« EdellinenJatka »
perceive the relation that exists between those animalcules and the whale. Ascending a step higher, we find that there is no fish in the waters, with which we are acquainted, which may not be converted by man to the purposes either of food, or light, or convenience, or ornament, in some shape or another. The whale enables him to prolong the day, in the acquisition of that knowledge which, rightly directed, purifies and exalts his intellect. The very instrument by which that animal collects its food assists to improve and strengthen the female figure, to protect us from the rain, and to perfect several parts of the machinery used in our manufactures. The lobster, the turbot, the salmon, the cod, the sturgeon, the mackarel, and the herring, afford luxuries for the tables of every class in society, and the staple of commerce to millions of mankind. If there were no Medusæ, the whale would soon perish; and if the other tribes of animalcules ceased to be reproduced, the ocean would soon be without an inhabitant.
In the same manner, the creature out of the waters, that seems to hold the place nearest to unorganized matter, is, perhaps, the grub. It is the province of the grub to assimilate to his own substance vegetable and decayed animal matter; he then becomes the food of other insects, and of birds, and very much enriches the grasses and the plants on which the herbiverous quadrupeds are nourished, which, in their turn, are consumed, as well as birds, by other animals, until the scale of gradation again closes
But animalcules, fishes, insects, birds, and quadrupeds, all combine to execute another great function in the system, without which this planet would speedily cease to be habitable.
They not only administer to the wants of each other, but they are all engaged in manipulating inanimate matter, if we may use the expression; by converting it into food, in the first instance, they change it from form to form, and thus contribute to render it as fresh and as fertile, at this moment, as it was on the day it was created.
There is a species of beetle, which may be recognized without difficulty, from its long black body, somewhat irregularly indented by two broad copper-coloured bands. Mr. Gleditsch, to whom we are indebted for a very curious account of the habits of this insect, states that he had frequently observed that dead moles, when left upon the ground, usually disappeared in the course of two or three days ; but by the operation of what course he was wholly at a loss to conjecture. He, therefore, purposely placed a mole on one of the beds in his garden ; it had vanished on the third morning; and, on digging where it had been laid, he found it regularly entombed in the earth, and beneath it he discovered four beetles. Not perceiving anything in this circumstance to
enlighten him, as to the mode in which the duties of the sexton were performed, he restored the mole to its grave. On the sixth day he examined it again, and found the body of the dead animal swarming with the young issue of the beetles. He concluded, therefore, that the beetles were the sextons on the occasion ; but, to satisfy himself more fully on this point, he made several experiments, which we shall detail, as quoted by Kirby and Spence.
“ To determine these points more clearly, Mr. Gleditsch put four of these beetles into a glass vessel, half filled with earth, and properly secured, and, upon the surface of the earth, two frogs. In less than twelve hours, one of the frogs was interred by two of the beetles ; the other two ran about the whole day, as if busied in measuring the dimensions of the remaining frog, which, on the third day, was also found buried. He then introduced a dead linnet. A pair of beetles were soon engaged upon the bird. They began their operation by pushing out the earth from under the body, so as to form a cavity for its reception ; and it was curious to see the efforts which the beetles made, by dragging at the feathers of the bird from below, to pull it into its grave. The male, having driven the female away, continued the work alone, for five hours. He lifted up the bird, changed its place, turned it and arranged it in the grave, and from time to time came out of the hole, mounted upon it, and trod it under foot, and then retired below, and pulled it down. At length, apparently wearied with this uninterrupted labour, it came forth, and leaned its head upon the earth, beside the bird, without the smallest motion, as if to rest itself, for a full hour, when it again crept under the earth. The next day, in the morning, the bird was an inch and a half under ground, and the trench remained open the whole day, the corpse seeming as if laid out upon a bier, surrounded with a rampart of mould. In the evening, it had sunk half an inch lower ; and, in another day, the work was completed, and the bird covered. Mr. Gleditsch continued to add other small dead animals, which were all, sooner or later, buried; and the result of his experiment was, that, in fifty days, four beetles had interred, in the very small space of earth allotted to them, four frogs, three small birds, two fishes, one mole, and two grasshoppers, besides the entrails of a fish, and two morsels of the lungs of an ox. In another experiment, a single beetle buried a mole, forty times its own bulk and weight, in two days !”
These experiments have been fully confirmed by other naturalists, who have found beetles actually engaged in the operation of burying dead birds; and we may judge of the great extent to which these grave diggers carry on their business, from the remarkable fact, that notwithstanding the number of birds that must of necessity die from day to day, it is very rarely that the remains of a sparrow, or a rook, or indeed of any
other animal, are to be met with on the surface of the earth. It seems, there
fore, as it is the province of animalcule to convert the elements of air and water into life, so it is the duty of the worm to take charge of decayed vegetable matter, and of the beetle to garner up dead animal substances, precisely for the same purpose. In the execution of this labour he has, however, a multitude of assistants in a great variety of other insects, as well as in birds of prey. The rapidity with which the remains of men and other animals are consumed in the deserts, where they frequently perish, is well known. In the course of a few days they become mere skeletons. Thus, not only is the earth kept constantly free from the unsightly appearance and noxious effluvia of animals in which life is extinct, but the substance that once belonged to them is almost immediately appropriated to the uses of life in myriads of other forms. These forms in their turn perish, and are dealt with in a similar way, and by the operation of this system of economy, all matter is kept in a state of perpetual renovation.
From the imperfection of our knowledge it is not always in our power to demonstrate the precise functions which particular insects, whose habits have not been closely investigated, perform in the system to which we belong. But from the little we do know, we may conclude without much danger of error, that nothing has life in any of the elements, which is not conducive to the process of re-juveniscence indispensable to the maintenance of the human race, on the sphere on which it is located. If the functions assigned to the insects for instance, in transmuting dead animal matter into life, were to be suspended only for a year, the atmosphere would become intolerable, and man would be the victim of a universal pestilence. The work of transformation seems so necessary to the preservation of the system, that it is even carried on not merely by the process of converting death into life, and life into death, but also by the curious operation which enables many animals frequently to shuffle off a portion of their mortal coils, and clothe themselves in new ones before they reach the period assigned to their existence.
The changes which the caterpillar undergoes from the time he leaves the egg until he ascends the air, as a butterfly, are familiar to every body. Many insects, such as the caddis-worm and the ant-lion already mentioned, pass through similar stages of variation. But there is, in fact, no animal which does not exhibit in its own person, the operation of the same law. The deer has no horns until the age of puberty, and it renews them every year after. Birds are at first clothed in down, then they put on a raiment of feathers, and that apparel is periodically changed. The peacock does not assume his gorgeous robes until his third
year, and beautiful as they are in colour, and elaborate in workmanship, he occasionally loses them, when he must go about for a while as meanly clothed as a sparrow, but only to re-appear in fresh glory. The frog is at first a tadpole, in which there is no more resemblance to his second shape, than there is between an egg and an infant. Lobsters, crabs, and other fishes, are obliged to manufacture for themselves new shells every year, just as serpents and other reptiles change their skins.
Man, at the age of twenty, retains not a particle of the matter in which his mind was invested when he was born. Nevertheless, at the
age of eighty years, he is conscious of being the same individual he was as far back as his memory can go—that is to say, to the period when he was four or five years old. Whatever it be, therefore, in which this consciousness of identity resides, it cannot consist of a material substance, since, if it had been material, it must have been repeatedly changed; and the source of identity must have been destroyed. It is, consequently, an ethereal spirit
, and as it remains the same, throughout all the alterations that take place in the body, it is not dependent on the body for its existence; and is thus calculated to survive the ever-changing frame by which it is encircled. That frame becomes stiff, cold, and motionless, when the circulation of the blood ceases; it is consigned to the earth, and is separated by insects into a thousand other forms of matter; but, the mind undergoes no such transformation. It is unassailable by the worm. If matter, subject as it is to perpetual changes, do not, and cannot possibly, perish, how can the mind perish, which knows of no mutation ? There is no machinery prepared by which such an object could be accomplished; nor could machinery be prepared for such a purpose, without an entire subversion of the laws of nature. But, as these laws have emanated from the wisdom of the Creator, they could not be altered, much less subverted, without involving an inconsistency, into which it is impossible for Divine Wisdom to fall
. The acorn is changed into the stately oak, the seed of wheat into the ear bearing fifty of its kind, and waving in the breeze. We can no more recognize the form, or the colour, or the fragrance of the rose, in the plant from which it springs, than we can discern the gaiety and the variegated wings of the butterfly in the chrysalis. The beech, the elm, and the chesnut, beneath whose ample shade the herds found protection from the summer sun,-in winter, stand like so many skeletons, warring with the tempest. The bud, loosened by the genial season, bursts into a cluster of white and ruby leaves; these decay, and in their place we find another germ, which becomes in time the nectarine or the apple.
In the mineral world the same process of transmutation goes on,
though the means by which it is effected are not always perceptible to our senses. If we may reason from the operations of the coral insect, we should conclude that granite, slate,* lime-stone, and other such substances, are formed by the agency of animalcules, whose existence our microscopes are not yet sufficiently powerful to bring within our observation. Vegetable matter might thus be converted into coal; and substances extracted from the ocean, into chalk. The very elements are subject to the general law of change. Water, expanded into vapour, rises in the atmosphere, and after floating about for a while, descends on the earth, in the form of rain; and returns to the deep through a thousand channels. A portion of it, however, stops on the way, fertilizing the fields and gardens, and becomes dew upon the turf, milk in the cow, oil in the olive, wine in the grape, and honey in the flower. Sometimes it appears in the form of snow, sometimes of ice so solid as to afford a highway over seas, lakes and rivers; sometimes it roams about in the shape of a fragment torn from a mountain, the terror of the mariner. It sings in the brook with the softness of the nightingale, but it can thunder in the Niagara. It is perpetually assuming new forms, and yet, the average quantity of it on the earth, remains always the same. So it is with all other matter—the quantity that was first created, is, at this moment, notwithstanding all the transformations it has since sustained, precisely of the same weight as when it was then adjusted in the balance of the universe. The earth is the real Phænix, rising continually from her own ashes.
The preservation of the planet in productive and inexhaustible power, without increase or diminution of its magnitude, is essen
Slate has been applied to a great variety of novel purposes, since the repeal of the duty on that valuable material. It may be sawn like marble into slabs of almost any dimensions, and is used in the warehouses of the London Dock Company, as a substitute for other kinds of flooring. It is capable of sustaining any weight, if laid on an adequate foundation; and is so easily cleaned, that goods of the most opposite description, fruits and hides, spices and old rags, sugar and pepper, succeed each other rapidly on the same floor, without the slightest damage. A floor of slate, one or two inches thick, may be laid down within one twentieth of the time required for other materials ; it is much cheaper than wood or granite, and may be laid in warehouses, over decayed wooden floors, with great advantage. In sugar manufactories, brew-houses, granaries, coach manufactories, and other similar buildings, this material serves to combine cleanliness with economy. It is applied to the fronting of houses, instead of cement, and looks almost as well as Portland stone. The slabs are neatly attached to the wall, they are then painted, and while the paint is fresh, it is sprinkled with sand. Laid down in the front of wharfs it prevents the accumulation there of mud, the removal of which is attended with inconvenience and expense. Strong and excellent tanks are now made of slate, and in consequence of the instrumentality of the saw, great improvements have been recently made in the roofing of out-houses. We are surprized that the companies do not line their canals with this material; if they did, they would not only avoid the necessity of occasionally using granite for that purpose, but might also run steam-boats on canals with the utmost facility,
VOL. 1.-NO. I.