Makers of British botany/Harry Marshall Ward 1854—1906
HARRY MARSHALL WARD (1895)
Training at South Kensington—Cambridge—Germany—investigates coffee disease in Ceylon—his early investigations—appointment to Manchester and association with Williamson—Ward's brilliance as an investigator—Cooper's Hill—investigation of lily disease—leguminous root tubercles—symbiosis and the ginger-beer plant—the Croonian Lecture—the bacteriology of water—bactericidal action of light—Ward's "law of doubling"—appointment to Cambridge—mycoplasm controversy—infection and immunity—physiological varieties of Rusts—bridgeing species—illness and death—his record as an investigator—personal characteristics.
Harry Marshall Ward, eldest son of Francis Marshall Ward, was born in Hereford, March 21, 1854, but he came of a Lincolnshire stock, settled for some time in Nottingham. From unavoidable causes he left school at 14, but afterwards continued his education by attending evening classes organised under the Science and Art Department. To that Department, he owed indirectly the opportunity of a useful and brilliant career. His means were small, and his earliest aim was to qualify as a science teacher. He was admitted to a course of instruction for teachers in training given by Prof. Huxley in 1874–5. Although he must have derived from it a sound insight into the principles of zoology, the subject does not seem to have had any permanent attraction for him.
In the summer of 1857 Ward came under my hands in a course of instruction in botany which I conducted with Prof. Vines in the Science Schools at South Kensington, and from this time onwards we were in intimate relations to the close of his life. I can best tell the story as it came under my eyes. It contains much that could not easily be dealt with in any other way.
It was soon apparent that we had got hold of a man of exceptional ability. It must be confessed that the atmosphere was stimulating, and the conditions under which the teaching was carried on necessitated its being given at high pressure. I remember that on one occasion Ward fainted at his work, from no other cause, I think, than over-excitement. In the autumn of the same year he went for one session to Owens College, Manchester, with the object of continuing his general education. I learn that he carried off the prizes in every subject that he took up.
In the succeeding year I was glad to avail myself of the assistance of Ward as demonstrator in a subsequent course at South Kensington, which I undertook with Prof. Vines. Later in the year he became a candidate for and secured an open scholarship at Christ's College, where Vines himself was then a Fellow, and went into residence in October, 1876.
Ward took full advantage of his opportunities at Cambridge, and attended the teaching of Sir Michael Foster in physiology and of Prof. F. M. Balfour in comparative anatomy. The sound and fundamental conceptions which he acquired from the former manifestly influenced his work throughout life. He took a first class in botany in the Natural Science Tripos in 1879. His first published paper was the result of work in the same year in the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew. In this, which was published in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society, he seriously criticised and corrected that of Vesque on the embryo-sac of Phanerogams.
As was customary with our young botanists, Ward went to Germany for a short time, for purposes of study and to strengthen his knowledge of the language. He worked at Würzburg with Sachs, whose lectures on the physiology of plants he afterwards translated in 1887. There he continued his study of the embryo-sac in Orchideae, as Sachs subsequently testified, "zu meiner vollsten Zufriedenheit."
Before the end of the year Ward was appointed on the recommendation of Kew to proceed to Ceylon for two years as Government Cryptogamist to investigate the leaf-disease in coffee. The history of this malady is almost unique in vegetable pathology. A native fungus which had eluded scientific observation, and must therefore have maintained an inconspicuous and limited existence on some native host-plant, found a wider opportunity on the Arabian coffee plant and fell upon it as a devastating scourge. It was first detected in 1869 on a single estate; in 1873 there was probably none in the island entirely free from it. Mr (since Sir Daniel) Morris had shown that the plants could be cleansed by dusting them with a mixture of sulphur and lime. But the remedy proved of no avail as the plants speedily became re-infected. Morris had been transferred to another appointment in the West Indies and Ward's duty was to take up the investigation. This he accomplished exhaustively. He showed that the fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) was one of the Uredineae and that infection was produced by the wind-borne uredospores. Had the planters, as in Southern India, left forest belts between their plantations, the spores might have been filtered out and the disease controlled. As it was it spread like an unchecked conflagration. Ward also discovered the teleutospores; nothing has been added to our knowledge of its life-history beyond what he obtained. The result of his investigations was given in three official reports and in papers contributed in 1882 to the Linnean Society and the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science. It was no blame to him that his work led to no practical result. The mischief admitted of no remedy. The coffee-planting industry of Ceylon was destroyed and the Oriental Bank succumbed in the general ruin. Leaf disease has now extended to every coffee-growing country in the Old World from Natal to Fiji.
In a tropical country leaves supply a substratum to a little flora of their own, consisting of organisms partly algal, partly fungal, in their affinity. Ward, who had already developed his characteristic habit of never neglecting any point incidental to a research, carefully studied them, in order both to ascertain how far their presence affected the health of the leaf itself and to work out their life-history. The outcome was three important papers. One on Meliola, an obscure genus of tropical epiphyllous fungi, belonging to the Pyrenomycetes, was published in the Philosophical Transactions in 1883. Bornet's classical memoir published in 1851 had been the authority on the subject. Ward was able to fill up "large gaps in the knowledge of important details." Another paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science in 1882 on an Asterina illuminates an allied organism. But the crown of all Ward's Ceylon work was the splendid memoir on a Tropical Epiphyllous Lichen which was published by the Linnean Society in 1883. In this he, I think, cleared up much that was obscure in the Mycoidea parasitica described by D. D. Cunningham. Having myself communicated the paper, I shall always remember the pleasure with which I undertook in Ward's absence to give an account of it. He solved the problem with convincing completeness; he extended Schwendener's lichen theory to a group of obscure epiphyllous organisms of which he afforded, for the first time, a rational explanation. The success with which this was accomplished placed him at once in the first rank of mycological investigators.
De Bary was the leading authority on Uredineae; and in 1882 Ward paid a short visit to him at Strasburg to confer with him on his coffee disease work, the accuracy of which de Bary entirely confirmed. There he made the acquaintance of Elfving and completed his Meliola paper.
The outlook for Ward was now precarious. Fortunately, I found myself sitting next to Sir Henry Roscoe at a Royal Society dinner, and I suggested that Ward, as an old student of Owens College, would be a fitting recipient of a Bishop Berkeley Fellowship for original research. Principal Greenwood recorded the fact that "the very important results already achieved by Mr Ward in Ceylon, in the domain of the higher botany, led the Senate and the Council to make this appointment." In 1883, he was appointed Assistant Lecturer and Demonstrator in Botany, and, on the same testimony, "abundantly justified his election." It was a peculiar pleasure to him to relieve the veteran Professor Williamson by taking entire charge of Vegetable Physiology and Histology. His position was, in the same year, made secure by his election to a Fellowship at Christ's College, and he married the eldest daughter of the late Francis Kingdon, of Exeter, who was a connection Of Clifford the mathematician.
The passion for research now completely possessed Ward and never left him for the rest of his life. He published papers which added much to our knowledge of the Saprolegnieae a group of fungi of aquatic habit, partly saprophytic and partly parasitic. It is interesting to note that he was particularly attracted by the mode in which the hyphae attack the tissues on which they prey. This was a matter on which he subsequently threw an entirely new light. He made the interesting discovery of an aquatic Myxomycete, such a mode of existence being hitherto unknown in the group, and worked out its life-history. But his mind had now become definitely fixed on the problems presented by plant diseases, and they remained the principal occupation of his life. In their widest sense these resolve themselves into a consideration of the mode in which one organism obtains its nutriment at the expense of another. This ranges from a complete destruction of the host by the parasite to a harmless and even advantageous symbiosis. He was thus naturally led to an exhaustive study of the literature of the Schizomycetes, and contributed an article on the group in 1886 to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which, for the time at any rate, gives the best account of it, certainly in English, and probably in any other language. When he supplemented this in 1902 by the article on Bacteriology, it was largely to give an account of his own important discoveries. In the earlier one, he had pointed out the difficulties of a natural classification of Schizomycetes due to their pleomorphism, which Lankester had demonstrated in 1873. He returned to the subject in an article in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science in 1892. It may be noted that, in his British Association address at Toronto, he took occasion to put in their proper relation the work of Cohn and of his pupil Koch.
In 1885, the Regius Professorship of Botany at Glasgow was vacant by the transference of Prof. Balfour to Oxford. Ward was a candidate with the warm support of his fellow-botanists. It was thought that his Colonial services would weigh with the Government; but other influences were at work in favour of another candidate, whom, however, the University refused to accept. A deadlock ensued, which was only solved by the Government finally refusing to appoint either candidate. This was a great disappointment to Ward, which was in some degree mitigated by his appointment to the new Chair of Botany in the Forestry Branch of the Royal Indian Engineering College, Cooper's Hill. The utilitarian atmosphere in which he found himself was not very congenial to him. But he had at any rate at last some sort of adequate position and a laboratory to work in, and here he remained not, I think, unhappily for ten years. He was, as he had been at Manchester, a successful teacher, and had the gift of interesting his pupils, whom he used to bring weekly to Kew during the summer months to visit the Arboretum. In point of research, this was the period of much of his most brilliant work.
The study of Uredineae occupied Ward at intervals during his life. The reproductive organs are pleomorphic, and it is no easy task to ascertain with certainty those that belong to the same life-history. In a paper on Entyloma Ranunculi, published in the Phil. Trans. in 1887, Ward for the first time traced the germination of the conidia of an Entyloma, and confirmed Winter's suggestion that they were not an independent organism, but actually belonged to it. Incidentally he discussed the conditions which are favourable to the invasion of a host by a parasitic fungus. This raised the question of immunity, to which at intervals he repeatedly returned.
About the same time he published in the Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science the results of an investigation undertaken for the Science and Art Department on the mode of infection of the potato plant by Phytophthora infestans, which produces the potato disease. It was not easy to add anything to the classical work of de Bary, but it was ascertained that "the development of the zoospores is delayed or even arrested by direct daylight," and Ward's attention was attracted to the problem, which he afterwards solved, of how the hyphae erode the cell-wall.
The solution was given in 1888 in a paper in the Annals of Botany, "On a Lily Disease," which has now become classical. He discusses the fungus which produces it, and shows that the tips of the hyphae secrete a cellulose-dissolving ferment which enables them to pierce the cell-walls of the host. This ferment has since been described as cytase. He shows that its production would determine the passage from a merely saprophytic to a parasitic habit, and makes the suggestion that an organism might be educated to pass from one to the other.
An admirable research (1887) was on the formation of the yellow dye obtained from "Persian berries" (Rhamnus infectorius). A dyer had found that uninjured berries afforded a poorer colouring liquor than crushed. Gellatly had found, in 1851, that they contained a glucoside, xanthorhamnin, which sulphuric acid broke up into rhamnetin and grape-sugar. The problem was to localise the ferment which did the work. Ward obtained the unexpected result that it was confined to the raphe of the seed.
As early as 1883 Ward had attacked a problem which he pursued at intervals for some years, and which was fraught with consequences wholly unforeseen at the time. It had long been known that leguminous plants almost invariably carried tubercular swellings on their roots. The opinion had gradually gained ground that they were due to the action of a parasite. Bacteria-like corpuscles had been found in the cells of the tubercle, and it was assumed that they had played some part in exciting the growth of the latter. "No one had as yet succeeded in infecting the roots and in producing the tubercles artificially." Ward described, in a paper in the Phil. Trans. in 1887, how he had accomplished this. He showed, in fact, that a definite organism invades the roots from the soil, and finds its access by the root-hairs.
Lawes and Gilbert had long ago proved that the higher plants are incapable of assimilating free nitrogen. Hellriegel and Wilfarth had, however, shown in 1886 that leguminous plants carry away more nitrogen from the soil than could be accounted for. This Ward confirmed by his own pot-experiments, and satisfied himself that the excess could only be derived from the free nitrogen of the air. Hellriegel further concluded that the tubercles played an essential part in the process. Ward had no doubt that the bacteroids were the channel of supply. But he failed to get any proof that they could assimilate free nitrogen outside the plant. He suggested that their symbiosis might be an essential condition, and was obliged finally to leave it an open question whether the cells of the tubercles or the bacteroids were the active agents in nitrogen assimilation. He had already stated in 1887 that it is very probable that the bacteroids "may be of extreme importance in agriculture." But he was never satisfied with anything short of the strictest proof.
In 1890 Ward was invited to deliver the Croonian Lecture. He chose for his subject the relation between host and parasite in plant disease. He defined disease in its most generalised form as "the outcome of a want of balance in the struggle for existence." But the particular problem to which he addressed himself was the way in which the balance is turned when one organism is invaded by another. This is the most common type of disease in plants and a not infrequent one in animals. The first result reached was identical with that of Pasteur for the latter; the normal organism is intrinsically resistant to disease. It is an immediate inference that natural selection would make it so. Ward then discusses very clearly the physiological conditions of susceptibility, which he shows to be a deviation from the normal. He had already indicated this in the case of Entyloma. The epidemic phase is reached when the environment is unfavourable to the host but not so or even favourable to the parasite. He then attacks the more obscure case where there is no obvious susceptibility. This, he finds, resolves itself into a mere case of the struggle for existence: "a struggle between the hypha of the fungus and the cells of the host." It is more subtle in its operation but of the same order of ruthlessness as the ravages of a carnivore. Ward's account of the struggle is almost dramatic. The cellulose "outworks" are first broken down, as he had previously shown, by a secreted ferment. The "real tug of war" comes when the hypha is face to face with the ectoplasm. Its resistance is at once overcome by flooding it with a poison, probably oxalic acid.
War with attack and defence is a product of evolution. How did it come about in this particular case? Ward convincingly traces out the whole process. The normal plant obtains its food from inorganic material. But when opportunity offers it easily lapses into a condition in which it takes the material for metabolism ready made from the decay of others and becomes saprophytic. Ward shows that it is only a step to the attack on the living, and for the saprophyte to become a parasite, and he further shows that it can be readily educated to be so. He does not hesitate to suggest that the function of conidia in the complicated cycle of fungal reproduction is to form the cellulose-dissolving ferment. But now and again the host does not succumb to its invader. A truce is sometimes called in the struggle, and host and parasite are content to live together in a mutually advantageous symbiosis or commensalism.
Three years earlier, in 1887, Ward's attention had been drawn by a happy accident to the physiological aspect of symbiosis, and it never ceased to occupy his mind. It was well known that ginger-beer was made in villages in stone bottles. The fermentation was effected by the so-called "ginger-beer plant" which was passed on from family to family, but nothing was known as to how or where it originated. It seemed to have some analogy with the Kephir of the Caucasus. A specimen was sent to me from the Eastern Counties, and it stood for some time in the sun in my study. I noticed the vigorous growth accompanied by a copious evolution of gas. Ward coming to see me one day, I handed it over to him as a problem worth his attention. At the same time Prof. Bayley Balfour had examined it and concluded that it was a mixture of a yeast and a bacterium. Its study involved Ward in a very laborious research which occupied him for some years, and of which the results were published in the Phil. Trans. in 1892. It proved to be a mixture of very various organisms, every one of which Ward exhaustively studied. This required not less than 2000 separate cultures. The essential components proved to be, as Balfour had suggested, a yeast derived from the sugar and a bacterium from the ginger. Both were anaërobic; the yeast fermented cane-sugar with the copious production of carbon dioxide but little alcohol; the bacterium also produced carbon dioxide, even in a vacuum tube.
The action of the two components studied separately proved to be not the same as when they worked in concert. This was conspicuously the case with the evolution of carbon dioxide, which proceeded with such violence as to make the research attended with considerable danger. It is known that the action of ferments may be checked by the inhibition of the products formed. Ward pointed out that while the use of these might be advantageous to the bacterium, their consequent removal might be equally so to the yeast. This established the important principle of symbiotic fermentation and gave it a rational explanation. On the morphological side Ward showed that the ginger-beer plant is comparable to a gelatinous lichen, and, having resolved it into its constituents, successfully reconstituted it.
The new conception threw a flood of light on many obscure points in fermentation generally, and it is not surprising that Ward's work at once attracted the attention of the brewing industry. It led him to an even more fertile suggestion, that of metabiosis. It was known that the finest wine is sometimes produced from mouldy grapes. He regarded this as a case of one organism preparing the way for another. He returned to the subject in a lecture given at the British Association at Dover in 1899 and pointed out that in the Japanese manufacture of Saké, an Aspergillus prepares the way for the yeast. He also showed that metabiosis played an important part in nitrification.
Fungi cannot draw their nutriment from solid materials without first profoundly modifying them. They accomplish a large part of their digestion, so to speak, externally to themselves. This constantly occupied Ward's mind. He insisted on the part played in the process by ferments. The hyphae of Stereum (Phil. Trans. 1898) delignify the walls of the wood elements of Aesculus layer by layer, and then consume the swollen cellulose. He failed, however, to isolate the ferment which does the work. Nor was he more fortunate with the little known fungus Onygena, which grows on horn, hoofs and hair, setting free ammonia as a final product (Phil. Trans. 1899). That there must be some hydrolysis of keratin can hardly be doubted, for Ward established the remarkable fact that the walls of the hyphae contain no cellulose, but are composed of chitin. Onygena has, in fact, abandoned a plant for an animal nutrition. This would place the germination of the species at a great disadvantage. But he found that this difficulty was overcome by the spores which had been licked from the skin germinating in the gastric juice of the animal's stomach, and, when voided in the excreta, infecting a new host by accidental contact. In the case of both Stereum and Onygena he accomplished for the first time the difficult task of tracing their life-history from spore to fructification.
Ward had prepared himself for the study of bacteria, and in the nineties he undertook, with Prof. Percy Frankland, a prolonged research on behalf of the Royal Society as to the conditions of their occurrence in potable water. The reports of the results fill a thick volume, and the amount of work involved is almost incredible. The bacteriology was entirely due to Ward.
That bacteria are not an inevitable element in potable water is proved by their absence from that of deep springs. They are arrested by filtration through the earth's crust. In any river system they are comparatively fewer towards the watershed, and more frequent towards the mouth. The obvious conclusion is that they are derived from the drainage of the land. As it is known that the bacteria of cholera and typhoid are water-borne, it becomes a problem of vital importance to ascertain if river water is a possible means of distributing these diseases. Ward set to work to ascertain: (i) What was the actual bacterial flora of Thames water; (ii) if this included any pathogenic organisms; (iii) if not, what became of them? The labour required by the first two branches of the enquiry was enormous; he identified and cultivated some eighty species; the resulting answer to the second was happily in the negative.
As to the third, two facts were known. First, that river water, if stored, largely cleared itself of bacteria by mere subsidence; secondly, that Downes and Blunt, in a classical paper communicated to the Royal Society in 1877, had shown that exposure to direct sunlight is fatal to bacteria in a fluid medium. Ward showed that subsidence could not be entirely relied on, as the sediment might easily become the source of re-infection. The effect of sunlight required more critical examination.
It was known that the spores of anthrax were liable to be washed into rivers. Ward determined to study this as the most extreme type of pathogenic infection. As it is undoubtedly the most deadly micro-organism known, and Ward proposed to deal with it on a large scale, it implied no small degree of courage. He found that the spores of anthrax were effectually killed by a few hours' exposure to even the reflected light of a low winter sun. It was clear that this was due to the direct action of the light and not to any heating effect, apart from the fact that they will tolerate boiling for a few minutes. It was further shown that there was no foundation for the theory of Roux and Duclaux that their death was due to poisoning by products of oxidation of the food-medium. Proof of this, indeed, was hardly required, for Pasteur had shown that the bacteria floating in the atmosphere are mostly dead. Were it not so, no surgical operation would be possible. To the bactericidal effect of sunlight is equally to be attributed the absence of bacteria from the High Alps.
The next point was to ascertain to what rays the effect was due. The spores of anthrax are so minute that, when mixed in large numbers with gelatine, they do not affect its transparency. A plate of glass coated with the mixture is at first clear, but ceases to be so if kept in the dark, owing to the germination of the spores. Ward found, in fact, that a photograph could be printed with it, the darkening being the reverse of that of a silver plate. After experiments with coloured screens he completely solved the problem in 1893, with the aid of apparatus supplied by Sir Oliver Lodge and some advice from Sir Gabriel Stokes, by photographing the spectrum on such a plate. It was at once seen that the destructive effect was due to rays of high refrangibility, and, what was extremely important, extended to, and found its maximum in, the ultra-violet. The same results were obtained with the typhoid bacillus. He made the suggestion that the arc light might be used for the disinfection of hospitals and railway carriages.
Comparatively little was known of the life history of any Schizomycete. Ward therefore made a detailed and exhaustive study of that of Bacillus ramosus, the Wurzel bacillus of German authors, which is common in Thames water, and bears a superficial resemblance to the anthrax bacillus, but is innocuous. It proved convenient for study, as it ran through its entire life history in from thirty to sixty hours at ordinary temperature. It forms long filaments, the growth of which Ward was able to measure under the microscope with great precision. On plotting out his measurements he obtained a regular curve, from which he found that, under constant conditions, the filament doubled itself in equal times. This he called "the law of doubling." It is the same as the so-called "law of compound interest," and leads to the expression of the growing quantity as an exponential function of the time, so that the time is proportional to the logarithm of that quantity. This relation has, of course, long been familiar in chemical reactions, but, as far as I know, Ward was the first to detect it in any vital process in a plant. This, which was in 1895, has, I think, been overlooked. Stefanowska has since, in 1904, obtained a logarithmic curve for the early period of the growth of maize, which doubles its weight every ten days, and the subject has since been pursued by Chodat and others.
In speculating on the cause of the destructive action of light on bacteria, Ward adopted the view of his friend Elfving, that it inhibited metabolic processes necessary to nutrition. He suggests that the "constructed metabolites" at the moment of assimilation are in a highly unstable condition, and liable to destruction by oxidation promoted by light. He points to the fact that plant structures are frequently provided with colour screens, which would cut off the blue-violet rays and check their action in promoting the rapid oxidation of reserve materials, and he quotes the suggestion of Elfving that chlorophyll itself may serve as such a screen against "destructive metabolic action in synthesis." Ward seems to have attributed little importance to the fact that substantially the same view had long before been put forward by Pringsheim, though received with little favour. His own view that when red and orange predominate in the screens their effect is protective, has since afforded a probable explanation of the colouration of young foliage, especially in the tropics.
It can hardly be doubted that the upshot of Ward's laborious investigations has had a powerful influence in deciding the policy of the future water supply of London. If we hear nothing now of obtaining it from Wales, it is because we know that even polluted flood-water if exposed in large reservoirs will rid itself of its bacterial contamination, partly, as was known already, by subsidence, but most effectually, as shown by Ward, by the destruction of its most deleterious constituents by the direct action of sunlight.
In 1895, Ward was called to the Chair of Botany at Cambridge. He was supported by a distinguished body of fellow-workers, and developed a flourishing school, in which every branch of the science found its scope. The University erected for it an institute which is probably the best equipped in the country, and in March, 1904, I had the pleasure of seeing Ward receive the King and Queen at its inauguration.
During the later years of Ward's life he returned to the study of the Uredineae. The scourge of wheat perhaps from the dawn of agriculture has been "Rust,"
and the loss inflicted by it throughout the world is probably not calculable. But the history of the Ceylon coffee disease is only too patent an instance of the injury a uredine can effect.
Eriksson, the most recent authority on the subject, had found himself quite unable to account for sudden outbursts of rust which it did not seem possible to attribute to the result of infection. In 1897 he launched his celebrated theory of the Mycoplasm. He supposed that a cereal subject to rust was permanently diseased and always had been; that the protoplasm of the Uredo-parasite and of the cereal, though discrete, were intermingled and were continuously propagated together; but that while that of the latter was continuously active, that of the former might be latent till called into activity by conditions which favoured it. Ward discussed the theory in his British Association address at Toronto, and was evidently a good deal impressed with it, but nothing short of actual demonstration ever convinced him; and when he proceeded to investigate the actual histological facts on which the theory rested he promptly exploded it.
It is interesting to note that Ward, as I know from correspondence at the time, had himself been embarrassed in investigating the Ceylon coffee disease by the same kind of appearance which had misled Eriksson. It is due to an optical fallacy. When the hypha of a uredine attacks a cell it is unable to perforate it with its whole diameter. It infects it, however, with a reduced and slender filament; this expands again after perforation into a rounded body, the haustorium. In a tangential section the perforating filament cannot be distinguished, and the haustorium looks like an independent body immersed in the cell-protoplasm and with no external connection. It requires a fortunate normal section to reveal what has really taken place. Ward was accordingly able, in a paper in the Phil. Trans. in 1903, to dispose conclusively of the mycoplasm. This cleared the ground of an untenable hypothesis. The complicated nature of the problem which still presented itself for investigation can only be briefly indicated. Sir Joseph Banks, whose scientific instinct was sound but curiously inarticulate, had pointed out that the spores entered the stomata, and warned farmers against using rusted litter. Henslow, one of Ward's predecessors in the Cambridge chair, had been confirmed by Tulasne in showing that the uredo- and puccinia-spores (of the barberry) belonged to the same fungus. De Bary traced the germination of the spores and the mode in which the hyphae invaded the host; the fundamental fact, which he observed but did not explain, was that the germinal filament, after growing for a time superficially, bent down to enter the tissues of its host. Pfeffer in 1883 discovered chemotaxis, the directive action of chemical substances on the movement of mobile organisms. De Bary had previously hinted that the hypha might be attracted by some chemical ingredient of the host plant. Myoshi, a pupil of Pfeffer's, showed finally in 1894 that if a plant were injected by a chemotropic substance a fungus-hypha not ordinarily parasitic might be made to behave as such and attack it.
In such circumstances it might seem that the host was not merely incapable of resisting invasion by the parasite but actually invited its attack. Nature is, however, not easily baffled in the struggle for existence. Attack provokes new methods of defence. Ward soon found himself face to face with "problems of great complexity," and these occupied the closing years of his life.
It had been ascertained in fact that the rust fungus is not, as was at first supposed, a single organism, but comprises, according to Eriksson, thirteen distinct species, each with physiological varieties, and that those which are destructive to some grasses and cereals, are incapable of attacking others. This necessitated a scrutiny of the nature of grass-immunity. In a paper communicated to the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1902, Ward announced a conclusion which was as important as it was unexpected. He had more and more made use of the graphical method for presenting to the eye at a glance the result of a mass of separate observations. In this case he uses it with striking effect. He shows conclusively, as far as rust in brome-grasses is concerned, that: "The capacity for infection, or for resistance to infection, is independent of the anatomical structure of the leaf, and must depend on some other internal factor or factors in the plant."
Finally, he is led to the conclusion that "it is in the domain of the invisible biological properties of the living cell that we must expect the phenomena to reside." He pointed out the probability that light would be thrown on this from the action of chemotaxis, on the one hand, and from that of toxins and antitoxins in animal organisms on the other. This is a most fertile conception, which would, however, have required a good deal of verification, and this, unhappily, he did not live to attempt. But with characteristic ingenuity he pointed out the analogy between the infective capacity of uredospores and the prepotency of pollen, which had previously engaged the attention of Darwin. In a paper published in the following year in the Berlin Annales Mycologici, he announced a no less significant result. With his usual thoroughness in research he had cultivated side by side at Cambridge more than two hundred species and varieties of Bromus, and had watched the degree to which they were infected by rust under identical conditions. He found that though in the brome-grasses the rust peculiar to them is specifically identical its forms are highly specialised. The form which attacks the species of one group will not attack those of another. Host and parasite are mutually "attuned." He termed this "adaptive parasitism." This raised the problem, which had first occurred to him in Ceylon, of how a parasite adapted to species of "one circle of alliance" can pass to those of another. Occasionally it happens that a uredo-form will infect a species where it ordinarily fails. In such a case "its uredospore progeny will thenceforth readily infect that species." Ward regarded this as a case of education. Working on this principle, he succeeded by growing the parasite successively on a series of allied species which were imperfectly resistant, to ultimately educate it to attack a species hitherto immune. He called these "bridgeing species." He established, in fact, a complete parallelism between the behaviour of rust-fungi and that of pathogenic organisms in animals.
In the midst of this far-reaching research his health began to fail. In 1904 he had been appointed by the Council to represent the Royal Society at the International Congress of Botany held at Vienna in June of the following year. This he attended, though more seriously ill than he was aware of. On his way back he spent three weeks for treatment at Carlsbad, but receiving no benefit, he went, on the advice of Dr Krause, to Dr von Noorden's Klinik at Sachsenhausen (Frankfort). Nothing could be done for him, and he was advised to return home by easy stages. After a period of progressive and extreme weakness, borne with unflinching courage, the end came somewhat suddenly at Torquay on August 26, 1906. He was buried at Cambridge in St Giles's Cemetery on September 3.
From 1880, the year following his degree, Ward never ceased for a quarter of a century to pour out a continuous stream of original work. This alone would be a remarkable performance, had he done nothing else. But he was constantly engaged in teaching work, and he acted as examiner in the Universities of London and Edinburgh. With no less conscientiousness he complied with the demands which the scientific world makes on its members; he served on the Councils of the Royal (1895) and Linnean (1887) Societies; he was President of the Botanical Section of the British Association at Toronto in 1897, and of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1904. Beyond all this he found time to give addresses with unfailing freshness of insight; a lecture at the Royal Institution on April 27, 1894, on the "Action of Light on Bacteria and Fungi" was a notable performance; he wrote numerous articles of a more popular kind, and he produced a number of excellent manuals for students on subjects connected with forest, agricultural and pathological botany. Activity so strenuous almost exceeds the limits of human possibility.
Under the influence of Sachs, Ward might have become a distinguished morphologist. But his work in Ceylon led him into a field of research from which he never deviated. A survey of his performance as a whole, such as I have attempted, has a scientific interest of its own. His research was not haphazard. A continuous and developing thread of thought runs through it all. The fundamental problem was the transference of the nutrition of one organism to the service of another. Of this, in Ceylon, Ward found himself confronted with two extreme types, and of both he made an exhaustive study. In Hemileia it was ruthless parasitism; in Strigula advantageous commensalism. Bornet put Schwendener's theory on a firm foundation when he effected the synthesis of a lichen; Ward, in another group, did the same thing for the ginger-beer plant. In such cases the partnership is beneficial. The problem is to trace the process by which one partner gets the upper hand and becomes merely predatory. Ward inherited a strong taste for music, though I believe he never cultivated it. A musical simile may not inappropriately be applied to his work. In its whole it presents itself to me as a symphony in which the education of protoplasm is a recurring leit-motiv.
A few words must be said as to his personal characteristics. He had all the qualifications for the kind of research to which he devoted himself. He was singularly dexterous and skilful in manipulation. He was a refined and accomplished draughtsman, and was therefore able to do himself justice by illustration. He was rigorous in demanding exhaustive proof. This almost deteriorated into a defect. He would pursue every side issue which presented itself in a research, and was quite content if it led to nothing. He would say in such a case: "I will not leave a stone unturned." He was apt, too, I think, to attack a problem in too generalised a form. In his nitrogen work it always seemed to me that he wasted energy on remote possibilities, when a clean-cut line of attack would have served him better. But his mind worked in that way, and he could not help himself. It was, I think, one of the most fertile in suggestion that I ever came across. In later years, in conversation especially, thought seemed to come quicker than words to express it. In this respect he reminded one of Lord Kelvin. In such a predicament he would simply remain silent, and slowly move his head. This habit, I think, explains the reputation of being "mysterious" which he seems to have acquired latterly at Cambridge.
He was not without the honour at home which he deserved, apart from the affection of his friends, and had he lived would doubtless have received it from abroad. He was elected F.R.S. in 1888, and received the Royal Medal in 1893. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Christ's College in 1897, and received an Honorary D.Sc. from the Victoria University in 1902.
Botanical science could ill spare his loss at the early age of 52. But it may be grateful for 25 years of illuminating achievement. It might have been hoped that another quarter of a century would be allotted to one so gifted. But if the "inexorabile fatum" decreed otherwise, he is at least to be numbered amongst those of whom it may be said
- Nov. 1911. I must guard myself against the implication that Marshall Ward's method was wrong in principle. For as pointed out by Prof. Turner in his "Address to the Mathematical and Physical Section" of the British Association at Portsmouth the maxim of "leaving no stone unturned" is identical with Prof. Chamberlin's "Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses." And what is at first sight an unlikely hypothesis may turn out to be the true one. Yet the rigorous application of the method is time-consuming and life is short. Some liberty of selection in testing the hypothesis that seems most probable must be allowed the investigator, and the instinct of genius may sometimes hit on the right one.