Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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His ardour, moreover, renders him inaccurate causing him to see discord between scientific men where nothing but harmony reigns. In his celebrated Address to the Congress of German Naturforscher, delivered at Leipzig, three years ago, Du Bois-Reymond speaks thus: 'What conceivable connection subsists between definite movements of definite atoms in my brain, on the one hand, and on the other hand such primordial, indefinable, undeniable, facts as these: I feel pain or pleasure; I experience a sweet taste, or smell a rose, or hear an organ, or see something red ... It is absolutely and for ever inconceivable that a number of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen atoms should be otherwise than indifferent as to their own position and motion, past, present, or future. It is utterly inconceivable how consciousness should result from their joint action.'

This language, which was spoken in 1872, Mr. Martineau 'freely' translates, and quotes against me. The act is due to misapprehension. Evidence is at hand to prove that I employed similar language twenty years ago. It is to be found in the 'Saturday Review' for 1860; but a sufficient illustration of the agreement between my friend Du Bois-Reymond and myself, is furnished by the discourse on 'Scientific Materialism,' delivered in 1868, then widely circulated, and reprinted here. The reader who compares the two discourses will see that the same line of thought is pursued in both, and that perfect agreement reigns between my friend and me. In the very Address he criticises, Mr. Martineau might have seen that precisely the same position is maintained. A quotation will prove this: 'Thus far,' I say, 'our way is clear, but now comes my difficulty. Your atoms are individually without sensation, much more are they without intelligence. May I ask you, then, to try your hand upon this problem? Take your dead hydrogen atoms, your dead oxygen atoms, your dead carbon atoms, your dead nitrogen atoms, your dead phosphorus atoms, and all the other atoms, dead as grains of shot, of which the brain is formed. Imagine them separate and sensationless; observe them running together and forming all imaginable combinations. This, as a purely mechanical process, is seeable by the mind. But can you see, or dream, or in any way imagine, how out of that mechanical act, and from these individually dead atoms, sensation, thought, and emotion are to rise? Are you likely to extract Homer out of the rattling of dice, or the Differential Calculus out of the clash of billiard balls? ... I can follow a particle of musk until it reaches the olfactory nerve; I can follow the waves of sound until their tremors reach the water of the labyrinth, and set the otoliths and Corti's fibres in motion; I can also visualise the waves of aether as they cross the eye and hit the retina. Nay, more, I am able to pursue to the central organ the motion thus imparted at the periphery, and to see in idea the very molecules of the brain thrown into tremors. My insight is not baffled by these physical processes. What baffles and bewilders me is the notion that from these physical tremors things so utterly incongruous with them as sensation, thought, and emotion can be derived.' It is only a complete misapprehension of our true relationship that could induce Mr. Martineau to represent Du Bois-Reymond and myself as opposed to each other.

'The affluence of illustration,' writes an able and sympathetic reviewer of this essay, in the 'New York Tribune,' 'in which Mr. Martineau delights often impairs the distinctness of his statements by diverting the attention of the reader from the essential points of his discussion to the beauty of his imagery, and thus diminishes their power of conviction. 'To the beauties here referred to I bear willing testimony; but the reviewer is strictly just in his estimate of their effect upon my critic's logic. The 'affluence of illustration,' and the heat, and haze, and haste, generated by its reaction upon Mr. Martineau's own mind, often produce vagueness where precision is the one thing needful—poetic fervour where we require judicial calm; and practical unfairness where the strictest justice ought to be, and I willingly believe is meant to be, observed.

In one of his nobler passages Mr. Martineau tells us how the pupils of his college have been educated hitherto: 'They have been trained under the assumptions (1) that the Universe which includes us and folds us round is the life-dwelling of an Eternal Mind; (2) that the world of our abode is the scene of a moral government, incipient but not complete; and (3) that the upper zones of human affection, above the clouds of self and passion, take us into the sphere of a Divine Communion. Into this over-arching scene it is that growing thought and enthusiasm have expanded to catch their light and fire.'

Alpine summits seem to kindle above us as we read these glowing words; we see their beauty and feel their life. At the close of one of the essays here printed, [Footnote: 'Scientific Use of the Imagination.'] I thus refer to the 'Communion' which Mr. Martineau calls 'Divine': "Two things," said Immanuel Kant, "fill me with awe—the starry heavens, and the sense of moral responsibility in man." And in his hours of health and strength and sanity, when the stroke of action has ceased, and the pause of reflection has set in, the scientific investigator finds himself overshadowed by the same awe. Breaking contact with the hampering details of earth, it associates him with a power which gives fulness and tone to his existence, but which he can neither analyse nor comprehend. Though 'knowledge' is here disavowed, the 'feelings', of Mr. Martineau and myself are, I think, very much alike. He, nevertheless, censures me—almost denounces me—for referring Religion to the region of Emotion. Surely he is inconsistent here. The foregoing words refer to an inward hue or temperature, rather than to an external object of thought. When I attempt to give the Power which I see manifested in the Universe an objective form, personal or otherwise, it slips away from me, declining all intellectual manipulation. I dare not, save poetically, use the pronoun 'He' regarding it; I dare not call it a 'Mind;' I refuse to call it even a 'Cause.' Its mystery overshadows me; but it remains a mystery, while the objective frames which some of my neighbours try to make it fit, seem to me to distort and desecrate it.

It is otherwise with Mr. Martineau, and hence his discontent. He professes to know where I only claim to feel. He could make his contention good against me if, by a process of verification, he would transform his assumptions into 'objective knowledge.' But he makes no attempt to do so. They remain assumptions from the beginning of his Address to its end. And yet he frequently uses the word 'unverified,' as if it were fatal to the position oh which its incidence falls. 'The scrutiny of Nature' is one of his sources of 'religious faith:' what logical foothold does that scrutiny furnish, on which any one of the foregoing three assumptions could be planted? Nature, according to his picturing, is base and cruel: what is the inference to be drawn regarding its Author? If Nature be 'red in tooth and claw,' who is responsible? On a Mindless nature Mr. Martineau pours the full torrent of his gorgeous invective; but could the 'assumption' of 'an Eternal Mind'—even of a Beneficent Eternal Mind—render the world objectively a whit less mean and ugly than it is? Not an iota. It is man's feelings, and not external phenomena, that are influenced by the assumption. It adds not a ray of light nor a strain of music to the objective sum of things. It does not touch the phenomena of physical nature—storm, flood, or fire—nor diminish by a pang the bloody combats of the animal world. But it does add the glow of religious emotion to the human soul, as represented by Mr. Martineau. Beyond this I defy him to go; and yet he rashly—it might be said petulantly—kicks away the only philosophic foundation on which it is possible for him to build his religion.

He twits incidentally the modern scientific interpretation of nature because of its want of cheerfulness. Let the new future,' he says, 'preach its own gospel, and devise, if it can, the means of making the tidings glad.' This is a common argument: 'If you only knew the comfort of belief!' My reply is that I choose the nobler part of Emerson, when, after various disenchantments, he exclaimed, 'I covet truth!' The gladness of true heroism visits the heart of him who is really competent to say this. Besides, 'gladness' is an emotion, and Mr. Martineau theoretically scorns the emotional. I am not, however, acquainted with a writer who draws more largely upon this source, while mistaking it for something objective. 'To reach the Cause,' he says, 'there is no need to go into the past, as though being missed here, He could be found there. But when once He has been apprehended by the proper organs of divine apprehension, the whole life of Humanity is recognised as the scene of His agency.' That Mr. Martineau should have lived so long, thought so much, and failed to recognise the entirely subjective character of this creed, is highly instructive. His 'proper organs of divine apprehension '—given, we must assume, to Mr. Martineau and his pupils, but denied to many of the greatest intellects and noblest men in this and other ages—lie at the very core of his emotions.

In fact, it is when Mr. Martineau is most purely emotional that he scorns the emotions; it is when he is most purely subjective that he rejects subjectivity. He pays a just and liberal tribute to the character of John Stuart Mill. But in the light of Mill's philosophy, benevolence, honour, purity, having 'shrunk into mere unaccredited subjective susceptibilities, have lost all support from Omniscient approval, and all presumable accordance with the reality of things.' If Mr. Martineau had given them any inkling of the process by which he renders the 'subjective susceptibilities' objective, or how he arrives at an objective ground of 'Omniscient approval,' gratitude from his pupils would have been his just meed. But, as it is, he leaves them lost in an iridescent cloud of words, after exciting a desire which he is incompetent to appease.

'We are,' he says, in another place, 'for ever shaping our representations of invisible things into forms of definite opinion, and throwing them to the front, as if they were the photographic equivalent of our real faith. It is a delusion which affects us all. Yet somehow the essence of our religion never finds its way into these frames of theory: as we put them together it slips away, and, if we turn to pursue it, still retreats behind; ever ready to work with the will, to unbind and sweeten the affections, and bathe the life with reverence, but refusing to be seen, or to pass from a divine hue of thinking into a human pattern of thought.' This is very beautiful, and mainly so because the man who utters it obviously brings it all out of the treasury of his own heart. But the 'hue' and 'pattern' here so finely spoken of, the former refusing to pass into the latter, are neither more nor less than that 'emotion,' on the one hand, and that 'objective knowledge,' on the other, which have drawn this suicidal fire from Mr. Martineau's battery.

I now come to one of the most serious portions of Mr. Martineau's pamphlet—serious far less on account of its 'personal errors,' than of its intrinsic gravity, though its author has thought fit to give it a witty and sarcastic tone. He analyses and criticises 'the materialist doctrine, which, in our time, is proclaimed with so much pomp, and resisted with so much passion. "Matter is all I want," says the physicist; "give me its atoms alone, and I will explain the universe."' It is thought, even by Mr. Martineau's intimate friends, that in this pamphlet he is answering me. I must therefore ask the reader to contrast the foregoing travesty with what I really do say regarding atoms: 'I do not think that he [the materialist] is entitled to say that his molecular groupings and motions explain everything. In reality, they explain nothing. The utmost he can affirm is the association of two classes of phenomena, of whose real bond of union he is in absolute ignorance.' [Footnote: Address on 'Scientific Materialism.'] This is very different from saying, 'Give me its atoms alone, and I will explain the universe.' Mr. Martineau continues his dialogue with the physicist: '"Good," he says; "take as many atoms as you please. See that they have all that is requisite to Body [a metaphysical B], being homogeneous extended solids." "That is not enough," his physicist replies; "it might do for Democritus and the mathematicians, but I must have something more. The atoms must not only be in motion, and of various shapes, but also of as many kinds as there are chemical elements; for how could I ever get water if I had only hydrogen elements to work with?" "So be it," Mr. Martineau consents to answer, "only this is a considerable enlargement of your specified datum [where, and by whom specified?]—in fact, a conversion of it into several; yet, even at the cost of its monism [put into it by Mr. Martineau], your scheme seems hardly to gain its end; for by what manipulation of your resources will you, for example, educe Consciousness?"'

This reads like pleasantry, but it deals with serious things. For the last seven years the question here proposed by Mr. Martineau, and my answer to it, have been accessible to all. The question, in my words, is briefly this: 'A man can say, "I feel, I think, I love," but how does consciousness infuse itself into the problem?' And here is my answer: The passage from the physics of the brain to the corresponding facts of consciousness is unthinkable. Granted that a definite thought and a definite molecular action in the brain occur simultaneously; we do not possess the intellectual organ, nor apparently any rudiment of the organ, which would enable us to pass, by a process of reasoning, from the one to the other. They appear together, but we do not know why. Were our minds and senses so expanded, strengthened, and illuminated, as to enable us to see and feel the very molecules of the brain; were we capable of following all their motions, all their groupings, all their electric discharges, if such there be; and were we intimately acquainted with the corresponding states of thought and feeling, we should be as far as ever from the solution of the problem, "How are these physical processes connected with the facts of consciousness?" The chasm between the two classes of phenomena would still remain intellectually impassable.' [Footnote: Bishop Butler's reply to the Lucretian in the 'Belfast Address' is all in the same strain.]

Compare this with the answer which Mr. Martineau puts into the mouth of his physicist, and with which I am generally credited by Mr. Martineau's readers, both in England and America—'"It [the problem of consciousness] does not daunt me at all. Of course you understand that all along my atoms have been affected by gravitation and polarity; and now I have only to insist with Fechner on a difference among molecules: there are the inorganic, which can change only their place, like the particles in an undulation; and there are the organic, which can change their order, as in a globule that turns itself inside out. With an adequate number of these our problem will be manageable." "Likely enough," we may say ["entirely unlikely," say I], "seeing how careful you are to provide for all emergencies; and if any hitch should occur in the next step, where you will have to pass from mere sentiency to thought and will, you can again look in upon your atoms, and fling among them a handful of Leibnitz's monads, to serve as souls in little, and be ready, in a latent form, with that Vorstellungs-faehigkeit which our picturesque interpreters of nature so much prize."'

'But surely,' continues Mr. Martineau, 'you must observe that this "matter" of yours alters its style with every change of service: starting as a beggar with scarce a rag of "property" to cover its bones, it turns up as a prince when large undertakings are wanted. "We must radically change our notions of matter," says Professor Tyndall; and then, he ventures to believe, it will answer all demands, carrying "the promise and potency of all terrestrial life." If the measure of the required "change in our notions" had been specified, the proposition would have had a real meaning, and been susceptible of a test. It is easy travelling through the stages of such an hypothesis; you deposit at your bank a round sum ere you start, and, drawing on it piecemeal at every pause, complete your grand tour without a debt.'

The last paragraph of this argument is forcibly and ably stated. On it I am willing to try conclusions with Mr. Martineau. I may say, in passing, that I share his contempt for the picturesque interpretation of nature, if accuracy of vision be thereby impaired. But the term Vorstellungs-faehigkeit, as used by me, means the power of definite mental presentation, of attaching to words the corresponding objects of thought, and of seeing these in their proper relations, without the interior haze and soft penumbral borders which the theologian loves. To this mode of interpreting nature' I shall to the best of my ability now adhere.

Neither of us, I trust, will be afraid or ashamed to begin at the alphabet of this question. Our first effort must be to understand each other, and this mutual understanding can only be ensured by beginning low down. Physically speaking, however, we need not go below the sea-level. Let us then travel in company to the Caribbean Sea, and halt upon the heated water. What is that sea, and what is the sun that heats it? Answering for myself, I say that they are both matter. I fill a glass with the sea-water and expose it on the deck of the vessel; after some time the liquid has all disappeared, and left a solid residue of salt in the glass behind. We have mobility, invisibility—apparent annihilation. In virtue of

The glad and secret aid The sun unto the ocean paid,

the water has taken to itself wings and flown off as vapour. From the whole surface of the Caribbean Sea such vapour is rising: and now we must follow it—not upon our legs, however, nor in a ship, nor even in a balloon, but by the mind's eye—in other words, by that power of Vorstellung which Mr. Martineau knows so well, and which he so justly scorns when it indulges in loose practices.

Compounding, then, the northward motion of the vapour with the earth's axial rotation, we track our fugitive through the higher atmospheric regions, obliquely across the Atlantic Ocean to Western Europe, and on to our familiar Alps. Here another wonderful metamorphosis occurs. Floating on the cold calm air, and in presence of the cold firmament, the vapour condenses, not only to particles of water, but to particles of crystalline water. These coalesce to stars of snow, which fall upon the mountains in forms so exquisite that, when first seen, they never fail to excite rapture. As to beauty, indeed, they put the work of the lapidary to shame, while as to accuracy they render concrete the abstractions of the geometer. Are these crystals 'matter'? Without presuming to dogmatise, I answer for myself in the affirmative.

Still, a formative power has obviously here come into play which did not manifest itself in either the liquid or the vapour. The question now is, Was not the power 'potential' in both of them, requiring only the proper conditions of temperature to bring it into action? Again I answer for myself in the affirmative. I am, however, quite willing to discuss with Mr. Martineau the alternative hypothesis, that an imponderable formative soul unites itself with the substance after its escape from the liquid state. If he should espouse this hypothesis, then I should demand of him an immediate exercise of that Vorstellungs-faehigkeit, with which, in my efforts to think clearly, I can never dispense. I should ask, At what moment did the soul come in? Did it enter at once or by degrees; perfect from the first, or growing and perfecting itself contemporaneously with its own handiwork? I should also ask whether it is localised or diffused? Does it move about as a lonely builder, putting the bits of solid water in their places as soon as the proper temperature has set in? or is it distributed through the entire mass of the crystal? If the latter, then the soul has the shape of the crystal; but if the former, then I should enquire after its shape. Has it legs or arms? If not, I would ask it to be made clear to me how a thing without these appliances can act so perfectly the part of a builder? (I insist on definition, and ask unusual questions, if haply I might thereby banish unmeaning words.) What were the condition and residence of the soul before it joined the crystal? What becomes of it when the crystal is dissolved? Why should a particular temperature be needed before it can exercise its vocation? Finally, is the problem before us in any way simplified by the assumption of its existence? I think it probable that, after a full discussion of the question, Mr. Martineau would agree with me in ascribing the building power displayed in the crystal to the bits of water themselves. At all events, I should count upon his sympathy so far as to believe that he would consider any one unmannerly who would denounce me for rejecting this notion of a separate soul, and for holding the snow-crystal to be matter.'

But then what an astonishing addition is here made to the powers of Matter! Who would have dreamt, without actually seeing its work, that such a power was locked up in a drop of water? All that we needed to make the action of the liquid intelligible was the assumption of Mr. Martineau's 'homogeneous extended atomic solids,' smoothly gliding over one another. But had we supposed the water to be nothing more than this, we should have ignorantly defrauded it of an intrinsic architectural power, which the art of man, even when pushed to its utmost degree of refinement, is incompetent to imitate. I would invite Mr. Martineau to consider how inappropriate his figure of a fictitious bank deposit becomes under these circumstances. The 'account current' of matter receives nothing at my hands which could be honestly kept back from it. If, then, 'Democritus and the mathematicians' so defined matter as to exclude the powers here proved to belong to it, they were clearly wrong, and Mr. Martineau, instead of twitting me with my departure from them, ought rather to applaud me for correcting them. [Footnote: Definition implies previous examination of the object defined, and is open to correction or modification as knowledge of the object increases. Such increased knowledge has radically changed our conceptions of the luminiferous aether, converting its vibrations from longitudinal into transverse. Such changes also Mr. Martineau's conceptions of matter are doomed to undergo.]

The reader of my small contributions to the literature which deals with the overlapping margins of Science and Theology, will have noticed how frequently I quote Mr. Emerson. I do so mainly because in him we have a poet and a profoundly religious man, who is really and entirely undaunted by the discoveries of Science, past, present, or prospective. In his case Poetry, with the joy of a bacchanal, takes her graver brother Science by the hand, and cheers him with immortal laughter. By Emerson scientific conceptions are continually transmuted into the finer forms and warmer hues of an ideal world. Our present theme is touched upon in the lines—

The journeying atoms, primordial wholes Firmly draw, firmly drive by their animate poles.

As regards veracity and insight these few words outweigh, in my estimation, all the formal learning expended by Mr. Martineau in those disquisitions on Force, where he treats the physicist as a conjuror, and speaks so wittily of atomic polarity. In fact, without this notion of polarity—this 'drawing' and 'driving'—this attraction and repulsion, we stand as stupidly dumb before the phenomena of Crystallisation as a Bushman before the phenomena of the Solar System. The genesis and growth of the notion I have endeavoured to make clear in my third Lecture on Light, and in the article on 'Matter and Force' published in this volume.

Our further course is here foreshadowed. A Sunday or two ago I stood under an oak planted by Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna. On the ground near the tree little oaklets were successfully fighting for life with the surrounding vegetation. The acorns had dropped into the friendly soil, and this was the result of their interaction. What is the acorn? what the earth? and what the sun, without whose heat and light the tree could not become a tree, however rich the soil, and however healthy the seed? I answer for myself as before—all 'matter.' And the heat and light which here play so potent a part are acknowledged to be motions of matter. By taking something much lower down in the vegetable kingdom than the oak, we might approach much more nearly to the case of crystallisation already discussed; but this is not now necessary.

If, instead of conceding the sufficiency of matter here, Mr. Martineau should fly to the hypothesis of a vegetative soul, all the questions before asked in relation to the snow-star become pertinent. I would invite him to go over them one by one, and consider what replies he will make to them. He may retort by asking me, 'Who infused the principle of life into the tree?' I say, in answer, that our present question is not this, but another—not who made the tree, but what is it? Is there anything besides matter in the tree? If so, what, and where? Mr. Martineau may have begun by this time to discern that it is not 'picturesqueness,' but cold precision, that my Vorstellungs-faehigkeit demands. How, I would ask, is this vegetative soul to be presented to the mind? where did it flourish before the tree grew? and what will become of it when the tree is sawn into planks, or consumed in fire?

Possibly Mr. Martineau may consider the assumption of this soul to be as untenable and as useless as I do. But then if the power to build a tree be conceded to pure matter, what an amazing expansion of our notions of the 'potency of matter' is implied in the concession' Think of the acorn, of the earth, and of the solar light and heat—was ever such necromancy dreamt of as the production of that massive trunk, those swaying boughs and whispering leaves, from the interaction of these three factors? In this interaction, moreover, consists what we call life. It will be seen that I am not in the least insensible to the wonder of the tree; nay, I should not be surprised if, in the presence of this wonder, I feel more perplexed and overwhelmed than Mr. Martineau himself.

Consider it for a moment. There is an experiment, first made by Wheatstone, where the music of a piano is transferred from its sound-board, through a thin wooden rod, across several silent rooms in succession, and poured out at a distance from the instrument. The strings of the piano vibrate, not singly, but ten at a time. Every string subdivides, yielding not one note, but a dozen. All these vibrations and subvibrations are crowded together into a bit of deal not more than a quarter of a square inch in section. Yet no note is lost. Each vibration asserts its individual rights; and all are, at last, shaken forth into the air by a second sound-board, against which the distant end of the rod presses. Thought ends in amazement when it seeks to realise the motions of that rod as the music flows through it. I turn to my tree and observe its roots, its trunk, its branches, and its leaves. As the rod conveys the music, and yields it up to the distant air, so does the trunk convey the matter and the motion—the shocks and pulses and other vital actions—which eventually emerge in the umbrageous foliage of the tree. I went some time ago through the greenhouse of a friend. He had ferns from Ceylon, the branches of which were in some cases not much thicker than an ordinary pin—hard, smooth, and cylindrical—often leafless for a foot or more. But at the end of every one of them the unsightly twig unlocked the exuberant beauty hidden within it, and broke forth into a mass of fronds, almost large enough to fill the arms. We stand here upon a higher level of the wonderful: we are conscious of a music subtler than that of the piano, passing unheard through these tiny boughs, and issuing in what Mr. Martineau would opulently call the 'clustered magnificence' of the leaves. Does it lessen my amazement to know that every cluster, and every leaf—their form and texture—lie, like the music in the rod, in the molecular structure of these apparently insignificant stems? Not so. Mr. Martineau weeps for' the beauty of the flower fading into a necessity.' I care not whether it comes to me through necessity or through freedom, my delight in it is all the same. I see what he sees with a wonder superadded. To me, as to him, not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.

I have spoken above as if the assumption of a soul would save Mr. Martineau from the inconsistency of crediting pure matter with the astonishing building power displayed in crystals and trees. This, however, would not be the necessary result; for it would remain to be proved that the soul assumed is not itself matter. When a boy I learnt from Dr. Watts that the souls of conscious brutes are mere matter. And the man who would claim for matter the human soul itself, would find himself in very orthodox company. 'All that is erected,' says Fauste, a famous French bishop of the fifth century, 'is matter. The soul occupies a place; it is enclosed in a body; it quits the body at death, and returns to it at the resurrection, as in the case of Lazarus; the distinction between Hell and Heaven, between eternal pleasures and eternal pains, proves that, even after death, souls occupy a place and are corporeal. God only is incorporeal.' Tertullian, moreover, was quite a physicist in the definiteness of his conceptions regarding the soul. 'The materiality of the soul,' he says, 'is evident from the evangelists. A human soul is there expressly pictured as suffering in hell; it is placed in the middle of a flame, its tongue feels a cruel agony, and it implores a drop of water at the hands of a happier soul. Wanting materiality,' adds Tertullian, 'all this would be without meaning.' [Footnote: The foregoing extracts, which M. Alglave recently brought to light for the benefit of the Bishop of Orleans, are taken from the sixth Lecture of the 'Cours d'Histoire Moderns' of that most orthodox of statesmen, M. Guizot. 'I could multiply,' continues M. Guizot, 'these citations to infinity, and they prove that in the first centuries of our era the materiality of the soul was an opinion not only permitted, but dominant.' Dr. Moriarty, and the synod which he recently addressed, obviously forget their own antecedents. Their boasted succession from the early Church renders them the direct offspring of a 'materialism' more 'brutal' than any ever enunciated by me.]

I have glanced at inorganic nature—at the sea, and the sun, and the vapour, and the snow-flake, and at organic nature as represented by the fern and the oak. That same sun which warmed the water and liberated the vapour, exerts a subtler power on the nutriment of the tree. It takes hold of matter wholly unfit for the purposes of nutrition, separates its nutritive from its non-nutritive portions, gives, the former to the vegetable, and carries the others away. Planted in the earth, bathed by the air, and tended by the sun, the tree is traversed by its sap, the cells are formed, the woody fibre is spun, and the whole is woven to a texture wonderful even to the naked eye, but a million-fold more so to microscopic vision. Does consciousness mix in any way with these processes? No man can tell. Our only ground for a negative conclusion is the absence of those outward manifestations from which feeling is usually inferred. But even these are not entirely absent. In the greenhouses of Kew we may see that a leaf can close, in response to a proper stimulus, as promptly as the human fingers themselves; and while there Dr. Hooker will tell us of the wondrous fly-catching and fly-devouring power of the Dionaea. No man can say that the feelings of the animal are not represented by a drowsier consciousness in the vegetable world. At all events, no line has ever been drawn between the conscious and the unconscious; for the vegetable shades into the animal by such fine gradations, that is impossible to say where the one ends and the other begins.

In all such enquiries we are necessarily limited by our own powers: we observe what our senses, armed with the aids furnished by Science, enable us to observe; nothing more. The evidences as to consciousness in the vegetable world depend wholly upon our capacity to observe and weigh them. Alter the capacity, and the evidence would alter too. Would that which to us is a total absence of any manifestation of consciousness be the same to a being with our capacities indefinitely multiplied? To such a being I can imagine not only the vegetable, but the mineral world, responsive to the proper irritants, the response differing only in degree from those exaggerated manifestations, which, in virtue of their magnitude, appeal to our weak powers of observation.

Our conclusion, however, must be based, not on powers that we imagine, but upon those that we possess. What do they reveal? As the earth and atmosphere offer themselves as the nutriment of the vegetable world, so does the latter, which contains no constituent not found in inorganic nature, offer itself to the animal world. Mixed with certain inorganic substances—water, for example—the vegetable constitutes, in the long run, the sole sustenance of the animal. Animals may be divided into two classes, the first of which can utilise the vegetable world immediately, having chemical forces strong enough to cope with its most refractory parts; the second class use the vegetable world mediately; that is to say, after its finer portions have been extracted and stored up by the first. But in neither class have we an atom newly created. The animal world is, so to say, a distillation through the vegetable world from inorganic nature.

From this point of view all three worlds would constitute a unity, in which I picture life as immanent everywhere. Nor am I anxious to shut out the idea that the life here spoken of, may be but a subordinate part and function of a Higher Life, as the living moving blood is subordinate to the living man. I resist no such idea as long as it is not dogmatically imposed. Left for the human mind freely to operate upon, the idea has ethical vitality; but, stiffened into a dogma, the inner force disappears, and the outward yoke of a usurping hierarchy takes its place.

The problem before us is, at all events, capable of definite statement. We have on the one hand strong grounds for concluding that the earth was once a molten mass. We now find it not only swathed by an atmosphere, and covered by a sea, but also crowded with living things. The question is, How were they introduced? Certainty may be as unattainable here as Bishop Butler held it to be in matters of religion; but in the contemplation of probabilities the thoughtful mind is forced to take a side. The conclusion of Science, which recognises unbroken causal connection between the past and the present, would undoubtedly be that the molten earth contained within it elements of life, which grouped themselves into their present forms as the planet cooled. The difficulty and reluctance encountered by this conception, arise solely from the fact that the theologic conception obtained a prior footing in the human mind. Did the latter depend upon reasoning alone, it could not hold its ground for an hour against its rival. But it is warmed into life and strength by associated hopes and fears—and not only by these, which are more or less mean, but by that loftiness of thought and feeling which lifts its possessor above the atmosphere of self, and which the theologic idea, in its nobler forms, has engendered in noble minds.

Were not man's origin implicated, we should accept without a murmur the derivation of animal and vegetable life from what we call inorganic nature. The conclusion of pure intellect points this way and no other. But the purity is troubled by our interests in this life, and by our hopes and fears regarding the life to come. Reason is traversed by the emotions, anger rising in the weaker heads to the height of suggesting that the suppression of the enquirer by the arm of the law would be an act agreeable to God, and serviceable to man. But this foolishness is more than neutralised by the sympathy of the wise; and in England at least, so long as the courtesy which befits an earnest theme is adhered to, such sympathy is ever ready for an honest man. None of us here need shrink from saying all that he has a right to say. We ought, however, to remember that it is not only a band of Jesuits, weaving their schemes of intellectual slavery, under the innocent guise 'of education,' that we are opposing. Our foes are to some extent of our own household, including not only the ignorant and the passionate, but a minority of minds of high calibre and culture, lovers of freedom moreover, who, though its objective bull be riddled by logic, still find the ethic life of their religion unimpaired. But while such considerations ought to influence the form of our argument, and prevent it from ever slipping out of the region of courtesy into that of scorn or abuse, its substance, I think, ought to be maintained and presented in unmitigated strength.

In the year 1855 the chair of philosophy in the University of Munich happened to be filled by a Catholic priest of great critical penetration, great learning, and great courage, who had borne the brunt of battle long before Doellinger. His Jesuit colleagues, he knew, inculcated the belief that every human soul is sent into the world from God by a separate and supernatural act of creation. In a work entitled the 'Origin of the Human Soul,' Professor Frohschammer, the philosopher here alluded to, was hardy enough to question this doctrine, and to affirm that man, body and soul, comes from his parents, the act of creation being, therefore, mediate and secondary only. The Jesuits keep a sharp look out on all temerities of this kind; and their organ, the 'Civilita Cattolica,' immediately pounced upon Frohschammer. His book was branded as 'pestilent,' placed in the Index, and stamped with the condemnation of the Church. [Footnote: King Maximilian II. brought Liebig to Munich, he helped Helmholtz in his researches, and loved to liberate and foster science. But through his liberal concession of power to the Jesuits in the schools, he did far more damage to the intellectual freedom of his country than his superstitious predecessor Ludwig I. Priding himself on being a German Prince, Ludwig would not tolerate the interference of the Roman party with the political affairs of Bavaria.] The Jesuit notion does not err on the score of indefiniteness. According to it, the Power whom Goethe does not dare to name, and whom Gassendi and Clerk Maxwell present to us under the guise of a 'Manufacturer' of atoms, turns out annually, for England and Wales alone, a quarter of a million of new souls. Taken in connection with the dictum of Mr. Carlyle, that this annual increment to our population are 'mostly fools,' but little profit to the human heart seems derivable from this mode of regarding the Divine operations.

But if the Jesuit notion be rejected, what are we to accept? Physiologists say that every human being comes from an egg not more than the 1/120th of an inch in diameter. Is this egg matter? I hold it to be so, as much as the seed of a fern or of an oak. Nine months go to the making of it into a man. Are the additions made during this period of gestation drawn from matter? I think so undoubtedly. If there be anything besides matter in the egg, or in the infant subsequently slumbering in the womb, what is it? The questions already asked with reference to the stars of snow may be here repeated. Mr. Martineau will complain that I am disenchanting the babe of its wonder; but is this the case? I figure it growing in the womb, woven by a something not itself, without conscious participation on the part of either father or mother, and appearing in due time a living miracle, with all its organs and all their implications. Consider the work accomplished during these nine months in forming the eye alone—with its lens, and its humours, and its miraculous retina behind. Consider the ear with its tympanum, cochlea, and Corti's organ—an instrument of three thousand strings, built adjacent to the brain, and employed by it to sift, separate, and interpret, antecedent to all consciousness, the sonorous tremors of the external world. All this has been accomplished, not only without man's contrivance, but without his knowledge, the secret of his own organisation having been withheld from him since his birth in the immeasurable past, until these latter days. Matter I define as that mysterious thing by which all this is accomplished. How it came to have this power is a question on which I never ventured an opinion. If, then, Matter starts as 'a beggar,' it is, in my view, because the Jacobs of theology have deprived it of its birthright. Mr. Martineau need fear no disenchantment. Theories of evolution go but a short way towards the explanation of this mystery; the Ages, let us hope, will at length give us a Poet competent to deal with it aright.

There are men, and they include amongst them some of the best of the race of man, upon whose minds this mystery falls without producing either warmth or colour. The 'dry light' of the intellect suffices for them, and they live their noble lives untouched by a desire to give the mystery shape or expression. There are, on the other hand, men whose minds are warmed and coloured by its presence, and who, under its stimulus, attain to moral heights which have never been overtopped. Different spiritual climates are necessary for the healthy existence of these two classes of men; and different climates must be accorded them. The history of humanity, however, proves the experience of the second class to illustrate the most pervading need. The world will have religion of some kind, even though it should fly for it to the intellectual whoredom of 'spiritualism.' What is really wanted is the lifting power of an ideal element in human life. But the free play of this power must be preceded by its release from the practical materialism of the present, as well as from the torn swaddling bands of the past. It is now in danger of being stupefied by the one, or strangled by the other. I look, however, forward to a time when the strength, insight, and elevation which now visit us in mere hints and glimpses, during moments 'of clearness and vigour,' shall be the stable and permanent possession of purer and mightier minds than ours—purer and mightier, partly because of their deeper knowledge of matter and their more faithful conformity to its laws.



[Footnote: A Discourse delivered before the Glasgow Science Lectures Association, October 19, 1876.]

ONE of the most remarkable characteristics of the age in which we live, is its desire and tendency to connect itself organically with preceding ages—to ascertain how the state of things that now is came to be what it is. And the more earnestly and profoundly this problem is studied, the more clearly comes into view the vast and varied debt which the world of to-day owes to that fore-world, in which man by skill, valour, and well-directed strength first replenished and subdued the earth. Our prehistoric fathers may have been savages, but they were clever and observant ones. They founded agriculture by the discovery and development of seeds whose origin is now unknown. They tamed and harnessed their animal antagonists, and sent them down to us as ministers, instead of rivals in the fight for life. Later on, when the claims of luxury added themselves to those of necessity, we find the same spirit of invention at work. We have no historic account of the first brewer, but we glean from history that his art was practised, and its produce relished, more than two thousand years ago. Theophrastus, who was born nearly four hundred years before Christ, described beer as the wine of barley. It is extremely difficult to preserve beer in a hot country, still, Egypt was the land in which it was first brewed, the desire of man to quench his thirst with this exhilarating beverage overcoming all the obstacles which a hot climate threw in the way of its manufacture.

Our remote ancestors had also learned by experience that wine maketh glad the heart of man. Noah, we are informed, planted a vineyard, drank of the wine, and experienced the consequences. But, though wine and beer possess so old a history, a very few years ago no man knew the secret of their formation. Indeed, it might be said that until the present year no thorough and scientific account was ever given of the agencies which come into play in the manufacture of beer, of the conditions necessary to its health, and of the maladies and vicissitudes to which it is subject. Hitherto the art and practice of the brewer have resembled those of the physician, both being founded on empirical observation. By this is meant the observation of facts, apart from the principles which explain them, and which give the mind an intelligent mastery over them. The brewer learnt from long experience the conditions, not the reasons, of success. But he had to contend, and has still to contend, against unexplained perplexities. Over and over again his care has been rendered nugatory; his beer has fallen into acidity or rottenness, and disastrous losses have been sustained, of which he has been unable to assign the cause. It is the hidden enemies against which the physician and the brewer have hitherto contended, that recent researches are dragging into the light of day, thus preparing the way for their final extermination.


Let us glance for a moment at the outward and visible signs of fermentation. A few weeks ago I paid a visit to a private still in a Swiss chalet; and this is what I saw. In the peasant's bedroom was a cask with a very large bunghole carefully closed. The cask contained cherries which had lain in it for fourteen days. It was not entirely filled with the fruit, an air-space being left above the cherries when they were put in. I had the bung removed, and a small lamp dipped into this space. Its flame was instantly extinguished. The oxygen of the air had entirely disappeared, its place being taken by carbonic acid gas. [Footnote: The gas which is exhaled from the lungs after the oxygen of the air has done its duty in purifying the blood, the same also which effervesces from soda water and champagne.] I tasted the cherries: they were very sour, though when put into the cask they were sweet. The cherries and the liquid associated with them were then placed in a copper boiler, to which a copper head was closely fitted. From the head proceeded a copper tube which passed straight through a vessel of cold water, and issued at the other side. Under the open end of the tube was placed a bottle to receive the spirit distilled. The flame of small wood-splinters being applied to the boiler, after a time vapour rose into the head, passed through the tube, was condensed by the cold of the water, and fell in a liquid fillet into the bottle. On being tasted, it proved to be that fiery and intoxicating spirit known in commerce as Kirsch or Kirschwasser.

The cherries, it should be remembered, were left to themselves, no ferment of any kind being added to them. In this respect what has been said of the cherry applies also to the grape. At the vintage the fruit of the vine is placed in proper vessels, and abandoned to its own action. It ferments, producing carbonic acid; its sweetness disappears, and at the end of a certain time the unintoxicating grape-juice is converted into intoxicating wine. Here, as in the case of the cherries, the fermentation is spontaneous—in what sense spontaneous will appear more clearly by-and-by.

It is needless for me to tell a Glasgow audience that the beer-brewer does not set to work in this way. In the first place the brewer deals not with the juice of fruits, but with the juice of barley. The barley having been steeped for a sufficient time in water, it is drained and subjected to a temperature sufficient to cause the moist grain to germinate; after which, it is completely dried upon a kiln. It then receives the name of malt. The malt is crisp to the teeth, and decidedly sweeter to the taste than the original barley. It is ground, mashed up in warm water, then boiled with hops until all the soluble portions have been extracted; the infusion thus produced being called the wort. This is drawn off, and cooled as rapidly as possible; then, instead of abandoning the infusion, as the wine-maker does, to its own action, the brewer mixes yeast with his wort, and places it in vessels each with only one aperture open to the air. Soon after the addition of the yeast, a brownish froth, which is really new yeast, issues from the aperture, and falls like a cataract into troughs prepared to receive it. This frothing and foaming of the wort is a proof that the fermentation is active.

Whence comes the yeast which issues so copiously from the fermenting tub? What is this yeast, and how did the brewer become possessed of it? Examine its quantity before and after fermentation. The brewer introduces, say 10 cwts. of yeast; he collects 40, or it may be 50, cwts. The yeast has, therefore, augmented from four to five fold during the fermentation. Shall we conclude that this additional yeast has been spontaneously generated by the wort? Are we not rather reminded of that seed which fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some thirty fold, some sixty fold, some an hundred fold? On examination, this notion of organic growth turns out to be more than a mere surmise. In the year 1680, when the microscope was still in its infancy, Leeuwenhoek turned the instrument upon this substance, and found it composed of minute globules suspended in a liquid. Thus knowledge rested until 1835, when Cagniard de la Tour in France, and Schwann in Germany, independently, but animated by it common thought, turned microscopes of improved definition and heightened powers upon yeast, and found it budding and sprouting before their eyes. The augmentation of the yeast alluded to above was thus proved to arise from the growth of a minute plant now called Torula (or Saccharomyces) Cerevisiae. Spontaneous generation is therefore out of the question. The brewer deliberately sows the yeast-plant, which grows and multiplies in the wort as its proper soil. This discovery marks an epoch in the history of fermentation.

But where did the brewer find his yeast? The reply to this question is similar to that which must be given if it were asked where the brewer found his barley. He has received the seeds of both of them from preceding generations. Could we connect without solution of continuity the present with the past, we should probably be able to trace back the yeast employed by my friend Sir Fowell Buxton to-day to that employed by some Egyptian brewer two thousand years ago. But you may urge that there must have been a time when the first yeast-cell was generated. Granted—exactly as there was a time when the first barley-corn was generated. Let not the delusion lay hold of you that a living thing is easily generated because it is small. Both the yeast-plant and the barley-plant lose themselves in the dim twilight of antiquity, and in this our day there is no more proof of the spontaneous generation of the one, than there is of the spontaneous generation of the other.

I stated a moment ago that the fermentation of grape-juice was spontaneous; but I was careful to add, in what sense spontaneous will appear more clearly by-and-by.' Now this is the sense meant. The wine-maker does not, like the brewer and distiller, deliberately introduce either yeast; or any equivalent of yeast, into his vats; he does not consciously sow in them any plant, or the germ of any plant; indeed, he has been hitherto in ignorance whether plants or germs of any kind have had anything to do with his operations. Still, when the fermented grape-juice is examined, the living Torula concerned in alcoholic fermentation never fails to make its appearance. How is this? If no living germ has been introduced into the wine-vat, whence comes the life so invariably developed there?

You may be disposed to reply, with Turpin and others, that in virtue of its own inherent powers, the grape-juice when brought into contact with the vivifying atmospheric oxygen, runs spontaneously and of its own accord into these low forms of life. I have not the slightest objection to this explanation, provided proper evidence can be adduced in support of it. But the evidence adduced in its favour, as far as I am acquainted with it, snaps asunder under the strain of scientific criticism. It is, as far as I can see, the evidence of men, who however keen and clever as observers, are not rigidly trained experimenters. These alone are aware of the precautions necessary in investigations of this delicate kind. In reference, then, to the life of the wine-vat, what is the decision of experiment when carried out by competent men? Let a quantity of the clear, filtered 'must' of the grape be so boiled as to destroy such germs as it may have contracted from the air or otherwise. In contact with germless air the uncontaminated must never ferments. All the materials for spontaneous generation are there, but so long as there is no seed sown, there is no life developed, and no sign of that fermentation which is the concomitant of life. Nor need you resort to a boiled liquid. The grape is sealed by its own skin against contamination from without. By an ingenious device Pasteur has extracted from the interior of the grape its pure juice, and proved that in contact with pure air it never acquires the power to ferment itself, nor to produce fermentation in other liquids. [Footnote: The liquids of the healthy animal body are also sealed from external contamination. Pure blood, for example, drawn with due precautions from the veins, will never ferment or putrefy in contact with pure air.] It is not, therefore, in the interior of the grape that the origin of the life observed in the vat is to be sought.

What then is its true origin? This is Pasteur's answer, which his well-proved accuracy renders worthy of all confidence. At the time of the vintage microscopic particles are observed adherent, both to the outer surface of the grape and of the twigs which support the grape. Brush these particles into a capsule of pure water. It is rendered turbid by the dust. Examined by a microscope, some of these minute particles are seen to present the appearance of organised—cells. Instead of receiving them in water, let them be brushed into the pure inert juice of the grape. Forty-eight hours after this is done, our familiar Torula is observed budding and sprouting, the growth of the plant being accompanied by all the other signs of active fermentation. What is the inference to be drawn from this experiment? Obviously that the particles adherent to the external surface of the grape include the germs of that life which, after they have been sown in the juice, appears in such profusion. Wine is sometimes objected to on the ground that fermentation is 'artificial;' but we notice here the responsibility of nature. The ferment of the grape clings like a parasite to the surface of the grape; and the art of the wine-maker from time immemorial has consisted in bringing—and it may be added, ignorantly bringing—two things thus closely associated by nature into actual contact with each other. For thousands of years, what has been done consciously by the brewer, has been done unconsciously by the wine-grower. The one has sown his leaven just as much as the other.

Nor is it necessary to impregnate the beer-wort with yeast to provoke fermentation. Abandoned to the contact of our common air, it sooner or later ferments; but the chances are that the produce of that fermentation, instead of being agreeable, would be disgusting to the taste. By a rare accident we might get the true alcoholic fermentation, but the odds against obtaining it would be enormous. Pure air acting upon a lifeless liquid will never provoke fermentation; but our ordinary air is the vehicle of numberless germs which act as ferments when they fall into appropriate infusions. Some of them produce acidity, some putrefaction. The germs of our yeast-plant are also in the air; but so sparingly distributed that an infusion like beer-wort, exposed to the air, is almost sure to be taken possession of by foreign organisms. In fact, the maladies of beer are wholly due to the admixture of these objectionable ferments, whose forms and modes of nutrition differ materially from those of the true leaven.

Working in an atmosphere charged with the germs of these organisms, you can understand how easy it is to fall into error in studying the action of any one of them. Indeed it is only the most accomplished experimenter, who, moreover, avails himself of every means of checking his conclusions, that can walk without tripping through this land of pitfalls. Such a man the French chemist Pasteur has hitherto proved himself to be. He has taught us how to separate the commingled ferments of our air, and to study their pure individual action. Guided by him, let us fix our attention more particularly upon the growth and action of the true yeast-plant under different conditions. Let it be sown in a fermentable liquid, which is supplied with plenty of pure air. The plant will flourish in the aerated infusion, and produce large quantities of carbonic acid gas—a compound, as you know, of carbon and oxygen. The oxygen thus consumed by the plant is the free oxygen of the air, which we suppose to be abundantly supplied to the liquid. The action is so far similar to the respiration of animals, which inspire oxygen and expire carbonic acid. If we examine the liquid even when the vigour of the plant has reached its maximum, we hardly find in it a trace of alcohol. The yeast has grown and flourished, but it has almost ceased to act as a ferment. And could every individual yeast-cell seize, without any impediment, free oxygen from the surrounding liquid, it is certain that it would cease to act as a ferment altogether.

What, then, are the conditions under which the yeast-plant must be placed so that it may display its characteristic quality? Reflection on the facts already referred to suggests a reply, and rigid experiment confirms the suggestion. Consider the Alpine cherries in their closed vessel. Consider the beer in its barrel, with a single small aperture open to the air, through which it is observed not to imbibe oxygen, but to pour forth carbonic acid. Whence come the volumes of oxygen necessary to the production of this latter gas? The small quantity of atmospheric air dissolved in the wort and overlying it would be totally incompetent to supply the necessary oxygen. In no other way can the yeast-plant obtain the gas necessary for its respiration than by wrenching it from surrounding substances in which the oxygen exists, not free, but in a state of combination. It decomposes the sugar of the solution in which it grows, produces heat, breathes forth carbonic acid gas, and one of the liquid products of the decomposition is our familiar alcohol. The act of fermentation, then, is a result of the effort of the little plant to maintain its respiration by means of combined oxygen, when its supply of free oxygen is cut off. As defined by Pasteur, fermentation is life without air.

But here the knowledge of that thorough investigator comes to our aid to warn us against errors which have 'been committed over and over again. It is not all yeast-cells that can thus live without air and provoke fermentation. They must be young cells which have caught their vegetative vigour from contact with free oxygen. But once possessed of this vigour the yeast may be transplanted into a saccharine infusion absolutely purged of air, where it will continue to live at the expense of the oxygen, carbon, and other constituents of the infusion. Under these new conditions its life, as a plant, will be by no means so vigorous as when it had a supply of free oxygen, but its action as a ferment will be indefinitely greater.

Does the yeast-plant stand alone in its power of provoking alcoholic fermentation? It would be singular if amid the multitude of low vegetable forms no other could be found capable of acting in a similar way. And here again we have occasion to marvel at that sagacity of observation among the ancients to which we owe so vast a debt. Not only did they discover the alcoholic ferment of yeast, but they had to exercise a wise selection in picking it out from others, and giving it special prominence. Place an old boot in a moist place, or expose common paste or a pot of jam to the air; it soon becomes coated with a blue-green mould, which is nothing else than the fructification of a little plant called Penicillium glaucum. Do not imagine that the mould has sprung spontaneously from boot, or paste, or jam; its germs, which are abundant in the air, have been sown, and have germinated, in as legal and legitimate a way as thistle-seeds wafted by the wind to a proper soil. Let the minute spores of Penicillium be sown in a fermentable liquid, which has been previously so boiled as to kill all other spores or seeds which it may contain; let pure air have free access to the mixture; the Penicillium will grow rapidly, striking long filaments into the liquid, and fructifying at its surface. Test the infusion at various stages of the plant's growth, you will never find in it a trace of alcohol. But forcibly submerge the little plant, push it down deep into the liquid, where the quantity of free oxygen that can reach it is insufficient for its needs, it immediately begins to act as a ferment, supplying itself with oxygen by the decomposition of the sugar, and producing alcohol as one of the results of the decomposition. Many other low microscopic plants act in a similar manner. In aerated liquids they flourish without any production of alcohol, but cut off from free oxygen they act as ferments, producing alcohol exactly as the real alcoholic leaven produces it, only less copiously. For the right apprehension of all these facts we are indebted to Pasteur.

In the cases hitherto considered, the fermentation is proved to be the invariable correlative of life, being produced by organisms foreign to the fermentable substance. But the substance itself may also have within it, to some extent, the motive power of fermentation. The yeast-plant, as we have learned, is an assemblage of living cells; but so at bottom, as shown by Schleiden and Schwann, are all living organisms. Cherries, apples, peaches, pears, plums, and grapes, for example, are composed of cells, each of which is a living unit. And here I have to direct your attention to a point of extreme interest. In 1821, the celebrated French chemist, Berard, established the important fact that all ripening fruit, exposed to the free atmosphere, absorbed the oxygen of the atmosphere and liberated an approximately equal volume of carbonic acid. He also found that when ripe fruits were placed in a confined atmosphere, the oxygen of the atmosphere was first absorbed, and an equal volume of carbonic acid given out. But the process did not end here. After the oxygen had vanished, carbonic acid, in considerable quantities, continued to be exhaled by the fruits, which at the same time lost a portion of their sugar, becoming more acid to the taste, though the absolute quantity of acid was not augmented. This was an observation of capital importance, and Berard had the sagacity to remark that the process might be regarded as a kind of fermentation.

Thus the living cells of fruits can absorb oxygen and breathe out carbonic acid, exactly like the living cells of the leaven of beer. Supposing the access of oxygen suddenly cut off, will the living fruit-cells as suddenly die, or will they continue to live as yeast lives, by extracting oxygen from the saccharine juices round them? This is a question of extreme theoretic significance. It was first answered affirmatively by the able and conclusive experiments of Lechartier and Bellamy, and the answer was subsequently confirmed and explained by the experiments and the reasoning of Pasteur. Berard only showed the absorption of oxygen and the production of carbonic acid; Lechartier and Bellamy proved the production of alcohol, thus completing the evidence that it was a case of real fermentation, though the common alcoholic ferment was absent.


So full was Pasteur of the idea that the cells of a fruit would continue to live at the expense of the sugar of the fruit, that once in his laboratory, while conversing on these subjects with M. Dumas, he exclaimed, 'I will wager that if a grape be plunged into an atmosphere of carbonic acid, it will produce alcohol and carbonic acid by the continued life of its own cells—that they will act for a time like the cells of the true alcoholic leaven.' He made the experiment, and found the result to be what he had foreseen. He then extended the 'enquiry. Placing under a bell-jar twenty-four plums, he filled the jar with carbonic acid gas; beside it he placed twenty-four similar plums uncovered. At the end of eight days, he removed the plums from the jar, and compared them with the others. The difference was extraordinary. The uncovered fruits had become soft, watery, and very sweet; the others were firm and hard, their fleshy portions being not at all watery. They had, moreover, lost a considerable quantity of their sugar. They were afterwards bruised, and the juice was distilled. It yielded six and a half grammes of alcohol, or one per cent. of the total weight of the plums. Neither in these plums, nor in the grapes first experimented on by Pasteur, could any trace of the ordinary alcoholic leaven be found. As previously proved by Lechartier and Bellamy, the fermentation was the work of the living cells of the fruit itself, after air had been denied to them. When, moreover, the cells were destroyed by bruising, no fermentation ensued. The fermentation was the correlative of a vital act, and it ceased when life was extinguished.

Luedersdorf was the first to show by this method that yeast acted, not, as Liebig had assumed, in virtue of its organic, but in virtue of its organised character. He destroyed the cells of yeast by rubbing them on a ground glass plate, and found that with the destruction of the organism, though its chemical constituents remained, the power to act as a ferment totally disappeared.

One word more in reference to Liebig may find a place here. To the philosophic chemist thoughtfully pondering these phenomena, familiar with the conception of molecular motion, and the changes produced by the interactions of purely chemical forces, nothing could be more natural than to see in the process of fermentation a simple illustration of molecular instability, the ferment propagating to surrounding molecular groups the overthrow of its own tottering combinations. Broadly considered, indeed, there is a certain amount of truth in this theory; but Liebig, who propounded it, missed the very kernel of the phenomena when he overlooked or contemned the part played in fermentation by microscopic life. He looked at the matter too little with the eye of the body, and too much with the spiritual eye. He practically neglected the microscope, and was unmoved by the knowledge which its revelations would have poured in upon his mind. His hypothesis, as I have said, was natural—nay it was a striking illustration of Liebig's power to penetrate and unveil molecular actions; but it was an error, and as such has proved an ignis fatuus instead of a pharos to some of his followers.


I have said that our air is full of the germs of ferments differing from the alcoholic leaven, and sometimes seriously interfering with the latter. They are the weeds of this microscopic garden which often overshadow and choke the flowers. Let us take an illustrative case. Expose milk to the air. It will, after a time, turn sour, separating like blood into clot and serum. Place a drop of this sour milk under a powerful microscope and watch it closely. You see the minute butter-globules animated by that curious quivering motion called the Brownian motion. But let not this attract your attention too much, for it is another motion that we have now to seek. Here and there you observe a greater disturbance than ordinary among the globules; keep your eye upon the place of tumult, and you will probably see emerging from it a long eel-like organism, tossing the globules aside and wriggling more or less rapidly across the field of the microscope. Familiar with one sample of this organism, which from its motions receives the name of vibrio, you soon detect numbers of them. It is these organisms, and other analogous though apparently motionless ones, which by decomposing the milk render it sour and putrid. They are the lactic and putrid ferments, as the yeast-plant is the alcoholic ferment of sugar. Keep them and their germs out of your milk and it will continue sweet. But milk may become putrid without becoming sour. Examine such putrid milk microscopically, and you find it swarming with shorter organisms, sometimes associated with the vibrios, sometimes alone, and often manifesting a wonderful alacrity of motion. Keep these organisms and their germs out of your milk and it will never putrify. Expose a mutton-chop to the air and keep it moist; in summer weather it soon stinks. Place a drop of the juice of the fetid chop under a powerful microscope; it is seen swarming with organisms resembling those in the putrid milk. These organisms, which receive the common name of bacteria, [Footnote: Doubtless organisms exhibiting grave specific differences are grouped together under this common name.] are the agents of all putrefaction. Keep them and their germs from your meat and it will remain for ever sweet. Thus we begin to see that within the world of life to which we ourselves belong, there is another living world requiring the microscope for its discernment, but which, nevertheless, has the most important bearing on the welfare of the higher life-world.

And now let us reason together as regards the origin of these bacteria. A granular powder is placed in your hands, and you are asked to state what it is. You examine it, and have, or have not, reason to suspect that seeds of some kind are mixed up in it. To determine this point you prepare a bed in your garden, sow in it the powder, and soon after find a mixed crop of docks and thistles sprouting from your bed. Until this powder was sown neither docks nor thistles ever made their appearance in your garden. You repeat the experiment once, twice, ten times, fifty times. From fifty different beds after the sowing of the powder, you obtain the same crop. What will be your response to the question proposed to you? 'I am not in a condition,' you would say, 'to affirm that every grain of the powder is a dock-seed, or a thistle-seed; but I am in a condition to affirm that both dock and thistle-seeds form, at all events, part of the powder.' Supposing a succession of such powders to be placed in your hands with grains becoming gradually smaller, until they dwindle to the size of impalpable dust particles; assuming that you treat them all in the same way, and that from every one of them in a few days you obtain a definite crop—may be clover, it may be mustard, it may be mignonette, it may be a plant more minute than any of these, smallness of the particles, or of the plants that spring from them, does not affect the validity of the conclusion. Without a shadow of misgiving you would conclude that the powder must have contained the seeds or germs of the life observed. There is not in the range of physical science, an experiment more conclusive nor an inference safer than this one.

Supposing the powder to be light enough to float in the air, and that you are enabled to see it there just as plainly as you saw the heavier powder in the palm of hand. If the dust sown by the air instead of by the hand produce a definite living crop, with the same logical rigour you would conclude that the germs of this crop must be mixed with the dust. To take an illustration: the spores of the little plant Penicillium glaucum, to which I have already referred, are light enough to float in the air. A cut apple, a pear, a tomato, a slice of vegetable marrow, or, as already mentioned, an old moist boot, a dish of paste, or a pot of jam, constitutes a proper soil for the Penicillium. Now, if it could be proved that the dust of the air when sown in this soil produces this plant, while, wanting the dust, neither the air, nor the soil, nor both together can produce it, it would be obviously just as certain in this case that the floating dust contains the germs of Penicillium as that the powders sown in your garden contained the germs of the plants which sprung from them.

But how is the floating dust to be rendered visible? In this way. Build a little chamber and provide it with a door, windows, and window-shutters. Let an aperture be made in one of the shutters through which a sunbeam can pass. Close the door and windows so that no light shall enter save through the hole in the shutter. The track of the sunbeam is at first perfectly plain and vivid in the air of the room. If all disturbance of the air of the chamber be avoided, the luminous track will become fainter and fainter, until at last it disappears absolutely, and no trace of the beam is to be seen. What rendered the beam visible at first? The floating dust of the air, which, thus illuminated and observed, is as palpable to sense as dust or powder placed on the palm of the hand. In the still air the dust gradually sinks to the floor or sticks to the walls and ceiling, until finally, by this self-cleansing process, the air is entirely freed from mechanically suspended matter.

Thus, far, I think, we have made our footing sure. Let us proceed. Chop up a beefsteak and allow it to remain for two or three hours just covered with warm water; you thus extract the juice of the beef in a concentrated form. By properly boiling the liquid and filtering it, you can obtain from it a perfectly transparent beef-tea. Expose a number of vessels containing this tea to the moteless air of your chamber; and expose a number of vessels containing precisely the same liquid to the dust-laden air. In three days every one of the latter stinks, and examined with the microscope every one of them is found swarming with the bacteria of putrefaction. After three months, or three years, the beef-tea within the chamber is found in every case as sweet and clear, and as free from bacteria, as it was at the moment when it was first put in. There is absolutely no difference between the air within and that without save that the one is dustless and the other dust-laden.

Clinch the experiment thus: Open the door of your chamber and allow the dust to enter it. In three days afterwards you have every vessel within the chamber swarming with bacteria, and in a state of active putrefaction. Here, also, the inference is quite as certain as in the case of the powder sown in your garden. Multiply your proofs by building fifty chambers instead of one, and by employing every imaginable infusion of wild animals and tame; of flesh, fish, fowl, and viscera; of vegetables of the most various kinds. If in all these cases you find the dust infallibly producing its crop of bacteria, while neither the dustless air nor the nutritive infusion, nor both together, are ever able to produce this crop, your conclusion is simply irresistible that the dust of the air contains the germs of the crop which has appeared in your infusions. I repeat there is no inference of experimental science more certain than this one. In the presence of such facts, to use the words of a paper lately published in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' it would be simply monstrous to affirm that these swarming crops of bacteria are spontaneously generated.

Is there then no experimental proof of spontaneous generation? I answer without hesitation, none! But to doubt the experimental proof of a fact, and to deny its possibility, are two different things, though some writers confuse matters by making them synonymous. In fact, this doctrine of spontaneous generation, in one form or another, falls in with the theoretic beliefs of some of the foremost workers of this age; but it is exactly these men who have the penetration to see, and the honesty to expose, the weakness of the evidence adduced in its support.


And here observe how these discoveries tally with the common practices of life. Heat kills the bacteria, colds numbs them. When my housekeeper has pheasants in charge which she wishes to keep sweet, but which threaten to give way, she partially cooks the birds, kills the infant bacteria, and thus postpones the evil day. By boiling her milk she also extends its period of sweetness. Some weeks ago in the Alps I made a few experiments on the influence of cold upon ants. Though the sun was strong, patches of snow still maintained themselves on the mountain slopes. The ants were found in the warm grass and on the warm rocks adjacent. Transferred to the snow the rapidity of their paralysis was surprising. Ina few seconds a vigorous ant, after a few languid struggles, would wholly lose its power of locomotion and lie practically dead upon the snow. Transferred to the warm rock, it would revive, to be again smitten with death-like numbness when retransferred to the snow. What is true of the ant is specially true of our bacteria. Their active life is suspended by cold, and with it their power of producing or continuing putrefaction. This is the whole philosophy of the preservation of meat by cold. The fishmonger, for example, when he surrounds his very assailable wares by lumps of ice, stays the process of putrefaction by reducing to numbness and inaction the organisms which produce it, and in the absence of which his fish would remain sweet and sound. It is the astonishing activity into which these bacteria are pushed by warmth that renders a single summer's day sometimes so disastrous to the great butchers of London and Glasgow. The bodies of guides lost in the crevasses of Alpine glaciers have come to the surface forty years after their interment, without the flesh showing any sign of putrefaction. But the most astonishing case of this kind is that of the hairy elephant of Siberia which was found incased in ice. It had been buried for ages, but when laid bare its flesh was sweet, and for some time afforded copious nutriment to the wild beasts which fed upon it.

Beer is assailable by all the organisms here referred to, some of which produce acetic, some lactic, and some butyric acid, while yeast is open to attack from the bacteria of putrefaction. In relation to the particular beverage the brewer wishes to produce, these foreign ferments have been properly called ferments of disease. The cells of the true leaven are globules, usually somewhat elongated. The other organisms are more or less rod-like or eel-like in shape, some of them being beaded so as to resemble necklaces. Each of these organisms produces a fermentation and a flavour peculiar to itself. Keep them out of your beer and it remains for ever unaltered. Never without them will your beer contract disease. But their germs are in the air, in the vessels employed in the brewery; even in the yeast used to impregnate the wort. Consciously or unconsciously, the art of the brewer is directed against them. His aim is to paralyze, if he cannot annihilate them.

For beer, moreover, the question of temperature is one of supreme importance; indeed, the recognised influence of temperature is causing on the continent of Europe a complete revolution in the manufacture of beer. When I was a student in Berlin, in 1851, there were certain places specially devoted to the sale of Bavarian beer, which was then making its way into public favour. This beer is prepared by what is called the process of low fermentation; the name being given partly because the yeast of the beer, instead of rising to the top and issuing through the bunghole, falls to the bottom of the cask; but partly, also, because it is produced at a low temperature. The other and older process, called high fermentation, is far more handy, expeditious, and cheap. In high fermentation eight days suffice for the production of the beer; in low fermentation, ten, fifteen, even twenty days are found necessary. Vast quantities of ice, moreover, are consumed in the process of low fermentation. In the single brewery of Dreher, of Vienna, a hundred million pounds of ice are consumed annually in cooling the wort and beer. Notwithstanding these obvious and weighty drawbacks, the low fermentation is rapidly displacing the high upon the Continent. Here are some statistics which show the number of breweries of both kinds existing in Bohemia in 1860, 1865, and 1870:

1860. 1865. 1870.

High Fermentation 281 81 18

Low Fermentation 135 459 831

Thus in ten years the number of high-fermentation breweries fell from 281 to 18, while the number of low-fermentation breweries rose from 135 to 831. The sole reason for this vast change—a change which involves a great expenditure of time, labour, and money—is the additional command which it gives the brewer over the fortuitous ferments of disease. These ferments, which, it is to be remembered, are living organisms, have their activity suspended by temperatures below 10 deg.C, and as long as they are reduced to torpor the beer remains untainted either by acidity or putrefaction. The beer of low fermentation is brewed in winter, and kept in cool cellars; the brewer being thus enabled to dispose of it at his leisure, instead of forcing its consumption to avoid the loss involved in its alteration if kept too long. Hops, it may be remarked, act to some extent as an antiseptic to beer. The essential oil of the hop is bactericidal: hence the strong impregnation with hop juice of all beer intended for exportation.

These low organisms, which one might be disposed to regard as the beginnings of life, were we not warned that the microscope, precious and perfect as it is, has no power to show us the real beginnings of life, are by no means purely useless or purely mischievous in the economy of nature. They are only noxious when out of their proper place. They exercise a useful and valuable function as the burners and consumers of dead matter, animal and vegetable, reducing such matter, with a rapidity otherwise unattainable, to innocent carbonic acid and water. Furthermore, they are not all alike, and it is only restricted classes of them that are really dangerous to man. One difference in their habits is worthy of special reference here. Air, or rather the oxygen of the air, which is absolutely necessary to the support of the bacteria of putrefaction, is, according to Pasteur, absolutely deadly to the vibrios which provoke the butyric acid fermentation. This has been illustrated by the following beautiful observation.

A drop of the liquid containing those small organisms is placed upon glass, and on the drop is placed a circle of exceedingly thin glass; for, to magnify them sufficiently, it is necessary that the object-glass of the microscope should come very close to the organisms. Round the edge of the circular plate of glass the liquid is in contact with the air, and incessantly absorbs it, including the oxygen. Here, if the drop be charged with bacteria, we have a zone of very lively ones. But through this living zone, greedy of oxygen and appropriating it, the vivifying gas cannot penetrate to the centre of the film. In the middle, therefore, the bacteria die, while their peripheral colleagues continue active. If a bubble of air chance to be enclosed in the film, round it the bacteria will pirouette and wabble until its oxygen has been absorbed, after which all their motions cease. Precisely the reverse of all this occurs with the vibrios of butyric acid. In their case it is the peripheral organisms that are first killed, the central ones remaining vigorous while ringed by a zone of dead. Pasteur, moreover, filled two vessels with a liquid containing these vibrios; through one vessel be led air, and killed its vibrios in half an hour; through the other he led carbonic acid, and after three hours found the vibrios fully active. It was while observing these differences of deportment fifteen years ago that the thought of life without air, and its bearing upon the theory of fermentation, flashed upon the mind of this admirable investigator.


We now approach an aspect of this question which concerns us still more closely, and will be best illustrated by an actual fact. A few years ago I was bathing in an Alpine stream, and returning to my clothes from the cascade which had been my shower-bath, I slipped upon a block of granite, the sharp crystals of which stamped themselves into my naked shin. The wound was an awkward one, but being in vigorous health at the time, I hoped for a speedy recovery. Dipping a clean pocket-handkerchief into the stream, I wrapped it round the wound, limped home, and remained for four or five days quietly in bed. There was no pain, and at the end of this time I thought myself quite fit to quit my room. The wound, when uncovered, was found perfectly clean, uninflamed, and entirely free from matter. Placing over it a bit of goldbeater's-skin, I walked about all day. Towards evening itching and heat were felt; a large accumulation of matter followed, and I was forced to go to bed again. The water-bandage was restored, but it was powerless to check the action now set up; arnica was applied, but it made matters worse. The inflammation increased alarmingly, until finally I had to be carried on men's shoulders down the mountain and transported to Geneva, where, thanks to the kindness of friends, I was immediately placed in the best medical hands. On the morning after my arrival in Geneva, Dr. Gautier discovered an abscess in my instep, at a distance of five inches from the wound. The two were connected by a channel, or sinus, as it is technically called, through which he was able to empty the abscess, without the application of the lance.

By what agency was that channel formed—what was it that thus tore asunder the sound tissue of my instep, and kept me for six weeks a prisoner in bed? In the very room where the water dressing had been removed from my wound and the goldbeater's-skin applied to it, I opened this year a number of tubes, containing perfectly clear and sweet infusions of fish, flesh, and vegetable. These hermetically sealed infusions had been exposed for weeks, both to the sun of the Alps and to the warmth of a kitchen, without showing the slightest turbidity or sign of life. But two days after they were opened the greater number of them swarmed with the bacteria of putrefaction, the germs of which had been contracted from the dust-laden air of the room. And had the matter from my abscess been examined, my memory of its appearance leads me to infer that it would have been found equally swarming with these bacteria—that it was their germs which got into my incautiously opened wound, and that they were the subtile workers that burrowed down my shin, dug the abscess in my instep, and produced effects which might easily have proved fatal.

This apparent digression brings us face to face with the labours of a man who combines the penetration of the true theorist with the skill and conscientiousness of the true experimenter, and whose practice is one continued demonstration of the theory that the putrefaction of wounds is to be averted by the destruction of the germs of bacteria. Not only from his own reports of his cases, but from the reports of eminent men who have visited his hospital, and from the opinions expressed to me by continental surgeons, do I gather that one of the greatest steps ever made in the art of surgery was the introduction of the antiseptic system of treatment, introduced by Professor Lister.

The interest of this subject does not slacken as we proceed. We began with the cherry-cask and beer-vat; we end with the body of man. There are persons born with the power of interpreting natural facts, as there are others smitten with everlasting incompetence in regard to such interpretation. To the former class in an eminent degree belonged the illustrious philosopher Robert Boyle, whose words in relation to this subject have in them the forecast of prophecy. 'And let me add,' writes Boyle in his 'Essay on the Pathological Part of Physic,' 'that he that thoroughly understands the nature of ferments and fermentations shall probably be much better able than he that ignores them, to give a fair account of divers phenomena of several diseases (as well fevers as others), which will perhaps be never properly understood without an insight into the doctrine of fermentations.'

Two hundred years have passed since these pregnant words were written, and it is only in this our day that men are beginning to fully realise their truth. In the domain of surgery the justice of Boyle's surmise has been most strictly demonstrated. But we now pass the bounds of surgery proper, and enter the domain of epidemic disease, including those fevers so sagaciously referred to by Boyle. The most striking analogy between a contagium and a ferment is to be found in the power of indefinite self-multiplication possessed and exercised by both. You know the exquisitely truthful figures regarding leaven employed in the New Testament. A particle hid in three measures of meal leavens it all. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. In a similar manner, a particle of contagium spreads through the human body and may be so multiplied as to strike down whole populations. Consider the effect produced upon the system by a microscopic quantity of the virus of smallpox. That virus is, to all intents and purposes, a seed. It is sown as yeast is sown, it grows and multiplies as yeast grows and multiplies, and it always reproduces itself. To Pasteur we are indebted for a series of masterly researches, wherein he exposes the looseness and general baselessness of prevalent notions regarding the transmutation of one ferment into another. He guards himself against saying it is impossible. The true investigator is sparing in the use of this word, though the use of it is unsparingly ascribed to him; but, as a matter of fact, Pasteur has never, been able to effect the alleged transmutation, while he has been always able to point out the open doorways through which the affirmers of such transmutations had allowed error to march in upon them. [Footnote: 'Those who wish for an illustration of the care necessary in these researches, and of the carelessness with which they have in some cases been conducted, will do well to consult the Rev. W. H. Dallinger's excellent 'Notes on Heterogenesis' in the October number of the Popular Science Review.]

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