This reminds me that we have not yet made acquaintance with the new personage who was lately introduced upon the scene. Nitrogen or azote, I mean. He plays too important a part to be allowed to remain in obscurity.
You have already learnt that oxygen united with hydrogen produces water. Combined with nitrogen it produces air; but in that case there is no union of the two. They are merely neighbors, occupying between them the whole space extending from the earth's surface to forty or fifty miles above our heads; together everywhere, but everywhere as entire strangers to each other as two Englishmen who have never been introduced! I should be a good deal puzzled to say what nitrogen does in the air: he is there as an inert body, and leaves all the business to the oxygen. When we breathe, for instance, the nitrogen enters our lungs together with its inseparable companion, but it goes out as it went in, without leaving a trace of its passage. Nevertheless, as sometimes happens among men, the one who does nothing takes up the most room. Nitrogen alone occupies four-fifths of the atmosphere, where it is of no other use than to moderate the ardent activity of king oxygen, who would consume everything were he alone. I can compare it to nothing better than to the water you mix with wine, which would be too fiery for your inside if you drank it by itself. This is what nitrogen does. It puts the drag on the car of combustion; as in society, the large proportion of quiet people put the drag on the car of progress (let us for once indulge ourselves in talking like the newspapers!); and such people are of definite use, however irritating their interference may appear in some cases. The world would go on too rapidly if there were nothing but oxygen among men. We have quite enough in having a fifth of it!
But what in the world am I talking about? Let us get back to nitrogen as fast as we can!
We must not imagine there is no energy in this quiet moderator of oxygen. Like those calm people who become terrible when once roused, our nitrogen becomes extremely violent in his actions when he is excited by another substance, and is bent on forming alliances. Sometimes the usually cold neighbor unites itself to oxygen in the closest bonds; in which case the two together form that powerful liquid, aqua-fortis, of which you may have heard, and which corrodes copper, burns the skin, and devours indiscriminately almost everything it comes in contact with. Combined with hydrogen, nitrogen forms ammonia, which is still often called by its old name volatile alkali; one of the most powerful bodies in existence, and one for which you would very soon learn to entertain a proper respect, if somebody were to uncork a bottle of it under your nose. Finally, nitrogen and carbon combined, produce a quite foreign substance (cyanogen), resembling neither father nor mother in its actions and powers, to the confusion of all preconceived ideas, when Gay-Lussac, a Frenchman, introduced it to the world, where it fell like a bombshell upon the theory of chemical combinations. This impertinent fellow, combining with hydrogen in his turn, produces prussic acid, the most frightful of poisons; one drop of which placed on the tongue of a horse strikes it dead as if by lightning.
You perceive that you must not trust our worthy friend too far. You have learnt, however, elsewhere, that it is not equally formidable in all its combinations. Those very substances which, when paired off into small separate groups, destroy all before them, constitute, all four together, that precious aliment of nutrition of which we are formed. Moreover, its real name is "azotized aliment" because it is the presence of nitrogen or azote in it, which, above all, determines its quality, so that people are in the habit of estimating the nourishing power of our food by the amount of nitrogen it contains. In fact, nitrogen seems to be a substance especially inclined towards everything that has life. His three comrades wander in mighty streams, so to speak, through every part of creation; but he, except in the vast domain of the atmosphere, where he reigns in such majestic repose, is rarely met with, except in animals, or in such portions of plants as are destined for the support of animal life.
On this point I will tell you the history of his original name, azote, which you will find curious enough. A short time before the French Revolution, in 1789, the principal properties of this gas were made known to the world by a learned Frenchman, who may be almost considered the father of modern chemistry, and whose name I must beg you to recollect. [Footnote: Dr. Daniel Rutherford (Edinburgh) discovered the existence of Nitrogen, A. D. 1772; but he never investigated its character.] He was called Lavoisier. While endeavoring to account satisfactorily for combustion, which before his time people explained any way they could, Lavoisier succeeded in separating our two friends, the neighbors in the atmosphere, one from the other, and was the first man in the world who managed to secure in two bottles—on the one hand, the bubbling oxygen freed from his tiresome mentor; on the other, the sober *azote, snatched away from his giddy pupil. What he did with the bottle of oxygen matters but little to us; but in the bottle of azote he plunged, by way of experiment, an unfortunate mouse, and subsequently a little bird, both of whom, finding no oxygen to breathe, died one after the other. Nothing could live in it, as you may suppose; and Lavoisier thought it must be right to give so destructive a gas the name of azote, which in Greek means "opposed to life." Meantime, science went on progressing by the gleam of the lamp he had lit, and then followed the discoveries of his successors, who forced their way into the obscure laboratory where the elements of living bodies are prepared. And at last it was ascertained that this azote, opposed to life as it was thought to be, was actually an essential property of life; that it accompanied it everywhere, and that without it the whole framework of the animal machine would fall to pieces. It is still known by its old name, which custom had sanctioned; but I imagine no learned man can ever utter it now without a feeling of humility, and without the thought that the future has possibly many contradictions in store for him also. Besides, nitrogen has to pass through many fine-drawing processes before it attains that post of honor which has been assigned to it in the animal kingdom. The animal himself can do nothing with it, unless it has been previously absorbed and digested by the vegetable, and the vegetable in its turn could get no good from it, were it to remain isolated and indifferent in the bosom of the atmosphere. It is only when it has formed one of those combinations I have been telling you about, and more particularly the second, which produces ammonia, that it fairly enters upon the round of life. And then, in the mysterious depths of vegetable existence is organized that wonderful quadrille of the aliments of nutrition, the history of which has now been sufficiently explained to you.
The vegetable kingdom, therefore, is simply the great kitchen in which the dinner of the animal kingdom is being constantly made ready; and when we eat beef, it is, in fact, the grass which the ox has eaten, which nourishes us. The animal is only a medium which transmits intact to us the albumen extracted in his own stomach from the juices furnished to him in the fields. He is the waiter of the eating-house; the dishes which he brings us have been given him already cooked in the kitchen. But to appreciate properly the service he renders us we must remember that the dishes to be obtained from grass are very, very small, and that it would be a great fatigue to the stomach if it could only get at such tiny scraps at a time; as, alas! has sometimes happened to the famine-stricken poor, who have tried in vain to support life from the grass in the field. But these minute dishes are brought to us in the mass whenever we eat beef, and our stomachs benefit accordingly. Do not forget this, my child; and when mamma asks you to eat meat, obey her with a good grace; if, that is to say, you wish to grow up to be a woman.
COMPOSITION OF THE BLOOD.
One word more before we finish. We must not leave off without bidding a last farewell to the good servant of whom we have spoken so much; the model steward so exact in giving back everything he receives—the factotum of the house in short. We have watched him at work long enough, but I have not yet described him personally to you, nor told you exactly what he is composed of.
And here I shall be obliged to begin again with figures and calculations, although I am told young people are not very fond of them. Nevertheless, none of us can manage our affairs properly without them. Hereafter, when you are at the head of a family, you will be obliged to practise arithmetic, if you want to know what is going on in your house. Never allow yourself to look upon what is necessary as wearisome; the true secret of being punctual in our duties is to throw our heart and interest into them.
I choose, therefore, to suppose that you will be interested to know that 1000 ounces of blood generally contain, (for there are shades of difference between one sort of blood and another) 870 ounces of the serum I have been talking about, and 130 ounces of clot. At first sight one would take the quantity of clot to be much greater than it really is; but in the state you see it, in the basin, it contains a considerable amount of water, which belongs by right to its companion serum, and which has to be drained away from it before it can be weighed.
Now, in our 870 ounces of serum, we shall find, to begin with, 790 of water; do not be astonished at the quantity. Most of the weight of all animals is produced by water; they weigh comparatively nothing after being thoroughly dried in a stove—when they are dead of course—for neither animal nor plant can live unless saturated with water. This, by the way, may serve to explain the ease with which we can keep ourselves floating in water; we are not much more than water ourselves! Were it not for those abominable bones which are a little bit heavier than the rest, we should never sink unless a stone were hung round our necks.
I repeat then; 790 ounces of water in 870 of serum, which leaves 80. Of this, albumen furnishes seventy, and the ten others, with the exception of a small portion of fat which floats here and there ready-made, are salts. It would take too long to explain what salts are here, but there is one sort of salt you know perfectly well; viz., that which is put on the dinner-table in a salt-cellar. And it is the most important of all. More than half the ten ounces of salts consist of it alone, which will make you understand better than before, what I explained with reference to the stomach; that is, why we put salt in our food. The porter above is quite up to his business when he asks everyone who enters to produce his little bit of salt. It is an attention which the blood appreciates very highly, although table-salt is of no great use to him in his building operations; but it evidently keeps him in good humor, and he would work badly without it. It is the same with all the animals man makes use of, and even the plants he cultivates, find that salt gives them an appetite. And it would almost seem as if nature had purposely dealt with us in this matter on a magnificent scale. She has made salt-magazines of the sea and the bosom of the earth, where it exists in prodigious masses which cost nothing but the labor of stooping to pick up, except in countries where a gentleman called a tax-gatherer, stands by to count the lumps and allow them to pass on by paying a duty. For my part, if I were the government—this is a secret between you and me, mind—I would look out for something else to stand in the place of the salt-tax. It is not well to interpose between man and the gratuities of Dame Nature, and to make him pay more heavily for the blood's chosen friend than she meant him to be charged.
But to proceed, the kitchen-salt being deducted from the ten ounces of salts-in-general, there remain altogether from four to five ounces, which contain——. But here I stop, for it puzzles me very much how to go on! Enough, that to enable you to follow me, you would require at least as much knowledge of chemistry as will be expected of a young man who has to pass an examination in medicine. Fancy the contents of a whole druggist's shop! I will tell you a few names, that you may have a specimen of the style in use, but I forewarn you that they are not inviting: hydrochlorate of ammonia; hydrochlorate of potash; carbonate of lime; sulphate of potash; phosphate of lime; phosphate of magnesia; lactate of soda. I spare you the others, for many others there are, without counting those which have not yet been discovered I All these things are to be found, I must tell you, in fibrine and albumen, but in such minute quantities that it is scarcely possible to recognize them.
In the serum, for instance, the gentlemen are so very small, and so completely entangled one with the other, that it is startling to think of the skill and patience requisite for making them all out, to say nothing of affixing the right name—uncouth as it may seem—to each grain of this almost imperceptible dust! He who first called man an epitome of creation, scarcely knew how truly he was speaking, for man bears about in his veins, ascertained samples of at least half the primitive substances from which all others are made, and if the whole of them should some day be found to be there, I for one should not be surprised.
This is well worth knowing, is it not? and I have not come to the end of my story yet.
We have still the 130 ounces of clot to speak about. But their contents are easily reckoned. Three ounces of fibrine and 127 of globules.
Here, however, we enter upon such a world of wonders, that I am quite delighted to be able to finish with it. It will be the masterpiece of our exhibition!
You feel quite sure blood is red, do you not? Well! it is no more red than the water of a stream would be, if you were to fill it with little red fishes. Suppose the fishes to be very very small, as small as a grain of sand; and closely crowded together through the whole depth of the stream: the water would look quite red, would it not? And this is the way in which blood looks red: only observe one thing; a grain of sand is a mountain in comparison with the little red fishes in the blood. If I were to tell you they measured about the 3,200th part of an inch in diameter, you would not be much the wiser, so I prefer saying (by way of giving you a more striking idea of their minuteness) that there would be about a million in such a drop of blood as would hang on the point of a needle. I say so on the authority of a scientific Frenchman—M. Bouillet. Not that he ever counted them, as you may suppose, any more than I have done; but this is as near an approach as can be made by calculation to the size of those fabulous blood-fishes, which are the 3,200th part of an inch in diameter.
These littlest fishes are called globules; but they are not exactly shaped like little globes, as the word would lead you to suppose. They are more like little plates slightly hollowed out on both sides. The central nucleus is surrounded by a flattened margin rather bladdery in appearance, of a beautiful red color, formed of a sort of very soft and very elastic jelly. I scarcely need tell you that all this was discovered through the microscope, and moreover, by examining the blood of frogs, in which the globules are much larger than in ours. [Footnote: Authentic portraits of these globules drawn—so to speak—by Nature herself, are to be seen on the admirable Photographs obtained by Bertsch, with the aid of the solar microscope, invented by himself and Arnaud. There you see them magnified 250,000 times, and may study them at your ease, and verify my description for yourself without any fear of being deceived. You must persuade your father to procure one. This result of photography is among the wonders of modern science.]
It was in 1661—rather more than two hundred years ago—that an Italian and a Dutchman discovered, each by himself in his own country, the microscopic population of the blood. The name of the Italian is not very difficult—Malpighi. As to the Dutchman's, you must pronounce it in the best way you can—he was called Leeuwenhock. You smile, but he was nevertheless one of the first men who really comprehended what a wonderful auxiliary human science had just got hold of in the microscope, and he has helped to open the eyes of the world to the marvels of miniature creation. So content yourself, young lady, with mis-pronouncing his name, and beware of laughing at it! Names are something like faces, one may live to be ashamed of ridiculing the wrong one.
This discovery of the globules of the blood, was destined to throw great light upon the way in which the nutrition of the organs was carried on. Modern chemists, who are always fond of investigation, have examined what they are made of, and can find little else in them but albumen. Out of our 127 ounces of globules, 125 are albumen; and these, with the 70 ounces which we found before in the serum, make up the 195 ounces (of albumen) which I told you were contained in the 1,000 ounces of blood. Forgive me all these ounces and figures. Exact accounts give exact information.
These globules, then, are composed almost entirely of albumen. Nearly two-thirds of all the albumen in the blood is concentrated in them; and you know now the use of albumen, viz., that it is the foundation of all the buildings of which the blood is the architect. Everything leads us to believe that the formation of globules in the blood is the last touch given by nature to that magical provision begun in thevegetable, continued in the stomach, and finished in the veins, to which, in combination with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, we are indebted for the subsistence of every portion of our body. Thus the blood-globules may be considered as albumen which has finished its education, and is ready to go into the world; while the albumen of the serum is, like our young friends, the generations in reserve, who are still at school awaiting their turn.
This is more than a mere supposition. Scientific men have taken to themselves, on their own authority, all sorts of rights over animals, and we profit basely enough by their crimes—I will not withdraw the word—in order to increase our knowledge. Accordingly, they conceived the idea of opening the veins of animals, and allowing the blood to flow until the victim was prostrate and motionless as a corpse. This done, they proceeded to fill the exhausted veins with blood, similar to that which had been withdrawn, and with the blood, life was seen gradually to return, till the animal rose from the ground, walked, and resumed its disturbed existence, as if nothing had happened. The interesting part of the experiment to us is, that if serum only, without globules, be restored to the unfortunate animal, it is of no use whatever, and the corpse does not revive.
It is evident, then, that all the power and virtue of the blood lies in the globules; and according as their number is great or small it is "rich" or "poor," as it is called; and where their number is not up to the mark, the blood acts more feebly on the organs, life is calmer, and people are no longer troubled with emotions—in other words, with violent heats of the blood. Hence the impassible character of lymphatic people, who often get on in the struggle of life better than others, because they are never in a hurry, and know how to wait for opportunities. You will occasionally hear the word lymphatic, for it has become the fashion, and it is time for me to explain it; but unluckily the explanation is not in its favor.
You remember those little scavengers we spoke about formerly, who came from the depths of all the organs, carrying away with them the worn-out building materials, and covering the surface of the body with an inextricable net work of tiny canals. These canals are called lymphatic vessels, in consequence of being filled with a liquid which is called lymph (water, in Latin), but why I cannot tell you, for it is, in fact, simple serum. There was a very simple way of ascertaining this by making out an inventory of the contents of the lymph liquid, and when this was done, they were found to consist of water, albumen, and the salts of serum; there was even a little fibrine; the only thing wanting was globules.
How the truant serum finds its way into the lymphatic vessels is probably as follows:—I have already mentioned the inconceivable delicacy of the capillary vessels, those last ramifications of our arteries and veins. It needs all the impulsive power of the heart to enable the blood to force its way through these narrow passages; and minute as are the globules, it would seem that they have but just room to pass, for in examining under the microscope a corner of the tongue of a live frog, the globules have been seen doubling themselves up to pass through the capillaries, resuming their natural form afterwards.
It was this, indeed, which made me tell you just now that their margins were elastic. During this momentary crush, part of the serum being forced on too fast, oozes through the wall of the over-filled capillaries, as water oozes through the leathern pipes of a fire-engine, and hence probably the appearance of serum or lymph in the organs, where it is immediately sucked up (i. e., absorbed) by the lymphatic vessels. Now, you will easily understand that the larger the proportion of serum in the blood, the greater will be the quantity to be expelled in passing through the capillaries, and the more will the lymphatic vessels swell. In such cases the temperament or constitution is said to be lymphatic. If, on the contrary, the globules are in excess, the lymphatic vessels receive less serum, and diminish in size. The temperament is then called sanguine, as if there were no serum in the blood. You shall be judge yourself, knowing what you now do, whether it would not be more reasonable to call such temperaments serous and globulous. At any rate those names would give people an idea of the real state of things, and teach them that there were such things as globules in the blood.
[Footnote: Here is a summary of the contents of 1000 oz. of blood:—
Ounces. Water................... 790 Serum. Albumen...................70 870 Salts.................... 10
Fibrine................... 3 Clot. Globules Albumen.. 125 130 Coloring matter...... 2 127 —— 1000 ——]
To conclude, I must give you an account of the two ounces which still remain of the 127 of globules, albumen taking up only 125, as you know. Those two poor little ounces—the remainder of the thousand with which we started—would you believe it?—they alone have the honor of conferring upon the blood its beautiful red color. They constitute the coloring matter of the globules, and you will never guess its chief element. It is iron; ay, actually iron, young lady—the iron of swords and bayonets. We often accuse it of tingeing the earth with blood; and you may now know further, that it reddens blood itself by way of compensation. Do not trouble yourself as to where it comes from. Our fields are full of it, our very plants have stores of it. It sometimes happens that our digestive apparatus, put out of order by other occupations, fails to make use of the amount of iron offered to it; in which case the blood is discolored, and the face turns pallid as wax: this is an illness requiring great care. If it should ever befall you, you will not be surprised, after to-day's lesson, to hear the doctor say that you must have some iron. But be easy—you will not have to swallow it whole! If you will take my advice, you will obey the doctor's orders as soon as you can.
Not that looking pale signifies any thing: indeed, some young ladies think it an advantage. But it is no advantage to any body when the blood-globules are distressed for want of their proper supply of iron, and do their work grudgingly, like ill-fed laborers. Nothing can go on without them, you know, and they are people whom it is not well to leave too long out of sorts. Else languor comes on; languor which is the beginning of death: and pray remember that iron, which so often causes death, is equally useful for keeping it at bay. By sending it to the discolored globules, you give them back their energy and brilliancy together.
I have come here to the end of all that is known with any certainty about these wonderful globules which are to us the medium of life. Shall I go further, is the question, and take you with me into the fields of supposition, so full of noxious weeds? And yet why not? Science owes its present position to the praiseworthy rule of never adopting any theory which is not supported by well-established facts; and I would be the last to advise a change. Were I to tell you, what I am now going to say to you, at a meeting of the British Association of Science, they would turn me out of the room, and with very good reason. Nothing ought to be taught there but what can be proved. But this is of no consequence to you and me, and we have a right to amuse ourselves a little, after having worked so hard.
Well, there is an idea which nothing shall ever drive out of my head, however imperfectly it may be proved as yet; namely, that each of our globules is an animated being; and that our life is the mysterious result of these millions of lesser lives, each of them insignificant in itself; in the same way that the mighty existence of a nation, is a compound of crowds of existences, each, for the most part, without individual importance. Take our own or any other country as an instance; where millions of brains, many of them by no means first-rate in power, go to form a national character, the highest (as each nation is apt to think of itself) in the world. According to this idea, you must be a sort of nation yourself, my dear child, which is gratifying to think of on the whole.
This is much more extraordinary than what I told you some time ago, of the individual life of the organs, each of which on this new system would be a province in itself! Do not exclaim too hastily. Whether the globules are animated or not, it is very certain, let me tell you, that your life depends entirely upon them; that it is weakened if they are weakened; that it revives with them; and that whether you attribute individual life to them or not, makes no alteration in the fact: their action upon you remains the same. And he must be a very clever man who can show me the exact difference between action and life. Hereafter, when we have descended the scale of the animal world together, and are arrived at the study of what are called microscopic animals, you will better understand the words which appear so strange to you now. What little our feeble instruments have revealed to us so far, of the history of those globules, places them almost on a level with those strange creatures, inexplicable to us, which are found in innumerable multitudes, in a variety of liquids. We trace in them the beginning of organization; their form and size are alike in all individuals of the same species; and species vary enough to induce one to believe, that there is a necessary relation between an animal's way of life and that of its globules. If the microscope has not yet caught them in any overt living act, who can be surprised? it is only dead blood which has been submitted to the test. They ought to be observed in the exercise of their functions, in the living animal itself, as has been done to some extent in the frog; and if our foolish chat could influence scientific observers, I would say to them what M. Leverrier said years ago to the astonished astronomers: "Look yonder; you ought to see a light there with which you are not yet acquainted!"
I am carrying you a long way on the wings of my fancy, my dear child; but have no fears; I will not let you fall. This life of our globules, which would, after all, be only one mystery the more among many, opens before our eyes a magnificent vista of the uniformity in the scheme of creation; which goes on repeating itself, while enlarging its circles to infinity. We may, all of us, be only so many globules of the great invisible fabric of humanity, in which we go up and down one after another; and those vast globes which our telescopes follow through celestial space, may be but globules of one, as yet unknown, to which the Almighty alone can give a name.
Take this page to your father, my dear child, if you do not understand it rightly; and now, shake hands, my history is ended!
CLASSIFICATION OF ANIMALS.
'It is dangerous to show man how much he resembles the beasts, without at the same time pointing out to him his own greatness. It is also dangerous to show him his greatness, without pointing out his baseness. It is more dangerous still to leave him in ignorance of both. But it is greatly for his advantage to have both set before him.'—Pensees de Pascal.
The man who wrote that, my dear child, did not trouble himself much about children. He was one of the gravest specimens of literary genius—a man who can scarcely be said to have ever been a child himself; for as the story goes, he was found one day, when only twelve years old, inventing geometry, and his father only saved him from trouble, by putting the great book of Euclid into his hands; and, at sixteen, he wrote a treatise on Conic Sections, which was the wonder of all the learned men of the day. I have not a very clear idea of what Conic Sections are myself; but I tell you this to show that Pascal was a very profound and learned man, under whose authority, therefore, I am very glad to take shelter, now that I am going to set before you the very startling points of resemblance which exist between you and the beasts.
As to your greatness, it delights me to explain it to you. It is not due to the handsome clothes you wear when you are going out, nor to the luxurious furniture of mamma's drawing-room, but to the possession of that young soul which is beginning to dawn within you, as the sun rises in the morning sky, and pierces through the early mists; in that growing intelligence which has enabled you to understand so far all the pretty stories I have told you; in that fresh unsullied conscience, which congratulates you when you have been good, and reproves you when you have done wrong: all of them gifts which are not bestowed on the lower animals, or certainly not to the same extent as upon you—gifts by which you rise more and more above them, the more they are developed in yourself. Your baseness—but, begging Pascal's pardon, I cannot call it baseness—your connecting link with the brute creation lies in those other gifts of God which you and they share in common—in those wonders of your organization, which we shall now meet with in them again, in full perfection at first, and that in every respect; by which fact you may learn, if you never thought of it before, that the lower animals come from the same creating hand as yourself, and ought to be looked upon to some extent as younger brothers, however distasteful such a notion may seem at first. Societies have been established of late, both in France and England, for the protection of animals; and a noble and honorable task they have undertaken, in spite of the jokes that have been made at their expense. It is a mischievous cavil to tell people who are doing good in one direction, that more might have been done somewhere else. Everything hangs together in the progress of public morality, and you cannot strike a blow at cruelty to animals without at the same time making a hit at cruelty to man. And the best argument in favor of the rights of beasts to protection, will be found in the tour you and I are now going to make together through the different classes of the animal creation.
Let us begin with the horse—one of the beasts which oftenest needs our protection. Give him the mouthful of bread whose history we have just finished. He accepts it as a treat, and needs no pressing to eat it. And if it could tell you all its adventures afterwards, you would find that you were listening to precisely the same story as your own over again; that nothing was different, nothing wanting. First of all—teeth to grind it, and a tongue to swallow it with, as a matter of course. Next a larynx, which hides itself to avoid it, and an oesophagus,* which receives it, just as in your case; a stomach with its gastric juices, the same as yours, in bagpipe form, and its pylorus, like your own; a lesser intestine, into which bile pours from a liver like yours; chyliferous vessels which suck up a milky chyle, as with you; farther on a large intestine; and so on to the end. Nor is this all:—the horse has also a heart, with its two ventricles, and its double play of valves; a heart which the little girl in our tale might confidently have exhibited to the engineers as her own, but that it would have been somewhat too big, of course; into which heart, as into ours, comes venous blood, to be changed afterwards to arterial; in lungs to which the air keeps rushing, forced thither by the see-saw action of a diaphragm, as faithful a servant to him as to you. And those lungs like our own, are a charcoal market: the same exchange takes place there, of carbonic acid for oxygen, as in ours, an unanswerable proof that the stove inside the horse burns fuel in the same way as our own: and if you were to place the thermometer inside his mouth (for we are polite enough to call it his mouth), it would mark 37 1-2 degrees of heat (centigrade)—a difference from ourselves not worth mentioning. Finally, if you examine his blood, you will meet with the same serum and clot, the whole company of hydroclorates, phosphates, carbonates, &c., from which we shrank before, and globules made like your own; having the same construction, and the same life, or action, if you like it better. I need scarcely add that 100 oz. of its fibrine and albumen contain:
Of carbon......... 63 oz. Of hydrogen........ 7
This is understood all along as being the case everywhere, from man down to the turnip; so that, like you, this noble animal, as the horse is called, is in point of fact only so much carbon, so much water, and so much air, joined to a handful of salt, which represents the earth's share in the bodies of animals.
You must confess that, if we cannot quite call the horse a fellow-creature, he is nevertheless very like us. And it is the same with all those animals which man makes use of as his servants, and which have really a sort of right to the protection of society, since they form, to a certain extent, a portion of the human family. I do not speak here of the dog, who pays his taxes, poor fellow, in his quality of friend to man.
When I think of the almost identical organization of man and his next-door neighbors, I am astonished how it could possibly have come into the head of a certain learned individual (I will not mention his name), when drawing up a plan of natural history, to give to man a separate kingdom, as a sequel to the three kingdoms already established—the mineral, vegetable, and animal. One might have forgiven Pascal if such an idea had got into his head after writing his treatise on Conic Sections; there being nothing in them to throw light on such a subject. But in a naturalist, an observer who had spent his life in the study of living creatures, the thing seems almost incredible. Possibly he had reasons for what he did, but he certainly did not find them in the subjects of his studies.
Forgive me, my dear child, for forgetting you in this fit of indignation upon a point you cannot care much about. It leads me naturally enough to my present business, which is none of the easiest, but you must help me by paying attention. I am going to describe the classification of the animal kingdom.
There are a terrible number of animals, as you know; and if we wish to study them to any real purpose, we must begin by introducing some sort of order into the innumerable crowds which throng, pell-mell, around us for observation. We should otherwise never know where to begin, or when we had come to an end.
There are many ways of setting a crowd in order, but they all go upon the same plan. The individuals composing the crowd are parcelled off into companies, each company having a distinguishing mark peculiar to those who compose it. Thus the first division is into a few large companies, which are afterwards subdivided into smaller ones, and those into others still less, until the divisions have gone far enough. And this is what is called a classification.
Let us imagine, as an example, a large crowd in a public garden; I will soon classify it for you. I shall put the men on one side and the women on the other. Then—to begin with the women—I shall subdivide them into married and single. Then among married women I shall make a company of mammas, and another of those who have no children. Among the unmarried I shall have a group of those who have never been married—girls, that is—and another of widows—those who were once married, but are so no longer. Then, following the girls, I shall separate them into tall and short. And among the short ones I shall divide the brunettes from the blondes, and so I shall get at last to a little blonde girl, whose classification (were she a soldier) in military rank would be as follows:—squadron of blondes; company of shorts; battalion of girls; regiment of unmarried women; division of women. The division of men could be carried out in the same manner; and thus we should classify our mob into complete military order. This is easy enough, however; but the classifying of animals is a very different affair, and I will tell you why. We ourselves require a classification to study them by, though none was needed for their creation. The Almighty has formed them all on one uniform plan, around which He has, if I may so express it, lavished an infinity of modifications separating species from species, yet without placing between the different species those fixed barriers which we should require now to enable us to classify them strictly. You who are learning the pianoforte have perhaps been told the meaning of a theme of music—the first idea of the composer who follows it throughout the piece from one end to the other, embroidering on it, as on a bit of canvas, a thousand variations melting one into another. Such is pretty nearly, if we may venture the comparison, the way in which we can picture to ourselves the Almighty moving through the work of animal creation. Step in afterwards and divide away into regiments and battalions, if you please. Nature permits it, but she will never, to accommodate your classifications, separate what in her is really united.
There is still a way, however, and that is to do as I did just now in the case of the crowd. To take, viz., only one character (as we call a distinguishing mark in natural history), and to throw together all the individuals which possess it, the blondes, the shorts, the girls, &c. In this way it may soon be done; but what is the result? You are in one class, your eldest sister is in another, your mamma in a third, and your brother in a different division altogether, a long way from you all. Such a classification is called artificial, and you can see at once that it is worthless.
The most natural plan is to put together those that are of the same family; and the classifications made on this principle are called natural classifications.
It is a classification of this sort which has been adopted for the animal kingdom. People have taken all the animals which possess in common not one character only, but a collection of characters of the most important kind, dominant characters, as they are called; and of these animals they have formed, to begin with, large primary groups; subdividing these afterwards according to the secondary differences, which distinguish different species in the same group from each other.
In this manner all the different sorts of animals are included in different systematic divisions of one vast whole, through which it is easy to find one's way, because there is a beginning and an end; and in which animals of the same family are always grouped side by side. Were I to mention all the divisions of this immense classification at once, you would find the account a little long, and not very amusing. We will go through them by degrees therefore, and, to simplify matters, will, throughout the whole, only consider those particular characters which are connected with our special study, the nourishment of life, that is to say: so that you will always find yourself on well-known ground.
I must tell you once for all, however, that it is with this as it is with grammar. Here and there are—and it cannot be avoided—certain exceptional cases which keep protesting timidly against the arbitrariness of rules; but no matter; we must be contented with what we can get, and be grateful into the bargain to those who have given us this skillful classification, at once so ingenious and useful, in spite of its inevitable imperfections. What is impossible is expected of nobody. You could not understand, even if I wished to explain it to you, the amount of science, labor and genius requisite for making out that long list, which, tiresome as it may seem to children, is absolutely beautiful in the eyes of learned men; too beautiful, perhaps, and I will tell you why when we have finished. Meantime, as the best reward we can give to those who have done us some great service is to teach their names to children, I will tell you, before bidding you good-bye, to whom we owe this classification, the details of which I do not enter upon to-day.
In the first place, we owe the method employed in its establishment, the method of natural classification, i.e., to a learned man of the last century—a learned Frenchman, Bernard de Jussieu—who tried it upon plants; another large flock by no means very easy to put in order, as you may convince yourself any day by studying botany. The man who applied this system to animals was also a learned Frenchman, the clearness of the French mind adapting them peculiarly for that sort of work. And he, too, is one of the glories of that nation. His labors and discoveries gave a perfectly new impulse to the study of nature. It was George Cuvier, whose statue you may see at Montbeliard, if you should ever go there. Not that Cuvier carried through this gigantic work alone, though the credit of it is justly his due, he having directed and inspired it. He was assisted by many. But among his assistants there was one, Laurillard, the most modest, yet the most active of all, whose name I will mention also, because, like the others, more or less celebrated, he has never had his reward. [Footnote: In the earlier editions of this work, there was, in this place, a severe reproach upon Cuvier for not having given proper credit to Laurillard. This reproach I have since learned was unjust. M. Valenciennes himself, one of the most illustrious of the collaborators of the great Cuvier, has written me a letter in which he defends the reputation of his friend with a warm indignation which does honor to both of them; and cites passages in which Cuvier has spoken of Laurillard, and among others, in the third volume of the Ossements Fossiles, p. 32, ed. of 1822.]
It only remains for me, therefore, to let the lash, which I was laying upon the shoulders of another, fall now upon my own, and to deplore the too great facility with which I had credited, without sufficient proofs, an assertion which I had otherwise good reason to believe to be exact—coming to me, as it did, from Montbeliard himself, on the testimony, it is said, of the family of Laurillard. From this avowal, a little painful, I confess, my young readers may learn the inconvenience of rashly condemning others! As I said in the concluding passage, which truth, only too late, now compels me to suppress—"The truth is sure to come out at last."
Do you remember of my talking of the vertebral column when I was describing that great artery, the aorta, to which it forms a rampart of defence? I should not have named it without explanation, but that you had only to pass your hand down your back to find out what it was. Now the vertebral column, or backbone, is one of those dominant characters which always carries along with it a train of other points of resemblance in the animals where it is found. It has been chosen, therefore, as the rallying-point of the first great group. I must tell you beforehand that there are four of these groups, four large companies, i.e., which naturalists have called by various names; as Groups, Sections, Primary Divisions and even Branches; in this case comparing them to four great branches of a tree, going off in different directions from the same trunk.
And, first of all, we have to begin with the group of the Vertebrata—vertebrata animals—vertebrata being a word which explains itself.
Of course we ourselves belong to this group. In fact, we are at the head of it; but it descends far below us. It goes on to the frog and the fish, and includes the monkey, the ox, the fowl and the lizard; for all these creatures possess the vertebral column. The frog does not appear to be very much like us at first sight; and yet, by virtue of its vertebra, it has its points of resemblance to us, which are worth the trouble of considering. Vertebrated animals are all furnished with a head, containing a brain, which gives its orders to the whole body; they have all an internal skeleton, that is to say, a system of bones linked together, forming a solid base by which all the organs are supported. I was going to add that they have all four limbs; but here the serpent glides in to call me to order, and to hiss at our childish craving for fine-drawn divisions, in perfect order, where there is an exactly proper place for everything. However, each has, without exception, a heart, with its network of blood-vessels; red blood, under its two conditions of arterial and venous; and also a digestive tube, acting, on the whole, pretty much like our own. I do not insist, mind, upon this last point, viz., that of the digestive tube; for we shall see, by-and-by, that it is a character beyond the pale of the primary groups. It is the fundamental character of the trunk itself, which necessarily exists, therefore, in all the groups; and, as I told you in my first letter, you will find it everywhere.
This is—to let you into the secret at once—the theme on which the Great Composer has based all His infinite varieties of animal life; and herein lies the uniformity of the animal creation, that startling uniformity which has given so much offence to many learned men, and which is so obvious that it will strike you of itself, I feel sure. But I reserve this subject to the end of my letters, when you will have heard all, and be able to judge for yourself.
It would be plunging back into confusion to attempt to examine all the vertebrated classes at once. After making a division you must go on. The groups have, therefore, been subdivided into five classes, which we will study in succession, only naming each now: viz. mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and batrachians. Do not alarm yourself at this last name: it is a Greek word, meaning simply frogs.
The mammals are our immediate neighbors. Mammalia are the animals which produce milk. They bring forth their young alive, and give suck to them as soon as they are born. This was your first nourishment, my dear child, so you yourself are a little mammal.
What I said to you in the last letter about the horse, applies pretty nearly as well to all mammals. We shall not, therefore, have any great variations to notice here. Nevertheless, as these are the animals which interest us most nearly, as they are in fact our nearest of kin, so to speak, and those with whom we have the most to do, we will now pass in review the different orders of which their class is composed. I must explain to you that the classes are subdivided into orders, the orders into families, the families into genera, the genera into species; as in armies divisions subdivide into regiments, regiments into battalions, &c. It became necessary, moreover, to make use of special names, in order to make these subdivisions comprehensible, and the following are those which have been adopted.
ORDER 1. Bimana (two-handed).
Here we may pass on at once, for we have discussed this order enough already. We are bimane ourselves, since we have the distinction of possessing two hands. Yes; that is the pretty title which the professors have been so polite as to give us, instead of leaving us simply our proper name of man. Yet it would have been very easy to do this, seeing that we are the only family, the only genus, and the only species of the order. In railway travelling, people of distinction have a reserved carriage to themselves: so we decidedly deserve an order to ourselves; but that is not quite the same as a separate kingdom. In short, you are a bimane; so make the best you can of it.
ORDER 2. Quadrumana (four-handed).
These, as their name indicates, have four hands: two at the end of the arms, and two at the end of the legs; such are the monkeys. There is nothing to remark; they are all alike. Stay; I am wrong, though: there is something, insignificant it is true, but still pointing to deviation. In some the canine teeth are set forward, i.e. project, and are longer than the rest, and some species, as the ape, for instance, have just under their cheeks convenient little pockets, which open into the mouth, and in which they can deposit a reserve of nuts to be devoured at leisure; these are called pouches.
It is a trifle in itself, but we have here a first example of the eccentricities of nature in the construction of animals. At one time she adds a detail; at another she suppresses one. Sometimes she is pleased to enlarge an organ, as in the canine teeth of the monkey; sometimes she reduces it; or perhaps here she makes its construction more simple; there again more complicated: but still it is always the same organ. So the dressmaker shapes the sleeves of a dress, sometimes open, sometimes closed, flat or puffed, plain or ornamented, pagoda-shaped or gigot-formed: but still they are all of them sleeves.
ORDER 3. Cheiroptera (wing-handed).
I am quite ashamed of offering you such a word as this, my dear child. It was a Greek fancy of the learned men, who would not condescend to use the vulgar name Bats. In the Greek, cheir means hand, and pteron wing. The Cheiroptera are animals with winged hands; in fact, the fingers which terminate the fore-limbs of the bat lengthen as they spread out to an extravagant extent; and are connected together by a membrane springing from the body, with which they beat the air as with a wing, and which enables them to fly with such ease that theyare often taken for birds.
But, so far from really being a bird, this curious little creature has the same internal organization as ours, and indeed comes so near us, though without looking as if it did, that a scientific man, and a very distinguished one too, placed the bat in the first family of the animal kingdom, with the monkey, and, you will hardly believe it, with man. It is found that the bat, like man and the monkey, suckles its young at the breast; and it was this very character which Linnaeus, the leader of artificial classification, thought of selecting as the distinguishing mark of his first family in the animal kingdom. It is true that in honor of the human race he had given that first family a much more sonorous name than our usual one of man—viz. primates, the first in rank—that is, the princes. But, alas! we were to be princes on an equality with bats; and, for my own part, I prefer being a bimane, and alone. I really believe that it was to put this saucy little creature back into its proper place that, at the time of the great revolution in favor of natural classification, the conclave of professors assembled at the Botanical Gardens in Paris inflicted this horrid name of Cheiroptera on the bat, ejecting it contemptuously from the overthrown dynasty of the primates.
I have not been sorry to make you acquainted as we went along, with this little trait in the history of classification; but beyond it there is really nothing particular to say about the apparatus for the nourishment of the deposed bat-princes, which is a plain proof how nearly it must be like our own. By-the-by, there is one trifling remark to be made with regard to her teeth. The bats we have in our country (France), for there are many varieties of species in the world, live on insects, which they catch in their flight by night. These insects are often enveloped in a very hard outer case, which molars like ours would have some difficulty in chewing properly; consequently the molars of our little friend are fringed with conical points, and with these she grinds down her prey without difficulty.
In America there is a large bat, the vampire, which lives on the blood of animals, and nature has armed it accordingly. It has at the extremityof its muzzle two sharp beak-like incisors, like the lancets of a surgeon. The vampire bat, which roams by night like other bats, goes straight at the large animals it sees asleep, delicately opens a vein in the throat without waking them, and sucks their blood in long draughts, taking care, by fanning them with its wings, to lull them into a cool and balmy slumber. It does not, as you see, make a savage attack on its victim: it merely inflicts a bite like that of the leech, but the result may be death. This is the best emblem I know of the sycophant, who undermines your soul while he fans your vanity; and observe, while we are on the subject, that this species has always had the art of insinuating itself among princes.
ORDER 4. Carnivora (flesh-eaters).
When translated into English, this word needs no explanation. And here we have the tribe of bears, wolves, foxes, weasels, dogs, cats, tigers, lions, of all the fighting animals, i.e., those which steep their muzzles in blood, and live by devouring others. These have a similar apparatus for nutrition to our own; especially the bear, who, with the monkey, is the animal most nearly resembling man, seeing that he has feet like ours, with scarcely any tail, while the monkey has our hands, without specifying any other points of resemblance. Like ourselves, too, the bear is omnivorous; that is to say, it eats everything, vegetables and fruit as well as meat; and nature, which has given it our diet, has furnished it with molars almost exactly like our own. Its canine teeth alone differ from ours: they are more prominent even than those of the quadrumana; and this is the case with all the members of the order, in whom we find them sometimes developed into actual daggers. But those of them which are purely carnivorous have molars peculiar to themselves. The lion, for example, who does not share the bear's taste for carrots, and who would die of hunger surrounded by the honey and grapes of which the bear is so fond—the lion, who never takes anything but raw meat between his teeth, has molars furnished with sharp cutting edges, intended to slice the meat like the chopping knives used by cooks for making a hash.
The lion offers another peculiarity, which is common to him with all the Carnivora. Place your finger close to the lower end of your ear, and work your jaw; you will feel something hard moving backward and forward against your finger. This is where the lower jaw is set into a bone of the skull, called the temporal, if you care to know its name; in other words, the bone of the temple. The extremity of the jaw bends, and forms a kind of little knob, called condyle, which fits into a cavity of the temporal bone. With us the cavity is not very deep, nor the knob very large, so that it can play very freely; and it is this which allows us that second movement from side to side, of which I spoke to you formerly, and thanks to which, our little mills reduce a mouthful of bread into paste. But this freedom of action has also its inconveniences. You must never attempt to force too large an article into your mouth at once—an apple, for instance—the efforts you would then be obliged to make might easily cause the condyle to slip out of its little cavity, where its hold is but slight, and to get under the temporal bone; and there you would be with your mouth wide open until the doctor arrived. The lion, whose voracious jaw opens like the door of an oven, so that the tamers of wild beasts have no scruple in thrusting in their whole heads, a mouthful a good deal larger than an apple; the lion, who has no doctors, would often be liable to this accident—an irremediable one in his case—if nature had not made a special provision for him. In order to secure greater firmness and strength, the second movement is in his case sacrificed by embedding the condyles deeply in their cavities, where they are fastened in such a fashion that they can only move up and down, like the handles of a pair of pincers. This is a restraint which enables the jaw to be safely thrown open as wide as the fiery impulse of its terrible proprietor impels it. Less freedom, in exchange for more power, is a bargain which any one would gladly accept who plays the part of a lion!
I have here a remark to make. We have now passed in review three orders besides our own, and have only had to point out a change in the fastenings of the jaws and in the teeth; and you will find that the same sort of modifications take place in the whole class of mammals. This is in fact the essentially movable and variable point in their apparatus for nutrition. The jaw and its weapons vary their character from one species to another, according to the nature of their food; but the modifications generally terminate there, i.e. on the threshold, as it were. The interior arrangements of the house remain otherwise much the same in all.
Here, however, in the lion, there is an interior change to be described; but not in the arrangement of the parts, only in their size; the stomach in this species being even smaller and weaker in proportion than ours, and the digestive tube more than twice as short. The digestive tube of an ordinary sized man is about seven times the length of his body, whilst that of the lion only measures three times the length of the animal. This is a natural consequence of the kind of nourishment he takes. Flesh and blood, on which he lives entirely, is concentrated albumen, prepared beforehand in the bodies of his victims; so that no great preparation is needed here to convert it into lion's blood. A professor of chemistry, who has a good assistant, does not need a very large laboratory. This is the case with the lion; and nature, which makes nothing in vain, has here economised space. Tame the monarch of the forest into a domestic animal, and change his food, and I will wager anything you please that, in the course of a few generations, his digestive tube will lengthen itself. Examine the inside of the cat, his little cousin, formed originally on the same pattern as himself, and, without having ascertained the fact myself, I am sure that, by dint of feeding it daily on sops and milk from generation to generation, its digestive tube has become more than three times the length of its body.
Here you ought to be told at once a very important fact relative to the organization of the lower animals, one which places them all very far below the order of Bimana, since there is such an order. In bestowing intelligence and freedom of action on man, the Almighty has given him the unspeakable privilege of working in His footsteps—if I may presume to use the expression—of following up His work of creation as it came from His hand. Now especially that man begins to see a little more clearly into the laws of life, he has entered more directly into the possession of this almost divine privilege, which the Almighty has graciously vouchsafed him. You can even now have an ox or a sheep made to order in England, giving your dimensions, as if you were ordering a cabinet; and in a few years, if you have not asked actual impossibilities, your commission will be executed to within an inch. This is not said in reference to the Carnivora. But in bidding you good-bye, my dear little mammal, I could not bear to leave you under the weight of that debasing title: I wanted also to show you your greatness.
Let us continue to pass in review the different orders of the class Mammalia. We may meet elsewhere with facts more important to science, but nowhere with any so personally interesting to ourselves.
ORDER 5. Insectivora (insect-eaters).
This order devours insects, as their name tells you plainly enough. They feed in the same manner as the bats; consequently they have molars like theirs, as was necessary. It is an unimportant little family, and we will not waste much time upon it. The chief of the order is the hedgehog, a native of our country—not very large, about nine inches long—which lives in the woods, and which when rolled up into a ball, with all its quills standing out, looks very much like an enormous horse-chestnut in its shell. Its canines have not much work to do, consequently they are very small; but, on the other hand, its two front incisors are prolonged beyond the others, the better to seize its prey, which creeps upon the ground. Internally there is nothing to remark upon.
Next to the hedgehog I will mention as a curiosity the shrew or sand-mouse, which, in spite of its name, is no mouse at all, but has the honor, if honor it be, of being the smallest animal known of the class Mammalia.
It is about two inches in length altogether; and if you carefully examine its little body, you will find that it contains all the organs you possess yourself—oesophagus, stomach, liver, intestines, veins, arteries, heart, lungs—nothing is wanting: the machinery is absolutely the same.
ORDER 6. Rodentia (rodents).
Were we to translate this word into its meaning, namely, the Gnawers, there would be some comfort in it, for we would at once know what it means: but no matter. Rodents, or Gnawers, are rats, hares, rabbits, beavers, marmosets, squirrels, in fact all the creatures which nibble. To nibble, if you do not exactly understand the word, means to chew with the points of the teeth. The rodents have no other way of eating but by filing, if one may so say, their food with the points of two incisors with which both the jaws are provided; these incisors are very long, much longer even than those of the hedgehog. The next time you see a rabbit at table, ask to see the head; and you will find that it has four pretty little teeth, very sharp, shaped like a joiner's chisel; that is to say, with a "bevelled edge," to use the received expression; in other words, with one edge thinner than the other.
Here, then, we begin to diverge from the old model. First, there is a different fastening, or articulation, as it is called, of the jaw. Its condyles, which we saw just now in the Carnivora enlarged transversely and deeply embedded in the fossae or cavity of the temporal bone, extend here longitudinally; an arrangement which enables the jaw to move backward and forward at pleasure, like the arm of the locksmith when using the file. Furthermore, those little teeth, which are constantly rubbing against each other, would be very soon worn out, if, like our own, they were made once for all; accordingly their germ, or pulp, to use the proper term, instead of perishing, as with us, when the tooth has once come, retains its life, and works on throughout the life of the animal. They sometimes say of a man who has not eaten for a long while, that his teeth have grown long. This is a joke with us; but in the case of a rodent would be too serious a matter to be a joke; for, as their incisors are always growing, like our nails, they would soon become too long if the animal ceased for any length of time to wear them down by eating. It is for this reason that rats and mice have such incessant appetites, and that with them "all is fish that comes to the net;" old books, rags, and even planks of wood, which they will gnaw for want of something better. Come what may, they must keep up at an equal rate the wear and tear of the incisors, and the internal growth of the pulp beneath, which is always pushing the tooth forward. This dull continuous work might otherwise have a terrible result, which you would never suspect. It is very disastrous for a young lady to lose a front tooth, as it is called, for it sadly spoils a pretty face; but for a rodent such a loss is much worse; in fact, it is a death- warrant. The corresponding tooth, having no longer anything to rub against, ceases to wear out; and as it does not stop growing on this account, it lengthens indefinitely, until at last it pushes out beyond the mouth, and places itself like a bar between the two Remaining teeth and the food of the animal, who, poor beast, being unable to eat, ceases to live.
The canines, whose duty it is to pierce the food, have, of course, no use in a jaw that grinds, nor are they to be found there. Between the incisors and the molars there is a large vacant space, which you will easily detect if you examine a rabbit's head.
Finally, animals which can fall back in time of need on a plank for their dinner, require a very different-sized cooking apparatus to that of the Carnivora. Thus the rat, the most perfect sample of the rodent order, possesses a digestive tube of a prodigious length, through which the scrapings of wood have plenty of time for travelling, while the minute nutritive particles they contain are being thoroughly disengaged; and as every part of the animal organization tends towards keeping our insatiable rodents in the constant state of voracity required by its inexorable pulps, nature has given it an enormous heart whose size exceeds even that of its stomach.
Perhaps you do not catch at once the connection which exists between the size of the heart and of the appetite; yet it is very simple. Large barrels are requisite for those who brew a great deal of beer, and large hearts for those who make a great deal of blood. Now, it is the blood, as you know, which carries heat; in other words, life, throughout the body; when it pours in in torrents, the fire goes twice as fast, and, consequently, the feeding must be kept up. A medical friend of mine told me that he once had some rats sent to him—a boxful in fact—for one of those scientific experiments which one would venture to condemn more earnestly if their results were not sometimes beneficial. Next morning there were only two or three animals to be found, and these had eaten up the others. See the consequence of having too much heart!
ORDER 7. Pachydermata (thick-skinned).
In Greek pachus means thick, and derma skin. Pachyderms, therefore, are thick-skinned animals. It is rather a vague denomination, as you perceive, and does not tell us much about them; but it appears that it was not very easy to find a better term. For my own part I should be very much puzzled to find a name really suitable for such an irregular company as this, in which all the huge beasts of the earth—the elephant, the rhinoceros, the hippopotamus—are heaped one upon the other, side by side with the horse, the ass, and the hog; begging your pardon for an ugly word.
All these creatures live on vegetables, with the exception of the hog, to whom nothing comes amiss; or who, in other words, is omnivorous, like the bear, and also another member of the class Mammalia, which I do not name for fear of making you blush at your companionship. This assures you that, in the order of the Pachydermata, the digestive apparatus is very fully developed. The horse, for instance, has a very voluminous stomach, which extends much farther back than the point at which the oesophagus empties itself; and in which, on close examination, a sort of contraction is observed which appears to divide it in half, producing the false effect of there being two stomachs. But, after all, we do not find, even in this case, any essential difference to remark upon in the internal arrangements; it is always the teeth we must look at if we want to have something to say. There, indeed, we have only to choose; nature has indulged herself in all manner of fantastic freaks.
To begin with the elephant, the grand master of the order, he presents us with one of the most oddly-furnished jaws in existence. Every one knows those two enormous tusks which protrude from his mouth, and which furnish human industry with nearly the whole store of ivory it has need of. Those two teeth are the largest, beyond comparison, of any in the animal kingdom; yet they are two merely ornamental teeth, perfectly useless in the operation of eating, and very ruinous into the bargain to the proprietor. All those stores of the blood which furnish the materials for ivory pass into these tusks, and, as often happens to people who give way to a taste for luxuries, there is nothing left wherewith to provide the animal with serviceable teeth. Those tusks of the elephant are nothing but his upper incisors, the only ones, observe, which curve in coming out of his jaw. In the lower jaw he has no incisors at all; canine teeth are entirely wanting; and by way of dental apparatus, this meagerly-furnished mouth possesses on each side of either jaw one or two molars, enormous in size, but not of ivory. They are composed of a number of enamelled upright layers of tooth-substance (dentine), soldered together with a bony cement; and these are our giant's only resource for chewing the grass, young shoots, and leaves of trees, which are his natural food. [Footnote: These teeth are nevertheless very efficient grindstones.] As a consolation, he has the glory of knowing that he possesses the very finest teeth in the world, the terror of all who approach him; and I can compare him to nothing so well as to a vain woman, who is contented to live on potatoes that she may wear fine clothes and excite the envy of her neighbors.
The hippopotamus also has incisors in the upper jaw, which curve as they come out of the mouth; but these never attain anything like the size of the elephant's tusks, neither do they hinder the development of the other teeth, of which this animal has a very respectable collection. The upper incisors bend downward; those in the lower jaw stand out horizontally, and terminate in sharp points like plough-shares; and indeed the hippopotamus uses them for tearing up the ground in order to get at the roots which form its nutriment. These are, besides, formidable weapons, with which when enraged the animal can tear even boats in pieces; for, as you are aware, the hippopotamus is almost amphibious, and browses on water-plants, and lives in the great rivers of Africa, its native country. Its name alone would have told you this had you understood Greek; [Footnote: Ippos, a horse, and potamos, a river. The Greeks, who had seen the hippopotamus in the Nile, in Egypt, named it the river-horse; as afterwards the Romans called the elephant the ox of Lucania, because they first saw it in Lucania during the war with Pyrrhus.] but I have no complaint to make this time, for it was the Greeks themselves who gave it. You would find it very awkward, would you not? if you had to breakfast at the bottom of the Thames, and could not swallow a morsel without having your nose filled with water? But the hippopotamus labors under no such inconvenience. Its nostrils are provided with two little doors, which it closes at will, and behind this screen the lungs keep quite quiet while the animal goes backwards and forwards in the water. There is generally a hippopotamus in every large menagerie. The next time you visit one look at him. You will see him with a large stomach almost trailing on the ground: and no wonder; he needs plenty of room in which to stow away all the canes, reeds, and water-plants from the bottoms of rivers, which are not very nutritious food. Accordingly the stomach of the river-horse presents the appearance not only of two compartments, like that of the true horse, but looks as if it were divided into three or four.
To conclude my account of this animal, I must add that the ivory of its teeth is even more beautiful than that of the elephant's tusks, and that dentists carve it into very magnificent teeth for their patients. This is not a matter to interest you much at present, but we never know what may happen. I advise you, however, never to make use of hippopotamus's teeth; they turn yellow very quickly, and, when people are driven to buy teeth, the least they can try for, is to get good-looking ones for their money.
I should like to say something about the rhinoceros while we are on the colossal tribes, but it is a very unsatisfactory subject. The animal has no canines, sometimes no incisors even; sometimes it has as many as thirty-six teeth, according to the species, as naturalists aver; and this is all I have to say about this great lump of flesh, so misshapen outside, yet so regularly formed within. He it is who especially deserves the title pachydermata, his skin being so hard and thick that bullets glance off its surface. But this has nothing to do with our present subject, any more than the horn upon his nose, whose turn for description may come if I ever give you the history of the skin and all connected with it.
The hog also has canines, and very strong ones; but it is in the wild state, when it is called a boar, that these appear in their real form. There we find them projecting out of the mouth with a curve, as is so commonly seen among the pachydermata, forming those terrible, sharp, and pointed tusks which have been so often fatal to the hunter. The wild boar of the forest is supposed to be the original ancestor of the domestic pig; and if, as is probable, this is really the case, we have here a remarkable instance of the effect of man's treatment upon the organisation of the animals he collects around him. The wild boar lives only on fruits and roots, which, like the hippopotamus, he tears up with his tusks, those safeguards of his, amid the many perils of his life in the woods. In the service of man, on the contrary, he becomes lazy, cowardly, and greedy; unlearns his energy and combativeness, eats all that is offered to him in the trough, even meat, when it happens to be thrown in; and, in order to do this moreeasily, has recalled toward his mouth those formidable war-tusks of his, so tremendous as weapons, so useless as teeth; has, in fact, turned his sword into a fork. It is the case of a Tartar degenerated into a Chinaman. [Footnote: China, about which we have heard a great deal of late years, has been several times invaded by the warrior hordes of Tartary. But at each time, unto the second and third generations, the vanquishers have taken the effeminate manners, the costume and the usages of the vanquished, and so many conquests have only resulted in converting millions of Tartars into Chinese.]
This suggests to me an idea relative to the horse, the last important member of the pachydermata which remains to be spoken of. It also has its canines, but very small ones; they disappear, so to speak, in a large vacancy between the incisors and the molars, where man inserts the bit, by means of which the animal has been subdued. Small as these are, however, these canines indicate that the horse might eat flesh, canine teeth being the distinctive attribute of the carnivorous mammals. I have read somewhere, but I do not remember where, that an unusual development of strength could be produced in the horse by feeding it on flesh; and the old Greek poets write of a king [Footnote: Diomed, King of Thrace] in the barbarous ages who gave his horses, men for food. If I knew some rich professor who was inclined to spend money in the investigation of a curious fact, I would advise him to set apart a sum for putting horses on a meat diet, from sire to son, gradually increasing the quantity; and I would boldly warrant that in the course of successive generations the canines would become so large as to impede the entrance of the bit into the mouth, and, moreover, would make it rather a ticklish office for the groom to place it there. But let us set aside the teeth the horse might possibly have, in order to examine those it has already. There are six incisors in each jaw; these are long and rather projecting teeth, by examining which, the age of the horse can be detected from certain marks which appear in them from year to year. The molars are flat, square, furrowed with bars of enamel, marking out more or less distinct crescents; perfectly constructed, in short, for chewing hay and oats. Nevertheless, I should never be surprised to see the enamel crescents become sharp-cutting in our rich professor's stable; so skillful is the unseen Architect who created animals, in altering the house when the tenant changes his habits.
ORDER 8. Ruminantia (ruminants).
I shall retain through life a pleasant recollection of the ruminants. Through them I obtained the first prize for natural history which was ever given in France to the pupils of the learned university. It is thirty years ago since this happened, and I own, without any false modesty, that even now the word ruminant rings very agreeably in my ear. It reminds me of one of the proudest moments of my life, of the honor done to me by the illustrious Geoffroy St. Hilaire, when he called me, a little college urchin, up to him, that he might have a nearer view, as he said, of the baby-professor who had spoken so well on ruminants. Yes, it is more than thirty years ago, for alas! it was in 1831. There needed no less an event, as I have told you before, than the revolution of 1830 in France to induce the big-wigs of education to sacrifice two hours per week in one class to the study of natural history. Yes, my dear child, it is only that short time ago since natural history became one of the subjects of study in French colleges; and the gray-haired men of the present day finished their education, as it is called, without having learnt a single word of what I am now taking the trouble to teach you, a mere child. You see you have come into the world just at the right time, and will be able to instruct others in your turn. But before giving lessons to other people you must first finish learning your own. Forgive me this involuntary reference to a happy time when I was not much more rational than you are. And now, let us return to our ruminants—those dear, good beasts, the nourishing fathers of the human race.
ORDER 8. Ruminants—continued.
Every created thing has an appointed part to perform; but there are some mysterious parts of which we cannot understand the drift. That of the ruminants, however, is so clearly marked out, that we detect it at a glance.
To qualify myself for supplying your young mind with the food I am going to offer it to-day, I have been obliged, my dear child, to browse in a good many books of which you could have understood but little yourself; and I have been forced to ruminate a long time upon what I have read, and to digest it slowly in my head, which I may say, without vanity, is of larger capacity than yours; no great wonder at my age. Now, if I have succeeded in my undertaking, you will benefit by all the work which has been going on in my mind for the purpose of feeding yours without over-fatigue to it; and I shall almost have the right to say that its nourishment has been derived from me. My lamp could tell you what it has sometimes cost me to supply a single page which might instruct, without repelling you.
Now, this is precisely what the ruminant does. The part he has to perform is to collect in the meadows a sort of food, which would disgust less well-organized stomachs than his own, to work it well up within him, and to give it back in a more palatable and less indigestible form. The little flesh-eaters (carnivora) come afterwards to the feast, and the feast is himself!
The whole history, then, of the ruminant is to be read in his stomach. His real office is to digest, and in fact he devotes the best hours of his days to the perfecting of that beneficent labor, on which the life of so many weak stomachs depends. Have you ever amused yourself by watching a large ox lying down in a meadow? Long after he has finished grazing, his jaw continues to work, turning round and round like the grindstone of a painter when he is rubbing down his colors. Look, and you will see that he will remain there for hours together, motionless and contemplative, absorbed in this incomprehensible mastication, rolling about in his throat from time to time some invisible food. Do not laugh at him, however. As you sec him there he is performing his part in life, he is ruminating.
To ruminate is to chew over again what has been already swallowed; and, however droll this may seem to you, it is the business which all ruminants are born to. You remember the monkey's pouch, which serves him as a larder, whence he takes out his provisions as he wants to eat. The ruminant has an immense pouch of the same kind, into which, while he is grazing, he hastily conveys large masses of half-bitten grass. You probably think he is eating when he has his head down in the grass; but you are mistaken. This is only a preparatory work; he is hastily heaping up in his larder the food he intends to eat by-and-by; only his larder, instead of being, like the monkey's, in his cheeks, where, indeed, there would not have been half room enough for those great bundles he tucks in, is in the middle of his body, close to the extremity of the oesophagus, whose lower wall, being slit at that part, becomes an imperfectly secure tube, ready to burst open under pressure, and allow the food to escape between the edges of the slit; these, otherwise, remaining naturally closed. As soon as the large bundles of grass come to this part, they press against the walls of the tube, which they by this means separate, and fall into the provision-pouch, which bears the name of paunch, or grass-pocket, in fact. As soon as the paunch is well filled, and the animal sure of his dinner, he lies down in some quiet corner, where he proceeds gravely with the important act, which is the real object of his existence. A little below the entrance to the paunch, and communicating both with it and the canal of the oesophagus, is a second receptacle, which old French naturalists, not being much acquainted with Greek, named the cap, on account of its fancied resemblance to the caps worn on the head, and which we call 'king's hood' or 'honey-comb bag.' This second stomach now contracts (at least so it is supposed), and thus retains, as if with a closed fist, a portion of the grass accumulated in the paunch: of this it forms a pellet, which it sends back into the oesophagus, and the oesophagus, by continued contractions from below upwards, returns it to the mouth, where at last the grassy lump is chewed in good earnest, and to some purpose. There is no necessity for hurry; the ruminant has no other business on the face of the earth but this, and thus hour after hour passes away, the food pellets rising one after another to the onslaught of the teeth. Nor do they go back again until they have been reduced by long mastication into an almost liquid paste, which glides through the oesophagus without forcing open the slit, and falls straight into a third pouch, called by old Frenchmen the leaf, on account of certain large folds, some what like the leaves of a book, which line the interior; and known to us as the manyplies. From this stomach, No. 3, this grass-pap passes into a fourth and last bag, which is the real stomach, and where the final work of digestion is accomplished. This fourth pouch also has a pretty little name of the old-fashioned sort, like the three others; it is called the reed or rennet-bag, from the property it possesses, in the calf, of turning milk into curds: and of his four stomachs this is the only one which the ruminant makes use of at first. As long as the young animal is nursed by its mother, the other compartments remain inactive and small in size; they neither grow nor exercise their functions until it begins to eat grass. Indeed, they would probably entirely disappear, if any one would go to the expense of keeping the animal on milk all its life. If it ceased to have anything to ruminate, nature would certainly lose no time in relieving it of its useless workshop of rumination.
As it is right to give every one his due, I will mention that we owe our accurate knowledge of this simple and ingenious mechanism of rumination to the labors of Flourens, a scientific Frenchman, who is still alive, and who has made a great many interesting inquiries into the subject we are now considering, i. e., the life of animals. He is a very clever man into the bargain—so perfect a master of his own language, that the French Academy has felt itself justified in opening its doors to him—an unheard-of honor for a member of the Academy of Sciences. And yet, in spite of all this, I heartily congratulate you that the discovery of the paunch, the cap, the leaf, and the rennet-bag, was not delayed for his arrival. He is just the man who might have been tempted, in his capacity of profound scholar, to have hunted up for them in the Jardin des racines grecques [Footnote: Your brother can tell you about the Jardin des racines grecques. It is a charming little book, of which every generation of collegians has learnt, by heart, the commencement; but I have never known one, even among the most intrepid, who had ever been to the end of it.], four magnificent names, which would only have bewildered you.
Beyond the rennet-bag there is no change of conformation to note, except that the intestinal tube is naturally much longer than ours, on account of the difference of food: as a general rule, it is ten or twelve times the length of the body. The sheep, who is able to pick up a living in the poorest pastures, is indebted for this inestimable power, which makes him the special blessing of dry and barren countries, to a still further peculiarity of organization; with him the intestinal tube is twenty-eight times the length of the body.
We have seen among the Carnivora, whose jaws have so much work to do, that the condyles of the jawbone are sunk deeply into the fossa of the temporal bone. The ruminant, whose peaceful mouth is formed for contending only with grass, is organized quite differently.
Here the condyle is flattened, and the fossa of the temporal bone very shallow, presenting to the condyle an almost flat surface, so that the jawbone is enabled to revolve with ease for the better mastication of the pellets of grass. This conformation is also to be seen in the pachydermata who feed upon vegetables. In the horse, especially, whose food is almost the same as that of the ox, the articulation (as this joining of the condyle to the temporal bone is called) of the jaw, is also nearly identical; and it is the same with the teeth, with very trifling variations, those of all ruminants are constructed on the same plan as in the horse. The canines only require a separate notice.
But first I must tell you that, by some special privilege, the reason for which I do not undertake to explain, the order of ruminants is the only one containing animals with horns on their foreheads. Stags, goats, reindeer, chamois, gazelles, roebucks, oxen, buffaloes, all the beasts with horned foreheads, belong to the ruminants. Indeed, this fact would form a very convenient mark of distinction between them and other animals, were there not exceptions to it. Some ruminants have no horns; and then, as if in compensation for the deficiency, we find them provided with canines in the upper jaw, in addition to those below.
The ruminant which has the most beautiful canines is the musk-deer, a pretty little animal inhabiting the highlands of Central Asia, like the chamois of the Alps. But now that you know who he is, you will probably often be tempted to wish he had never existed; for it is from a small pouch below his belly that people obtain that odious musk of which Oriental beauties are so fond, and which even certain strong-nerved ladies of our own country are guilty of using in public, to the great detriment of general health. But enough of this; our business is with the canines of the musk-deer. They project with a descending curve from the upper jaw, and would give the animal the very false appearance of a small wild boar, but for the great delicacy of its legs, which are more slender than even those of our roebuck, to whom, with the exception of the horns, it bears a close resemblance, as its name implies.
After the musk-deer comes the large family of camels and llamas, which represent—the former in Asia and Africa, the latter in America—the irregular groups of ruminants which have canines instead of horns, and which seem to be placed as intermediates between true ruminants and the pachydermata. They form the connecting link between the horse and the ox, and men prefer employing them as beasts of burden to using them as butcher's meat; though one could eat them in their own country with less disgust than Europeans feel in making a meal of horseflesh; so that they might be a very acceptable resource in many cases. The real fact is, that ruminants with horns and without upper canines have more delicate flesh than the others, and seem more especially destined to be eaten. Yet if one had only to look at the stomach, which is, after all, the distinctive characteristic of the order, camels and llamas would stand in the first rank as ruminants. Besides the usual character of four stomachs, their paunch and honeycomb-bag are furnished with large cells which act as reservoirs, and fill with water whenever the animal has the chance of drinking freely, and from whence in time of drought he draws it up into his mouth and swallows it. This is what makes the camel so valuable to the wandering tribes in the great deserts of Africa and Asia. He is the only animal who can pass several days under the burning sun of Sahara without drinking—or rather without appearing to do so—for he carries his provision of water concealed from all eyes in the recesses of his body. I dare say you have often heard stories of Arabs dying of thirst who have opened the stomachs of their camels in search of a last draught of water. It must be a terrible thirst to drive a man to such an extremity; for, as you may imagine, one could not expect the water there to be either fresh or clear, to say nothing of the great risk there would generally be of finding the reservoir empty. Such an extreme is never resorted to till water has failed for a long time, and all the goatskin bottles have been emptied; and in such a ease it is but too likely that the camel has followed his master's example, and emptied his water-skins for his own use. But this is only half the internal fittings of the "ship of the desert," as the Arabs call him. In the desert it is often as difficult to find food as water; and nature has equally provided for this. The hump you see rising upon the camel's back in your picture-books is his safeguard against starvation. It is a huge mass of fat. I need say no more. You will remember Mr. Liebeg's pig, which lived 160 days upon its own bacon. Without going quite such lengths as that, the camel can keep up his fire for a long time upon the fuel which the blood obtains from this blessed hump. Since we are talking of this animal, and he takes a remarkable place in a history of nutrition, I ought to tell you that camels are classed into two families by their hump: there is the camel, properly so called, which has two humps, and the dromedary, which has but one. This latter did not require such a supply of provisions as the other, for he is very much swifter of foot, and consequently his journeys are more speedily performed.
I have nothing particular to say to you about the other ruminants, in the matter of their organs of nutrition; but I will not quit the subject without reminding you of one thing which concerns nutrition, not theirs, however, but ours. It was by the taming of the domestic ruminants—that unfailing dinner-material which now follows everywhere at the heels of his master—that human civilisation began. Before that event, man, driven to depend for his living upon the hazards of the chase, spent his whole time in seeking for food, and had none to spare for the pursuit of any other branch of industry.
Far as we may ascend in the history of ages we shall find shepherd races. Beyond them there is no history at all, nor could there be. The first leisure hours of man, and, consequently, his first efforts in art and literature, date from the period when the ruminant animals, those special fabricators of nutritive aliments, were gathered around mankind, and worked out their destiny under the shadow of his tent, by his direction, and for his benefit. But all this is so distant from us now, that it is scarcely worth the trouble of thinking about. The human race is somewhat like those old people who have lost all recollection of their childhood; and young people are not required to know what their elders have forgotten. It is well, however, that they should not be quite ignorant on the subject. When you hear that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has taken up the cause of some barbarously-used ox or sheep, do not turn it into ridicule. Those humble species have supported ours from the first; and you should recollect, now and then, that human society made its first step forward when it began to keep flocks and herds.
We come now to animals less familiar to you, and none of which inhabit Europe. We shall therefore pass more quickly over them.
ORDER 9. Marsupialia (pouched).
Marsupium is Latin for purse, pouch, or pocket. The marsupials are distinguished from other animals by a pouch which the mother has under her belly, and in which the little ones take refuge at the slightest alarm. You would be very much interested with their whole story; but it has nothing to do with our present subject, which we should soon lose sight of if we once began to wander away. This order, so easily distinguished otherwise by that singular pouch, unfortunately for us, offers nothing new for observation. It includes several species, differing entirely from one another on the subject of nutrition, and closely resembling some already described. Some are both carnivorous and insectivorous, and are therefore armed with powerful canines, and with molars like those of the hedgehog. Others are herbivorous, like hares, and have almost the jaws of a rodent. Among the former we have the opossum, celebrated by Florian in one of his prettiest fables. The opossum inhabits South America. Charming little marsupials are to be found in the Molucca Isles, whence come the nutmeg and the clove; these are very like our squirrels, and live as they do, in trees, hunting after fruit and insects. But the greatest number of marsupials belong to Australia, the real native land of the order. They form by far the larger portion of the mammalia with which that country is enriched; the most celebrated amongst them being the kangaroo; an animal which is now becoming common in European menageries, and which, excepting in the matter of its pouch, is nothing but a magnified rabbit, as tall as a man, and with a tail almost as long as itself. As a rabbit, you know what its eating apparatus must be; and some day, no doubt, the French Acclimatisation Society will enable us to judge of its flavor. It is a kind of meat very likely to be seen on our dinner-tables by-and-by; and, as you have plenty of time before you, probably you may eat of it before you die.
ORDER 10. Edentata (toothless).
These come more directly within our limits. They are classed according to their teeth; yet if their name were to be trusted, they ought to have no teeth at all. Whereas, alas! almost all of them have some, and I am heartily ashamed of their scientific designation; but how can we help it? The only really Edentata, i. e. toothless animals, amongst them are the ant-eaters, who, considering the nature of their food, are not much in want of teeth. They feed among the ant-hills, whence they get their name; and as they are a tolerable size (from two to three feet in length), it would really have been quite a hardship upon them to have been forced to crunch the ants one by one at every meal. To get on rapidly they catch them with their tongue; but what a tongue! Imagine a kind of long earthworm, lodged in a snout which is elongated like a bird's beak, and has a very small opening at the extremity. The ant eater inserts this long, string-like tongue into the crowded ranks of its victims, and, as its surface is glutinous, they stick to it by hundreds at a time, and are swallowed at one gulp without a chance of escape. This tongue, perfectly unique in its character, stretches out in its murderous exertions to nearly three times the length of the animal's long head. What a distance there seems between such a tongue as this and your own little doorkeeper! But no wonder: we have now reached the confines of the kingdom of Mammalia, and the face of nature is beginning to change.