Lionel S. (Lionel Smith) Beale.

Protoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind online

. (page 2 of 12)
Online LibraryLionel S. (Lionel Smith) BealeProtoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind → online text (page 2 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

does not produce machines like itself. Mr. Grove further says
that in the human body we have chemical action, electricity,
magnetism, heat, light, motion, and possibly other forces
" contributing in the most complex manner to sustain that
result of combined action which we call life." Here it
seems to be affirmed that forces sustain the result of their
own combined action, but surely this is only asserting that
these forces sustain themselves. Heat, light, electricity, etc.,
sustain the result of the combined action of heat, light,
electricity. It is moreover said that what we call life is the
result of the combined action of motion, heat, light, elec-
tricity, etc., which are but different forms or modes of one
force. But as everybody knows we may have any and all
modes of force without life. Life, therefore, involves some-.
thing besides force, or is something different from it.

Those who teach that life is the sum of all the actions going on in a
living body, forget that these actions are not all of the same kind. Of
some we know very much, but of the nature of others we know nothing.
In every living thing there are physico-chemical actions, which also occur
out of the body, and vital actions. These last are peculiar to living
beings, and cannot be imitated. In galvanic batteries, and in other
arrangements made by man, we may have physico-chemical actions, but
never anything at all like vital actions. Of course, authority may
decree that henceforth the terms " living galvanic battery" "vital
machine" " animated steam engine" shall be employed, and that a man
shall be called a "physico-chemical apparatus" or a " kynetic" or
"electric machine" but the nature of the things themselves could not be
changed in the least degree by authority, however much the names by
which they were known were altered.



The term "Protoplasm" is now applied to several dif-
ferent kinds of matter, to substances differing from one
another in the most essential particulars. It seems, there-
fore, very desirable that its meaning should be accurately
denned by those who employ it, or that it should be super-
seded by other words. If certain authorities were asked
to define exactly the characters of the matter which they
called protoplasm, we should have from those authors defi-
nitions applying to things essentially different from one
another. Hard and soft, solid and liquid, coloured and
colourless, opaque and transparent, granular and destitute
of granules, structureless and having structure, moving and
incapable of movement, active and passive, contractile and
non-contractile, growing and incapable of growth, changing
and incapable of change, animate and inanimate, alive and
dead, are some of the opposite qualities possessed by
different kinds of matter which have nevertheless been
called protoplasm.

A definition of protoplasm, most probably written by
the late Professor Henfrey in " Griffith and Henfrey's
Micrographic Dictionary," is as follows : " Protoplasm.
The name applied by Mohl to the colourless or yellowish,
smooth or granular viscid substance, of nitrogenous con-
stitution, which constitutes the formative substance in the
contents of vegetable cells, in the condition of gelatinous
strata, reticulated threads and nuclear aggregations, &c.
It is the same substance as that formerly termed by the


Germans ' schleim,' which was usually translated in English
works by * mucus' or ' mucilage.' " The surface of this
mass constituted the " formative protoplasmic layer" which
was supposed to take part in the formation of the cellulose
wall of the vegetable cell. This was regarded by Von Mohl
as a structure of special importance distinct from the
cell contents, and it was named by him, in 1844, the
" primordial utricle."

In cases where protoplasm appears as a simple trans-
parent homogeneous substance, several layers have been
described, and it has been supposed that these different
layers are concerned in different operations. This view has
been extended to many forms of protoplasm, and the
movements which occur have been attributed to the pre-
sence of two or more layers differing in density.

Clear, homogeneous protoplasm, it has been said, under-
goes vacuolation, and becomes honeycombed, the spaces
being rilled with watery matter. In some instances, this
change proceeds until mere protoplasmic threads are seen
stretched across the cavity. The transparent fluid material
occupying the spaces and the intervals between the threads
supposed to be the less important matter, and yet it is
the living, growing, and moving substance ; while the
threads and walls of the spaces are composed of matter
which has ceased to manifest these properties matter
which no longer lives, and which has been formed from the
living matter. But we may fairly ask if this lifeless, passive,
formed matter, which cannot move or grow or multiply of
itself, which is but a product of the death of protoplasm,
is nevertheless to be called by the same name as the living,


moving substance which it once was ? If this be so, there
ought to be no recognizable difference between matter
which is actually alive and the substances which result from
its death.

So far, then, we have seen that the term protoplasm has
been applied to the matter within the primordial utricle of
the vegetable cell, to that clear substance which undergoes
vacuolation and fibrillation, and to the matter forming the
walls of the vacuoles and the threads or fibrillae. Still more
recently, Von Mohl's primordial utricle has been called proto-
plasm by Professor Huxley, who some years before restricted
the term to the matter within the primordial utricle, which
matter at that time he regarded as an "accidental anatomi-
cal modification" of the endoplast, and of little importance.*
The nucleus, and with it the protoplasm, Mr. Huxley
thought, exerted no peculiar office, and possessed no meta-
bolic power. Now, however, he considers " protoplasm" of
the first importance; and under this term includes, I
imagine, not only the primordial utricle and the " accidental
anatomical modifications " it encloses, but the fully-formed
cellulose wall of the vegetable cell. His "endoplast" and
"periplastic substance" of 1853 together constitute his
"protoplasm" of 1869. The old views are modified, and
although the results of researches made during the last few
years are scarcely alluded to, the writer evidently has felt
that certain changes must be made. So the vacuoles of his
periplastic substance become silently tenanted by simple or
nucleated protoplasms endowed with " subtle influences"
which our author may yet admit to have existed before his
* "The Cell Theory," " Med. Chir. Rev.," October, 1853.


periplastic substance was formed. Next he may discover
that the endoplast is of the highest importance instead of
no importance at all, and then there is an easy step to the
doctrine that the periplastic substance is formed by and from
the protoplasm which has properties and "subtle influences''' of
a remarkable kind, but is not endowed with the absurd fiction
of vitality.

Max Schultze included under the head of protoplasm
the active moving matter forming the sarcode of the Rhizo-
pods as well as the substance circulating in the cells of
vallisneria, the hairs of the nettle, and other vegetable cells ;
and now it is generally admitted that the active, moving
matter constituting the white blood-corpuscle, the mucus
and pus corpuscle, and other contractile bodies widely dis-
tributed, is essentially of the same nature. The move-
ments characteristic of this matter have been attributed to
an inherent property of contractility ; and this property
has been held by some to be characteristic of, and peculiar
to, protoplasm. Kiihne considers all contractile material
to be protoplasm, and includes the different forms of
muscular tissue in the same category as the matter of the
amoeba, white blood-corpuscle, &c. But if we apply the
term protoplasm to the contracting muscular tissue which
exhibits structure, as well as to the living moving matter of
the amoeba, &c., in which no structure at all can be made
out, it is obvious that these must be regarded as essentially
different kinds of protoplasm, 'because they differ in proper-
ties which are essential and of the first importance. The
contractile movement of the amoeba, white blood-cor-
puscle, &c., is a phenomenon very different from the con-


traction of muscular tissue. In the first, movements occur
in every direction, while the last is characterized by a repe-
tition of movement in two definite directions only. And
when we come to study the matter which is the seat of these
two kinds of movements respectively, we find very im-
portant differences. The matter of the amoeba, white
blood-corpuscle, &c., grows. It takes up matter unlike itself,
and communicates to it its own properties. Now, muscular
tissue does not do this. In short, the first kind of matter
acts and moves of itself; but the last can only be acted
upon and made to move. The first may be compared with a
spring, as yet undiscovered, which not only winds itself up
and uncoils, but every part of which moves in any direc-
tion, and can make new springs out of matter which has
none of the properties of a spring j the last with a spring
which can only uncoil itself after it has been wound up.

Further, the term protoplasm has not been applied only
to the matter of which the amoeba, the sarcode of the fora-
aninifera, &c., is composed, and that which constitutes the
^white blood-corpuscle and such bodies, but the matter
which is gradually assuming the form of tissue has been
considered to be of the same nature. The radiating fibres
of the caudate nerve-cells of the spinal cord have been
termed protoplasm fibres, and the outer part of the nerve-
cell with which they are continuous is composed of the
same substance. The axis cylinder of the dark-bordered
nerve-fibres and the fine ultimate nerve-fibres in peripheral
parts have been looked upon as a form of protoplasm ; but
it is hardly necessary to remark that, whatever may be the
nature of the material of which nerve-fibres and the outer
part of nerve-cells are composed 4 it possesses properties


very different from those manifested by the amoeba, white
blood-corpuscle, etc., and is destitute of the powers which
characterize the matter constituting these bodies. Here
again we find the term protoplasm applied to different kinds
of matter or to matter in very different states.

But unfortunately we have by no means exhausted the
confusion which has resulted with regard to protoplasm, for
the name has been applied also to the outer, hard, dead
part of epithelial cells and by implication to all correspond-
ing structures.

Protoplasm the Physical Basis of Life. In order to
convince people that the actions of living beings are not
due to any mysterious vitality or vital force or power, but
are in fact physical and chemical in their nature, Prof. Huxley
gives to matter which is alive, to matter which is dead, and to
matter which is completely changed by roasting or boiling,
the very same name. The matter of sheep and mutton and
man and lobster and egg is the same, and, according to
Huxley, one may be transubstantiated into the other. But
how ? By " subtle influences," and " under sundry circum-
stances," answers this authority. And all these things alive,
or dead, or roasted, he tells us are made of protoplasm, and
this protoplasm is the physical basis of life, or the basis of
physical life* But can the discoverer of "subtle influences"
afford to sneer at the fiction of vitality ? By calling things
which differ from one another in many qualities by the same
name, Huxley seems to think he can annihilate distinctions,
enforce identity, and sweep away the difficulties which
have impeded the progress of previous philosophers in

* The iron basis of the candle, and the basis of the iron candle are
expressions evidently interchangeable.


their search after unity. Plants and worms and men are
all protoplasm, and protoplasm is albuminous matter, and
albuminous matter consists of four elements, and these four
elements possess certain properties, by which properties all
differences between plants and worms and men are to be
accounted for. Although Huxley would probably admit
that a worm was not a man, he would tell us that by " subtle
influences" the one thing might be easily converted into the
other, and not by such nonsensical fictions as "vitality,"
which can neither be weighed, measured, nor conceived.*

* But this is not the first time Mr. Huxley has indulged in adroit
word-tricks and inapposite illustrations. After referring to the
anatomy of the horse, he says, in his "Lectures to Working Men,"
page II : "Hitherto we have, as it were, been looking at a steam-
engine with the fires out, and nothing in the boiler ( ! ) but the body of
the living animal is a beautifully-formed machine" And it would be
easy to point out in many of his writings, vague remarks of the same
sort with similes, calculated rather to mislead than to assist the judgment
of students. Take, for example, his far-fetched observations in the first
number of the "Academy," page 13, about the kitchen clock, which
cries "cuckoo," and shows the phases of the moon, and the death-
watch machine, "a learned and intelligent student of its works," ticking
like the clock in the clock case. We are told to "substitute 'cosmic
vapour ' for ' clock, ' and ' molecules ' for ' works, ' and the application
of the argument is obvious." (!) The argument relates to the "forces
possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the
universe was composed," by the mutual interaction of which forces the
whole world living and not living has resulted. " If this be true" (doubt-
fully suggests the Professor) " it is no less certain that the existing world
lay, potientially, in the cosmic vapour ; and that a sufficient intelligence
could, from a knowledge of the properties of the molecules of that
vapour, have predicted, say the state of the Fauna of Britain in 1869,
with as much certainty as one can say what will happen to the vapour
of the breath in a cold winter's day.". (!) These remarks are printed
under the heading "SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY."



Some among those who work at and think over these
matters doubt if many of Prof. Huxley's assertions are at all
justified by his facts, and many are unable to accept argu-
ments which by him seem to have been considered quite
conclusive. I shall therefore venture to draw attention to
some of the views he has recently expressed in his paper,
" On the Physical Basis of Life," published in the " Fort-
nightly Review", February ist, 1869.

Up to this time all observers have agreed in opinion
that the cell or elementary part of the fully-formed organism
consists of different kinds of matter, and it has been sup-
posed that distinct offices were performed by some of these.
They have been variously named. Cell-wall, cell-contents,
nucleus, nucleolus, periplast, endoplast, primordial utricle,
protoplasm, living matter and formed matter, are not all the
terms that have been proposed. I think Professor Huxley
is the first observer who has spoken of the cell in its
entirety as a mass of protoplasm, and the only one who has
ever asserted that any tissue in nature is composed through-
out of matter which can properly be regarded as one in
kind. This view is quite incompatible with many facts,
some of which have been alluded to by Mr. Huxley him-
self.* I doubt if in the whole range of modem science it
would be possible to find an assertion more at variance
with facts familiar to physiologists than the statement that
" beast and fowl, reptile and fish, mollusk, worm, and

* "The original endoplast of the embryo cell," Huxley says, in
1853, "has grown and divided into all the endoplasts of the adult," and
"the original periplast has grown at a corresponding rate, and has
formed one continuous and connected envelope from the very first."


polype," are composed of " masses of protoplasm with a
nucleus," unless it be that still more extravagant assertion
that what is ordinarily termed a cell or elementary part is
a mass of protoplasm ; for can anything be more unlike
the semi-fluid, active, moving matter of amoeba protoplasm,
than the hard, dry, passive, external part of a cuticular cell
or of an elementary part of bone ?

I cannot forbear quoting in this place the following
passage, which certainly requires explanation. After stating
that the substance of a colourless blood-corpuscle is an
active mass of protoplasm, Mr. Huxley remarks that " iinder
sundry circumstances the corpuscle dies (!) and becomes
distended into a round mass, in the midst of which is seen
a smaller spherical body, which existed, but was more or
less hidden in the living corpuscle, and is called its nucleus.
Corpuscles of essentially similar structure are to be found
in the skin, in the lining of the mouth, and scattered through
the whole framework of the body" Now, what can be
meant by a white blood-corpuscle dying and becoming dis-
tended into a round mass under sundry circumstances?
Mr. Huxley goes on to say that at an early period of deve-
lopment the organism is " nothing but an aggregation of
such corpuscles," that is, of corpuscles (elementary parts
or cells) like those " found in the skin, in the lining of
the mouth, and scattered through the whole framework of
the body." This assertion is incorrect, inasmuch as the
corpuscles in the embryo consist almost entirely of (living)
matter like the white blood-corpuscle, while those of which
the skin (cuticle) and most of the tissues of the adult are
composed consist principally of formed matter with a very

c 2 *


little of the other (living) matter, and the oldest particles of
cuticle are entirely composed of hard formed matter. Here, as
in other cases referred to by Huxley, no distinction is drawn
between that which is living, growing, and forming; and that
which has been formed and is destitute of all powers of life and
growth. No distinction between living matter and lifeless
matter ! Both are confused together under the term "pro-
toplasm," for which might be substituted "organic matter"
or " albuminous matter." Huxley terms the particles of
epithelium of the cuticle and of mucous membranes, masses
of protoplasm. He says beasts and fowls, reptiles and
fishes, are all composed of structural units of the same
character. Now, this mass of protoplasm, this unit, con-
sists partly of lifeless and partly of living matter. The outer
part, which may be dry and hard, and is lifeless, may be
undergoing disintegration, and is perhaps being taken up
by other living organisms, but is nevertheless, according to
this view, just as much protoplasm as the living, growing,
moving matter itself. It does not signify how many dif-
ferent things may be comprised in the cell or elementary
part, in what essentially different states these things may
be, how different parts may differ in properties they
constitute protoplasm. A muscle is protoplasm ; nerve is
protoplasm ; bone, hair, and shell are protoplasm ; a lirnb is
protoplasm; the whole body is protoplasm, and of course
bone, hair, shell, etc., are as much "the physical basis of
life" as albuminous matter and roast mutton. But surely
it would be less incorrect to speak of such "protoplasms"
as the physical basis of death or the physical basis of roast,
than to call dead and roasted matter the physical basis of


life. No anatomical investigation is necessary to enable us
to detect this substance. Every beast, fowl, reptile, worm,
or polyp that we see is protoplasm. Everything that lives
or has lived is protoplasm, variously modified.*

Mr. Huxley seems to maintain that protoplasm may be
killed and dried, roasted and boiled, or otherwise altered,
and yet remain protoplasm ; but his " protoplasm" is after all
only albuminoid or protein matter. t Huxley says lobster-
protoplasm may be converted into human protoplasm, and
the latter again turned into living lobster. But the statement
is incorrect; because, in the process of assimilation "pro-
toplasm" is entirely disintegrated, and is not converted into
the new tissue in the form of protoplasm at all ; and he
must permit me to remark that sheep cannot be transub-
stantiated into man, even by " subtle influences," nor can
dead protoplasm be converted into living protoplasm, or a
dead sheep into a living man. And what is gained by calling
the matter of dead roast mutton and of a living growing sheep
by the same name ? If the last is the physical basis of life one
does not see how the first can be so too, unless roast mutton
and living sheep are identical ; but surely Mr. Huxley does
not really mean to assert this.

It is remarkable that Huxley himself, some sixteen years

* The term "variously modified" perhaps includes the terms
living and dead } and, according to Mr. Huxley, expresses with sufficient
exactness the difference between the living and dead states.

+ Mr. Huxley says, "all protoplasm is proteinaceous ; or, as the
white or albumen of an egg is one of the commonest examples of a
nearly pure protein matter, we may say that all living matter is more or
less albuminoid." If the white of an egg is living matter, why not its
shell ?


ago, drew a distinction between living and non-living matter,
which he now, without any explanation, utterly ignores.
He remarked that the stone, the gas, the crystal, had an
inertia, and tended to remain as they were unless some ex-
ternal influence affected them ; but that living things were
characterized by the very opposite tendencies. He referred
also to " the faculty of pursuing their own course" and the
" inherent law of change in living beings." In 1853, the
same authority actually found fault with those who at-
tempted to reduce life to " mere attractions and repulsions,"
and considered physiology " simply as a complex branch of
mere physics." He also remarked that "vitality is a pro-
perty inherent in certain kinds of matter."

Bathybius. I will now draw attention to a fanciful form
of marine protoplasm, supposed to be very widely extended
at great depths, which has been much discussed of late, and
concerning the nature of which much difference of opinion
is entertained. From the protoplasm of the amoeba and
certain forms of foraminifera. we pass, it is said, to larger
and more extended sheets of this substance, included under
the head of " urschleim," and constituting the organisms of
the simplest animated beings, which have been included
by Haeckel in the genus Moner. It would be wrong to omit
all mention of this subject, as it is very interesting and of
great importance, although I have not given much attention
to it. I shall therefore quote the observations of others so
far as they appear to me to bear upon the consideration
of the nature of protoplasm.

In the "Microscopical Journal" for October, 1868, is a


memoir by Professor Huxley, " On some Organisms living
at great Depths in the North Atlantic Ocean," in which he
states that the stickiness of the deep-sea mud is due to
" innumerable lumps of a transparent gelatinous substance,"
each lump consisting of granules, coccoliths, and foreign
bodies, embedded in a " transparent, colourless, and struc-
tureless matrix." The granules form heaps which are some-
times the To-Vo tn of an inch or more in diameter. The
"granule" is a rounded or oval disc, which is stained
yellow by iodine, and is dissolved by acetic acid. " The
granule heaps and the transparent gelatinous matter in
which they are embedded represent masses of protoplasm."
One of the masses of this deep-sea "urschleim" may be
regarded as a new form of the simplest animated beings
(Moner), and Huxley proposes to call it Bathybius* The
" Discolithi and the Cyatholithi" some of which resemble
the " granules," are said to bear the same relation to the
protoplasm of Bathybius as the spicula of sponges do to the
soft parts of those animals ; but it must be borne in mind
that the spicula of sponges are imbedded in a matrix, which is
formed by and contains, besides the spicula, small masses of
living or germinal matter, which have been ignored, although

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryLionel S. (Lionel Smith) BealeProtoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind → online text (page 2 of 12)