Lionel S. (Lionel Smith) Beale.

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in the other, the restrictions are greatly increased. Pneumonia,
or inflammation of the lung, may be adduced as a striking


example of the first condition, for in this disease millions of
minute masses of germinal matter which have escaped from
the blood suspended in liquor sanguinis (exudation) grow and
multiply very rapidly in the air cells of the lung, and nutrient
constituents are diverted from other parts of the body to this
focus of morbid activity. Contraction and condensation of
the liver, kidney, and other glands, hardening, shrinking,
and wasting of the muscular, nervous, and other tissues, are
good examples of the second. The amount of change
becomes less and less as the morbid state advances, the
whole organ wastes, the secreting structure shrinks, and at
last inactive connective tissue alone marks the seat where
most active and energetic changes once occurred. It is easy
to see how such a substance as alcohol must tend to restrict
the rapid multiplication of the cells when the process is
too active, and how it would tend to promote the advance
of disease in organs where rapid change in the cells charac-
terizes the normal state.

These considerations lead us to conclude that the rate
of growth of cells in disease may be accelerated or retarded
by an alteration in the character of the pabulum which is
transmitted to them, and with the view of influencing these
changes we shall naturally search for remedies which have
the property of rendering tissues more or less permeable
to nutrient fluids, or which alter the character of the fluid
itself. Such considerations have a very important bearing
upon the practical treatment of disease.

Many of the so-called tonics have the property of
coagulating albuminous fluids and solutions of extractive
matters. Preparations containing tannin, the mineral salts,


such as the sulphate and sesquichloride of iron, nitric and
hydrochloric acids, and a host of other remedies that will
occur to every one, possess this property, and render solu-
tions containing these and allied substances less permeable,
perhaps by increasing their viscidity. The favourable action
of such remedies is probably due to their direct influence
on the fluid constituents of the blood. They, no doubt,
also reduce the rate at which blood-corpuscles are disinte-
grated, and at the same time they tend to render the walls
of the blood-vessels less permeable to fluids.

But, of all remedies, I believe alcohol acts most rapidly
in this way, and in these particular cases most efficiently.
The properties alcohol possesses of hardening animal tis-
sues, and of coagulating albuminous fluids, are well known;
and these properties must not be forgotten when its effects
in the animal body are discussed. Of course, when ab-
sorbed by the blood, it does not actually coagulate the
albuminous matters j but it probably renders them less fluid,
and reduces their permeating property. It prevents the
growth and multiplication of germinal matter and probably
interferes with the multiplication of white blood corpuscles.
Alcohol also tends to prevent the disintegration of red
blood-corpuscles ; and in cases where this is going on very
rapidly, and where fluid is passing through the walls of the
vessels in considerable quantity, in consequence of the walls
themselves being stretched and too readily permeable to
fluids, alcohol is likely to be of service ; but where these
changes are occurring very rapidly, and the patient's strength
is fast ebbing, it may save life.

Alkalies, on the other hand, tend to render formed



material more permeable to fluids, and thus facilitate the
access of pabulum to the germinal matter. They are often
useful in cases where there is shrinking and wasting of
textures which in the normal condition consist principally
of germinal matter. Potash, soda, lithia, and their car-
bonates, as well as the salts of many vegetable acids which
become converted into carbonates in the system, act bene-
ficially in this way, as well as by producing favourable
changes of other kinds,


]HAT is to be understood by the term life: is a
question which has been answered very differ-
ently by different authorities in these days, and
it is one to which a satisfactory reply has never yet been
received. Few words are in more frequent use, and yet
it is most difficult to define the meaning of this word
life, partly no doubt, because it has been used in so many
different senses. By the "life" of the world, of a nation,
or of a society, we mean something very different from what
we mean by the " life" of an individual ; for may not many
individuals perish without the life of the world, of a nation,
or of a society being destroyed or impaired? The "life" of
a man, or an animal, is very different from what is termed
the "life" of a white blood, or of a mucus,, or pus corpuscle ;
inasmuch as many hundreds of white blood corpuscles, or
elemental units of the tissues, might die in the man, without
affecting the " life " of the man ; moreover the man himself
might perish, and some of the corpuscles remain alive.

" Life," as employed in the first instance, comprises a
great number of results and changes so complicated, and so
different from one another, that volumes might be written
without the subject being exhausted. The "life" of a man
or an animal includes phenomena of 'essentially different kinds,
some being mechanical 'and chemical, while others belong to a

F 2

68 LIFE.

totally different category. Physical and chemical actions
may be investigated in many ways, but as far as we can
judge, the last class of actions (vital) seems to be beyond
investigation, and has not yet been satisfactorily accounted
for. If we regard the life of a man, as the sum of all
the actions going on in his body, as some are inclined
to do, the sum will be made up of a number of very
different and heterogeneous items. To sum up these
together and express the result in a common total would be
as unmeaning as it would be to add ounces to shillings
and inches. By the " life " of a white blood corpuscle or
other small mass of living matter we mean the property or
power or conditions to which the phenomena, characteristic
of this and other kinds of matter in the same state, are

Here then are three distinct senses in which the term
life has been employed, and more might be adduced. It
must, therefore, be obvious that by the life of a man some-
thing very different is understood from what is meant by
the life of each elemental unit of his organism, and the
difference is not merely of degree but of kind.

We cannot prove that life results from, or is invariably
associated with such and such chemical and physical changes,
or is due to certain external conditions, and it is easy to ad-
duce instances in which life is present under opposite and
conflicting circumstances. In short the conditions under
which life exists are so many and so variable that it is not
reasonable to attribute it to any conceivable combinations
of external circumstances unless we may assume that the
very same phenomena result from the concurrence of very
different conditions.


Non-living Particles of Matter contrasted with Living
Particles. It is desirable to consider in this place whether
anything may be learnt by comparing very minute lifeless
particles with very minute living particles under very high
magnifying powers.

A little inorganic matter of any kind, but in a state of
very minute subdivision may be subjected to examination.
Take for example a little of the deposit of phosphate of
lime which has been precipitated from a solution of a salt
of lime by the addition of a soluble salt of phosphoric acid.
Now what is observed when this fine precipitate is placed
under the microscope ? Only a number of minute granules
or dots possessing no definite form and exhibiting no indica-
tions of structure. If the deposit be examined by the
highest powers at our command, the apparent size of the
particles will indeed be increased, and others which were
previously invisible will be brought into view but no
appearance of structure can be recognized. Spots they
appeared under moderately high powers, and mere spots
they remain under the highest magnifying powers we can
obtain. Certain movements are however to be observed.
Each little particle revolves and oscillates in the fluid.
These movements have been termed molecular, and were
first described many years ago by Robert Brown. We know
that the particles under observation are inorganic, and we
are therefore quite sure that the movements we witness are
due to physical forces alone.

Next let us take a small fragment of dead animal or
vegetable matter, and place it in a few drops of pure water
on a glass slide, and examine carefully the fluid under the

70 LIFE.

microscope. The water appears as clear "and transparent
as the glass on which it rests. Both slides may now be
placed in a warm room under the same conditions for a few
hours, taking care that light and air have free access to both
specimens, and that any fluid lost by evaporation be sup-
plied. At the end of five or six hours the slides may again
be examined.

The one containing the inorganic deposit of phosphate
of lime shall be called A. No change has taken place.
There are the little lifeless particles still moving as before
in the fluid in which they are suspended. Some of them
indeed may have become aggregated together so as to form
little collections, but beyond this there appears to have been
no change.

Next let the other slide B be examined. The fluid which,
when first seen, was perfectly clear, now contains a number
of exceedingly minute dots, points, or granules, closely
resembling those of the phosphate of lime, and these mani-
fest similar molecular movements. If a little gum, glycerine,
or any viscid material be added to the particles on each
slide, the molecular movements are immediately suspended,
and if the fluid be diluted they recur. This indicates that
in both cases the movements are due to physical causes.
The little particles which could move freely in such a limpid
fluid as water, are prevented from moving if the fluid in
which they are suspended be rendered viscid.

Let both slides be again set aside for a few hours longer.
It will be found that the inorganic matter upon the slide A
has undergone no change. But the case is very different
with regard to B. The granules that have appeared in the


fluid, -precipitated as some would say have increased
vastly in number. Many of them have become altered, or
their place has been taken by little bodies, some of which
have a circular while others exhibit an elongated oval form ;
all are perfectly transparent. If, again another interval of time
be permitted to elapse, and the slide B is again examined,
it will be found that further change has taken place. The
little bodies have become larger ; in fact they have grown,
and have moreover increased considerably in number. The
growth has not resulted from the aggregation and fusion of
several particles, as some have surmised, but individual par-
ticles have increased in size without absorbing their neigh-
bours. Careful study will now convince the observer that
in the case of the largest particles, the central portion differs
from the external covering ; in fact each particle is com-
posed of at least two kinds of matter, or matter in two dif-
ferent states.

The changes described are characteristic of living par-
ticles. Repeated experiments have proved that the con-
ditions under which slide B was placed were favourable to
the developement of certain simple living organisms. At a
certain period the granules on the two slides were scarcely to
be distinguished ; but while those on A remained unaltered
retained the same granular form in which they were deposited
the particles on B have not been stationary for a moment.
They have grown into definite though apparently simple
forms of matter, which still continue to manifest active
changes. In all cases life is associated with never-ceasing

Now, the question arises, whence have the living

72 LIFE.

organisms been derived ? The water which was examined
at first appeared perfectly clear, but now it is filled with
living beings. How did they come there? It has been
stated that simple organisms such as these may spring up
spontaneously; but this statement may be met by very
serious objections, if, indeed, it is not contradicted by facts
open to the observation of all. The doctrine of spontaneous
generation has again quite recently been revived in France,
and of course has been again refuted by an overwhelming
mass of evidence. It has been proved that if dead animal or
vegetable matter be dried, and so placed that the admission of
atmospheric air which has passed through strong sulphuric
acid or liquor potassae is alone admitted, organisms will
nevertheless appear, and all those phenomena which we
have already observed will ensue. The minute germs which
were protected in the interstices of the vegetable matter
become developed into organisms resembling those from
which they were derived. It seems almost impossible to
destroy the germs without destroying the organic matter in
which they were embedded and by which they may have
been protected even from the destructive influence of boil-
ing water.

Some experiments performed by Dr. Wyman seem to
show that bacteria germs which would live in a solution
which had been boiled might be destroyed by being boiled
for six hours or longer.

There is reason for believing that many germs of low
organisms exist which are far too minute and too transparent
to be seen by the aid of the highest magnifying powers at our
command, and that while in this condition rapid multiplica-



tion takes place. Gradually the minute particles acquire
body sufficient to enable us to distinguish them from the clear
medium by which they are surrounded. So that it seems
to me the evidence against spontaneous generation increases
in force as our means of investigation are improved. At
the same time it must be admitted that this doctrine is
still supported by some authorities of great repute.

At the conclusion of one of his interesting essays, my
friend Dr. Child* puts a very pertinent question, and asks
why creatures may not be formed piece by piece, " as M.
Pouchet says, out of particles of dead matter, in the way
which he and Schaafhausen and Mantegazza tell us that
they have themselves witnessed ?" To this I should venture
to reply, that, as he is well aware, a host of facts have been
brought forward against the theory, while no good reasons
have been advanced in favour of supposing such a mode of
origin of living forms to be possible. As regards witnessing
such a formation of living beings out of dead matter all
that can be said is, that other observers who have employed
far higher powers than those referred to have never seen
anything of the kind. My own conviction is, that if crea-
tures are ever formed piece by piece out of particles of dead
matter, the operation will never be witnessed by mortals,
and I marvel that any one at all accustomed to careful
microscopical observation could succeed in persuading him-
self that he had actually seen the phenomenon supposed to
have occurred, f I consider the evidence that bacteria are

* "Essays on Physiological Subjects." Second edition. 1869.
P. ill.

f Dr. Child comments very severely on the microscopic observations

74 LIFE.

not formed by the aggregation of particles of lifeless matter
as conclusive aud as irrefragable as the evidence against any
such mode of formation of mice, elephants, or men. Vague
statements about the coalescence of molecules to form
particles of protoplasmic matter, or physical basis of life, are
not convincing. Every one naturally enquires what is the
nature of the molecules alluded to, but he gets no answer.
Of the molecules all, it may be admitted, are complex, but
we are not told how the elements of which they consist are
probably arranged, or what determines the new states of
combination as the protoplasmic substance comes into being.
To any one who has actually studied under the highest
powers of the microscope (3,000 linear and upwards), the
most minute living organisms, and has watched their move-
ments and growth, the statements^ advanced in favour of
spontaneous generation will appear hardly worthy of serious
discussion, because he will feel quite convinced that for a
long while before the living particle which he is able to see
acquired the size and substance necessary to render it
visible, it existed as a more minute and more transparent
yet active and living particle, capable of growing and
multiplying ; and that the act of coming together of non-
living molecules supposed, if it occurs at all, must take
place in particles so very very far beyond the reach of
observation and experiment, as to be quite undemonstra-
ble, if not inconceivable. While, on the other hand, the
further investigation is carried, the more reasons he gains

of M. Pasteur, but he says nothing of the powers employed, or the de-
tails of the microscopic investigations carried out by M. Pasteur's


for believing that the most minute individual particles he sees
resulted from the division and subdivision of already existing
particles. He sees the actual process of division taking place
in hundreds of instances, and in every class of living things,
from the very lowest up to man himself, and, in the absence
of positive demonstration to the contrary, he cannot admit
that any other mode of origin of living organisms of any
kind whatever exists in nature.

It must then be regarded as a fact that living beings
spring from pre-existing living beings, and that there is no
such thing as spontaneous generation. Living forms con-
tinue to exist and to grow so long as the conditions of life
remain favourable, but when these are changed, the or-
ganisms die.

Structure of a Spore of Mildew. If one of the simple
structures the microscopic protoplasms such as are repre-
sented in the plate opposite p. i, be examined (a), we shall
find that it is not the same in every part. It consists
externally of a delicate, transparent, glass-like texture, and
within of a material having a faintly granular appearance.
Suppose a little ordinary mildew dust, which is one of the
lowest forms of existence possessing a very simple structure
be examined. The little round bodies which compose it
are larger than those above referred to, and will therefore
suit the purpose of investigation better. Each of these has
a tolerably thick well-defined outline, while the interior is
perfectly transparent. When this transparent matter is ex-
amined under very high magnifying powers, numerous very
minute particles like dots will be observed. Here then are
two parts, the one situated externally, firm, glass like, and

76 LIFE.

arranged so as to form an investing membrane closed at all
points, the other lying within, soft, and exhibiting no form
or structure whatever. Now if these bodies be placed
under favourable conditions certain changes will occur.
Let them be put, for instance, upon the moist surface of a
glass slide, and after a time let the slide be placed under
the microscope. First of all the particles absorb moisture,
and swell up, and the membrane becomes thinner in pro-
portion to the whole mass, and the matter within increases
in amount.

Next a new change is observed at one point in the
membrane. A small orifice is seen, through which a little
of the granular contents of the body, covered with a thin
layer of the inner part of the membrane, makes its way, and
thus a small nodule is formed which projects through the
external membrane. By degrees this assumes a structure
resembling that of the body from which it has proceeded ;
it increases in size; the membrane around it becomes
thicker; its point of attachment becomes less and less, until
at last it is completely separated, and becomes a free and
independent particle, exactly resembling that from which it
sprung, except that it is smaller, and capable of growing and
giving rise to new individuals like itself, by a repetition of the
process by which it was formed.

This is one way in which the particles may multiply,
but there are others. In one of these, too, an orifice forms
in the membrane of the particle of mildew, and a little of
the soft transparent material escapes, but it does not separate
as in the first case ; it remains in connexion with the mass,
and grows out into a narrow thread-like process. The mem-


brane on the external surface becomes thickened, and the
whole increases in breadth. Within the sheath is found
transparent matter, from which a number of little spherical
bodies or very minute growing particles like those observed
within the spheri car spore may be obtained. It may be
that as this process grows at one or more points a thinning
occurs in its wall, and a portion of its contents coming into
more immediate contact with the pabulum increases in
amount, and thus gives rise to the production of another
branch or process which grows exactly like the first.

Now, how does this simple organism nourish itself?
The materials for its growth and nourishment are certain
inanimate matters (solids and gases) existing dissolved in
fluid in which the organism floats. These materials must
pass into its structure and become part of it. That which
is inanimate must become incorporated with and assume
the properties of living matter. Now if such a living thing
be placed under certain unfavourable conditions its vital
properties will be destroyed. The transparent living matter
in its interior will shrivel up and die, but this will be
attended by no obvious alteration in the external mem-
brane. The part which exhibits form (formed matter)
remains; that which is without form (living matter) is

In the growth of the structure, then, how is the new
matter produced ? Does it take place by deposition upon
the external surface of the investing membrane, or is the
new matter produced by the soft formless matter in the
interior? To put the question still more simply, Is the
capsule, the so-called cell wall, formed by deposition of

7 8 LIFE.

matter from the fluid surrounding it, or is it formed from
within ? and which is the oldest part of the capsule, its
external or internal surface? If the new matter were
deposited upon the external surface, we should expect to
find that the membrane would become thicker and thicker
as the growth of the organism advanced, while the central
portion would remain unaltered. This, however, is not the
case ; on the contrary, we find that as growth proceeds, the
wall in most cases becomes considerably thinned. It is
clear, therefore, that the increase in size cannot be due to
deposition from without. The matter deposited upon the
inner surface of the capsule is always softer than its general
substance, and the external surface of old capsules is
cracked and ragged.

In many of the algae this external surface serves as a
nidus for the development and growth of smaller algae a
fact which clearly shows it has ceased to be active, is under-
going disintegration, and becoming fitted for the pabulum
of other things, and is no longer capable of resisting the
action of external conditions. This is the oldest part of the
capsule which is now undergoing decay, and the small algae
are living in part upon the products thus produced. The
new material is added upon the inner surface of the capsule,
layer after layer, and where there are several layers the
innermost is the youngest and the outermost the oldest
portion of the structure. If this be so, it follows that the
inanimate material for the nourishment of these structures
must pass through the outer membrane, and be taken up by
the living matter within, which communicates to it the
same properties and powers which this living matter itself


possesses, and which it has inherited from pre-existing
particles. The nutrition of cells of epithelium of man is
conducted upon the same plan. See p. ST. At present we
cannot get further than this. I am ignorant of the nature
of the changes which occur, but I think the facts as I have

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Online LibraryLionel S. (Lionel Smith) BealeProtoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind → online text (page 6 of 12)