Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/504

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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.[1]

What is my colleague's conclusion from the experiment before us? Twenty-seven putrescible infusions, first in vacuo, and afterward 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 hay-loft 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 glinting 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 will be observed, by the careful reader of Dr. Bastian's works, that whenever their author refers to this alleged power of decaying matter, he invariably couples with it the vague term "fermentation," thus softening the shock of the hypothesis which he insinuates rather than asserts. But our present intention is to brush all vagueness aside. We therefore ask, "Does the life of our flasks proceed from dead particles?" If my co-inquirer 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.

  1. An actual experiment made three months ago at the Bel-Alp is here described.