The Harvard Classics Volume 38 eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 478 pages of information about The Harvard Classics Volume 38.

We have devoted the greater part of this chapter to the establishing with all possible exactness the extremely important physiological fact of life without air, and its correlation to the phenomena of fermentations properly so called—­that is to say, of those which are due to the presence of microscopic cellular organisms.  This is the chief basis of the new theory that we propose for the explanation of these phenomena.  The details into which we have entered were indispensable on account of the novelty of the subject no less than on account of the necessity we were under of combating the criticisms of the two German naturalists, Drs. Oscar Brefeld and Traube, whose works had cast some doubts on the correctness of the facts upon which we had based the preceding propositions.  We have much pleasure in adding that at the very moment we were revising the proofs of this chapter, we received from M. Brefeld an essay, dated Berlin, January, 1876, in which, after describing his later experimental researches, he owns with praiseworthy frankness that Dr. Traube and he were both of them mistaken.  Life without air is now a proposition which he accepts as perfectly demonstrated.  He has witnessed it in the case of Mucor racemosus and has also verified it in the case of yeast.  “If,” he says, “after the results of my previous researches, which I conducted with all possible exactness, I was inclined to consider Pasteur’s assertion as inaccurate and to attack them, I have no hesitation now in recognizing them as true, and in proclaiming the service which Pasteur has rendered to science in being the first to indicate the exact relation of things in the phenomenon of fermentation.”  In his later researches, Dr. Brefeld has adopted the method which we have long employed for demonstrating the life and multiplication of butyric vibrios in the entire absence of air, as well as the method of conducting growths in mineral media associated with fermentable substance.  We need not pause to consider certain other secondary criticisms of Dr. Brefeld.  A perusal of the present work will, we trust, convince him that they are based on no surer foundation than were his former criticisms.

To bring one’s self to believe in a truth that has just dawned upon one is the first step towards progress; to persuade others is the second.  There is a third step, less useful perhaps, but highly gratifying nevertheless, which is, to convince one’s opponents.

We therefore, have experienced great satisfaction in learning that we have won over to our ideas an observer of singular ability, on a subject which is of the utmost importance to the physiology of cells.


[Footnote:  Liebig, Sur la fermentation et la source de la force musculaire (Annales de Chimie et de Physique, 4th series, t. xxiii., p. 5, 1870).]

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The Harvard Classics Volume 38 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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