Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/498

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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-scaled flasks containing organic infusions. One out of twenty of the flasks thus supplied with glacier air showed signs of life afterward, 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 reaches of the scale of being, life does not appear without the operation of antecedent life.

The main position of Pasteur, though often assailed, has never yet been shaken. It has, on the contrary, been strengthened by practical researches of the most momentous kind. He has applied the knowledge won from his inquiries to the preservation of wine and beer, to the manufacture of vinegar, to the staying of the plague which threatened utter destruction to 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 Prof. Lister has introduced into surgery is shown by a letter quoted in his "Études sur la Bière."[1] Prof. 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 Pasteur's defects of reasoning, to which we have been lately accustomed, delivered with a tone of supercilious contempt, where reverent teachableness would have been the fitting state of mind, throw abundant light upon their author, but none 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 Prof. 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."[2] It was these organisms act-

  1. P. 43.
  2. In his last excellent memoir, Cohn expresses himself thus: "Wer noch heut die Fäulniss von einer spontanen Dissociation der Proteinmolecule, oder von einem unorgani-