Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/158

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greater number of them swarmed with the bacteria of putrefaction, the germs of which had been contracted from the dust-laden air of the room. And, had the pus from my abscess been examined, my memory of its appearance leads me to infer that it would have been found equally swarming with these bacteria—that it was their germs which got into my incautiously-opened wound. They were the subtile workers that burrowed down my shin, dug the abscess in my instep, and produced effects which might well have proved fatal to me.

And here we come directly face to face with the labors of a man who has established for himself an imperishable reputation in relation to this subject, who combines the penetration of the true theorist with the skill and conscientiousness of the true experimenter, and whose practice is one continued demonstration of the theory that the putrefaction of wounds is to be averted by the destruction of the germs of bacteria. Not only from his own reports of his cases, but from the reports of eminent men who have visited his hospital, and from the opinions expressed to me by Continental surgeons, do I gather that one of the greatest steps ever made in the art of surgery was the introduction of the antiseptic system of treatment, practised first in Glasgow and now in Edinburgh, by Prof. Lister.

The interest of this subject does not slacken as we proceed. We began with the cherry-cask and beer-vat; we end with the body of man. There are persons born with the power of interpreting natural facts, as there are others smitten with everlasting incompetence in regard to such interpretation. To the former class in an eminent degree belonged the celebrated philosopher Robert Boyle, whose words in relation to this subject have in them the forecast of prophecy. "And let me add," writes Boyle in his "Essay on the Pathological Part of Physik," "that he that thoroughly understands the nature of ferments and fermentations shall probably be much better able than he that ignores them to give a fair account of divers phenomena of several diseases (as well fevers as others) which will perhaps be never properly understood without an insight into the doctrine of fermentations."

Two hundred years have passed since these pregnant words were written, and it is only in this our day that men are beginning to fully realize their truth. In the domain of surgery the justice of Boyle's surmise has been most strictly demonstrated. Demonstration is indeed the only word which fitly characterizes the evidence brought forward by Prof. Lister. You will grasp in a moment his leading idea. Take the extracted juice of beef or mutton, so prepared as to be perfectly transparent, and entirely free from the living germs of bacteria. Into the clear liquid let fall the tiniest drop of an infusion charged with the bacteria of putrefaction. Twenty-four hours subsequently the clear extract will be found muddy throughout, the turbidity being due to swarms of bacteria generated by the drop with