Weeks’s experiments, although most intelligently conducted, seem to have attracted little attention. He communicated a summary of his results to the Electrical Society, but does not appear to have published a complete account of them. In view of the precautions which he took, it is interesting to note that at the height of the Crosse furore (1837) no less an authority than Faraday stated, in a paper read at the Royal Institution, that similar appearances had presented themselves in the course of his own electrical experiments, but that he was doubtful whether they should be regarded as a case of production or revivification.
Should anyone in Tennessee or elsewhere be brave enough, in the face of Crosse’s experience, to repeat his experiments, it may be useful to record here a caution noted by Crosse himself.
“. . . I must remark, that in the course of these and other experiments, there is considerable similitude between the first stages of the birth of acari and of certain mineral crystallizations electrically produced. In many of them, more especially in the formation of sulphate of lime, or sulphate of strontia, its commencement is denoted by a whitish speck: so it is in the birth of the acarus. This mineral speck enlarges and elongates vertically: so it does with the acarus. Then the mineral throws out whitish filaments: so does the acarus speck.
“So far it is difficult to detect the difference between the incipient mineral and the animal; but as these filaments become more definite in each, in the mineral they become rigid, shining, transparent six-sided prisms; in the animal they are soft and have filaments, and finally endowed with motion and life.” If the foregoing passage were all that we knew of Crosse’s work, it might be permissible to suppose that he had simply been misled by appearances. It is quite possible to “grow” artificial forms, from dead matter, which simulate living bodies in a positively uncanny way. Artificial “plants,” for example, can be grown (in certain solutions) which, although formed by a purely mechanical process—osmosis—have every appearance of life, and can even imitate the properties and movements of organic cells. The “osmotic growths” recently produced by Dr. Stephane Leduc of Nantes not only present the cellular structure of living matter, but reproduce such functions as the absorption of food, metabolism, and the excretion of waste products. In spite of the precautions taken by Crosse and Weeks, it is, of course, impossible to disprove the assertion that their acari were hatched in the course of their experiments, having found their way into the apparatus as ova—the same cry of “faulty technique” that has been raised (in my submission with more force) against such experimenters as Bastian. Like Crosse, I offer no opinion.
Andrew Crosse died in the room in which he was born on July 6, 1855. He was seventy-one. For many years he had lived the life of a recluse in his Quantock eyrie, shut off from society, but happy in his marriage and his work. He died as he had lived, an honest man who would make no concession of any kind to popular clamour, but sought truth wherever he might find it. Such men are the true salt of the earth.
1. In a letter, dated 12.8.1849, to Harriet Martineau.
2. I have only found him complaining once. In a letter to Dr. Noad (whose Lectures on Electricity, published in 1849, contain a short account of Crosse’s work), he says: “. . . [I] met with so much virulence and abuse . . . in consequence of the experiments, that it seemed as if it were a crime to have made them.”
3. C. H. A. Crosse, Memorials of Andrew Crosse (London, 1857).
4. H. Martineau, A History of the Thirty Years’ Peace, A.D. 1815-46 (London, 1849).
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