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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 61.djvu/565

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RECENT ADVANCES IN SCIENCE.

one of the pleasantest and most lasting recollections of my visit to Kensington. The most competent witness of Huxley's earliest period of development, Professor Foster, presented in the first of these lectures a picture of the rapidly increasing extension of the biological knowledge which must have excited not only our admiration but also the emulation of all who study medicine. Upon me the duty is incumbent of incorporating with this presentment the newer strides of knowledge and of stating their influence upon the art of healing. So great a task is this that it would be presumptuous even to dare to attempt its accomplishment in a single lecture. I have decided, therefore, that I must confine myself to merely sketching the influence of biological discoveries upon medicine. In this way, also, will the example of Huxley be most intelligible to us. I must here make a confession. When I tried to ascertain how much time would be required to deliver my lecture as I had prepared it, I found, to my regret, that its delivery would occupy nearly double the time assigned to me. I had therefore to reduce it to about half of its original dimensions. This could only be done by means of very heroic cuts, seriously damaging in more than one place my chain of ideas.

 

The Beginnings of Biology.

Huxley himself, though trained in the practical school of Charing Cross Hospital, won his special title to fame in the dominion of biology. As a matter of fact, at that time even the name of biology had not come into general use. It was only recently that the idea of life itself obtained its full significance. Even in the late Middle Ages it had not sufficient strength to struggle through the veil of dogmatism into the light. I am glad to be able to-day for the second time to credit the English nation with the service of having made the first attempts to define the nature and character of life. It was Francis Glisson who, following expressly in the footsteps of Paracelsus, investigated the principium vitæ. If he could not elucidate the nature of life, he at least recognized its main characteristic. This is what he was the first to describe as "irritability," the property on which the energy of living matter depends. How great was the step from Paracelsus to Glisson and, we may continue, from Glisson to Hunter! According to Paracelsus life was the work of the special spiritus, which set material substance in action, like a machine; for Glisson, matter itself was the principium energeticum. Unfortunately, he did not confine this dictum to living substances only, but applied it to substance in general, to all matter. It was Hunter who first announced the specific nature of living matter as contrasted with nonliving, and he was led to place a materiæ vitæ diffusa at the head of his physiological and pathological views. According to the teaching of Hewson and Hunter, the blood