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Louis Pasteur Recants His Germ

"Bernard was correct. I was wrong. The microbe (germ) is nothing. The terrain (milieu) is everything."
Was it real or apocryphal?
There are many variations of this recant. But the essential admission is intact. Bernard was Claude Bernard, who got the
terrain theory from Antoine Bchamp (who called it the cellular theory).

The Back Story

Three nineteenth century Frenchmen researched fermentation, microbes, and contagious disease:

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)

Antoine Bchamp (1816-1908)
Claude Bernard (1813-1878)

Their work overlapped. Their conclusions sometimes agreed and other times disagreed with each other's. Pasteur adopted
the germ theory while Bchamp formulated the cellular theory, which was quite at odds with the germ theory. Bernard's
work was aligned with Bchamp's. Bernard described milieu intrieur, the environment within, which he and others also
called terrain.
Pasteur and Benard were very close and over long stretches of time took care of each other. A fourth man, Jacques-Arsne
d'Arsonval (18511940), Bernard's top student, was also close to Pasteur. D'Arsonval would have been a frequent visitor to
Pasteur over the many months of his terminal illness. (Pasteur died from complications of a series of strokes that had
started in 1868, his last illness lasted 11 months.)
Pasteur was hostile to Bchamp, whose work threatened Pasteur's reputation and income. Pasteur effectively promoted his
own work, while Bchamp's modesty and devotion to his research kept himself out of the spotlight.

The Paper Trail

After Pasteur's death, his son-in-law Ren Vallery-Radot (18531933) published The Life of Pasteur in 1900. An English
translation was published in 1902. Ren Vallery-Radot and his family benefitted from Pasteur's fame and income. He is
unlikely to have done anything to discredit Pasteur, in fact his biography notably omits stories critical to Pasteur.
Pasteur's manuscript materials were deposited in 1964 with the Bibliothque Nationale in Paris by Pasteur's grandson
Louis-Pasteur Vallery-Radot (18861970), who was credited as Pasteur's editor. Public access was restricted until VR's
death in 1971, there was no printed catalog until 1985. This collection is the largest in existence. It was collected by Ren
and included the papers of Pasteur's nephew and sometime personal assistant Adrien Loir.
In Baltimore, Maryland Dr. Montague Richard Leverson learned of Bchamp's work in 1907. He was so profoundly
astounded that he traveled to Paris to meet Bchamp. Over the course of several months preceeding his death, Bchamp
related his criticisms of science and his amazing discoveries in chemistry and biology while Leverson took notes.
After Bchamp's death, Leverson translated his book The Blood and its Third Anatomical Element into English and
published it in London in 1912. He persuaded a young writer, Ethel Douglas Hume, to compile, edit, and publish his notes
from his conversations with Bchamp. In 1923 Hume published Bechamp Or Pasteur? A Lost Chapter In The History of
Biology in England and Chicago.

D'Arsonval inherited Bernard's papers. The first of Bernard's papers that d'Arsonval published so infuriated Pasteur that
d'Arsonval quit. Shortly before his death he gave the papers to Dr. Lon Delhoume (18871960), a historian who wrote
about a number of doctors and scientists.
In 1939 Delhoume published De Claude Bernard a d'Arsonval in Paris. This book included a partial version of d'Arsonval's
first scientific paper, "The Personal Equation of the Astronomers" as well as some of his correspondence with Charlesdouard Brown-Squard (18171894). Delhoume also passed d'Arsonval's materials to Dr. Philippe Decourt (19021990)
along with Hume's book.
Delhoume published several manuscripts of Bernard's: In 1942 he published Cahier Rouge, in 1947 Principles of
Experimental Medicine, the latter was from a notebook and supplementary papers from the d'Arsonval collection.
In 1956 Hans Selye, MD published The Stress of Life. I transcribed the following excerpt from page 301 of the 1976
revised edition: "Let me point out here parenthetically that Pasteur was sharply criticized for failing to recognize the
importance of the terrain (the soil in which disease develops). They said he was too one-sidedly preoccupied with the
apparent cause of disease: the microbe itself. There were, in fact, many disputes about this between Pasteur and his great
contemporary, Claude Bernard; the former insisted on the importance of the disease producer, the latter on the body's own
equilibrium. Yet Pasteur's work on immunity induced with serums and vaccines shows he recognized the importance of the
soil. In any event, it is rather significant that Pasteur attached so much importance to this point that on his deathbed he said
to Professor A. Rnon who looked after him: 'Bernard avait raison. Le germe n'est rien, c'est le terrain qui est tout.'
('Bernard was right. The microbe is nothing, the soil is everything.')."
[NOTE: Selye was wrong about Rnon's name, he was Louis Rnon, an honored member of the Socit de Biologie, as
was d'Arsonval. Of importance for this narrative, Selye did not cite his source for Pasteur's quote, leaving my desire for an
authoritative source unsatisfied. I include Selye's remarks here as the earliest version of the recant I have found, and the
only one I can personally confirm.]
In 1989 Decourt published Les Vrits Indsirables. This book is in two parts, the first on astronomers, the second
"Comment on Falsifie L'Histoire: Le Cas Pasteur" begins on page 133 (total 316 pages). It has notes and a bibliography.
Marie Nonclercq, a French pharmacist, wrote as a doctoral dissertation a biography of Bchamp. It was published in book
form in 1992 by Maloine as Antoine Bchamp, 18161908, The Man and The Scientist, the Originality and Productivity of
His Work. It is in French, has 250 pages, and a preface by Philippe Decourt. Nonclercq also founded the Centre
International de Recherches Antoine Bchamp (CIRAB).
In April 1992 an article by Christopher Bird (19281996), a science writer, was published in Nexxus Magazine. It was
titled "To Be Or Not To Be? 150 Years of Hidden Knowledge." In it Bird stated he had met Nonclercq in 1984 in France.
He claimed she told him of her discovery of Pasteur's deathbed recant in a book written by Leon Delhoume, De Claude
Bernard a d'Arsonval, on or around page 595.

The difficulty for American researchers who do not read French is that most of the key books in this saga were written in
French and have yet to be translated into English. I hope to find a French-reader to confirm the recant in Delhoume's book
and to look for it in the books of Nonclercq and Decourt.
Until then, Bird's reputation as a meticulous researcher and documentor will have to suffice as proof that Pasteur really did
recant his germ theory.
An engaging question is how the recant story ended up in print. Certainly Pasteur's family were not about to tell, assuming
they had witnessed it. The likely candidate is d'Arsonval. And, as Pasteur's death was a drawn out affair, the confession
could have occurred at any time, not just in his last moments. There is the additional possibility that Pasteur confessed to
more than one person.

A Brief Criticism of Pasteur
In a 250-page thesis on Antoine Bchamp, Marie Nonclercq, doctor of pharmacy, explains the clear advantage that Pasteur
had over Bchamp: "He was a falsifier of experiments and their results, where he wanted the outcomes to be favourable to
his initial ideas. The falsifications committed by Pasteur now seem incredible to us. On deeper examination, however, the
facts were in opposition to the ideas developed by Pasteur in the domain of bacteriology . . . Pasteur wilfully ignored the
work of Bchamp, one of the greatest 19th-century French scientists whose considerable work in the fields of chemical
synthesis, bio-chemistry and infectious pathology is almost totally unrecognised today, because it had been systematically
falsified, denigrated, for the personal profit of an illustrious personage (Pasteur) who had, contrary to Bchamp, a genius
for publicity and what today we call 'public relations . . .'"

Ethel Douglas Hume. Bechamp Or Pasteur? A Lost Chapter In The History of Biology. Chicago: Covici-McGee, 1923.
Also Ashington, England: C. W. Daniel Co., Ltd. Available on Google Books and Amazon (which has a text viewer). Does
not mention the recant.
Lon Delhoume. De Claude Bernard a d'Arsonval. Paris: Lib Bailliere et fils, 1939.
Philippe Decourt. Les Vrits Indsirables. Archives Internationales Claude Bernard, 1989. In French. Available at The second part "Comment
on Falsifie L'Histoire: Le Cas Pasteur" begins on page 133.
Marie Nonclercq. Antoine Bchamp, 18161908, The Man and The Scientist, the Originality and Productivity of His Work.
Paris: Maloine, 1982. ISBN 2224008546. 250 pages. In French.
Christopher Bird. "To Be Or Not To Be? 150 Years of Hidden Knowledge," Nexus Magazine. April 1992. Available at

A Brief Comparison of Pasteur's Germ Theory and Bchamp's Cellular

I cannot fairly leave this subject without some explanation of Bchamp's theory. You can easily find on the internet people
who ridicule Bchamp's theory without really understanding it. I want to counter them.
The germ theory states that the body is sterile and disease is caused by external germs (microbes). For Bchamp microbes
naturally exist in the body and it is the disease that permits the microbe to express itself. The terrain, the internal
environment, in response to various forces, fosters the development of germs from within. To my thinking, the germ theory
essentially blames the messenger.
1. Disease arises from micro-organisms outside the body.
2. Micro-organisms are generally to be guarded against.
3. The function of micro-organisms is constant.
4. The shapes and colours of micro-organisms are constant.
5. Every disease is associated with a particular micro-organism.
6. Micro-organisms are primary causal agents.
7. Disease can "strike" anybody.
8. To prevent disease we have to "build defences."


Disease arises from micro-organisms within the cells of the body.
These intracellular micro-organisms normally function to build and
assist in the metabolic processes of the body.
The function of these organisms changes to assist in the catabolic
(disintegration) processes of the host organism when that organism
dies or is injured, which may be chemical as well as mechanical.
Micro-organisms change their shapes and colours to reflect the
Every disease is associated with a particular condition.
Micro-organisms become "pathogenic" as the health of the host
organism deteriorates. Hence, the condition of the host organism is
the primary causal agent.
Disease is built by unhealthy conditions.
To prevent disease we have to create health.