Our Scientific Causerie. The Good Fairy Phagocyte; or, the Science of Germicide
Regular Feature, Essay
Microscopy, Nomenclature, Disease, Bacteriology, Medical Treatment, Public Health
Henry E Roscoe , Elie Metchnikoff
Commenting on Joseph Lister's recent address at the Berlin Medical Congress, the article considers 'a subject which, on the face of it, seems far more incredible—far more unthinkable—than the existence of the angelic host' (296): the process by which foreign particles invading the animal body are broken down by tiny corpuscles 'now called Phagocytes' (297). Although science has 'christened them with an uncouth Greek name', Phagocyte cells in fact resemble 'fairies' or 'the tiniest elves' whose 'lives are spent in doing good to man'. Indeed, in 'the new science of Germicide we have the realization in material shape of the most fantastic dreams of our myth-evolving ancestors'. (296) Now that nearly all modern diseases have been traced to 'the presence of bacteria which prey upon the blood', we have great need of this 'huge standing army of beneficent but infinitesimally small entities [...] in every drop of blood' (296–97). As 'Professor Ray Lankester said nearly two years ago', the 'future of preventive medicine [...] lies in the education of Phagocyte', which may, by a process of inoculation, be given 'a healthy appetite, and a sound digestion for all the poison germs which manifest mankind' (297).
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