The Past Is History

As many will know, I am something of a Star Trek fan. I’m not quite so keen on the later series, but the Star Trek TOS and TNG I do enjoy. The early DS9 (Deep Space Nine) episodes are good, but the later ones… well, I’m not as struck on those. However, each to their own. Some of the story lines are in fact quite good as you can just take them as a story or you can see a hidden meaning behind them. For example in a very early DS9 episode, near to the space station a wormhole is discovered in which exist beings with no concept of ‘time’ as we perceive it. Time has to be explained to them, like how events don’t all happen at once but they occur and actions then have consequences. Like in a game of cricket, where a ball is thrown and the person may hit the ball, striking it with a bat. Then the ball may go into a spin in a different direction. It may be caught by another player, or not. In another instance the ball may be thrown and be missed completely. Each time the ball is thrown it is an event in time and that time is always going forward, never backward. Life is a series of consequences, with one event leading to another. I have mentioned in a previous blog post about what occurred with my maternal grandfather, him being on board a particular ship, the H.M.S. Tipperary, which was torpedoed and sunk during World War I. He was in the North Sea for hours, but thankfully another ship came along and rescued him. Except that ship, the HMS Dublin, had at one point seen enemy ships and according to the captain’s report, in a few seconds the enemy was lost in the fog and his ship was turned with the object of chasing and shadowing them, but the existing conditions of weather made this event impossible. Course was therefore shaped for a position where it was hoped to meet with and join up with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. The Commander-in-Chief was informed of sighting the enemy. Commodore, 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, was asked for course and speed of Squadron. At 6.30 a.m they passed a lot of oil fuel and rescued a man on a piece of wood who turned out to be George T. A. Parkyn, Stoker 1st class of H.M.S. “ Tipperary,” who had been in the water for about 5 hours, and stated his ship had been sunk by shell fire at night. He was my maternal grandfather. Here are extracts from the Battle Of Jutland Official Despatches. So George was in the North Sea all that time and had it not been for the fog and the decision for H.M.S. Dublin to turn away and attempt to join up with the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, it would not have seen George or picked him up. A definite tale of consequences as without that occurring and so much more, my father wouldn’t have been born in 1919, my parents would never have met and I, along with quite a few others, would not be here now. It is a fascinating world we live in!

Report by Admiral Jellicoe
George Parkyn’s Rescue from H.M.S. Tipperary

There will be countless stories like this one, of that I am sure. If we also look at the lives of people and the changes brought about by their achievements, it is amazing quite what a difference they have made to our lives today. I believe an example of this is with Louis Pasteur (27 December 1822 – 28 September 1895), who was a French chemist and microbiologist renowned for his discoveries of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurisation. He was born in Dole, a subprefecture in the Jura department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté area of eastern France to a catholic family of a poor tanner and was the third child of Jean-Joseph Pasteur and Jeanne-Etiennette Roqui. The family moved to Marmoz in 1826 and then to Arbois in 1827. Pasteur entered primary school in 1831 and was an average student in his early years, but not particularly academic as his interests were fishing and sketching. He drew many pastels as well as portraits of his parents, friends and neighbours. Louis Pasteur attended secondary school at the Collège d’Arbois and in October 1838 he left for Paris to join the Pension Barbet (which I believe may have been a college), but he became homesick, returning home in November. In 1839 he entered the Collège Royal at Besançon to study philosophy and earned his Bachelor of Letters degree in 1840. He was appointed a tutor at the Besançon college whilst continuing a degree science course with special mathematics. He failed his first examination in 1841, but managed to pass a general science degree from Dijon, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Mathematics degree in 1842 but with only a mediocre grade in chemistry. Later in 1842, Pasteur took the entrance test for the École Normale Supérieure. He passed the first set of tests, but because his ranking was low, Pasteur decided not to continue and try again next year. He went back to the Pension Barbet to prepare for the test, he also attended classes at the Lycée Saint-Louis and lectures of Jean-Baptiste Dumas at the Sorbonne. In 1843 he passed the test with a high ranking and so entered the École Normale Supérieure. In 1845 he received the licenciè ès sciences degree and in 1846 he was appointed professor of physics at the Collège de Tournon (now called the Lycée Gabriel-Faure) in Ardèche. But the chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard wanted him back at the École Normale Supérieure as a graduate laboratory assistant, so he joined Balard and simultaneously started his research in crystallography. In 1847 he submitted his two thesis, one in chemistry and the other in physics. After serving briefly as professor of physics at the Dijon Lycée, in 1848 he became professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg where he met and courted Marie Laurent, daughter of the university’s rector in 1849. They were married on 29 May 1849 and together had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood. The other three died of typhoid. But his research in chemistry led to remarkable breakthroughs in the overall understanding of the causes and preventions of diseases which laid down the foundations of hygiene, public health and much of modern medicine. His works are credited to saving millions of lives through the developments of vaccines for rabies and anthrax. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern bacteriology and has been honoured as one of the “fathers of bacteriology and microbiology”. Louis Pasteur was responsible for disproving the doctrine of spontaneous generation. Under the auspices of the French Academy of Sciences, his experiment demonstrated that in sterilised and sealed flasks nothing ever developed, whilst in sterilised but open flasks microorganisms could grow. For this experiment, in 1862 the academy awarded him the Alhumbert Prize with a prize of 2,500 francs. He is also regarded as one of the fathers of the germ theory of diseases, a minor medical concept at the time. His many experiments showed that diseases could be prevented by killing or stopping germs, thereby directly supporting the germ theory and its application in clinical medicine. He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, the process we call pasteurisation. Louis Pasteur also made significant discoveries in chemistry, most notably on the molecular basis for the asymmetry of certain crystals. Early in his career, his investigation of tartaric acid resulted in the first resolution of what is now called ‘optical isomers’ in chemistry. His work led the way to the current understanding of a fundamental principle in the structure of organic compounds. Pasteur was motivated to investigate fermentation while working at Lille. In 1856 a local wine manufacturer, M. Bigot, whose son was one of Pasteur’s students, sought for his advice on the problems of making beetroot alcohol and souring. According to his son-in-law, René Vallery-Radot, in August 1857 Pasteur sent a paper about lactic acid fermentation to the Société des Sciences de Lille, but the paper was read three months later and a memoir was subsequently published on 30 November 1857. In the memoir, he developed his ideas stating that: “I intend to establish that, just as there is an alcoholic ferment, the yeast of beer, which is found everywhere that sugar is decomposed into alcohol and carbonic acid, so also there is a particular ferment, a lactic yeast, always present when sugar becomes lactic acid. Pasteur also wrote about alcoholic fermentation, which was published in full form in 1858. Jöns Jacob Berzelius and Justus von Liebig had proposed the theory that fermentation was caused by decomposition. Pasteur demonstrated that this theory was incorrect and that yeast was responsible for fermentation to produce alcohol from sugar. He also demonstrated that when a different microorganism contaminated the wine, lactic acid was produced, making the wine sour. In 1861, Pasteur observed that less sugar fermented per part of yeast when the yeast was exposed to air. The lower rate of fermentation aerobically became known as the Pasteur Effect. Pasteur’s research also showed that the growth of micro-organisms was responsible for spoiling beverages, such as beer, wine and milk. With this established, he invented a process in which liquids such as milk were heated to a temperature between 60 and 100°C and this killed most bacteria and moulds already present within them. Pasteur and Claude Bernard completed tests on blood and urine on 20 April 1862. Pasteur patented the process, to fight the “diseases” of wine, in 1865. The method became known as pasteurisation and was soon applied to beer and milk. Beverage contamination led Pasteur to the idea that micro-organisms infecting animals and humans cause disease. He proposed preventing the entry of micro-organisms into the human body, leading Joseph Lister to develop antiseptic methods in surgery. In 1866, Pasteur published ‘Etudes sur le Vin’, about the diseases of wine, and he published ‘Etudes sur la Bière’ in 1876, concerning the diseases of beer. In the early 19th century, Agostino Bassi had shown that muscardine was caused by a fungus that infected silkworms. Since 1853, two diseases called pébrine and flacherie had been infecting great numbers of silkworms in southern France, and by 1865 they were causing huge losses to farmers. In 1865, Pasteur went to Alès and worked for five years until 1870. Silkworms with pébrine were covered in corpuscles. In the first three years, Pasteur thought that the corpuscles were a symptom of the disease. In 1870, he concluded that the corpuscles were the cause of pébrine (it is now known that the cause is microsporidia, a group of spore—forming unicellular parasites. Pasteur also showed that the disease was hereditary and he developed a system to prevent pébrine. Pasteur’s first work on vaccine development was on chicken cholera. Then in the 1870s, he applied his immunisation method to anthrax, which affected cattle and aroused interest in combating other diseases. Pasteur cultivated bacteria from the blood of animals infected with anthrax. When he inoculated animals with the bacteria, anthrax occurred, proving that the bacteria was the cause of the disease. Many cattle were dying of anthrax in “cursed fields” but Pasteur was told that sheep that died from anthrax were buried in the field. Pasteur thought that earthworms might have brought the bacteria to the surface. He found anthrax bacteria in earthworms’ excrement, showing that he was correct, so he told the farmers not to bury dead animals in the fields. Pasteur had been trying to develop the anthrax vaccine since 1877, soon after Robert Koch’s discovery of the bacterium. Pasteur had quite a few disagreements with other scientists on the subject of vaccines. The notion of a weak form of a disease causing immunity to the virulent version was not new, as this had been known for a long time for smallpox. Inoculation with smallpox variolation was known to result in a much less severe disease, and greatly reduced mortality, in comparison with the naturally acquired disease. Edward Jenner had also studied vaccination using cowpox vaccinia to give cross-immunity to smallpox in the late 1790s, and by the early 1800s vaccination had spread to most of Europe. The difference between smallpox vaccination and anthrax or chicken cholera vaccination was that the latter two disease organisms had been artificially weakened, so a naturally weak form of the disease organism did not need to be found. This discovery revolutionised work in infectious diseases, and Pasteur gave these artificially weakened diseases the generic name of “vaccines”, in honour of Jenner’s discovery. Pasteur produced the first vaccine for rabies by growing the virus in rabbits, and then weakening it by drying the affected nerve tissue. The rabies vaccine was initially created by Emile Roux, a French doctor and a colleague of Pasteur, who had produced a killed vaccine using this method. The vaccine had also been tested in 50 dogs before its first human trial. Because of his study in germs, Pasteur encouraged doctors to sanitise their hands and equipment before surgery. Prior to this, few doctors or their assistants practiced these procedures.

Louis Pasteur married Marie Laurent in 1849. She was the daughter of the rector of the University of Strasbourg, and was Pasteur’s scientific assistant. They had five children together, only three of whom survived until adulthood. His grandson, Louis Pasteur Vallery-Radot, wrote that Pasteur had kept from his Catholic background only a spiritualism without religious practice. However, Catholic observers often said that Pasteur remained an ardent Christian throughout his whole life, and his son-in-law wrote, in a biography of him: “Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life; the virtues of the gospel had ever been present to him. Full of respect for the form of religion which had been that of his forefathers, he came simply to it and naturally for spiritual help in these last weeks of his life”. The Literary Digest of 18 October 1902 gives this statement from Pasteur that whilst he worked, he prayed “Posterity will one day laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophers. The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. I pray while I am engaged at my work in the laboratory”. Maurice Vallery-Radot, grandson of the brother of the son-in-law of Pasteur and outspoken Catholic, also holds that Pasteur remained fundamentally Catholic. According to Pasteur Vallery-Radot and Maurice Vallery-Radot, the following well-known quotation attributed to Pasteur is apocryphal: “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant’s wife”. According to Maurice Vallery-Radot, the false quotation appeared for the first time shortly after the death of Pasteur. However, despite his belief in God, it has been said that his views were that of a free-thinker rather than a Catholic, a spiritual more than a religious man. He was also against mixing science with religion. In 1868, Pasteur suffered a severe brain stroke that paralysed the left side of his body, but he recovered, then a further stroke in 1894 severely impaired his health. Failing to fully recover, he died on 28 September 1895, near Paris. He was given a state funeral and was buried in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but his remains were reinterred in the Pasteur Institute in Paris, in a vault covered in depictions of his accomplishments in Byzantine mosaics.

I try to keep up with the events happening in our world, but there is so much news easily shared nowadays it is so easy to overlook a great deal. People, families, move to other countries and with the Internet we keep in touch with them but we can perhaps overlook things. Happily I know some folk who make a point of reminding us of people and events. On television we can watch the quiz shows that ask when certain things occurred and unless you have a particular interest in the subject it is easy to forget what happened, when notable figures were alive and what they did to and for this world. I have said before about when I was at school I took little interest in history, but now I begin to realise the importance of sharing the honest truth of what happened in the past so that we can build a better future for us, for every one and every thing around us.

This week…
The other morning I looked out of the window at the snow and was reminded of how Good King Wenceslas likes his pizza – deep pan, crisp and even. 😊

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