Louis Pasteur

In our present age when so much time and attention is centered upon the subject of health, it is quite natural that our minds revert to the memory of Louis Pasteur, who through his scientific discoveries is perhaps responsible more than any other man for our modern scientific achievements in medicine.

In the early centuries great minds were concerned with building up a cultural civilization from which renowned philosophers, historians and literary geniuses were developed and perpetuated to our present age. Likewise they built a moral and religious system that will endure to the end of time. And so each century in the history of the world, made its valuable contribution toward progress. But the nature of world progress changed during the eighteenth century when the trend of men’s minds deviated from the philosophic to the scientific method of reasoning, and had its beginning at the time of Newton whose theories on gravitation developed a new condition in the universe that was destined to give us a new and fuller civilization. His researches had the effect of producing an intellectual revolution which resulted in other scientific wonders in discoveries and inventions.

What Newton was to his age in the science of the universe, Louis Pasteur was to his age in the science of medicine. The vast scope of his discoveries and their vital importance to the human race placed Pasteur without a rival in medical science. Up to this time the practice of medicine had been conducted mainly on the principle of theory and experimentation.

Nothing definite was known of causes of virulent and destructive disease and infectious fevers and plaques so common in those days, and their treatment was also merely experiments in drugs and chemical compounds.

Pasteur’s discoveries in bacteria transformed this practice into one based on scientific principles. Through his researches he discovered not only the causes of these dreaded diseases but a system of cures and preventions.

He was born in 1822 at Dole, France, and was the eldest of three children, the others being sisters. His father was a tanner, an honest, intelligent hard working man “far above his position in mind and character.” He instilled into his son the habit of work and set for him a good example of the essentials required for a well filled life. He had little social tendencies and few friends, but the few he chose were people of superior station and consisted of philosophers, educators and doctors. So Louis had the advantages of intellectual environment which no doubt had its influence in forming his future.

In his primary training he exhibited no particular aptitude in his studies, but rather manifested pronounced and rare traits of character. These leading qualities of his nature were encouraged and brought out by a household friend who was head master at Arbois College and a true educator.

At thirteen years of age he showed a preference for drawing and displayed much ability as an artist, but these talents were not encouraged by his parents and never seriously threatened to become his career. From childhood he possessed the nature of a true scientist in that his mind was always restless under unexplained phenomena. His mind worked so cautiously that he could never conscientiously confirm a thing without forming his own conclusions through observation of facts.

Realizing his scientific preferences he abandoned his artistic trends to prepare himself for the teaching of sciences, and at the age of twenty-six he was professor of physical science at Dijon. Later he held numerous other important positions, such as Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at Lille, Science director and professor of geology, physics and chemistry. These positions furnished him excellent opportunity to carry on his researches.

He was regarded as the founder of modern stereo-chemistry. His discoveries that living organisms are the cause of fermentation, is the basis of the whole modern germ theory of disease and the antiseptic method of treatment.

His investigations of the silk worm diseases, splenic fever, which was a dangerous epidemic among cattle, and cholera, proved these were all due to forms of micro-organisms. He not only discovered causes for these diseases, but a system of vaccination by which they could be cured or prevented by enabling animals to resist virulent attacks of disease.

Later he studied hydrophobia which he traced to similar causes and for the cure of which he founded the Pasteur Institute in 1886.

Though Pasteur’s researches were conducted upon insects and animals and were mainly of industrial value, the human benefits derived from their quick application to medicine can never be estimated.

Discoveries and inventions of one century are usually matched or surpassed by each succeeding one. Only half a century has passed since the days of Pasteur and already the marvelous achievements in chemistry and medicine have far exceeded all previous centuries, but through it all the name of Pasteur has not been obscured because it was he who laid the foundation upon which this progress was made possible, and so his name will be perpetuated for centuries to come.

The pinnacle has not yet been reached and the battle with bacteria that Pasteur fought will have to continue until a complete defeat of disease is accomplished. Whether this is humanly possible remains for future science to reveal.