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"The Bristol Microscopical Society versus the President of the Microscopical Society of London"

(27 October 1849): 460

Megan Anderson and Cori Heacock made the following transcription:

The Bristol Microscopical Society, versus the President of the Microscopical Society of London.

To the Editor of the Lancet.

Sir,--In the Athenæum of last Saturday, there is a notice of a communication from Mr. Busk to the London Microscopical Society, which notice commences with the flippant remark, that "it would seem that Mr. Busk has performed the funeral obsequies of the cholera fungus," and concludes with a warning to young microscopists, who are informed "that the use of the microscope is not to be learned in a few weeks."

Now, Sir, as a member of the Bristol Microscopical Society, I feel called upon to notice such an imputation upon the skill and experience of three of our most industrious members, two of whom--viz., Drs. Budd and Swayne, have belonged to the Society since its formation in 1843, and have each successively filled the offices of vice-president and president, the other gentleman, Dr. Brittain, being at this time the honorary secretary.

Mr. Busk, in his communication, disposes of the so-called cholera fungi in a very off-hand manner, by resolving them into their three elements of smut, starch, and bran, before consigning them to the tomb of "all the Capulets." And he states--1st, that the more perfect cells which are rarely met with are merely specimens of the "uredo frumenti" from bread; 2ndly that the more imperfect cells usually found are nothing more than the inner coating of bran; and 3rdly, that the smaller and more delicate bodies are merely broken grains of starch: thus he endeavours to account for the bodies found in cholera evacuations without condescending to notice those found in the air or water of the cholera districts. Now, Sir, I think that it would not be very difficult to show that Mr. Busk's "bran new" theory is entirely unsupported by facts. I have seen specimens of the "cholera cells" first mentioned, and have compared them with the several kinds of uredo; the only one at all resembling them is the "uredo caries," which, like them, has external projections and thick coats. It differs from them, however, in every other respect, not being above one-tenth part of the size--in fact, bearing about the same relation to them as a pig does to an elephant; and I suppose that even Mr. Busk would hardly consider these animals to be identical, merely because they both have thick skins.

With respect to the other cells, they have been compared with both bran and starch, and are not found to agree in any one respect, not to mention that the polariscope and iodine serve effectually to distinguish starch grains from any of the bodies that may resemble them. But then, Mr. Busk accounts for a fancied resemblance between them, by insinuating that they appear similar "when viewed with a sufficiently high power and a sufficiently bad illumination;" just as if good oil or gas were not to be had in Bristol, or as if the sun shone less brightly there than through the murky atmosphere of Greenwich or Blackwall. Such are the statements and insinuations put forth by so accomplished a microscopist as Mr. Busk, and they are only to be accounted for by supposing that even his optical instruments are not always perfectly achromatic, but are apt occasionally to impart a tinge of green, especially when he is looking at the labours of his brother microscopists in the provinces.

But, Sir, (joking apart,) the question as to the nature of these bodies, and their relation to the fearful disease of malignant cholera, is not to be set at rest by the supercilious ipse dixit of any one individual, however talented he may be, but will require for its solution the patient and persevering labours of many well-qualified observers, who have a sufficient distrust of their own powers to examine with care and caution every avenue that might be likely to lead them into error and self-deception.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

A member of the Bristol Microscopical Society.

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