Animalcules and Animals

  • Margaret DeLacy


DeLacy reviews European developments in biology and microscopy and the reception of these ideas by members of the Royal Society during the years when the Society was publishing the letters of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. Fellows of the Society, including John Ray, Tancred Robinson, Martin Lister, and Edward Tyson, questioned whether any living entity could be spontaneously generated, forcing a reconsideration of ideas about the nature and origins of contagium vivum, or living contagion. Interest in the possible role of small “worms,” “animalcules,” or “insects” in spreading epidemics coincided with an international epizootic of cattle plague or rinderpest, which inspired a widespread discussion of the mechanism of contagion and the imposition of quarantines to contain the outbreak.


Contagious Disease Royal Society Venereal Disease Philosophical Transaction Spontaneous Generation 
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