Fragments of science, V. 1-2
by John Tyndall
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Production of Sky-blue by the Decomposition of Nitrite of Amyl.

When the quantity of nitrite vapour is considerable, and the light intense, the chemical action is exceedingly rapid, the particles precipitated being so large as to whiten the luminous beam. Not so, however, when a well-mixed and highly attenuated vapour fills the experimental tube. The effect now to be described was first obtained when the vapour of the nitrite was derived from a portion of its liquid which had been accidentally introduced into the passage through which the dry air flowed into the experimental tube.

In this case, the electric beam traversed the tube for several seconds before any action was visible. Decomposition then visibly commenced, and advanced slowly. When the light was very strong, the cloud appeared of a milky blue. When, on the contrary, the intensity was moderate, the blue was pure and deep. In Bruecke's important experiments on the blue of the sky and the morning and evening red, pure mastic is dissolved in alcohol, and then dropped into water well stirred. When the proportion of mastic to alcohol is correct, the resin is precipitated so finely as to elude the highest microscopic power. By reflected light, such a medium appears bluish, by transmitted light yellowish, which latter colour, by augmenting the quantity of the precipitate, can be caused to pass into orange or red.

But the development of colour in the attenuated nitrite-of-amyl vapour is doubtless more similar to what takes place in our atmosphere. The blue, moreover, is far purer and more sky-like than that obtained from Bruecke's turbid medium. Never, even in the skies of the Alps, have I seen a richer or a purer blue than that attainable by a suitable disposition of the light falling upon the precipitated vapour.

Iodide of Allyl.—Among the liquids hitherto subjected to the concentrated electric light, iodide of allyl, in point of rapidity and intensity of action, comes next to the nitrite of amyl. With the iodide I have employed both oxygen and hydrogen, as well as air, as a vehicle, and found the effect in all cases substantially the same. The cloud-column here was exquisitely beautiful. It revolved round the axis of the decomposing beam; it was nipped at certain places like an hour-glass, and round the two bells of the glass delicate cloud-filaments twisted themselves in spirals. It also folded itself into convolutions resembling those of shells. In certain conditions of the atmosphere in the Alps I have often observed clouds of a special pearly lustre; when hydrogen was made the vehicle of the iodide-of allyl vapour a similar lustre was most exquisitely shown. With a suitable disposition of the light, the purple hue of iodine-vapour came out very strongly in the tube.

The remark already made, as to the bearing of the decomposition of nitrite of amyl by light on the question of molecular absorption, applies here also; for were the absorption the work of the molecule as a whole, the iodine would not be dislodged from the allyl with which it is combined. The non-synchronism of iodine with the waves of obscure heat is illustrated by its marvellous transparency to such heat. May not its synchronism with the waves of light in the present instance be the cause of its divorce from the allyl?

Iodide of Isopropyl.—The action of light upon the vapour of this liquid is, at first, more languid than upon iodide of allyl; indeed many beautiful reactions may be overlooked, in consequence of this languor at the commencement. After some minutes' exposure, however, clouds begin to form, which grow in density and in beauty as the light continues to act. In every experiments hitherto made with this substance the column of cloud filling the experimental tube, was divided into two distinct parts near the middle of the tube. In one experiments a globe of cloud formed at the centre, from which, right and left, issued an axis uniting the globe with two adjacent cylinders. Both globe and cylinders were animated by a common motion of rotation. As the action continued, paroxysms of motion were manifested; the various parts of the cloud would rush through each other with sudden violence. During these motions beautiful and grotesque cloud-forms were developed. At some places the nebulous mass would become ribbed so as to resemble the graining of wood; a longitudinal motion would at times generate in it a series of curved, transverse bands, the retarding influence of the sides the tube causing an appearance resembling, on a small scale, the dirt-bands of the Mer de Glace. In the anterior portion of the tube those sudden commotion were most intense; here buds of cloud would sprout forth, and grow in a few seconds into perfect flower-like forms. The cloud of iodide of isopropyl had a character Of its own, and differed materially from all others that I had seen. A gorgeous mauve colour was observed in the last twelve inches of the tube; the vapour of iodine was present, and it may have been the sky-blue scattered by the precipitated particles which, mingling with the purple of the iodine, produced the mauve. As in all other cases here adduced, the effects were proved to be due to the light; they never occurred in darkness.

The forms assumed by some of those actinic clouds, as I propose to call them, in consequence of rotations and other motions, due to differences of temperature, are perfectly astounding. I content myself here with a meagre description of one more of them.

The tube being filled with the sensitive mixture, the beam was sent through it, the lens at the same time being so placed as to produce a cone of very intense light. Two minutes elapsed before anything was visible; but at the end of this time a faint bluish cloud appeared to hang itself on the most concentrated portion of the beam.

Soon afterwards a second cloud was formed five inches farther down the experimental tube. Both clouds were united by a slender cord of the same bluish tint as themselves.

As the action of the light continued, the first cloud gradually resolved itself into a series of parallel disks of exquisite delicacy, which rotated round an axis perpendicular to their surfaces, and finally blended to a screw surface with an inclined generatrix. This gradually changed into a filmy funnel, from the narrow end of which the 'cord' extended to the cloud in advance.

The latter also underwent slow but incessant modification. It first resolved itself into a series of strata resembling those of the electric discharge. After a little time, and through changes which it was difficult to follow, both clouds presented the appearance of a series of concentric funnels set one within the other, the interior ones being seen through the outer ones. Those of the distant cloud resembled claret-glasses in shape. As many as six funnels were thus concentrically set together, the two series being united by the delicate cord of cloud already referred to. Other cords and Blender tubes were afterwards formed, which coiled themselves in delicate spirals around the funnels.

Rendering the light along the connecting-cord more intense, it diminished in thickness and became whiter; this was a consequence of the enlargement of its particles. The cord finally disappeared, while the funnels melted into two ghost-like films, shaped like parasols. They were barely visible, being of an exceedingly delicate blue tint. They seemed woven of blue air. To compare them with cobweb or with gauze would be to liken them to something infinitely grosser than themselves.

In all cases a distant candle-flame, when looked at through the cloud, was sensibly undimmed.


[Footnote: In my 'Lectures on Light' (Longman), the polarisation of light will be found briefly, but, I trust, clearly explained.]


After the communication to the Royal Society of the foregoing brief account of a new Series of Chemical Reactions produced by Light, the experiments upon this subject were continued, the number of substances thus acted on being considerably increased.

I now, however, beg to direct attention to two questions glanced at incidentally in the preceding pages—the blue colour of the sky, and the polarisation of skylight. Reserving the historic treatment of the subject for a more fitting occasion, I would merely mention now that these questions constitute, in the opinion of our most eminent authorities, the two great standing enigmas of meteorology. Indeed it was the interest manifested in them by Sir John Herschel, in a letter of singular speculative power, addressed to myself, that caused me to enter upon the consideration of these questions so soon.

The apparatus with which I work consists, as already stated, of a glass tube about a yard in length, and from 2.5 to 3 inches internal diameter. The vapour to be examined is introduced into this tube in the manner already described, and upon it the condensed beam of the electric lamp is permitted to act, until the neutrality or the activity of the substance has been declared.

It has hitherto been my aim to render the chemical action of light upon vapours visible. For this purpose substances have been chosen, one at least of whose products of decomposition under light shall have a boiling-point so high, that as soon as the substance is formed it shall be precipitated. By graduating the quantity of the vapour, this precipitation may be rendered of any degree of fineness, forming particles distinguishable by the naked eye, or far beyond the reach of our highest microscopic powers. I have no reason to doubt that particles may be thus obtained, whose diameters constitute but a small fraction of the length of a wave of violet light.

In all cases when the vapours of the liquids employed are sufficiently attenuated, no matter what the liquid may be, the visible action commences with the formation of a blue cloud. But here I must guard myself against all misconception as to the use of this term. The 'cloud' here referred to is totally invisible in ordinary daylight. To be seen, it requires to be surrounded by darkness, it only being illuminated by a powerful beam of light. This blue cloud differs in many important particulars from the finest ordinary clouds, and might justly have assigned to it an intermediate position between such clouds and true vapour. With this explanation, the term 'cloud,' or 'incipient cloud,' or 'actinic cloud,' as I propose to employ it, cannot, I think, be misunderstood.

I had been endeavouring to decompose carbonic acid gas by light. A faint bluish cloud, due it may be, or it may not be, to the residue of some vapour previously employed, was formed in the experimental tube. On looking across this cloud through a Nicol's prism, the line of vision being horizontal, it was found that when the short diagonal of the prism was vertical, the quantity of light reaching the eye was greater than when the long diagonal was vertical. When a plate of tourmaline was held between the eye and the bluish cloud, the quantity of light reaching the eye when the axis of the prism was perpendicular to the axis of the illuminating beam, was greater than when the axes of the crystal and of the beam were parallel to each other.

This was the result all round the experimental tube. Causing the crystal of tourmaline to revolve round the tube, with its axis perpendicular to the illuminating beam, the quantity of light that reached the eye was in all its positions a maximum. When the crystallographic axis was parallel to the axis of the beam, the quantity of light transmitted by the crystal was a minimum.

From the illuminated bluish cloud, therefore, polarised light was discharged, the direction of maximum polarisation being at right angles to the illuminating beam; the plane of vibration of the polarised light was perpendicular to the beam. [Footnote: This is still an undecided point; but the probabilities are so much in its favour, and it is in my opinion so much preferable to have a physical image on which the mind can rest, that I do not hesitate to employ the phraseology in the text.]

Thin plates of selenite or of quartz, placed between the Nicol and the actinic cloud, displayed the colours of polarised light, these colours being most vivid when the line of vision was at right angles to the experimental tube. The plate of selenite usually employed was a circle, thinnest at the centre, and augmenting uniformly in thickness from the centre outwards. When placed in its proper position between the Nicol and the cloud, it exhibited a system of splendidly-coloured rings.

The cloud here referred to was the first operated upon in the manner described. It may, however, be greatly improved upon by the choice of proper substances, and by the application, in proper quantities, of the substances chosen. Benzol, bisulphide of carbon, nitrite of amyl, nitrite of butyl, iodide of allyl, iodide of isopropyl, and many other substances may be employed. I will take the nitrite of butyl as illustrative of the means adopted to secure the best result, with reference to the present question.

And here it may be mentioned that a vapour, which when alone, or mixed with air in the experimental tube, resists the action of light, or shows but a feeble result of this action, may, when placed in proximity with another gas or vapour, exhibit vigorous, if not violent action. The case is similar to that of carbonic acid gas, which, diffused in the atmosphere, resists the decomposing action of solar light, but when placed in contiguity with chlorophyl in the leaves of plants, has its molecules shaken asunder.

Dry air was permitted to bubble through the liquid nitrite of butyl, until the experimental tube, which had been previously exhausted, was filled with the mixed air and vapour. The visible action of light upon the mixture after fifteen minutes' exposure was slight. The tube was afterwards filled with half an atmosphere of the mixed air and vapour, and a second half-atmosphere of air which had been permitted to bubble through fresh commercial hydrochloric acid. On sending the beam through this mixture, the tube, for a moment, was optically empty. But the pause amounted only to a small fraction of a second, a dense cloud being immediately precipitated upon the beam.

This cloud began blue, but the advance to whiteness was so rapid as almost to justify the application of the term instantaneous. The dense cloud, looked at perpendicularly to its axis, showed scarcely any signs of polarisation. Looked at obliquely the polarisation was strong.

The experimental tube being again cleansed and exhausted, the mixed air and nitrite-of-butyl vapour was permitted to enter it until the associated mercury column was depressed 1/10 of an inch. In other words, the air and vapour, united, exercised a pressure not exceeding 1/300th of an atmosphere. Air, passed through a solution of hydrochloric acid, was then added, till the mercury column was depressed three inches. The condensed beam of the electric light was passed for some time through this mixture without revealing anything within the tube competent to scatter the light. Soon, however, a superbly blue cloud was formed along, the track of the beam, and it continued blue sufficiently long to permit of its thorough examination. The light discharged from the cloud, at right angles to its own length, was at first perfectly polarised. It could be totally quenched by the Nicol. By degrees the cloud became of whitish blue, and for a time the selenite colours, obtained by looking at it normally, were exceedingly brilliant. The direction of maximum polarisation was distinctly at right angles to the illuminating beam. This continued to be the case as long as the cloud maintained a decided blue colour, and even for some time after the blue had changed to whitish blue. But, as the light continued to act, the cloud became coarser and whiter, particularly at its centre, where it at length ceased to discharge polarised light in the direction of the perpendicular, while it continued to do so at both ends.

But the cloud which had thus ceased to polarise the light emitted normally, showed vivid selenite colours when looked at obliquely, proving that the direction of maximum polarisation changed with the texture of the cloud. This point shall receive further illustration subsequently.

A blue, equally rich and more durable, was obtained by employing the nitrite-of-butyl vapour in a still more attenuated condition. The instance here cited is representative. In all cases, and with all substances, the cloud formed at the commencement, when the precipitated particles are sufficiently fine, is blue, and it can be made to display a colour rivalling that of the purest Italian sky. In all cases, moreover, this fine blue cloud polarises perfectly the beam which illuminates it, the direction of polarisation enclosing an angle of 90 deg. with the axis of the illuminating beam.

It is exceedingly interesting to observe both the perfection and the decay of this polarisation. For ten or fifteen minutes after its first appearance the light from a vividly illuminated actinic cloud, looked at perpendicularly, is absolutely quenched by a Nicol's prism with its longer diagonal vertical. But as the sky-blue is gradually rendered impure by the growth of the particles—in other words, as real clouds begin to be formed—the polarisation begins to decay, a portion of the light passing through the prism in all its positions. It is worthy of note, that for some time after the cessation of perfect polarisation, the residual light which passes, when the Nicol is in its position of minimum transmission, is of a gorgeous blue, the whiter light of the cloud being extinguished. [Footnote: This shows that particles too large to polarise the blue, polarise perfectly light of lower refrangibility.] When the cloud texture has become sufficiently coarse to approximate to that of ordinary clouds, the rotation of the Nicol ceases to have any sensible effect on the quantity of light discharged normally.

The perfection of the polarisation, in a direction perpendicular to the illuminating beam, is also illustrated by the following experiments: A Nicol's prism, large enough to embrace the entire beam of the electric lamp, was placed between the lamp and the experimental tube. A few bubbles of air, carried through the liquid nitrite of butyl, were introduced into the tube, and they were followed by about three inches (measured by the mercurial gauge) of air which had passed through aqueous hydrochloric acid. Sending the polarised beam through the tube, I placed myself in front of it, my eye being on a level with its axis, my assistant occupying a similar position behind the tube. The short diagonal of the large Nicol was in the first instance vertical, the plane of vibration of the emergent beam being therefore also vertical. As the light continued to act, a superb blue cloud, visible to both my assistant and myself, was slowly formed. But this cloud, so deep and rich when looked at from the positions mentioned, utterly disappeared when looked at vertically downwards, or vertically upwards. Reflection from the cloud was not possible in these directions. When the large Nicol was slowly turned round its axis, the eye of the observer being on the level of the beam, and the line of vision perpendicular to it, entire extinction of the light emitted horizontally occurred when the longer diagonal of the large Nicol was vertical. But now a vivid blue cloud was seen when looked at downwards or upwards. This truly fine experiments, which I contemplated making on my own account, was first definitely suggested by a remark in a letter addressed to me by Professor Stokes.

As regards the polarisation of skylight, the greatest stumbling-block has hitherto been, that, in accordance with the law of Brewster, which makes the index of refraction the tangent of the polarising angle, the reflection which produces perfect polarisation would require to be made in air upon air; and indeed this led many of our most eminent men, Brewster himself among the number, to entertain the idea of aerial molecular reflection. [Footnote: 'The cause of the polarisation is evidently a reflection of the sun's light upon something. The question is on what? Were the angle of maximum polarisation 76 deg., we should look to water or ice as the reflecting body, however inconceivable the existence in a cloudless atmosphere and a hot summer's day of unevaporated molecules (particles?) of water. But though we were once of this opinion, careful observation has satisfied us that 90 deg., or thereabouts, is the correct angle, and that therefore whatever be the body on which the light has been reflected, if polarised by a single reflection, the polarising angle must be 45 deg., and the index of refraction, which is the tangent of that angle, unity; in other words, the reflection would require to be made in air upon air!' (Sir John Herschel, 'Meteorology,' par. 233.)

Any particles, if small enough, will produce both the colour and the polarisation of the sky. But is the existence of small water-particles on a hot summer's day in the higher regions of our atmosphere inconceivable? It is to be remembered that the oxygen and nitrogen of the air behave as a vacuum to radiant heat, the exceedingly attenuated vapour of the higher atmosphere being therefore in practical contact with the cold of space.]

I have, however, operated upon substances of widely different refractive indices, and therefore of very different polarising angles as ordinarily defined, but the polarisation of the beam, by the incipient cloud, has thus far proved itself to be absolutely independent of the polarising angle. The law of Brewster does not apply to matter in this condition, and it rests with the undulatory theory to explain why. Whenever the precipitated particles are sufficiently fine, no matter what the substance forming the particles may be, the direction of maximum polarisation is at right angles to the illuminating beam, the polarising angle for matter in this condition being invariably 45 deg..

Suppose our atmosphere surrounded by an envelope impervious to light, but with an aperture on the sunward side through which a parallel beam of solar light could enter and traverse the atmosphere. Surrounded by air not directly illuminated, the track of such a beam would resemble that of the parallel beam of the electric lamp through an incipient cloud. The sunbeam would be blue, and it would discharge laterally light in precisely the same condition as that discharged by the incipient cloud. In fact, the azure revealed by such a beam would be to all intents and purposes that which I have called a 'blue cloud.' Conversely our 'blue cloud' is, to all intents and purposes, an artificial sky.' [Footnote: The opinion of Sir John Herschel, connecting the polarisation and the blue colour of the sky, is verified by the foregoing results. 'The more the subject [the polarisation of skylight] is considered,' writes this eminent philosopher, 'the more it will be found beset with difficulties, and its explanation when arrived at will probably be found to carry with it that of the blue colour of the sky itself, and of the great quantity of light it actually does send down to us.' 'We may observe, too,' he adds, 'that it is only where the purity of the sky is most absolute that the polarisation is developed in its highest degree, and that where there is the slightest perceptible tendency to cirrus it is materially impaired.' This applies word for word to our 'incipient clouds.']

But, as regards the polarisation of the sky, we know that not only is the direction of maximum polarisation at right angles to the track of the solar beams, but that at certain angular distances, probably variable ones, from the sun, 'neutral points,' or points of no polarisation, exist, on both sides of which the planes of atmospheric polarisation are at right angles to each other. I have made various observations upon this subject which are reserved for the present; but, pending the more complete examination of the question, the following facts bearing upon it may be submitted.

The parallel beam employed in these experiments tracked its way through the laboratory air, exactly as sunbeams are seen to do in the dusty air of London. I have reason to believe that a great portion of the matter thus floating in the laboratory air consists of organic particles, which are capable of imparting a perceptibly bluish tint to the air. These also showed, though far less vividly, all the effects of polarisation obtained with the incipient clouds. The light discharged laterally from the track of the illuminating beam was polarised, though not perfectly, the direction of maximum polarisation being at right angles to the beam. At all points of the beam, moreover, throughout its entire length, the light emitted normally was in the same state of polarisation. Keeping the positions of the Nicol and the selenite constant, the same colours were observed throughout the entire beam, when the line of vision was perpendicular to its length.

The horizontal column of air, thus illuminated, was 18 feet long, and could therefore be looked at very obliquely. I placed myself near the end of the beam, as it issued from the electric lamp, and, looking through the Nicol and selenite more and more obliquely at the beam, observed the colours fading until they disappeared. Augmenting the obliquity the colours appeared once more, but they were now complementary to the former ones.

Hence this beam, like the sky, exhibited a neutral point, on opposite sides of which the light was polarised in planes at right angles to each other.

Thinking that the action observed in the laboratory might be caused, in some way, by the vaporous fumes diffused in its air, I had the light removed to a room at the top of the Royal Institution. The track of the beam was seen very finely in the air of this room, a length of 14 or 15 feet being attainable. This beam exhibited all the effects observed with the beam in the laboratory. Even the uncondensed electric light falling on the floating matter showed, though faintly, the effects of polarisation.

When the air was so sifted as to entirely remove the visible floating matter, it no longer exerted any sensible action upon the light, but behaved like a vacuum. The light is scattered and polarised by particles, not by molecules or atoms.

By operating upon the fumes of chloride of ammonium, the smoke of brown paper, and tobacco-smoke, I had varied and confirmed in many ways those experiments on neutral points, when my attention was drawn by Sir Charles Wheatstone to an important observation communicated to the Paris Academy in 1860 by Professor Govi, of Turin. [Footnote: Comptes Rendus,' tome li, pp. 360 and 669.] M. Govi had been led to examine a beam of light sent through a room in which were successively diffused the smoke of incense, and tobacco-smoke. His first brief communication stated the fact of polarisation by such smoke; but in his second communication he announced the discovery of a neutral point in the beam, at the opposite sides of which the light was polarised in planes at right angles to each other.

But unlike my observations on the laboratory air, and unlike the action of the sky, the direction of maximum polarisation in M. Govi's experiments enclosed a very small angle with the axis of the illuminating beam. The question was left in this condition, and I am not aware that M. Govi or any other investigator has pursued it further.

I had noticed, as before stated, that as the clouds formed in the experimental tube became denser, the polarisation of the light discharged at right angles to the beam became weaker, the direction of maximum polarisation becoming oblique to the beam. Experiments on the fumes of chloride of ammonium gave me also reason to suspect that the position of the neutral point was not constant, but that it varied with the density of the illuminated fumes.

The examination of these questions led to the following new and remarkable results: The laboratory being well filled with the fumes of incense, and sufficient time being allowed for their uniform diffusion, the electric beam was sent through the smoke. From the track of the beam polarised light was discharged; but the direction of maximum polarisation, instead of being perpendicular, now enclosed an angle of only 12 deg. or 13 deg. with the axis of the beam.

A neutral point, with complementary effects at opposite sides of it, was also exhibited by the beam. The angle enclosed by the axis of the beam, and a line drawn from the neutral point to the observer's eye, measured in the first instance 66 deg..

The windows of the laboratory were now opened for some minutes, a portion of the incense-smoke being permitted to escape. On again darkening the room and turning on the light, the line of vision to the neutral point was found to enclose, with the axis of the beam, an angle of 63 deg..

The windows were again opened for a few minutes, more of the smoke being permitted to escape. Measured as before, the angle referred to was found to be 54 deg..

This process was repeated three additional times the neutral point was found to recede lower and lower down the beam, the angle between a line drawn from the eye to the neutral point and the axis of the beam falling successively from 54 deg. to 49 deg., 43 deg. and 33 deg..

The distances, roughly measured, of the neutral point from the lamp, corresponding to the foregoing series of observations, were these:

1st observation 2 feet 2 inches.

2nd observation 2 feet 6 inches.

3rd observation 2 feet 10 inches.

4th observation 3 feet 2 inches.

5th observation 3 feet 7 inches.

6th observation 4 feet 6 inches.

At the end of this series of experiments the direction of maximum polarisation had again become normal to the beam.

The laboratory was next filled with the fumes of gunpowder. In five successive experiments, corresponding to five different densities of the gunpowder-smoke, the angles enclosed between the line of vision to the neutral point and the axis of the beam, were 63 degrees, 50 deg., 47 deg., 42 deg., and 38 deg. respectively.

After the clouds of gunpowder had cleared away, the laboratory was filled with the fumes of common resin, rendered so dense as to be very irritating to the lungs. The direction of maximum polarisation enclosed, in this case, an angle of 12 deg., or thereabouts, with the axis of the beam. Looked at, as in the former instances, from a position near the electric lamp, no neutral point was observed throughout the entire extent of the beam.

When this beam was looked at normally through the selenite and Nicol, the ring-system, though not brilliant, was distinct. Keeping the eye upon the plate of selenite, and the line of vision perpendicular, the windows were opened, the blinds remaining undrawn. The resinous fumes slowly diminished, and as they did so the ring-system became paler. It finally disappeared. Continuing to look in the same direction, the rings revived, but now the colours were complementary to the former ones. The neutral point had passed me in its motion down the beam, consequent upon the attenuation of the fumes of resin.

With the fumes of chloride of ammonium substantially the same results were obtained. Sufficient, however, has been here stated to illustrate the variability of the position of the neutral point. [Footnote: Brewster has proved the variability of the position of the neutral point for skylight with the sun's altitude, a result obviously connected with the foregoing experiments.]

By a puff of tobacco-smoke, or of condensed steam, blown into the illuminated beam, the brilliancy of the selenite colours may be greatly enhanced. But with different clouds two different effects are produced. Let the ring-system observed in the common air be brought to its maximum strength, and then let an attenuated cloud of chloride of ammonium be thrown into the beam at the point looked at; the ring system flashes out with augmented brilliancy, but the character of the polarisation remains unchanged. This is also the case when phosphorus, or sulphur, is burned underneath the beam, so as to cause the fine particles of phosphorus or of sulphur to rise into the light. With the sulphur-fumes the brilliancy of the colours is exceedingly intensified; but in none of these cases is there any change in the character of the polarisation.

But when a puff of the fumes of hydrochloric acid, hydriodic acid, or nitric acid is thrown into the beam, there is a complete reversal of the selenite tints. Each of these clouds twists the plane of polarisation 90 deg., causing the centre of the ring-system to change from black to white, and the rings themselves to emit their complementary colours. [Footnote: Sir John Herschel suggested to me that this change of the polarisation from positive to negative may indicate a change from polarisation by reflection to polarisation by refraction. This thought repeatedly occurred to me while looking at the effects; but it will require much following up before it emerges into clearness.]

Almost all liquids have motes in them sufficiently numerous to polarise sensibly the light, and very beautiful effects may be obtained by simple artificial devices. When, for example, a cell of distilled water is placed in front of the electric lamp, and a thin slice of the beam is permitted to pass through it, scarcely any polarised light is discharged, and scarcely any colour produced with a plate of selenite. But if a bit of soap be agitated in the water above the beam, the moment the infinitesimal particles reach the light the liquid sends forth laterally almost perfectly polarised light; and if the selenite be employed, vivid colours flash into existence. A still more brilliant result is obtained with mastic dissolved in a great excess of alcohol.

The selenite rings, in fact, constitute an extremely delicate test as to the collective quantity of individually invisible particles in a liquid. Commencing with distilled water, for example, a thick slice of light is necessary to make the polarisation of its suspended particles sensible. A much thinner slice suffices for common water; while, with Bruecke's precipitated mastic, a slice too thin to produce any sensible effect with most other liquids, suffices to bring out vividly the selenite colours.


The vision of an object always implies a differential action on the retina of the observer. The object is distinguished from surrounding space by its excess or defect of light in relation to that space. By altering the illumination, either of the object itself or of its environment, we alter the appearance of the object. Take the case of clouds floating in the atmosphere with patches of blue between them. Anything that changes the illumination of either alters the appearance of both, that appearance depending, as stated, upon differential action.

Now the light of the sky, being polarised, may, as the reader of the foregoing pages knows, be in great part quenched by a Nicol's prism, while the light of a common cloud, being unpolarised, cannot be thus extinguished. Hence the possibility of very remarkable variations, not only in the aspect of the firmament, which is really changed, but also in the aspect of the clouds, which have that firmament as a background. It is possible, for example, to choose clouds of such a depth of shade that when the Nicol quenches the light behind them, they shall vanish, being undistinguishable from the residual dull tint which outlives the extinction of the brilliancy of the sky. A cloud less deeply shaded, but still deep enough, when viewed with the naked eye, to appear dark on a bright ground, is suddenly changed to a white cloud on a dark ground by the quenching of the light behind it. When a reddish cloud at sunset chances to float in the region of maximum polarisation, the quenching of the surrounding light causes it to flash with a brighter crimson. Last Easter eve the Dartmoor sky, which had just been cleansed by a snow-storm, wore a very wild appearance. Round the horizon it was of steely brilliancy, while reddish cumuli and cirri floated southwards. When the sky was quenched behind them these floating masses seemed like dull embers suddenly blown upon; they brightened like a fire.

In the Alps we have the most magnificent examples of crimson clouds and snows, so that the effects just referred to may be here studied under the best possible conditions. On August 23, 1869, the evening Alpenglow was very fine, though it did not reach its maximum depth and splendour. The side of the Weisshorn seen from the Bel Alp, being turned from the sun, was tinted mauve; but I wished to observe one of the rose-coloured buttresses of the mountain. Such a one was visible from a point a few hundred feet above the hotel. The Matterhorn also, though for the most part in shade, had a crimson projection, while a deep ruddy red lingered along its western shoulder. Four distinct peaks and buttresses of the Dom, in addition to its dominant head—all covered with pure snow—were reddened by the light of sunset. The shoulder of the Alphubel was similarly coloured, while the great mass of the Fletschorn was all a-glow, and so was the snowy spine of the Monte Leone.

Looking at the Weisshorn through the Nicol, the glow of its protuberance was strong or weak according to the position of the prism. The summit also underwent striking changes. In one position of the prism it exhibited a pale white against a dark background; in the rectangular position it was a dark mauve against a light background. The red of the Matterhorn changed in a similar manner; but the whole mountain also passed through wonderful changes of definition. The air at the time was filled with a silvery haze, in which the Matterhorn almost disappeared. This could be wholly quenched by the Nicol, and then the mountain sprang forth with astonishing solidity and detachment from the surrounding air. The changes of the Dom were still more wonderful. A vast amounts of light could be removed from the sky behind it, for it occupied the position of maximum polarisation. By a little practice with the Nicol it was easy to render the extinction of the light, or its restoration, almost instantaneous. When the sky was quenched, the four minor peaks and buttresses, and the summit of the Dom, together with the shoulder of the Alphubel, glowed as if set suddenly on fire. This was immediately dimmed by turning the Nicol through an angle of 90 deg.. It was not the stoppage of the light of the sky behind the mountains alone which produced this startling effect; the air between them and me was highly opalescent, and the quenching of this intermediate glare augmented remarkably the distinctness of the mountains.

On the morning of August 24 similar effects were finely shown. At 10 A.M. all three mountains, the Dom, the Matterhorn, and the Weisshorn, were powerfully affected by the Nicol. But in this instance also, the line drawn to the Dom being very nearly perpendicular to the solar beams, the effects on this mountain were most striking. The grey summit of the Matterhorn, at the same time, could scarcely be distinguished from the opalescent haze around it; but when the Nicol quenched the haze, the summit became instantly isolated, and stood out in bold definition. It is to be remembered that in the production of these effects the only things changed are the sky behind, and the luminous haze in front of the mountains; that these are changed because the light emitted from the sky and from the haze is plane polarised light, and that the light from the snows and from the mountains, being sensibly unpolarised, is not directly affected by the Nicol. It will also be understood that it is not the interposition of the haze as an opaque body that renders the mountains indistinct, but that it is the light of the haze which dims and bewilders the eye, and thus weakens the definition of objects seen through it.

These results have a direct bearing upon what artists call 'aerial perspective.' As we look from the summit of Mont Blanc, or from a lower elevation, at the serried crowd of peaks, especially if the mountains be darkly coloured—covered with pines, for example—every peak and ridge is separated from the mountains behind it by a thin blue haze which renders the relations of the mountains as to distance unmistakable. When this haze is regarded through the Nicol perpendicular to the sun's rays, it is in many cases wholly quenched, because the light which it emits in this direction is wholly polarised. When this happens, aerial perspective is abolished, and mountains very differently distant appear to rise in the same vertical plane. Close to the Bel Alp for instance, is the gorge of the Massa, and beyond the gorge is a high ridge darkened by pines. This ridge may be projected upon the dark slopes at the opposite side of the Rhone valley, and between both we have the blue haze referred to, throwing the distant mountains far away. But at certain hours of the day the haze may be quenched, and then the Massa ridge and the mountains beyond the Rhone seem almost equally distant from the eye. The one appears, as it were, a vertical continuation of the other. The haze varies with the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere. At certain times and places it is almost as blue as the sky itself; but to see its colour, the attention must be withdrawn from the mountains and from the trees which cover them. In point of fact, the haze is a piece of more or less perfect sky; it is produced in the same manner, and is subject to the same laws, as the firmament itself. We live in the sky, not under it.

These points were further elucidated by the deportment of the selenite, plate, with which the readers of the foregoing pages are so well acquainted. On some of the sunny days of August the haze in the valley of the Rhone, as looked at from the Bel Alp, was very remarkable. Towards evening the sky above the mountains opposite to my place of observation yielded a series of the most splendidly-coloured iris-rings; but on lowering the selenite until it had the darkness of the pines at the opposite side of the Rhone 'valley, instead of the darkness of space, as a background, the colours were not much diminished in brilliancy. I should estimate the distance across the valley, as the crow flies, to the opposite mountain, at nine miles; so that a body of air of this thickness can, under favourable circumstances, produce chromatic effects of polarisation almost as vivid as those produced by the sky itself.

Again: the light of a landscape, as of most other things, consists of two parts; the one, coming purely from superficial reflection, is always of the same colour as the light which falls upon the landscape; the other part reaches us from a certain depth within the objects which compose the landscape, and it is this portion of the total light which gives these objects their distinctive colours. The white light of the sun enters all substances to a certain depth, and is partly ejected by internal reflection; each distinct substance absorbing and reflecting the light, in accordance with the laws of its own molecular constitution. Thus the solar light is sifted by the landscape, which appears in such colours and variations of colour as, after the sifting process, reach the observer's eye. Thus the bright green of grass, or the darker colour of the pine, never comes to us alone, but is always mingled with an amounts of light derived from superficial reflection. A certain hard brilliancy is conferred upon the woods and meadows by this superficially-reflected light. Under certain circumstances, it may be quenched by a Nicol's prism, and we then obtain the true colour of the grass and foliage. Trees and meadows, thus regarded, exhibit a richness and softness of tint which they never show as long as the superficial light is permitted to mingle with the true interior emission. The needles of the pines show this effect very well, large-leaved trees still better; while a glimmering field of maize exhibits the most extraordinary variations when looked at through the rotating Nicol.

Thoughts and questions like those here referred to took me, in August 1869, to the top of the Aletschhorn. The effects described in the foregoing paragraphs were for the most part reproduced on the summit of the mountain. I scanned the whole of the sky with my Nicol. Both alone, and in conjunction with the selenite, it pronounced the perpendicular to the solar beams to be the direction of maximum polarisation.

But at no portion of the firmament was the polarisation complete. The artificial sky produced in the experiments recorded in the preceding pages could, in this respect, be rendered far more perfect than the natural one; while the gorgeous 'residual blue' which makes its appearance when the polarisation of the artificial sky ceases to be perfect, was strongly contrasted with the lack-lustre hue which, in the case of the firmament, outlived the extinction of the brilliancy. With certain substances, however, artificially treated, this dull residue may also be obtained.

All along the arc from the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc the light of the sky immediately above the mountains was powerfully acted upon by the Nicol. In some cases the variations of intensity were astonishing. I have already said that a little practice enables the observer to shift the Nicol from one position to another so rapidly as to render the alternative extinction and restoration of the light immediate. When this was done along the arc to which I have referred, the alternations of light and darkness resembled the play of sheet lightning behind the mountains. There was an element of awe connected with the suddenness with which the mighty masses, ranged along the line referred to, changed their aspect and definition under the operation of the prism.


The physical reason of the blueness of both natural and artificial skies is, I trust, correctly given in the essay on the Scientific use of the Imagination published in the second volume of these Fragments.



[Footnote: A discourse delivered before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, January 21, 1870.]

Experiments on Dusty Air.

SOLAR light, in passing through a dark room, reveals its track by illuminating the dust floating in the air. 'The sun,' says Daniel Culverwell, 'discovers atomes, though they be invisible by candle-light, and makes them dance naked in his beams.'

In my researches on the decomposition of vapours by light, I was compelled to remove these 'atoms' and this dust. It was essential that the space containing the vapours should embrace no visible thing—that no substance capable of scattering light in the slightest sensible degree should, at the outset of an experiments, be found in the wide 'experimental tube' in which the vapour was enclosed.

For a long time I was troubled by the appearance there of floating matter, which, though invisible in diffuse daylight, was at once revealed by a powerfully condensed beam. Two U-tubes were placed in succession in the path of the air, before it entered the liquid whose vapour was to be carried into the experimental tube. One of the U-tubes contained fragments of marble wetted with a strong solution of caustic potash; the other, fragments of glass wetted with concentrated sulphuric acid which, while yielding no vapour of its own, powerfully absorbs the aqueous vapour of the air. [Footnote: The apparatus is figured in Fig. 3.] To my astonishment, the air of the Royal Institution, sent through these tubes at a rate sufficiently slow to dry it, and to remove its carbonic acid, carried into the experimental tube a considerable amounts of mechanically suspended matter, which was illuminated when the beam passed through the tube. The effect was substantially the same when the air was permitted to bubble through the liquid acid, and through the solution of potash.

I tried to intercept this floating matter in various ways; and on October 5, 1868, prior to sending the air through the drying apparatus, it was carefully permitted to pass over the tip of a spirit-lamp flame. The floating matter no longer appeared, having been burnt up by the flame. It was therefore organic matter. I was by no means prepared for this result; having previously thought that the dust of our air was, in great part, inorganic and non-combustible. [Footnote: According to an analysis kindly furnished to me by Dr. Percy, the dust collected from the walls of the British Museum contains fully 50 per cent. of inorganic matter. I have every confidence in the results of this distinguished chemist; they show that the floating dust of our rooms is, as it were, winnowed from the heavier matter. As bearing directly upon this point I may quote the following passage from Pasteur: 'Mais ici se presente une remarque: la poussiere que Pon trouve a la surface de tous les corps est soumise constamment a des courants d'air, qui doivent soulever des particules les plus legeres, au nombre desquelles se trouvent, sans doute, de preference les corpuscules organises, oeufs ou spores, moins lourds generalement que les particules minerales.']

I had constructed a small gas-furnace, now much employed by chemists, containing a platinum tube, which could be heated to vivid redness. [Footnote: Pasteur was, I believe, the first to employ such a tube.] The tube contained a roll of platinum gauze, which, while it permitted the air to pass through it, ensured the practical contact of the dust with the incandescent metal. The air of the laboratory was permitted to enter the experimental tube, sometimes through the cold, and sometimes through the heated, tube of platinum. In the first column of the following fragment of a long table the quantity of air operated on is expressed by the depression of the mercury gauge of the air-pump. In the second column the condition of the platinum tube is mentioned, and in the third the state of the air in the experimental tube.

Quantity of air State of platinum tube State of experimental tube

15 inches Cold Full of particles.

30 inches Red-hot Optically empty.

The phrase 'optically empty' shows that when the conditions of perfect combustion were present, the floating matter totally disappeared.


In a cylindrical beam, which strongly illuminated the dust of the 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 lead the most practised observer to conclude 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 was next employed, and it produced those whirling masses of darkness, far more copiously than either the spirit-flame or poker. Smoke was therefore out of the question. [Footnote: In none of the public rooms of the United States where I had the honour to lecture was this experiment made. The organic dust was too scanty. Certain rooms in England—the Brighton Pavilion, for example—also lack the necessary conditions.]

What, then, was the blackness? It was 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 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.

It is not, however, necessary to burn the particles to produce a stream of darkness. Without actual combustion, currents may be generated which shall displace the floating matter, and appear dark amid the surrounding brightness. I noticed this effect first on placing a red-hot copper ball below the beam, and permitting it to remain there until its temperature had fallen below that of boiling water. The dark currents, though much enfeebled, were still produced. They may also be produced by a flask filled with hot water.

To study this effect a platinum wire was stretched across the beam, the two ends of the wire being connected with the two poles of a voltaic battery. To regulate the strength of the current a rheostat was placed in the circuit. Beginning with a feeble current the temperature of the wire was gradually augmented; but long before it reached the heat of ignition, a flat stream of air rose from it, which when looked at edgeways appeared darker and sharper than one of the blackest lines of Fraunhofer in the purified spectrum. Right and left of this dark vertical band the floating matter rose upwards, bounding definitely the non-luminous stream of air. What is the explanation? Simply this: The hot wire rarefied the air in contact with it, but it did not equally lighten the floating matter. The convection current of pure air therefore passed upwards among the inert particles, dragging them after it right and left, but forming between them an impassable black partition. This elementary experiments enables us to render an account of the dark currents produced by bodies at a temperature below that of combustion.

But when the platinum wire is intensely heated, the floating matter is not only displaced, but destroyed. I stretched a wire about 4 inches long through the air of an ordinary glass shade resting on cotton-wool, which also surrounded the rim. The wire being raised to a white heat by an electric current, the air expanded, and some of it was forced through the cotton-wool. When the current was interrupted, and the air within the shade cooled, the returning air did not carry motes along with it, being filtered by the wool. At the beginning of this experiments the shade was charged with floating matter; at the end of half an hour it was optically empty.

On the wooden base of a cubical glass shade, a cubic foot in volume, upright supports were fixed, and from one support to the other 38 inches of platinum wire were stretched in four parallel lines. The ends of the platinum wire were soldered to two stout copper wires which passed through the base of the shade and could be connected with a battery. As in the last experiments the shade rested upon cotton-wool. A beam sent through the shade revealed the suspended matter. The platinum wire was then raised to whiteness. In five minutes there was a sensible diminution of the matter, and in ten minutes it was totally consumed.

Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbonic acid, so prepared as to exclude all floating particles, produce, when poured or blown into the beam, the darkness of stellar space. Coal-gas does the same. An ordinary glass shade, placed in the air with its mouth downwards, permits the track of the beam to be seen crossing it. When coal-gas or hydrogen is allowed to enter the shade by a tube reaching to its top, the gas gradually fills the shade from above downwards. As soon as it occupies the space crossed by the beam, the luminous track is abolished. Lifting the shade so as to bring the common boundary of gas and air above the beam, the track flashes forth. After the shade is full, if it be inverted, the pure gas passes upwards like a black smoke among the illuminated particles.

The Germ Theory of Contagious Disease.

There is no respite to our contact with the floating matter of the air; and the wonder is, not that we should suffer occasionally from its presence, but that so small a portion of it, and even that but rarely diffused over large areas, should appear to be deadly to man. And what is this portion? It was some time ago the current belief that epidemic diseases generally were propagated by a kind of malaria, which consisted of organic matter in a state of motor-decay; that when such matter was taken into the body through the lungs, skin, or stomach, it had the power of spreading there the destroying process by which itself had been assailed. Such a power was visibly exerted in the case of yeast. A little leaven was seen to leaven the whole lump—a mere speck of matter, in this supposed state of decomposition, being apparently competent to propagate indefinitely its own decay. Why should not a bit of rotten malaria act in a similar manner within the human frame? In 1836 a very wonderful reply was given to this question. In that year Cagniard de la Tour discovered the yeast-plant—a living organism, which when placed in a proper medium feeds, grows, and reproduces itself, and in this way carries on the process which we name fermentation. By this striking discovery fermentation was connected with organic growth.

Schwann, of Berlin, discovered the yeast-plant independently about the same time; and in February, 1837, he also announced the important result, that when a decoction of meat is effectually screened from ordinary air, and supplied solely with calcined air, putrefaction never sets in. Putrefaction, therefore, he affirmed to be caused, not by the air, but by something which could be destroyed by a sufficiently high temperature. The results of Schwann were confirmed by the independent experiments of Helmholtz, Ure, and Pasteur, while other methods, pursued by Schultze, and by Schroeder and Dusch, led to the same result.

But as regards fermentation, the minds of chemists, influenced probably by the great authority of Gay-Lussac, fell back upon the old notion of matter in a state of decay. It was not the living yeast-plant, but the dead or dying parts of it, which, assailed by oxygen, produced the fermentation. Pasteur, however, proved the real 'ferments,' mediate or immediate, to be organised beings which find in the reputed ferments their necessary food.

Side by side with these researches and discoveries, and fortified by them and others, has run the germ theory of epidemic disease. The notion was expressed by Kircher, and favoured by Linnaeus, that epidemic diseases may be due to germs which float in the atmosphere, enter the body, and produce disturbance by the development within the body of parasitic life. The strength of this theory consists in the perfect parallelism of the phenomena of contagious disease with those of life. As a planted acorn gives birth to an oak, competent to produce a whole crop of acorns, each gifted with the power of reproducing its parent tree; and as thus from a single seedling a whole forest may spring; so, it is contended, these epidemic diseases literally plant their seeds, grow, and shake abroad new germs, which, meeting in the human body their proper food and temperature, finally take possession of whole populations. There is nothing to my knowledge in pure chemistry which resembles the power of propagation and self-multiplication possessed by the matter which produces epidemic disease. If you sow wheat you do not get barley; if you sow small-pox you do not get scarlet-fever, but small-pox indefinitely multiplied, and nothing else. The matter of each contagious disease reproduces itself as rigidly as if it were (as Miss Nightingale puts it) dog or cat.

Parasitic Diseases of Silkworms. Pasteur's Researches.

It is admitted on all hands that some diseases are the product of parasitic growth. Both in man and in lower creatures, the existence of such diseases has been demonstrated. I am enabled to lay before you an account of an epidemic of this kind, thoroughly investigated and successfully combated by M. Pasteur. For fifteen years a plague had raged among the silkworms of France. They had sickened and died in multitudes, while those that succeeded in spinning their cocoons furnished only a fraction of the normal quantity of silk. In 1853 the silk culture of France produced a revenue of one hundred and thirty millions of francs. During the twenty previous years the revenue had doubled itself, and no doubt was entertained as to its further augmentation. The weight of the cocoons produced in 1853 was 26,000,000 kilogrammes; in 1865 it had fallen to 4,000,000, the fall entailing, in a single year, a loss of 100,000,000 francs.

The country chiefly smitten by this calamity happened to be that of the celebrated chemist Dumas, now perpetual secretary of the French Academy of Sciences. He turned to his friend, colleague, and pupil, Pasteur, and besought him, with an earnestness which the circumstances rendered almost personal, to undertake the investigation of the malady. Pasteur at this time had never seen a silkworm, and he urged his inexperience in reply to his friend. But Dumas knew too well the qualities needed for such an enquiry to accept Pasteur's reason for declining it. 'Je mets,' said he, 'un prix extreme a voir votre attention fixee sur la question qui interesse mon pauvre pays; la misere surpasse tout ce que vous pouvez imaginer.' Pamphlets about the plague had been showered upon the public, the monotony of waste paper being broken, at rare intervals, by a more or less useful publication. 'The Pharmacopoeia of the Silkworm,' wrote M. Cornalia in 1860, 'is now as complicated as that of man. Gases, liquids, and solids have been laid under contribution. From chlorine to sulphurous acid, from nitric acid to rum, from sugar to sulphate of quinine,—all has been invoked in behalf of this unhappy insect.' The helpless cultivators, moreover, welcomed with ready trustfulness every new remedy, if only pressed upon them with sufficient hardihood. It seemed impossible to diminish their blind confidence in their blind guides. In 1863 the French Minister of Agriculture signed an agreement to pay 500,000 francs for the use of a remedy, which its promoter declared to be infallible. It was tried in twelve different departments of France, and found perfectly useless. In no single instance was it successful. It was under these circumstances that M. Pasteur, yielding to the entreaties of his friend, betook himself to Alais in the beginning of June, 1865. As regards silk husbandry, this was the most important department in France, and it was the most sorely smitten by the plague.

The silkworm had been previously attacked by muscardine, a disease proved by Bassi to be caused by a vegetable parasite. This malady was propagated annually by the parasitic spores. Wafted by winds they often sowed the disease in places far removed from the centre of infection. Muscardine is now said to be very rare, a deadlier malady having taken its place. This new disease is characterised by the black spots which cover the silkworms; hence the name pebrine, first applied to the plague by M. de Quatrefages, and adopted by Pasteur. pebrine declares itself in the stunted and unequal growth of the worms, in the languor of their movements, in their fastidiousness as regards food, and in their premature death. The course of discovery as regards the epidemic is this: In 1849 Guerin Meneville noticed in the blood of silkworms vibratory corpuscles, which he supposed from their motions to be endowed with independent life. Filippi, however, showed that the motion of the corpuscles was the well-known Brownian motion; but he committed the error of supposing the corpuscles to be normal to the life of the insect. Possessing the power of indefinite self-multiplication, they are really the cause of its mortality—the form and substance of its disease. This was well described by Cornalia; while Lebert and Frey subsequently found the corpuscles not only in the blood, but in all the tissues of the insect. Osimo, in 1857, discovered them in the eggs; and on this observation Vittadiani founded, in 1859, a practical method of distinguishing healthy from diseased eggs. The test often proved fallacious, and it was never extensively applied.

These living corpuscles take possession of the intestinal canal, and spread thence throughout the body of the worm. They fill the silk cavities, the stricken insect often going automatically through the motions of spinning, without any material to work upon. Its organs, instead of being filled with the clear viscous liquid of the silk, are packed to distension by the corpuscles. On this feature of the plague Pasteur fixed his entire attention. The cycle of the silkworm's life is briefly this: From the fertile egg comes the little worm, which grows, and casts its skin. This process of moulting is repeated two or three times at intervals during the life of the insect. After the last moulting the worm climbs the brambles placed to receive it, and spins among them its cocoon. It passes thus into a chrysalis; the chrysalis becomes a moth, and the moth, when liberated, lays the eggs which form the starting-point of a new cycle. Now Pasteur proved that the plague-corpuscles might be incipient in the egg, and escape detection; they might also be germinal in the worm, and still baffle the microscope. But as the worm grows, the corpuscles grow also, becoming larger and more defined. In the aged chrysalis they are more pronounced than in the worm; while in the moth, if either the egg or the worm from which it comes should have been at all stricken, the corpuscles infallibly appear, offering no difficulty of detection. This was the first great point made out in 1865 by Pasteur. The Italian naturalists, as aforesaid, recommended the examination of the eggs before risking their incubation. Pasteur showed that both eggs and worms might be smitten, and still pass muster, the culture of such eggs or such worms being sure to entail disaster. He made the moth his starting-point in seeking to regenerate the race.

Pasteur made his first communication on this subject to the Academy of Sciences in September, 1865. It raised a cloud of criticism. Here, forsooth, was a chemist rashly quitting his proper metier and presuming to lay down the law for the physician and biologist on a subject which was eminently theirs. 'On trouva etrange que je fusse si peu au courant de la question; on m'opposa des travaux qui avaient paru depuis longtemps en Italie, dont les resultats montraient l'inutilite de mes efforts, et l'impossibilite d'arriver a un resultat pratique dans la direction que je m'etais engage. Que mon ignorance fut grande au sujet des recherches sans nombre qui avaient paru depuis quinze annees.' Pasteur heard the buzz, but he continued his work. In choosing the eggs intended for incubation, the cultivators selected those produced in the successful 'educations' of the year. But they could not understand the frequent and often disastrous failures of their selected eggs; for they did not know, and nobody prior to Pasteur was competent to tell them, that the finest cocoons may envelope doomed corpusculous moths. It was not, however, easy to make the cultivators accept new guidance. To strike their imagination, and if possible determine their practice, Pasteur hit upon the expedient of prophecy. In 1866 he inspected, at St. Hippolyte-du-Fort, fourteen different parcels of eggs intended for incubation. Having examined a sufficient number of the moths which produced these eggs, he wrote out the prediction of what would occur in 1867, and placed the prophecy as a sealed letter in the hands of the Mayor of St. Hippolyte.

In 1867 the cultivators communicated to the mayor their results. The letter of Pasteur was then opened and read, and it was found that in twelve out of fourteen cases there was absolute conformity between his prediction and the observed facts. Many of the groups had perished totally; the others had perished almost totally; and this was the prediction of Pasteur. In two out of the fourteen cases, instead of the prophesied destruction, half an average crop was obtained. Now, the parcels of eggs here referred to were considered healthy by their owners. They had been hatched and tended in the firm hope that the labour expended on them would prove remunerative. The application of the moth-test for a few minutes in 1866, would have saved the labour and averted the disappointment. Two additional parcels of eggs were at the same time submitted to Pasteur. He pronounced them healthy; and his words were verified by the production of an excellent crop. Other cases of prophecy still more remarkable, because more circumstantial, are recorded in Pasteur's work.

Pasteur subjected the development of the corpuscles to a searching investigation, and followed out with admirable skill and completeness the various modes by which the plague was propagated. From moths perfectly free from corpuscles he obtained healthy worms, and selecting 10, 20, 30, 50, as the case might be, he introduced into the worms the corpusculous matter. It was first permitted to accompany the food. Let its take a single example out of many. Rubbing up a small corpusculous worm in water, he smeared the mixture over the mulberry-leaves. Assuring himself that the leaves had been eaten, he watched the consequences from day to day. Side by side with the infected worms he reared their fellows, keeping them as much as possible out of the way of infection. These constituted his 'lot temoin,'—his standard of comparison. On April 16, 1868, he thus infected thirty worms. Up to the 23rd they remained quite well. On the 25th they seemed well, but on that day corpuscles were found in the intestines of two of them. On the 27th, or eleven days after the infected repast, two fresh worms were examined, and not only was the intestinal canal found in each case invaded, but the silk organ itself was charged with corpuscles. On the 28th the twenty-six remaining worms were covered by the black spots of pebrine. On the 30th the difference of size between the infected and non-infected worms was very striking, the sick worms being not more than two-thirds of the bulk of the healthy ones. On May 2 a worm which had just finished its fourth moulting was examined. Its whole body was so filled with the parasite as to excite astonishment that it could live.

The disease advanced, the worms died and were examined, and on May 11 only six out of the thirty remained. They were the strongest of the lot, but on being searched they also were found charged with corpuscles. Not one of the thirty worms had escaped; a single meal had poisoned them all. The standard lot, on the contrary, spun their fine cocoons, two only of their moths being proved to contain any trace of the parasite, which had doubtless been introduced during the rearing of the worms.

As his acquaintance with the subject increased, Pasteur's desire for precision augmented, and he finally counted the growing number of corpuscles seen in the field of his microscope from day to day. After a contagious repast the number of worms containing the parasite gradually augmented until finally it became cent. per cent. The number of corpuscles would at the same time rise from 0 to 1, to 10, to 100, and sometimes even to 1,000 or 1,500 in the field of his microscope. He then varied the mode of infection. He inoculated healthy worms with the corpusculous matter, and watched the consequent growth of the disease. He proved that the worms inoculate each other by the infliction of visible wounds with their claws. In various cases he washed the claws, and found corpuscles in the water. He demonstrated the spread of infection by the simple association of healthy and diseased worms. By their claws and their dejections, the diseased worms spread infection. It was no hypothetical infected medium—no problematical pythogenic gas—that killed the worms, but a definite organism. The question of infection at a distance was also examined, and its existence demonstrated. As might be expected from Pasteur's antecedents, the investigation was exhaustive, the skill and beauty of his manipulation finding fitting correlatives in the strength and clearness of his thought.

The following quotation from Pasteur's work clearly shows the relation in which his researches stand to the important question on which he was engaged:


Place (he says) the most skilful educator, even the most expert microscopist, in presence of large educations which present the symptoms described in our experiments; his judgment will necessarily be erroneous if he confines himself to the knowledge which preceded my researches. The worms will not present to him the slightest spot of pebrine; the microscope will not reveal the existence of corpuscles; the mortality of the worms will be null or insignificant; and the cocoons leave nothing to be desired. Our observer would, therefore, conclude without hesitation that the eggs produced will be good for incubation. The truth is, on the contrary, that all the worms of these fine crops have been poisoned; that from the beginning they carried in them the germ of the malady; ready to multiply itself beyond measure in the chrysalides and the moths, thence to pass into the eggs and smite with sterility the next generation. And what is the first cause of the evil concealed under so deceitful an exterior? In our experiments we can, so to speak, touch it with our fingers. It is entirely the effect of a single corpusculous repast; an effect more or less prompt according to the epoch of life of the worm that has eaten the poisoned food.


Pasteur describes in detail his method of securing healthy eggs. It is nothing less than a mode of restoring to France her ancient silk husbandry. The justification of his work is to be found in the reports which reached him of the application and the unparalleled success of his method, while editing his researches for final publication. In both France and Italy his method has been pursued with the most surprising results. But it was an up-hill fight which led to this triumph.

'Ever,' he says, 'since the commencement of these researches, I have been exposed to the most obstinate and unjust contradictions; but I have made it a duty to leave no trace of these conflicts in this book.' And in reference to parasitic diseases, generally, he uses the following weighty words: 'Il est au pouvoir de l'homme de faire disparaitre de la surface du globe les maladies parasitaires, si, comme c'est ma conviction, la doctrine des generations spontanees est une chimere.'

Pasteur dwells upon the ease with which an island like Corsica might be absolutely isolated from the silkworm epidemic. And with regard to other epidemics, Mr. Simon describes an extraordinary case of insular exemption, for the ten years extending from 1851 to 1860. Of the 627 registration districts of England, one only had an entire escape from diseases which, in whole or in part, were prevalent in all the others: 'In all the ten years it had not a single death by measles, nor a single death by small-pox, nor a single death by scarlet-fever. And why? Not because of its general sanitary merits, for it had an average amounts of other evidence of unhealthiness. Doubtless, the reason of its escape was that it was insular. It was the district of the Scilly Isles; to which it was most improbable that any febrile contagion should come from without. And its escape is an approximative proof that, at least for those ten years, no contagium of measles, nor any contagium of scarlet-fever, nor any contagium of smallpox had arisen spontaneously within its limits.' It may be added that there were only seven districts in England in which no death from diphtheria occurred, and that, of those seven districts, the district of the Scilly Isles was one.

A second parasitic disease of silkworms, called in France la Flacherie, co-existent with pebrine, but quite distinct from it, has also been investigated by Pasteur. Enough, however, has been said to send the reader interested in these questions to the original volumes for further information. To one important practical point M. Pasteur, in a letter to myself, directs attention:


Permettez-moi de terminer ces quelques lignes que je dois dicter, vaincu que je suis par la maladie, en vous faisant observer que vous rendriez service aux Colonies de la Grande-Bretagne en repandant la connaissance de ce livre, et des principes que j'etablis touchant la maladie des vers a soie. Beaucoup de ces colonies pourraient cultiver le murier avec succes, et, en jetant les yeux sur mon ouvrage, vous vous convaincrez aisement qu'il est facile aujourd'hui, nonseulement d'eloigner la maladie regnante, mais en outre de donner aux recoltes de la soie une prosperite qu'elles n'ont jamais eue.

Origin and Propagation of Contagious Matter.

Prior to Pasteur, the most diverse and contradictory opinions were entertained as to the contagious character of pebrine; some stoutly affirmed it, others as stoutly denied it. But on one point all were agreed. I They believed in the existence of a deleterious medium, rendered epidemic by some occult and mysterious influence, to which was attributed the cause of the disease.' Those acquainted with our medical literature will not fail to observe an instructive analogy here. We have on the one side accomplished writers ascribing epidemic diseases to 'deleterious media' which arise spontaneously in crowded hospitals and ill-smelling drains. According to them, the contagia of epidemic disease are formed de novo in a putrescent atmosphere. On the other side we have writers, clear, vigorous, with well-defined ideas and methods of research, contending that the matter which produces epidemic disease comes always from a parent stock. It behaves as germinal matter, and they do not hesitate to regard it as such. They no more believe in the spontaneous generation of such diseases, than they do in the spontaneous generation of mice. Pasteur, for example, found that pebrine had been known for an indefinite time as a disease among silkworms. The development of it which he combated was merely the expansion of an already existing power—the bursting into open conflagration of a previously smouldering fire. There is nothing surprising in this. For though epidemic disease requires a special contagium to produce it, surrounding conditions must have a potent influence on its development. Common seeds may be duly sown, but the conditions of temperature and moisture may be such as to restrict, or altogether prevent, the subsequent growth. Looked at, therefore, from the point of view of the germ theory, the exceptional energy which epidemic disease from time to time exhibits, is in harmony with the method of Nature. We sometimes hear diphtheria spoken of as if it were a new disease of the last twenty years; but Mr. Simon tells me that about three centuries ago tremendous epidemics of it began to rage in Spain (where it was named Garrotillo), and soon afterwards in Italy; and that since that time the disease has been well known to all successive generations of doctors. In or about 1758, for instance, Dr. Starr, of Liskeard, in a communication to the Royal Society, particularly described the disease, with all the characters which have recently again become familiar, but under the name of morbus strangulatorius, as then severely epidemic in Cornwall. This fact is the more interesting, as diphtheria, in its more modern reappearance, again showed predilection for that remote county. Many also believe that the Black Death, of five centuries ago, has disappeared as mysteriously as it came; but Mr. Simon finds that it is believed to be prevalent at this hour in some of the north-western parts of India.

Let me here state an item of my own experience. When I was at the Bel Alp in 1869, the English chaplain received letters informing him of the breaking out of scarlet-fever among his children. He lived, if I remember rightly, on the healthful eminence of Dartmoor, and it was difficult to imagine how scarlet-fever could have been wafted to the place. A drain ran close to his house, and on it his suspicions were manifestly fixed. Some of our medical writers would fortify him in this notion, and thus deflect him from the truth, while those of another, and, in my opinion, a wiser school, would deny to a drain, however foul, the power of generating de novo a specific disease. After close enquiry he recollected that a hobby-horse had been used both by his boy and another, who, a short time previously, had passed through scarlet-fever.

Drains and cesspools, indeed, are by no means in such evil odour as they used to be. A fetid Thames and a low death-rate occur from time to time together in London. For, if the special matter or germs of epidemic disorder be not present, a corrupt atmosphere, however obnoxious otherwise, will not produce the disorder. But, if the germs be present, defective drains and cesspools become the potent distributors of disease and death. Corrupted air may promote an epidemic, but cannot produce it. On the other hand, through the transport of the special germ or virus, disease may develop itself in regions where the drainage is good and the atmosphere pure.

If you see a new thistle growing in your field, you feel sure that its seed has been wafted thither. Just as sure does it seem that the contagious matter of epidemic disease has been transplanted to the place where it newly appears. With a clearness and conclusiveness s not to be surpassed, Dr. William Budd has traced such diseases from place to place; showing how they plant themselves, at distinct foci, among populations subjected to the same atmospheric influences, just as grains of corn might be carried in the pocket and sown. Hildebrand, to whose remarkable work, 'Du Typhus contagieux,' Dr. de Mussy has directed my attention, gives the following striking case, both of the durability and the transport of the virus of scarlatina: 'Un habit noir que j'avais en visitant une malade attaquee de scarlatina, et que je portai de Vienne en Podolie, sans l'avoir mis depuis plus d'un an et demi, me communiqua, des que je fus arrive, cette maladie contagieuse, que je repandis ensuite dans cette province, ou elle etait jusqu'alors presque inconnue.' Some years ago Dr. de Mussy himself was summoned to a country house in Surrey, to see a young lady who was suffering from a dropsy, evidently the consequence of scarlatina. The original disease, being of a very mild character, had been quite overlooked; but circumstances were recorded which could leave no doubt upon the mind as to the nature and cause of the complaint. But then the question arose, How did the young lady catch the scarlatina? She had come there on a visit two months previously, and it was only after she had been a month in the house that she was taken ill. The housekeeper at length cleared up the mystery. The young lady, on her arrival, had expressed a wish to occupy a room in an isolated tower. Her desire was granted; and in that room, six months previously, a visitor had been confined with an attack of scarlatina. The room had been swept and whitewashed, but the carpets had been permitted to remain.

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