Cornhill Magazine,  7 (1863), 412–16.

Notes on Science

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


Regular Feature, Review-Essay


Sanitation, Physiology, Vitalism, Organicism, Botany, Analogy, Physiological Chemistry, Physical Geography, Geology, Electrochemistry, Invention, Machinery, Sound, Palaeontology, Microscopy, Animal Development

    Contends that the 'teaching of physiology is plain enough. If it have one lesson more emphatic than another, it is the intimate dependence of health on the free supply of oxygen. Oxygen is the flame of vital activity. Unless the blood take up oxygen from the atmosphere, in exchange for the carbonic acid which results from the wear and tear of the organs, no vital activity can long continue; the incessant waste can no longer be replaced by incessant repair; the flame goes out, and the engine stops' (412). However, although 'during the repose of sleep, muscle and nerve recover their exhausted energies' (412), sleep is 'a condition during which the vital functions are all depressed', and therefore we can 'sleep with a very moderate supply of oxygen', and certainly with less 'fresh air' than is 'indispensable to the waking organism' (414). The suggestion made by French physiologists that, like plants which absorb oxygen during the night, 'animals at night absorb some of the carbonic acid which they exhale during the day', is nevertheless false. Indeed, 'Analogy is a treacherous guide; and in the present case a more comprehensive acquaintance with the physiological facts would have recognized the imperfection of the analogy' (413). Reports that Claude Bernard has located 'a peculiar substance analogous to vegetable starch' which 'he calls glycogène, i.e., the sugar-former' in the tissues, and especially the livers, of all healthy animals (414). It 'disappears entirely under the prolonged suffering of pain or disease', and this absence produces a 'marked difference in flavour' if the animal's flesh is eaten, thus providing 'good reason for exercising some circumspection over the practices of our meat markets' (414–15). Relates how a group of American 'civil engineers employed for procuring [...] a supply of pure water' came across a lake consisting of two distinct strata of pure and saline water. They lowered into it a 'slip of silvered copper' which was 'partially immersed in the lower stratum for some hours, [and] all above was found unaltered and all below the line of demarcation sulphurized by electro-chemical action'. (415) After reflecting that 'Verily the marvels of mechanical ingenuity are inexhaustible!', describes the invention of a 'figure of a woman with a larynx formed of a caoutchouc tube [...] which so accurately imitates the human mechanism, that it gives out two whole octaves with the tone and pitch of a female voice' (415). While 'Hitherto all the exhibitions of speaking machines have been either squeaking machines or impostures [...] in this one [...] the actual timbre of the human voice is reproduced' (415–16). Although many of the gigantic carcasses have been allowed to decompose, and the 'tusks only [...] have been made an object of conservation, from their commercial value', in 'the last two centuries it is computed that at the very least 20,000 mammoths, and probably twice or thrice that number, have been washed out of the ice and soil in which they have been embedded' in the Siberian tundra. Now Aleksander F Middendorf has proposed 'promoting the further discovery of the congealed remains of gigantic mammifers' to the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg. At the same time, the 'microscopic observations of Johann F Brandt [...] upon the soft portions of those which have been preserved have proved that down to the minutest elementary detail of structure in the animal tissues of those parts, precisely the identical laws of structure and development prevailed in the animal economy in those far-removed ages, and in species now extinct, that prevail now in animated nature'. If 'but one more of these carcasses be discovered and speedily and well preserved, the mere inspection of the contents of its stomach might throw a wonderful light on a host of geological and physiological problems'. (416)

© Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical Project, Universities of Leeds and Sheffield, 2005 - 2020

Printed from Science in the Nineteenth-Century Periodical: An Electronic Index, v. 4.0, The Digital Humanities Institute <> [accessed ]