Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/478

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
464
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

A remark in the paper just referred to would seem to indicate that, in regard to the further possible influence of germs, the thoughts of Mr. Spencer Wells had passed beyond the bounds of pure surgical practice. "Their influence," he says, "on the propagation of epidemic. and contagious diseases has yet to be made out."

This shows that at the time here referred to the germ theory, in its wider medical sense, had begun to ferment in England. Two years, indeed, prior to the above occasion, and for the use of the same Association as that addressed by Mr. Wells, the late Dr. William Budd had drawn up a series of "Suggestions toward a Scheme for the Investigation of Epidemic and Epizo├Âtic Diseases," which strikingly illustrate the insight of a man of genius, withdrawn from the stimulus of the metropolis, and working alone, at a time when the whole medical profession in England entertained views opposed to his. Budd states in succession, and with perfect clearness, the points which he considers most worthy of the attention of the Association. He recommends inquiry as to the nature of the evidence alleged to prove the disease under investigation to be contagious or communicable. Whether such disease admits of being artificially propagated by inoculation or otherwise. Through what surface or surfaces the virus may be shown to enter the body, and to leave it, when the disease is taken in the natural way. Whether the disease is distinguished by eruptions external or internal. Whether it has a period of true incubation; and, if so, what are the length and limits of that period. Whether one attack, as in small-pox and many other contagious diseases, preserves against future attacks. Whether in the case of human disease animals as well as man are susceptible, and, if so, what animals. What is the evidence, if any, as to the particular country or region in which the disease first appeared? What are its present geographical limits? Whether there is any evidence of its modern or recent introduction into countries previously exempt. How far any such disease may have been prevented from invading new countries, or from spreading from any particular center, by measures directed against contagion. Above all, to determine what is the nature, and what the true value, of the evidence supposed to show that the specific poison of a contagious disease may originate spontaneously, or be generated de novo. "What we most want to know," adds Budd, "in regard to this whole group of diseases is, where and how the specific poisons which cause them breed and multiply."

Budd's own relation to the question here raised was distinct, and, under the circumstances, impressive. "After giving many years of time and thought to an examination of the evidence bearing on this question," he comes to the conclusion that "there is no proof whatever" that the poisons of specific contagious diseases ever originate spontaneously. "That the evidence on which the contrary conclusion is founded is negative only; that evidence of precisely the same order,