Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/159

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147
FERMENTATION AND DISEASE.

which the infusion was inoculated. At the same time the infusion will have passed from a state of sweetness to a state of putridity. Let a drop similar to that which has produced this effect fall into an open wound: the juices of the living body nourish the bacteria as the beef or mutton juice nourished them, and you have putrefaction produced within the system. The air, as I have said, is laden with floating matter which, when it falls upon the wound, acts substantially like the drop. Prof. Lister's aim is to destroy the life of that floating matter—to kill such germs as it may contain. Had he, for example, dressed my wound, instead of opening it incautiously in the midst of air laden with the germs of bacteria, and instead of applying to it gold-beater's skin, which probably carried these germs upon its surface, he would have showered upon the wound, during the time of dressing, the spray of some liquid capable of killing the germs. The liquid usually employed for this purpose is dilute carbolic acid, which, in his skilled hands, has become a specific against putrefaction and all its deadly consequences.

We now pass the bounds of surgery proper, and enter the domain of epidemic disease, including those fevers so sagaciously referred to by Boyle. The most striking analogy between a contagium and a ferment is to be found in the power of indefinite self-multiplication possessed and exercised by both. You know the exquisitely truthful figures regarding leaven employed in the New Testament. A particle hid in three measures of meal leavens it all. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. In a similar manner a particle of contagium spreads through the human body and may be so multiplied as to strike down whole populations. Consider the effect produced upon the system by a microscopic quantity of the virus of small-pox. That virus is to all intents and purposes a seed. It is sown as leaven is sown, it grows and multiplies as leaven grows and multiplies, and it always reproduces itself. To Pasteur we are indebted for a series of masterly researches, wherein he exposes the looseness and general baselessness of prevalent notions regarding the transmutation of one ferment into another. He guards himself against saying it is impossible. The true investigator is sparing in the use of this word, though the use of it is unsparingly ascribed to him; but, as a matter of fact, Pasteur has never been able to effect the alleged transmutation, while he has been always able to point out the open doorways through which the affirmers of such transmutations had allowed error to march in upon them.[1]

The great source of error here has been already alluded to in this discourse. The observers worked in an atmosphere charged with the germs of different organisms; the mere accident of first possession

  1. Those who wish for an illustration of the care necessary in these researches, and of the carelessness with which they have in some cases been conducted, will do well to consult the Rev. W. H. Dallinger's excellent "Notes on Heterogenesis," in the October number of the Popular Science Review.