Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/421

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

Feuerbach, who summed np its teachings in the pithy phrase, "Der Mensch ist was er isst" ("Man is what he eats"). A similar utterance is that with which Moleschott closes the chapter on the nutritive properties of leguminous plants: "Ohne Phosphor, kein Gedanke" ("Without phosphorus no thought").

Moleschott's book had a socialistic as well as a scientific character, although this feature was hardly recognized by his contemporaries and critics. It indicated the direction which European legislation is now taking to solve the social question, namely, through the stomach, by making better and surer provision for the present and future wants of the working classes.

About eighteen months later Moleschott published his Physiologie des Stoffwechsels in Pflanzen und Thieren (Erlangen: Enke, 1851), of which Humboldt, in a letter dated November 30, 1851, expressed his warm appreciation and hearty indorsement. This work, however, was only preliminary to another of wider scope, entitled Der Kreislauf des Lebens: Physiologische Antworten auf Liebig's chemische Briefe (Mainz: Zabern, 1853; fifth edition, 1887), consisting of a series of twenty letters on revelation and natural law, with strictures on Liebig's confusion of these conceptions, the sources of human knowledge, the eternity of matter, its gradual evolution, constant circulation, and endless transformations in the growth, decay, and renewal of animal and vegetable life; force as an. essential and inseparable quality of matter, especially as regards the functions of the brain in their relations to the faculty of thought and the freedom of the will, and kindred topics.[1]

In the practical application of his theories Moleschott animadverted on the prevailing custom of burying the dead in permanent cemeteries, where their bodies decay with no advantage, and often with serious injury, to the living. "If every place of burial," he says, "after having been used a year, should be exchanged for a new one, it would become in the course of six or ten years a most fertile field which would do more honor to the dead than mounds and monuments." But, he adds, it would be still better if we could return to the ancient custom of burning the dead, which he declares to be unquestionably more practical as well as more poetical. By this process the air would be made richer in carbonic acid and ammonia, and the ashes, which contain the elements of new crops of cereals for the nurture of man and beast, would transform our barren heaths into luxuriant plains. At present, he adds, we are acting like the stupid and slothful servant who buried his one talent in the earth instead of wisely investing it so as to gain another.

  1. The latest editions of Moleschott's works, his Kleine Schriften (Minor Essays), Vorträge (Addresses), etc., are now published by Emil Roth in Giessen.