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the matrix is produced and the form of the spicula deter-

* The idea of the existence of huge continuous masses of living
matter of enormous extent, is most fanciful and improbable. It appears
to be opposed to well ascertained facts. So far from living matter growing
to form very large collections, it divides in almost all known instances
before it reaches the diameter even of 3^ of an inch. I think that the
phenomena essential to living matter are only possible in minute masses
separated from one another, so that each may be supplied with nutrient
materials. See "Of Life," p. 67.


mined by them. As in other cases, this matrix, with the
living matter included, constitutes " protoplasm."

Bathybius has been fancifully described as " a vast sheet
of living matter (!) enveloping the whole earth beneath the
seas," composed of molecules whose organizing tendencies
will be shown after the lapse of several thousand years in
the Fauna and Flora of the period of which the unscientific
cannot now form the remotest conception. But it is surely a
consoling thought, and one eminently calculated to confirm
our faith in the infallibility of the new philosophy, to re-
member the remarkable prophecy that the successful neo-
biologist is not only to render evident the wonderful proper-
ties now dormant in the existing Bathybius, but as soon as
he shall have succeeded in demonstrating to us the properties
of the molecules which once formed the primitive nebulosity,
he will be able to predict the exact state of the Fauna and
Flora of Middlesex in the year 5069, and with as much
certainty as he can now tell us what will happen if exactly
one thousand grains of proteid organic matter be exposed,
in an atmosphere of carbonic acid to a temperature of 25
during the space of two hours.

Dr. Wallictts Observations. Dr. Wallich has, it need
scarcely be said, arrived at a very different conclusion. In a
paper " On the Vital Functions of the Deep-sea Protozoa,"
published in No. I. of the " Monthly Microscopical Journal,"
January, 1869, this observer, who has long been engaged in
this and kindred studies, states that the coccoliths and cocco-
spheres stand in no direct relation to the protoplasm sub-
stance referred to by Huxley under the name of Bathybius.
The former are derived from their parent coccospheres,


which are independent structures altogether. " Bathybius"
instead of being a widely-extending sheet of living protoplasm
which grows at the expense of inorganic elements, is rather
to be regarded as a complex mass of slime with many
foreign bodies and the debris of living organisms which
have passed away. Numerous minute living forms are,
however, still found on it.

Dr. Wallich is of opinion that each coccosphere is just
as much an independent structure at Thalassicolla or Col-
lospJmra, and that, as in other cases, " nutrition is effected
by a vital act," which enables the organism to extract from
the surrounding medium the elements adapted for its nutri-
tion. These are at length converted into its sarcode and
shell material. In fact, in these lowest simplest forms, we
find evidence of the working of an inherent vital power, and
in them nutrition seems to be conducted upon the same
principles as in the highest and most complex beings. In
all cases the process involves, besides physical and chemical
changes, purely vital actions, which cannot be imitated, and
which cannot be explained by Physics and Chemistry.

Chemistry of Protoplasm. From what has been said
already, it must be obvious that the chemistry of the
complex matter now termed protoplasm, embraces, i, the
chemistry of the formed matter, and 2, the chemistry of
the active, living, growing, matter, of an organism. By
chemical analysis we can ascertain the composition of the
first, and can learn many facts concerning its elementary
chemical characters; but it is obvious that chemistry can
teach us little with regard to the composition of the living
matter, for we kill it when we attempt to analyze it ; and


in truth we analyze not the living matter, but the sub-
stances resulting from its death. Of course any one may
say that the inanimate substances he obtains were the
actual things of which the living matter was composed,
but it is a mere assertion, for the bodies in question cannot
be detected in the matter while it is actually alive; and
when obtained they do not possess the properties or powers
characteristic of the living matter.* What, therefore, can be
gained by asserting that these things constitute living matter?
What is the use of trying to make people believe and con-
fess that there is no difference between a living thing and
the same thing dead, when it is clearly possible that there
may be the very greatest difference ?

And I must not omit to notice here a remark made by
Mr. Herbert Spencer, which illustrates the extraordinary
opinion entertained by him concerning the difference be-
tween living, growing, active, matter, and perfectly lifeless
matter. " On the other hand (he says) the microscope has
traced down organisms to simpler and simpler forms, until, in
the Protogenes of Professor Haeckel there has been reached
a type distinguishable from a fragment of albumen only by its
finely granular character""^ Mr. Herbert Spencer should
prepare a solution of albumen and a solution of " proto-

* " In the last place, Mr. Huxley's analysis is an analysis of dead
protoplasm, and indecisive, consequently, for that which lives. Mr.
Huxley betrays sensitiveness in advance of this objection ; for he seeks
to rise above the sensitiveness and the objection at once by styling the
latter 'frivolous.'" "As regards Protoplasm in relation to Professor
Huxley's Essay on the Physical Basis of Life," by J. H. Stirling,
LL.D., F.R.C.S. Edinburgh, Blackwood and Sons, October, 1869.

f "The Principles of Psychology," p. 137.


genes," and by careful evaporation he might obtain two
extracts not distinguishable from one another. Both would
exhibit a " finely granular character," and thus the important
fact that there was no difference whatever between the
inanimate albumen and the inanimate " protogenes " would
be demonstrated. And as every one is now prepared to
admit that there is no difference between dead "proto-
genes" and living "protogenes," we must of course accept
the conclusion that the lowest forms of life are but forms of
albumen. In this way " the chasm between the inorganic
and the organic is being filled up ! "

"Properties" of Matter. Here are some specimens
of the dogmatic assertions which have been advanced
in place of facts and arguments in favour of the physico-
chemical doctrines. "The difference between a crystal
of calcspar and amorphous carbonate of lime corre-
sponds to the difference between living matter and the
matter which results from its death. Just as by chemical
analysis we learn the composition of calc spar, so by
chemical analysis we ascertain the composition of living
matter. It is not probable that there is any real differ-
ence in the nature of the molecular forces which compel
the carbonate of lime to assume and retain the crystalline
form, and those which cause the albuminoid matter to move
and grow, select and form and maintain its particles in a
state of incessant motion. The property of crystallising is
to crystallisable matter what the vital property is to albu-
minoid matter (protoplasm). The crystalline form corre-
sponds to the organic form, and its internal structure to tissue
structure. Crystalline force being a property of matter,


vital force is but a property of matter." It might be objected
that crystalline force keeps particles still and compels them
to assume a constant form, while vital force prevents them
from assuming any definite form at all and keeps them
moving,; -form being assumed only when the matter is with-
drawn from the influence of the vital force ; but these and
any other objections raised to the physical theory of life are
accounted absurd and frivolous. It has been asserted posi-
tively that there is but one true theory of life the physical
theory. Its advocates seem to think that any objections
raised to this ought not to be listened to, because they
assert prophetically that by the rapid advance of molecular
physics, the truth of their theory will some day be fully

Aquosity and Vitality. The properties possessed by in-
organic compounds are supposed to be due in some way to
the properties of the elements of which they consist. Thus
it has been remarked that the properties of water result
from the properties of its constituent gases, and are not due
to " aquosity," as if any reasonable man would think of
referring the properties of water to such a " subtle in-
fluence" as " aquosity." It has been argued that since the
properties of water are due to its gases and not to aquosity,
the properties of protoplasm are due to its elements, Oxygen,
Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Carbon, and not to vitality. But
the cases are by no means parallel. Of water there is but
one kind.* Of protoplasm there are kinds innumerable.
The constituent elements of the same particle of water may

* A hostile critic has discovered that there are at least two kinds,
dirty water and clean water !


be separated and recombined again and again as many
times as we please; but the elements of protoplasm once
separated from one another, can never be combined again
to form any kind of protoplasm. But further, every kind of
protoplasm differs from every other kind most remarkably
in the results of its living, one producing man, another dog,
a third butterfly, a fourth amoeba, and so on. Now, what
can be more absurd than to suggest that the properties of
man, dog, butterfly, and amoeba are due not to vitality, but
to the constituent elements, or to the properties of the
molecules of their tissues ? Do the properties of the
elements of dog differ sufficiently from those of the ele-
ments of man, to account for the differences between
dog and man. Have we not rather reason to infer an
approximation towards identity of composition in the living
matter, with marvellous difference in the results of the vital
actions ? How, then, can the differences be due to the
ordinary properties of the elements ? Wonderful properties
have indeed to be discovered in connection with elements
before we can refer the differences in property of living
beings compounded of them to the properties of the ele-
ments themselves. The argument advanced against vitality,
as far as it rests upon the non-existence of aquosity, is
utterly worthless, and it is astonishing that any writer who
gave his readers credit for moderate intelligence should
have adduced it at all.

To sum up in few words. The term protoplasm has
been applied to the viscid nitrogenous substance within the
primordial utricle of the vegetable cell and to the threads
and filaments formed in this matter; to the primordial


utricle itself; to this and the substances which it encloses;
and to all these things, together with the cellulose wall ; to
the matter composing the sarcode of the foraminifera ; to
that which constitutes the amoeba, white blood-corpuscle,
and other naked masses of germinal matter ; to the matter
between the so-called nucleus and muscular tissue, and to
the contractile matter itself; to everything which exhibits
contractility ; to nerve-fibres, and to other structures pos-
sessing remarkable endowments ; to the soft matter within
an elementary part, as a cell of epithelium ; to the
hard external part of such a cell; to the entire epithelial

Inanimate albuminous matter has been regarded as
protoplasm. Living things have been spoken of as masses
of protoplasm ; the same things dead have been said to be
protoplasm. If the matter be boiled or roasted, it is still
protoplasm ; and there seems no reason why it should not
be dissolved, and yet retain its name protoplasm.

It is therefore very difficult to see whit advantage is to
be gained by the use of the word " protoplasm." If we call
a cell a protoplasm, and an egg a protoplasm, and a sheep a
protoplasm, and a man a protoplasm, we do not therefore
get a clearer idea of any one of them than we had before,
while on the other hand the words cell, egg, sheep, man, are
distinctive, short, and generally understood. There would
be terrible risk of very different living things being con-
founded, if they were all called " protoplasms."

Notwithstanding the clever and subtle arguments which
have been advanced in its favour, and repeated over and
over again in almost every possible form, the new doctrine


of life has exerted very little influence. It is absurd to
expect that thoughtful persons will be convinced that
vital phenonema are physical and chemical phenomena,
simply by an authoritative assertion that they are so ;
and no matter how energetically the doctrine may be
advocated, it will not be received unless it is proved to
be founded upon facts. In spite of all that has been said,
the chemist has taught us little concerning the nature of
the changes which take place when pabulum becomes
totally changed and converted into living matter, or when
the latter gives rise to some peculiar kind of formed matter.
He has shown us, it is true, that certain substances result-
ing in the organism during the disintegration of formed
matter may be prepared artificially in the laboratory but
he knows as well as the physiologist, that their formation in
the organism is conducted upon totally different principles,
of the nature of which all are entirely ignorant. And it is
childish to attempt, as some have done, to hide our igno-
rance by referring the actions to subtle influences, cell-
laboratories, and molecular machinery, when every one
knows there is nothing like a laboratory or machinery in
any molecule or cell in any organism.

The different forms and properties of living beings can
only be explained by supposing the influence of force dif-
ferent from ordinary forces acting upon the matter of which
they are composed, or upon the existence of properties, other
than the inorganic properties, transmitted or handed down
from pre-existing matter having similar, though, perhaps, not
identical properties. These vital properties seem to be super-
added to matter temporarily, and are not, like the former,


permanent endowments. The one class of properties
remains permanently attached to the elements of matter ;
the other may be once removed, but can never be restored.
The material properties belong to the matter, whether living
or dead ; but where are the vital properties in the dead
material? If physicists and chemists would restore to life
that which is dead, we should all believe in the doctrine
they teach. So long as they tell us their investigations only
tend towards such a consummation, they must expect a few
to be wanting in faith.

" You may bury me as you choose, if you can only catch me.
But you will not understand me when I tell you that I, Socrates,
who am now speaking, shall not remain with you after having drunk
the poison, but shall depart to some of the enjoyments of the blest.
You must not talk about burying or burning Socrates, as if I were
suffering some terrible operation. Such language is inauspicious and
depressing to our minds. Keep up your courage and talk only of
burying the body of Socrates ; conduct the burial as you think best,
and most decent. "Plato, Phcedon, p. 115, C-D. ; Grate's Plato,
vol. //., p. 193.


)THING that lives is alive in every part. Pro-
bably no one would maintain that the shell of
an oyster or mussel, for example, was, like the
living moving mollusk itself, in a living state. Never-
theless, the shell grows, but upon careful examination
it will be found that growth is restricted to certain
points. It grows at the free edge and upon the inner
surface, and thus increases in dimensions. By far the
greater part of the shell, therefore, is as lifeless while it yet
remains connected with the living animal as after it has
been preserved in our cabinet. The new matter which
is added to it by the living creature is prepared and
formed through the instrumentality of living matter. In
man, and the higher animals, the free portions of the
nails and hair, the outer part of the cuticle, and a por-
tion of the dental tissues, are evidently lifeless. But the
waste and removal of some of these is compensated for to a
great extent by the addition of new matter by living particles.
Of the internal tissues a great part is also in a non-living
condition, and it therefore becomes necessary in all in-
quiries concerning the nature of the changes and actions
taking place in living beings, to determine at the outset,
what parts of these beings are in a living state, and what




parts have already ceased to live, although they may per-
form important service of a passive kind, and be connected
with the matter that is actually alive. Even in the smallest
organisms which exhibit the simplest characters, as well as
in every texture of the most highly complex beings, we can
demonstrate two kinds of matter, differing in most remarkable
particulars from one another ; or perhaps it would be more
correct to say, matter in two different states, manifesting
different properties and exhibiting differences in appearance,
chemical composition, &c., and physical characters. This
distinction is essential and invariable, and although by calling
everything entering into the composition of a living being
by the same name, all differences of state, structure, and
composition may be ignored, these cannot be destroyed;
and every one who really desires to learn anything about
the structure, growth, and actions of living things will find
himself compelled to admit these differences, and will at once
proceed to investigate how they are to be accounted for.

In my lectures at the Royal College of Physicians, in
the spring of 1860, I demonstrated in the tissues of plants,
animals, and man in health and disease, matter in the two
different states above referred to, and I showed that every
normal and abnormal cell or elemental unit of every tissue
capable of growth, or possessing formative power, invariably
consisted of matter in these two states or conditions :
i. Living, active, formative ; 2. Lifeless, passive, formed.
In my preparations these two different forms of matter are
at once distinguished, the first being artificially coloured
with carmine, while the matter in the last condition remains


As investigation proceeded, I became more and more
convinced of the importance of the distinction I had drawn,
and it was proved that the matter coloured, which had been
considered by many authors to be of little importance, was
really in the living, active, growing state. It was shown
that upon it all growth, multiplication, conversion, formation,
and, in short, life depends. And in many instances when
death occurred, the matter in the first state alone changed,
while the last remained unaltered. The first was alone
capable of dying, for, in fact, this only had been alive. On
the other hand, the matter in the second condition, although
it may possess very remarkable properties, and have a highly
complex chemical composition never grows or multiplies. It
never converts or forms. New matter may be added to it, but
it cannot convert matter of itself. In short, it does not live.

Lastly, facts and arguments were advanced which showed
that all matter in the last or formed state was once in the
first or living state, so that the properties it acquired and
the characters it possessed as formed matter were to be
attributed to the changes which had been brought about
while the matter existed in the antecedent or living state.

There is reason to think that not even the smallest
living particle seen under the i -501)1 of an inch objective
consists of matter in the same state in every part, for it
consists of i, living matter; 2, matter formed from this;
and 3, pabulum, which i takes up.

The matter in the first state is alone concerned in develop-
ment, and the production of those materials which ultimately
take the form of tissue, secretion, deposit, as the case may be.
It alone possesses the power of growth and of producing

D 2


matter like itself out of materials differing from it materially
in composition, properties, and powers. I therefore called it
germinal ox living matter, to distinguish it from Reformed ma-
terial, which is in all cases destitute of these properties. The
difference between germinal or living matter and the pabu-
lum which nourishes it, on the one hand, and the formed
material which is produced by it, on the other, is, I believe,
absolute. The pabulum does not shade by imperceptible
gradations into the living matter, and this latter into the
formed material ; but the passage from one state into the
other is sudden and abrupt, although there may be much
living matter mixed with little lifeless matter or vice versa.
The ultimate particles of matter pass from the lifeless into
the living state, and from the latter into the dead state,
suddenly. Matter cannot be said to half-live or half-die.
It is either dead or living, animate or inanimate; and formed
matter has ceased to live.

Matter may be more or less perfectly or imperfectly
formed, and formed matter may differ in hardness, colour,
consistence, and a number of other qualities, and it may
gradually pass from one state into the other ; but nothing
of this kind is observed in the case of the germinal matter.
The formed matter may possess very remarkable properties,
and may undergo various physical and chemical changes
under the influence of heat, moisture, oxygen, &c. It may
permit some fluids to permeate it, and may interfere with
the passage of others. It may contribute to the stability of
the organism, and perform a variety of important functions,
but it cannot take the place of the germinal or living matter,
nor in many cases does it continue to exhibit its characteristic


properties after the death of the germinal matter belonging
to it has occurred.

The terms Living Matter, Formed Matter, and Pabulum.
Since many kinds of formed matter had been called
protoplasm as well as the matter which is in the living state,
I should have been wrong if I had employed that term in
speaking of 'living matter. From the time when my re-
searches were made to the present, the confusion in the use
of the word protoplasm has continued to increase, until every
form of tissue has been thus called, as well as every kind of
germinal or living matter. And it would only add to the exist-
ing confusion if any attempt were now made again to alter
the meaning of the word ; so that, upon the whole, it seems
better to use the more simple term living or germinal matter
to denote the growing, active, moving substance which is
peculiar to everything living, and which is alone concerned
in the multiplication, growth, and formation of all tissues
and organisms.

Living or germinal matter, formed matter, and pabulum,
are the only terms required in describing the development,
formation, and growth of any tissue, the production of
secretions, and other phenomena peculiar to living things ;
and I have ventured to suggest the use of these terms,
because they have the advantage of being simple. They
can be accurately denned and distinguished from other
terms. They are short, expressive, and can be remembered
without difficulty, and there is certainly an absence of that
mysteriousness which hangs about so many of our scientific
words in ordinary use, and greatly adds to the difficulties
experienced by the student.


General Characters of Germinal Matter. The characters
of germinal matter may be studied in the lowest organisms
in existence, and in plants, as well as in man and the higher
animals. Germinal or living matter is always transparent,
colourless, and, as far as can be ascertained by examination
with the highest powers, perfectly structureless, and it exhibits
these same characters at every period of existence.

The germinal matter of the thallus of the growing
sugar fungus exists in considerable quantity, and is well

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Online LibraryLionel S. (Lionel Smith) BealeProtoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind → online text (page 3 of 12)