Cornhill Magazine,  6 (1862), 702–14.

Our Survey of Literature and Science

[George H Lewes], [John F W Herschel] and [John W Kaye]


Regular Feature, Review-Essay


Energy, Discovery, Intellectual Property, Controversy, Heat, Physiology, Vitalism, Materialism, Metaphysics, Ancient Authorities, Organic Chemistry, Neurology, Electricity, Light, Measurement, Astronomy, Meteorology, Botany, Chemistry, Narcotics

People mentioned:

William B Carpenter , John Tyndall , Charles P Robin , Jean B L Foucault , James Glaisher , Edward C Herrick

    A new edition of William R Grove's Correlation of the Physical Forces makes a 'very justifiable vindication of his claims as the author of the splendid generalization of the mutual convertibility of forces'. Indeed, the 'unimpeachable evidence of dates decides Mr. Grove's priority' over the rival claims of Julius R Mayer and James P Joule. Ever since it became generally accepted that 'No force can originate otherwise than by devolution from some pre-existing force', the applications of the doctrine given 'systematic expression' in Grove's book have been widespread. Even the 'most superficial glance could hardly fail to see that vital phenomena were intimately connected with light, heat, electricity, and chemical affinity, and the materialist school of physiologists had long maintained that the so-called "vital forces" were simply light, heat, electricity, and affinity'. (707) Although the 'ancients had mastered the idea of the Indestructibility of Matter, and put forth the axiom "Nothing can come of nothing"', they failed to recognize the Indestructibility of Force, partly because at that time 'the metaphysical notion of Force as an entity different from and superadded to Matter obtained universal credit' (708). Reports that the success of Pierre E M Berthelot in producing 'hydrocarbons by the direct union of pure hydrogen and pure carbon [...] proves the possibility of a direct synthesis of the inorganic into the organic', and is one of the many recent discoveries 'incessantly upsetting our convictions, and disclosing the precipitation with which our limitary boundaries have been erected' (710). While the 'hypothesis propounded by Sir John Herschel, and eagerly adopted by many physiologists, that the brain is a voltaic battery of which the nerves are conductors' has been shown by Lewes in The Physiology of Common Life to be inadmissible even as a simile, it is only recently that the idea that the brains of certain fish exhibiting electrical phenomena are kinds of batteries has been likewise 'thoroughly disproved' (711). It has been shown that fish 'nerves are not simply conductors, but are endowed with a special force of their own' that conforms to 'Pflüger's empirical law'. (712) Notes that the 'peculiar power' of the 'leaves of the Erythroxylon Coca' was discussed in James F W Johnston's The Chemistry of Common Life, but the subject has subsequently 'excited [...] little attention among our medical men' (713). This has not been the case abroad, however, where the leaves have been 'subjected to chemical analysis by M. Niemann, a pupil of Professor Wöhler' at the University of Göttingen, who has 'succeeded in insulating from it a peculiar alkaloid, to which he has given the name of "cocaine"'. When 'used in moderation [...] it does not appear to exercise any deleterious influence on health', but in 'over-doses' it may lead 'to consequences as serious and deplorable as the habitual use of opium'. (714)

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