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Medical and Physical Journal.
1 OF VOL. XXXVIII.]
« For many fortunate discoveries in medicine, and for the detection of nume:
rous errors, the world is indebted to the rapid circulation of Monthly “ Journals; and there never existed any work to which the Faculty in “EUROPE and AMERICA were under deeper obligations than to the “ Medical and Physical Journal of London, now forming a long, but an " invaluable, series.-Rush.
Retrospective View of the late Improvements in Medicine
Quid ego et populus mecum desiderit audi. We have received an intimation that some of out
readers expect a RETROSPEGT. After the pains we have taken to keep up with every improvement in the various branches of medicine, we must suppose that this hint is from some of our younger readers, wlio are desirous of an analysis made ready to their hands. We shall, therefore, take this opportunity of again addressing our friend JUVENIS, and if, in the course of our remarks, we should offer any thing to amuse the more experienced practitioner, we may
“ Indocti discant, ament meminisse periti." We are ready to confess there are two subjects with which we have been unwiliing to fill our pages. These are the more complicated researches of philosophic chemistry and the reveries of physiologists. The first, if at all, is only distantly connected with medicine. From the second, the practical physician would rise with disgust, and the learner, either filled with vanity, or alarmed at the necessity of learning what he finds utterly beyond his compreliension.
Chemistry, as far as concerns therapeutics, has never escaped our notice, and, on the more recondite parts of that bewitching science, we have been careful to present the result of the labours of others without vouching for the accuNo. 221.
racy of their experiments or the fairness of their inductions, Animal chemistry, though little connected with the common operations of animal life, has never been overlooked by us. In a retrospect, we know not how to add more, excepting by showing the errors into which its devotees are led.
“ Chemists (says an ingenious writer,) have discovered long ago, that the elements composing organized substances are comparatively few in number, and such as are well kuown to exist in great abundance in the inorganized state. The four chief of these are oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and azote, to which may be added lime, magnesia, phosphorus, sulphur, and iron; but the two last of these exist only in very small proportions. It is not so easy to demonstrate, that the usual inorganic agents* are employed and directed by the vital principle in its operations, though the following arguments will perhaps render it probable that this is actually the case in many instances, if not in all. 1. These agents are universally diffused through nature, and are so intimately connected with matter in every form, as to become, as it were, a part of itself, and to be inseparable from it by any means within our power or conception. In short, they make inorganized substances what they are, and give origin to, and constitute the very essence of the laws which govern them. Further, we know that caloric, and perhaps light, are absolutely necessary to the existence of all organized beings. We cannot, indeed, say the same so easily of the electric fluid, but we know that some animals, for example, have the power of accumulating this fluid in organs destined by nature for the purpose, and that all animals are very readily and strongly affected by it; from which we may infer at least, that it exists invested with all its powers in some organized beings, and that there is a possibility of its existing in all."
We shall not detain the reader longer than to remind him of hybernating animals, which exist so long without light, and even without heat, but of their own creation, and that some of these, being what are called cold blooded animals, have so little power of creating heat as to take their temperature from the atmosphere or surrounding bodies. It is true some animals have a power of exciting electricity.
“* By these I mean caloric, light, the electric fluid, that power or principle (if it be different from the electric fluid) which is the cause of common chemical action, &c."
Some animals have also a power of secreting a poison for their defense, others a turbid fluid : ergo, “ there is a possibility of its existing in ali.”
We admit, however, that this hint concerning electricity or galvanism, as a means of secretion is not peculiar to this author, nor even to the adepts in chemistry.
“ Again, (continues the same writer,) we see that the usual agents of inorganic matter do very frequently operate in organized beings: thus, in the iustances of phosphate of lime, &c. before mentioned, they evidently operate, because these substances cannot be produced by any other means, except we suppose that the vital principle exerts a similar and equivalent power, which is superfluous and contrary to all the principles of reasoning. Since, therefore, these agents and the laws they prescribe to inorganic matter are so intimately connected with it, and are found to be actually employed in many instances as subordinate agents by the vital principle, (facts which sufficiently prove their aptness and adequacy for that purpose,) we may easily conceive them to be employed in every instance, more especially as we cannot form an idea of any agent that would be better qualified for the purpose. 2. If the usual agents of inorganized matter have no share in organic operations, we must either suppose that the vital principle itself operates immediately upon the material inorganic elements, or that it operates through the medium of other subordinate agents than those which naturally govern them. The first supposition will give to the vital principle a power little short of a creative one. It is similar, for example, to supposing that a potter can act at once upon a crude mass of clay, and convert it into a beautiful piece of highly finished porcelain, without the aid of tools, or the intermediate processes of tempering, baking, &c. Besides, if the vital principle were the only agent that operated in organic beings, the moment it ceased to act, the virculum that kept the whole together would necessarily be removed, and an immediate dissolution would be the consequence, which is not the case : for, though it be true that all organic substances sooner or later decay, yet this does not take place with that rapidity which we should expect from an object so differently constituted as one formed by the sole agency of the living principle upon inorganic matter must necessarily be. As to the second supposition, it is involved in the same difficulties as the first, for as the subordinate agents would necessarily be dependent for their existence upon the vital principle, it is evident, that when the vital principle ceased to exist, they must
cease to exist also, and an immediate dissolution of the organized being would take place as before.
“ Having thus attempted to show, that the immediate agents and clements which act and are acted upon in organized beings, are nothing more or less than the agents and elements of inorganic nature, directed and modified by the vital priuciple, we come now (says this writer,) to consider more particularly the manner in which the vital principle operates in the production of organized beings.”
Now, in compassion to our younger readers, whose brains may be addled by a complexity of sentences and phrases which it must be admitted are simple enough taken by themselves, we shall concede all that is said of the potter and his clay, of the vital principle, the creative power, the agents, whether organic or inorganic, and even admit that WE cannot form an idea of any better qualified agents ;' last of all, " that these machines all terminate in parts infinitely minute, and in these minute terminations only that all changes imme. diately take place, by which means their nature is totally excluded from our observation." (That is, that we know nothing about the matter. Would the author, for his own sake, had stopped here.] “ We observe, however, (continues he,) that one grand principle pervades them all, which is comminution.” This we concede also, and that “one and one make two, whether the author of the addition be, an idiot or a philosopher, or even the Deity himself.” But we confess ourselves much at a loss to know what are the inferences to be drawn from such premises. Probably such might be the case with the writer, for įnstead of inferences, he contents himself with a few general expressions concerning the ability of the vital principle,
“ The vital principle, (we are told,) is enabled to operate through the medium of the nerves upon each individual particle of the blood, as it passes under its cognizance, and to determine upon those elements which require to be separated, and subsequently removed by the absorbent system; while the remaining elements are left to unite suâ sponte, and in virtue of their own proper and natural affinities, and thus to form the new product required. * Hence, organized
"* We may suppose with some physiologists, that in the formation of organic products, the vital principle employs the agency of