페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

views to those of Needham and Buffon, and by means of certain experiments he showed that it was quite possible to stop the process by boiling the water, and closing the vessel in which it was contained, “Oh " said his opponents; “but what do you know you may be doing when you heat the air over the water in this way You may be destroying some property of the air requisite for the spontaneous generation of the animalcules.” However, Spallanzani's views were supposed to be upon the right side, and those of the others fell into discredit; although the fact was that Spallanzani had not made good his views. Well, then, the subject continued to be revived from time to time, and experiments were made by several persons; but these experiments were not altogether satisfactory. It was found that if you put an infusion in which animalcules would appearif it were exposed to the air into a vessel and boiled it, and then sealed up the mouth of the vessel, so that no air, save such as had been heated to 212°, could reach its contents, that then no animalcules would be found; but if you took the same vessel and exposed the infusion to the air, then you would get animalcules. Furthermore, it was found that if you connected the mouth of the vessel with a redhot tube in such a way that the air would have to pass through the tube before reaching the infusion, that then you would get no animalcules. Yet another thing was noticed: if you took two flasks containing the same kind of infusion, and left one entirely exposed to the air, and in the mouth of the other placed a ball of cotton wool, so that the air would have to filter itself through it before reaching the infusion, that then, although you might have plenty of animalcules in the first flask, you would certainly obtain none from the second. These experiments, you see, all tended towards one conclusion—that the infusoria were developed from little minute spores or eggs which were constantly floating in the atmosphere, and which lose their power of germination if subjected to heat. But one observer now made another experiment, which seemed to go entirely the other way, and Puzzled him altogether. He took some of this boiled infusion that I have been speaking of, and by the use of a mercurial bath—a kind of trough used in laboratories he deftly inverted a vessel containing the infusion into the mercury, so that the latter reached a little beyond the level of the mouth of the inverted vessel. You see that he thus had a quantity of the infusion shut off from any possible communication with the outer air by being inverted upon a bed of mercury. He then prepared some pure oxygen and nitrogen gases, and passed them by means of a tube going from the outside of the vessel, up through the mercury into the infusion; so that he thus had it exposed to a perfectly pure atmosphere of the same constituents as the external air. Of

[graphic]
[graphic]

course, he expected he would get no infusorial animalcules at all in that infusion; but, to his great dismay and discomfiture, he found he almost always did get them. Furthermore, it has been found that experiments made in the manner described above answer well with most infusions; but that if you fill the vessel with boiled milk, and then stop the neck with cotton-wool, you will have infusoria. So that you see there were two experiments that brought you to one kind of conclusion, and three to another; which was a most unsatisfactory state of things to arrive at in a scientific inquiry. Some few years after this, the question began to be very hotly discussed in France. There was M. Pouchet, a professor at Rouen, a very learned man, but certainly not a very rigid experimentalist. He published a number of experiments of his own, some of which were very ingenious, to show that if you went to work in a proper way, there was a truth in the doctrine of spontaneous generation. Well, it was one of the most fortunate things in the world that M. Pouchet took up this question, because it induced a distinguished French chemist, M. Pasteur, to take up the question on the other side; and he has certainly worked it out in the most perfect manner. I am glad to say, too, that he has published his researches in time to enable me to give you an account of them. He verified all the experiments which I have just mentioned

[graphic]

to you—and then finding those extraordinary anomalies, as in the case of the mercury bath and the milk, he set himself to work to discover their nature. In the case of milk he found it to be a question of temperature. Milk in a fresh state is slightly alkaline; and it is a very curious circumstance, but this very slight degree of alkalinity seems to have the effect of preserving the organisms which fall into it from the air from being destroyed at a temperature of 212°, which is the boiling point. But if you raise the temperature 10 when you boil it, the milk behaves like everything else; and if the air with which it comes in contact, after being boiled at this temperature, is passed through a red-hot tube, you will not get a trace of organisms. He then turned his attention to the mercury bath, and found on examination that the surface of the mercury was almost always covered with a very fine dust. He found that even the mercury itself was positively full of organic matters; that from being constantly exposed to the air, it had collected an immense number of these infusorial organisms from the air. Well, under these circumstances he felt that the case was quite clear, and that the mercury was not what it had appeared to M. Schwann to be, a bar to the admission of these organisms; but that,in reality, it acted as a reservoir from which the infusion was immediately supplied with the large quantity that had so puzzled him.

[graphic]

But not content with explaining the experiments of others, M. Pasteur went to work to satisfy himself completely. He said to himself: “If my view is right, and if, in point of fact, all these appearances of spontaneous generation are altogether due to the falling of minute germs suspended in the atmosphere, why, I ought not only to be able to show the germs, but I ought to be able to catch and sow them, and produce the resulting organisms.” He, accordingly, constructed a very ingenious apparatus to enable him to accomplish the trapping of the “germ dust” in the air. He fixed in the window of his room a glass tube, in the centre of which he had placed a ball of gun-cotton, which, as you all know, is ordinary cotton-wool, which, from having been steeped in strong acid, is converted into a substance of great explosive power. It is also soluble in alcohol and ether. One end of the glass tube was, of course, open to the external air; and at the other end of it he placed an aspirator, a contrivance for causing a current of the external air to pass through the tube. He kept this apparatus going for four-and-twenty hours, and then removed the dusted gun-cotton, and dissolved it in alcohol and ether. He then allowed this to stand for a few hours, and the result was, that a very fine dust was gradually deposited at the bottom of it. That dust, on being transferred to the stage of a microscope, was found to contain an enormous number of starch grains.

[graphic]
« 이전계속 »