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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/725

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LITERARY NOTICES.

essential to the carrying on of vital organic changes. Dr. Magnin says, in his introduction: "It is known that organic matter once produced, and become solid, so to speak, can not again enter into the general current until it has undergone new transformations—metamorphosis produced according to some, favored, according to others, but without contradiction accompanied by the development of bacteria. And without wishing to attribute to these organisms a finality which is repugnant to our monistic conception of the universe, it may be said that it is, thanks to them, that the continuance of life is possible on the surface of the globe."

But the interest of these organisms is still more marked in practical directions. Their germs are in the air; they are distributed in the waters; and they swarm and propagate with astonishing profusion in organic liquids and infusions. They are involved in the processes of fermentation and putrefaction, and they have a rĂ´le in the operation of violent diseases, such as variola, scarlatina, measles, diphtheria, typhoid fever, etc.; while their agency in connection with wounds gives them the highest interest to the surgeon.

It was therefore a capital service to science that was performed by Dr. Magnin in the preparation of this careful and complete book on the general subject at the present time. His volume is an ample report on the present state of what may be called bacterial knowledge. It is accompanied by faithfully executed plates and photographs, and contains, furthermore, an elaborate and exhaustive bibliography of the subject.

As a further illustration of the practical interest of the investigation here digested, it may be stated that Dr. Sternberg was led to translate it in consequence of its value in carrying on the work of the National Board of Health, the phenomena being vitally connected with various problems of public hygiene. The work has claims upon the scientific naturalist, the physician, and the non-professional man of general culture.

Life of Voltaire. By James Parton. In two volumes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Pp. 1,292. Price, $6.00.

Mr. Parton has been for many years a critical and deeply interested student of Voltaire and his times, and he has now given us the fruit of his studies in these two most entertaining and instructive volumes. Of Mr. Parton's large experience as a biographer, and his proficiency in the art, it is unnecessary to speak. He has had a lifelong preparation in this branch of literature, and now, in the maturity of his powers, he has produced a comprehensive work, that will enhance his reputation, and undoubtedly prove a valuable and prominent acquisition to our biographical literature. There was greatly needed a good life of Voltaire, both on account of the great historic interest of his personality, his profound influence upon his age, and the mass of prejudice and misrepresentation that has been piled upon his memory during the last hundred years. The task of clearing away the errors, and arriving at such truth as the circumstances allow, has been performed conscientiously by Mr. Parton with unsparing labor, and, so far as we can judge, with eminent success. He has made exactly such a book as we wanted ourselves, and we believe it will adequately meet an extensive need among American readers.

We note that some exceptions have been taken to the work by English critics, who write about it in a somewhat disparaging tone; and, perhaps, some reference to their treatment of it may be helpful in judging of its real merits. But it is necessary to bear in mind the nature and difficulties of the task which Mr. Parton had before him, and these can not be better stated than in his own prefatory words. He says:

I attempt in these volumes to exhibit to the American people the most extraordinary of Frenchmen, and one of the most extraordinary of human beings.

When first I ventured, many years ago, to think of this task, I soon ceased to wonder why a subject so alluring had not been undertaken before by any one employing the whole of the existing material. Voltaire was then buried under a mountain of heterogeneous record. The attempts of essayists, even those of the first rank, to characterize him truly, were in some degree frustrated by an abundance of unsorted information that defied all ordinary research. Since that time the Voltairean material has continued to accumulate, and never so rapidly as during the last three years.

At this moment, if I lift my eyes from the desk on which I write, I see before me volumes containing fifty thousand printed pages of his composition, including more than two hundred and sixty separate publications. The published