Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/617

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SPONTANEOUS GENERATION.

of Dr. Bastian, uttered not in a popular book, but in the "Proceedings of the Royal Society,"[1] with reference to this very experiment: "We can only infer that while the boiled saline solution is quite incapable of engendering bacteria, such organisms are able to arise de novo in the boiled organic infusion." I would ask my eminent colleague what he thinks of this reasoning now? The datum is, "A mineral solution exposed to common air does not develop bacteria:" the inference is, "Therefore, if a turnip-infusion similarly exposed develop bacteria, they must be spontaneously generated." The inference, on the face of it, is an unwarranted one. But, while as matter of logic it is inconclusive, as matter of fact it is chimerical. London air is as surely charged with the germs of bacteria as London chimneys are with smoke. The inference just referred to is completely disposed of by the simple question: "Why, when your sterilized organic infusion is exposed to optically pure air, should this generation of life de novo utterly cease? Why should I be able to preserve my turnip-juice side by side with your saline solution for the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, in free connection with the general atmosphere, on the sole condition that the portion of that atmosphere in contact with the juice shall be visibly free from floating dust, while three days' exposure to that dust fills it with bacteria?" Am I over-sanguine in hoping that, as regards the argument here set forth, he who runs may read, and he who reads may understand? Let me add, however, that while exposing the fallacy of the inferences drawn from it, I regard the observation that the boiled saline solution can sustain the developed organisms, while it cannot develop them from the dry germinal matter of the air, as an important addition to our knowledge. We are indebted for it to Dr. Burdon-Sanderson, who soon saw that his first interpretation of it went too far, and who, in a communication recently presented to the Royal Society, abandons the interpretation altogether.

We now proceed to the calm and thorough consideration of another subject, more important if possible than the foregoing one, but like it somewhat difficult to seize by reason of the very opulence of the phraseology, logical and rhetorical, in which it has been set forth. The subject now to be considered relates to what has been called "the death-point of bacteria." Those who happen to be acquainted with the modern English literature of the question will remember how challenge after challenge has been issued to panspermatists in general, and to one or two home workers in particular, to come to close quarters on this cardinal point. It is obviously the stronghold of the English heterogenist. "Water," he says, "is boiling merrily over a fire, when some luckless person upsets the vessel so that the heated fluid exercises its scathing influence upon an uncovered portion of the body—hand, arm, or face. Here at all events there is no room for

  1. Vol. xxi., p. 130.