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The Life of Sir Alexander Fleming

The biography of a great and famous man requires much research and study by the biographer, not only regarding the subject of his portrait but also about the environment in which his hero has grown up and lived. We are today increasingly conscious, both in health and illness, of the important influences which heredity, on the one hand, and environmental factors, on the other, have upon our lives and destinies. M. Andr£ Maurois has painted this picture of Sir Alexander Fleming against the backgrounds of boyhood on a Scottish hill farm and manhood in the bacteriological laboratories of a London medical school. It would be idle to deny the effects of early experiences on the Ayrshire farm or of Sir Almroth Wright and others in the Inoculation Department at St. Mary's Hospital in moulding the life and shaping the destiny of the discoverer of penicillin, while he, himself, and others have been impressed by the curious concatenation of circumstances which seemed to direct his footsteps.

But these outside influences and, later, the glittering prizes and the adulation of kings and commoners in many lands could not mask the innate qualities of a man who, through all his trials and triumphs, remained staunchly true to himself and to his ancestry. For Fleming had, to a remarkable degree, those qualities which we attribute to the Scots: a capacity for hard and sustained work, a combative spirit which refuses to admit defeat, a steadfastness and loyalty which creates respect and affection, and a true humility which protects against pretentiousness and pride. He had other great gifts which helped to make him an outstanding scientist: keen curiosity and perceptiveness, an excellent memory, technical inventiveness and skill of a highly artistic order, and the mental and physical toughness that is characteristic of great men in many walks of life-

The picture of the man and the scientist emerges for us from the background of laboratories and test-tubes and pipettes, antiseptics and antibiotics, Paddington and Chelsea and the country house in Suffolk, Greece and Spain and the Americas. The appraisals and letters of friends and colleagues are interspersed with his own terse remarks in his diaries, notebooks and letters; and through it all goes the thread of continuous effort to lay bare the truth about the body's fight with infection, which was Fleming's abiding interest. It is a fascinating story for all of us, and Fleming's part in it, leading up to the discovery of penicillin, will surely never be forgotten. It was left to others to develop penicillin as a lifesaving drug, but Alexander Fleming and penicillin will always be linked together in the public mind and his name will be remembered with those of other great men, like Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister, who have made major contributions to the conquest of disease.

As his colleague and successor, I salute this fine portrait of a great man.

Robert Cruickshank

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