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The History of a Mouthful of Bread - And its effect on the organization of men and animals
by Jean Mace
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But do not be alarmed; there is no danger of the sort. Fire is not a present once made to man, but liable to be taken away from him at will. It is a law of nature which existed before the human race came into being, and which will doubtless continue to exist when the human race shall have disappeared. The existence of fire is connected in the most intimate way with that of that great king of the world of whom we spoke last time—Oxygen. Fire is the wedding-feast of Oxygen with other substances!

When kings are married, what rejoicings there are! what a commotion! what illuminations! It is only right and proper, then, that the king of the world should have rejoicings and illuminations at his weddings also. And they have never been wanting. The rejoicings are the warmth which rejoices us; the illuminations, the flame which gives us light. But man, in his dealings with nature, is an imperious subject, such as few earthly kings are troubled with—happily for them! Whenever he wants warmth and light he forces the king of the world to get married, and then takes advantage of the feast; nothing worse than that.

"How so?" you exclaim. "If I want to make a fire with stones or iron, I should never succeed. Is this because oxygen never unites himself with those substances, nor with heaps of others which are equally useless in lighting a fire? Yet you told me that oxygen was to be met with almost everywhere."

It is a fair question, my dear child; but my answer is, that what you said last is precisely the reason why all substances are not fit for making fire of. When oxygen is already there, as he is in stones, for instance, the marriage is over—the feast cannot begin again. Kings are like other people in this respect; their weddings are only celebrated once. If you had happened to be present at the moment when oxygen was united to the materials of which stones are composed, you would have seen a feast of which I should like to have heard some news. I was not there myself either; but learned men in these latter days have succeeded in breaking the bonds which united oxygen with the primitive substances in certain fragments of stone, and with these substances thus freed, and consequently able to remarry, they have been enabled to give us, in miniature, the spectacle of the festivities of a fresh wedding. And I can assure you it is enough to make one shudder, to think of the time when such a marriage must have taken place on a large scale.

With regard to iron the case is quite different.

You have without doubt heard tell of Louis XIV. (of France), that proud king who was called le Grand, and who is said to have heard himself compared to the sun, without smiling. It seems that he one day took it into his head to marry, it is difficult to say why, with Madame de Maintenon, the old wife of a poor paralytic poet named Scarron, who, as such, however, was only known by some few farces. Do you suppose that the palace of Versailles was illuminated in honor of this marriage? Not a bit of it. It was a disgraceful marriage, which they were bound to keep secret. The ceremony was conducted mysteriously and without lighting a single candle more than ordinary.

I do not pretend to say that oxygen has any of these weaknesses, nor that he is any more partial to marrying with one body more than with another. In the good God's great world, outside of the family of man, they know nothing of our foolish pride, of our little weaknesses. It is nevertheless a fact that this dear monarch has his preferences, and that all his marriages are not made in this fashion.

Leave those pretty little scissors of yours, with which you would try in vain to make a fire, outside your window for two or three days, and then observe the dreadful, scaly, red stain which you are sure to find on them afterwards, and which is called rust. Have you any idea whence it proceeds? I will tell you. It comes from the oxygen, which has been making one of those cheerless secret marriages with the iron of your scissors. So there have been no pretty sights nor sounds, no lights nor cheerful noises to entertain anybody, and though people may have wished for them ever so much, they have had to do without them.

I will tell you the true reason of these marriages incognito. It is because oxygen is but feebly attracted by iron, who does not stand so high in his good graces as many other bodies, and so (to continue the joke) he unites slowly and languidly with him, as we may say.

Now tell me, when you set fire to a bit of paper, how long does it take to burn?

Half a minute, at the utmost, you answer.

Very good. And how long does it take to produce that rust-stain, even though it is probably not a hundredth part the size of the paper?

Two or three days, is your reply, for so I told you my self.

Here is a strange difference indeed; but from it you may discover why you have not seen any signs of rejoicing or illuminations at the iron wedding. These are always in proportion to the quantity of oxygen which is being married at once—and this was—oh, such a slow affair! When the quantity is very small indeed, the festal illuminations are very small indeed too, and in fact escape observation altogether. In the same way that you would not be conscious of little bits of thread laid delicately one after another on your back, whereas you would plainly feel a large sheet, were it to fall on your shoulders. Yet what is the large sheet but a great quantity of little bits of thread? Only in that case they would all come upon you at once, like the marriage illuminations of burning paper.

Wait a little longer and we shall finish.

What is there, then, in the paper which pleases the oxygen so much that he unites himself to it so readily, and in such large quantities?

What is there? Two substances of high degree, who have actually risen to the dignity of a royal alliance, by the important part they play in the world; one of these, charcoal or carbon, we know quite well already; the other I have only mentioned to you in connection with water, HYDROGEN. Thanks to gas companies, everybody in these days knows hydrogen, at least by name. But before proceeding, I will just tell you that it is by far the lightest body that is known. It is forty and a half times lighter than air, which is not very heavy itself, although in the mass it has its weight, as we have seen.

The true province of hydrogen is water, where it keeps house with oxygen, in proportion of one to eight pounds, as you may remember I stated in my last letter. But beside this, hydrogen and carbon are in a manner inseparable friends, whom one invariably meets side by side in all animal and vegetable substances. In wood, coal, oil, tallow, and spirits of wine; in everything in short that we call combustibles, because the name of combustion has been given to this marriage of oxygen with other bodies, hydrogen and carbon keep themselves shut up very discreetly and very quietly; like two children playing at hide-and- seek. You have sometimes played at hide-and-seek yourself, no doubt? Now, if some naughty child had come behind you with a lighted candle, what would you have done? You would have had to turn out, whether you liked it or not, and be caught. Well! this is what happens to our two friends, when you bring the paper to the fire. The heat forces them out, and the oxygen, which is always at hand, seizes upon them. In a twinkling they are married, and a beautiful flame springs up into the air, which lasts till everything has disappeared.

Hydrogen and carbon! These, then, are the two great combustibles, the two parents of fire; and as nature has lavished them upon us in what we may call inexhaustible quantities; when you hear people lamenting and saying that wood is disappearing, that coal is diminishing, and that the human race will end by not knowing how to warm themselves, do not disturb yourself in the least.

There is more hydrogen in a bucket of water than is wanted to cook a large dinner. There is as much and more carbon in our stone quarries than in our coal pits, and when all the woods in the world are cut down (which I trust will never be!) do you know what we shall do? Why, we shall take to burning the mountains. The Jura mountains in Switzerland, for instance, (to take the most favorable case) are great masses of carbon, without its ever being visible. Everything depends upon knowing how to make it come out of its hiding place; but that will de done when it is wanted: more difficult matters have been accomplished already. As to oxygen, whether carbon comes to him from a log of wood or from a building stone; whether the hydrogen comes from a candle or a glass of water, is a matter of perfect indifference to him. He only considers persons, not their origin, and marries as willingly in one case as in the other.

So we have returned to the subject of respiration, on which I always seem to be turning my back; but now the question is, what brings us to it again? And this is the explanation.

When the oxygen picked up in the lungs by the blood has traveled with it to the organs, he finds there two well-known friends—hydrogen and carbon.

You smile, and exclaim at once, "Then he marries them, does he?"

Yes, my dear child; and it is only for that purpose he enters our bodies at all. And this is why I could not make you understand the nature of respiration until I had explained that of fire to you. As I have told you before, it is the same thing. Invite air into your body by the bellows of your chest, or drive it into the fire by the kitchen bellows—it is always king Oxygen whom you are sending to his wedding.



LETTER XXII.

ANIMAL HEAT.

Now, then, we have got hold of the secret of respiration; the oxygen within us unites itself to the hydrogen and carbon.

And for what purpose, do you suppose?

Unquestionably it must be to make a fire, since they never come together without doing so.

But what do people make fires for? I ask next. Well! surely to warm themselves, do they not?

And this is the history of your body being warm exactly like a dining-room stove, where the oxygen in the air forms an alliance with the hydrogen and carbon of the wood. Nature warms little girls inside, on precisely the same plan by which men warm their houses in winter.

Imagine, then, a little stove, furnished with little arms for helping itself out of the wood-basket as it is wanted, and with little legs to run and refill it when it is empty; the fire must be always burning there, and the stove must be always warm.

Just such a little stove is your body; your mouth being the little door, by which there constantly enter—not wood, that would hardly be pleasant—but—hydrogen and carbon under the forms of bread, mutton broth, cakes, sweetmeats, and all the good things people have learnt to make with sugar, fat, and flour. There is hydrogen and carbon in everything we eat, as I have already told you; but sugar, fat, flour, and wine are the substances which contain them in the greatest quantities, and consequently they are our best combustibles.

You are surprised, perhaps, at wine being a combustible; wine, which you think would put out rather than make a fire.

And it would. But that is only because in it, what is good for burning is mixed with a great deal of water, which prevents our being able to set it on fire. But if part of this water is withdrawn, you have brandy, which lights easily enough; and if part of the remaining water is withdrawn from the brandy, you have spirits of wine, which takes fire more easily still. If you have ever seen a spirit-of-wine lamp, you must know something about this. Judge from that what a fire spirits of wine must make in the body, even when it has a good deal of water with it; for it is right to tell you that your little stove is very superior to the one in the dining-room, and that it hunts out for consumption the smallest portions of combustible matter, in places where the other would be a good deal puzzled to find them.

This is not all, however. I have much greater wonders to tell you yet.

What should you say to a stove, which, summer or winter, night or day, in rain or sunshine, amid the ice of the pole, or under the sun of the equator, was able to keep itself constantly in the same condition; neither hotter nor colder one minute than another, whether you gave it much or little fuel, at a given moment, and sometimes when you gave it nothing for whole days together? It would be worthy of a fairy tale, would it not? Yet the human body is a stove of this description.

But this requires a little explanation.

It is rather bold in me, you may think, to assert so freely, that all the year round, from one end of the earth to the other, the human body is never colder nor hotter than mine is, for instance, at this present moment. "Hot" and "cold" is soon said, you argue: but the exact varieties of more or less are not so easy to measure, and especially not easy to remember, with reference to so many bodies, scattered over the face of the whole earth. What may be warmth for one in one case, may not be equal warmth for another; and even supposing that the same individual learned man could go and inspect every part of the globe in succession, how could he possibly recall, while touching the body of a negro in Senegal, in July, the exact amount of animal heat he had found in a Greenland Esquimaux in January?

Be content. I should not have settled the question so cavalierly, if people had not discovered an infallible method of estimating accurately, and always in the same manner, the degree of warmth, in other words, the temperature of the body.

Let us first see, then, what this method is, though it will oblige us to digress a little; but you are accustomed to that now, surely; and besides, if I were to go straight ahead, you would not be able to follow me.

Do you ever recollect being very cold? Let mammas look after their little girls as much as they please, to prevent it, it is sure to happen to every one some day or other. Now does it not seem at those times as if the whole body were contracting itself—and when people are shivering with cold, have they not a shrunk, shrivelled look? When the weather is very hot, on the contrary, our bodies feel as if they were swelling and stretching, and one seems to take up more room than before. This is the case with all bodies. Heat swells, or, as learned people call it, expands, them: cold shrinks or contracts them. Furthermore, mercury is one of the things most susceptible of this action of heat and cold, and we have had recourse to it accordingly, in the construction of the thermometer, [Footnote: Thermometer comes from two Greek words: thermos, heat; and metron, measure. The degrees in the Thermometer about to be described are marked on the Centigrade principle. [Not the one (Fahrenheit) in general use in the United States.]] a very useful instrument, which you will hear spoken of all your life.

The thermometer, or heat-measure, consists of a little hollow ball filled with mercury, out of which rises a small tube of very thin glass, in which the mercury can move up and down. When the thermometer is exposed to heat, the heat causes the mercury to expand, so it goes up the tube; when the thermometer is exposed to cold, the mercury contracts and sinks again.

Now suppose you were to melt some ice in the palm of one hand, and try to dip a finger-tip of the other in a saucepan of boiling water; you would find a great difference of temperature between the two, would you not? Which difference of temperature people have succeeded in measuring with the thermometer, as accurately as your mamma measures a piece of cloth with her yard measure.

This is how it is done:

You surround the ball of mercury with pounded ice, and while it is melting make a mark at that point in the tube where the mercury has stopped in its descent. Then plunge the thermometer into boiling water. Whereupon the mercury goes up, up, up, till at last it reaches a point beyond which it will not pass. Here a second mark is made, and the space between the two marks is divided into a hundred perfectly equal parts, indicated by so many small lines, which are called degrees. But this word degrees has a double meaning in some languages. It means steps as well as the degrees of measurement we are talking about; steps being, as you know, the perfectly equal parts into which a staircase is divided. Fancy the mercury-tube a staircase, then, rising from the cellar where the melting ice is, up to the garret where the boiling water is, and let it consist of 100 steps. The mercury goes up and down this staircase, according as the temperature it encounters approaches that of the boiling water or of the melting ice; and if you wish to know exactly how far it is from the cellar or from the garret, you have only to count the steps. Hence arise those expressions which you so often hear—high temperature and low temperature. These mean, temperature according to which the mercury goes up or down this staircase.

On the actual floor of the cellar where the ice melts, there are yet no degrees (a floor is not a step, you know), so there you find the word zero, which means a cipher or nought. Then you begin to count 1, 2, 3, 4 degrees, marked by lines up to 100, where you reach the garret, i.e. the boiling-water height.

Of course, if the thermometer be exposed to an amount of cold greater than that of melting ice, the mercury will sink below the cellar. Accordingly the staircase is carried below it, with steps (so to speak) of precisely the same size as those above, and you count as before, 1, 2, 3, &c., as it descends; adding however, to distinguish these degrees from the others, "below zero." You may go on in that way as far as 40; but there you must stop. At that point the mercury freezes. He sits down there on his last step, and will not go any further!

In the same way if the thermometer is exposed to a heat greater than that of boiling water, the mercury will rise higher than the garret. So the staircase is made to go up higher, and always with steps of the same size, counting from 101 upwards, as far as 350 if you choose; but no further, observe! If the temperature were raised beyond that, the mercury would begin to boil, and then, indeed, good-bye to steps and measured degrees! The gentleman would dance so fast that there would be no possibility of seeing anything, to say nothing of his flying away!

Now nothing is easier than to use the thermometer. You place it in the situation where you want to measure the heat, and the mercury goes up or down of itself until it reaches the degree which corresponds with the temperature of the place. It is much more convenient than your mamma's yard measure, which has to be moved about over the stuff, and which is very apt to slip if you do not hold it carefully. Dressmakers would be delighted to have a measure which only wanted laying upon the material, and which would unroll itself and stop short just at the proper point. And this kind of office the thermometer really performs.

We will suppose to-day to be the 30th of November. I have just carried the thermometer out of doors; the mercury has fixed itself at the second degree below zero. This tells me that it is freezing cold. My fingers have told me so already; but exactly to what extent they could not say. Just now in the room, the mercury was at the 15th degree above zero, thanks to the stove in which we have a good fire. In summer-time it rises to 25, 26, or 28 degrees. I once saw it climb as high as 33 degrees: in the shade of course, you understand; in the sun it would have been quite another affair. Well! there was a universal outcry against the heat. Grown-up young ladies whom I try to teach all sorts of things as I do you, pretended that it was impossible to work. Yet I should find a still greater heat inside my body, if I could get the thermometer there. Have no fears, however; I am not going to make a hole in it: luckily there is one already. I put the ball of mercury into my mouth. And now I can almost tell without looking. The mercury was on its way up the staircase as soon as I took the ball in my hand—and now it has reached the 37th step.

You can try the experiment on yourself, but I forewarn you that it ought to be rather hotter with you than with me: the mercury will probably rise a degree higher. I will not promise that in your grandpapa's mouth it may not sink a degree—but that will be all. In different mouths it has, between the 38th and 36th degree, room for the play of a little variation, but it can no more go beyond these than a tethered cow can get beyond the circle made by her cord as she turns round the stake. Go round the world with your thermometer, pop it into everybody's mouth, wiping it if you choose as you proceed, you will always find the mercury on guard. Its tethering cord is somewhat elastic, like everything else about us; but if by any accident it should exceed its limit by even one degree above or below, it would be quite as extraordinary as meeting a giant of eight feet, or a dwarf of three—which one does see occasionally, although the standard of human height varies generally round the centre of five feet.

Since there is a fire always kept burning within us, there is no difficulty in comprehending why our bodies always keep warm. Of course, however, the fire must be kept brighter in winter than in summer, but people have no need to be told so. Nature provides for the necessity. She gives us more appetite in cold than in hot weather; not that we can perceive much difference in ourselves in this respect from winter to summer; for our bodies stick to their accustomed habits, and call out pretty loudly for the same daily rations, though without having the same need of them. In order to estimate fairly the connexion which exists between the internal need of food—i.e., of combustible matter—and the external temperature, we must compare the Hindoo, who lives on a pinch of rice a day, between the tropic and the equator, with the Esquimaux, who, to keep up his 37 degrees of heat, beyond the polar circle, in a country where European travellers have seen mercury freeze, sometimes swallows from ten to fifteen pints of whale-oil at a sitting! Just fancy whale-oil! which is much nastier than even cod-liver oil, if you ever tasted that; but, on the other hand, it is a thorough combustible, and the poor people are not so very particular: come what will, the fire must be kept up, and that briskly. But without going thus into extremes, a friend of mine once told me that in Portugal, the land of oranges, it is not uncommon to see gentlemen and ladies (that is to say, those who can eat and drink what they please) dine standing, in five minutes, on a bit of bread and whatever else may be handy. Propose this system to the inhabitants of our colder and damper climate, whose very young ladies, fair and delicate-looking as they are, need a helping of good roast-beef for dinner to keep life in them, and they would only laugh at you. But those who were well instructed could go on to inform you that the chilly atmosphere of northern countries creates the necessity for a more active internal fire than is ever needed under the burning sun of Portugal, and that a mouthful of bread per day will not, in their case, suffice to maintain the appointed thirty-seven degrees of heat.

For the same reason, Spaniards drink water, and are satisfied; whereas English wine-merchants add brandy to a good many foreign wines, or they would be quite unacceptable from being deficient in combustible. It is for the same reason, also, that Russians can swallow, without wincing, bumpers of brandy which would kill a Provencal outright: and that the Swedish Government has no end of trouble to keep the country people from converting into brandy the corn that ought to go to the miller; whilst the Mohammedan Arabs accept without difficulty that precept of the Koran which forbids the use of wine and spirituous liquors. It is easy for the Arabs, who are kept warm by their climate, to do without brandy. It is less easy for the Swedes, who are surrounded by cold.

All this comes as a matter of course, and we do the same thing ourselves, without being unusually sagacious. In January, when the thermometer goes down to twelve or fifteen degrees below zero, I put more fuel into my stove than I am doing to-day, with only two degrees of cold to bear with. There is nothing surprising in all this.

The wonderful thing is, that when an Englishman goes to India, he takes his roast beef and his spirits with him, and in a temperature of more than thirty degrees of heat, quietly heaps up fuel in his stove, just as if he was in England, or nearly so. You think he will set fire to the house, perhaps. But no. Send the thermometer to his mouth for information, and it will only mark down thirty-seven degrees; neither more nor less than in the mouth of a rice-eater! The stove has more sense than its owner. It only burns just what hydrogen and carbon it wants, and takes no more trouble about the remainder than if it had not been eaten.

How about the remainder, then? you ask; if it is not consumed for use, what becomes of it? Do you remember, my dear child, that long ago, after explaining the office of the bile and the liver, I put off telling you what the bile consisted of, until we had talked about the lungs and respiration? Well, the time has come now; so listen.

The hydrogen and carbon which is not consumed by the oxygen in the blood, is seized upon by the liver, who employs it in the manufacture of bile. Therefore the greater the amount of unemployed hydrogen and carbon there is in the blood, the greater is the quantity of bile manufactured by the liver—that is all. When once the body has attained to its proper degree of heat, it is in vain you load it with combustibles; it will not get any warmer, do what you will. Only you will have cut out so much extra work for the liver, and the poor wretch will have to get through it as he can. Accordingly, what happens in the long run to our great eaters and drinkers, whether in India or elsewhere? The bile-manufacturer, overwhelmed with work, gets worn out at last, and kicks; and people come home with that miserable disease, which is called the "liver-complaint."

This is one explanation of that wonderful uniformity of temperature which, happily, human imprudence cannot disturb. But the blood has a second resource for getting rid of its superfluity of hydrogen and carbon, and herein especially is displayed the beautiful foresight with which everything about us has been prearranged. We are told that wolves, when they get hold of a larger piece of meat than they care to eat at the moment, carry off what they do not want to some corner and bury it in the ground, whence they get it again when their hunger returns. Dogs sometimes do the same; and the blood has a similar instinct. Listen attentively, for this is very interesting.

I light a candle and you see a bright flame, which will last as long as there is any tallow below the wick. Can you tell me what it proceeds from?

Nay, do not laugh at the question; it is quite to the purpose, I assure you.

We know, do we not, that the substances which burn best are those which are full of hydrogen and carbon? Tallow, then, is one of those substances. But tell me further, if you please, what is tallow?

Tallow is mutton fat, allow me to say, if you never heard it before.

Now comes the question, who provided the sheep's fat with such a quantity of hydrogen and carbon as to qualify it for making candles?

The sheep's blood undoubtedly, since blood is the purveyor-general of living bodies—of the sheep's body as well as of our own.

But how came it that the sheep's blood had so large a stock of these materials?

Undoubtedly, again, because there was more of them in the food the sheep had eaten than the oxygen was able to consume or the liver to employ. In short, the sheep has lungs and a bile-manufactory, as we have; oxygen performs the same office for it as for us. What takes place in its body in the matter of respiration is an exact counterpart of what happens in ours, and the history of its fat is simply the history of our own.

Now do you think it is for our sakes that the sheep's blood deposits its fat in little pellet-like morsels throughout the body; do you suppose the poor creature works in this manner merely to have the honor of providing us with candles? It is not likely. I was talking about the wolf just now; but there is no need to look beyond ourselves. In many poor people's cottages there is somewhere an old earthen pot in which the savings of each day are carefully put by, penny by penny, as a last resource in time of need. Should a wicked thief succeed in murdering the owner and laying hold of the treasure, he will squander in a few hours of brilliant revelry the precious hoard so slowly got together as a provision for possible needs. And this is what man does, when he kills the sheep and takes its fat to make candles of! The poor animal's blood knew well that bad times might come, that grass might fail, and the combustible matter conveyed into the body become insufficient to maintain its thirty-nine or forty degrees of heat (which is the sheep's measure, who is rather hotter than we are). So it quietly laid up its surplus stock of combustible so conveniently brought to hand, and destined to be burnt little by little in the depths of the organs, should times of scarcity arise. But here steps in man, the universal thief of Nature, and turns it into a beautiful flame, regardless of cost, and burns in one evening what his victim had been economizing for so long. To burn for burning's sake, however, has always been the fate of tallow, the only difference being in the way it is done. Like the poor man's clumsy pence, which were put by to be spent some day or other, only in another manner. It is worth noting here, that some of the Russian soldiers who were in France in 1815 had a very good idea of restoring candles to their original destiny. As children of the north, driven to get fire wherever they could, they ate all the candle-ends they could lay hold of, preferring to burn the tallow, sheep's fashion, inside rather than out!

Fat is, then, the savings' bank of the blood; there it deposits its savings, and there it can always find them again in time of need. Witness the fat pig described by Liebig, the great German chemist, which having been swallowed up by a landslip, was found alive at the end of 160 days. Fat was out of the question there, of course; the animal weighed ten stone less than before. We will take the illustrious professor's word on trust, but were a few days subtracted from the account the case would still be a splendid example of the resource which blood finds in fat when other nourishment fails; for the pig had certainly been breathing during the whole 160 days, and as, in all probability, he moved about much slower than usual, his hydrogen and carbon fire was never extinguished for a single instant; of that I am perfectly certain, and you shall soon know why. It was well for the poor fellow himself that he had put by his provisions in time of plenty. And who suffered? Why, the pig's master, who had looked forward with pleasure to the rashers of bacon he should cut by and by from the stores of combustibles in his larder. For once Master Piggy ate his own bacon himself!

You understand now, I hope, by what ingenious management that marvellous stove, called an animal, never burns too much fuel, whatever be the quantity it is supplied with, and how, on the other hand, it has always as much as it wants.

I have now to explain how important it is that it should always have enough, and that this is not merely a question of heat and cold, as with dining-room stoves, but one of life and death! Cheer up! I have only one more word to say about Respiration, and when you have heard it you will appreciate still better the lesson of economy which you have learnt from Nature to-day.



LETTER XXIII.

ACTION OF THE BLOOD UPON THE ORGANS.

The first time we talked about the Blood, my dear little pupil, I introduced him to you as the steward of your body, and what a steward to be sure! Always awake, as you may remember, always in motion; his pockets ever full of the materials unceasingly required by the indefatigable builders of that human edifice in which it has pleased God to house your dear little self. If you wish really to understand what follows now, we must carry on the simile a little further.

A steward not only provides the workmen with materials, but gives them orders as well, and this is part of the blood's business also. He is not only commissary-general, but whipper-in of the whole household, and besides the care of giving out all the stores, has the charge to see that everything is properly done. The unhappy men who purchase prosperity at the dreadful cost of maintaining slavery, pretend that their slaves would do no work worth looking at, were there not always some one behind them with a whip in his hand. Well, our organs are slaves, and slaves of the worst sort. They would never do anything at all, if the blood were not everlastingly whipping them up in his ceaseless rounds. Let him come to a stand-still for one minute, for a second even, and everything stops short; then we are at once in the castle of the Sleeping Beauty in the wood. But perhaps I cannot do better than to compare our bodily machine to a violin—to hit upon something less dismal than slaves—a violin with blood for its bow. As long as the bow runs over the strings the violin makes music and lives; when the bow stops, it is silent and dies.

You have never yet had a fainting fit, my dear child; it rarely happens at your age. But you may possibly have seen somebody faint; or, at any rate, you have heard it talked about. Do you know what takes place in such cases? Now and then, in consequence of some violent emotion, but how or why I cannot tell you, all the blood rushes suddenly back towards the heart, as during an earthquake a river will sometimes flow back towards its source, leaving its bed dry. Thereupon the face turns white, as if to give notice that there is no longer anything red below the skin. The organs, no longer stimulated by the blood, leave off work altogether. The brain goes to sleep, the muscles relax, consciousness ceases, and you behold the poor body, from which the soul seems to have departed, give way on all sides, and fall to the ground like a corpse. This is not exactly death, but it is yet an interruption of life. It would be death if nature did not get the upper hand again, and send back the deserter to his post.

I may remark here that it was partly on this account that some of the ancients thought the soul was seated in the blood; not a bad idea for people who were determined to pronounce where the soul was, when it is so easy to say one knows nothing about it. But those who placed it in the breath, and who have bequeathed to us those beautiful expressions—yielding up the last breath—giving up the ghost—were not wrong neither.

In point of fact the blood is not the soul of the body; in other words, does not keep the body alive, otherwise than by keeping up unceasingly and everywhere that magic fire of which we were talking last time.

The French people, in their picturesque language, have found an expression, full of energy, to express the action exercised by the master workman, who knows how to make his people work: "Il vous met le feu sous le ventre." [Footnote: Literally, he puts fire under their bellies; but here signifying that he makes it so hot that the organs are compelled to continue in motion.] This is, to the letter, the process employed by the blood to make the organs work. It makes a fire under the belly. Unhappily their work only lasts as long as the fire which causes the heat, and which is so necessary to life that it is almost confounded with it. It is the sacred fire of the Roman Vestals, which must be fed night and day under pain of death should it go out. Now, if to feed the sacred fire of life, it be necessary that the blood should everywhere find hydrogen and carbon unattached, that is to say, free and ready to unite themselves to oxygen, it is no less necessary that he should bring oxygen with him everywhere. Else there would be no marriage, and therefore no fire. Oxygen is, then, the talisman which brings the organs to obedience. Without oxygen he would be a slave-driver without his whip; his orders would be despised. If the organs were to be deluged with venous blood—with that black blood which has lost its oxygen, they would not stir any more than if they had received so much water. They acknowledge nothing but arterial blood—red blood—blood rich in oxygen. That is what they respect, and which has authority over them; the other is a bankrupt who has lost his credit with his cash; those whom he fed but lately now laugh in his face. And as our good steward spends all his oxygen every time he goes his rounds, it would soon be over with him, and, consequently, with us, too, if he had not some method of replenishing his purse after each journey. Happily the lungs are the inexhaustible chest to which he always returns to renew his right of authority; that is, his power of preserving life. When it comes to the last sigh, the last effort of the diaphragm by which the chest is closed forever, we must bid adieu to life. In yielding up that, we have in very truth yielded up the ghost.

This is no joke, as you see, and it would not do to be caught unprepared, with an inexorable necessity hanging over one, which never allows a moment's respite. The blood acts like a reasonable being, therefore, in laying up his stores of combustible in reserve. Moreover, whether he has done so or not, the fire must go on all the same; that is absolutely necessary; and if he has no spare fat to feed it with, when, from any cause, the stomach leaves off working, he makes use of anything he can lay his hands upon.

I know a story on this subject which will amuse you.

There lived, in the reign of Francis I. of France, an honest countryman, of Perigord, named Bernard Palissy. At that time everybody could not afford to have earthenware plates, as they have now. It was a manufacture of which only the Italians had the secret, and Bernard, who knew something of the matter, from being a glass-worker, took it into his head to try and find it out entirely by himself. So, without asking anybody's advice, he turned potter, built ovens, picked up wood as he could, manufactured his first pots, whether well or ill, made a beginning, and waited. He had fifteen or sixteen years of it before he succeeded; fifteen or sixteen years of ruinous experiments, which would have discouraged a less sturdy heart than his. But he, after he had succeeded in picking up some money by his church windows, returned to his work with unconquerable perseverance, insensible to poverty, deaf to the ridicule of neighbors, and unmoved by the abuse of his wife, who was furious, as you may suppose, at being forced to play the heroine without having the least turn for it. And one fine day there was a grand uproar in La Chapelle-Biron (that was the name of his village). "Bernard Palissy has gone mad," said everybody; "he is burning up his house to bake his pots." And upon my word it was true! Wood happened to be wanting while a batch was in the oven, and Bernard having begun by using up the garden palisades, took next the large tables, and at last the floor of the house! What his wife had to say, I leave you to judge; as for him he listened to nothing; but, fixing his eyes on the insatiable furnace, threw in one thing after another, caring only for the risk to his handiwork. The ceiling would have followed the floor had not his pots been sufficiently baked without.

And thus, and thus, does the blood, when combustible matter fails him! He demolishes the house, and throws it, bit by bit, into the fire. The fat goes into it naturally enough, as I have already explained to you. It is the fuel-store of the house. It was put by on purpose, and may be used up without injury. Then comes the turn of the muscles; more useful without being indispensable. Those are Bernard Palissy's palisades one may contrive to do without them. They melt away, so to speak, after a few days' fast, and you find yourself what people call "nothing but skin and bone." But then, if this condition is prolonged, and the exhausted flesh cannot supply the demand, the blood does not hesitate a moment. He boldly falls upon the most important organs, without stopping to consider; he, too, is devoted solely to his work, and that, like the baking of pots, never comes to an end by being completed; if external help does not arrive in time, the house soon becomes uninhabitable, and life slips away. The man dies of hunger.

But in the same way that poor Bernard Palissy was in reality working, all the time, for his wife and children, whose future well-being he strove for as the final end of all his efforts, though at the risk of letting them sleep under the bare heavens; so the blood was laboring up to the last moment for that very life which he at last turned out of doors; and the work of destruction which caused its final departure has had in reality the effect of prolonging its stay. Without it, all would have been over long before.



LETTER XXIV.

THE WORK OP THE ORGANS.

Thus much is settled, then. It is the blood which sets everything in motion throughout the body. The organs are idlers who would do nothing but for him; they only work when goaded on, if I may use the expression, by that fire—always on the point of going out—which he is perpetually coming back to rekindle, thanks to the oxygen he carries with him from the lungs.

This will enable me to explain many things, which, although not new to you, you have probably never tried to account for before.

To begin with: do you remember what happened to you the other day, when you tried to overtake your mischievous brother in running, and he, taking advantage of his school-boy legs, led you mercilessly through all the garden walks, without having the grace even to let you catch him at the end? You were quite out of breath; your heart beat so rapidly it almost hurt you; and you were so hot that the perspiration poured in great drops down your face, so that your mamma, quite frightened, took you up in her arms and carried you to the fire; for the coolness of evening was coming on, and a little girl drenched with perspiration is soon chilled.

Tell me now, what connection was there between your overrunning yourself in a race and the extraordinary degree of heat which came over you so soon? Your cheeks were cool and fresh when you began to run; what made them so red all at once, and especially at a moment when the air was cool and fresh in the garden?

You open your eyes in surprise; you had never thought of this. No! that is just the way with little girls. They run; they get hot; it seems as natural as warming oneself in the sun, and they never ask why it is so.

Yet you could almost tell me the "why" yourself, if you stopped to think about it, now that you are what your school-boy brother would say "up to a thing or two;" but to save time, I will help you.

You run as a bird flies, without thinking about it. Nevertheless, if you could see with a magic glass all that takes place in your body while those active little feet are carrying it like a feather across the garden, you would be perfectly amazed. One of these days, when we have finished our present history, I will tell you that other one, which is equally worth the trouble. It is enough for the present to know, that a very complicated piece of work is being carried on there, in which almost all the muscles of the body take part at the same time, contracting and relaxing in turn, like so many springs, of which each either drives forward or holds back a part of the machine. In fact, while your eyes and thoughts are fixed on the butterfly which is flitting away from you through the air, there is going on within you such an unheard-of outlay of efforts as could never be got out of our idlers if the terrible steward did not lash them severely.

Now, his lash, as we have said often enough, is that eternal fire, the materials of which he conveys to all parts of the body. On those special occasions, therefore, he is obliged to make his fire burn much more briskly than usual—exactly like railway engine-drivers, who increase the heat of their fire to get up steam in proportion to the speed they wish to go.

From this you will understand that it is no great wonder that your small frame should get heated from such work as racing and chasing; and that if you pursue it too long, the perspiration which comes out all over you is sufficiently explained.

This is not all, however. The fire, whose strength has to be increased, naturally requires a larger amount of combustible matter than before, and forasmuch as there is only a certain fixed quantity in each drop of blood, whenever the muscles want more than usual, the blood itself must flow to them in greater abundance. Now if it were a question of supplying only one part of the body (as it is, you may remember, of supplying the stomach during the progress of digestion), he might contrive to accomplish his task there by neglecting it elsewhere, and overflow one organ at his ease, at the expense of all the rest. But in this case he is wanted everywhere in the same abundance. It is not a question of taking one muscle's share for the benefit of another. From one end of the body to the other, all want to be deluged at once. And remember that these exigencies do not bring a drop more blood into the body. How is he to get out of his difficulty then, this overwhelmed steward of ours? Well! just as your mamma manages, my dear, when there is more to do than usual in the house;—by running quicker than ever from the cellar to the garret, and from your room to your papa's! That is called doubling oneself; and this gallant blood doubles itself to some purpose. He runs and runs and runs, arrives in hurried streams, and returns full gallop, passing and repassing through the heart, which empties and fills itself in sudden jerks. Unluckily, the poor heart is a delicate sort of person, who does not like having his habits disarranged, and this forced work soon makes him desperate. The other day, in his despair, he knocked with all his strength against the walls of his little chamber, to warn his young mistress that he could bear no more, and that they were both of them in danger. In fact, you ought to know that if one was infatuated enough to go on running too long, one might die of it. When you learn ancient history, you will probably be told of what happened to the soldier of Marathon, who flew like an arrow from the field of battle to the gates of Athens, that he might tell his fellow-citizens a quarter of an hour earlier, that his country was saved; and he fell dead on his arrival.

But it is not the heart only which suffers by this mad career of the blood. During each journey it performs it passes through the lungs, which in their turn are forced to play with hasty jerks. And this is well for our good steward; for the lungs, filling with air at each descent of the diaphragm (if you remember what we have said before), more air, and consequently more oxygen, comes in, and the blood has by this means a larger stock on hand, ready to help him out in the unusual waste which is just then going on in the muscles. I spoke just now of railway steam-engines. See how self-supporting ours is! The greater the amount of fire wanted, the faster the blood flows; and the faster the blood flows, the oftener does the coffer re-fill itself, whence comes the supply of oxygen requisite for keeping up the fire. All this goes on at once, by one impulse, and the balance between the receipts and expenditure settles itself of its own accord. How thankful many families would be if their money-chest would but fill itself in the same way—in exact proportion as they spend the cash! There is only one slight drawback, which is, that the diaphragm gets tired with the unaccustomed gallop it is thus forced into. It falls into convulsions, therefore, like its neighbor the heart, and the breathing is stopped, from having been driven too rapidly. An excellent example for people who want to spend too much at once; showing that Nature herself cries out against it, even when the only thing wanted is atmospheric air.

Now, run if you dare! And, to tell you the truth, it would be a great pity if you did not dare; for our good God has made little children for running. They have nimbler blood than we older grandfathers, more elastic lungs, and consequently more oxygen to spend at a time. But you must confess that it is a great pity we should run all our lives as many people do, without having the slightest idea of these admirable contrivances, thanks to which we are enabled to do it. We can run all the same, it is true, without the knowledge, the little child as easily as the little roebuck, which sets a similar machine in motion. But it is no use talking about the little roebuck; it cannot learn what God has done for it, but the little child can, if he will. Furthermore, there is nothing to be really alarmed about, for those great commotions only occur when we have committed excess; and it is a very good thing, in a general way, for the blood to give us a stroke of his lash from time to time. I told you lately that the fire which sets the organs to work is life; and it is no misfortune to be a little more alive than usual. Besides which, this increased activity of the internal fire does not serve us in running only. Every time that a man makes an effort; every time he lifts a weight, or handles a tool, the blood rushes forward to deluge the muscles that are thus called into play; the heart beats more quickly, and the air streams in greater abundance into the lungs. Look at a man chopping wood. If the log resists too much, if for a minute or two the man has to strike blow after blow without stopping, you will soon see him panting for breath, just as if he had been running a race. On the other hand, he will have gained something from chopping his log besides the right of warming himself before it at the fire. Blood does not carry fire only into the muscles; he supplies them with nourishment also, does he not? Every drop of blood deposits its little offering as it goes by, and consequently the greater the number that pass along, the richer is the harvest for the muscle. Look, accordingly, at the laboring classes. How much healthier and stronger they are than those who do not work! I speak, of course, of working with one's limbs generally; for those poor girls who work from morning to night, sitting on their chairs, are none the better for it, but, on the contrary, worse. There are also certain worthy fellows who, like myself at the present moment, drive a pen over sheets of paper for half a day at a time, whose muscles never get any bigger for it, that is quite clear. Moreover, one condition has to be fulfilled, which unhappily is not always done. The more people labor, the more they ought to eat. To you, who have just been looking at the drama that is performed in the body every time a muscle is set in motion, this is obvious enough. There is no fire without smoke, says the proverb. It would have been much better to have said,—there is no fire without fuel;—and the fuel for our fire is, as you know, what we eat. Try if you can get one stove to burn more brightly than another, if you have put less fuel into it. Yet, alas! this is what many poor wretches are obliged to do but too often; and then the blood, instead of feeding their muscles, consumes them, for the reasons I gave, in telling you the story of Bernard Palissy. Think of this, oh my dear child, when you are grown up, and never grudge those who work for you their proper share of food.

Here I see many other lessons crowding up, out of what you have just learnt.

And first Nature herself, taken as you find her, shows you that manual labor is, for us, a most beneficial condition of existence; that it brings about a re-doubling, an exaltation of life; and that consequently, we have no need to look down upon those who gain their bread, as we word it, by the sweat of their brows. I told you this before, in speaking of the hand, which is of so much more use to those people than to you; and I repeat it now for another reason, viz.: because labor elevates him who undertakes it, and creates a real physical nobility. Barbarians in old times, who knew nothing noble nor grand but war, despised labor, and left it to their slaves; so much so, that the name servile labor, i.e. the labor of slaves, has stuck to it in some places. As for war, the lot of the ancient nobility, I scarcely dare to say much against it, however much I should like to do so on some accounts. For, after all, so long as there are ruffians to trample on the weak, one is only too glad to find brave men ready to risk their lives in keeping such rascals down: so long as there are wolves, we must needs keep shepherds' dogs. But in spite of everything, the best that can be said in favor of war is, that it remains a sad but inevitable necessity, and that to get rid of it, more is wanting than the wish. What a contrast to labor—that contest of Man with Nature;—that merciful and fruitful war, where victories are not estimated like other victories, by the number of the slain, but which, on the contrary, scatters fresh life around it as it spreads; fresh life in the laborer himself, by the very act of work, fresh life around him without, by the fruits that work produces!

Between the man who dies in slaying others, and the man who keeps others alive by living longer himself, it seems cruel to make invidious comparisons; but if it be just to honor the first out of respect for the cause he has defended, whenever that cause is respectable—it is, to say the least of it, not less just to do equal honor to the second.

But let us come down from these philosophic heights, and return to you, dear child; to you, who have nothing to do with war, its massacres or its laurels.

It is true, however, that you have nothing to do either, with chopping wood, and I am not asking you to undertake any such thing. But in the life of a woman, from the time of her childhood upwards, a thousand things arise for the hands to do, and the question is, how often you are likely to feel ashamed of not sending for the servants to do them? Avoid this false and fatal idea as much as possible. The work of the hands dishonors no one; it is honorable. To cast it aside altogether is to make yourself smaller instead of greater; to deprive yourself of one of the glories and the joys of life. If a good thing is set before you at dinner, do you send for the servants to eat it? If an occasion arises for making the blood circulate more rapidly in your veins, and of increasing the strength and life with, in you into the bargain, why make them a present of it? Especially when it cannot be an agreeable present considering that good servants have plenty of such opportunities from morning to night every day.

There was once upon a time a Persian prince staying in Paris, who was taken to a very fashionable ball, that he might see a specimen of European civilization. I am not talking about a prince in the "Arabian Nights;" mine lived, I believe, in the time of Louis Philippe. The beautiful dancers wheeled round, their eyes brilliant with pleasure, in the arms of elegant cavaliers; one would have said that the whole of this airy troop, swaying to and fro in time to the lively flourishes of the music, was animated by one soul; everything seemed full of joy in that large and splendidly lit hall, and mothers secretly envied their daughters as they passed and re-passed before them. Our oriental alone scanned with a disdainful eye this youthful enjoyment.

When it was ended,—"How is this?" said he to his conductor; "did you not tell me that I was to see here the most distinguished families of Paris?"

"Certainly," replied the other; "among those young ladies who were just now dancing before you, there were at least twenty of the grandest heiresses of France."

"Young ladies who dance! Come, come! In my country we have dancers, but they are paid for it. Our wives are never permitted to dance themselves. That is all very well for the common people!"

Remember, when needful, the contempt of this Persian prince, my dear child; and let me beg of you, work for yourself. The dance of labor is worth quite as much as that of the ball-room, when you give your heart to it. It is even worth more, very often; and next time I will tell you why.



LETTER XXV.

CARBONIC ACID.

We are going to make acquaintance to-day with a new personage, who well deserves our attention. It is the child of oxygen and carbon, [Footnote: This is the name learned men have given to Charcoal.] though not in the same way that you are the child of your parents.

To tell you how it is made is more than I am able. It is a gas, or if you like the word better, it is an air; for when we say "gas," we mean "air;" only it is always a different sort of air from the air of the atmosphere, which learned people are not in the habit of calling gas. I cannot, therefore, show you carbonic acid itself, for it cannot be seen any more than the air which fills an empty glass. But I can tell you where there is some, and you even probably know it by its effects, although you have never heard its name.

Do you remember, on your aunt's wedding-day, that there was a sparkling wine called champagne, at the grand breakfast? You smile, so I conclude somebody gave you a little to taste; and if so, you will remember how sharp it felt to your tongue. Do you remember, too, how the cork flew out when they were opening the bottle, and how the noise of the "pop!" startled more little girls than one? It was carbonic acid which sent the cork flying in that wild way; the carbonic acid which was imprisoned in the bottle, in desperately close quarters with the wine, and which accordingly flew out, like a regular goblin, the moment the iron wire which held down the cork was removed. What sparkled in the glass, making that pretty white froth which phizzed so gently, as if inviting you to drink, was the carbonic acid in the wine, making its escape in thousands of tiny bubbles. What felt so sharp to your tongue was the same carbonic acid, in its quality of acidity, for thence it has its name; the word acid being borrowed from a Latin word signifying the sharp pungent taste, almost fine-pointed as it were, peculiar to all substances which we call acids.

It is carbonic acid also which causes the froth in beer and in new wine when bottled. It is he who makes soda-water sparkle and sting the tongue, and ginger-beer the same, if you happen to like it; and so far you have no particular reason for thinking ill of him. But beware. It is with him as with a good many others who have sparkling spirits, who make conversation effervesce with gayety, and who are very seductive in society when you have nothing else to do but to laugh over your glass, but whose society is fatal to the soul which delivers itself up to them. This charming carbonic acid is a mortal poison to any one who allows it to get into his lungs.

You remember what a violent headache your servant suffered from the other day after ironing all those clothes you had in the wash? She owed that headache entirely to this work which she did for you. She had remained too long standing over the coals over which her flat-irons were being heated. You know already that when charcoal burns, it is from the carbon uniting with the oxygen of the air; from this union proceeds that mischievous child, carbonic acid gas, in torrents, and the poor girl was ill, because she had breathed more of this than was good for her health. Observe well, that the room-door was open to let in the fresh air, and that there was a chimney, to allow the carbonic acid to escape. It was on this account that she got off with only a headache. Unhappily, there have sometimes been miserable people who, weary of life, and knowing this, but not knowing or thinking about the God who overrules every sorrow for good, have shut themselves up in a room with a brazier of burning charcoal, after taking the fatal precaution of stopping up every opening by which air could possibly get in; and when at last, in such a case, uneasy friends have forced open the well-closed door, they have found nothing within but a corpse. Then, too, there are those frightful accidents of which we hear so often, of workmen groping their way down into long disused wells, who have died as they reached the bottom; or of sudden deaths in coal-pits. In general these have been owing to the poor victims encountering the long pent-up carbonic acid gas, whose poisonous breath blasted and destroyed them at once.

You may well ask why I am telling you such horrible stories, and what I am coming to with my carbonic acid? But you have more to do with it than you think, dear child. You, and I, and everybody we meet, nay, and the very animals themselves, since their machines are of the same sort as ours, are all little manufactories of carbonic acid. The thing is quite clear. Since there is a charcoal fire lit in every part of our body, there always arises from the union of the oxygen brought by the blood with the carbon it meets in our organs, that mischievous child we have been talking about; and our throat is the chimney by which he gets away. He would kill us outright were he to stop in the house.

This is how it comes about: In proportion as the blood loses its oxygen, it picks up in exchange the carbonic acid produced by combustion, so that it is quite loaded with it by the time it returns to the lungs. There it takes in a fresh supply of oxygen, and discharges at the same time its overplus of carbonic acid, which is driven out of the body by the contractions of the chest, pell-mell with the air which has just been made use of in breathing. You are aware that this air is not the same at its exit as at its entrance to the body, and that if you try and breathe it over again it will no longer be of the same use to you. That is because it has lost part of its oxygen and brings back to you the carbonic acid which it had just carried off. If you take it in a third time, it will be still worse for you; and in case you should continue to persist—the oxygen always diminishing, and the carbonic acid always increasing in quantity—the air which was at first the means of your life will at last become the cause of your death. Try, as an experiment, to shut yourself up in a small trunk, where no fresh air can get in; or even in a narrow closely-shut closet, and you will soon tell me strange news. There will be no occasion to light a charcoal fire for you in there. Enough is kept burning in your own little stove, and you will poison yourself.

You see now that the dreadful stories I was telling a short time ago have something to do with you, and that it is a good thing to be warned beforehand. And now tell me, when a hundred people—or I ought to say, a hundred manufactories of carbonic acid—are crowded together for a whole evening, sometimes for a whole night, in a space just big enough to allow them to go in and come out; tell me, I say, if that is a sort of thing which can be beneficial to the health of little girls whose blood flows so fast, and who require so much oxygen; and whether, on the contrary, it is not one's duty to keep them away from such scenes?

There may be amusement there, I know; but the best pleasures are those for which one does not pay too dearly. I have seen the very wax lights faint and turn pale all at once, in the very midst of those murderous assemblies, as if to warn the imprudent guests that there was only just time to open the windows.

And this reminds me of a point I had nearly forgotten. Wax-candles arc like ourselves. In order to burn, they must have oxygen, and, like us, they are extinguished by carbonic acid. But like us also—and indeed to a greater extent, because they consume much more charcoal at once—they manufacture carbonic acid. Hence that very illumination which affords the company so much pleasure and pride is plainly an additional cause of danger. Each of those wax-lights which is spread around with such a prodigal hand, the only fear being that there may not be enough of them, is a hungry intruder employed in devouring with all his might the scanty amount of oxygen provided for the consumption of the guests.

From each of those cheerful flames—the suns, as it were, of the festive assembly—shoots out a strong jet of carbonic acid, contributing by so much to swell out the already formidable streams of poisoned gas, exhaled to the utmost extent by the dancers. And wait—there is still something else I was forgetting. You dance. And I told you last time at what cost you have to dance. You have to make the fire burn much quicker than usual, that is, to consume a great deal more oxygen at once, and so you double and treble the activity of the carbonic acid manufacture: and this just at the moment when it would be so convenient that it should go on as slowly as possible! After this, you need not be surprised that people should look fagged and exhausted next morning. What astonishes me is that they are not obliged to lie in bed altogether, after treating their poor lungs to such an entertainment. And even if you have spared your legs, you are not much better off, as you are sure to find out in time, especially if the thing is repeated too often.

When I told you just now that the dance of labor was worth as much as the dance of the ball-room, was I right or wrong? What do you say yourself?

I could repeat the same of theatres—places of entertainment specially adapted for impoverishing the blood, and ruining the health of the happy mortals who go there, evening after evening, to purchase at the door the right of filling their lungs with carbonic acid, not to speak of other poisons. You must see clearly that such places as those are not fit for little lungs as dainty as yours; and this may help you to submit with a good grace when you see people going there without you. Grown-up people escape moreover, because the human machine possesses a strange elasticity, which enables it to accommodate itself—one scarcely knows how—to the sometimes very critical positions in which its lords and masters place it without a thought. But to do this, it is well that it should be thoroughly formed and established; for you run a risk of injuring it for ever, if you misuse it too early in life. Tell this to your dear schoolboy brother, when he wants to smoke his cigar like a man. If his lungs could speak, they would call out to him that it was very hard upon them, at their age, to be so treated, and that he ought at any rate to wait till they had passed their examinations!

But I must not get into a dispute with so important an individual, by throwing stones into a garden which is not under my care. For you, my dear child, the moral of this day's lesson—which to my mind is much more alarming than a hobgoblin tale, since it concerns the realities of every-day life—is clear; and it is this:

Seek your amusements as far as possible in the fresh air. In the summer, when the lamp is lit, bid your mamma a sweet good-night, and go to bed. In the winter do not wait till there is a great quantity of carbonic acid in the room where the grown-up people are sitting, before you retire to your own like a reasonable girl, anxious not to do mischief to that valuable and indefatigable servant, the poor blood! Not to mention that if she were to injure him too much, she would have to bear his grumbling for the rest of her life. We cannot change him as we change other servants.



LETTER XXVI.

ALIMENTS OF COMBUSTION.

We have spent a very long time, my dear child, over the little fire, which goes on burning secretly in every one of us, quietly devouring what little girls eat with such a good appetite, quite unsuspicious of what they are doing it for. However, if I mean to finish the history of our mouthful of bread, I must push on to its last chapter.

The whole of what we eat is not burnt, as you may easily suppose; for, if it were, what would the blood have left to feed the body with, and to repair in due proportion the continual destruction or waste which goes on in our organs? Our food, or "aliments" as the general collection of different sorts of food is called, are divided into two very distinct sets: some, which are destined to be burnt, and which are called aliments of combustion; others, which are destined to nourish the body, and which are called aliments of nutrition. I have to tell you now about these last, and you will find their history by no means uninteresting.

Learned men having detected, beyond the possibility of a doubt, the existence of these two sorts of aliments, one is tempted to think they ought to have made it known to the cooks, and that ever since so important a discovery, the dishes on all well-regulated tables should have been arranged accordingly; aliments of combustion on one side, aliments of nutrition on the other. It cannot be enough merely to give your guests a treat; you ought to provide them with everything necessary for the proper fulfilment of the claims within; and if you give some nothing but combustibles, leaving the others no share of fuel, how will they be able to manage? Nobody thinks about this, however; not even cooks, to begin with, who, as far as fire is concerned, find they have had quite enough to do with it in their cooking; and as for the guests, when they have had their dinner they go away satisfied, as a matter of course, quite as well provided for as if the mistress of the house had made her calculations, pen in hand, while writing out the bill of fare, with a view to combustion and nutrition. Now, how is that?

It is because the two sorts of aliments are, for the most part, met with together in everything we eat, so that we swallow them at once in one mouthful; and have therefore no need to trouble ourselves further on the subject. There is our bit of bread, for instance. What is bread made of? Of flour. Bread, then, must contain all that was previously in the flour. Very good. Now I will teach you how to discover in flour the aliment of combustion on the one hand, and the aliment of nutrition on the other.

Take a handful of flour, and hold it under a small stream of water; knead it lightly between your fingers. The water will be quite white as it leaves it, carrying away with it a fine powder, which you could easily collect if you were to let the water run into a vase, where the powder would soon settle to the bottom. That powder is starch—the same starch as washerwomen use for starching linen, and which our grandfathers employed in powdering their wigs. You had some put on your own hair one day when you were dressed up as a court-lady of olden time. Now, starch is an excellent combustible. People have succeeded, by means which I will not offer to detail here, in ascertaining almost exactly what it is made of, and they have found in it three of our old acquaintances, oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon, combined together in such proportions that 100 ounces of starch contain as follows:

Ounces. Carbon 45 Hydrogen 6 Oxygen 49 —- 100 I give you the calculation in round numbers, so as not to burden your memory with fractions; and I will do the same with the other sums I shall have to go through to-day, this being, let me tell you, an arithmetical day. Besides, I could scarcely take upon myself to warrant the absolute correctness of those very precise fractions people sometimes go into. Even our learned friends squabble now and then as to which is right or wrong over the 100th part of a grain, more or less, in making out their balance, and you and I will not offer to decide between them. I always think we have accomplished wonders in getting even near the mark, and with their permission we will stop there.

Starch, then, of whose weight carbon constitutes nearly one-half, is of course a first-rate combustible. Indeed, one may almost consider it the parent, as it were, of at least half our aliments of combustion, for if (in consequence of a certain operation, which nature has the power of performing for herself, in certain circumstances) it loses a portion of its carbon, so that there remain but 36 ounces of it in the 100 of starch, our starch is turned into something else; now can you guess what that something is? Neither more nor less than sugar! Witness the grand manufactories at Colmar, in France, where bags of starch are converted into casks of syrup by a process of nature alone; so that the inhabitants of the neighborhood sweeten their coffee at breakfast with what might have been made into rolls, had it been left alone. And this is not all. Give back this starch-sugar into the hands of Nature once more by putting it into certain other conditions, and a new process begins in it. About a third of its carbon will unite itself, of its own accord, with the two-thirds of its oxygen, so as to make carbonic acid, (you are acquainted with that gentleman now) which shall fly off and away, and there will remain—what do you think?—Alcohol, that other combustible we talked about, and which burns even better than sugar and starch, since in a hundred ounces it contains as follows:—

Ounces. Carbon 53 Hydrogen 13 Oxygen 34 —- 100

All this astonishes you. What would you say then if I were to tell you that your pocket-handkerchief is composed of entirely the same materials as starch, and in the same proportions too, and that if a chemist were to take a fancy, by way of a joke, to make you a tumbler of sugar and water, or a small glass of brandy out of it, he could do so if he chose. Wonders are found, you see, in other places besides fairy tales; and since I have begun this subject I will go on to the end. Know then that from the log on the fire, to the back of your chair, everything made of wood, is in pretty nearly the same predicament as your pocket-handkerchief; and if people are not in the habit of making casks of syrup and kegs of brandy out of the trees they cut down in the woods, it is only, I assure you, because such sugar and brandy would cost more to make than other sorts, and would not be so good in the end. Should some one ever invent and bring to perfection an economical process for doing it thoroughly well, sugar-makers and spirit-distillers will have to be on their guard!

But we are wandering from our subject. If I have allowed myself to make this digression, however, it is because I am not sorry to accustom your mind early to the idea of those wonderful transformations which nature accomplishes, and of which I could give you many other instances.

To return to our flour. As soon as all the starch is gone out of it, there remains in your hand a whitish, elastic substance, which is also sticky or glutinous, so that it makes a very good glue if you choose; and hence its name of gluten, which is the Latin word for glue.

When dried, this gluten becomes brittle and semi-transparent. It keeps for an unlimited time in alcohol, putrefies very soon in water exposed to the air, and is easily dissolved in a wash of soda or potash. Finally 100 ounces of it contain as follows:—

Ounces. Carbon 63 Hydrogen 7 Oxygen 13 Nitrogen 17 —- 100

Observe the last material named. It is a new arrival, of which I shall soon have something to say.

But where am I leading you? you will ask, with all these uninteresting details about glue.

Wait a little and you shall hear.

You have probably never seen any one bled, which is a pity, as it happens; for if you had, you might have noticed (provided you had had the courage to look into the basin), that after a few seconds, the blood which had been taken away separated itself of its own accord into two portions; the one a yellowish transparent liquid, the other an opaque red mass floating on the top, and which is called the coagulum of the blood or clot. This coagulum owes its color to an infinity of minute red bodies of which we will speak more fully by and by, and which are retained as if in a net, in the meshes of a peculiar substance to which I am now going to call your attention.

That substance is whitish, elastic and sticky; and when dried becomes brittle and semi-transparent. It keeps for an unlimited time in alcohol, putrefies very soon in water exposed to the air, and is easily dissolved in a wash of soda or potash. Finally 100 ounces of it contain as follows:—

Ounces. Carbon 63 Hydrogen 7 Oxygen 13 Nitrogen 17 —- 100

This substance is called fibrine. It goes to form the fibres of those muscles which are contained in a half formed state in the blood.

You are laughing by this time I know, and I also know the reason why. I have told you the same story twice over. You have not forgotten my wearisome description of gluten, and here I am, saying exactly the same thing of fibrine! You conclude I am dreaming, and have made a mistake!

But no, I am wide awake, I assure you, and mean what I say. And if these details are the same in the two cases, it is for the simple reason that the two bodies are one and the same thing; gluten and fibrine being in reality but one substance, so that were the most skilful professor to see the two together dried, he would be puzzled to say which came from the flour, and which from the blood. I mentioned that our muscles existed in a half-formed state in the blood. Here is something further. The fibres of muscles exist previously in full perfection, in the bread we eat; and when you make little round pills of the crumbs at your side, it is composed of fibres stolen from your muscles which enable the particles to stick together; and I say stolen from your muscles, because they are the gluten which you ought to have eaten. I hope the thought of this may cure you of a foolish habit, which is sometimes far from agreeable to those who sit by you.

This, then, is the first great aliment of nutrition, and you may make yourself perfectly easy about the fate of those who eat bread. If little girls should now and then have to lunch on dry bread, I do not see that they are much to be pitied. There is the starch to keep up their fire, and the gluten for their nourishment, and that is all they require. The porter above is the only one who finds fault. And in these days porters have become more difficult to please than the masters themselves.

Then as to babies who drink nothing but milk, you perhaps wish to know where they get their share of fibrine.

And I am obliged to own there is none in the milk itself; but, I daresay, you know curdled milk or rennet? The same separation into two portions has taken place there which occurs in the blood when drawn from the arm; underneath is a yellowish transparent liquid,—that is the whey; above a white curd of which cheese is made, and which contains a great part of what would have made butter. By carefully clearing the curd from all its buttery particles you obtain a kind of white powder which is the essential principle of cheese, and to which the pretty name of casein is given because caseus is the Latin for cheese. I shall not trouble you now with details about casein; but there is one thing you ought to know. A hundred ounces of casein contain as follows:—

Ounces. Carbon 63 Hydrogen 7 Oxygen 13 Nitrogen 17 —- 100

Exactly like gluten and fibrine!

Now, then, you can understand that no particular credit is due to the blood for manufacturing muscles out of the cheese of the milk which a little baby sucks. He has much less trouble than the manufacturers at Colmar have in turning their starch into sugar; because in his case the new substance is not only composed of the same materials as the old one, but contains them in exactly the same proportion also.

We have a second aliment of nutrition, you see, and I must warn you that it is not found in milk only. It exists in large quantities in peas, beans, lentils, and kidney-beans, which are actually full of cheese, however strange this may seem to you. It would not surprise you so much, however, if you had been in China and had tasted those delicious little cheeses which are sold in the streets of Canton. They cannot be distinguished from our own. Only the Chinese (from whom we shall learn a great many things when we have beaten them so that they will conclude to be friends with us)—the Chinese, I say, do without milk altogether. They stew down peas into a thin pulp. They curdle this pulp just as we do milk, and in the same way they squeeze the curd well, salt it, and put it into moulds—just as we do—and out comes a cheese at last—a real cheese, composed of real casein! Put it into the hands of a chemist, and ask him the component parts of a hundred grains of it, and he will tell you as follows:—

Ounces. Carbon 63 Hydrogen 7, etc.

I stop there; for you surely know the list by this time!

Only the third aliment of nutrition remains to be considered, for there are but three; and I will tell you in confidence, what is stranger still, viz., that there is in reality but one! But we have had enough food for one day, and I do not wish to spoil your appetite. We will reserve the rest for another meal.



LETTER XXVII.

ALIMENTS OF NUTRITION (continued).

NITROGEN OR AZOTE.

There is a favorite conjuring trick, which always amuses people, though it deceives no one. The conjuror shows you an egg, holds it up to the light that you may see it is quite fresh, then breaks it; and—crack—out comes a poor little wet bird, who flies away as well as he can.

This trick is repeated in earnest by nature every day, under our very eyes, without our paying any attention to it. She brings a chicken out of the egg, which we place under the hen for twenty-two days, instead of eating it in the shell as we might have done, and we view it as a matter of course. Yet we do not say here that the bird may not have come down the conjuror's sleeve, or the hen may not have brought it from under her wing. It was really in the egg, and its own beak tapped against the shell from within and cracked it.

How has this come about? No one can have put that beak, those feathers, those feet, the whole little body, in short, into the egg while the hen was sitting upon it, that is certain. It is equally certain, then, that the liquid inside the egg must have contained materials for all those things beforehand; and if Nature could manufacture the bones, muscles, eyes, etc., of the chicken, out of that liquid while in the egg, she would probably have found no more difficulty in manufacturing your bones, muscles, eyes, etc., from it had you swallowed the egg yourself.

Here, then, is an undeniable aliment of nutrition.

It is called albumen, which is the Latin word for white of egg. It is easily recognized by a very obvious characteristic. When exposed to a temperature varying from sixty to seventy-five degrees of heat, according to the quantity of water with which it is mixed, albumen hardens, and changes from a colorless transparent liquid, into that opaque white substance, which everybody who has eaten "hard-boiled eggs" is perfectly well acquainted with.

I will only add one trifling detail. 100 ounces of albumen contain as follows:

Ounces. Carbon 63 Hydrogen —

You can fill up this number yourself, can you not? And knowing the 7 of hydrogen, you may guess what follows! After what we have talked of last time, here is already an explanation of the chicken's growth. But let us go on.

You recollect that yellowish liquid I spoke about, which lies underneath the clot, or coagulum of the blood? I will tell you its name, that we may get on more easily afterward. It is called the serum, a Latin word, which, for once, people have not taken the trouble of translating, and which also means whey. Put this serum on the fire, and in scarcely longer time than it takes to boil an egg hard, it will be full of an opaque white substance, which is the very albumen we are speaking of. Our blood, then, contains white of egg; it contains in fact—if you care to know it—sixty-five times more white of egg than fibrine, for in 1,000 ounces of blood, you will find 195 of albumen, and only three of fibrine; of casein, none.

Nevertheless we eat cheese from time to time. And we generally eat more meat than eggs, and meat is principally composed of fibrine! I should be a good deal puzzled to make you understand this, if we had not our grand list to refer to.

Ounces. Carbon 63 Hydrogen 7, etc.

_Fibrine_, casein_, _albumen_, they are all the same thing in the main. It is one substance assuming different appearances, according to the occasion; like actors who play several parts in a piece, and go behind the scenes from time to time to change their dresses. The usual appearance of the aliment of nutrition in the blood is _albumen_; and in the stomach, which is the dressing-room of our actors, _fibrine_ and _casein_ disguise themselves ingeniously as _albumen_; trusting to _albumen_ to come forward afterwards as _fibrine_ or _casein_, when there is either a muscle to be formed, or milk to be produced.

Know, moreover, that albumen very often comes to us ready dressed, and it is not only from eggs we get it. As we have already found the fibrine of the muscle and the casein of milk in vegetables, so we shall also find there, and that without looking far, the albumen of the egg. It exists in grass, in salad, and in all the soft parts of vegetables. The juice of root-vegetables in particular contains remarkable quantities of it. Boil, for instance, the juice of a turnip, after straining it quite clear, and you will see a white, opaque substance produced, exactly like that which you would observe under similar circumstances in the serum of the blood; real white of egg, that is to say—to call it by the name you are most familiar with—with all its due proportions of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

I wonder whether you feel as I do, dear child; for I own that I turn giddy almost when I look too long into these depths of the mysteries of nature. Here, for instance, is the substance which is found everywhere, and everywhere the same—in the grass as in the egg, in your blood as in turnip-juice! And with this one sole substance which it has pleased the great Creator to throw broadcast into everything you eat, He has fashioned all the thousand portions of your frame, diverse and delicate as they are; never once undoing it, so to speak, to re-arrange differently the elements of which it is composed. From time to time it receives some slight impulse which alters its appearance but not its nature, and that is all. As the chemist found it in the bit of salad, so he will find it again in the tip of your nose, if you will trust him with that for examination. We are proud of our personal appearance sometimes, and smile at ourselves in the looking-glass; we think the body a very precious thing; but yet when we look deeply into it we find it merely so much charcoal, water and air.

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