Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/494

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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 Réaumur, 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 forever.

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 alone 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 Abbé Lazzaro Spallanzani, who in 1877 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 labors of his predecessor. Charging his flasks with organic infusions, he sealed their necks with the blow-pipe, subjected them in this condition to the heat of boiling water, and subsequently exposed them to temperatures favorable 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 afterward 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 when he obtained none. Rather is the refutation strengthened by