The great source of error here has been already alluded to in this discourse. The observers worked in an atmosphere charged with the germs of different organisms; the mere accident of first possession rendering now one organism, now another, triumphant. In different stages, moreover, of its fermentative or putrefactive changes, the same infusion may so alter as to be successively taken possession of by different organisms. Such cases have been adduced to show that the earlier organisms must have been transformed into the later ones, whereas they are simply cases in which different germs, because of changes in the infusion, render themselves valid at different times.
By teaching us how to cultivate each ferment in its purity—in other words, by teaching us how to rear the individual organism apart from all others,—Pasteur has enabled us to avoid all these errors. And where this isolation of a particular organism has been duly effected it grows and multiplies indefinitely, but no change of it into another organism is ever observed. In Pasteur's researches the Bacterium remained a Bacterium, the Vibrio a Vibrio, the Penicillium a Penicillium, and the Torula a Torula. Sow any of these in a state of purity in an appropriate liquid; you get it, and it alone, in the subsequent crop. In like manner, sow small-pox in the human body, your crop is small-pox. Sow there scarlatina, and your crop is scarlatina. Sow typhoid virus, your crop is typhoid—cholera, your crop is cholera. The disease bears as constant a relation to its contagium as the microscopic organisms just enumerated do to their germs, or indeed as a thistle does to its seed. No wonder then, with analogies so obvious and so striking, that the conviction is spreading and growing daily in strength, that reproductive parasitic life is at the root of epidemic disease—that living ferments finding lodgment in the body increase there and multiply, directly ruining the tissue on which they subsist, or destroying life indirectly by the generation of poisonous compounds within the body. This conclusion, which comes to us with a presumption almost amounting to demonstration, is clinched by the fact that virulently infective diseases have been discovered with which living organisms are as closely and as indissolubly associated as the growth of Torula is with the fermentation of beer.
And here, if you will permit me, I would utter a word of warning to well-meaning people. We have now reached a phase of this question when it is of the very last importance that light should once for all be thrown upon the manner in which contagious and infectious diseases take root and spread. To this end the action of various ferments upon the organs and tissues of the living body must be studied; the habitat of each special organism concerned in the production of each specific disease must be determined, and the mode by which its germs are spread abroad as sources of further infection. It is only by such rigidly accurate enquiries that we can obtain final and complete mastery over these destroyers. Hence, while abhorring cruelty of all kinds, while shrinking sympathetically from all animal suffering—suffering which my own pursuits never call upon me to inflict,—an unbiassed survey of the field of research now opening out before the physiologist causes me to conclude, that no greater calamity could befall the human race than the stoppage of experimental enquiry in this direction. A lady whose philanthropy has rendered her illustrious said to me some time ago, that science was becoming immoral; that the researches of the past, unlike those of the present, were carried on without cruelty. I replied to her that the science of Kepler and Newton, to which she referred, dealt with the laws and phenomena of inorganic nature; but that one great advance made by modern science was in the direction of biology, or the science of life; and that in this new direction scientific enquiry, though at the outset pursued at the cost of some temporary suffering, would in the end prove a thousand times more beneficent than it had ever hitherto been. I said this because I saw that the very researches which the lady deprecated were leading us to such a knowledge of epidemic diseases as will enable us finally to sweep these scourges of the human race from the face of the earth.
This is a point of such capital importance that I should like to bring it home to your intelligence by a single trustworthy illustration. In 1850, two distinguished French observers, MM. Davainne and Rayer, noticed in the blood, of animals which had died of the virulent disease called splenic fever, small microscopic organisms resembling transparent rods, but neither of them at that time attached any significance to the observation. In 1861, Pasteur published a memoir on the fermentation of butyric acid, wherein he described the organism which provoked it; and after reading this memoir it occurred to Davainne that splenic fever might be a case of fermentation set up within the animal body, by the organisms which had been observed by him and Rayer. This idea has been placed beyond all doubt by subsequent research.
Observations of the highest importance have also been made on splenic fever by Pollender and Brauell. Two years ago, Dr. Burdon Sanderson gave us a very clear account of what was known up to that time of this disorder. With regard to the permanence of the contagium, it had been proved to hang for years about localities where it had once prevailed; and this seemed to show that the rod-like organisms could not constitute the contagium, because their infective power was found to vanish in a few weeks. But other facts established an intimate connection between the organisms and the disease, so that a review of all the facts caused Dr. Sanderson to conclude that the contagium existed in two distinct forms: the one 'fugitive' and visible as transparent rods; the other permanent but 'latent,' and not yet brought within the grasp of the microscope.
At the time that Dr. Sanderson was writing this report, a young German physician, named Koch, [Footnote: This, I believe, was the first reference to the researches of Koch made in this country. 1879.] occupied with the duties of his profession in an obscure country district, was already at work, applying, during his spare time, various original and ingenious devices to the investigation of splenic fever. He studied the habits of the rod-like organisms, and found the aqueous humour an ox's eye to be particularly suitable for their nutria. With a drop of the aqueous humour he mixed tiniest speck of a liquid containing the rods, placed the drop under his microscope, warmed it suitably, and observed the subsequent action. During the first two hours hardly any change was noticeable; but at the end of this time the rods began to lengthen, and the action was so rapid that at the end of three or four hours they attained from ten to twenty times their original length. At the end of a few additional hours they had formed filaments in many cases a hundred times the length of the original rods. The same filament, in fact, was frequently observed to stretch through several fields of the microscope. Sometimes they lay in straight lines parallel to each other, in other cases they were bent, twisted, and coiled into the most graceful figures; while sometimes they formed knots of such bewildering complexity that it was impossible for the eye to trace the individual filaments through the confusion.
Had the observation ended here an interesting scientific fact would have been added to our previous store, but the addition would have been of little practical value. Koch, however, continued to watch the filaments, and after a time noticed little dots appearing within them. These dots became more and more distinct, until finally the whole length of the organism was studded with minute ovoid bodies, which lay within the outer integument like peas within their shell. By-and-by the integument fell to pieces, the place of the organisms being taken by a long row of seeds or spores. These observations, which were confirmed in all respects by the celebrated naturalist, Cohn of Breslau, are of the highest importance. They clear up the existing perplexity regarding the latent and visible contagia of splenic fever; for in the most conclusive manner, Koch proved the spores, as distinguished from the rods, to constitute the contagium of the fever in its most deadly and persistent form.
How did he reach this important result? Mark the answer. There was but one way open to him to test the activity of the contagium, and that was the inoculation with it of living animals. He operated upon guinea-pigs and rabbits, but the vast majority of his experiments were made upon mice. Inoculating them with the fresh blood of an animal suffering from splenic fever, they invariably died of the same disease within twenty or thirty hours after inoculation. He then sought to determine how the contagium maintained its vitality. Drying the infectious blood containing the rod-like organisms, in which, however, the spores were not developed, he found the contagium to be that which Dr. Sanderson calls 'fugitive.' It maintained its power of infection for five weeks at the furthest. He then dried blood containing the fully-developed spores, and posed the substance to a variety of conditions. He permitted the dried blood to assume the form of dust; wetted this dust, allowed it to dry again, permitted it to remain for an indefinite time in the midst of putrefying matter, and subjected it to various other tests. After keeping the spore-charged blood which had been treated in this fashion for four years, he inoculated a number of mice with it, and found its action as fatal as that of blood fresh from the veins of an animal suffering from splenic fever. There was no single escape from death after inoculation by this deadly contagium. Uncounted millions of these spores are developed in the body of every animal which has died of splenic fever, and every spore of these millions is competent to produce the disease. The name of this formidable parasite is Bacillus anthracis. [Footnote: Koch found that to produce its characteristic effects the contagium of splenic fever must enter the blood; the virulently festive spleen of a diseased animal may be eaten with impunity by mice. On the other hand, the disease refuses to be communicated by inoculation to dogs, partridges, or sparrows. In their blood Bacillus anthracis ceases to act as a ferment. Pasteur announced more than six years ago the propagation of the vibrios of the silkworm disease called flacherie, both by fission and by spores. He also made some remarkable experiments on the permanence of the contagium in the form of spores. See 'Etudes sur la Maladie des Vers a Soie,' pp. 168 and 256.]
Now the very first step towards the extirpation of these contagia is the knowledge of their nature; and the knowledge brought to us by Dr. Koch will render as certain the stamping out of splenic fever as the stoppage of the plague of pebrine by the researches of Pasteur. [Footnote: Surmising that the immunity enjoyed by birds might arise from the heat of their blood, which destroyed the bacillus, Pasteur lowered their temperature artificially, inoculated them, and killed them. He also raised the temperature of guinea-pigs after inoculation, and saved them. It is needless to dwell for a moment on the importance of this experiment.] One small item of statistics will show what this implies. In the single district of Novgorod in Russia, between the years 1867 and 1870, over fifty-six thousand cases of death by splenic fever, among horses, cows, and sheep were recorded. Nor did its ravages confine themselves to the animal world, for during the time and in the district referred to, five hundred and twenty-eight human beings perished in the agonies of the same disease.
A description of the fever will help you to come to a right decision on the point which I wish to submit to your consideration. 'An animal,' says Dr. Burdon Sanderson, 'which perhaps for the previous day has declined food and shown signs of general disturbance, begins to shudder and to have twitches of the muscles of the back, and soon after becomes weak and listless. In the meantime the respiration becomes frequent and often difficult, and the temperature rises three or four degrees above the normal; but soon convulsions, affecting chiefly the muscles of the back and loins, usher in the final collapse of which the progress is marked by the loss of all power of moving the trunk or extremities, diminution of temperature, mucous and sanguinolent alvine evacuations, and similar discharges from the mouth and nose.' In a single district of Russia, as above remarked, fifty-six thousand horses, cows, and sheep, and five hundred and twenty-eight men and women, perished in this way during a period of two or three years. What the annual fatality is throughout Europe I have no means of knowing. Doubtless it must be very great. The question, then, which I wish to submit to your judgment is this: Is the knowledge which reveals to us the nature, and which assures the extirpation, of a disorder so virulent and so vile, worth the price paid for it? It is exceedingly important that assemblies like the present should see clearly the issues at stake in such questions as this, and that the properly informed sense of the community should temper, if not restrain, the rashness of those who, meaning to be tender, become agents of cruelty by the imposition of short-sighted restrictions upon physiological investigations. It is a modern instance of zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, the excesses of which must be corrected by an instructed public opinion.
And now let us cast a backward glance on the field we have traversed, and try to extract from our labours such further profit as they can yield. For more than two thousand years the attraction of light bodies by amber was the sum of human knowledge regarding electricity, and for more than two thousand years fermentation was effected without any knowledge of its cause. In science one discovery grows out of another, and cannot appear without its proper antecedent. Thus, before fermentation could be understood, the microscope had to be invented, and brought to a considerable degree of perfection. Note the growth of knowledge. Leeuwenhoek, in 1680, found yeast to be a mass of floating globules, but he had no notion that the globules were alive. This was proved in 1835 by Cagniard de la Tour and Schwann. Then came the question as to the origin of such microscopic organisms, and in this connection ''the memoir of Pasteur, published in the 'Annales de Chimie' for 1862, is the inauguration of a new epoch.
On that investigation all Pasteur's subsequent labours were based. Ravages had over and over again occurred among French wines. There was no guarantee that they ould not become acid or bitter, particularly when exported. The commerce in wines was thus restricted, and disastrous losses were ften inflicted on the wine-grower. Every one of these diseases was traced to the life of an organism. Pasteur ascertained the temperature which killed these ferments of disease, proving it to be so low as to be perfectly harmless to the wine. By the simple expedient of heating the wine to a temperature of fifty degrees Centigrade, he rendered it inalterable, and thus saved his country the loss of millions. He then went on to vinegar—vin aigre, acid wine—which he proved to be produced by a fermentation set up by a little fungus called Mycoderma aceti. Torula, in fact, converts the grape juice into alcohol, and Mycoderma aceti converts the alcohol into vinegar. Here also frequent failures occurred, and severe losses were sustained. Through the operation of unknown causes, the vinegar often became unfit for use, sometimes indeed falling into utter putridity. It had been long known that mere exposure to the air was sufficient to destroy it. Pasteur studied all these changes, traced them to their living causes, and showed that the permanent health of the vinegar was ensured by the destruction of this life. He passed from the diseases of vinegar to the study of a malady which a dozen years ago had all but ruined the silk husbandry of France. This plague, which received the name of pebrine, was the product of a parasite which first took possession of the intestinal canal of the silkworm, spread throughout its body, and filled the sack which ought to contain the viscid matter of the silk. Thus smitten, the worm would go automatically through the process of spinning when it had nothing to spin.
Pasteur followed this parasitic destroyer from year to year, and led by his singular power of combining facts with the logic of facts, discovered eventually the precise phase in the development of the insect when the disease which assailed it could with certainty be stamped out. Pasteur's devotion to this enquiry cost him dear. He restored to France her silk husbandry, rescued thousands of her population from ruin, set the looms of Italy also to work, but emerged from his labours with one of his sides permanently paralysed. His last investigation is embodied in a work entitled 'Studies on Beer,' in which he describes a method of rendering beer permanently unchangeable. That method is not so simple as those found effectual with wine and vinegar, but the principles which it involves are sure to receive extensive application at some future day.
There are other reflections connected with this subject which, even were they now passed over without remark, would sooner or later occur to every thoughtful mind in this assembly. I have spoken of the floating dust of the air, of the means of rendering it visible, and of the perfect immunity from putrefaction which accompanies the contact of germless infusions and moteless air. Consider the woes which these wafted particles, during historic and pre-historic ages, have inflicted on mankind; consider the loss of life in hospitals from putrefying wounds; consider the loss in places where there are plenty of wounds, but no hospitals, and in the ages before hospitals were anywhere founded; consider the slaughter which has hitherto followed that of the battlefield, when those bacterial destroyers are let loose, often producing a mortality far greater than that of the battle itself; add to this the other conception that in times of epidemic disease the self-same floating matter has frequently, if not always, mingled with it the special germs which produce the epidemic, being thus enabled to sow pestilence and death over nations and continents—consider all this, and you will come with me to the conclusion that all the havoc of war, ten times multiplied, would be evanescent if compared with the ravages due to atmospheric dust.
This preventible destruction is going on to-day, and it has been permitted to go on for ages, without a whisper of information regarding its cause being vouchsafed to the suffering sentient world. We have been scourged by invisible thongs, attacked from impenetrable ambuscades, and it is only to-day that the light of science is being let in upon the murderous dominion of our foes. Facts like these excite in me the thought that the rule and governance of this universe are different from what we in our youth supposed them to be—that the inscrutable Power, at once terrible and beneficent, in whom we live and move and have our being and our end, is to be propitiated by means different to those usually resorted to. The first requisite towards such propitiation is knowledge; the second is action, shaped and illuminated by that knowledge. Of knowledge we already see the dawn, which will open out by-and-by to perfect day; while the action which is to follow has its unfailing source and stimulus in the moral and emotional nature of man—in his desire for personal well-being, in his sense of duty, in his compassionate sympathy with the sufferings of his fellow-men. 'How often,' says Dr. William Budd in his celebrated work on Typhoid Fever,—' How often have I seen in past days, in the single narrow chamber of the day-labourer's cottage the father in the coffin, the mother in the sick-bed in muttering delirium, and nothing to relieve the desolation of the children but the devotion of some poor neighbour, who in too many cases paid the penalty of kindness in becoming herself the victim of the same disorder!' From the vantage ground already won I look forward with confident hope to the triumph of medical art over scenes of misery like that here described. The cause of the calamity being once clearly revealed, not only to the physician, but to the public, whose intelligent co-operation is absolutely essential to success, the final victory of humanity is only a question of time. We have already a foretaste of that victory in the triumphs f surgery as practised at your doors.
XIII. SPONTANEOUS GENERATION.
[Footnote: The Nineteenth Century, January 1878.]
WITHIN ten minutes' walk of a little cottage which I have recently built in the Alps, there is a small lake, fed by the melted snows of the upper mountains. During the early weeks of summer no trace of life is to be discerned in this water; but invariably towards the end of July, or the beginning of August, swarms of tailed organisms are seen enjoying the sun's warmth along the shallow margins of the lake, and rushing with audible patter into deeper water at the approach of danger. The origin of this periodic crowd of living things is by no means obvious. For years I had never noticed in the lake either an adult frog, or the smallest fragment of frog spawn; so that were I not otherwise informed, I should have found the conclusion of Mathiole a natural one, namely, that tadpoles are generated in lake mud by the vivifying action of the sun.
The checks which experience alone can furnish being absent, the spontaneous generation of creatures quite as high as the frog in the scale of being was assumed for ages to be a fact. Here, as elsewhere, the dominant mind of Aristotle stamped its notions on the world at large. For nearly twenty centuries after him men found no difficulty in believing in cases of spontaneous generation which would now be rejected as monstrous by the most fanatical supporter of the doctrine. Shell-fish of all kinds were considered to be without parental origin. Eels were supposed to spring spontaneously from the fat ooze of the Nile. Caterpillars were the spontaneous products of the leaves on which they fed; while winged insects, serpents, rats, and mice were all thought capable of being generated without sexual intervention.
The most copious source of this life without an ancestry was putrefying flesh; and, lacking the checks imposed by fuller investigation, the conclusion that flesh possesses and exerts this generative power is a natural one. I well remember when a child of ten or twelve seeing a joint of imperfectly salted beef cut into, and coils of maggots laid bare within the mass. Without a moment's hesitation I jumped to the conclusion that these maggots had been spontaneously generated in the meat. I had no knowledge which could qualify or oppose this conclusion, and for the time it was irresistible. The childhood of the individual typifies that of the race, and the belief here enunciated was that of the world for nearly two thousand years.
To the examination of this very point the celebrated Francesco Redi, physician to the Grand Dukes Ferdinand II. and Cosmo III. of Tuscany, and a member of the Academy del Cimento, addressed himself in 1668. He had seen the maggots of putrefying flesh, and reflected on their possible origin. But he was not content with mere reflection, nor with the theoretic guesswork which his predecessors had founded upon their imperfect observations. Watching meat during its passage from freshness to decay, prior to the appearance of maggots he invariably observed flies buzzing round the meat and frequently alighting on it. The maggots, he thought, might be the half-developed progeny of these flies.
The inductive guess precedes experiment, by which, however, it must be finally tested. Redi knew this, and acted accordingly. Placing fresh meat in a jar and covering the mouth with paper, he found that, though the meat putrefied in the ordinary way, it never bred maggots, while the same meat placed in open jars soon swarmed with these organisms. For the paper cover he then substituted fine gauze, through which the odour of the meat could rise. Over it the flies buzzed, and on it they laid their eggs, but, the meshes being too small to permit the eggs to fall through, no maggots were generated in the meat. They were, on the contrary, hatched upon the gauze. By a series of such experiments Redi destroyed the belief in the spontaneous generation of maggots in meat, and with it doubtless many related beliefs. The combat was continued by Vallisneri, Schwammerdam, and Reaumur, who succeeded in banishing the notion of spontaneous generation from the scientific minds of their day. Indeed, as regards such complex organisms as those which formed the subject of their researches, the notion was banished for ever.
But the discovery and improvement of the microscope, though giving a death-blow to much that had been previously written and believed regarding spontaneous generation, brought also into view a world of life formed of individuals so minute—so close as it seemed to the ultimate particles of matter—as to suggest an easy passage from atoms to organisms. Animal and vegetable infusions exposed to the air were found clouded and crowded with creatures far beyond the reach of unaided vision, but perfectly visible to an eye strengthened by the microscope. With reference to their origin these organisms were called 'Infusoria. Stagnant pools were found full of them, and the obvious difficulty of assigning a germinal origin to existences so minute furnished the precise condition necessary to give new play to the notion of heterogenesis or spontaneous generation.
The scientific world was soon divided into two hostile camps, the leaders of which only can here be briefly alluded to. On the one side, we have Buffon and Needham, the former postulating his 'organic molecules,' and the latter assuming the existence of a special 'vegetative force' which drew the molecules together so as to form living things. On the other side, we have the celebrated Abbe Lazzaro Spallanzani, who in 1777 published results counter to those announced by Needham in 1748, and obtained by methods so precise as to completely overthrow the convictions based upon the labours of his predecessor. Charging his flasks with organic infusions, he sealed their necks with the blowpipe, subjected them in this condition to the heat of boiling water, and subsequently exposed them to temperatures favourable to the development of life. The infusions continued unchanged for months, and when the flasks were subsequently opened no trace of life was found.
Here I may forestall matters so far as to say that the success of Spallanzani's experiments depended wholly on the locality in which he worked. The air around him must have been free from the more obdurate infusorial germs, for otherwise the process he followed would, as was long afterwards proved by Wyman, have infallibly yielded life. But his refutation of the doctrine of spontaneous generation is not the less valid on this account. Nor is it in any way upset by the fact, that others in repeating his experiments obtained life where he obtained none. Rather is the refutation strengthened by such differences. Given two experimenters equally skilful and equally careful, operating in different places on the same infusion, in the same way, and assuming the one to obtain life while the other fails to obtain it; then its well-established absence in the one case proves that some ingredient foreign to the infusion must be its cause in the other.
Spallanzani's sealed flasks contained but small quantities of air, and as oxygen was afterwards shown to be generally essential to life, it was thought that the absence of life observed by Spallanzani might have been due to the lack of this vitalising gas. To dissipate this doubt, Schulze in 1836 half filled a flask with distilled water to which animal and vegetable matters were added. First boiling his infusion to destroy whatever life it might contain, Schulze sucked daily into his flask air which had passed through a series of bulbs containing concentrated sulphuric acid, where all germs of life suspended in the air were supposed to be destroyed. From May to August this process was continued without any development of infusorial life.
Here again the success of Schulze was due to his working in comparatively pure air, but even in such air his experiment is a very risky one. Germs will pass unwetted and unscathed through sulphuric acid unless the most special care is taken to detain them. I have repeatedly failed, by repeating Schulze's experiments, to obtain his results. Others have failed likewise. The air passes in bubbles through the bulbs, and to render the method secure, the passage of the air must be so slow as to cause the whole of its floating matter, even to the very core of each bubble, to touch the surrounding liquid. But if this precaution be observed, water will be found quite as effectual as sulphuric acid. By the aid of an air-pump, in a highly infective atmosphere I have thus drawn air for weeks without intermission, first through bulbs containing water, and afterwards through vessels containing organic infusions, without any appearance of life. The germs were not killed by the water, but they were effectually intercepted, while the objection that the air had been injured by being brought into contact with strongly corrosive substances was avoided.
The brief paper of Schulze, published in Poggendorf's Annalen for 1836, was followed in 1837 by another short and pregnant communication by Schwann.
Redi, as we have seen, traced the maggots of putrefying flesh to the eggs of flies. But he did not and he could not know the meaning of putrefaction itself. He had not the instrumental means to inform him that it also is a phenomenon attendant on the development of life. This was first proved in the paper now alluded to. Schwann placed flesh in a flask filled to one-third of its capacity with water, sterilised the flask by boiling, and then supplied it for months with calcined air. Throughout this time there appeared no mould, no infusoria, no putrefaction; the flesh remained unaltered, while the liquid continued as clear as it was immediately after boiling. Schwann then varied his experimental argument, with no alteration in the result. His final conclusion was, that putrefaction is due to decompositions of organic matter attendant on the multiplication therein of minute organisms. These organisms were derived not from the air, but from something contained in the air, which was destroyed by a sufficiently high temperature. There never was a more determined opponent of the doctrine of spontaneous generation than Schwann, though a strange attempt was made a year and a half ago to enlist him and others equally opposed to it on the side of the doctrine.
The physical character of the agent which produces putrefaction was further revealed by Helmholtz in 1843. By means of a membrane, he separated a sterilised putrescible liquid from a putrefying one. The sterilised infusion remained perfectly intact. Hence it was not the liquid of the putrefying mass—for that could freely diffuse through the membrane—but something contained in the liquid, and which was stopped by the membrane, that caused the putrefaction. In 1854 Schroeder and von Dusch struck into this enquiry, which was subsequently followed up by Schroeder alone. These able experimenters employed plugs of cotton-wool to filter the air supplied to their infusions. Fed with such air, in the great majority of cases the putrescible liquids remained perfectly sweet after boiling. Milk formed a conspicuous exception to the general rule. It putrefied after boiling, though supplied with carefully filtered air. The researches of Schroeder bring us up to the year 1859.
In that year a book was published which seemed to overturn some of the best established facts of previous investigators. Its title was Heterogenie, and its author was F. A. Pouchet, Director of the Museum of Natural History at Rouen. Ardent, laborious, learned, full not only of scientific but of metaphysical fervour, he threw his whole energy into the enquiry. Never did a subject require the exercise of the cold critical faculty more than this one—calm study in the unravelling of complex phenomena, care in the preparation of experiments, care in their execution, skilful variation of conditions, and incessant questioning of results until repetition had placed them beyond doubt or question. To a man of Pouchet's temperament the subject was full of danger—danger not lessened by the theoretic bias with which he approached it. This is revealed by the opening words of his preface: 'Lorsque, par la meditation, it fut evident pour moi que la generation spontanee etait encore Fun des moyens qu'emploie la nature pour la reproduction des etres, je m'appliquai a decouvrir par quell procedes on pouvait parvenir a en mettre les phenomenes en evidence: It is needless to say that such a prepossession required a strong curb. Pouchet repeated the experiments of Schulze and Schwann with results diametrically opposed to theirs. He heaped experiment upon experiment and argument upon argument, spicing with the sarcasm of the advocate the logic of the man of science. In view of the multitudes required to produce the observed results, he ridiculed the assumption of atmospheric germs. This was one of his strongest points. 'Si les Proto-organismes que nous voyons pulluler partout et dans tout, avaient leurs germes dissembles dans l'atmosphere, dans la proportion mathematiquement indispensable a cet effet, l'air en serait totalement obscurci, car ill devraient s 'y trouver beaucoup plus serres que les globules d'eau qui forment, nos nuages epais. Il n'y a pas la la moindre exageration.' Recurring to the subject, he exclaims: 'L'air dans lequel noun vivons aurait presque la densite du fer.' There is often a virulent contagion in a confident tone, and this hardihood of argumentative assertion was sure to influence minds swayed not by knowledge, but by authority. Had Pouchet known that 'the blue ethereal sky' is formed of suspended particles, through which the sun freely shines, he would hardly have ventured upon this line of argument.
Pouchet's pursuit of this enquiry strengthened the conviction with which he began it, and landed him in downright credulity in the end. I do not question his ability as an observer, but the enquiry needed a disciplined experimenter. This latter implies not mere ability to look at things as Nature offers them to our inspection, but to force her to show herself under conditions prescribed by the experimenter himself. Here Pouchet lacked the necessary discipline. Yet the vigour of his onset raised clouds of doubt, which for a time obscured the whole field of enquiry. So difficult indeed did the subject seem, and so incapable of definite solution, that when Pasteur made known his intention to take it up, his friends Biot and Dumas expressed their regret, earnestly exhorting him to set a definite and rigid limit to the time he purposed spending in this apparently unprofitable field. [Footnote: 'Je ne conseillerais a personne,' said Dumas to his already famous pupil, 'de rester trop longtemps dans ce sujet.'—Annales de Chimie et de Physique, 1862, vol. lxiv. p. 22. Since that time the illustrious Perpetual Secretary of the Academy of Sciences has had good reason to revise this 'counsel.']
Schooled by his education as a chemist, and by special researches on the closely related question of fermentation, Pasteur took up this subject under particularly favourable conditions. His work and his culture had given strength and finish to his natural aptitudes. In 1862, accordingly, he published a paper 'On the Organised Corpuscles existing in the Atmosphere,' which must for ever remain classical. By the most ingenious devices he collected the floating particles of the air surrounding his laboratory in the Rue d'Ulm, and subjected them to microscopic examination. Many of them he found to be organised particles. Sowing them in sterilised infusions, he obtained abundant crops of microscopic organisms. By more refined methods he repeated and confirmed the experiments of Schwann, which had been contested by Pouchet, Montegazza, Joly, and Musset. He also confirmed the experiments of Schroeder and von Dusch. He showed that the cause which communicated life to his infusions was not uniformly diffused through the air; that there were aerial interspaces which possessed no power to generate life. Standing on the Mer de Glace, near the Montanvert, he snipped off the ends of a number of hermetically sealed flasks containing organic infusions. One out of twenty of the flasks thus supplied with glacier air showed signs of life afterwards, while eight out of twenty of the same infusions, supplied with the air of the plains, became crowded with life. He took his flasks into the caves under the Observatory of Paris, and found the still air in these caves devoid of generative power. These and other experiments, carried out with a severity perfectly obvious to the instructed scientific reader, and accompanied by a logic equally severe, restored the conviction that, even in these lower raches of the scale of being, life does not appear without the operation of antecedent life.
The main position of Pasteur has been strengthened by practical researches of the most momentous kind. He has applied the knowledge won from his enquiries to the preservation of wine and beer, to the manufacture of vinegar, to the staying of the plague which threatened utter destruction of the silk husbandry of France, and to the examination of other formidable diseases which assail the higher animals, including man. His relation to the improvements which Professor Lister has introduced into surgery, is shown by a letter quoted in his Etudes sur la Biere. [Footnote: 1 P. 43.] Professor Lister there expressly thanks Pasteur for having given him the only principle which could have conducted the antiseptic system to a successful issue. The strictures regarding defects of reasoning, to which we have been lately accustomed, throw abundant light upon their author, but no shade upon Pasteur.
Redi, as we have seen, proved the maggots of putrefying flesh to be derived from the eggs of flies; Schwann proved putrefaction itself to be the concomitant of far lower forms of life than those dealt with by Redi. Our knowledge here, as elsewhere in connection with this subject, has been vastly extended by Professor Cohn, of Breslau. 'No putrefaction,' he says, 'can occur in a nitrogenous substance if its bacteria be destroyed and new ones prevented from entering it. Putrefaction begins as soon as bacteria, even in the smallest numbers, are admitted either accidentally or purposely. It progresses in direct proportion to the multiplication of the bacteria, it is retarded when they exhibit low vitality, and is stopped by all influences which either hinder their development or kill them. All bactericidal media are therefore antiseptic and disinfecting.' [Footnote: In his last excellent memoir Cohn expresses himself thus: 'Wer noch heut die Faeulniss von einer spontanen Dissociation der Proteinmolecule, oder von einem unorganisirten Ferment ableitet, oder gar aus "Stickstoffsplittern" die Balken zur Stuetze seiner Faeulnisstheorie zu zimmern versucht, hat zuerst den Satz "keine Faeulniss ohne Bacterium Termo" zu widerlegen.']
It was these organisms acting in wound and abscess which so frequently converted our hospitals into charnel-houses, and it is their destruction by the antiseptic system that now renders justifiable operations which no surgeon would have attempted a few years ago. The gain is immense—to the practising surgeon as well as to the patient practised upon. Contrast the anxiety of never feeling sure whether the most brilliant operation might not be rendered nugatory by the access of a few particles of unseen hospital dust, with the comfort derived from the knowledge that all power of mischief on the part of such dust has been surely and certainly annihilated. But the action of living contagia extends beyond the domain of the surgeon. The power of reproduction and indefinite self-multiplication which is characteristic of living things, coupled with the undeviating fact of contagia 'breeding true,' has given strength and consistency to a belief long entertained by penetrating minds, that epidemic diseases generally are the concomitants of parasitic life. 'There begins to be faintly visible to us a vast and destructive laboratory of nature wherein the diseases which are most fatal to animal life, and the changes to which dead organic matter passively liable, appear bound together by what must least be called a very close analogy of causation.' [Footnote: Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council, 1874, p. 5.] According to this view, which, as I have said, is daily gaining converts, a contagious disease may be defined a conflict between the person smitten by it and a specific organism which multiplies at his expense, appropriating his air and moisture, disintegrating his tissues, or poisoning him by the decompositions incident to its growth.
During the ten years extending from 1859 to 1869, researches on radiant heat in its relations to the gaseous form of matter occupied my continual attention. When air was experimented on, I had to cleanse it effectually of floating matter, and while doing so I was surprised to notice that, at the ordinary rate of transfer, such matter passed freely through alkalis, acids, alcohols, and ethers. The eye being kept sensitive by darkness, a concentrated beam of light was found to be a most searching test for suspended matter both in water and in air—a test indeed indefinitely more searching and severe than that furnished by the most powerful microscope. With the aid of such a beam I examined air filtered by cotton-wool; air long kept free from agitation, so as to allow the floating matter to subside; calcined air, and air filtered by the deeper cells of the human lungs. In all cases the correspondence between my experiments and those of Schroeder, Pasteur, and Lister in regard to spontaneous generation was perfect. The air which they found inoperative was proved by the luminous beam to be optically pure and therefore germless. Having worked at the subject both by experiment and reflection, on Friday evening, January 21, 1870, I brought it before the members of the Royal Institution. Two or three months subsequently, for sufficient practical reasons, I ventured to direct public attention to the subject in a letter to the Times. Such was my first contact with this important question.
This letter, I believe, gave occasion for the first public utterance of Dr. Bastian in relation to this subject. He did me the honour to inform me, as others had informed Pasteur, that the subject 'pertains to the biologist and physician: He expressed 'amazement' at my reasoning, and warned me that before what I had done could be undone 'much irreparable mischief might be occasioned.' With far less preliminary experience to guide and warn him, the English heterogenist was far bolder than Pouchet in his experiments, and far more adventurous in his conclusions. With organic infusions he obtained the results of his celebrated predecessor, but he did much more—the atoms and molecules of inorganic liquids passing under his manipulation into those more 'complex chemical compounds,' which we dignify by calling them 'living organisms.' [Footnote: 'It is further held that bacteria or allied organisms are prone to be engendered as correlative products, coming into existence in the several fermentations, just as independently as other less complex chemical compounds.'—Bastian, Trans. of Pathological Society, vol. xxvi. 258.]
As regards the public who take an interest in such things, and apparently also as regards a large portion of the medical profession, our clever countryman succeeded in restoring the subject to a state of uncertainty similar to that which followed the publication of Pouchet's volume in 1859.
It is desirable that this uncertainty should be removed from all minds, and doubly desirable on practical grounds that it should be removed from the minds of medical men. In the present article, therefore, I propose discussing this question face to face with some eminent and fair-minded member of the medical profession who, as regards spontaneous generation, entertains views adverse to mine. Such a one it would be easy to name; but it is perhaps better to rest in the impersonal. I shall therefore simply call my proposed co-enquirer my friend. With him at my side, I shall endeavour, to the best of my ability, so to conduct this discussion that he who runs may read and that he who reads may understand.
Let us begin at the beginning. I ask my friend to step into the laboratory of the Royal Institution, where I place before him a basin of thin turnip slices barely covered with distilled water kept a temperature of 120 deg. Fahr. After digesting the turnip for four or five hours we pour off the liquid, boil it, filter it, and obtain an infusion as clear as filtered drinking water. We cool the infusion, test its specific gravity, and find it to be 1006 or higher—water being 1000. A number of small clean empty flasks, of the shape shown on the margin, are before us. One of them is slightly warmed with a spirit-lamp, and its open end is then dipped into the turnip infusion. The warmed glass is afterwards chilled, the air within the flasks cools, contracts, and is followed in its contraction by the infusion. Thus we get a small quantity of liquid into the flask. We now heat this liquid carefully. Steam is produced, which issues from the open neck, carrying the air of the flask along with it. After a few seconds' ebullition, the open neck is again Plunged into the infusion. The steam within the flask condenses, the liquid enters to supply its place, and in this way we fill our little flask to about four-fifths of its volume. This description is typical; we may thus fill a thousand flasks with a thousand different infusions.
I now ask my friend to notice a trough made of sheet copper, with two rows of handy little Bunsen burners underneath it. This trough, or bath, is nearly filled with oil; a piece of thin plank constitutes a kind of lid for the oil-bath. The wood is perforated with circular apertures wide enough to allow our small flask to pass through and plunge itself in the oil, which has been heated, say, to 250 deg. Fahr. Clasped all round by the hot liquid, the infusion in the flask rises to its boiling point, which is not sensibly over 212 deg. Fahr. Steam issues from the open neck of the flask, and the boiling is continued for five minutes. With a pair of small brass tongs, an assistant now seizes the neck near its junction with the flask, and partially lifts the latter out of the oil. The steam does not cease to issue, but its violence is abated. With a second pair of tongs held in one hand, the neck of the flask is seized close to its open end, while with the other hand a Bunsen's flame or an ordinary spirit flame is brought under the middle of the neck. The glass reddens, whitens, softens, and as it is gently drawn out the neck diminishes in diameter, until the canal is completely blocked up. The tongs with the fragment of severed neck being withdrawn, the flask, with its contents diminished by evaporation, is lifted from the oil-bath perfectly sealed hermetically.
Sixty such flasks filled, boiled, and sealed in the manner described, and containing strong infusions of beef, mutton, turnip, and cucumber, are carefully packed in sawdust, and transported to the Alps. Thither, to an elevation of about 7,000 feet above the sea, I invite my co-enquirer to accompany me. It is the month of July, and the weather is favourable to putrefaction. We open our box at the Bel-Alp, and count out fifty-four flasks, with their liquids as clear as filtered drinking water. In six flasks, however, the infusion is found muddy. We closely examine these, and discover that every one of them has had its fragile end broken off in the transit from London. Air has entered the flasks, and the observed muddiness is the result. My colleague knows as well as I do what this means. Examined with a pocket-lens, or even with a microscope of insufficient power, nothing is seen in the muddy liquid; but regarded with a magnifying power of a thousand diameters or so, what an astonishing appearance does it present! Leeuwenhoek estimated the population of a single drop of stagnant water at 500,000,000: probably the population of a drop of our turbid infusion would be this many times multiplied. The field of the microscope is crowded with organisms, some wabbling slowly, others shooting rapidly across the microscopic field. They dart hither and thither like a rain of minute projectiles; they pirouette and spin so quickly round, that the retention of the retinal impression transforms the little living rod into a twirling wheel. And yet the most celebrated naturalists tell us they are vegetables. From the rod-like shape which they so frequently assume, these organisms are called 'bacteria'—a term, be it here remarked, which covers organisms of very diverse kinds.
Has this multitudinous life been spontaneously generated in these six flasks, or is it the progeny of living germinal matter carried into the flasks by the entering air? If the infusions have a self-generative power, how are the sterility and consequent clearness of the fifty-four uninjured flasks to be accounted for? My colleague may urge—and fairly urge—that the assumption of germinal matter is by no means necessary; that the air itself may be the one thing needed to wake up the dormant infusions. We will examine this point immediately. But meanwhile I would remind him that I am working on the exact lines laid down by our most conspicuous heterogenist. He distinctly affirms that the withdrawal of the atmospheric pressure above the infusion favours the production of organisms; and he accounts for their absence in tins of preserved meat, fruit, and vegetables, by the hypothesis that fermentation has begun in such tins, that gases have been generated, the pressure of which has stifled the incipient life and stopped its further development. [Footnote: Beginnings of Life, vol. i.] This is the new theory of preserved meats. Had its author pierced a tin of preserved meat, fruit, or vegetable under water with the view of testing its truth, he would have found it erroneous. In well-preserved tins he would have found, not an outrush of gas, but an inrush of water. I have noticed this recently in tins which have lain perfectly good for sixty-three years in the Royal Institution. Modern tins, subjected to the same test, yielded the same result. From time to time, moreover, during the last two years, I have placed glass tubes, containing clear infusions of turnip, hay, beef, and mutton, in iron bottles, and subjected them to air-pressures varying from ten to twenty-seven atmospheres—pressures, it is needless to say, far more than sufficient to tear a preserved meat tin to shreds. After ten days these infusions were taken from their bottles rotten with putrefaction and teeming with life. Thus collapses an hypothesis which had no rational foundation, and which could never have seen the light had the slightest attempt been made to verify it.
Our fifty-four vacuous and pellucid flasks also declare against the heterogenist. We expose them to a warm Alpine sun by day, and at night we suspend them in a warm kitchen. Four of them have been accidentally broken; but at the end of a month we find the fifty remaining ones as clear as at the commencement. There is no sign of putrefaction or of life in any of them. We divide these flasks into two groups of twenty-three and twenty-seven respectively (an accident of counting rendered the division uneven). The question now is whether the admission of air can liberate any generative energy in the infusions. Our next experiment will answer this question and something more. We carry the flasks to a hayloft, and there, with a pair of steel pliers, snip off the sealed ends of the group of three-and-twenty. Each snipping off is of course followed by an inrush of air. We now carry our twenty-seven flasks, our pliers, and a spirit-lamp, to a ledge overlooking the Aletsch glacier, about 200 feet above the hayloft, from which ledge the mountain falls almost precipitously to the north-east for about a thousand feet. A gentle wind blows towards us from the north-east—that is, across the crests and snow-fields of the Oberland mountains. We are therefore bathed by air which must have been for a good while out of practical contact with either animal or vegetable life. I stand carefully to leeward of the flasks, for no dust or particle from my clothes or body must be blown towards them. An assistant ignites the spirit-lamp, into the flame of which I plunge the pliers, thereby destroying all attached germs or organisms. Then I snip off the sealed end of the flask. Prior to every snipping the same process is gone through, no flask being opened without the previous cleansing of the pliers by the flame. In this way we charge our seven-and-twenty flasks with clean vivifying mountain air.
We place the fifty flasks, with their necks open, over a kitchen stove, in a temperature varying from 50 deg. to 90 deg. Fahr, and in three days find twenty-one out of the twenty-three flasks opened on the hayloft invaded by organisms—two only of the group remaining free from them. After three weeks' exposure to precisely the same conditions, not one of the twenty-seven flasks opened in free air had given way. No germ from the kitchen air had ascended the narrow necks, the flasks being shaped to produce this result. They are still in the Alps, as clear, I doubt not, and as free from life as they were when sent off from London. [Footnote: An actual experiment made at the Bel Alp is here described.]
What is my colleague's conclusion from the experiment before us? Twenty-seven putrescible infusions, first in vacuo, and afterwards supplied with the most invigorating air, have shown no sign of putrefaction or of life. And as to the others, I almost shrink from asking him whether the hayloft has rendered them spontaneously generative. Is not the inference here imperative that it is not the air of the loft—which is connected through a constantly open door with the general atmosphere—but something contained in the air, that has produced the effects observed? What is this something? A sunbeam entering through a chink in the roof or wall, and traversing the air of the loft, would show it to be laden with suspended dust particles. Indeed the dust is distinctly visible in the diffused daylight. Can it have been the origin of the observed life? If so, are we not bound by all antecedent experience to regard these fruitful particles as the germs of the life observed?
The name of Baron Liebig has been constantly mixed up with these discussions. 'We have,' it is said, 'his authority for assuming that dead decaying matter can produce fermentation.' True, but with Liebig fermentation was by no means synonymous with life. It meant, according to him, the shaking asunder by chemical disturbance of unstable molecules. Does the life of our flasks, then, proceed from dead particles? If my co-enquirer should reply 'Yes,' then I would ask him, 'What warrant does Nature offer for such an assumption? Where, amid the multitude of vital phenomena in which her operations have been clearly traced, is the slightest countenance given to the notion that the sowing of dead particles can produce a living crop?' With regard to Baron Liebig, had he studied the revelations of the microscope in relation to these questions, a mind so penetrating could never have missed the significance of the facts revealed. He, however, neglected the microscope, and fell into error—but not into error so gross as that in support of which his authority has been invoked. Were he now alive, he would, I doubt not, repudiate the use often made of his name—Liebig's view of fermentation was at least a scientific one, founded on profound conceptions of molecular instability. But this view by no means involves the notion that the planting of dead particles—'Stickstoffsplittern' as Cohn contemptuously calls them—is followed by the sprouting of infusorial life.
Let us now return to London and fix our attention on the dust of its air. Suppose a room in which the housemaid has just finished her work to be completely closed, with the exception of an aperture in a shutter through which a sunbeam enters and crosses the room. The floating dust reveals the track of the light. Let a lens be placed in the aperture to condense the beam. Its parallel rays are now converged to a cone, at the apex of which the dust is raised to almost unbroken whiteness by the intensity of its illumination. Defended from all glare, the eye is peculiarly sensitive to this, scattered light. The floating dust of London rooms is organic, and may be burned without leaving visible residue. The action of a spirit-lamp flame upon the floating matter has been elsewhere thus described:
In a cylindrical beam which strongly illuminated the dust of our laboratory, I placed an ignited spirit-lamp. Mingling with the flame, and round its rim, were seen curious wreaths of darkness resembling an intensely black smoke. On placing the flame at some distance below the beam, the same dark masses stormed upwards. They were blacker than the blackest smoke ever seen issuing from the funnel of a steamer; and their resemblance to smoke was so perfect as to prompt the conclusion that the apparently pure flame of the alcohol-lamp required but a beam of sufficient intensity to reveal its clouds of liberated carbon.
But is the blackness smoke? This question presented itself in a moment, and was thus answered: A red-hot poker was placed underneath the beam; from it the black wreaths also ascended. A large hydrogen flame, which emits no smoke, was next employed, and it also produced with augmented copiousness those whirling masses of darkness. Smoke being out of the question, what is the blackness? It is simply that of stellar space; that is to say, blackness resulting from the absence from the track of the beam of all matter competent to scatter its light. When the flame was placed below the beam, the floating matter was destroyed in situ; and the heated air, freed from this matter, rose into the beam, jostled aside the illuminated particles, and substituted for their light the darkness due to its own perfect transparency. Nothing could more forcibly illustrate the invisibility of the agent which renders all things visible. The beam crossed, unseen, the black chasm formed by the transparent air, while, at both sides of the gap, the thick-strewn particles shone out like a luminous solid under the powerful illumination. [Footnote: See Fragment: 'On Dust and Disease', vol. i.]
Supposing an infusion intrinsically barren, but readily susceptible of putrefaction when exposed to common air, to be brought into contact with this unilluminable air, what would be the result? It would never putrefy. It might, however, be urged that the air is spoiled by its violent calcination. Oxygen passed through a spirit-lamp flame is, it may be thought, no longer the oxygen suitable for the development and maintenance of life. We have an easy escape from this difficulty, which is based, however, upon the unproved assumption that the air has been affected by the flame. Let a condensed beam be sent through a large flask or bolthead containing common air. The track of the beam is seen within the flask—the dust revealing the light, and the light revealing the dust. Cork the flask, stuff its neck with cotton-wool, or simply turn it mouth downwards and leave it undisturbed for a day or two. Examined afterwards with the luminous beam, no track is visible; the light passes through the flask as through a vacuum. The floating matter has abolished itself, being now attached to the interior surface of the flask.
Were it our object, as it will be subsequently, to effectually detain the dirt, we might coat that surface with some sticky substance. Here, then, without 'torturing' the air in any way, we have found a means of ridding it, or rather of enabling it to rid itself, of floating matter.
We have now to devise a means of testing the action of such spontaneously purified air upon putrescible infusions. Wooden chambers, or cases, are accordingly constructed, having glass fronts, side-windows, and back-doors. Through the bottoms of the chambers test-tubes pass air-tight; their open ends, for about one-fifth of the length of the tubes, being within the chambers. Provision is made for a free connection rough sinuous channels between the inner and the outer air. Through such channels, though open, no dust will reach the chamber. The top of each chamber is perforated by a circular hole two inches in diameter, closed air-tight by a sheet of India-rubber. This is pierced in the middle by a pin, and through the pin-hole is pushed the shank of a long pipette, ending above in a small funnel. The shank also passes through a stuffing-box of cotton-wool moistened with glycerine; so that, tightly clasped by the rubber and wool, the pipette is not likely in its motions up and down to carry any dust into the chamber. The annexed woodcut shows a chamber, with six test-tubes, its side-windows w w, its pipette p c, and its sinuous channels a b which connect the air of the chamber with the outer air.
The chamber is carefully closed and permitted to remain quiet for two or three days. Examined at the beginning by a beam sent through its windows, the air is found laden with floating matter, which in three days has wholly disappeared. To prevent its ever rising again, the internal surface of the chamber was at the outset coated with glycerine. The fresh but putrescible liquid is introduced into the six tubes in succession by means of the pipette. Permitted to remain without further precaution, every one of the tubes would putrefy and fill itself with life. The liquid has been in contact with the dust-laden air outside by which it has been infected, and the infection must be destroyed. This is done by plunging the six tubes into a bath of heated oil and boiling the infusion. The time requisite to destroy the infection depends wholly upon its nature. Two minutes' boiling suffices to destroy some contagia, whereas two hundred minutes' boiling fails to destroy others. After the infusion has been sterilised, the oil-bath is withdrawn, and the liquid, whose putrescibility has been in no way affected by the boiling, is abandoned to the air of the chamber.
With such chambers I tested, in the autumn and winter of 1875-6, infusions of the most various kinds, embracing natural animal liquids, the flesh and viscera of domestic animals, game, fish, and vegetables. More than fifty chambers, each with its series of infusions, were tested, many of them repeatedly. There was no shade of uncertainty in any of the results. In every instance we had, within the chamber, perfect limpidity and sweetness, which in some cases lasted for more than a year—without the chamber, with the same infusion, putridity and its characteristic smells. In no instance was the least countenance lent to the notion that an infusion deprived by heat of its inherent life, and placed in contact with air cleansed of its visibly suspended matter, has any power to generate life anew.
Remembering then the number and variety of the infusions employed, and the strictness of our adherence to the rules of preparation laid down by the heterogenists themselves; remembering that we have operated upon the very substances recommended by them as capable of furnishing, even in untrained hands, easy and decisive proofs of spontaneous generation, and that we have added to their substances many others of our own—if this pretended generative power were a reality, surely it must have manifested itself somewhere. Speaking roundly, I should say that in such closed chambers at least five hundred chances have been given to it, but it has nowhere appeared.
The argument is now to be clenched by an experiment which will remove every residue of doubt as to the ability of the infusions here employed to sustain life. We open the back doors of our sealed chambers, and permit the common air with its floating particles to have access to our tubes. For three months they have remained pellucid and sweet—flesh, fish, and vegetable extracts purer than ever cook manufactured. Three days' exposure to the dusty air suffices to render them muddy, fetid, and swarming with infusorial life. The liquids are thus proved, one and all, ready for putrefaction when the contaminating agent is applied. I invite my colleague to reflect on these facts. How will he account for the absolute immunity of a liquid exposed for months in a warm room to optically pure air, and its infallible putrefaction in a few days when exposed to dust-laden air? He must, I submit, bow to the conclusion that the dust-particles are the cause of putrefactive life. And unless he accepts the hypothesis that these particles, being dead in the air, are in the liquid miraculously kindled into living things, he must conclude that the life we have observed springs from germs or organisms diffused through the atmosphere.
The experiments with hermetically sealed flasks have reached the number of 940. A sample group of 130 of them were laid before the Royal Society on January 13, 1876. They were utterly free from life, having been completely sterilised by three minutes' boiling. Special care had been taken that the temperatures to which the flasks were exposed should include those previously alleged to be efficient. The conditions laid down by the heterogenist were accurately copied, but there was no corroboration of his results. Stress was then laid on the question of warmth, thirty degrees being suddenly added to the temperatures with which both of us had previously worked. Waiving all protest against the caprice thus manifested, I met this new requirement also. The sealed tubes, which had proved barren in the Royal Institution, were suspended in perforated boxes, and placed under the supervision of an intelligent assistant in the Turkish Bath in Jermyn Street. From two to six days had been allowed for the generation of organisms in hermetically sealed tubes. Mine remained in the washing-room of the bath for nine days. Thermometers placed in the boxes, and read off twice or three times a day, showed the temperature to vary from a minimum of 101 deg. to a maximum of 112 deg. Fahr. At the end of nine days the infusions were as clear as at the beginning. They were then removed to a warmer position. A temperature of 115 deg. had been mentioned as particularly favourable to spontaneous generation. For fourteen days the temperature of the Turkish Bath hovered about this point, falling once as low as 106 deg., reaching 116 deg. on three occasions, 118 deg. on one, and 119 deg. on two. The result was quite the same as that just recorded. The higher temperatures proved perfectly incompetent to develope life.
Taking the actual experiment we have made as a basis of calculation, if our 940 flasks were opened on the hayloft of the Bel Alp, 858 of them would become filled with organisms. The escape of the remaining 82 strengthens our case, proving as it does conclusively that not in the air, nor in the infusions, nor in anything continuous diffused through the air, but in discrete particles, suspended in the air and nourished by the infusions, we are to seek the cause of life. Our experiment proves these particles to be in some cases so far apart on the hayloft as to permit 10 per cent of our flasks to take in air without contracting contamination. A quarter of a century ago Pasteur proved the cause of 'so-called spontaneous generation' to be discontinuous. I have already referred to his observation that 12 out of 20 flasks opened on the plains escaped infection, while 19 out of 20 flasks opened on the Mer de Glace escaped. Our own experiment at the Bel Alp is a more emphatic instance of the same kind, 90 per cent of the flasks opened in the hayloft being smitten, while not one of those opened on the free mountain ledge was attacked.
The power of the air as regards putrefactive infection is incessantly changing through natural causes, and we are able to alter it at will. Of a number of flasks opened in 1876 in the laboratory of the Royal Institution, 42 per cent. were smitten, while 58 per cent. escaped. In 1877 the proportion in the same laboratory was 68 per cent. smitten, to 32 intact. The greater mortality, so to speak, of the infusions in 1877 was due to the presence of hay which diffused its germinal dust in the laboratory air, causing it to approximate as regards infective virulence to the air of the Alpine loft. I would ask my friend to bring his scientific penetration to bear upon all the foregoing facts. They do not prove spontaneous generation to be 'impossible.' My assertions, however, relate not to 'possibilities,' but to proofs, and the experiments just described do most 'distinctly prove the evidence on which the heterogenist relies to be written on waste paper.
My colleague will not, I am persuaded, dispute these results; but he may be disposed to urge that other able and honourable men working at the same subject have arrived at conclusions different from mine. Most freely granted; but let me here recur to the remarks already made in speaking of the experiments of Spallanzani, to the effect that the failure of others to confirm his results by no means upsets their evidence. To fix the ideas, let us suppose that my colleague comes to the laboratory of the Royal Institution, repeats there my experiments, and obtains confirmatory results; and that he then goes to University or King's College where, operating with the same infusions, he obtains contradictory results. Will he be disposed to conclude that the selfsame substance is barren in Albemarle Street and fruitful in Gower Street or the Strand? His Alpine experience has already made known to him the literally infinite differences existing between different samples of air as regards their capacity for putrefactive infection. And, possessing this knowledge, will he not substitute for the adventurous conclusion that an organic infusion is barren at one place and spontaneously generative at another, the more rational and obvious one that the atmospheres of the two localities which have had access to the infusion are infective in different degrees?
As regards workmanship, moreover, he will not fail to bear in mind, that fruitfulness may be due to errors of manipulation, while barrenness involves the presumption of correct experiment. It is only the careful worker that can secure the latter, while it is open to every novice to obtain the former. Barrenness is the result at which the conscientious experimenter, whatever his theoretic convictions may be, ought to aim, omitting no pains to secure it, and resorting only when there is no escape from it to the conclusion that the life observed comes from no source which correct experiment could neutralise or avoid.
Let us again take a definite case. Supposing my colleague to operate with the same apparent care on 100 infusions—or rather on 100 samples of the same infusion—and that 50 of them prove fruitful and 50 barren. Are we to say that the evidence for and against heterogeny is equally balanced? There are some who would not only say this, but who would treasure up the 50 fruitful flasks as 'positive' results, and lower the evidential value of the 50 barren flasks by labelling them 'negative' results. This, as shown by Dr. William Roberts, is an exact inversion of the true order of the terms positive and negative. [Footnote: See his truly philosophical remarks on this head in the 'British Medical Journal,' 1876, p. 282.] Not such, I trust, would be the course pursued by my friend. As regards the 50 fruitful flasks he would, I doubt not, repeat the experiment with redoubled care and scrutiny, and not by one repetition only, but by many, assure himself that he had not fallen into error. Such faithful scrutiny fully carried out would infallibly lead him to the conclusion that here, as in all other cases, the evidence in favour of spontaneous generation crumbles in the grasp of the competent enquirer.
The botanist knows that different seeds possess different powers of resistance to heat. [Footnote: I am indebted to Dr. Thiselton Dyer for various illustrations of such differences. It is, however, surprising that a subject of such high scientific importance should not have been more thoroughly explored. Here the scoundrels who deal in killed seeds might be able to add to our knowledge.] Some are killed by a momentary exposure to the boiling temperature, while others withstand it for several hours. Most of our ordinary seeds are rapidly killed, while Pouchet made known to the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1866, that certain seeds, which had been transported in fleeces of wool from Brazil, germinated after four hours' boiling. The germs of the air vary as much among themselves as the seeds of the botanist. In some localities the diffused germs are so tender that boiling for five minutes, or even less, would be sure to destroy them all; in other localities the diffused germs are so obstinate, that many hours' boiling would be requisite to deprive them of their power of germination. The absence or presence of a truss of desiccated hay would produce differences as great as those here described. The greatest endurance that I have ever observed—and I believe it is the greatest on record—was a case of survival after eight hours' boiling.
As regards their power of resisting heat, the infusorial germs of our atmosphere might be classified under the following and intermediate heads: Killed in five minutes; not killed in five minutes but killed in fifteen; not killed in fifteen minutes but killed in thirty; not killed in thirty minutes but killed in an hour; not killed in an hour but killed in two hours; not killed in two but killed in three hours; not killed in three but killed in four hours. I have had several cases of survival after four and five hours' boiling, some survivals after six, and one after eight hours' boiling. Thus far has experiment actually reached; but there is no valid warrant for fixing upon even eight hours as the extreme limit of vital resistance. Probably more extended researches (though mine have been very extensive) would reveal germs more obstinate still. It is also certain that we might begin earlier, and find germs which are destroyed by a temperature far below that of boiling water. In the presence of such facts, to speak of a death-point of bacteria and their germs would be unmeaning—but of this more anon.
'What present warrant,' it has been asked, 'is there for supposing that a naked, or almost naked, speck of protoplasm can withstand four, six, or eight hours' boiling?' Regarding naked specks of protoplasm I make no assertion. I know nothing about them, save as the creatures of fancy. But I do affirm, not as a 'supposition,' nor an 'assumption,' nor a 'probable guess,' nor as 'a wild hypothesis,' but as a matter of the most undoubted fact, that the spores of the hay bacillus, when thoroughly desiccated by age, have withstood the ordeal mentioned. And I further affirm that these obdurate germs, under the guidance of the knowledge that they are germs, can be destroyed by five minutes' boiling, or even less. This needs explanation. The finished bacterium perishes at a temperature far below that of boiling water, and it is fair to assume that the nearer the germ is to its final sensitive condition the more readily will it succumb to heat. Seeds soften before and during germination. This premised, the simple description of the following process will suffice to make its meaning understood.
An infusion infected with the most powerfully resistent germs, but otherwise protected against the floating matters of the air, is gradually raised to its boiling-point. Such germs as have reached the soft and plastic state immediately preceding their development into bacteria are thus destroyed. The infusion is then put aside in a warm room for ten or twelve hours. If for twenty-four, we might have the liquid charged with well-developed bacteria. To anticipate this, at the end of ten or twelve hours we raise the infusion a second time to the boiling temperature, which, as before, destroys all germs then approaching their point of final development. The infusion is again put aside for ten or twelve hours, and the process of heating is repeated. We thus kill the germs in order of their resistance, and finally kill the last of them. No infusion can withstand this process if it be repeated a sufficient number of times. Artichoke, cucumber, and turnip infusions, which had proved specially obstinate when infected with the germs of desiccated hay, were completely broken down by this method of discontinuous heating, three minutes being found sufficient to accomplish what three hundred minutes' continuous boiling failed to accomplish. I applied the method, moreover, to infusions of various kinds of hay, including those most tenacious of life. Not one of them bore the ordeal. These results were clearly foreseen before they were realised, so that the germ theory fulfils the test of every true theory, that test being the power of prevision.
When 'naked or almost naked specks of protoplasm' are spoken of, the imagination is drawn upon, not the objective truth of Nature. Such words sound like the words of knowledge where knowledge is really nil. The possibility of a 'thin covering' is conceded by those who speak in this way. Such a covering may, however, exercise a powerful protective influence. A thin pellicle of India-rubber, for example, surrounding a pea keeps it hard in boiling water for a time sufficient to reduce an uncovered pea to a pulp. The pellicle prevents imbibition, diffusion, and the consequent disintegration. A greasy or oily surface, or even the layer of air which clings to certain bodies, would act to some extent in a similar way. 'The singular resistance of green vegetables to sterilisation,' says Dr. William Roberts, 'appears to be due to some peculiarity of the surface, perhaps their smooth glistening epidermis which prevented complete wetting of their surfaces.' I pointed out in 1876 that the process by which an atmospheric germ is wetted would be an interesting subject of investigation. A dry microscope covering-glass may be caused to float on water for a year. A sewing-needle may be similarly kept floating, though its specific gravity is nearly eight times that of water.
Were it not for some specific relation between the matter of the germ and that of the liquid into which it falls, wetting would be simply impossible. Antecedent, to all development there must be an interchange of matter between the germ and its environment; and this interchange must obviously depend upon the relation of the germ to its encompassing liquid. Anything that hinders this interchange retards the destruction of the germ in boiling water. In my paper published in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1877, I add the following remark:
It is not difficult to see that the surface of a seed or germ may be so affected by desiccation and other causes as practically to prevent contact between it and the surrounding liquid. The body of a germ, moreover, may be so indurated by time and dryness as to resist powerfully the insinuation of water between its constituent molecules. It would be difficult to cause such a germ to imbibe the moisture necessary to produce the swelling and softening which precede its destruction in a liquid of high temperature.
However this may be—whatever be the state of the surface, or of the body, of the spores of Bacillus subtilis, they do as a matter of certainty resist, under some circumstances, exposure for hours to the heat of boiling water. No theoretic scepticism can successfully stand in the way of this fact, established as it has been by hundreds, if not thousands, of rigidly conducted experiments.
We have now to test one of the principal foundations of the doctrine of spontaneous generation as formulated in this country. With this view, I place before my friend and co-enquirer two liquids which have been kept for six months in one of our sealed chambers, exposed to optically pure air. The one is a mineral solution containing in proper proportions all the substances which enter into the composition of bacteria, the other is an infusion of turnip-it might be any one of a hundred other infusions, animal or vegetable. Both liquids are as clear as distilled water, and there is no trace of life in either of them. They are, in fact, completely sterilised. A mutton-chop, over which a little water has been poured to keep its juices from drying up, has lain for three days upon a plate in our warm room. It smells offensively. Placing a drop of the fetid mutton-juice under a microscope, it is found swarming with the bacteria of putrefaction. With a speck of the swarming liquid I inoculate the clear mineral solution and the clear turnip infusion, as a surgeon might inoculate an infant with vaccine lymph. In four-and-twenty hours the transparent liquids have become turbid throughout, and instead of being barren as at first they are teeming with life. The experiment may be repeated a thousand times with the same invariable result. To the naked eye the liquids at the beginning were alike, being both equally transparent-to the naked eye they are alike at the end, being both equally muddy. Instead of putrid mutton-juice, we might take as a source of infection any one of a hundred other putrid liquids, animal or vegetable. So long as the liquid contains living bacteria a speck of it communicated either to the clear mineral solution, or to the clear turnip infusion, produces in twenty-four hours the effect here described.
We now vary the experiment thus: Opening the back-door of another closed chamber which has contained for months the pure mineral solution and the pure turnip infusion side by side, I drop into each of them a small pinch of laboratory dust. The effect here is tardier than when the speck of putrid liquid was employed. In three days, however, after its infection with the dust, the turnip infusion is muddy, and swarming as before with bacteria. But what about the mineral solution which, in our first experiment, behaved in a manner undistinguishable from the turnip-juice? At the end of three days there is not a bacterium to be found in it. At the end of three weeks it is equally innocent of bacterial life. We may repeat the experiment with the solution and the infusion a hundred times with the same invariable result. Always in the case of the latter the sowing, of the atmospheric dust yields a crop of bacteria-never in the former does the dry germinal matter kindle into active life. [Footnote: This is the deportment of the mineral solution as described by others. My own experiments would lead me to say that the development of the bacteria, though exceedingly slow and difficult, is not impossible.] What is the inference which the reflecting mind must draw from this experiment? Is it not as clear as day that while both liquids are able to feed the bacteria and to enable them to increase and multiply, after they have been once, fully developed, only one of the liquids is able to develope into active bacteria the germinal dust of the air?
I invite my friend to reflect upon this conclusion he will, I think, see that there is no escape from it. He may, if he prefers, hold the opinion, which I consider erroneous, that bacteria exist in the air, not as germs but as desiccated organisms. The inference remains, that while the one liquid is able to force the passage from the inactive to the active state, the other is not.
But this is not at all the inference which has been drawn from experiments with the mineral solution.
Seeing its ability to nourish bacteria when once inoculated with the living active organism, and observing that no bacteria appeared in the solution after long exposure to the air, the inference was drawn that neither bacteria nor their germs existed in the air. Throughout Germany the ablest literature of the subject, even that opposed to heterogeny, is infected with this error; while heterogenists at home and abroad have based upon it a triumphant demonstration of, their doctrine. It is proved, they say, by the deportment of the mineral solution that neither bacteria nor their germs exist in the air; hence, if, on exposing a thoroughly sterilised turnip infusion to the air, bacteria appear, they must of necessity have been spontaneously generated. In the words of Dr. Bastian: 'We can only infer that whilst the boiled saline solution is quite incapable of engendering bacteria, such organisms are able to arise de novo in the boiled organic infusion.' [Footnote: 'Proceedings of the Royal Society,' vol. xxi. p. 130.]
I would ask my eminent colleague what he thinks of this reasoning now? The datum is—'A mineral solution exposed to common air does not develope bacteria;' the inference is—'Therefore if a turnip infusion similarly exposed develope bacteria, they must be spontaneously generated.' The inference, on the face of it, is an unwarranted one. But while as matter of logic it is inconclusive, as matter of fact it is chimerical. London air is as surely charged with the germs of bacteria as London chimneys are with smoke. The inference just referred to is completely disposed of by the simple question: 'Why, when your sterilised organic infusion is exposed to optically puree air, should this generation of life de novo utterly cease? Why should I be able to preserve my turnip-juice side by side with your saline solution for the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, in free connection with the general atmosphere, on the sole condition that the portion of that atmosphere in contact with the juice shall be visibly free from floating dust, while three days' exposure to that dust fills it with bacteria?' Am I over sanguine in hoping that as regards the argument here set forth he who runs may read, and he who reads may understand?
We now proceed to the calm and thorough consideration of another subject, more important if possible than the foregoing one, but like it somewhat difficult to seize by reason of the very opulence of the phraseology, logical and rhetorical, in which it has been set forth. The subject now to be considered relates to what has been called 'the death-point of bacteria.' Those who happen to be acquainted with the modern English literature of the question will remember how challenge after challenge has been issued to panspermatists in general, and to one or two home workers in particular, to come to close quarters on this cardinal point. It is obviously the stronghold of the English heterogenist. 'Water,' he says, 'is boiling merrily over a fire when some luckless person upsets the vessel so that the heated fluid exercises its scathing influence upon an uncovered portion of the body-hand, arm, or face. Here, at all events, there is no room for doubt. Boiling water unquestionably exercises a most pernicious and rapidly destructive effect upon the living matter of which we are composed.' [Footnote: Bastian, 'Evolution,' p. 133.] And lest it should be supposed that it is the high organisation which, in this case, renders the body susceptible to heat, he refers to the action of boiling water on the hen's egg to dissipate the notion. 'The conclusion,' he says, 'would seem to force itself upon us that there is something intrinsically deleterious in the action of boiling water upon living matter-whether this matter be of high or of low organisation.' [Footnote: Bastian, 'Evolution,' p. 135.] Again, at another place: 'It has been shown that the briefest exposure to the influence of boiling water is destructive of all living matter.' [Footnote: Ibid. p. 46]
The experiments already recorded plainly show that there is a marked difference between the dry bacterial matter of the air, and the wet, soft, and active bacteria of putrefying organic liquids. The one can be luxuriantly bred in the saline solution, the others refuse to be born there, while both of them are copiously developed in a sterilised turnip infusion. Inferences, as we have already seen, founded on the deportment of the one liquid cannot with the warrant of scientific logic be extended to the other. But this is exactly what the heterogenist has done, thus repeating as regards the death-point of bacteria the error into which he fell concerning the germs of the air. Let us boil our muddy mineral solution with its swarming bacteria for five minutes. In the soft succulent condition in which they exist in the solution not one of them escapes destruction. The same is true of the turnip infusion if it be inoculated with the living bacteria only-the aerial dust being carefully excluded. In both cases the dead organisms sink to the bottom of the liquid, and without re-inoculation no fresh organisms will arise. But the case is entirely different when we inoculate our turnip infusion with the desiccated germinal matter afloat in the air.
The 'death-point' of bacteria is the maximum temperature at which they can live, or the minimum temperature at which they cease to live. If, for example, they survive a temperature of 140 deg., and do not survive a temperature of 150 deg., the death-point lies somewhere between these two temperatures. Vaccine lymph, for example, is proved by Messrs. Braidwood and Vacher to be deprived of its power of infection by brief exposure to a temperature between 140 deg. and 150 deg. Fahr. This may be regarded as the death-point of the lymph, or rather of the particles diffused in the lymph, which constitute the real contagium. If no time, however, be named for the application of the heat, the term 'death-point' is a vague one. An infusion, for example, which will resist five hours' continuous exposure to the boiling temperature, will succumb to five days' exposure to a temperature 50 deg. Fahr. below that of boiling. The fully developed soft bacteria of putrefying liquids are not only killed by five minutes' boiling, but by less than a single minute's boiling—indeed, they are slain at about the same temperature as the vaccine. The same is true of the plastic, active bacteria of the turnip infusion [Footnote: In my paper in the 'Philosophical Transactions' for 1876, I pointed out and illustrated experimentally the difference, as regards rapidity of development, between water-germs and air-germs; the growth from the already softened water-germs proving to be practically as rapid as from developed bacteria. This preparedness of the germ for rapid development is associated with its preparedness for rapid destruction.]
But, instead of choosing a putrefying liquid for inoculation, let us prepare and employ our inoculating substance in the following simple way:-Let a small wisp of hay, desiccated by age, be washed in a glass of water, and let a perfectly sterilised turnip infusion be inoculated with the washing liquid. After three hours' continuous boiling the infusion thus infected will often develope luxuriant bacterial life. Precisely the same occurs if a turnip infusion be prepared in an atmosphere well charged with desiccated hay-germs. The infusion in this case infects itself without special inoculation, and its subsequent resistance to sterilisation is often very great. On the 1st of March last I purposely infected the air of our laboratory with the germinal dust of a sapless kind of hay mown in 1875. Ten groups of flasks were charged with turnip infusion prepared in the infected laboratory, and were afterwards subjected to the boiling temperature for periods varying from 15 minutes to 240 minutes. Out of the ten groups only one was sterilised—that, namely, which had been boiled for four hours. Every flask of the nine groups which had been boiled for 15, 30, 45, 60, 75, 90, 105, 120, and 180 minutes respectively, bred organisms afterwards. The same is true of other vegetable infusions. On the 28th of February last, for example, I boiled six flasks, containing cucumber infusion prepared in an infected atmosphere, for periods of 15, 30, 45, 60, 120, and 180 minutes. Every flask of the group subsequently developed organisms. On the same day, in the case of three flasks, the boiling was prolonged to 240, 300, and 360 minutes; and these three flasks were completely sterilised. Animal infusions, which under ordinary circumstances are rendered infallibly barren by five minutes' boiling, behave like the vegetable infusions in an atmosphere infected with hay-germs. On the 30th of March, for example, five flasks were charged with a clear infusion of beef and boiled for 60 minutes, 120 minutes, 180 minutes, 240 minutes, and 300 minutes respectively. Every one of them became subsequently crowded with organisms, and the same happened to a perfectly pellucid mutton infusion prepared at the same time. The cases are to be numbered by hundreds in which similar powers of resistance were manifested by infusions of the most diverse kinds.
In the presence of such facts I would ask my colleague whether it is necessary to dwell for a single instant on the one-sidedness of the evidence which led the conclusion that all living matter has its life destroyed by 'the briefest exposure to the influence of boiling water.' An infusion proved to be barren by six months' exposure to moteless air maintained at a temperature of 90 deg. Fahr, when inoculated with full-grown active bacteria, fills itself in two days with organisms so sensitive as to be killed by a few minutes' exposure to a temperature much below that of boiling water. But the extension of this result to the desiccated germinal matter of the air is without warrant or justification. This is obvious without going beyond the argument itself. But we have gone far beyond the argument, and proved by multiplied experiment the alleged destruction of all living matter by the briefest exposure to the influence of boiling water to be a defusion. The whole logical edifice raised upon this basis falls therefore to the ground; and the argument that bacteria and their germs, being destroyed at 140 deg., must, if they appear after exposure to 212 deg., be spontaneously generated, is, I trust, silenced for ever.
Through the precautions, variations, and repetitions observed and executed with the view of rendering its results secure, the separate vessels employed in this enquiry have mounted up in two years to nearly ten thousand.
Besides the philosophic interest attaching to the problem of life's origin, which will be always immense, there are the practical interests involved in the application of the doctrines here discussed to surgery and medicine. The antiseptic system, at which I have already glanced, illustrates the manner in which beneficent results of the gravest moment follow in the wake of clear theoretic insight. Surgery was once a noble art; it is now, as well, a noble science. Prior to the introduction of the antiseptic system, the thoughtful surgeon could not have failed to learn empirically that there was something in the air which often defeated the most consummate operative skill. That something the antiseptic treatment destroys or renders innocuous. At King's College Mr. Lister operates and dresses while a fine shower of mixed carbolic acid and water, produced in the simplest manner, falls upon the wound, the lint and gauze employed in the subsequent dressing being duly saturated with the antiseptic. At St. Bartholomew's Mr. Callender employs the dilute carbolic acid without the spray; but, as regards the real point aimed at—the preventing of the wound from becoming a nidus for the propagation of septic bacteria—the practice in both hospitals is the same. Commending itself as it does to the scientifically trained mind, the antiseptic system has struck deep root in Germany.
Had space allowed, it would have given me pleasure to point out the present position of the 'germ theory' in reference to the phenomena of infectious disease, distinguishing arguments based on analogy—which, however, are terribly strong—from those based on actual observation. I should have liked to follow up the account I have already given [Footnote: 'Fortnightly Review,' November 1876, see article 'Fermentation.'] of the truly excellent researches of a young and an unknown German physician named Koch, on splenic fever, by an account of what Pasteur has recently done with reference to the same subject. Here we have before us a living contagium of the most deadly power, which we can follow from the beginning to the end of its life cycle. [Footnote: Dallinger and Drysdale had previously shown what skill and patience can accomplish, by their admirable observations on the life history of the monads.] We find it in the blood or spleen of a smitten animal in the state say of short motionless rods. When these rods are placed in a nutritive liquid on the warm stage of the microscope, we soon see them lengthening into filaments which lie, in some cases, side by side, forming in others graceful loops, or becoming coiled into knots of a complexity not to be unravelled. We finally see those filaments resolving themselves into innumerable spores, each with death potentially housed within it, yet not to be distinguished microscopically from the harmless germs of Bacillus subtilis. The bacterium of splenic fever is called Bacillus Anthracis. This formidable organism was shown to me by M. Pasteur in Paris last July. His recent investigations regarding the part it plays pathologically certainly rank amongst the most remarkable labours of that remarkable man. Observer after observer had strayed and fallen in this land of pitfalls, a multitude of opposing conclusions and mutually destructive theories being the result. In association with a younger physiological colleague, M. Joubert, Pasteur struck in amidst the chaos, and soon reduced it to harmony. They proved, among other things, that in cases where previous observers in France had supposed themselves to be dealing solely with splenic fever, another equally virulent factor was simultaneously active. Splenic fever was often overmastered by septicaemia, and results due solely to the latter had been frequently made the ground of pathological inferences regarding the character and cause of the former. Combining duly the two factors, all the previous irregularities disappeared, every result obtained receiving the fullest explanation. On studying the account of this masterly investigation, the words wherewith Pasteur himself feelingly alludes to the difficulties and dangers of the experimenter's art came home to me with especial force: 'J'ai tant de fois eprouve que dans cet art difficile de l'experimentation les plus habiles bronchent a chaque pas, et que l'interpretation des faits nest pas moins perilleuse.' [Footnote: Comptes-Rendus,' lxxxiii. p. 177.]