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stated them are true.

Is a Tissue living because attached to a Living Organism.
Some appear to think that a change in position only will
make all the difference as regards the proper application of
the term vital, and seem to hold that a tissue should be
called alive as long as it remains attached to a living body,
dfca^/when detached, irrespective of changes occurring in the
tissue itself. But it is obvious that a leaf, or an elementary
part, may be as devoid of life while it remains attached to
the living trunk as after its connection with it has been
completely severed. To say that a dead leaf exhibits life as
long as it hangs on to the branch would be absurd, because
differences of a much more important character proclaim
whether the leaf be alive or dead, irrespective of its con-
nection with the tree.

Not long ago, it was stated that a living thing might
spring from a dying or dead one, as a fungus from a dead
elm, by mere transference of force from the latter to the
former, that the departing life-force of one thing became
transformed into the life of the new one, but those who
advocated this view failed to prove that the fungus did not
grow from the germ of a pre-existing fungus, and lived upon
the disintegrating elm as other living things consume other
kinds of pabulum.

Chemical and Mechanical Changes in Living Beings.

8o LIFE.

Neither should changes which are admitted to be me-
chanical and chemical, when they occur in the laboratory, be
called vital, merely because they take place in a living
organism. It is the nature of the change alone which
determines its vital or non-vital character. But the term
vital is constantly applied to actions which, for the last
fifty years, have been admitted to be mechanical and
chemical, and the confusion with regard to the meaning
of the word has been further increased by the assertion
that mechanical and chemical actions are the only actions
that are to be called vital. Some philosophers have
indeed arrived at the conclusion that in truth there are
no vital as distinguished from physical and chemical actions.
Further, it has been held that as we can imitate osmose,
oxidize certain substances and produce in the laboratory
compounds like those formed in the body, we may pro-
phesy that all other actions occurring in living beings will
eventually be imitated. But it would be as reasonable to
maintain that because we can now produce urea we shall
by and by be able to form a hair or develop an eye put of
the contents of a crucible, or that as we can build up by syn-
thesis very complex organic compounds, ere long we shall
be able to make a brain cell which will form ideas. Because
we can make many products like those resulting from the
disintegration of tissues, does it therefore follow that in the
time to come we shall be able to develop an embryo by
the admixture of two kinds of albuminous fluids prepared
artificially ?

As oxygen and hydrogen can be made to combine
by the contact of platinum, therefore it is said certain


combinations of living particles are also examples of
catalytic action. Because many actions have been attri-
buted to vitality which are unquestionably physical and
chemical, therefore all actions which are now regarded as
vital will ultimately be proved to be physical. Those who
argue in this way fail to perceive that they are dealing with
two different classes or kinds of actions. The truth is physics
and chemistry have never advanced one step in the direc-
tions indicated. . Great things have been done, but iri
altogether different lines of enquiry. Strange as it may
seem many undoubtedly high authorities have for years past
failed to distinguish between the act of construction in the
case of a machine or an organism, and the work performed
by it after its construction is complete. They have failed to
recognize any difference between formation and action, and
have forgotten that before an organ can act or perform its
function, it must be formed, and that its function and mode
of action are in great measure determined by the changes
which occurred during its formation.

The power or force which is concerned in the formation
of an organ endowed with the most exquisite faculties is
supposed to be of the same essential nature as that which
causes certain kinds of matter to assume a definite cry-
stalline form. The formation of organs and structures
designed for the fulfilment of definite purposes which must
have been foreseen, as it were, from the earliest period of
development, is supposed to result from nothing more than
the action and reaction of the properties and forces of the
elements of matter concerned, and the external conditions
to which it is exposed. But it must be borne in mind that


82 LIFE.

temporary structures are first produced which are useless in
themselves and only serve as a provisional basis for the
development of the masses of germinal matter from which
permanent structure is to be evolved.

Actions in Living Beings. A very little observation will
convince us that in the body there are very different kinds
of actions proceeding simultaneously. The formation and
growth of muscular tissue would seem to be processes
essentially distinct from its contraction, and yet both sets
of phenomena have been attributed to the influence of the
same forces. But building up and breaking down solution
and precipitation development of structure and its removal
addition of matter to, and removal of matter from, a
tissue have been attributed to the operation of the ordinary
forces. But not one of these phenomena as they occur in
living beings can be explained by any known laws of
physics, or imitated artificially.

" There are no truly vital actions," " there is no life,"-
say some, and thus evade further discussion of this mo-
mentous question. But it has been shown that there is a
marked distinction between the living matter and the formed
matter (see p. 34), and that the phenomena going on in
these two kinds of matter respectively are essentially dif-
ferent, and can be considered apart from one another. By
ignoring altogether this and other important facts of obser-
vation, which have been demonstrated of late years, and by
calling those who differ from them " vitalists ;" by saying
that facts opposed to their view are unimportant, and stigma-
tizing every argument against their doctrines as frivolous,
making bold assertions, and under cover of jokes about


the fiction of vitality, popular teachers may partially suc-
ceed in forcing upon the people the acceptance of dogmas
about force which are really untenable. The interest is
excited by the very forcible and high-sounding terms em-
ployed, but the language is often remarkable for vagueness
and laxity of expression, and conspicuous for its complete
want of precision and clearness of meaning, and the use of
terms that too often beg the question under consideration.

The matter in dispute has, at least as regards my own
observations, been actually misrepresented; for i. It has
been said that the actions which I have termed vital are
really physical and chemical. 2. The actions to which I
have restricted the term vital (seep. 86), and which occur
in the germinal matter only, have in many instances been
completely ignored.

Force guided by Matter. But although the new schools
hold it absurd to suppose that any peculiar power acting
from within or from without can influence the changes in
matter, or direct its forces, they see no impropriety in at-
tributing to matter itself, and to force, guiding and directing,
and forming agencies. They transfer to the non-living those
active, controlling, and directing powers which have been
hitherto considered to be limited to the living world.
It is the inorganic molecule, not will, or mind, or power,
which governs, arranges, and guides.

Only recently, Professor Huxley has affirmed that a
"particle of jelly" (protoplasm ?) guides forces.* But

* Mr. Huxley remarks, that to his mind it is a fact of the profound -
est significance that "this particle of jelly (!) is capable of guiding
physical forces in such a manner as to give rise to those exquisite and

G 2


the Professor has not explained what he means by
guiding physical forces. He should have given us some
idea of the property or force by virtue of which this jelly,
this matter, is enabled to guide forces, and how the pro-
perty was acquired. What are the laws which govern it,
and how comes it that physical forces obey matter ; what
is the nature of the act of guiding spoken of? Does every
kind of matter, under certain circumstances, guide forces,
or only certain combinations of matter, or only special kinds
of matter? Is it due to a mere command that is mys-
teriously obeyed, or to some repulsion or attraction, or if
there be a subtle influence, what is the nature of this, and
whence did it come ? Here, as in many other cases, Mr. Hux-
ley makes an assertion which he expects his pupils to receive
without telling them the grounds he has for making it.
No doubt Mr. Huxley feels quite satisfied that what he
states is true. He speaks so authoritatively about fact and
law (" fact I know, and law I know,") that one scarcely
dares to venture to beg for an explanation of anything
Mr. Huxley has affirmed. But students ask if Mr. Hux-
ley's " facts" have been confirmed, and are anxious to learn
something concerning the evidence upon which they are
supposed to rest.

Why should the idea of the jelly guiding forces be a
fact of profound significance, and the idea of " vitality "
acting upon the particles of this jelly, and guiding them
and their forces, be a fiction^ frivolous, absurd, ridiculous,
fanciful, &c. ? Again ; some think that physical forces

almost mathematically arranged structures," &c. "Introduction to the
Classification of Animals."


guide matter, but here we have the new doctrine taught
that matter guides physical forces. But may it not be that
neither matter nor force is capable of guiding or directing
force or matter ?

Mr. Huxley agrees with those who attribute to matter
itself that which has been attributed by others to power
acting upon the matter. One view is, that matter guides
and rules itself of itself; another, that matter is guided and
ruled by something acting upon it.

Concerning the dictum about jelly guiding physical
forces, I shall venture to remark i. That living matter is
not jelly; 2. That neither jelly nor matter is capable of
guiding or directing forces of any kind ; and 3. That the
capacity of jelly to guide forces, which Professor Huxley
says is a fact of the profoundest significance to him, is
not a fact at all, but merely an assertion.

Living matter is first called a name given to non-living
matter ; then it is asserted that this does so and so, which
it has never been proved to do ; this is next stated to be a
fact of the profoundest significance ; and by such devices
the public is taught to believe in the creative and directing
power of the non-living. Arguments of another kind have
already led many to accept as an article of faith the dogma,
that it is force alone which forms and builds, and designs
and makes; and that the only source of the countless
living things which people this earth is the sun, " the God
of this new world."





Let us now proceed to inquire whether there are any
characters or phenomena which are common to all kinds of
matter that lives, and manifested by this only. All living
matter grows, and moves, and forms, of its own accord, while
non-living matter cannot be made to do any of these
things. Hence it is fair to say that growth, spontaneous
movement, and formation are vital phenomena. We cannot
at present conceive of life without a capacity for these phe-
nomena. The actions may remain dormant for a time, but
when circumstances are favourable, they manifest themselves
very distinctly. Although in many cases these vital pheno-
mena may be hidden and obscured by very evident physical
and chemical changes, we shall invariably find evidence of
them. By tracing the various actions in living beings
towards their source, we shall always find that these vitai
actions underlie the rest, and contribute in a most important
measure to the results we are able to observe, study, and
investigate. And as neither growth, spontaneous move-
ment, nor formation, have been imitated artificially, or known
to occur in non-living matter, or proved to result from
physical actions, I attribute these phenomena to vitality,
or vital power or force, or to life, until a more satisfactory
explanation shall be discovered. %


New views concerning the vital processes of Growth and
Nutrition* The act of nutrition is peculiar to living beings
and involves much more than the mere addition of new
particles to a definite portion of matter, as some have held.
Growth resulting from nutrition is so very different in its
essential nature from every kind of increase resulting from
deposition or aggregation, that it seems wrong to apply the
word "growth " to the process of increase in the two cases.
If the term is to be employed at all, with reference to living
things, it should be restricted to them entirely, for a stone
does not grow in the sense a living thing grows. Here,
however, at the outset, I find myself distinctly at issue with
one whose opinions on such questions are entitled to respect.
At the same time I cannot help feeling that if the author in
question had observed more for himself, and trusted less to
the arbitrary dicta and inconclusive statements of others
upon elementary questions of the highest importance, which,
as he well knows, have been very imperfectly worked out,
he would have been led to adopt conclusions at variance
with the doctrines to which he has, I venture to think,
prematurely committed himself. After affirming that the
increase in size of the plant, like the crystal, is effected by
continuously integrating surrounding like elements with
itself, Mr. Herbert Spencer saysf that the food of an
animal is " a portion of the environing matter that contains
some compound atoms like some of the compound atoms
constituting its tissues." If such be so, the peculiar sub-

* The observations under this head formed the subject of a paper
published in the Trans. Mic. Soc., 1867.

t "The Principles of Biology," vol. i. p. 108.


stances of which white fibrous tissue, yellow elastic tissue,
muscle, nerve, epithelium, &c., consist, ought to be present
in the white and yolk of an egg before these have undergone
conversion into the chick ; but we know that not one of
these things can be detected, and, in short, that develop-
ment and growth are processes essentially and absolutely
different from the mere deposition in a solid form of par-
ticles previously held in solution in a fluid. In growth the
substances dissolved in the fluid pabulum are completely
altered in composition and properties. Their elements are
re-arranged. If the elements of the dissolved crystalline
matter were torn asunder and then reunited in a different
way, so as to produce a new substance when deposited in a
solid form, crystallisation would in this one particular accord
with growth ; but there is not even this resemblance. A
crystal, then, does not grow. The fungus-like (!) accumu-
lation of carbon that takes place on the wick of an unsnuffed
candle is not growth. The deposition of geological strata,
the genesis of celestial bodies, are not examples of growth.
I think that if Mr. Herbert Spencer would carefully study
a growing microscopic fungus, he would modify his views
concerning the nature of growth^ and admit that there is an
essential difference between this peculiar process and the
above physical phenomena.

From what has been stated in many physiological works
the student would be led to conclude that the tissue or
formed matter of a living being to be nourished, selected
from a mixed fluid, in consequence of some sort of affinity,
certain constituents adapted for its nutrition, and that those
substances passed at once from a state of solution to the


condition of tissue. But no instance is known in which
any lifeless substance takes up another lifeless substance
differing from it in composition, and converts this last into
matter like itself, as occurs, for example, when a simple
gelatin-yielding texture increases in amount, although sur-
rounded by an albuminous material only in which no trace
of gelatin-yielding substance can be detected.

In the hope of ascertaining the essential nature of the
nutrient process, we must not limit ourselves to the con-
sideration of the phenomena occurring in the fully-formed
organisms of man and vertebrate animals, in which the
nutrient blood plays so important a part; but we must
extend our observation to plants and the lower organisms,
some of which consist of extremely minute independent
masses of matter. Many facts lead to the conclusion that
the nutritive process is, at least in its essential nature, the
same in all cases ; and whatever meaning be assigned to
the term, it ought to apply equally to the lowest simplest
forms and to the highest and most complex.

A simple living organism takes up a quantity of nutrient
matter and increases in weight. Having reached a certain
size portions may be detached, and each of these, after
absorbing nutrient matter, grows and gives rise to others.
In this case the nutrient pabulum is converted into living
matter, and as a result of nutrition there is an enormous
gain in weight. But, on the other hand, living bodies may
take up a considerable quantity of nutrient matter without
altering in weight, and indeed some, in spite of being
well supplied with nourishment, actually lose weight. The
new matter taken up may exactly compensate for old


material which is removed, or more than compensate for
this : or the process of removal may proceed faster than
the process of nutrition. It is, therefore, obvious that
nutrition cannot be held to mean the mere addition of new
matter to a living body.

Suppose we now consider what actually occurs when
simple living matter, like an amreba, or a white blood-
corpuscle, or a pus-corpuscle, is nourished. Matter either
in a state of solution or capable of being readily dissolved
passes into the matter of which the living body is composed.
Some of the constituents become part of the living body,
while others are given off. The living body then increases
in size. It is nourished and grows. In other instances, as
in many of the lower vegetable organisms, and in the ele-
mentary parts or cells of the higher, a coloured material or
matter having some peculiar properties is formed while the
process of nutrition is proceeding. Now, this matter did
not exist in the pabulum, nor was it to be detected in the
living matter which absorbed the pabulum, but it has
resulted from the death of the living matter under certain
conditions. In this case, then, the pabulum is first changed
into living matter, and the living matter into the coloured or
other formed material. In some instances this formed
material accumulates in the elementary part itself, as in the
case of starch in vegetable cells and fat in animal cells,
and there is a gain in weight. In other cases the formed
material passes away from the germinal matter as fast as it
is produced, dissolved in fluid or in a gaseous state, and no
alteration in weight occurs, although a large quantity of
nutrient matter is taken up.


Usually, of the formed material produced, part accumu-
lates on the surface of the germinal matter and part escapes.
Consider what occurs in the nutrition of ordinary yeast.
A layer of cellulose matter which increases by the addition
of new layers to its inner surface is formed externally.
Within this is the transparent living or germinal matter.
When such a particle is nourished, the pabulum passes
through the cellulose wall into the germinal matter, and thus
the substance increases ; but at the same time some of the
germinal matter becomes converted into new cellulose,
which is added to that already existing, and alcohol, water,
and carbonic acid, which escape. The germinal matter
differs from the pabulum, and both differ in physical cha-
racters and chemical composition and properties from the
cellulose envelope. We cannot make the cellulose or the
germinal matter from the pabulum, nor can the pabulum be
obtained, as it was before, from either of the above substances.
How different are all these processes from the mere addition
of matter previously held in solution, as occurs in the
formation of a concretion, or a crystal, which increases by
the superposition of layer upon layer !

Some writers, yielding to the suggestions of fancy and
vague speculation, instead of resting upon the firm ground
of observation and experiment, have endeavoured, without
having at command facts to justify such a conclusion, to
make people believe that there are forms very low in the
scale of living beings which appropriate inorganic materials
only, and which may, therefore, be very similar to the very
first living things which appeared upon the earth, and are,
in fact, according to this view, their direct descendants,


without divergence or modification ; while, as we ascend
in the scale, we are to recognize creatures more and more
dependent for their existence upon beings below them
which produce the food suitable for the subsistence of their
snperiors. Just as the inorganic and lifeless gradually leads
up to the organic, the living, and the mental, so such
authorities would have us believe, are gradations of perfec-
tion, to be demonstrated as regards the nutritive process.
From the stone that grows by the mere addition of matter
upon its surface, there is a transition to the complex
animal, the elements of whose food must be elaborated,
perhaps, many times by lower and simpler creatures before
the combinations suitable for the nutrition of their tissues
are produced. But this is fiction, and it is fiction of a most
unwarrantable kind, for the "facts" upon which all this
rests are themselves fictions of the imagination. It is not
true that some living things are nourished by inorganic
matter alone, while others can only be nourished by matter
which has been previously elaborated by living beings ; nor
is it true, in any way, that there is a gradation from the
lifeless to the living. The lowest, simplest organisms
require for their nutrition, besides inorganic material, a
certain appreciable proportion of matter which has already
lived ; while, on the other hand, man himself appropriates
water and mineral matters as well as elementary substances
like oxygen, and these are as necessary for the nutrition of
man's body as bread and meat. The chemist who regards
oxygen merely as a substance which combines with certain
constituents of the organism, as it combines with carbon
during combustion, cannot be acquainted with many


physiological facts which render that view untenable in
these days. It would almost seem as if by the " tendency"
of scientific thought, a demand for certain theories of a
certain tendency was from time to time excited. If that
be so, no wonder there should be a good supply of new
fancy facts and observations, for without some such support
the tendency itself would soon lose its vitality.

I propose now to refer briefly to the vital process of
nutrition as it occurs in man and the higher animals. It
has been said that the life of the body is the blood, and it
has been surmised that from this fluid the tissues derive
not only the elements of their nutrition, but the life or the
properties which we call by that name. But it is certain
that the material nutrient pabulum adapted for the nutrition
of the tissues, which the blood contains, is like all nu-
trient matter, lifeless, not living. The actual nutrition,
the act of conversion of the pabulum that was in the blood
into the tissue, is due to actions which occur outside the
vessels, and is altogether independent of the passive nu-
trient fluid. As little supported by facts as the opinion
above alluded to is the doctrine that arterial blood is very

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Online LibraryLionel S. (Lionel Smith) BealeProtoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind → online text (page 7 of 12)