V. ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
And so histologists came to question whether, after all, the cell contents rather than the enclosing wall must not be the really essential structure, and the weight of increasing observations finally left no escape from the conclusion that such is really the case. But attention being thus focalized on the cell contents, it was at once apparent that there is a far closer similarity between the ultimate particles of vegetables and those of animals than had been supposed. Cellulose and animal membrane being now regarded as more by-products, the way was clear for the recognition of the fact that vegetable protoplasm and animal sarcode are marvellously similar in appearance and general properties. The closer the observation the more striking seemed this similarity; and finally, about 1860, it was demonstrated by Heinrich de Bary and by Max Schultze that the two are to all intents and purposes identical. Even earlier Remak had reached a similar conclusion, and applied Von Mohl's word protoplasm to animal cell contents, and now this application soon became universal. Thenceforth this protoplasm was to assume the utmost importance in the physiological world, being recognized as the universal "physical basis of life," vegetable and animal alike. This amounted to the logical extension and culmination of Schwann's doctrine as to the similarity of development of the two animate kingdoms. Yet at the, same time it was in effect the banishment of the cell that Schwann had defined. The word cell was retained, it is true, but it no longer signified a minute cavity. It now implied, as Schultze defined it, "a small mass of protoplasm endowed with the attributes of life." This definition was destined presently to meet with yet another modification, as we shall see; but the conception of the protoplasmic mass as the essential ultimate structure, which might or might not surround itself with a protective covering, was a permanent addition to physiological knowledge. The earlier idea had, in effect, declared the shell the most important part of the egg; this developed view assigned to the yolk its true position.
In one other important regard the theory of Schleiden and Schwann now became modified. This referred to the origin of the cell. Schwann had regarded cell growth as a kind of crystallization, beginning with the deposit of a nucleus about a granule in the intercellular substance—the cytoblastema, as Schleiden called it. But Von Mohl, as early as 1835, had called attention to the formation of new vegetable cells through the division of a pre-existing cell. Ehrenberg, another high authority of the time, contended that no such division occurs, and the matter was still in dispute when Schleiden came forward with his discovery of so-called free cell-formation within the parent cell, and this for a long time diverted attention from the process of division which Von Mohl had described. All manner of schemes of cell-formation were put forward during the ensuing years by a multitude of observers, and gained currency notwithstanding Von Mohl's reiterated contention that there are really but two ways in which the formation of new cells takes place—namely, "first, through division of older cells; secondly, through the formation of secondary cells lying free in the cavity of a cell."
But gradually the researches of such accurate observers as Unger, Nageli, Kolliker, Reichart, and Remak tended to confirm the opinion of Von Mohl that cells spring only from cells, and finally Rudolf Virchow brought the matter to demonstration about 1860. His Omnis cellula e cellula became from that time one of the accepted data of physiology. This was supplemented a little later by Fleming's Omnis nucleus e nucleo, when still more refined methods of observation had shown that the part of the cell which always first undergoes change preparatory to new cell-formation is the all-essential nucleus. Thus the nucleus was restored to the important position which Schwann and Schleiden had given it, but with greatly altered significance. Instead of being a structure generated de novo from non-cellular substance, and disappearing as soon as its function of cell-formation was accomplished, the nucleus was now known as the central and permanent feature of every cell, indestructible while the cell lives, itself the division-product of a pre-existing nucleus, and the parent, by division of its substance, of other generations of nuclei. The word cell received a final definition as "a small mass of protoplasm supplied with a nucleus."
In this widened and culminating general view of the cell theory it became clear that every animate organism, animal or vegetable, is but a cluster of nucleated cells, all of which, in each individual case, are the direct descendants of a single primordial cell of the ovum. In the developed individuals of higher organisms the successive generations of cells become marvellously diversified in form and in specific functions; there is a wonderful division of labor, special functions being chiefly relegated to definite groups of cells; but from first to last there is no function developed that is not present, in a primitive way, in every cell, however isolated; nor does the developed cell, however specialized, ever forget altogether any one of its primordial functions or capacities. All physiology, then, properly interpreted, becomes merely a study of cellular activities; and the development of the cell theory takes its place as the great central generalization in physiology of the nineteenth century. Something of the later developments of this theory we shall see in another connection.