Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/544

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and infinitely varied, which are going on incessantly in the parts of living bodies. We know that the vital movement in each individual is to come to an end at a given moment—that is death. We have a thousand means of provoking a stoppage of it. We can only propagate it in a certain way when we furnish it, by means of food or generation, with the material substratum necessary for its production and development. We can in like manner divert it and cause it to produce monsters; but we have no power to make it appear where it does not exist.

Vital movement is continuous. It was formerly thought possible to suspend it; that seeds and living beings could die for the moment, and the former keep intact their faculty of germinating, and the latter return to a new existence when placed in favorable conditions. Reviving animals have excited much attention, but little thought has till the present been directed to the supposed suspension of life. In reality, these beings continue to live, but extremely little. The vital movement is not suspended, but is considerably diminished rather than retarded, like the vibration of a sounding cord which loses in intensity till it is no longer heard, while the finger can still feel it tremble. About forty years ago some speculators upon public credulity publicly distributed through all Europe, selling it very dear, a wheat which they said had been taken from a mummy in Egypt, and which when planted gave a prolific return. This was a simple cheat. Yet seeds are known which have retained the germinating faculty a very long time; they really continue to live, carrying within themselves the inner movement which becomes slower every day and ends with extinction. The seed will inevitably die; whether it be after a few years or in a century or two makes little difference—it will die.

Vital movement is then continuous, but with incessant renewals, and it also has a very special character. It is propagated indefinitely, while it continually casts off a part of the materials which it had previously animated. That yellowed wheat which the reaper is going to cut, the stubble of which is destined to cover some cottage, the seed of which seems wholly devoted to the support of the life of men, which has to our view not lived a whole year—that wheat is eternal; it has lived through all the past, and may live through all the future. It has dried, but that is only in appearance. Life has not withdrawn from it. Planted next year, it will project a new head, and so on for thousands of years.

We are accustomed to regard as a living being having a kind of beginning and end the head which issues from the seed in the spring, and which autumn will mature. The conception is wholly arbitrary. We really know of no beginning or end to this head. It is not even an individual in the philosophical sense of