Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/613

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SPONTANEOUS GENERATION.

tion, if our 940 flasks were opened on the hay-loft of the Bel Alp 858 of them would become filled with organisms. The escape of the remaining 82 strengthens our case against the heterogenists, proving as it does conclusively that not in the air, nor in the infusions, nor in anything continuous diffused through the air, but in discrete particles nourished by the infusions, we are to seek the cause of life. Our experiment proves these particles to be in some cases so far apart on the hay-loft as to permit 10 per cent, of our flasks to take in air without contracting contamination. A quarter of a century ago Pasteur proved the cause of "so-called spontaneous generation" to be discontinuous. I have already referred to his observation that 12 out of 20 flasks opened on the plains escaped infection, while 19 out of 20 flasks opened on the Mer de Glace escaped. Our own experiment at the Bel Alp is a more emphatic instance of the same kind, 90 per cent, of the flasks opened in the hay-loft being smitten, while not one of those opened on the free mountain-ledge was attacked. The power of the air as regards putrefactive infection is incessantly changing through natural causes, and we are able to alter it at will. Of a number of flasks opened in 1876 in the laboratory of the Royal Institution, 42 per cent, were smitten, while 58 per cent, escaped. In 1877 the proportion in the same laboratory was 68 per cent, smitten to 32 intact. The greater mortality, so to speak, of the infusions in 1877 was due to the presence of hay which diffused its germinal dust in the laboratory air, causing it to approximate, as regards infective virulence, to the air of the Alpine loft. I would ask my friend to bring his scientific penetration to bear upon all the foregoing facts. They do not prove spontaneous generation to be "impossible." My assertions, however, relate not to "possibilities," but to proofs, and the experiments just described do most distinctly prove the evidence on which the heterogenist relies to be written on waste paper.

My friend will not, I am persuaded, dispute these results; but he may be disposed to urge that other able and honorable men working at the same subject have arrived at conclusions different from mine. Most freely granted, but let me here recur to the remarks already made in speaking of the experiments of Spallanzani, to the effect that the failure of others to confirm his results by no means upsets their evidence. To fix the ideas, let us suppose that my colleague comes to the laboratory of the Royal Institution, repeats there my experiments, and obtains confirmatory results; and that he then goes to University or King's College, where, operating with the same infusions, he obtains contradictory results. Will he be disposed to conclude that the self-same substance is barren in Albemarle Street and fruitful in Gower Street or the Strand? His Alpine experience has already made known to him the literally infinite differences existing between different samples of air as regards their capacity for putrefactive infection. And, possessing this knowledge, will he not