Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/499

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and multiply for many years after germ-cells have died out. If similarly measured, then, these cells of the last class prove to be more mortal than those of the first. But Prof. Weismann uses a different measure for the two classes of cells. Passing over the illegitimacy of this proceeding, let us accept his other mode of measurement, and see what comes of it. As described by him, absence of death among the Protozoa is implied by that unceasing division and subdivision of which they are said to be capable. Fission continued without end, is the definition of the immortality he speaks of. Apply this conception to the reproductive cells in a Metazoon. That the immense majority of them do not multiply without end we have already seen: with very rare exceptions they die and disappear without result, and they cease their multiplication while the body as a whole still lives. But what of those extremely exceptional ones which, as being actually instrumental to the maintenance of the species, are alone contemplated by Prof. Weismann? Do these continue their fissiparous multiplications without end? By no means. The condition under which alone they preserve a qualified form of existence, is that, instead of one becoming two, two become one. A member of series A and a member of series B coalesce, and so lose their individualities. Now, obviously, if the immortality of a series is shown if its members divide and subdivide perpetually, then the opposite of immortality is shown when, instead of division, there is union. Each series ends, and there is initiated a new series, differing more or less from both. Thus the assertion that the reproductive cells are immortal, can be defended only by changing the conception of immortality otherwise implied.

Even apart from these last criticisms, however, we have clear disproof of the alleged inherent difference between the two classes of cells. Among animals the multiplication of somatic cells is brought to an end by sundry restraining conditions; but in various plants, where these restraining conditions are absent, the multiplication is unlimited. It may, indeed, be said that the alleged distinction should be reversed; since the fissiparous multiplication of reproductive cells is necessarily interrupted from time to time by coalescence, while that of the somatic cells may go on for a century without being interrupted.


In the essay to which this is a postscript, conclusions were drawn from the remarkable case of the horse and quagga there narrated, along with an analogous case observed among pigs. These conclusions have since been confirmed. I am much indebted to a distinguished correspondent who has drawn my attention to verifying facts furnished by the offspring of whites and negroes in the United States. Referring to information given him many