Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/145

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suspended in a liquid. Thus knowledge rested until 1835, when Cagniard de la Tour in France, and Schwann in Germany, independently, but animated by a common thought, turned microscopes of improved definition and heightened powers upon yeast, and found it budding and sprouting before their eyes. The augmentation of the yeast alluded to above was thus proved to arise from the growth of a minute plant, now called Torula (or Saccharomyces) cerevisiæ. Spontaneous generation is therefore out of the question. The brewer deliberately sows the yeast-plant, which grows and multiplies in the wort as its proper soil. This discovery marks an epoch in the history of fermentation.

But where did the brewer find his yeast? The reply to this question is similar to that which must be given if the brewer were asked where he found his barley. He has received the seeds of both of them from preceding generations. Could we connect without solution of continuity the present with the past, we should probably be able to trace back the yeast employed by my Mend Sir Fowell Buxton today to that employed by some Egyptian brewer two thousand years ago. But you may urge that there must have been a time when the first yeast-cell was generated. Granted—exactly as there was a time when the first barley-corn was generated. Let not the delusion lay hold of you, that a living thing is easily generated, because it is small. Both the yeast-plant and the barley-plant lose themselves in the dim twilight of antiquity, and in this our day there is no more proof of the spontaneous generation of the one than there is of the spontaneous generation of the other.

I stated a moment ago that the fermentation of grape-juice was spontaneous; but I was careful to add, "in what sense spontaneous will appear more clearly by-and-by." Now, this is the sense meant: The wine-maker does not, like the brewer and distiller, deliberately introduce either yeast, or any equivalent of yeast, into his vats; he does not consciously sow in them any plant, or the germ of any plant; indeed, he has been hitherto in ignorance whether plants or germs of any kind have had anything to do with his operations. Still, when the fermented grape-juice is examined, the living Torula concerned in alcoholic fermentation never fails to make its appearance. How is this? If no living germ has been introduced into the wine-vat, whence comes the life so invariably developed there?

You may be disposed to reply, with Turpin and others, that, in virtue of its own inherent powers, the grape-juice, when brought into contact with the vivifying atmospheric oxygen, runs spontaneously and of its own accord into these low forms of life. I have not the slightest objection to this explanation, provided proper evidence can be adduced in support of it. But the evidence adduced in its favor, as far as I am acquainted with it, snaps asunder under the least strain of scientific criticism. It is, as far as I can see, the evidence of men