Death of Louis Pasteur – The Times

PARIS, Sept.  29. 1895

M. Pasteur died yesterday at Garches, near St. Cloud.

The end of the century seems to be bereaving France of all her great men. Thiers, Victor Hugo, Claude Bernard, Renan, and Taine have gone, and the lot now falls on Pasteur.

Partially paralyzed since 1868, he remained in tolerably satisfactory general health up to 1886, when the controversy on his treatment of hydrophobia left him with an affection of the heart which caused him to spend the winter of 1887 at Bordighera. The earthquake in the Riviera induced him to return to Paris, and he had occasional attacks of heart disease and albuminuria. Last winter he was confined to his bed for several months. On his recovery he removed from Paris to Garches, to the house which was placed at his disposal by the Paris Municipality, for scientific researches. The excessive beat brought on another and this time a fatal crisis. Since last Wednesday week he had been in a critical condition. He was throughout life a stanch Catholic, and some time ago he sent for a priest to receive his confession. On Friday the Last sacraments were administered, and he expired at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon. He leaves a widow and a married daughter, Mme Valléry-Radot. []

The body will be brought to the Institute, of which he was doubly a member, for he belonged both to the Academy of Sciences and to the French Academy. The Government intends that his funeral shall be a national one. Testimonies of sorrow and respect are coming in from all quarters. President Faure has telegraphed to the widow his sense of the loss sustained by “science, the fatherland, and mankind.” M. Hanotaux and M. Poincaré have also sent messages. M. Ribot, who is at St. Omer, sent his secretary to Garches to leave his card. Two other Ministers, Mr. Trarieux and M. Dupuy-Dutemps, have likewise gone thither to-day.

M. Pasteur’s last public utterance was on October 24 last, when President Casimir-Perier conferred the grade of Commander of the Legion of Honour on his associate, Dr. Roux, for his treatment of diphtheria. He warmly thanked the President for his compliments to himself and for the honour awarded to Dr. Roux. Some months ago, when the Baltic and North Sea Canal was opened, he declined to accept the Prussian Order Pour le Mérite, and, with his usual aversion from ostentation, he refused public banquet which was offered him to compliment him on that decision. In January, 1871, when German shells fell on the Jardin des Plantes Museum, he returned his diploma of correspondent of Bonn University, which body is said to have replied by assuring him of its ” profound contempt.” When M. Pasteur succeeded Littré at the Academy in 1882 he extolled his predecessor’s saintly character, but emphatically condemned Positivism, while Renan, who delivered the address of welcome, courteously maintained that there was much to be said on both sides.

All the newspapers to-day contain warm tributes of admiration, but the most notable is that contributed by the eminent chemist, M. Berthelot, to the Figaro. This is all the more weighty because of the divergence of his philosophic and political views from those of M. Pasteur. M. Berthelot says: “One of the great luminaries of the 19th century is extinguished. Already public admiration and gratitude had celebrated his 70th birthday, and he entered while living on that apotheosis which is accorded owing to the jealousy of the gods to so few mortals, and then only near the time of their departure. Pasteur, Renan, Victor Hugo are perhaps the three figures which in intellectual matters have cast the greatest lustre on our time. The closing century has received their impress, but in very. different degrees and ways. The impress of Pasteur has been produced by ideas and services which will constantly be present to men’s memories, inasmuch as they are peculiarly tangible and accessible to the comprehension of all. Everybody is affected by discoveries which tend to rescue us from disease, to lengthen life, and to increase the number of the living. … Men often appear indifferent to the highest expressions of the mind in the sphere of the purely abstract because they do not understand their bearing. They are prompt, on the contrary, to recognize and acclaim services rendered in the sphere of applied science. They attach thereto the legitimate glory and popularity due to the creative genius of men like Pasteur and to the benefits rendered to mankind by their devotion.”

Our Own Correspondent.

Seldom have the benefits conferred by science upon humanity been more direct and more patent than has been the case with the long series of researches conducted by Louis Pasteur. As has almost invariably been the case when science has conferred a lasting boon on humanity, this eminent chemist began his work with no thought of anything but his science; but, as so often has happened in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, the results have been far-reaching an beneficent. The world at large has only recently heard of Pasteur in connexion with his famous “cure” for one of the most terrible afflictions of mankind-hydrophobia. But this was only the culmination of a lifelong series of researches into the lowest forms of life. Pasteur’s work was long ago well known to brewers, to sericulturists, to stock-rearers, to viticulturists and the followers of other industries, and by them he was universally recognized as a benefactor. To the chemist and biologist his name, it need hardly be said, was a household word.

Louis Pasteur was born nearly 73 years ago – in December27, 1822 – at DôIe in the Jura, the son of a tanner, who had fought his country’s battles with honour. Shortly after Louis’s birth the family removed to Arbois, and here Louis was educated at the Communal College. Thence he went to the College of Besancon, and in 1843 was admitted to the École Normale at Paris. Chemistry had become his favourite subject even at Besancon and under Dumas at Paris, as may be imagined, his devotion was intensified. Pasteur worked hard both at chemistry and physics. He took his doctor’s degree in 1847, and in the following year was appointed Professor of Physics at Strasburg University. In 1854 he removed to Lille, where he was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Science. Three years later he returned to Paris as Scientific Director of the École Normale, and in 1867 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Sorbonne. In recent years his headquarters have been at the Pasteur Institute founded for him for the purpose of carrying on his invaluable bacteriological investigations.

Pasteur’s earliest original researches, undertaken at the suggestion of M. Delafosse, who was specially interested in molecular physics, dealt with crystals. These were connected with an investigation of extreme delicacy into the differences which existed between the tartrate and the paratartrate of soda and ammonia. Into the technicalities of Pasteur’s diseoveries as to the nature and relations of these two isomeric bodies it would be out of place to enter here. A great anomaly was explained and a great problem solved. Moreover, the elaborate research, which occupied Pasteur six years, led him on to researches in other and more practical directions – researches which would scarcely have been possible if this initial problem had not been solved. So long ago as 1856 Pasteur’s reputation had spread beyond France; in that year our Royal Society awarded him its Runmford medal for his recearches on the Polarization of light, &c.

His next great scientific undertaking, with a practical end in view, was suggested by the chief industry at Lille, where, it has been seen, he was Dean of the Faculty of Science. The manufacture of alcohol from beetroot and corn was of the first importance to Lille. The methods followed seem to have been of a somewhat empirical character, and Pasteur saw that great improvements were possible, not only in this particular industry, but in the brewing of beer, of which, so far as the French market was concerned, Germany and Austria had the monopoly. This naturally led Pasteur to make an exhaustive investigation into the great and complicated subject of fermentation. The result was not simply important to the manufacture of spirits at Lille, but initiated the creation of what may be regarded as a new industry in France, the manufacture of beer on scientific principles. Certainly in this respect Pasteur was a great benefactor to his country, though as a matter of fact it is doubtful if beer of native manufacture has ever been so highly appreciated in France as that imported from the country of the enemy. But it was not only France that benefited by the results of Pasteur’s researches, they have become the common property of brewers all the world over. In these investigations he was led from one stage to another, always bringing the microscope to the aid of his chemical methods, until he was convinced that all forms of fermentation were due to the action of minute living organisms. Only those who are familiar with the history of chemistry will recognize the magnitude of the innovation on accepted doctrines involved in Pasteur’s theory. But the irresistible logic of facts convinced all impartial students of the essential truth of what is popularly known as the germ theory. It explained many obscurities in science, both in chemistry and biology, and its practical bearings soon became evident. Of course, others had been working in this direction before Pasteur – Appert, Caignard-Latour, Schwann, HeIlmholtz – but it may with truth be said that it was Pasteur who put his finger on the real secret, who discovered nature’s actual method of work in all those processes of which fermentation may be regarded as the typical example. To quote the words of Sir James Paget : “He proved the constant presence of living micro-organisms, not only in yeast, in which Caignard-Latour and Schwann, especially, had studied them, but in all the fermenting substances that he examined; he proved the certain and complete prevention of fermentation, putrefaction, and other similar processes in many substances, however naturally subject to them, by the exclusion of all micro-organisms and other germs, or by their destruction if present; and he proved the constant presence of various micro-organisms and their germs in the air, in the water, in the earth, in dust and dirt of every kind – their abundance “everywhere.”

The discovery of this vast hidden field of activity in nature has been fruitful in the most remarkable discoveries and the most beneficent applications. A whole world of obscure phenomena has been explained to science; diseases of various kinds have been traced to their birthplaces; much suffering has been spared to men and animals, and multitudes of lives have been saved. It was seen how these germ-diseases could be met and prevented; and Lister, carrying out Pasteur’s discoveries into practice, devised the method, known by his name, and now all but universally applied in surgery. Pasteur carried his war against disease into the enemy’s country, so to speak; he fought the battle against the foes of life and health with disease’s own weapons. He found that every form of what may be called putrefactive diseases had its own particular bacillus, which could be separated from all others and cultivated. lf allowed to work in their own way, and at their normal strength, the micro-organisms which produce contagious diseases work havoc upon living beings. But Pasteur found they could be attenuated and diluted, and when administered in their attenuated form by means of inoculation, the strength being gradually increased, the disease was contracted in a mild form, and all its deleterious consequences avoided. Of. course, the fact that small-pox could be fought in this way is an old discovery; but it remained for Pasteur to discover the great principle which underlies such diseases, and to show how widely applicable was the prevention method which had been so effective in small-pox. To the agriculturists he did eminent service by showing how certain diseases in fowls and sheep could be met more than half way. His researches in splenic fever fully confirmed the discovery of Davaine. Koch’s application of the principle to phthisis is well known. Less cautious and patient than Pasteur, he can hardly be said to have yet succeeded. Pasteur’s greatest achievement in this direction – an achievement which drew upon him the attention and the blessings of all the world – was the discovery of an antidote to hydrophobia. Into the discussion of the absolute validity of this antidote we cannot enter; the evidence in its favour is so strong that in the opinion of impartial and competent judges Pasteur has been able to rob one of the most appalling afflictions of humanity of much of its terror.

It is not possible to recount in detail all the services rendered by Pasteur through the application of scientific discoveries, to industry and humanity. For a time (1865 onwards) he was diverted from his own special researches to cope, at the request of his master Dumas, with the disease which had been rendering havoc among silkworms, and affecting the silk industry of France to the extent of millions annually. He found that the minute “corpuscle” found among the silkworms was really a disease germ, and by a careful series of experiments demonstrated that its havoc could be greatly diminished if not stopped by taking measures to prevent the propagation of diseased eggs. While carrying out this good work Pasteur spent several months every year for four years in a little house near Alais, where he watched every step in the life of silkworms bred by himself and others. Unfortunately, in 1868, he had a paralytic attack, from which he recovered, but which left him for life comparatively powerless on the left side. Again, the sad events connected with the Franco-German war interrupted his work, but for the past 20 years he has been constantly active in developing in many directions the great principle to which he may be said to have been the first to give precise and manageable form. “It would be useless,” again to quote Sir James Paget, “to imagine the probabilities of what will now follow from the researches that have already followed the discoveries of Pasteur.” Hle surely deserves to be ranked among the greatest benefactors of humanity.

On December 27th, 1892, Pasteur’s 70th birthday was celebrated in the Sorbonne ‘in a manner which, as The Times Correspondent stated at the time, affected all present. It was a great international gathering. England was represented by Sir James Lister, and the gold medal which was presented to the veteran investigator was subscribed for by representatives of science of various countries. On that occasion the most illustrious of Pasteur’s English disciples said: “There is certainly not in the entire world a single person to whom medical science is more indebted than to you. Your researches on fermentation have thrown a flood of light which has illuminated the gloomy shadows of surgery and changed the treatment of wounds from a matter of doubtful and too often disastrous empiricism into a scientific art, certain and beneficent. Owing to you surgery has undergone a complete revolution. It has been stripped of its terrors, and its efficiency has been almost unlimitedly enlarged. But medicine owes as much to your profound and philosophic studies as surgery. You have raised the veil which had for centuries covered infectious diseases. You have discovered and proved their microbic nature; and, thanks to your initiation, and in many cases to your own special labour, there are already a host of these destructive diseases of which we now completely know the causes. This knowledge has already perfected in a surprising way the diagnosis of certain plagues of the human race and has marked out the course which must be followed it their prophylactic and curative treatment. Medicine and surgery are eager on this great occasion to offer you the profound homage of their admiration and their gratitude.”

If ever a man deserved a great international monument, it is surely this modest, unassuming, gentle, and humane French chemist, who has done more than most men to initiate the millennium. In his owvn science he ranks amongst the highest. The variety and multitude of his researches may be learned by a glance at the Royal Society List (where the titles of 137 papers are given), or into the pages of the Comptes- Rendus of the Academy of Sciences. Among his books are works on fermentation, on wine and its diseases, on the diseases of silkworms, and on beer. It need hardly be said that honours were showered upon Pasteur. He was a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour. He was early elected to the Paris Academy of Sciences, and some 13 years ago to the Institute. Of our own Royal Society he was a medallist and a foreign member. He held the Albert Medal of the Society of Arts. The French Government long ago recognized his services by an annuity of 12,000f. The Pasteur Institute in Paris was built at a cost of £100,000, and since its completion both the French public and the French Government have contributed handsomely to the maintenance of an institution which, through the genius and disinterestedness of its chief, waged war not only against hydrophobia, but also against many other deadly foes of the human race and the domesticated animals. Similar institutes have been founded in other countries; in London the British Institute of Preventive Medicine is conducted on the same lines as the Pasteur Institute under the able direction of Dr. Ruffer, and has more than justified its existence by the good work it has done in connexion with the anti-toxin treatment of diphtheria. It may with more truth be said of Pasteur than can be said of most eminent men that his death is a very great loss to humanity. His work will be taken up by others; let them follow his method and advice: “N’avancez rien qui ne puisse être prouvé d’une façon simple et décisive.”

Note: Article published in The Times on 29 September 1895

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