Francis Maitland Balfour (1851-1882), British biologist, younger brother of Arthur James Balfour, was born at Edinburgh on the 10th of November 1851. At Harrow school he showed but little interest in the ordinary routine, but in one of the masters, Mr George Griffith, he fortunately found a man who encouraged and aided him in the pursuit of natural science, a taste for which, and especially for geology, had been cultivated in him by his mother from an early age. Going into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1870, he was elected a natural science scholar of his college in the following year, and although his reading was not ordered on the lines usual for the Schools, he obtained the second place in the Natural Science Tripos of December 1873. A course of lectures on embryology, delivered by Sir Michael Foster in 1871, definitely turned his attention to animal morphology, and, after his tripos, he was selected to occupy one of the two seats allocated to the university of Cambridge at the Naples zoological station.
The research work which he began there contributed in an important degree to his election as a fellow of Trinity in 1874, and also afforded him material for a series of papers (published as a monograph in 1878) on the Elasmobranch fishes, which threw new light on the development of several organs in the Vertebrates, in particular of the uro-genital and nervous systems. His next work was to write a large treatise, Comparative Embryology, in two volumes; the first, published in 1880, dealing with the Invertebrates, and the second (1881) with the Vertebrates. This book displayed a vigorous scientific imagination, always controlled by a logical sense that rigidly distinguished between proved fact and mere hypothesis, and it at once won wide recognition, not only as an admirable digest of the numberless observations made with regard to the development of animals during the quarter of a century preceding its publication, but also on account of the large amount of original research incorporated in its pages.
Balfour's reputation was now such that other universities became anxious to secure his services, and he was invited to succeed Professor George Rolleston at Oxford and Sir Wyville Thomson at Edinburgh. But although he was only a college lecturer, holding no official post in his university, he declined to leave Cambridge, and in the spring of 1882 the university recognized his merits by instituting a special professorship of animal morphology for his benefit. Unhappily he did not deliver a single professorial lecture. During the first term after his appointment he was incapacitated from work by an attack of typhoid fever. Going to the Alps to recruit his health, he perished, probably on the 19th of July 1882, in attempting the ascent of the Aiguille Blanche, Mont Blanc, at that time unscaled. Besides being a brilliant morphologist, Balfour was an accomplished naturalist, and had he lived would probably have taken a high place among British taxonomists.