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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/678

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

trefaction. Moreover, these alkaloids, according to Selmi, are readily decomposed in contact with the air. The ptomaïnes, then, can not enter into account in establishing a noxious character for cemeteries.

Assuredly there are miasms. We do not mean by this term those famous entities by which populations have been struck with terror, but those infinitely small, inferior organisms, the microbes, whose existence can not be disputed after the brilliant investigations of contemporary micrographs, especially those of M. Pasteur. We have no disposition to ignore the existence of four or five species of microbes, the destructive effects of which appear to be well established, such as the anthrax-bacteria, the septic vibrion, Obermeyer's spirill, the micrococcus of the hen-cholera, and some other less well-known bacteria. But, without denying that the air may convey infectious germs, and that these may penetrate into the human organism through various channels of absorption, facts which have become almost classical, we still have to examine whether cemeteries, more than other places, give rise to these miasms, these legions of microbes, whose presence in considerable numbers in certain places, notably in hospital-wards, is incontestable.

A number of well-established facts go to prove that the different germs are destroyed by the combustion of corpses in the earth as soon as putrid fermentation begins. We cite the characteristic fact of the disappearance of the carbuncular virus in the bodies of animals that have died of the plague-sore, from the moment the body begins to putrefy (Pasteur, Collin), a fact which is practically recognized by all the horse-killers, who are aware that infected subjects shortly after death cease to be dangerous to them. A more important fact is that the very exact micrographic researches undertaken by M. Miquel in the cemeteries of Paris have certainly shown that there do not exist in them any centers specially productive of germs of cryptogams. This learned physician has ascertained, contrary to the opinion of many authors, that the vapor of water which arises from the soil, from rivers, and from masses in active putrefaction, is always micrographically pure—that is, it contains no microbes; that the gases proceeding from buried matters in decomposition are always free from bacteria; that even the impure air which is caused to pass over putrefied meats, instead of being charged with microbes, becomes fully purified, on the single condition that the infectious and putrid filter is in a condition of humidity comparable to that of the ground at about a foot below the surface. Finally, none of the numerous species which M. Miquel has isolated and inoculated upon living animals has shown itself capable of determining pathological troubles worth mentioning. After this, we may with perfect security put aside those pretended miasmatic emanations, those mysterious effluvia with which certain hygienists have gratuitously frightened an inexperienced public, and which some speculators have turned to good account for themselves.