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ART. V.-The Human Body and its connexion with Man, illus
trated by the Principal Organs. By JAMES John ĠARTA WILKINSON. London, 1851.
It is impossible to overestimate the effects of the diffusion of the facts and laws of modern science among a people. A nation cognisant, in ever so general and even vague a manner, of the magnitudes, distances, and revolutions of Astronomy, stands in a point of view, in relation to almost all the other subjects of human interest, wholly different from what can have been occupied by the old races of Egypt or India, of Greece or Rome, and even by the Old Testament Hebrews, or the Christians of anteCopernican centuries. The influence of physiological and chemical public instruction has also quite altered the general view of man and man's position, and that all the more because these sciences come so near (or seem to come so near) the very marrow of questions the most ancient and also the most important to the race. These, and all similar influences, can in themselves be only good, else God would never have summoned us to the task of investigation, nor rewarded our labours with success. But in man's glorious yet awful freedom, no good thing comes to him without its possible evil, and no new light arises on him but it casts a shadow on his path. His hour of prosperity is ever luis hour of danger, and there is no day so clear around him but he needs to take heed lest, when he thinks he stands on sunny heights, he fall deeper in darkness than he was before. Astronomy is uplifting; but has it not often cast its authors and their brethren into saddening doubts concerning the spiritual dignity of man, the mere parasite (as it would seem at first sight after the dazzling spectacle of the heavens) of an insignificant planetary globule among countless myriads of suns, with their myriad myriads of secondary orbs? Chemistry and physiology are subtle, and they teem with truths as homely and useful as they are startling and wonderful; but have they not, on the whole, materialized our conceptions of the destiny of Him who is at once their inventor and their noblest object of study, even where they have not congealed us into machinery and stricken the Sun of Righteousness out of our sky? And, alas, have Paley and his followers, including even Chalmers himself, done much to arrest this downward spirit after all ? Or if they have held it somewhat in check, bave they really succeeded in quickening our material triumphs with the interior life of humanity, so as to ease us of the burden of the trophies we have won by enabling us to carry them onward with manly step, erected head and sportive grace, as becomes the heirs of immortality ? Doubtless many devout and right Christian men have made discoveries in nature, and many have written glowing books for the national instruction in the ways of nature ; but, so far as our reading has yet extended, their Science and their Religion are separable things; put together, not fused into one; a body and a soul, not body-and-soul united. In short, we are forced to say that, though science has often been christened, and that with much pomp and unction, it has not yet been christianized, (most certainly it has not been christianized for the general inind of Great Britain)—which is just to say that it has not been humanized. Yet, strange to say, it is precisely the human interest attaching to stars and atoms that renders Astronomy and Chemistry attractive to the general mind. Technicalities are only for the technical, and even in them the human interest is the main thing, when the last analysis is made. But with the rest of us, the human interest is the all-in-all, and therefore we are ready to be taught.
Mr. Wilkinson is deeply impressed with the feeling of this great want. The very title of his book proclaims it. The human body and its connexion with man! The great professor of Anatomy must at once conclude the man insane; yet he is not mad, most noble Festus. He only believes and assuredly knows that the human body is not man at all, that man (not has but) is a living soul, and that he (not is but) hus an anatomical body. These things he believes, not only in church of a Sunday, or in the society of simple people of an evening, or with a patient and his weeping friends at a deathbed, but habitually, scientifically, and also practically in the chamber of sickness which is not unto death. The knowing belief of it never leaves him, if we may judge from the unvarying tenor of this singular work, which we cannot pass without introducing it to the notice of our readers.
It is necessary to premise that, although the work purports to be a popular treatise, and is strictly such in its manner of procedure, it is scarcely popular in the customary sense of that adjective. Old yet new in its essence or pervading spirit, new and often startling in many of its developments, and big with a thousand suggestions, it is very difficult reading to the unaccustomed mind. It is thoughtful, far-reaching, profound, and occasionally difficult. It has no affinity to the books of the society for the diffusion of useful knowledge. Those who have confined their physiological reading to such works as Dr. Combe's, for example, can form no conception of the nature of it until they have read it, and even then they must read it again, and perhaps again. In counterbalance of this difficulty (a difficulty altogether proceeding from the depth and width of the author's views) it is nobly written; and, even if only for its poetic enthu
siasm and beauty of style, it is a memorable piece of work. In these circumstances of its character, and also because it is an unmistakably original production, it stands riot a little in need of something like an introduction to the vast majority of the Christian public,—which we accord it very heartily to our particular circle. It is necessary, however, to accompany such an introduction with some words of explanation and comment, which will, perhaps, facilitate the studies of those who may be induced to procure the book itself, while they may convey some dim notion of its bearings to those who cannot.
" Throughout the following pages,” says Mr. Wilkinson, in a preface, which is as frank as it is quaint, “ we have taken for granted the divinity of Christ, and the truth of Christianity, and with this tacit assumption, we have endeavoured to correct the whole of our general views.” Maintaining that the atheist and even the universal sceptic do an essentially similar thing, he openly subsumes Christ as a hypothesis capable of solving the intertwisted facts of life, never finds the hypothesis fail to answer to the facts, and therefore concludes that no man has a right to gainsay his hypothetical starting point.
“ By pursuing this method, we have convinced ourselves that our Lord is written down in the pages of nature herself, as the truth of her whole creation.” In addition to this profession of an unrefining faith in Christ, we learn that he cannot altogether take up with either of those two little parties, who think that they are the only two, the contenders for the principle of authority on the one side, and for that of reasoning on the other." Like the greater proportion of British Christians, he takes "some silver and gold from both;" and like himself, we presume, he resolves to “ choose the party of science, as that to which the Lord of science is about to commit the kingdoms of the earth,”—a style of expression which betrays what the body of the book makes clear enough, namely, that he is an enthusiastic student of Swedenborg. In fact, this remarkable writer hias translated several of Swedenborg's scientific works into admirable English, a service for which all studious men must thank him, even while repudiating the illuminated Swede as the hierophant of a sect. Be the specific details of his church-creed what they may, however, his doctrine of natural theology is nobly put :
“ If Christ,” he exclaims, “ be the God of the Christian, then natural Christology is the only theology of this kind which is possible in a Christian state." “We feel it necessary to insist upon this, because even those who accept Christ's Godhead strangely pass Him by, when they are attempting to trace up all nature to their God. The consequence is, that it is only the truths of mere development and
creation that occur in the sciences, and not those of love and redemption; whence moral and spiritual life is banished from the book of nature."
He has, therefore, no sympathy with a posteriori arguments for the existence of a divine artificer :
“ The proof that nature is full of Deity, lies in its power, when rightly seen, to soften the heart and moisten the eyes of the unbelieving world, and, without a controversy, to send the scoffer to his knees.”
Such are the prefatory central beliefs of this out-spoken man of science. There is no mistaking his meaning, at least; which is as rare as it is satisfactory, among the secular authors of this century. It only remains to be said, that in philosophy he abhors materialism, detecting and exposing it even when it does not wear that name; that he rejects idealism as a system of pretentious inanities; and that he covets the honours and satisfactions of that inexorable realism, which he believes to proceed from God in Christ. The reader will now understand something of the sort of man and the thinker who offers him this discourse on the body of man; and he cannot but feel that, without pronouncing upon his preliminary creed, such an author must write a strange new book on such a subject, if (unlike all precedng Christian anatomists) he remain true to his central ideas.
Although mainly and essentially an affirmative treatise, this work delivers certain stout protests against the tendency of more than one prevalent mode of studying physiology. For instance, the ultra-physical views of the organic chemists, as they call themselves, are condemned with infinite zest; as also the microscopical ways of the structural physiologists. It is curious that the chemists will heartily agree with our author in his denunciation of the cell-germinal doctrines, while the structurists will join issue with him against the analysts; but the best of both parties are pretty sure to feel a strong distaste for the contemptuvus raillery with which he treats those whom he impugns. The results of the Liebigs are represented as certainly true,"if not for the physiologist, at least for the candlemakers.” And as for the microscopical revelations of structure, “the Manchester manufacturers would do well to dress out the ladies of this generation in the spoils of the colours and forms of these brilliant creatures,” for “there should be something new as well as charming in a mantilla on the back of a professor's wife glorions with mimic cell-germs." There is, undoubtedly, some ground for such assaults, but the manner of them betrays an undervaluation of the real discoveries of the investigators assailed. pause a little over the relations of chemistry to physiological science.
The Chemical Elements.
It is some sixty years since the Lavoisierian definition of a chemical element gained a fair and sure footing in the world of scientific thought. An element is just a body which analysis has at any given time failed to decompose into simpler substances. No known force has yet extracted anything from gold but gold, or sulphur but sulphur, and sulphur and gold are therefore to be considered (always provisionally) as elementary or simple forms of matter. Potash was an element in the hands of Lavoisier, because he could not prove it to be compound, although he surmised as much ; but it became a compound as soon as Davy resolved it, by a cunning device, into oxygen and potassium, the former being an element known to Lavoisier, the latter a new element thus discovered by the British Chemist. Sulphur will cease to be an element, if any one ever prove strong enough to break it up into two or more factors; for no substance yet within the reach of man is positively known to be really elementary, although some speculators have not been slow to argue that there must be at least two true elements in nature, else there could be no compound bodies there either. It is therefore the main business of the chemist proper to endeavour the decomposition of every body he can lay his hands upon. Proceeding in obedience to this acknowledged instinct of the science, nothing has been sacred from his eager grasp. Everything is put to the torture, with a view to its secret composition in particular, and in the general hope of eventually discovering out of how few simple principles the world, with all its overwhelming variety of material forms, is built up. But there are (as yet) more than half a hundred substances impregnable to analysis, and they are therefore chronicled as elements in the meantime. In fact, every few years there is discovered a new one, so that there may well be a hundred simple bodies before the end of the century. As it is there are five elementary gases, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, fluorine-and chlorine; two simple liquids, bromine and quicksilver; and some fifty undecomposed solids, carbon, boron, silicon, sulphur, phosphorus, selenium, tellurium, and the metals. All these so-called first principles of matter are extracted from the unorganized or mineral world around us, and it is curious to observe that the tendency of present progress is not to make the list of elements smaller and smaller, but quite the reverse. In short, the obvious probability is, that if the chemist could go deeper into the surface of the earth in quest of new rocks and mineral veins, or transgress the limits of the air, and pass to Jupiter or Mars, this sort of elements (namely bodies which his present instrumentation cannot decompose) would become innumerable by either tens or hundreds.
There is another and a higher task, however, close at hand.