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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/417

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SOME OF THE LIMITATIONS OF MEDICINE.

of these precepts are well understood, but they are by no means generally heeded; for, though life is undoubtedly shortened by ignorance, it is also curtailed by a disregard of what is known—a failure to profit by the understanding. All infringements of the rules of health entail suffering upon the individual, his contemporaries, or his descendants. It is the inability to appreciate that man is but a molecular vibration in the great molar pulsation of life, that allows him to hope that action will ever be not followed by reaction. Furthermore, Nature is never cognizant of extenuating circumstances. Whatever a man's motive, he is equally a victim of a neglect to preserve his bodily well-being, whether his intentions be good or bad. We see death prematurely and with impartiality destroy the just and the unjust. We know that life bears many an old sinner to its utmost limit, and, contrariwise, that goodness is not incompatible with extreme old age. Seeing and knowing these things, are we to shut our eyes and be oblivious to such truths, or are we to awaken to a just appreciation of the invariable relation of cause and effect, however far removed one from the other?

Life has been defined as "the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations." Hence, a partial failure of the inner man to meet the successive changes that are going on about him, means incomplete life or disease, and a complete failure of a similar adjustment signifies death. The transmission and the development of characters known as inheritance are made clear by the hypothesis of pangenesis, which, therefore, with your permission, let me give: "Every unit or cell of the body throws off gemmules or undeveloped atoms, which are transmitted to the offspring of both sexes, and are multiplied by self-division. They may remain undeveloped during the early years of life or during successive generations; and their development into units or cells, like those from which they are derived, depends on their affinity for and union with other units or cells previously developed in the due order of growth." Here we find an explanation of the manner in which predispositions to disease are probably transmitted, and, what is more, the particular form of inheritance known as atavism, or the recurrence of certain features after one or two generations of immunity. I dwell upon this matter of inheritance in order to show how futile the attempt to construct a perfect being out of imperfect material. No amount of therapeutic skill will ever be able to atone for the fatal mistake of unwise parentage. The laws of generation are as applicable to man as to the lower animals. It seems unfair that the child should suffer for the shortcomings of the parent, but the offspring is a continuation of his progenitors, the product of those who have gone before, plus his own individuality. Hence, what affects