tions were more common than ancestral repetitions; Gegenbaur replied that the repetitions could still be recognized. The axolotl brashly flaunted its permanent youth and Weismann branded it degenerate.
What Had Become of von Baer's Critique?
I have argued that critics of the biogenetic law could not disprove it by cataloguing exceptions within its theoretical structure; I have also indicated that its downfall came (and could come) only when that structure was replaced. Yet this presents a historical problem that I can resolve only imperfectly: there already was another theory of development readily available—von Baer's laws, with their trenchant critique of recapitulation.15 Why didn't the evolutionary critics attack recapitulation from von Baer's standpoint and argue that supposed repetitions of ancestral adults were only the common embryonic stages of primitive and advanced forms alike? This was, after all, the position of Darwin himself.
Toward the end of his life von Baer wrote wistfully: " Agassiz says that when a new theory is brought forth, it must go through three stages. First men say that it is not true, then that it is against religion, and, in the third stage, that it has long been known" (1866, p. 91). But von Baer neglected the most terrible fate of all—Mendel's dilemma: that it may be true, but utterly ignored.16 Coleman noted: "While von Baer's attack may today appear to have been decisive, in the midnineteenth century it seems at best to have taught a few embryologists to be somewhat more cautious in their utterances and to have discouraged even fewer from speculating hopefully along the older lines" (1967, p. xiv).
One reason for this neglect lies in the descriptive methodology (and ethic) of so much nineteenth-century morphology. Many criticisms of the biogenetic law were entered by-the-way in descriptive treatises when a particular finding seemed contrary to its expectations. The authors of these superb but tedious monographs felt strongly that they should play the mason's role in adding a few bricks to the temple of science. They did not study morphology to illustrate or test any theory. If an observation seemed contrary to accepted dogma, they simply recorded it; they did not seek to encompass it within a dif- ferent theory—for that would have placed theory before fact, and fact was both primary and unsullied.17
A second reason for the neglect of von Baer's alternative is simply that most late nineteenth-century evolutionists had not read it and did not have an accurate notion of what it contained. Haeckel, in a scandalous but not uncharacteristic trick of debate, had managed to assim-