« PreviousContinue »
each other is absolutely certain ; the proof of which is, that a violent blow on the head will produce vomiting; and a deranged state of the stomach will produce headache. Whatever, therefore, affects your stomach injuriously, will also affect your brain injuriously. He, therefore, who ill-treats his stomach, does so, not only at the expense of his bodily health, but at the expense of his understanding also—that is, at the expense of his mind's health.
From this law of sympathy, then, it follows that you cannot injure any one organ of the body without also injuring, to a certain extent, the whole of the body, and the mind also. And, indeed, when we consider the intimate connexion which exists between all the organs of the body, and the reciprocal dependence of all upon each other when we remember that all the nerves have one of their extremities fixed in the brain or spinal marrow, and their other extremities distributed to every point of the body-when we recollect that all the organs are made up, not of separate networks, but of different portions ofone and the same universal tissue-when we consider this, there seems nothing surprising in the existence of this sympathy.' The body, although composed of numerous parts, forms nevertheless one harmonious whole. And you cannot remove one part without injury to the whole. And again, although each organ performs a distinct function or office, yet it cannot do this without the co-operation of others. Thus the stomach can exert no influence on the food, unless well supplied with blood by the heart. If the brain dies, the heart must cease to pulsate ; and if the heart ceases to move, the brain must perish. It is not then by any means surprising that an injury to one organ should be felt by another—on the contrary, it would be very wonderful if it were not so. Accordingly we see, that a wound of the foot will often produce locked-jaw—the disease in this instance being at one extremity of the body, while the wound that produced it was inflicted on the other. If it were necessary to make this mutual dependence of all the organs on each other still clearer, we have only to recollect that it is impossible to injure any one wheel of a watch, without injury to the whole machine without incapacitating it properly to fulfil the office for which it was intended. And man, the master-miracle of nature, is a machine of far more delicate and complicated structure than a watch, and, therefore, more readily deranged.
Now, if no organ concerned in the preservation of health (for it is of these I am speaking, the organs of nutrition) can be disordered without disordering all the others, how much more certainly (if this were possible) will it be the case, when the stomach, one of the most important of these organs, as well as the first which is called into action in the process of nutrition, is kept in a state of almost perpetual excitement and unnatural activity. How can it be conceived to be possible that the other wheels of the machine can go right, when this, the very first wheel which is put in motion, and on which the motions of all the others depend, goes wrong?
Let this then be engraven an inch deep on the tablet of your memory, that you cannot injure one of the organs of nutrition, without injury to the whole.
I now come to the last law of sensibility which I shall mention, and it is, where all are important, the most important. Therefore, my dear John, draw your chair, put your feet on the fender, snuff the candles, adjust your spectacles, and read with attention. For I deny it-no man can read attentively who has not got himself fixed in a comfortable position.
This is the law, viz., that sensibility is always in an inverse ratio of CONTRACTILity. When CONTRACTILITY is vigorous, SENSIBILITY is low, and when CONTRACTILITY is feeble, SENSIBILITY is always acute; and as rigorous CONTRACTility is synonymous with health and strength, the greater or less degree of sensibility becomes an infallible test of the state of the health.
I have already proved that it is the SENSIBILITY of our organs which establishes the necessary relation between ourselves and the objects which surround us. From this it follows directly, that it is upon SENSIBILITY that all our pleasures and all our pains depend. For there is no pleasure and no pain which is not derived to us from impressions made by external objects upon our feeling—of which feeling SENSIBILITY is the soul. I mean the feeling as well of the mind as the body.
Now the SENSIBILITY of a perfectly healthy man is so regulated, as to afford him the greatest possible degree of pleasure, with the least possible degree of pain—that is, consistently with his terrestrial existence. Indeed, our pleasures are the voluntary and bountiful gift of nature—for our pains we have nobody to thank but our foolish selves. So good has the great Governor of the universe been to us, that we could not, if we would, escape pleasure; but in every instance, we can avoid pain if we will. For pain is only a warning voice, intimating to us that we have got into a false position—that we are doing something which we ought not to do, or leaving something undone which we ought to do—in a word, that the proper relation between ourselves and surrounding objects has been, for the time, de. stroyed. Man, if he would but be content to be what nature made him, and if it were not for his cat-like pugnacity, need scarcely know what pain is.
Nature then has endowed us with a certain degree of SENSIBILITY, and my object is to show that we cannot increase this without diminishing our proper amount of pleasure, and augmenting our proper share of pain—without enfeebling our contractility--in a word, without injury to our health and strength.
Pain is invariably the result of impressions too acutely or strongly made; and as SENSIBILITY is that property by which impressions are felt, it is perfectly manifest, that the more acute SENSIBILITY is, the more acutely impressions will be felt. And thus those impressions, which in a healthy state of the SENSIBILITY afford only pleasure, become painful; and those which always produce pain become more painful. This is so very clear, as to render amplification wholly unnecessary.
In order to prove that wherever there is a high degree of sensiBILITY, there is always a low degree of contractility, i. e. strength —and that wherever there is a low degree of strength, there is always a high degree of SENSIBILITY—you need only look through the world.
Let us first approach the couch of sickness. Tread lightly-for the slightest noise makes the poor sufferer start, and gives him the headache. Be careful to close the door after you, for the faintest breath of air gives him cold. See how he is shading his eyes with his hand, for the few rays of light which struggle feebly through the Venetian blind are painful to them. Observe his hand ! How white and bloodless! If you take it in your own, you must handle it as you would an infant's—an ordinary pressure will make him cringe with pain. His banker has just failed, and reduced him to ruin ; but you must not breathe a syllable of this in his hearing_it would kill him. Do you observe that rope suspended over the bed from the ceiling, with a small cross bar of wood attached to the end of it? So faint is the contractility of his muscles, that he could not, without this contrivance, raise himself in bed. Observe him as he carries his cup of gruel to his pallid lips--mark how the liquid quivers in the vessel hark how its edge rattles against his teeth, as he applies it to his mouth—the contractile property of the muscles of his arm is so feeble that they have not power to keep the limb steady even while he carries nourishment to his mouth. His heart, too, contracts so feebly, that it cannot send the blood far enough to reach the skin. It is this which makes it so deadly pale—it is this, too, which makes him shiver on the application of the slightest current of air.
In the above picture you will observe two things—first, that the CONTRACTility of the invalid has almost entirely disappeared, leaving him powerless; and secondly, that his SENSIBILITY is so acute, that those impressions of light, sound, touch, &c., which under ordinary circumstances were only necessary to the enjoyment of existence, have now become sources of painful suffering ; thus proving, that whenever SENSIBILITY is advanced beyond the natural standard, the sources of pain are multiplied, and those of pleasure diminished. And that wherever senSIBILITY is excessively high, CONTRACTILITY, that is, strength, is excessively low.
It is true, that this is a case of extreme illness, and that every departure from health will not produce this extreme state of things. But it will produce an approximation to it. In the slightest departure from health the same state of things will be produced, the only difference being in degree.
To prove this, let us take a peep into “my lady's chamber.” Here you will find the same circumstances of heightened SENSIBILITY, and depreciated contractility, which you observe in the sick roomonly in a less degree. It is true, that she can bear an ordinary degree of light without pain, and the sound of your foot-fall may not give her the headache; but if you leave the door ajar, she will assuredly take cold—if the force of your friendship cause you to press her hand a little too forcefully, she will assuredly scream—and if you steal slily behind her when she thinks she is alone, and cry, “Bol to a goose !" she will assuredly fall into hysterics. If you press her arm strongly between your finger and thumb, you will make it black and blue-while it would require, in order to produce the same effect on
one of Mr. Barclay's draymen, little less than the gripe of a blacksmith's vice. “The hand of little employment hath daintier sense."
So much for her SENSIBILITY: now for her CONTRACTILITY. Could she carry a bushel-basket of potatoes upon her head for a mile without resting ? Not she. Yet why can she not? It is true, she is a Jady; but, as Burns says,
“ A man's a man for a' that.” And is not a woman a woman for a' that? There is many a woman neither so tall nor so well proportioned who would carry a bushel of potatoes on her head without resting, from Pedlar's Acre to Pennyfields, and think herself well rewarded with a shilling. There must be some better reason for this great difference than the mere fact of one being a lady and the other a woman. The true reason is, that the contractility of my lady's organs, especially her muscles, has sunk exactly as much below the natural standard as their SENSIBILITY has been elevated above it.
Thus, then, we have indisputable proof that SENSIBILITY and conTRACTILITY are always in an inverse ratio of each other. must be careful to observe, that it is not increased SENSIBILITY that gives rise to diminished CONTRACTIlity, but it is diminished conTRACTILITY that increases SENSIBILITY; increased SENSIBILITY being no more than the proof of diminished Contractility, that is, enfeebled health and strength.
From this it follows, therefore, that the degree of sensibility depends upon the degree of contractility; and this is fortunate, for we have on that very account only to raise CONTRACTility, in order to lower an irritable, acute, troublesome, and unhealthy degree of sensiBILITY to the natural standard. This can be easily done ; so easily that I will undertake, within one month, without fee or reward, or pill or potion of any kind, and on the peril of my head, to enable any lady within the pale of his Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, to carry a bushel of potatoes on her head from Pedlar's Acre to Penny-fields without resting, and that with no more pain and labour to herself than may be sufficient to spare her pocket the expense of sixpenny worth of rouge.
Now, then, it is quite clear that whatever causes, circumstances, regimen, or conduct, have a tendency to heighten SENSIBILITY must necessarily have a tendency to depress contractility; since I have proved that a high degree of the former is wholly incompatible with a high degree of the latter, and therefore cannot exist in conjunction with it.
The reason why a high degree of SENSIBILITY cannot exist in conjunction with a high degree of contractility is this :—the nerves (which are the seat of sensibility) are more or less acutely sensible, accordingly to the greater or less degree of firmness with which they are compressed on all sides by the parts immediately surrounding them and in contact with them. Thus the nerves of the bones, ligaments, and sinews are so firmly compressed on all sides by the unyielding structure of these parts, that they are almost wholly insensible. You may cut them, lacerate them, without giving pain. The muscles (that is, the red flesh) cannot be wounded without considerable pain, because their structure is not so firm as that of the bones, sinews, &c. But it is much more compact and firm than the structure of the skin, and therefore a wound indicted on a muscle will not produce anything like the acuteness of pain which is felt on wounding the skin. In the nerves of the eye and ear it was necessary that a SENSIBILITY of the very highest degree should exist in order to enable these organs to feel the very slight and subtile impressions of light and sound. cordingly we find that from these nerves all surrounding pressure is removed entirely; these nerves being, as it were, expanded into a sort of quivering jelly at that part where they are destined to receive their natural impressions.
Now a very large proportion of the body is, as you know, made up of a conglomeration of blood vessels. The whole body, then, taken as a whole, will be the more compact and firm accordingly as these vessels are fully distended with blood; precisely as sponge becomes a more compact body when distended with water than when dry; since, when dry, its cells are filled with air, but when saturated with water they are filled with water, which is a far more compact material than air. If you draw a thread through a sponge saturated with water, the sides of that thread will be everywhere compressed and supported by either the solid parts of the sponge or by the water. Whereas, if you draw a thread through a dry sponge, whenever that thread passes through an empty cell, its sides will be entirely unsupported and uncompressed. So of the body-a nerve passing through the body (which body consists of a congeries of vessels) will have its sides everywhere compressed and supported, so long as those vessels are well filled and fully distended. But if these vessels be half empty, if their sides be allowed, as it were, to collapse and fall away from the nerves which they everywhere surround, it is manifest that those nerves will not be so firmly compressed and well supported as they were while all the vessels surrounding them were fully distended. It is this half-filled state of the vessels which constitutes that lax and soft state of the body called flabby. This loose, flabby, and uncompact state of the body, therefore, is highly favourable to SENSIBILITY, since SENSIBILITY is always increased accordingly as surrounding pressure and support are removed from the nerves.
But a state of the body the very opposite to that just described is alone favourable to contraCTILITY; for I have before proved that vigorous CONTRACTILITY can only reside in recently organized matter ; and in order that this recent organization, this perpetual youth, as it were, of the several parts of the body may be kept up, an abundant supply of healthy blood is absolutely indispensable. Thus CONTRACTILITY in perfection requires a highly distended condition of the blood vessels, and, consequently, a firm and compact state of the body—a state exactly the contrary of that just described as favourable to the developement of SENSIBILITY. Hence arises a most important corollary, viz. that whatever increases the natural vigour of the circulation, increases the contractility and lessens the SENSIBILITY of the body; and whatever lessens the SENSIBILITY of the body by increasing its CONTRACTility, increases also the natural vigour of the