Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/479

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
465
PROGRESS OF THE GERM THEORY OF DISEASE.

only to all appearance still more cogent, would prove animals and plants, even of large species, to originate spontaneously; that this evidence is therefore of no weight; and, lastly, that all the really important facts point the other way, and tend to prove that these poisons (to use a term which is probably provisional only), like animals and plants, however they may have once originated, are only propagated now by the law of continuous succession."

The word "poisons," here provisionally employed, was a concession on Budd's part to his weaker brethren; for he, without a shade of doubt, considered the poison to be a real living seed. There was, I believe, but one physician of eminence in England who, at the time here referred to, shared this conviction, and who imparted to Budd the incalculable force derived from the approbation and encouragement of a wise and celebrated man. It gives me singular pleasure to write down here the name of the venerable Sir Thomas Watson, who lent to William Budd unfailing countenance and support, and who has lived to see that the views which commended themselves to his philosophic judgment are at the present moment advancing with resistless momentum among the members of the medical profession. It was far otherwise at the time to which we here refer. "Opinions like these," said Budd, "are no doubt, at present, those of a small minority. A very large, and by far the most influential school in this country—a school which probably embraces the great majority of medical practitioners, and the whole of the 'sanitary public'—holds the exact contrary; and teaches that sundry of these poisons are constantly being generated de novo by the material conditions which surround us."

Budd's remark regarding the spontaneous generation of "animals and plants, even of large species," is both pregnant and pertinent. In reference to special and solitary outbreaks of contagious fever, I have frequently heard physicians of distinction affirm, without apparent misgiving, the "impossibility" of importation from without. On such occasions a reply, in the strict sense affirmed by William Budd, was always at hand; for I was able to adduce cases of solitary mushrooms, found upon out-of-the-way Alpine slopes, to which the evidence would apply with greater force than to the cases on which the physicians referred to based their conclusions. With the atmosphere as a vehicle of universal intercommunication, it is hard to see any just warrant for the reliance of medical men upon the negative evidence stigmatized by Budd as valueless. It is, however, evidence by which many physicians are still influenced, and the effects of which it will probably require a generation of doctors, brought up under other conditions of culture and of practice, to wholly sweep away.

These conditions are growing up around us, and their influence will be all-pervading before long. Never before was medicine manned and officered as it is now. To name here the workers at present engaged in the investigation of communicable diseases would be to ex-