An example of Bechamp’s science
“An experiment is always the conclusion of a process of reasoning, the premises of which come from observation. ” — Claude Bernard, The red notebook (notes, 1850 – 1860)
In the beginning, following the technique of Berthelot in his “standard procedure”, Bechamp added chalk to maintain the neutrality of the medium. He was surprised to see two different reactions, depending on whether he used chemically pure calcium carbonate or commercial chalk, all other factors being equal.
The first solution, with sugar added and treated with creosote, did not ferment.
The second solution, under the same conditions, fermented.
On microscopic examination of the commercial chalk (known as Spanish White or Meudon White), Bechamp invariably found the ‘little bodies’, or microzymas, observed in his previous experiments. “They are organized and living”, they act like moulds, they are agents of fermentation, they are “micro-leavens”
He made mention of this, for the first time, to the Montpellier Academy of Sciences in 1864, and informed M. J.B. Dumas of his discovery of living organisms in chalk.
In December 1864 Dumas came to Montpellier. In “The Theory of Micro-leavens and of the Microbial System” we read,
“I had had occasion to inform M. Dumas of my studies; and he seemed very much struck by them, wanting to see my experiments and doing me the honour of visiting my laboratory to look at the micro-leavens of my fermentations with chalk alone, without other additions apart from creosote to suppress the influence of atmospheric germs; he saw there a flask of sugared and creosoted water kept for eight years without any trace of change; albumin, gelatin, etc. …. treated with creosote and exposed to the air for several years and unchanged ! But, I told him, I have only to add creosote or phenolic acid, in the same doses, to milk and it no longer curdles or produces lactic acid ! Why ? You see, there live, in the milk, some “little bodies” which appear identical to those in the chalk !”
Greatly interested, Dumas advised him to be prudent :
“Publish nothing, he told me, before you have verified the experiments you have shown me, as this is really extraordinary !”
On 26 September 1865, Bechamp wrote to Dumas to give him the results of his experiments. He confirmed that :
“Chalk and milk contain living beings already developed. That fact, observed by itself, is proven by this other fact, that creosote used in a non-coagulating dose does not prevent milk from later souring, nor chalk from transforming sugar and potato flour into alcohol, acetic acid, lactic acid, and butyric acid.”
He was very surprised to surprised to find his letter printed in the next month’s edition of the Annals of Chemistry and Physics. He was pleased to see there that the Professor of the College of France supported his opinion against that of Pasteur, who attributed the coagulation of milk to fermentation brought on by germs from the air.
In the same letter, Bechamp made mention of the existence of these yeasts in cultivated soils, in some mineral waters, in fermentations, in the lees of wine, and related them to those molecules which were said to be animated by brownian movement. To the question, “What is the geological significance and what is the origin of these micro-leavens ?” Bechamp replied:
“I believe that they are the remainders, organized and still living, of organisms who lived in distant eras. I have found the proof in these very experiments and in those which I have done by myself and in collaboration with M. Estor on the micro-leavens of beings which are presently living. These micro-leavens are morphologically identical and, even though there are small differences in their activities as fermenting-agents, all of the compounds which are formed under their influence remain of the same sort. Perhaps one day geology, chemistry, and physiology will come together to affirm that the great analogies one sees between geological flora and fauna and present-day flora and fauna from the point of view of form, exist as well from the point of view of histology and physiology…..
“It is worth noting that the calcareous micro-leavens which I have examined are almost without activity at low temperatures, and all of their activity develops between 35 and 40 degrees. An ice-age temperature such as that of the valley of the Obi would cause a total halt in this activity.”
Still curious, Bechamp went on :
“Not having centuries to verify this hypothesis, I did what I could; in the beginning of 1868, I “buried” the body of a little cat in “pure calcium carbonate” prepared for the purpose and “creosoted”. The little cat was placed on a much larger substrate of the same carbonate. The whole was contained in a glass jar closed with several superposed sheets of paper such that the air could circulate without the introduction of dust and germs. The whole was placed on a shelf in my laboratory in Montpellier and left there for a long time.”
It was not until the end of 1874 that, thinking the work of decomposition finished, Bechamp opened the bottle, taking the necessary precautions to observe each layer.
Of the little corpse, nothing remained but some dried matter and a few fragments of bone; no odour came from it. The calcium carbonate was not discoloured, it was as white as chalk; under the microscope were seen shining molecules, resembling those in the chalk from Sens, and mobile like them.
With this chalk Bechamp repeated the usual experiments and showed its powers of fermentation. He noted that the micro-leavens were only found in abundance in the layers which were near to the place where the cat’s body had been laid.
“They swarmed in their thousands in every field of the microscope.”
He concluded :
“They really came from the little cadaver, like the “cretaceous micro-leavens” formed from a fossilized cadaver”.
Not content with this demonstration, Bechamp sought to refute any possible objections :
– germs from the air carried on the fur of the cat
– that having breathed, he had admitted germs from the lungs and the intestinal canal, etc …..
In June 1875, in Montpellier, he began a similar experiment :
1) the whole cadaver of a small cat
2) the liver of another cat
3) the lung, the heart, and the kidneys
“These viscera having been put in a solution of phenolic acid as soon as they were removed from the sacrificed animal.”
The bottles were opened in August 1882, in Lille. Here is Bechamp’s report:
“It was found that the decomposition was much less advanced than in the experiment of 1868, which is evidently related to the difference in temperature in Lille compared to that in Montpellier. However, both in the portions of the calcium carbonate adjoining the remains of the little cadaver, and in the viscera, there are swarms of micro-leavens as well as some very well shaped bacteria. The carbonate is impregnated with an organic matter which tints it a yellowish brown, but the whole is without odour. We have thus, in these new experiences, the counter-proof and the verification of the first: we have assured ourselves that, under these conditions, the micro-leavens belonging to the tissues have really evolved and produced bacteria; we find them in the experiment which ended at Lille, while they had regressed, turning once again into micro-leavens, in the first [experiment] which ended in Montpellier. This explains why it is that one finds bacteria in some soils in which cadavers have been buried, as in all cultivated soils and in compost.”
Even in 1875, on the occasion of a Congress for the Advancement of Science at Nantes, Bechamp had said :
“The micro-leavens of calcareous rocks, of clays, of marls, of all of the rocks that contain them, are the organized and living remains of animal and vegetable organisms from the geological era; these beings have a histological structure like that of organisms of our epoch, their micro-leavens become bacteria by evolution and the micro-leavens, geological yeasts of these rocks, are those of these bacteria in turn destroyed and reduced to their micro-leavens. We thus must not be surprised that, searching so long for the foreseen consequences of the hypothesis now verified, I have demonstrated the presence of micro-leavens in the fallow-lands of the départements of l’Herault and du Gard, in cultivated soils in general, in the soil of heaths, in alluvial soils, in water, in the dust of the roads, where there still often exists a multitude of bacteria, proving that, like those in the chalk, they are energetic agents of fermentation.
“And I add that, since before 1867, I have made known their role in the soil in agriculture.
“This research has lead to another result of the first order : the demonstration that what one has called, and calls yet, the germs in the air are only in essence these organisms disappearing or being destroyed before our eyes. In fact, by precise experiments, I have demonstrated that the micro-leavens in the air are fermenting agents of the same order as those in chalk and in rocks, and that my experiments with artificial chalk; only, depending on the site, with these micro-leavens, may the ambient air contain conidia, spores, fungi, bacteria, and all that the winds may bring to it.”
In his eleventh conference, Bechamp added:
“Among these micro-leavens will necessarily be found those from all of the beings who have died from the most diverse illnesses !”
Later, he explains :
“These, then, are the “morbid germs” which have been named “microbes”.”
That name, given in 1878 by SEDILLOT to any organism invisible to the naked eye came to designate, with PASTEUR, any pathogenic micro-organism.
Doctor Hector GRASSET tells us that in 1870, BECHAMP addressed the Academy of Medicine :
“The micro-leaven, whatever its origin, is an agent of fermentation; it is organized, it is alive, capable of multiplying and of becoming ill, capable of communicating illness …. In time of health, the micro-leavens of the organism work in harmony, and our life is, in any sense of the term, a regulated fermentation. In time of illness, the micro-leavens act out-of-harmony, fermentation is perturbed in a specific manner : the micro-leavens, either by a change of function, or are placed in an abnormal situation by some modification of the milieu.
“Not only are micro-leavens of themselves agents of fermentation, they are likely to become bacteria; and this likelihood, the same for all, is not manifested equally by all under the same conditions; which leads to the conclusion that, in each natural group of beings, and for a given organism, in each centre of activity, the micro-leavens have some sort of specifity….. and what is remarkable about it, is that the bacterium derived from a micro-leaven is an agent of fermentation of the same order as its progenitor….
“It cannot be doubted that the virus of smallpox and that of syphilis contain specific micro-leavens, that is, bringing the illness of the individual from which they come. These two examples have lead some to suggest the specificity of the determining cause of certain infectious illnesses. I cannot contradict it. However, when one looks at smallpox, syphilis is never inoculable to certain animals, the blood of female rats does not transmit anthrax to dogs or to birds, one certainly must ask why ? It certainly isn’t that the chemical milieu is different, no, and if anthrax is not a consequence of inoculation, it is because the micro-leavens of these animals are unable to evolve in a morbid fashion (to produce anthrax), under the influence of media which tend to create the introduction of morbid material.
“It is not the organisms that we inoculate that multiply there; but their presence and the liquid which impregnates them determines and alteration in the ambient medium which permits normal micro-leavens to evolve in a morbid manner, reaching or not reaching the state of bacteria; the illness is only the consequence of a new manner of action of the normal micro-leavens; the fever that follows is nothing other than a new method of functioning on the part of the organism, the effort to throw off the products of an abnormal fermentation and disassimillation, provoking the return of the micro-leavens to their pathological state.”
After citing BECHAMP’s communication to the Academy of Medicine of the 3rd May 1870, Doctor GRASSET concludes:
“This theory supports very well all of the clinical and practical experience, with a breadth of vision approached by no other theory of the time. As well, the editor of a medical journal in Paris (The Medical Union, if I remember right) said that, had this theory been put forth by a German, it would long since have been adapted in France.”
ORIGIN OF BACTERIA
“The difficulty is not to know the truth, but to substitute it for error.” — Haeckel
It cannot be doubted that Bechamp looked to many experiments to deduct his “majestic theory of micro-leavens” (141bis), and every one confirmed it to him.
A fortuitous observation from nature showed him the transformation of normal micro-leavens into bacteria. In his third conference, the professor told his students:
“The pulp of the green and soft parts of vegetables is not slow to be invaded by myriads of bacteria, of different sizes and doubtless different species. This pulp, before the appearance of these bacteria, shows under the microscope only cells and molecular granulations. To explain the presence of these bacteria, we invoke the germs in the air or perhaps spontaneous generation. You will judge [for yourselves] a bit of the foundation of these two explanations.
In Montpellier, during the coldest times of the winter of 1867-1868, I happened to notice two whole plants of Echinocactus which were frozen. Several weeks after the thaw, I examined the sort of histological changes which freezing had caused to the tissues of the plant. Its epidermis showed no lesion, it was as firm as before the frost. You know how this epidermis is tough, thick, strong, and smooth: evidently, the great density of tissue and the thickness of the epidermis is a sufficient obstacle to the penetration of bacteria, of microbes, or of their atmospheric germs; you will admit it that much easier than M. PASTEUR assures us that the body of an animal is not penetrable by these same bacteria and germs. However, an incision having been made in the frozen portion, matter taken from the depth of the wound, or from immediately below the epidermal layer, contains hordes of bacteria, with the extremely mobile ones named Bacterium termo and putridinis being predominant. This observation was too important for me not to try to verify it.”
There follow descriptions of eleven cases, from which Bechamp concludes that it is clear that :
“vegetable micro-leavens are among those which easily produce bacteria, and the bacteria found did not come from any sort of inoculation, but rather from a natural evolution of the micro-leavens due to a perturbation of nutrition or a change in the medium caused by the frost.”
He confirmed this conclusion by the examination of another cactus which had not been frozen, but might have been watered too much, in which he found only normal micro-leavens.
He became interested in the chemical state of the frozen tissue and in that of the tissue kept in its normal state.
Doctor Joseph Bechamp, his son, who worked with him, completed the experiment with the artificial freezing of a fatty plant (with precautions against accidental inoculations), followed by thawing in a kiln: bacteria appeared rapidly in the tissues.
From plants, Bechamp turned to animals, in the case of which the question is a great deal more complex, as:
“Animals admit air and its germs into their lungs, and other apertures may be supposed to give them access, to say nothing of foods and drink, etc.”
He was thus greatly interested to learn whether, yes or no, bacteria could be generated in animal tissues without the admission of germs from the exterior.
With his experiments with eggs which, shaken, decomposed without presenting the normal strong odour of hydrogen sulfide, Bechamp proved the existence of an organized element within this completely closed system, and explained its role in putrefaction by a change in the milieu, the unusual mixture of the white and the yolk of the egg.
In 1869, at the Scientific Congress (Montpellier session) Bechamp and Estor, in a memorandum on the micro-leavens of the higher organisms, repeated their theories.
“In nearly all animal cells, there exist molecular granulations observed by all histologists. These granulations have rarely been studied; Professor ROBIN distinguished four types of granulations: first, fatty ones soluble in ether, insoluble in acetic acid and gallic acid; second, granulations more or less similar to those above, but soluble in the two acids named; third, grey granulations, or those of organic powders showing low refraction, not showing, like the first two types, a closed contour and a brilliant centre, yellowish, soluble in acetic acid, potash, soda, etc …..; fourth, pigmentary granulations …. The molecular granulations we have observed fall into none of the classes studied by M. ROBIN.”
and Hector Grasset added :
“It was clear, [but] that did not stop those critics who were motivated by malice or poorly familiar with the work of Bechamp to accuse him of considering matters which are not related. What characterizes Bechamp’s micro-leavens is their role as agents of fermentation.”
In all of the publications on the subject, Bechamp insisted on this primordial quality of a non-specific agent of fermentation which could turn into a bacterium, or something else that could :
“Move across the finest filters and membranes such as those made from the intestinal lining or the swim-bladders of fishes.”
To his students, the professor explained that :
“The micro-leavens do not change into bacteria without any transition, one can observe a number of intermediate forms between the micro-leaven and the bacterium.”
Elsewhere, he took care to specify that bacteria have a refractive power greater than that of the micro-leavens, and that is why it is easier to see bacteria than micro-leavens under the microscope; this helps us to understand how some authorities have been able to deny the existence of the molecular granulations [observed by] the Montpellerian scholars.
Chaveau, who had followed closely the teaching of Bechamp, said that he
“would be pleased to adhere Bechamp’s theory, if he did not look too much on granulation as an agent of fermentation, in effect, a yeast (that is just what gave the theory its value), and most of all if he didn’t insist on the evolution of micro-leavens into bacteria. Later, Chaveau amalgamated micrococci, micro-leavens, and yeasts.”
Charles Robin, in his Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Medical Sciences,
“Let us look a bit beyond theory and specify the role of putrefaction in these terms : M. Bechamp explains in advance why putrefaction is seen much more rapidly in animals which have died of exhaustion, rather than by other means; it is, if you will, exhaustion which makes the substance of the tissues and the humours more easily fermentable or putrifiable, and at the same time brings on more quickly the transformation of natural micro-leavens into the state of bacteria of putrefaction.”
In 1868, in a conference on nutrition at Lyons, Bechamp had clearly explained how the cell is an association of micro-leavens, and sketched its evolution after the death of the organism, as the micro-leavens are freed from that association.
“The micro-leavens do not die, they continue their action; however, as the products of this action are not removed according as they are formed, some new conditions are formed, the milieu becomes cluttered with material which was destined to be used or to be eliminated, and the function of the micro-leavens changes as a result of this very cause or as they turn into bacteria. Thus appears what we call putrefaction, a phenomenon which the best minds have, from early on, considered as a fermentation. However, in the balance, what eats us and destroys us after death, is that same thing that lived in us, without us …. Life is a succession of little deaths, or, if you prefer, a continued putrefaction.”
This was a scientific demonstration of the truth of the prescience of Goethe when he wrote :
“Death is an artifice of nature to produce an abundance of life.”
In that same conference at Lyons, the professor from Montpellier made reference to Hippocrates’ aphorism : “Quae faciun in homine sano actiones sanas, eadem in oegroto morbosas”. He added : That which makes us live is also that which makes us ill.” and turned his lecture first to the consideration of the healthy processes that take place in the healthy organism, as :
“Before looking to understand the abnormal conditions of life that lead to illness, it is necessary to understand the normal conditions which lead to health. It is only after this double study that we may try to penetrate the mystery of death.”
He insisted on the importance of the micro-leavens which animate the healthy actions of which Hippocrates spoke, and then he specified that as well,
“In the micro-leavens themselves, the cells, the tissues, the organs, there are materials which, not being structured, are not living….These materials, varying according to the regions, the different departments of the organism in question, are mixtures of numerous substances as much organic (first causes) as minerals, either in a state of solution in aqueous liquids or semi-liquids, or in very aqueous insoluble masses … this is the matter that we call intercellular, intertissual, or that part of the intracellular mass that is not organized. This constitutes what I have called plasma in the cell and the micro-leaven.”
And it is by his discovery of the micro-leavens which gave the proof of the life and the function of the cells, of which the juxtaposition formed, since TURPIN, the living organism.
“It is because the micro-leavens are gifted with an independent and individual life, each according to its type, that there are some of them, functionally different and able to change function, in the different centres of organization, and that the [theory of] the protoplasmic system, false in its principle, is as false in its consequences as it is experimentally. It is because it is false that the [theory of] the microbial system is equally false. Finally, because this is so it is necessary to be cautious when one wants to practice the supposed microbial vaccinations to induce immunity; because they do not know what it is that they do, neither do those who suppose that there is in the living organism only matter comparable to must, to wine, or to beer; because one does not know in what sense these practices may change the aptitude to change function which exists in the micro-leavens of the organism.”
Going further with his postulate :
“The micro-leavens are that by which an organism, a cell, is alive; any organism is reducible to micro-leavens.”
Bechamp continues :
“It is because any organism is reducible to micro-leavens; it is because the micro-leavens are able to change functions that we find explained not only the phenomena which precede birth, assuring the incessant rejuvenation of the species, of the race, but birth itself and the sum of processes which we have understood under the name of maturation. It is thanks to the properties of the micro-leavens and the cells that we are able to explain how the irritability and the spontaneity of the organism may lead to a cure after having lead to an illness. It is also thanks to the histological strength of the micro-leavens that after the incidence of lesions, traumatic or otherwise, repairs or surgical cures come to be effected.”
All of these new notions seemed so very surprising coming from the amiable researcher that they were bitterly contested and reviled. We plan to follow closely the verifications and the applications which followed over time, and we find ourselves in sympathy with Professor Paul PAGES when he wrote, in 1959, to the grand-daughters of the sage he revered : “The abundant richness of his work is far from being exhausted” (143), and when, in 1938, in his inaugural lecture at the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier, he bravely summed-up his thought in these terms :
“The pasturian era has been surpassed,
We are beginning the era of Bechamp.”
SOLUBLE LEAVEN: ZYMASE
“We can accept neither, not the conformity that perpetuates injustice, nor the indifference that tolerates it.” — Doctor Philippe Decourt
We have seen that for Bechamp the study of fermentation opened the road to the essential role of the infinitesimally small.
In a note to the Academy of Science, 4 April 1864, he gave a clear definition of the mechanism of fermentation and gave the soluble agent of fermentation all of its importance :
“The complete picture of alcoholic fermentation seems to me to take the following form: when we look at the action of the yeast on cane sugar, this agent changes first, outside of itself, the cane sugar into glucose by means of a product which it contains already formed inside itself, a product that I have named “zymase” (from the Greek, leaven): this is digestion, it then absorbs this glucose and draws nourishment from it; it assimilates, multiplies, grows, and brings forth. It assimilates, that is to say a part of the fermentable material, modified, now becomes part of its being and serves for its growth and its life. It brings forth, that is to say it puts outside itself the worn-out parts of its tissues, in the form of numerous compounds which are the products of fermentation which it suits us to call alcoholic. One has to ask whether these compounds come from the sugar or from the yeast. They must come from the yeast, in the same way as the urea and the other compounds that we expel come always from us, that is to say materials which have previously been part of our organism, whatever the nature of previous nourishment or present lack of nourishment. In the same way that the sugar which M. Claude Bernard saw formed in the liver came from the liver and not from foods, so the alcohol comes from the yeast.”
In that same year of 1864, in various notes, Bechamp showed that there are in microzoa and microphyta some zymases, which he extracted, as Payen and Persoz extracted diastase from sprouted barley (diastase being the only soluble leaven known until then); these zymases had a variable chemical role, but in general they rapidly transformed sugar into glucose.
They exist in the plant kingdom as well as in the animal kingdom. He demonstrated anthozymase in flowers and morozymase in the mulberry, etc….
sialozymase in saliva
pancreazymase (known now as “pancreatic extract”)
nephrozymase in the kidney, etc….
In 1865, Bechamp could say :
“I use the word “zymase”, used as a generic term, to designate all of the soluble leavens. These compounds are albuminoid material in a particular state, soluble, and thus not organized.”
He indicates that, in animals, they are also secreted by the glands and the mucosa.
“There are thus a number of animal zymases as there are a number of vegetable origin. The functional goal of both of these groups is the isometric or chemical transformation of material that serves as food.”
He makes another remark:
“The majority of acids, notably sulphuric acid, even heat, cause the same transformations as the zymases, or somewhat less than certain zymases. This is no reason to call them leavens, nor to call the phenomena that they produce fermentation.”
Doctor Hector Grasset mentions that nephrozymase produced by the kidney exists also in pus.
“This nephrozymase that Bechamp has studied for a long time in relation to the sex, age, and diet of the individuals under study, pathological states of the most diverse sort (the leaven is lacking in some cases, and seems to be in inverse proportion to the severity of the case): it has had a bizarre fate. It has been denied, vilified; one can do no other, however, than to suggest that the physiologists turn their attention to it and review Bechamp’s work; there exists there a whole field of discoveries for physiopathology. You will not find nephrozymase mentioned in treatises of physiology; one of the most recent, that of Morat and Doyon, which cites three soluble leavens in the urine, mentions only amylase as discovered by Bechamp. We are more familiar with the German studies which are less valuable than those of Bechamp and his students.”
Returning to the present day, “that tidy name, zymase” is forgotten and replaced by that of soluble yeast or enzyme. Why ? Doctor Hector Grasset explains :
“Estor, professor at Montpellier, saw since 1865 the revolution that Bechamp’s ideas brought to the comprehension of vital phenomena, he put them in view in a little brochure on fermentation, and a whole school was formed about this sage. Let us insist on this fact: it wasn’t until 1876 that Pasteur and his school realized the role of soluble leavens and their importance. Then there happened something quite extraordinary: that tidy word zymase, that had begun to be used generically, was replaced by that of diastase (which was specifically the product of germinated barley) in order not to have to promote the ideas of Bechamp, which were starting to become embarrassing; even more, since Kuhne had given in 1878 the name of enzymes to the soluble leavens, this term was employed instead. Finally, in another inversion of sense, Duclaux gave the name of zymase to the alcoholase discovered by Buchner (1897); justice requires that we cannot consider the word zymase other than generically, if only to do homage to the one who had first imagined and demonstrated the important general role of these products; apart from that it would result in less confusion.”
The years have passed, and we now have plenty of other bothersome definitions.
First off, Buchner received for his discovery of zymase the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1907.
The work of Doctor Adrien Loir, appearing in 1938, as well as the study by Doctor Philippe Decourt on Antoine Bechamp, published in the “Claude Bernard International Archives”, permit us to re-establish the chronology of the events which led Pasteur to order “in all haste” the construction of three glassed greenhouses to be brought into the Jura in order to give an experimental base his “Critical Examination of a posthumous paper by Claude Bernard” on the fermentation of grapes, in which the deceased scholar brought out again :
“The condemnation of Pasteur’s work on alcoholic fermentation – the non-existence of life without air, the leaven not coming from exterior germs, the alcohol being formed by a soluble leaven outside of life.” (“The Life of Pasteur”, by René Vallery-Radot)
In his notes, all of Claude Bernard’s conclusions agree with those of Bechamp who, in the course of his studies on vinous fermentation, had clearly shown that the key element in the fermentation of vinous must is found in the seed of the grapes, while Pasteur denied the existence of this soluble leaven and attributed the fermentation to germs from the air. After having affirmed that his grapes came from greenhouses where the clusters, being wrapped up, did not ferment, due to the lack of ultra-violet rays (103), Pasteur did not change his mind and declared :
“The question of soluble leaven is settled, it does not exist, Bernard is the victim of an illusion.”
People seemed content with this conclusion, and d’Arsonval, Claude Bernard’s young apprentice, who inherited the scientific papers of his Master, fearing unpleasant consequences for his career, kept the manuscript hidden for more than fifty years.
It was only shortly before his death that he spoke of it to his friend from Limousin, Doctor Léon Delhoume, a historian. Delhoume, himself aged, was unwilling to investigate the question, but passed the material to Doctor Philippe Decourt at the same time as the book by the Englishwoman Ethel Hume with the provocative title: “Bechamp or Pasteur?, or A lost chapter in Biology”, saying to him, “I am too old, now, you ought to see this”.
And Doctor Decourt, impassioned for justice and truth, did not hesitate to write :
“The story was falsified from the start, the falsifications were repeated from book to book, without the historians noticing. All of the writers, ignoring the work of the other scientists of the epoch, particularly that of Bechamp and his collaborators, contented themselves with the affirmations of Pasteur and his family.
“With Bechamp we saw the unexpected emergence of a very great sage quite un-looked-for. The story is extraordinary – the way that Pasteur claimed for himself the merits of his adversaries, and, on the other hand, attributed to them his own errors, surpasses anything that one could imagine.”
Adrien Loir, while he admired his uncle without the smallest qualification, and never spoke of Bechamp, tells many other “personal memories” which support the opinion of Doctor Philippe Decourt.
A look at certain communications between scholars in Paris and Montpellier confirms as well this unusual situation.
Overview of other work
“Chemistry is in a singular position in that one part is taught synthetically : mineral [or inorganic] chemistry. It was Lavoisier who thus conceived it. The other part is taught analytically, organic chemistry; it awaits its Lavoisier.” — Claude Bernard, The red notebook (notes, 1850-1860)
The sort of narrow cloistering that encloses the present-day researcher in a particular specialty did not exist a century ago. That allowed Bechamp’s inquisitive and universal spirit to seek out the greatest problem of all time, that of the origin and organization of life.
That meant that, from pure chemistry and the “Toxicological studies on arsenic and antimony” he went on to
– organic chemistry from 1857, with his opening lecture to the course in medical chemistry at the Faculty of Montpellier : “A test of the progress of organic chemistry since Lavoisier”
– the action of metals on organic liquids, and the primordial influence of infinitesimal doses of some mineral substances : phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sulphur, manganese, zinc, on the development of moulds.
“Is it not remarkable that Aspergillus niger needs, not only for its development but for the whole of its existence, of such a small proportion of zinc sulphate that the quantity in the mixture, related to unity, is hardly 44 microgrammes. The plant can live without this, no doubt, but in the end it does not give the most abundant harvests unless zinc is to be found in the medium of its culture. Certainly, analysis will not find the zinc in a complete little plant. Who knows if all of the media where Aspergillus niger grows, a slice of lemon, for example, do not contain some zinc which [our] analysis is unable to discern ?”
– the role of the nature of the soil for the successful completion of the phenomena of the life of plants.
“The chestnut, for example, prospers only in those soils where silica is abundant.”
He made numerous analyses of different thermal and mineral waters, original studies on farmyard milk and the milks of the mammals, from which he drew a troubling conclusion :
“It is never permissable to make a conclusion from the identity of the structure of a gland to the identity of [its] chemical function, nor to always make conclusions from animals to humans.”
His observations on plants led him, as we have already seen, to deduce the evolution of micro-leavens into bacteria.
His perception of the penetrating odour spread by the fruit of Gingko biloba in the Botanical Garden at Montpellier lead him to study :
“The existence of several odiferous fatty acids and their homologues”
in the fruit of this singular tree.
Bechamp asked himself questions about everything; he retained, up to his death, a young and impassioned spirit, as was remarked by his Romanian biographer, Doctor Constantin Istrati :
“He worked quietly, but with a youthful ardour which could serve as an example to young people who get tired and discouraged too quickly.
“In 1882, I had occasion to overhear him speaking with verve and a perfect understanding of the subject with regard to some work presented a great many years earlier to the Academy of Sciences of Paris. All of the assistants were stupefied by his memory and the clarity of his exposition.” (130)
He was still working at the Sorbonne two weeks before his death, impoverished and subject to general indifference.
The Scientific Monitor devoted eight pages to publishing the list of his works; but the general French press was silent, while American, British, Belgian, and Romanian journals deplored the death of the great French scholar,
“whose works have powerfully enriched biology, physiology, pathology, and chemistry, Antoine Bechamp, the immortal author of the discovery of the micro-leavens.”
We cannot cite all of his works; there is one of them, however, in which the scientific and philosophical ideas light up so particularly the personality of the man and of the scholar that we think it necessary to reserve it a development a little more important: it deals with his conferences of the winter of 1866-67, published at Montpellier in 1867 under the title On the circulation of carbon in nature and the intermediaries of that circulation. Explanation of a chemical theory of life and of the organized cell.
In this publication, where the professor
“…has decided to put into popular form some of the ideas which are part of his teaching at the Faculty of Medicine and are the fruit of his research into fermentations and that generation which has been called spontaneous…”
…he astonishes us with his experimental successes and enchants our imagination with his philosophical conceptions and his prophetic perspectives; amongst other points, he demonstrates :
“There is only one chemistry.
Matter is not given anything but chemical and physical activity.
There is no “matter” that is organic by nature, there is nothing but inorganic matter.
What is called organic matter is no more than mineral matter of which carbon makes a part.
The “organic” matter thus comprised is profoundly distinct from organized matter.”
Thus it was, for many years,
“we have not known how to produce, by synthesis, any compound supposedly organic”.
He gives numerous examples of “a great number of compounds which we have not until now refined other than from the organized realm….” such as cyanide, cyanhydric acid, oxalic acid, formic acid, urea, etc.
“There is nothing to prevent us thinking that soon we will be able to make all that plants produce, in the same way that we know how to make a great number of compounds that the plants and the animals never produce.
“The carbon compounds, organic matter, are thus formed from mineral matter and can be obtained by the processes of inorganic chemistry. Thus we see the confirmation of the opinion expressed in 1843 by M. Dumas.”
and we may add the successes of Berthelot.
But living, organized matter is something else entirely, the chemist cannot create a cell,
“Every living being is an isolated assembling of the world, a whole having in itself a seed of reproduction.”
Of his study showing the facts admitted and verified to date :
“Carbon is the support of organized life.
Oxygen is the limiting condition for the life of organized beings.
Displace carbon, and you abolish with the same stroke the organized world.
Displace oxygen, and you annihilate all life on the earth.”
Life is no more than fermentation and combustion, the interlinking of which he affirms in concluding :
“In creation, a great current flows from mineral nature to the organized world, to the vegetal at first, then from vegetal to animal and from there again to the mineral world. In the preformed and living tissues of plants, organic matter is created with the aid of raw or mineral material, and it organizes itself and becomes alive.
“In the cells of the preformed and living tissues of animals, organic matter becomes disorganized, is destroyed, and ceases to be alive; but the conversion of organic matter into mineral matter is not entirely complete; microscopic organisms, present everywhere, function like animal cells but with a surprising intensity, consuming the leavings, and they finish by returning to the mineral world the material that had been borrowed from it by the plants.”