Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/113

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CORN and wine were deemed indispensable to man from the remotest antiquity, just as beef and beer are so considered by the Briton; and scarcely a people has existed who did not possess a fermented liquor of some kind—all ascribing to it exalted virtue, such as befits the gift of the gods, as all believed it to be—not only from the bodily comfort and invigoration which it imparted, but also from its mysterious effects in the transient madness which it is capable of producing. Among all nations, consequently, wine, or alcoholic drinks of some sort, has always had its poets or its minstrels; and, had the ancients been acquainted with alcohol, or the essential product of fermentation as we know it, doubtless they would have made it the symbol of the soul, for which nothing could be more appropriate; for it is an invisible power hidden in a grosser body, which it influences in every part, and from which it finally escapes into the "heaven above"—gone forever! Nor is that all. The analogy may be extended to the qualities of that image of the soul, which are good and bad united, as in other mystic unions. Had the ancients possessed this knowledge of the distinct yet intimately combining principle, it might have given more significance to their devotion when they poured libations to their gods—but how much greater would have been their sense of awe and wonder, had they known what the physiologist knows at the present day! Let us glance at this truly mysterious agent in action.

Alcohol is ever ready to enter the animal system. It can be introduced under the skin or into a vein. Exalted by heat into the form of vapor, it may be inhaled by man or other animal, when it will penetrate into the lungs, will diffuse itself through the bronchial tubes, will pass into the minute air-vesicles of the lungs, will travel through the minute circulation with the blood that is going over the air-vesicles to the heart, will condense in that blood, will go direct to the left side of the heart, thence into the arterial canals, and so throughout the entire body.

Again, when taken in by the more ordinary channel, the stomach, it finds its way by two routes into the circulation. A certain portion of it—the greater portion of it—is absorbed direct by the veins of the alimentary surface, finds its way straight into the larger veins, which lead up to the heart, and onward with the course of the blood. Another portion is picked up by small structures proceeding from below the mucous surface of the stomach, and from which originate a series of fine tubes that reach at last the lower portion of a common tube, termed the thoracic duct—a tube which ascends in front of the spinal column, and terminates at the junction of two large veins on the left side of the body, at a point where the venous blood, returning.