Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/153

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141
FERMENTATION AND DISEASE.

just covered with warm water; you thus extract the juice of the beef in a concentrated form. By properly boiling the liquid and filtering it you can obtain from it a perfectly transparent beef-tea. Expose a number of vessels containing this tea to the moteless air of your chamber, and expose a number of similar vessels containing precisely the same liquid to the dust-laden air. In three days every one of the latter stinks, and, examined with the microscope, every one of them is found swarming with the bacteria of putrefaction. After three months, or three years, the beef-tea within the chamber is found in every case as sweet and clear, and as free from bacteria, as it was at the moment when it was first put in. There is absolutely no difference between the air within and that without, save that the one is dustless and the other dust-laden. Clinch the experiment thus: Open the door of your chamber and allow the dust to enter it. In three days afterward you have every vessel within the chamber swarming with bacteria, and in a state of active putrefaction. Here, also, the inference is quite as certain as in the case of the powder sown in your garden. Multiply your proofs by building fifty chambers instead of one, and by employing every imaginable infusion of wild animals and tame; of flesh, fish, fowl, and viscera; of vegetables of the most various kinds. If, in all these cases, you find the dust infallibly producing its crop of bacteria, while neither the dustless air nor the nutritive infusion, nor both together, are ever aide to produce this crop, your conclusion is simply irresistible that the dust of the air contains the germs of the crop which, has appeared in your infusions. I repeat, there is no inference of experimental science more certain than this one. In the presence of such facts, to use the words of a paper lately published in the "Philosophical Transactions," it would be simply monstrous to affirm that these swarming crops of bacteria are spontaneously generated.

Is there, then, no experimental proof of spontaneous generation? I answer without hesitation, none! But to doubt the experimental proof of a fact, and to deny its possibility, are two different things, though some writers confuse matters by making them synonymous. In fact, this doctrine of spontaneous generation, in one form or another, falls in with the theoretic beliefs of some of the foremost workers of this age; but it is exactly these men who have the penetration to see, and the honesty to expose, the weakness of the evidence adduced in its support.

 

And here observe how these discoveries tally with the common practices of life. Heat kills the bacteria, cold numbs them. When my housekeeper has pheasants in charge which she wishes to keep sweet, but which threaten to give way, she partially cooks the birds, kills the infant bacteria, and thus postpones the evil day. By boiling her milk she also extends its period of sweetness. Some weeks ago, in the Alps, I made a few experiments on the influence of cold upon