Lionel S. (Lionel Smith) Beale.

Protoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind online

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highly nutritious, although a student reading any of our
text books would be led to believe that the highly nutritive
properties of arterial blood had been proved beyond all
question, and that every tissue to be nourished must have
its nutritive artery. The very active nutrition going on in
the lower animals and plants under conditions not favourable
to free oxidation, and the fact that in man and the higher
animals during the early periods of life when nutritive
activity is most remarkable, the blood is not so highly


oxygenated as at a later time when the nutritive operations
are comparatively slowly carried on, prove that this doctrine
is erroneous.

Every one knows that food nourishes the body, and
that the tissues are nourished by the blood, and it is
generally believed that a high state of nutrition depends
upon a liberal diet. At the same time, however, we know
that the degree of nutrition exhibited by the body is not
dependent merely upon the quantity or quality of the food
introduced into the stomach, and absorbed and converted
into blood, but upon a number of circumstances besides. In
one individual much of the food taken may be excreted in
an altered form soon after it has been introduced into the
system, while in another a large proportion may become
converted into tissue and little pass away. This difference
is determined not by the pabulum, but by the living material
which is destined to take this up, and which is concerned
in the formation of tissue. Some men and some animals
soon become fat upon a diet which to others would be
extremely low \ while certain individuals cannot be made fat,
although supplied with abundance of the choicest and
most fat-nourishing food. We must also bear in mind
that every tissue in the body does not share equally in
the increased nutrition, and although we often talk familiarly
of the increased or diminished nutrition of the body, we refer
for the most part to an increase or diminution of the adipose
tissue, and, though to a much less extent, of the muscular
tissue. At the same time we know that every tissue in the
body is nourished from the earliest period of its existence ;
but that of all the tissues when the organism is fully deve-



loped the adipose and muscular are most influenced by
altered diet. It may be said that the elementary parts of
these tissues exhibit greater variation in activity than those
of other textures. In some men and animals it would
appear that the elementary parts of adipose tissue take up a
larger share of nutrient matter in proportion than those of
other tissues j while, on the other hand, the elementary
parts of the glandular excretory organs are, in other indivi-
duals, the most active. The elements which in the first
would slowly become an integral part of the body, as fat
and other tissues, would in the last quickly escape as
carbonic acid, water, and other substances, in the excre-
tions. It is not possible to say why one set of tissues
should be most active in one individual, and another set in
another individual, any more than we can explain why a
particular kind of food, which is most easily assimilated by
one person or animal, should be useless or injurious to

As there are in the body many different tissues to be
nourished, and many different substances in the blood
which may nourish them, it is necessary to consider what
particular constituents of the blood are principally con-
cerned in the nutrition of the different textures. The
opinion seems to have been very generally entertained that
certain substances in the blood were destined for the nutri-
tion of particular tissues, while other textures, it was sup-
posed, selected from the fluid, constituents of a different
character; for instance, it has been maintained that the
red blood-corpuscles were specially concerned in the nutri-
tion of the nervous and muscular tissues, while the white


blood-corpuscles nourished the fibrous textures that fat
selected fatty matter from the blood, muscle fibrinous
material, and so on, but these notions are not supported by
facts more recently demonstrated.

In a paper which I communicated to the Microscopical
Society in 1 864, I endeavoured to show that the blood, like
the tissues, might be looked upon as composed of germinal
or living matter, and formed material. The white blood-
corpuscles and smaller corpuscles, probably of similar cha-
racter, which last I showed were to be detected in the
the blood, consist of germinal matter ; while the red blood-
corpuscles, the albumen, and some other constituents, are
to be regarded as formed material, being composed of non-
living matter, possessing, it may be, peculiar characters,
properties, and chemical composition, but resulting from
changes taking place in pre-existing germinal matter. Tr^e
white blood-corpuscles, therefore, are themselves composed
of living matter, which is nourished, and they cannot, as
white blood-corpuscles contribute to the nutrition of any
tissues whatever. Living matter never nourishes living
matter^ although, of course, the products resulting from the
death of many forms of living matter do so in an eminent

With regard to the red blood-corpuscles, it seems to me
probable that they play a highly important part in equal-
ising the temperature in all parts of the body, taking away
heat from parts whose temperature is above the normal
standard, and distributing heat to textures which are colder
than they should be. At the same time it must be borne
in mind that the red blood-corpuscles themselves are


gradually undergoing disintegration ; and although it seems
most probable that the constituents resulting from their
decay are eliminated from the body in the form of urinary,
biliary, and other excrementitious matters, it is most likely
that some of the products take part in nutrition.

Upon the whole, however, it seems probable that the
constituents which form the pabulum of the tissues are
those which are contained in the serum of the blood ; and
it is impossible to conceive how minute quantities of pabu-
lum prone to undergo rapid change could be more perfectly
and equally distributed to the textures, without its com-
position being materially changed, than in the form of the
very thin layers which each red blood-corpuscle carries
upon its surface, and smears, as it were, upon the walls of
the capillary vessel in intimate relation with the tissue.
The arrangement is such as to reduce to a minimum the
chances of alteration in the composition of the nutrient
fluid as it traverses the vessels in different parts of the

From a careful consideration of the facts, I cannot help
drawing the inference that the serum is the pabulum ; that
the red-blood corpuscles are concerned in its distribution,
and in preventing changes in the composition of the great
mass of the blood, as certain constituents are removed from
it or -poured into it ; and that the white blood-corpuscles
are masses of germinal matter concerned in the formation
of the serum, as well as of the red blood-corpuscles. In
support of this view, I would venture to direct attention to
the following points :

i st. That fibrous tissue, shell, cartilage, muscular and



nervous textures the two last as perfect and, as far as we
can make out, far more delicate, elaborate, and beautiful
than any of the tissues of vertebrate animals are formed,
and with wonderful rapidity, in many of the lower creatures
quite destitute of a nutrient fluid containing bodies corre-
sponding to the red blood-corpuscles of the vertebrate
blood ; and that in all these cases the nutrient fluid is clear,
transparent, colourless, and contains a substance closely
allied to the albumen of serum, if not identical with it.
Different plants and animals may produce from the same
pabulum, and apparently under similar conditions, very
different substances ; and the different kinds of germinal
matter in the body of one of the higher animals give rise
to formed matters differing widely in structure, chemical
composition, and properties.

2nd. That in man and the higher animals the develop-
ment of the tissues corresponds to the period of life when
the blood is not remarkable for the number or perfection of
its red blood-corpuscles.

3rd. That certain morbid growths appear and increase
rapidly in cases in which the blood has for some time con-
tained a very small proportion of red blood-corpuscles.

It seems, therefore, probable that the substances taking
part in the nutrition of all the different textures of the
body are furnished by the albuminous matter of the serum,
and that the production of muscle, nerve, fibrous tissue, &c.,
depends not so much upon the characters of the pabulum
supplied as upon the converting powers of the germinal or
living matter which appropriates this. The substances
formed by germinal matter depend upon its vital powers



and the conditions under which these cease to be manifested,
rather than upon the presence of particular substances in
the papulum itself. Different kinds of germinal matter
have power to rearrange the elements of the very same
pabulum supplied to them, in different ways, so that one
kind of germinal matter produces muscle, another nerve,
another fibrous tissue, and so on ; each of these tissues,
and, of course, the pabulum itself, containing oxygen,
hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, and some other elements, but
differently combined and differently arranged.

Athough the opinion is still entertained by many ana-
tomists that tissue as, for example, the intercellular sub
stance of cartilage is deposited directly from the blood, no
one has explained by what means the composition of the
pabulum becomes so changed as it passes through the
walls of the vessels to be distributed between the masses
of germinal matter. On the other hand, the facts ad-
vanced by me several years ago in favour of the view that
every kind of formed material passes through the state or
stage of germinal matter have not been overthrown. The
existence of germinal matter before the production of the
formed material of cartilage and all other tissues ; the con-
tinuity of the germinal matter with the formed material in
tissues in process of development ; the circumstance of no
case being known in which formed material is produced
without germinal matter ; and the demonstration that fluids
will pass through a comparatively thick layer of formed
material, and reach the germinal matter in the course of a
few seconds, have forced upon me the conviction that
pabulum invariably passes to the germinal matter, and some

H 2


of its constituents, undergo conversion into this active
living substance, and acquire its properties and powers,
portions of the germinal matter from time to time losing
their original vital properties, and undergoing conversion
into lifeless formed material.

So far, then, it would seem that in the process of
nutrition pabulum passes into living germinal matter, and is
converted into this substance. The formed material or
tissue which, in many cases, constitutes the chief increase
in weight and bulk, has all passed through the state of ger-
minal matter. The formation of this germinal matter from
the pabulum is therefore the important part of the process,
but it is one most difficult to investigate, if indeed it be
not altogether beyond the province of investigation.

It is most interesting to inquire by what means the
soluble pabulum is caused to pass into the germinal matter.
No form of attraction or affinity that we are acquainted with
will account for the passage of pabulum towards and into
the germinal matter. The question is one upon which I
have ventured to speculate. The tendency which every
mass of germinal matter exhibits to divide into smaller por-
tions, each part appearing to move away from other portions,
suggests the idea of there being some centrifugal force in
operation. This moving away of particles from a centre
will necessarily create a tendency of the fluid around to
move towards the centre ; I think, therefore, that the
nutrient pabulum is, as it were, drawn in by centripetal cur-
rents, excited by the centrifugal movements of the particles
of the living germinal matter. How is it that vitality gives
to matter the power of moving away from centres I cannot


even attempt to explain. That this is so, is rendered pro-
bable by many general facts, open to the observation of all,
as well as by the wonderful phenomena seen with the aid of
the highest powers of our microscopes.

The point in which every nutritive operation differs
essentially from every other known change is this : the com-
position and properties of the nutrient matter are completely
altered, its elements are entirely rearranged, so that com-
pounds which may be detected in the nutrient matter are no
longer present when this has been taken up by the matter
to be nourished. The only matter capable of effecting such
changes as these is living matter, and it is very remarkable
that when this matter ceases to live, we do not detect
amongst the compounds formed at its death substances pre-
viously present in the pabulum, but new bodies altogether,
and these often vary according to the circumstances under
which the matter dies.

Desiring as I do to yield all that can be yielded to those
who maintain that there is no vital power distinct from
ordinary force, I might say that a particle of soft transparent
matter, called by some living, which came from a pre-exist-
ing particle, effected, silently and in a moment, without appa
ratus, with little loss of material, at a temperature of 60 or
lower, changes in matter, some of which can be imitated in
the laboratory in the course of days or weeks by the aid of
a highly skilled chemist, furnished with complex apparatus
and the means of producing a very high temperature and
intense chemical action, and with an enormous waste of
material. It is, therefore, quite obvious that an indepen-
dent, thoughtful person, must, for the present, hold that the


operations by which changes are effected in substances by
living matter, are in their nature essentially different from
those which man is obliged to employ to bring about changes
of a similar kind out of the body ; and until we are taught
what the agent or operator in the living matter really is, it is
surely permissible to call it vital power. Its actions cannot
be denied and ought not to be ignored.

It seems to me childish, rather than philosophical, on the
part of any one to reassert in these days that nutrition is
merely a chemical process, unless he can imitate by
chemical means the essential phenomena which take place
when any living thing is nourished. The passage of a fluid
through a tissue by which its structure is preserved is not
nutrition, or the introduction of preservative fluids into dead
tissues would be a nutritive operation. A fluid may hold in
solution certain substances which are separated from it as it
traverses the tissue, thus adding weight and altering the
properties of the tissue, as occurs when calcareous and other
slightly soluble substances are deposited in the soft matrix of
bone, teeth, shell, and other textures. This is a process which
can be made to take place in lifeless matter, and has been
adduced in support of the doctrine that the tissues of plants
and animals are formed by physical and chemical agencies
only ; but it is not nutrition. Those who advance such
arguments confuse the process of deposition of insoluble
salts in a material previously formed, with the actual forma-
tion of the material itself out of substances of a totally
different composition.

Nutrition, then, involves the conversion of lifeless pabu-
lum into living germinal matter, and comprises these steps.


1. The contact of the soluble pabulum with the ger-
minal matter.

2. The separation of the elements of the nutrient
substance from their state of combination as pabulum.

3. The rearrangement of the elements, and the con-
version of some of these into new germinal matter.

Nutrition is impossible unless living germinal matter be
present, and in every case in which it is known to occur new
germinal matter is produced. Nutrition is a vital process,
its occurrence is positive evidence of vitality, and nothing
like it has ever yet been effected by human ingenuity.


How are we to explain the wonderful changes which
take place in the germinal or living matter, and how are we
to account for the capacity which this exhibits of passing
through orderly series of changes, the last of which seems
to have been provided for, and, as it were, anticipated from
the very first ?

I regard "vitality" as a power of a peculiar kind,
exhibiting no analogy whatever to any known forces. It
cannot be a property of matter, because it is in all respects
essentially different in its actions from all acknowledged
properties of matter. The vital property belongs to a
different category altogether.

That the properties of elements which disappear, or
are changed when compounds are formed, are really re-
tained, can be proved, because when each element is again
isolated it manifests its elemental properties ; but the vital



properties are lost whenever living matter dies, and are
never regained by those same particles. The vital actions
of the highest and lowest known forms of living mat-
ter appear to be of the same essential nature, although
the results of vital actions upon the form, properties, and
composition of the material produced are very different
in different organisms. But between the vital actions of the
simplest and most degraded forms of living matter, and any
actions that are known to occur under the most complex
circumstances, in non-living matter, there appears to be no
analogy whatever. Instead of attributing the phenomena
peculiar to living beings to any force or power of a peculiar
or special kind, it is considered more in accordance with
the " tendencies " of scientific investigation in these days,
and much more philosophical to assert that the phenomena
which I have called vital are the consequences of antece-
dent physical phenomena.

When one portion of a mass of living matter is seen to
move in advance of other portions it may be said that the
movement is due to some phenomenal alteration which
occurred just before. But what evidence have we that this
change, which cannot be rendered evident to our senses,
was really phenomenal '? This movement is one of the
essential attributes of living matter. We cannot conceive of
living matter without the capacity for such movement. The
growth of the forest could no more be accomplished with-
out this wonderful power of movement which overcomes
the attraction of gravitation, than the changes in form of
the simplest living particles, or the active movement of the
vibrio or the vibration of a cilium. The visible changes


which occur in the form of a mass of germinal or living
matter undoubtedly succeed and are a consequence of
antecedent changes, but what do we know about these ante-
cedent changes ? All we have learnt positively is that the
matter moves in a manner peculiar to matter of this kind.
Shall we account for the movement by saying that it is a
consequence of antecedent phenomena or that it is due to
an inherent tendency to move or to a property which it has
derived from matter like it from which it came or to some
mysterious agency acting from without or from within, or to
the action and reaction of forces acting in both directions ?
It is not possible to prove why the matter moves because we
have no means of investigating its state just prior to the
occurrence of the actual movement, but the universality of
this movement in the living world convinces us that it is of
the highest importance and very intimately related to life
itself. This movement has been shown to be peculiar, and
so far has not been excited in any form of non-living matter.
Is it not, therefore, reasonable to suppose that the condition
which immediately precedes the occurrence of actual move-
ment is also peculiar to living matter ? But is it a phenomenal
change ? Some action, state, or condition, must undoubt-
edly take place in the matter just prior to movement,
differing from the condition or state which obtains in the
living matter when no movement is about to occur, but we
cannot demonstrate any difference whatever ; neither have
we yet been able to discover any means by which the state
of change just preceding active movement can be dis-
tinguished from the state of ordinary and comparative rest.
We do not in fact know when a movement is about to


occur, we only know the fact of its occurrence. If the
state just preceding movement is to be attributed to ante-
cedent phenomena, the state of rest might with equal pro-
priety be attributed to the very same antecedent phenomena.
It is doubtful if the word phenomenon is at all applicable
to the supposed change in the relations of the particles of
living matter which results in actual movement. Is it
correct to speak of a condition or state which cannot be
rendered evident to the senses, as a phenomenon? A
certain change common to every kind of living matter
occurs just prior to the movement of its particles, which
universally distinguishes this from every other known state
of matter. As the movement is peculiar, its cause must be
peculiar, and it seems more reasonable to attribute this to
some peculiar power manifested by living matter only, than
to an antecedent phenomenon which is different in its
essential nature from every other action or change to which
the term phenomenon has been applied. In truth, when
we enter upon the consideration of the 'cause of the
changes in living matter, we soon get beyond the limits of
observation and experiment. It may of course be said that
such discussions are therefore futile and out of the province
of science. But if this view be accepted we must cease to
enquire almost as soon as we have commenced to in-
vestigate. In that case the consideration of the growth,
formation and action of the simplest being, and of every
elementary unit entering into the formation of the tissues
of every living creature, must be as a sealed book. And
it would be absurd to attempt to describe the processes
of growth, formation and secretion, as they occur in living


beings. The question not only lies at the very root of
physiology, but forces itself upon our consideration at every
step. It must, therefore, be discussed, and provisional
hypotheses may be advanced if only to mark the paths
already traversed in the course of our difficult and never-
ending exploration.

That the physical school should try to stop all enquiry
at this very point is exactly what might be expected, for
the subject is obviously out of the path of physical enquiry,
but it by no means, therefore, follows that nothing is to be
learnt concerning it. No wonder that those who would
have us believe that the highest aspirations of the soul are
but manifestations of so many units of force, desire to
chain the mind so tightly to the material that it shall
no longer exercise one of its remarkable endowments
that of stretching towards regions into which the senses
cannot penetrate. Is the mind to follow the senses,
instead of leading, controlling, and directing them? Are
the senses to govern the intellect and to dictate to it the
conditions under which it may work ? But even the dis-
ciples of the physical school cannot altogether refrain from
advancing vain speculations and fanciful hypotheses. Is it
then the attempt to speculate in one particular direction
that gives such offence in these days, and which some try
to put down, with firmness and force ? The new school
professes to consider all enquiries worthless which are not
conducted by experiment and observation, and yet how many
obscure and doubtful facts of observation and experiment
are advanced and used as scientific certainties, when the
magic light of physical theory has been projected upon


them ? It is indeed very desirable to bring us face to face
with " facts," but it is astonishing how many grand facts of
the profoundest significance are slowly resolved into harm-

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Online LibraryLionel S. (Lionel Smith) BealeProtoplasm : or, Life, matter, and mind → online text (page 8 of 12)