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HENRYfAMES AND THE MOUSE PEYTON ROUS* In 1911 Henry James visited the Rockefeller Institute. He had become enthusiastic about it and on learning that his own favorite nephew, "Harry," the eldest son ofWilliamJames, was to be its Business Manager had written him a deliriously warm-hearted and excited letter about how much he might help in the fight against disease. I was standing in a room walled to the ceiling with small, wooden cages containing white mice when the Director ofthe Institute, Simon Flexner, unexpectedly brought two visitors in. One was Oswald Villard, a potent worker for social good; the other was HenryJames. Mr.James was an arresting figure. He had a serious, rather leaden face, made the more so by what were then called "bankers' eyeglasses," having large lenses held together by a black, horizontal bar, with a black ribbon arching from them, past a black waistcoat striped with white, to the lapel ofhis black, cutaway coat. His "boots" were almost arrogantly British, of a sort never seen today, very thick-soled and turning up toward their rounded toes. But all this I only noted later because Dr. Flexner was introducing me as in charge ofcancer research. Forthwith Mr.James clapped a heavy hand on my shoulder and exclaimed in a resounding voice, "How magnificent! To be young and have divine power!" What should one say! So flustered was I as tacitly to acknowledge the power, answering only that I was not as young as I looked, and going on to show some micewith breasttumors anddescribe experiments with them. After this Dr. Flexner and Mr. Villard left; but Mr. James lingered, standing in thought before the mouse cages. Then, looking at me almost furtively, he said—and no word has been added or forgotten—"May I ask, has the individuality, I might say the personality, ofthese little creatures impressed itselfupon you?" * Address: The Rockefeller Institute, New York, N.Y. 10021. 433 Now as a matter offact it had. In those days conduct was conduct, with no intrusive, hormonal mitigations; and this was what had happened, as I told it to Mr. James: A breast cancer had appeared on a female mouse and grown to such size while she was nursing her young as to be needed for experiment. To save her sucklings when she was killed, I gave them to another mother mouse, removing her own litter which happened to be big enough for weaning. She accepted the new ones as if they were her own and duly reared them. Immediately, with the callousness of interested youth, I supplied her with a second litter. Them she raised too. Now for a third! She nursed these until they were somewhat more than an inch long and had reached that entrancing stage of young mouse life when—judging from how they look and behave, bright-eyed andjoyously frisking about —their world of wooden walls and shavings must seem to them utterly good. Then during a single night she killed them all. It was an act ofselfpreservation ; the urge to live had overcome maternal feeling—though why she should have eaten parts ofsome ofthem was another matter. I made no such comment to Mr.James, but told him only the facts. To these he listened intently and remained silently standing in front of the cages and pondering. He pondered for what seemed a very long time while I eager waited. Then at last, turning toward me, he was about to speak, when Dr. Flexner put his head in the door saying, "Mr.James, will you please come!" And with a quick bow, but no word, Mr.James came. ID Each one ofus has savage stubbed a toe, shot a man, or dropped a tray, and sickly known in thunder-sick dismay that at the instant he had willed it so. J. R. Platt 434 Peyton Rous · HenryJames and the Mouse Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1964 ...


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