V. ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Many opticians, indeed, quite despaired of ever being able to make a satisfactory refracting compound microscope, and some of them had taken up anew Sir Isaac Newton's suggestion in reference to a reflecting microscope. In particular, Professor Giovanni Battista Amici, a very famous mathematician and practical optician of Modena, succeeded in constructing a reflecting microscope which was said to be superior to any compound microscope of the time, though the events of the ensuing years were destined to rob it of all but historical value. For there were others, fortunately, who did not despair of the possibilities of the refracting microscope, and their efforts were destined before long to be crowned with a degree of success not even dreamed of by any preceding generation.
The man to whom chief credit is due for directing those final steps that made the compound microscope a practical implement instead of a scientific toy was the English amateur optician Joseph Jackson Lister. Combining mathematical knowledge with mechanical ingenuity, and having the practical aid of the celebrated optician Tulley, he devised formulae for the combination of lenses of crown glass with others of flint glass, so adjusted that the refractive errors of one were corrected or compensated by the other, with the result of producing lenses of hitherto unequalled powers of definition; lenses capable of showing an image highly magnified, yet relatively free from those distortions and fringes of color that had heretofore been so disastrous to true interpretation of magnified structures.
Lister had begun his studies of the lens in 1824, but it was not until 1830 that he contributed to the Royal Society the famous paper detailing his theories and experiments. Soon after this various continental opticians who had long been working along similar lines took the matter up, and their expositions, in particular that of Amici, introduced the improved compound microscope to the attention of microscopists everywhere. And it required but the most casual trial to convince the experienced observers that a new implement of scientific research had been placed in their hands which carried them a long step nearer the observation of the intimate physical processes which lie at the foundation of vital phenomena. For the physiologist this perfection of the compound microscope had the same significance that the, discovery of America had for the fifteenth-century geographers—it promised a veritable world of utterly novel revelations. Nor was the fulfilment of that promise long delayed.
Indeed, so numerous and so important were the discoveries now made in the realm of minute anatomy that the rise of histology to the rank of an independent science may be said to date from this period. Hitherto, ever since the discovery of magnifying-glasses, there had been here and there a man, such as Leuwenhoek or Malpighi, gifted with exceptional vision, and perhaps unusually happy in his conjectures, who made important contributions to the knowledge of the minute structure of organic tissues; but now of a sudden it became possible for the veriest tyro to confirm or refute the laborious observations of these pioneers, while the skilled observer could step easily beyond the barriers of vision that hitherto were quite impassable. And so, naturally enough, the physiologists of the fourth decade of the nineteenth century rushed as eagerly into the new realm of the microscope as, for example, their successors of to-day are exploring the realm of the X-ray.
Lister himself, who had become an eager interrogator of the instrument he had perfected, made many important discoveries, the most notable being his final settlement of the long-mooted question as to the true form of the red corpuscles of the human blood. In reality, as everybody knows nowadays, these are biconcave disks, but owing to their peculiar figure it is easily possible to misinterpret the appearances they present when seen through a poor lens, and though Dr. Thomas Young and various other observers had come very near the truth regarding them, unanimity of opinion was possible only after the verdict of the perfected microscope was given.
These blood corpuscles are so infinitesimal in size that something like five millions of them are found in each cubic millimetre of the blood, yet they are isolated particles, each having, so to speak, its own personality. This, of course, had been known to microscopists since the days of the earliest lenses. It had been noticed, too, by here and there an observer, that certain of the solid tissues seemed to present something of a granular texture, as if they, too, in their ultimate constitution, were made up of particles. And now, as better and better lenses were constructed, this idea gained ground constantly, though for a time no one saw its full significance. In the case of vegetable tissues, indeed, the fact that little particles encased a membranous covering, and called cells, are the ultimate visible units of structure had long been known. But it was supposed that animal tissues differed radically from this construction. The elementary particles of vegetables "were regarded to a certain extent as individuals which composed the entire plant, while, on the other hand, no such view was taken of the elementary parts of animals."
ROBERT BROWN AND THE CELL NUCLEUS
In the year 1833 a further insight into the nature of the ultimate particles of plants was gained through the observation of the English microscopist Robert Brown, who, in the course of his microscopic studies of the epidermis of orchids, discovered in the cells "an opaque spot," which he named the nucleus. Doubtless the same "spot" had been seen often enough before by other observers, but Brown was the first to recognize it as a component part of the vegetable cell and to give it a name.