THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|THE PHYSIOLOGY OF DEATH.|
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH, BY A. R. MACDONOUGH.
OF old, the spoils of death fell to the anatomist's share, while the physiologist took for his part the phenomena of life. Now we submit the corpse to the same experiments as the living organism, and pry into the relics of death for the secrets of life. Instead of seeing in the lifeless body mere forms ready to dissolve and vanish, we detect in it forces and persisting activities full of deep instructiveness in their mode of working. As theologians and moralists exhort us to study the spectre of death face to face at times, and strengthen our souls by courageous meditation on our last hour, so medicine regards it as essential to direct our attention toward all the details of that mournful drama, and thus to lead us, through gloom and shadows, to a clearer knowledge of life. But it is only with respect to medicine in the most modern days that this is true.
Leibnitz, who held profound and admirable theories of life, had one of death also, which he has unfolded in a famous letter to Arnauld. He believes that generation is only the development and evolution of an animal already existing in form, and that corruption or death is only the reënvelopment or involution of the same animal, which does not cease to subsist and continue living. The sum of vital energies, consubstantial with monads, does not vary in the world; generation and death are but changes in the order and adjustment of the principles of vitality, simple transformations from small to great, and vice versa. In other words, Leibnitz sees everywhere eternal and incorruptible germs of life, which neither perish at all nor begin. What does begin and perish is the organic machine of which these germs compose the original activity: the elementary gearing of the machine is broken apart, but not destroyed. This is the earlier view held by Leibnitz. He has another, conceiving of generation as a progress of life through degrees; he can conceive of death also as a gradual regress of the same principle, that is to say, that in death life withdraws little by little, just as it came forward little by little in generation. Death is no sudden phenomenon, nor instantaneous evanishing-it is a slow operation, a "retrogradation," as the Hanoverian philosopher phrases it. When death shows to us, it has been a long time wearing away the organism, though we have not perceived it, because "dissolution at first attacks parts invisibly small." Yes, death, before it betrays itself to the eye by livid pallor, to the touch by marble coldness, before chaining the movements and stiffening the blood of the dying person, creeps with insidious secrecy into the smallest and most hidden