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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/824

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ever; and that every effect is produced from an action in the part; which action is produced by a stimulus upon the part which acts, or upon some other part with which this part sympathizes so as to take up the whole action" (loc. cit., p. 152).

And Hunter is as clear as Wolff, with whose work he was probably unacquainted, that "whatever life is, it most certainly does not depend upon structure or organization" (loc. cit., p. 114).

Of course, it is impossible that Hunter could have intended to deny the existence of purely mechanical operations in the animal body. But while, with Borelli and Boerhaave, he looked upon absorption, nutrition, and secretion as operations effected by means of the small vessels, he differed from the mechanical physiologists, who regarded these operations as the result of the mechanical properties of the small vessels, such as the size, form, and disposition of their canals and apertures. Hunter, on the contrary, considers them to be the effect of properties of these vessels which are not mechanical, but vital. "The vessels," says he, "have more of the polypus in them than any other part of the body," and he talks of the "living and sensitive principles of the arteries," and even of the "dispositions or feelings of the arteries. . . . When the blood is good and genuine the sensations of the arteries, or the dispositions for sensation, are agreeable. . . . It is then they dispose of the blood to the best advantage, increasing the growth of the whole, supplying any losses, keeping up a due succession, etc." (loc. cit., p. 133).

If we follow Hunter's conceptions to their logical issue, the life of one of the higher animals is essentially the sum of the lives of all the vessels, each of which is a sort of physiological unit, answering to a polyp; and, as health is the result of the normal "action of the vessels," so is disease an effect of their abnormal action. Hunter thus stands in thought, as in time, midway between Borelli on the one hand and Bichat on the other.

The acute founder of general anatomy, in fact, outdoes Hunter in his desire to exclude physical reasonings from the realm of life. Except in the interpretation of the action of the sense-organs, he will not allow physics to have anything to do with physiology.

"To apply the physical sciences to physiology is to explain the phenomena of living bodies by the laws of inert bodies. Now, this is a false principle, hence all its consequences are marked with the same stamp. Let us leave to chemistry its affinity, to physics its elasticity and its gravity. Let us invoke for physiology only sensibility and contractility."[1]

Of all the unfortunate dicta of men of eminent ability this seems one of the most unhappy, when we think of what the application of the methods and the data of physics and chemistry has done toward bringing physiology into its present state. It is not too much to say

  1. "Anatomic Générale," t. i, p. 54.