George John Romanes - Encyclopedia

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GEORGE JOHN ROMANES (1848-1894), British biologist, was born at Kingston, Canada, on the 10th of May 1848, being the third son of the Rev. George Romanes, D.D., professor of Greek at the university of that town. He was educated in England, going in 1867 to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He early formed an intimate friendship with Charles Darwin, whose theories he did much during his life to popularize and support. When studying under Sir J. Burdon Sanderson at University College, London, in 1874-76, he began a series of researches on the nervous and locomotor systems of the Medusae and Echinodermata, which provided him with material for his Croonian lecture in 1876. Subsequently he continued the inquiry, partly in conjunction with Professor J. Cossar Ewart, and the results were published in Jelly fish, Star-fish, and Sea-urchins (1885). Meantime he had been also devoting his attention to broader problems of biology. In 1881 he published Animal Intelligence, and in 1883 Mental Evolution in Animals, in which he traced the parallel development of intelligence in the animal world and in man. He followed up this line of argument in 1888 with Mental Evolution in Man, in which he maintained the essential similarity of the reasoning processes in the higher animals and in man, the highest of all. In 1892 he brought out an Examination of Weismannism, in which he upheld the theory of the hereditability of acquired characters. In 1890 he left London and settled at Oxford, where he .'founded a lecture similar to the "Rede" of Cambridge, to be delivered annually on a scientific or literary topic. In 1893 he published the first part of Darwin and after Darwin, a work dealing with the development of the theory of organic evolution, and based on lectures, which he delivered as Fullerian professor of physiology at the Royal Institution in 1888-91; a second part appeared in 1895 after his death, which occurred at Oxford on the 23rd of May 1894.

Romanes was awarded the Burney prize at Cambridge in 1873 for an essay on "Christian Prayer and General Laws." Five years later, under the pseudonym "Physicus," he issued A Candid Examination of Theism, in which he showed himself out of accord with orthodox religious beliefs. In 1882 he published an article on the "Fallacy of Materialism," and in his Rede lecture of 1885 he appeared as a monist. Subsequently his views again changed in the direction of orthodoxy, as is shown by his Thoughts on Religion, written shortly before his death and published in 1895.

His Life and Letters, by his widow, appeared in 1896.

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