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1840 William Swainson quinary taxonomy

1840 William Swainson quinary taxonomy

C028/9980

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Credit

PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption

William Swainson naturalist and artist (8th October 1789 - 6 December 1855). Frontis to his book "A treatise on the geography and classification of animals" London, 1835. Swainson pioneered lithography in natural history, but is best remembered for his ill-fated Quinarian System of classification. In the 1830's he followed William MacLeay (1819) that the number five had biological resonance in the subdivision of groups. In a pre-darwinian world such artifice perhaps seemed no more surprising than that vertebrate animals tend to have five digits. The system became elaborate and, though briefly popular, fell from fashion by the mid 1840's. Swainson and MacLeay were derided, and both left for Australia. One observer supposed they had been exiled for the "great crime of burdening zoology witha false though much laboured theory which has thrown so much confusion into the subject".

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