Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/63

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

most of the complex compounds which appear exclusively reserved for the living organism. These compounds are not merely products of splitting or oxidation, wastes of life, but are also compounds like those which constitute the superior products of life. We should recognize that these products, that this albumen obtained by synthesis, while having the same elementary composition as living albumen and the same physical and chemical characteristics, is nevertheless distinguished from it by a very important point: it does not exhibit the characteristic phenomena of life. It is not capable of performing the part of a leaven, and has not the instability of living albumen. We have for the moment established only one thing: that the chemist is capable of creating, by direct synthesis, the most characteristic compounds and the highest products of life.

Will chemistry ever be able to produce living albumen capable of actively performing the part of a leaven, and endowed with sufficient instability to go through all the modifications that permit the combustions, splittings, and demolitions that lead to disassimilation and excretion? It seems to me that we are permitted to hope for it. But within what limits will this power of the chemist be included? Will he ever be able to make a living being? Will he succeed in making even a simple cell, a grain of starch, a muscular fiber, or any shapely and differentiated element? In order to answer these questions, we must dissipate some confusion and present all the elements of the problem.

To ask the chemist to make directly a differentiated being, or even a muscular fiber, a nervous cell, a grain of starch, is to ask him to do what Nature herself has probably never been able to do, and what it is probably impossible to realize. Can one in good faith exact so much? Is it not enough to ask the chemist to be as powerful as Nature? The question is then reduced to—Will the chemist be able to do what Nature has done? Let us see what Nature has done, looking from the evolutionist's point of view.

If the living form of matter was ever born by virtue of the action of natural forces, the event must have taken place in a medium the conditions of which differed from the existing conditions of our globe; for such formation of natural matter does not seem to be realized among us. Under these special conditions of the medium, living matter must have appeared in the most simple, the most rudimentary condition, for beginnings are always humble and little differentiated. We can conceive nothing of this kind more simple than droplets, more or less minute, of a substance comparable with albumen or protoplasm—that is, a substance fermentable and unstable in sufficient degrees for a current of vital exchanges to be established within it. The droplets