Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/161

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149
FERMENTATION AND DISEASE.

ing out before the physiologist causes me to conclude that no greater calamity could befall the human race than the stoppage of experimental inquiry in this direction. A lady whose philanthropy has rendered her illustrious said to me, some time ago, that science was becoming immoral; that the researches of the past, unlike those of the present, were carried on without cruelty. I replied to her that the science of Kepler and Newton, to which she referred, dealt with the laws and phenomena of inorganic Nature; but that one great advance made by modern science was in the direction of biology, or the science of life; and that in this new direction scientific inquiry, though at the outset pursued at the cost of some temporary suffering, would in the end prove a thousand times more beneficent than it had ever hitherto been. I said this because I saw that the very researches which the lady deprecated were leading us to such a knowledge of epidemic diseases as will enable us finally to sweep these scourges of the human race from the face of this fair earth.

This is a point of such special importance that I should like to bring it home to your intelligence by a single trustworthy illustration. In 1850, two distinguished French observers, MM. Davainne and Rayer, noticed, in the blood of animals which had died of the virulent disease called splenic fever, small microscopic organisms resembling transparent rods, but neither of them at that time attached any significance to the observation. In 1861 Pasteur published a memoir on the fermentation of butyric acid, wherein he described the organism which provoked it; and, after reading this memoir, it occurred to Davainne that splenic fever might be a case of fermentation set up within the animal body by the organisms which had been observed by him and Rayer. This idea has been placed beyond all doubt by subsequent research.

Some years in advance of the labors undertaken by Davainne, observations of the highest importance had been made on splenic fever by Pollender and Brauell. Two years ago, Dr. Burdon-Sanderson gave us a very clear account of what was known up to that time of this disorder. With regard to the permanence of the contagium, it had been proved to hang for years about localities where it had once prevailed; and this seemed to show that the rod-like organisms could not constitute the contagium, because their infective power was found to vanish in a few weeks. But other facts established an intimate connection between the organisms and the disease, so that a review of all the facts caused Dr. Sanderson to conclude that the contagium existed in two distinct forms: the one "fugitive," and visible as transparent rods; the other permanent but "latent," and not yet brought within the grasp of the microscope.

At the time that Dr. Sanderson was writing this report, a young German physician, named Koch, occupied with the duties of his profession in an obscure country district, was already at work, applying,