Page images
PDF
EPUB

Histological Physiology.

141

are too soon ready with their quarried and well-cut stones for the future edifice. Yet surely the work must go on as it best can. The more that is prepared for the final building of the temple the better. Let every man work as hard as he can at his own task, for it will be but a small matter in the long run, that any one shall have thought he was cutting a capital, when he was only hewing a common and undistinguished stone for the foundation. By all means, let the individual labourer strive to take a just and moderate view of his own importance and the real worth of what he is doing: and by all means too, let people try to put and keep their neighbours right on such points, for nothing but harm can come out of a false view of one's-self in the meantime; but let it be done courteously, respectfully, diffidently, in one word-christianly. Indeed a chemist or a structurist, coming on this militant and oracular book, will be little loth to declare it as Pagan in its practice of the social virtues, as it is Christian in its theory of the human frame and the destination of man : and yet the irritated critic would be wrong, for the inmost spirit of this book is still more truly christianized than its intellectual form.

Almost entirely rejecting the aid of the chemist, neglecting the painful acquisitions of the structurists, but holding fast by the positive anatomists from the beginning till now, our English Swedenborg descends on the physiology of the human body from the heights of thought, illustrating it by the principal organs. To convey an adequate idea of the procedure of these illustrations would be far from easy, and to review them critically is impossible within our limits. The only good account of the book is itself; and nothing but a counter-treatise could meet all the points we should have to question, to modify, to demur to, and to protest against. In this exigency it will be best to confine ourselves to a little gossip about one of the organs adduced ; and it shall be the first-the human brain.

This chapter starts with the assumption, that the mind inhabits the head, or, according to anatomy, the brain ; "the most general truth of consciousness, which lies in the head and speaks from the head." Yet it is strange that Aristotle assigned so unimportant an office to the brain, regarding it as nothing but a mass of earth and water, without blood or feeling, good for little else (apparently) than filling ́up the comely skull-piece and keeping the heart cool! If the “solid voice of the head” be so clear and unmistakable, it should not have been inaudible to the Stagyrite any more than to another surely. For our own parts we are conscious of the mind in the head, and readily refer it to the brain once made known by anatomy; but it is very questionable whether this consciousness of ours be a manifestation of

a

the primitive consciousness of the race. To be conscious or sensible of a stomach is either to be guilty of afterthought, or to be the subject of disease; and the consciousness of thought in the brain or even in the head is referable to the same alternative. Everybody is given to understand from his earliest years that he thinks in or by his head, and everybody also is more or less morbid, so that a crucial experiment can scarcely be made. But it is to be presumed that an absolutely healthy and unindoctrinated man would be so harmoniously full of life that he should never dream of referring his thinkings to any part of his body whatever. Such analyses and local references are the product of afterthought and inquiry; and it is just as likely, to say the least of it, that our model man, beginning to think about the matter, should side with Aristotle as with us.

But our present author proceeds at once to a description of the brain and nervous-system, -the cerebrum, the cerebellum, the annular protuberance, the oblong medulla, the spinal cord, the forty-two pairs of nerves proceeding from or to the base of the brain and the sides of the cord, and the separable ganglionic or sympathetic system of nerves for the viscera,—" as it were a creeping or parasitical system, which weaves its meshes among the branches of the other." The description is admirable. Indeed, all Mr. Wilkinson's descriptions are first-rate; they could not be bettered. Knowing without being pedantic, quite sufficient for his purpose yet also quite popular, cloquent but precise, they convey a sense of the living realities as it had never been conveyed before. They thrill with the life of their objects; and the student, who has spent a year or two in the dissecting room, surrounded by all the common helps of the technical study of what is called human anatomy, could not do better than come here and breathe his knowledge a little in company with the quick poetic spirit of the writer of these glowing chapters on the brain, the lungs, the heart, the chylopoietic viscera, and the skin. His information will, of course, remain as exact as ever, while we venture to predict that his insight will be more alive and real than it was. On the other hand, these clear, picturesque, vivid, and right eloquent narratives are invaluable for the purposes of the general reader.

But so rich a thinker, and ready a writer, could not possibly content himself, on any occasion, with mere descriptive work; and the functions of the successive parts or storeys of the whole nervous system are assigned with great clearness of definition and brightness of language. In pursuance of this part of the subject, there is introduced a striking speculation on the relation of the brain to the mind, followed by a judicious criticism of phrenology. There is next devoted a large portion of the

[ocr errors]

Swedenborgian Physiology.

143

chapter to the question of the existence of a nervous-fluid or nerve-spirit, the affirmative of the question being argued for at considerable length. The nerve-spirit, once established to the author's satisfaction, becomes thenceforth the true brain of the soul, being at the same time the soul of the vulgar brain, which is a sort of soul to the rest of the body. The probable proper motion of the brain is then discussed, not without ingenuity. The function of the cerebellum is speculated upon quite as cunningly, the necessity of there being two halves to the brain is illustrated, the relation of the brain to the body is discoursed about, and then the chapter expands into a gorgeous corolla of talk about the higher analogies of the brain. Is all this wondrous prattle sound science? Alas! it is impossible to enter into the question, it is so large. Suffice it, that it appears to us that this beautiful and thoughtful writer overestimates the value of analogy in positive science, and gives hypothesis a place which all the Masters disown for it, from Copernicus down to Dalton. Even if his doctrines be true, he has not made them out; and another scientific poet may weave as pretty a web tomorrow. All these high speculations seem to us the mere foregoing dream of discovery, worthy of a mighty discoverer's iridescent youth, but not worth more than their beauty until they be realized by actual research. At the same time their beauty is budding with suggestions on every side. It is impossible to consider them without wonder at the wealth of knowledge they display, at the sagacity which shines through them, at their excessive ingenuity, at the nobleness of their bearing, but also at the strange looseness of their methodology. It would be unjust to illustrate this by extracts, for the parts of this whole cannot bear isolation, else passages might be offered by the score, which are "either madder than all Bedlam, or inspired beyond the guess of folly." All we wish to do, is to carry into the mind of the reader some sort of clear-obscure notion of the kind of book, to the study of which we summon him with hearty goodwill and even enthusiasm, although we can neither indorse many of the dogmas it inculcates, nor approve of its plans of investigation and its sneers at slower methods. It will complete this attempt of ours at the clear-obscure, to give it to be understood, further, that the book is sprinkled all over with observations and thoughts which are as true and important, as they are original; that teetotalism and vegetarianism are discussed with so much quiet wisdom, as to make one feel that one might safely follow the author anywhere; that the sanitary question is treated with a breadth and penetration as instructive as they are rare; and that the whole subject of healing is expounded here in its manifold principles by the most catholic doctor of the day. Mr. Wilkinson is

a homeopathist, a hydropathist, a kinesipathist, an anthropopathist, a phrenopathist, a pistopathist

, and also a plain believer in the christopathy of the early Christian church! To sum up all, there is hardly a subject within the reach of human interest which is not touched ; if not directly, then indirectly, if not in exposition, then in figure, and by allusion, if not explicitly. It is at once the most multitudinous and the most orderly of modern treatises, professing to be works of science; and it must be repeated that it is written in a style so luminous and rich, as to accredit its penman the poet of the human body, if he is not yet the philosopher predestined to unlock its mere interior secrets. Even if any or all of his new propositions should eventually turn out to be true, Mr. Wilkinson will be remembered by posterity as a seer, not as a man of science; for the philosopher not only finds the truth, but knows how he found it, while he is always able to teach the ingenuous student how to find it for himself. A thoughtful observer, widely informed, highly inventive, having a keen eye for analogies, those clews of science, most orderly, enamoured of simplicity, as candid as day, patient and sagacious, possessed of a solid understanding, and also owning a fund of common sense, our author might well become the high-priest of the doctrines of life and humanity, if he would but take the vow of self-denial on his teeming head, and dedicate himself to some thirty or fifty years of such painful conference with the reality of things as has been endured before him by Copernicus, by Cuvier, by Dalton, by Humboldt, and by all the master-spirits of this ongoing age of positive and indefeasible science.

[blocks in formation]

ART. VI.-König Alfred, und seine Stelle in der Geschichte

England. Von Dr. REINHOLD Pauli. Berlin, 1851. 2. The Life and Times of Alfred the Great. By the Rev. J. A.

GILES, D.C.L. London, 1848.

We are again indebted to that peculiar quality in our German neighbours, which they themselves quaintly denominate “Sitz-fleisch," for a contribution to the history of our country, which, following as it does on the back of so many foreign labours, may well excite our fears lest the reproach of “incuriosi nostrorum” should in the end attach to us. The best biography of the most remarkable of all our kings, of him to whom, more than any one else, we owe the present form of English life, and whose memory was fondly cherished for ages, by the endearing epithet of England's Darling,” lies before

“ us-compiled by German lands.

It may be that the Germans are not altogether disinterested in the researches which they have bestowed on the earlier portions of our history. A desire to promote the glory of their own country, rather than of ours, may have induced them to undertake the task of demonstrating how rich were the beginnings of a life which emanated from themselves. The same motive which prompted Thierry to write the history of Norman William, and Guizot to declaim at Falaise in his honour, may not impossibly have had its share in inducing Dr. Pauli to vindicate his true position for the King of the West Saxons. Still the task has been skilfully and manfully performed, the favour has been ungrudgingly conferred, and if the motive were a much less worthy one than that which we have indicated, there is a proverb which forbids us to receive a gift in a questioning spirit. But in addition to the benefit which the labours of AngloSaxon scholars have conferred upon us, by increasing the amount of our historical knowledge, we are farther indebted to them for the means of striking the balance between the claims which the two great elements of our existing race severally have on the national gratitude. More probably from ignorance of our early history, than from any other cause, it had for ages been the fashion to attribute all that was great and generous in England to Norman influences. Our kings and our nobles boasted of Norman descent, to the chivalrous spirit of the Normans our warlike supremacy was attributed, and even the existence of our much-coveted constitution was scarcely traced farther back than to the reign of a Norman king. Now, though

VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIII.

a

K

« PreviousContinue »