S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Life is a constant battle between the dead matter of earth, which strives continually to free itself from the tyranny of organic laws, and the chemical energies of the body, which incessantly force upon it forms proper for its use in the animal structures. For a time the powers of gravitation, cohesion, and crystallization are kept down and defied by the organizing forces; but we forecast the end, we know that earth will triumph over the frame, the house built of dust will crumble, and the glories of the sacred temple of the soul fade into the palpable ruins of a mud-built tenement.
Why does the cook spoil the potatoes? Why does she make our meat our misery, and dinner the extinction of all powers of thought for the next two hours? Cook works by tradition, or at best by cookery-books, and puts no mind of her own into her work. It is stark nonsense to suppose that cooking can be done by rule, when, all the books being nearly the same, there is a failure in the very first condition of successful imitation. No two kitchen fires are alike as to the degree and the way in which they give out heat. In qualities of water, in saucepans, in the season of the year, in the constantly varying quality or texture of the same article employed as food or condiment, the cook, who is merely, after the custom of the day, a creature of rules which she has gathered round her as the defence of her own secret ignorance and incapacity, can only spoil food; and does spoil it.
Man, they said at first, is made up of air; and his food is air solidified. He springs from air, he lives on air, to air he shall return. The proofs are made out in this wise: Man feeds on plants directly, or through the mediation of herbivorous animals; plants feed on carbonic acid gas, ammonia, and waterwhich impregnate the atmosphere. Plants, then, feed on air; and man also, through the direct mediation of plants, or, indirectly, through that of the herbivorous animals he eats. When death overtakes him, he dissolves into ammonia, carbonic acid gas, and water; and this again returns to air.
Beef contains a great deal of iron; its ash contains six per cent. Animal food is, of course, the natural source of iron to the system. But iron has been used medicinally since very early times, with the knowledge that it had a strengthening power. Prince Iphicles was the first patient who was treated with steel-wine. He suffered from pallor and debility thirty-five hundred years ago. An oracle desired him to seek a knife which, years before, he had driven into a sacred chestnut-tree, to sleep it in wine, and drink the solution of its rust. A modern oracle would have prescribed a more elegant form of steel-wine for the fee of one guinea. Since that time, the alchymists called it Mars.
Suffice it to say that iron is found in all our food; that iron is organized in all our tissues; that its presence is necessary to health, its absence productive of chlorosis, a common form of disease. But although so generally present, and so essential to health, the whole bulk of iron in the body is very small. If we should carry into action Shakspeares idea, and coin the heart and drop the blood for drachmas, we should be but very little the wealthier. All the iron in the body would not be of the value of a halfpenny nor the size of a walnut;on such small things does life depend.
So far is salt from being useless, that man and animals have from the earliest times sought it with incredible pains and devoured it with marvellous avidity. Its use has been held to be a privilege essential to pleasure and to health: its deprivation a punishment productive of pain and disease. Its uses in the economy are manifold and important. Without it there would be no assimilation of food, no formation of gastric juice. Nutrition would cease; life would languish and utterly waste. Salt, moreover, would appear to ward off low forms of fever. It deals death to parasite growth.
We may question those learned in the mysteries of the animal and human frame if we would learn the secret of this strange yearning after salt which ages have not diminished, nor civilization annihilated. Salt occurs in every part of the human body. It is organized in the solids, and dissolved in the fluids; it creeps into every corner of the frame, and plays a part in all the complicated processes of life, without which the machinery would be arrested in its operation. Thus, all our nutritive food consists either of fibrin, albumen, or casein; and neither of these could be assimilated, and used in building up the flesh that walls about our life, unless salt were present: neither being soluble except in a saline fluid.
Phosphate of lime reaches us in all flesh, and in most articles of vegetable food, but especially in some of the cereals. A striking illustration of the value of phosphate of lime, as a constituent of our dietary, may be found in the fact that nearly all the nations of the earth feed either on wheat or rye, or on barley or oats, and these grains appear to be specially adapted for human use by reason of the large quantities of phosphate of lime which they contain. There is plenty of phosphate of lime in soups, and this may be a useful way of getting at this mineral, where there is a deficiency in the system. For this phosphate is a necessary constituent of all the soft tissues and fluids of the body, of cartilage, muscle, milk, blood, of gastric and pancreatic juices.
The uses of potash in the body have been elucidated in investigating the causes of scurvy. Until lately this scourge carried off from one-sixth to one-tenth of a ships crew on a long voyage. Scurvy results from a continued diet of salt meat; not because the salt is in excess, but because the potash and other mineral constituents are in defect. When meat is placed in brine, the salt enters, driving out the potash and other salts, usurping their place, and, like other usurpers, doing a vast amount of mischief.
Of magnesia we have but little to say. It is always found in the human body. But what it does there, and why it is there, and in what precise form, are questions not yet clearly answered. Probably magnesia has the same qualities as potash and sodium, and does their work occasionally, when from an ill-selected diet these are absent from the body without leave. The dietetic relation of magnesia has been made famous by its discovery in oats.
One of the largest promises of science is, that the sum of human happiness will be increased, ignorance destroyed, and, with ignorance, prejudice and superstition, and that great truth taught to all, that this world and all it contains were meant for our use and service; and that where nature by her own laws has defined the limits of original unfitness, science may by extract so modify those limits as to render wholesome that which by natural wildness was hurtful, and nutritious that which by natural poverty was unnourishing. We do not yet know half that chemistry may do by way of increasing our food.