Monday, February 15, 2016

Germs Discovered in 1835

Monday, February 15, 2016
Volvox globator
Loretta reports:

Well, I’ve just gone down a rabbit hole, all on account of this entry in the Athenaeum of 26 September 1835 (first column).

‘An Essay on the Nature of Diseases, by A. Green, L.L.B.‘—An essay on mirth by an undertaker, we could understand, for things may be defined by their contraries; but an essay on diseases by an L.L.B., was rather puzzling, until the secret transpired in the few first pages. The author has been to see the oxy-hydrogen microscope exhibited, and has been “ frighted from his propriety" by the spectacle. His hallucination is, that all diseases are occasioned by animalculae; and his logical formula is this: “ whatever may be, may be; nothing prevents it from being, therefore it is." It is curious to remark. that this theory ends precisely where all other medical theories have hitherto ended. " We may know, or at least believe, that a disease is caused by some minute creatures, of some kind, situated somewhere; but we may neither know the kind, nor the situation, nor what medicines can be made to come into contact with them, nor what will destroy them when it is in contact, except by experience. The means of cure can only be known by experience; and experience must therefore still be the foundation of medical science, or at least of such part o fit as is of practical utility." This, which is the last sentence of the book, looks something like a return to reason; and we hope that this first victory of the sane over the lunatic animalculae may be followed up to a complete and final conquest. In this hope, we should have passed the matter in silence, but that it affords a not uncommon specimen of "graduated" wisdom, which it may be useful to study, at the present moment of university reformation ; and as such, we recommend it to public attention.

Here's an excerpt from Mr. Green's Essay on the Nature of Diseases (1835):
It is known to every one, that by the aid of the microscope, there may be seen in water which has been exposed for some time to the open air, minute animated beings, generally very transparent, and presenting an organization more or less simple ... The popular interest recently acquired by the solar microscope, and still more by the oxy-hydrogen microscope, induces us to believe that all our readers have sufficient knowledge of the microscopic animalcula, to be interested in the discoveries which have recently been made in the part of natural history, which relates to them.  

Nearly all the reviewers went ballistic:
“The proposition that animalcules are the causes of all diseases is not new, neither is it true. Thus to imagine that animalcules are the cause of all continued and intermittent fevers, all contagious diseases, syphilis, plague, hydrophobia, small-pox, measles, hooping-cough, scarlatina, sea-scurvy ... appears to us not only untenable, but perfect nonsense.”—London Medical and Surgical Journal 1835.
Microscopic creature 1829 image

Review in The Spectator, Volume 8, 1835.   Somewhat more open-minded review in The Metropolitan Magazine, Volume 13, 1835 (Bottom of page). 

Images: (above) Volvox globator, from The Microscope and Its Revelations, 1891; (below) Microscopic illustrations of living objects, 1840—note that the image was drawn in 1829.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


Katrina Snow said...

Wow! This is so interesting. So glad we've progressed since then. And kudos to the brave ones who dared to explore the possibilities with open minds.

Drayton Bird said...

Seems that almost every medical breakthrough has been faced with derision by the establishment.

"One experience life has taught me is that you never should believe experts" - Lord Salisbury

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