report series. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with:

     [[p. 798]] In a letter to 'Nature' (August 24) on 'Pre-natal Influences on Character,' I stated--rather hastily, as it now appears--that physiologists rejected the notion of physical peculiarities being thus caused, both on account of the total absence of trustworthy evidence and also on theoretical grounds. In the article 'Deformities' in the new edition of 'Chambers's Encyclopædia' (by Professor A. Hare) I find the following statement:--'In an increasing proportion of cases which are carefully investigated it appears that maternal impressions, the result of shock or unpleasant experiences, may have a considerable influence in producing deformities in the offspring. This has long been a popular theory, and it is one that recent scientific observation is tending to confirm.'

     In consequence of my letter in 'Nature' several alleged cases of the kind above referred to have been sent me, one of which, being illustrated by a photograph and attested by a perfectly competent observer, will, I think, interest all biologists. The account was sent me by Dr. Richard Budd, M.D., F.R.C.P., Physician to the North Devon Infirmary. The following is a copy of his statement:--

     'In the year 1801 a gamekeeper named Croucher was admitted to the North Devon Infirmary in consequence of a gunshot wound of the right forearm. The arm was amputated just below the elbow. Croucher left the infirmary before the wound was quite healed, in the belief that his wife would be able to dress it. In this he was mistaken; but a young woman, the wife of a neighbouring farmer, volunteered her services, and continued to dress the wound till it was healed. Some six or seven months after this young woman was confined, and her child was born minus the right forearm, and the stump was a facsimile of Croucher's. The gamekeeper's arm became somewhat wasted by the pressure induced by an artificial arm, and therefore the resemblance of the two arms (in the photograph taken some years later) is not so exact as it was at first. The photographs were taken by me.

'(Signed) Richard Budd, M.D., F.R.C.P., Physician to the North Devon Infirmary.
'Barnstaple: September 4, 1893.'

     In a letter Dr. Budd adds: 'With regard to the Croucher case, I am not aware that the facts have been published in any of the medical periodicals, but I exhibited and explained the photographs at a grand meeting at the College of Physicians (in November 1876), when most of the celebrated physicians of the world were present, and they created the deepest interest.'

     I presume that the birth of a child with an arm exactly resembling that in the photograph is an exceedingly rare occurrence in England, and that the probability of one being thus born in the same place where there was a man with a similar arm is exceedingly slight. When we add to this the further improbability of such a child being born within nine months after the accident, and the mother being the [[p. 799]] particular woman who repeatedly dressed the wounded arm, it seems impossible to avoid accepting a causal connection between the two events.

     Should such a connection be established, both on the physical and mental side, we have evidently a new cause of modification distinct from normal heredity. It has more analogy with the supposed inheritance of acquired variations, but is quite distinct from it. It seems not unlikely that some of the cases of supposed heredity of mutilations may be really due to this mental effect on the mother. It therefore becomes very important that the whole subject should be thoroughly investigated.

     The following letter has also been received from Dr. Budd:--

'Barnstaple: September 10, 1893.

     'My dear Sir,--Some years ago the late Sir Frederick Williams, Bart., sent a brood mare, that had just been covered by a thorough-bred stallion, from his seat in Cornwall, Tregullo, to his shooting-cottage at Heanton Puncharden, near Barnstaple. When the groom entered the stable the following morning he found that one of the mare's eyes was hanging by a nail in the wall. The mare was then placed for a run in the Braunton marshes. In due time she produced a foal minus an eye on the same side as the mare's. The year following this mare again had a foal with one eye; but the third year she had a foal with two good eyes, the impression on her brain having worn out. This, in my opinion, is quite as interesting a case as Croucher's.

'In great haste to save this post,
'Yours sincerely,
'Richard Budd.'

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