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New Acquisition Sheds Light on the Rediscovery of Mendel’s Theory of Hybridity

A recent donation to Villanova’s Distinctive Collections leaves us with more questions than answers about the “rediscovery” of Gregor Mendel OSA‘s theory of hybridity, today called ‘the laws of Mendelian inheritance’ after the Augustinian friar.

Dutch botanist and pioneer of the field of genetics, Hugo de Vries, came across Mendel’s original work on genes published 34 years earlier and hurried to publish his own research findings in the paper, “Sur la loi de disjonction des hybrids,” which first appeared in 1900 in the hefty tome Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de L’Academie des Sciences, now held by Distinctive Collections.

De Vries’ paper, together with two others from the same year by Carl Correns and Erich Tschermak, laid the foundations of the new scientific discipline of genetics.


Puzzling Comparisons: The German Paper

De Vries’ French publication appeared just four days later in German as “Das Spaltungsgesetz der Hybride”. The two papers contain identical descriptions, translated from French into German, however the German paper includes three explicit references to Mendel’s work, whereas in the French publication Mendel is noticeably absent.

Intentional Plagiarism or Scientific Similitude?

De Vries is credited with “rediscovering” Gregor Mendel’s principles of biological inheritance in 1900. However, in the original French essay Mendel is not explicitly credited or even mentioned. This was amended by de Vries in his subsequent German paper, published less than a week apart. De Vries claimed that he was unaware of Mendel’s work on hybridization when conducting his own experiments, and that the two scientists, working 50 years apart, had happened to draw the same conclusions.

Did de Vries intentionally exclude Mendel from the original French, only to include him in the German version after realizing that others were aware of Mendel’s discoveries and his obvious influence on de Vries work?

Despite his efforts to separate his own conclusions from those of Mendel years prior, de Vries did indeed help scholars rediscover and credit the important work of Gregor Mendel.

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The Modern Mithridates

Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections has a new acquisition to our Dime Novel and Popular Literature Collection just in time for Halloween! Vanity fair, v. 1, no. 1, December 31, 1859 contains a spooky poem about poison and pharmacies.

“The Modern Mithridates.”

The poem opens with a plea for breakfast. It quickly becomes apparent that it is not sustenance that the narrator requires, but poison.

O! bring my breakfast—give to me

Bread that is snowy and light of weight—

Of alum and bone-dust let it be,

Chalk, and ammonia’s carbonate :

Within the poem, the narrator references Hydromel, the ancient Roman word for mead from the Latin hydro (meaning water) and mel (honey, the main ingredient of mead). The following line calls for assistance from the ancient pharmacologist Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus (fl. 1st century BCE) who was known for his mythical remedy Mithridate, which was thought to be a powerful antidote to many illnesses.

Bring sugar, and sweeten the potion well—

Sugar of lead, and iron, and sand,

Sweet as honey of Hydromel

Or the Pressure of Mithridates’ hand!

The poem concludes with a witty twist—that all of the poisonous chemicals and minerals named in the poem can be found at your local grocery store.

Ha! you start! you think that I

Being a man of mortal clay,

After my meal will surely die,

For these are deadly poisons, you say :

Poisons? yes! Yet one and all

Are found on every grocer’s shelves

Our bills of mortality are not small,

—But how can we help ourselves?

G. A.

The author, George Arnold (d. 1834 – 1865) was an American poet and regular contributor to Vanity Fair. A contemporary of Walt Whitman, Arnold was born in New York City and was known to frequent one of Whitman’s local haunts—Pfaff’s beer cellar.

Walt Whitman and George Arnold at Pfaff’s, 1857.

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Meg Piorko’s Friday Falvey Favorites

“The Oracle” of Mystery Magazine

This Friday Favorite from the Distinctive Collections at Falvey Library is the pulp magazine series Mystery Magazine. One of the earliest examples of the ‘crime pulp’ genre, Mystery Magazine published a total of 216 issues from November 1917 to July 1927. Produced in New York City, readers could purchase the latest issue for just 10cents a copy.

What is Mystery Magazine?

In the words of publisher Frank Tousey in the inaugural issue:

Mystery Magazine has been issued to fill a unique niche in the field of literature. Its objects are both to amuse and instruct. […] Many of the stories are based on such subjects as fortune-telling, astrology, hypnotism, dreams, spiritualism, palmistry, etc., and some will be splendid detective stories.





The Oracle: The Mystery of Man and How to Solve It

Mystery Magazine ran a seven-part recurring column called “The Oracle: The Mystery of Man and How to Solve It” (issues 103 – 109) written by Russell Raymond Voorhees, a contemporary fiction author who published in a variety of pulp magazines. On the latest episode of Spare Change Library Podcast I am joined by Erica Hayes (Digital Scholarship Librarian) to read and discuss fortune telling with astrology in “The Oracle.”

Spare Change Library Podcast Episode 2: “The Oracle”

Not only was the content mysterious and strange, but the magazine featured advertisements from mystical sponsors as well, such as the fortune teller Parashira the Adept.

Are you interested in reading your own Oracle horoscope, or learning more about fortune telling in Mystery Magazine? Read your horoscope based on the day you were born in Mystery Magazine, The Oracle Part I: Astrology and decide for yourself if you ‘believe’ in the stars.

Mystery magazine, v. IV, no. 103, February 15, 1922.

Spare Change Library Podcast is a dime novel and popular literature podcast, featuring audio editions of stories and scholarly discussion–available through a shared RSS feed on



Last Modified: March 31, 2023

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