Department of History
University of California, Irvine
 Instructor:    Dr. Barbara J. Becker


Week 7.  Growth

Galvanic Creations --
stories from the Times of London

January 4, 1837


(From the Somerset County Gazette.)

We feel much pleasure in communicating to our readers the following singular experiment of our now celebrated neighbour, Mr. Andrew Crosse.

The public are aware that Mr. Crosse has been recently pursuing a series of researches into the process of crystallization by means of his galvanic batteries, and that he has made discoveries which have thrown quite a new light upon science.  Some weeks ago he prepared a silicious fluid for the purpose of crystallization.  He heated a flint to a white heat, and then plunged it in water to pulverize it.  The silex, thus reduced, was saturated to excess with muriatic acid.  The mixture was placed in a jar -- a piece of flannel was suspended in it, one end of which extended over the side, and thus, by capillary attraction, the liquor was slowly filtered, fell into a funnel, and thence dropped n a piece of ironstone from Mount Vesuvius, upon which were laid the two wires connected with either pole of the battery.  We should state that the ironstone had been previously heated to a white heat, so that no germs of life could have existed upon it.  Mr. Crosse made his daily observations of the wires to discover the beginning of the process of crystallization.  On the 14th day he saw some small white specks upon the stone.  Four days afterwards they had elongated, and assumed an oval form.  He concluded that they were incipient crystals.  Great was his surprise on the 22d day to find eight legs projecting from each of these white bodies; still he could not believe that they were living beings.  But on the 26th day his surprise was complete; there could be no doubt they moved, they fed, they were perfect insects.  18 or 20 of them have since appeared.  Many persons have seen them, but there is no record of such an insect.

It is in form something like a mite.  It has eight legs, four bristles at the tail, and the edges of the body are very bristly.  Its motions are visible to the naked eye -- its colour is gray -- its substance is pulpy.  It appears to feed upon the silicious particles in the fluid.

The most extraordinary circumstance in this phenomenon is the nature of the fluid in which this insect lives and thrives.  The acid instantly destroys ever other living being.

But a second trial has confirmed the fact beyond a doubt.  Another portion of silex was prepared in the same manner, and reduced to a gelatinous form, but without the acid.  A coil of silver wire was suspended in it from one of the poles of the battery, and the other pole was also immersed, so as to send through the mass an incessant stream of the electric fluid.  About three weeks afterwards Mr. Crosse examined the poles to search for crystals, and in one of the coils of wire he found one of these strange insects.  This proves that it is produced, from the silex and not from the acid.

Mr. Crosse, with his usual modesty, has contented himself with stating the fact, without attempting to account for it.  He is in correspondence with Professor Buckland upon the subject, and the learned professor has suggested an explanation, which it will be for future observers, by repeated experiments, to confirm.  We should state, that the insects were principally found at the negative pole of the battery.

A German naturalist has recently discovered that silicious and other rocks are chiefly composed of the remains of insects.  May not the germs of some of them, released from their prison-house, and placed in a position favourable to the development of vitality, have sprung to life after a sleep of thousands of years?
January 7, 1837


St. John's College, Cambridge
January 5 [1837]

Sir -- In yesterday's paper I observed a notice of some experiments by Mr. Crosse, of Broomfield, taken from the Somersetshire Gazette, which as you have omitted to designate as an ingenious, but still palpable hoax, may, perhaps, by some of your readers, be taken for fact.  Will you permit me to show the utter impossibility of any such results taking place as are there described?  1st. It is stated, that silica is composed of the remains of insects, and this on Dr. Buckland's authority; this is too laughable to require comment; next, that this silica being heated to whiteness, is pulverized and saturated with muriatic acid, which, by the way, would have no effect at all on it, and then, by a process of crystallization, the insects are hatched.  So that these insects will bear white heat and being pulverized, as well as being immersed in muriatic acid!  Now, Sir, what would any one say if he were told that a hen's egg, after being rendered fossil and kept 4,000 years, then made white hot in a furnace, then reduced to powder, and then dissolved in a corrosive acid, in which, however, it is insoluble, was at last hatched by crystallization in eight days?  Why, we shall have the fossil elephants soon made alive again, and let loose upon us, and all the heroes of past ages may, by proper application of Newcastle coal and muriatic acid, be restored to this upper earth, and made capable of acting on an emergency.  I write to you now, as much with a desire of preventing Mr. Crosse (with whom I have the pleasure of being acquainted) from having some hundreds of letters, in addition to those he receives by every post, as of correcting the error into which any of your readers may fall by the omission above-mentioned.

I remain, Sir, yours respectfully,



Broomfield, Jan. 3 [1837]

Dear Sir, -- Having seen in a very recent publication what is stated to be an account of some experiment of mine, in which insects were produced instead of crystals, I take the earliest opportunity of making known, that such an account was published without my knowledge, and, that although the main fact is as there represented, yet that the mode of conducting such experiments is inaccurate.  I am the more anxious to correct this statement, as several perfectly erroneous accounts have already appeared in different papers, calculated to produce a false impression in the minds of all but scientific men, who can, if they please, readily distinguish an error when they meet with one.

I am sorry to observe that a gentleman of high repute (Dr. Ritchie), who seems to have forgotten both science and temper on the present occasion, has taken advantage of some such misstatements to form the weak foundation for a most illiberal attack upon me in the Literary Gazette, which I shall take an early opportunity of replying to as it deserves.

I must further request my friends and the public not to give credit to any publication as coming from me unless my name is attached, and as I detest nothing so much as a literary or scientific dispute, I had hoped to have glided through the remainder of my life without provoking the malevolence of the ill-disposed, and more particularly as I am unconscious of having done anything to offend the most captious by presumption or misrepresentation.

I beg to remain, dear Sir, yours truly,


December 11, 1837


(From a Correspondent.)

Since the discovery made by Mr. Crosse, that by the action of galvanism on inanimate matters living beings can be produced, much anxiety has been evinced to prove that germs exist in the materials employed, so that the phenomena may be accounted for by the vivifying action of galvanism rousing into life the dormant but existing organization of the future being, as in the case of heat and moisture on vegetable germs; the germs exist prior to the operation of heat and moisture, which, however, are essential to vegetation and growth.  Now, it is very generally believed, that on the supposition of there being no germ, the phenomenon must resolve itself into one of creation, thus investing man with a power which is universally held as belonging to the Deity alone.  Such an idea has impressed horror on the minds of many; created prejudices against science, and excited opposition to its progress from a conviction that advance of knowledge has a tendency to subvert and destroy the principles of religion.  But it has never yet been shown that science and true religion are really opposed to each other.  Often as the opinion has been stated, yet in every case will it be found to proceed from a prejudiced and partial view of natural truths.  Revelation teaches the existence of God, and declares him to the be creator of all things.  Nature has hitherto demonstrated the truth of these principles, nor does the late wonder in science form any exception to this rule.  Although it is now tolerably certain that no germs exist in the materials employed, (the insects being obtained by the action of Galvanism on purified metals dissolved in purified water,) yet a little reflection will show that it is quite as absurd to call this process a "creation," or to imagine that the operator can claim for himself the title of creator, as to suppose the formation of a new plant a creation, or imagine that he who set the germ could (in a state of sanity) believe himself the creator of the future vegetable.  Creation implies the power of producing something from nothing, for a thing cannot be said to be created if the materials of which it consists previously existed.  They may assume a new form, but novelty of arrangement is not creation.  Therefore, whether the elements of life are bound up in a germ which will spring into existence when exposed to heat and moisture, or whether they are developed through the agency of galvanic fluid upon mineral particles, the power of man is limited in both cases to placing the materials, already formed, under circumstances ordained by the deity as the means of evolving the principles of life.

March 18, 1842


Our readers may remember the excitement caused in the year 1837 by the announcement that Mr. Crosse, of Broomfield, had observed the development of certain insects incident to the long-continued action of voltaic pairs.  Little additional information on this mysterious subject has since transpired until Tuesday, the 15th inst. [of this month], when the paper from Mr. Weekes, of Sandwich [English experimentalist, William Henry Weekes (1790-1850)], was read before the London Electrical Society, detailing the successful repetition of Mr. Crosse's experiments.  Among the cavilling which arose in connexion with the original experiments, the possibility was urged that the ova of the insects might be in the air.  Mr. Weekes's experiments were so conducted that this objection can be scarcely tenable.  A well-charred block of beech, containing a circular groove to receive a bell-glass, was the base of the instrument.  The groove was filled with mercury.  A tumbler, containing the solution of silicate of potass, was beneath the bell.  The silica was obtained by subjecting to a furnace heat a piece of fine black flint obtained out of the centre of a "bowlder," selected from amongst those lying on the shore at Sandwich.  The silica was united to the potass by a furnace heat; the result quenched in boiling water.  The solution was immediately covered, and filtered under cover.  All things being prepared, the voltaic current was sent through the solution on the 3d of December, 1841; and from that date to the present time the apparatus has not been disturbed.  At the end of October, 1841, the first insect was observed.  On the 16th of November five were discovered.  Since that date insects have been repeatedly seen.  We must not omit to mention that the bell-glass was placed in total darkness, the screen being only removed when the progress was being examined.  Mr. Weekes mentioned that he has another apparatus in action, very similar to this, with the exception that the bell was filled with oxygen, and expressed an anticipation that he should sooner or later detect insect life there.  This expectation was realized a few days ago.  In an appendix to his communication, bearing date February 27, 1842, he states that on the previous morning he "perceived eight or ten full-grown acari in vigorous locomotion on the inner surface of the air-bell."

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