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XXXVIII. On the Stature and Figure of Old Persons.
persons are never so tall as they were in their prime; they stoop, and their height is otherwise, as I apprehend, diminished; and from what
be matter af some curiosity to inquire.
If an aged person, suppose of seventy, sits upon a chair that is too high for him, for any long space of time, and his feet for the time do not easily and fully touch the ground, he will find a pain in his thigh bone, which, I presume, must be occasioned by the weight of his legs and feet drawing it downwards, and pressing it against the edge of the seat or chair. This consequently induces a small degree of curvature in the bone, which, if the same thing be continued or repeated, will still be greater to the diminution of the person's stature; for as the elasticity of the fibres of the bone is, in such old subjects, in a great measure lost, the bone never totally recovers its pristine state. This, I conjecture, may be the reason of thigh bones, both of men and women, being found sometimes, as I have heard, in a state of flexion more than natural.
The flesh of elderly people generally either wastes and shrinks, or it grows pasty, being deprived of its native and juvenile elasticity. But now, in either case, the soles of the feet will of course grow flatter, to the prejudice of the person's height.
These, indeed, are but trifling causes of the decrease of stature, in comparison of what follows: for if the flesh in old subjects is subject to lose its elasticity, the cartilages are much more so. Now, it is a known fact, that people are taller in the morning than at night, owing to the pressure of the upper parts in the day time, and whilst the party is in an upright posture, on the cartilages between the verte, bræ of the neck and back; which cartilages, in young
subjeçts, by their spring, resume their tone and former dimensions, by recumbency or the horizontal position of the body during sleep, the incumbent weight or pressure being for that interval, and by that posture, removed; and for this reason, every youthful person is actually tallest in the morning. But this is far from being the case with the aged. The cartilages in them are grown dry and thin, and springless, whereby the stature will perpetually continue at the lowest pitch. And as the interstices of the vertebræ are consequently enlarged, (to say nothing of the relaxed state of the
sinews and ligaments) the head, by its weight, will moreover naturally fall forward, and a bending in the back will ensue, and chiefly in the weaker parts, about the loins and the small of the back. Hence comes in some measure that incurvation so remarkable in old persons, and of which the poets have not failed to take notice; hence Otway makes the Hag or Witch in the Orphan to be
with age grown double.
And next in order sad old age we found,
A weakness in the thorax or chest, by which it becomes unable to support in the best and most upright manner, the weight of the head and parts above, contributes mainly to this apparent incurvation. And this weakness in that part, of which old persons are very sensible, and often will complain of, saying, how hollow they find themselves there, with a weariness and a small degree of pain, is owing, I conceive, partly to the relaxation of the tendons of the neck, particularly the aponeurosis, which lets the head drop, as it were, and press the more upon the thorax; and partly to the dead and fixed state, as now they are deprived of their spring, of the cartilages of the ribs, whereby the os ensiforme is but ill supported and fortified against this new and additional weight,. yea rather gives way and yields unto it. Whatever is the cause, the os, or cartilago ensiformis certainly does not duly and adequately perform its function in this advanced stage of life.
An anatomist might probably say a great deal more on this subject, and illustrate it far better. To him I shall therefore leave it, (and it certainly deserves his regard) only adding, it would give me pleasure to see it further and more masterly considered,
XXXIX. The Cruelty of Collectors of Insects censured,
MR. URBAN, THE cruelty of anatomists in their experiments on living animals, is often dreadful to relate, and is already enlarged upon by Essay Writers in their useful miscellanies: but I am not certain whether the entomologist or collector of insects has not hitherto passed without censure, though he practises the most unrelenting cruelty on flies, moths, and spiders; he takes pleasure to impale for days and weeks the papilonaceous race with corking pins, with which his cushion is replete: whilst the libellutæ, or dragon flies, are killed by squeezing the thorax, or with the spirit of turpentine, to the no small horror of the humane and benevolent, who are of opinion, that science might be improved, and learning increased without such barbarities: and it may be observed, both science and learning are dearly acquired at the expence of that humanity, which is more necessary than either, in pur road through life,
Let me, in a few words, (a multitude are not requisite) inform those gentlemen, they certainly have forgotten, that, in ages long ago, a venerable ancient philosopher, named Pythagoras, prescribed the utmost mercy to inferior animals; they are, perhaps, also not apprized, that the sect of Bramins still reverence his precepts, and literally follow his example. It is recorded in history, that the Athenian court, called the Areopagite, was particularly careful to punish offenders of this kind. Even a child, who, in the wantonness of his recreation, had deprived an innocent bird of its sight, was condemned by one of these Grecian magistrates, and suffered a very severe punishment.
Of the fair sex, I would willingly hope, there are but few of those cruel naturalists; at least I do not recollect but one in the circle of my observation, nor do I wish the number may increase. Your present correspondent, Mr. Urban, (like a person who reveres the Eastern Shastah) has formed a resolution to deprive of life, not even one of those minutiæ of the creation. * The poor beetle from me shall feel no corporal suíferance: the butterfly, unmolested by my hand, may range from flower to flower: the gaat may deposit his eggs, and the spider renew his web, without sustaining any injury.
It is my firm opinion, that we have no unlimited dominion over the insect tribe; and though man may be considered as the delegate of heaven, over the inferior creatures, he is not causelessly, wantonly to immerse his hands in their blood, or cause them to linger in cruel tortures. It is true, I have little faith in the doctrine of Metemsychosis, yet let me recommend the Christian doctrines of pity and compassion. And, however strange and singular these principles may ap: pear to the impaling murderers in question, persons endowed with sensibility of mind, I am sure, will applaud them. 1771, Sept.
XL. On the Process of Vegetation in Trees.
MR. URBAN, Black Bourton, O.ron, Oct. 12, 1771, SOME.consideration on the process of vegetation in trees, may not only be a matter of curiosity, but from thence some beneficial effects to mankind may possibly be deduced.
In spring and summer, the sap abounds with salts, and is perfectly Huid, by which means the nutritious juices are conveyed through all the more minute ducts, to every part of the tree, for the purposes of vegetation, but as winter advances, and that is no longer to be carried on, the sap begins to grow thick and viscid, and thereby rendered incapable of passing through the smaller vessels, by which means the leaves of all those which are classed under the name of trees with deciduous leaves, for want of their due nourishment, fall off and perish. In winter the sap assumes another form, retires to the bark, abounds with oil, and in that state seems designed by providence as a defensitive to the vital parts of the tree against the inclemency of the weather, during that torpid state. But as the spring comes on, it again liquifies, and these oleagenous parts are by nature elaborated into a thin aqueous juice, to peryade every part of it for vegetation.
I have been informed, that the bark of oak is fit for tanning, only when taken off in the spring of the year, when the oily parts contained in it, are digested into the fluidity of sap, and if taken off in the winter, would be totally useless for that purpose; and therefore should think that the tanning property of it, arises from the sap-aqueous juice contained in it: and if so, it may be worth while to consider whether the tapping of the oak in spring might not produce liquor in great quantity fit for this purpose; but as this would soon ferment and grow into a spirituous liquor, and thereby be so
totally changed, as not to be at all proper for this use; that fermentation might be prevented by boiling it down, and throwing off the aqueous parts by evaporation, as is every day practised in the fresh juices of the grape, and made into a rob; so to concentre its juices, as to prevent fermentation, and reduce it to a body. And in this form the sap of trees might be safely conveyed from great distances, and at any time made use of.
To this let me add, it is found that nuts, mast, and seeds of every kind, plentifully abound with oil, and perhaps for the sanie reason, that bark in winter is full of it, to be a preservative of the corculum, or vegetative principle; and, indeed, seeds of every kind have a much greater quantity of oil contained in them, than in the same portion of bark, as a superior care may perhaps be necessary for their preservation; -and it is to be observed, that as soon as nuts, acorns, mast, &c. begin to vegetate, their juices become aqueous, rancid, acrid, and austere; and if eaten in that state, are productive of the most dangerous consequences, and in some instances fatal. From this process of nature it has occurred to me, that if acorns were artificially made to vegetate, in the manner made use of in malting of corn, a more powerful material for tanning might be produced, than the oak bark, and perhaps repeated trials and experience of other seeds in the same way, might indicate others equally, or more adapted for this purpose.
XLI. Extraordinary Effects of Pestilential Winds.
MR. URBAN, We have an account in several authors, as noted in the margin*, of certain hot, sultry, pestilential, or rather suffocating winds, in the Levant. They blow from the desarts, and are met with in Egypt, Persia, Assyria, India, and other countries adjacent to large and extensive plains of sand. But, not to be tedious, I shall here only give you the words of two authors concerning these mortal blasts. Thevenot
* Thevenot, p. 177, 261. Part II. p. 54, 116. et seq. 135, 138. Tavernier,
Part II. p. 44. Dr. Shaw's Travels, p 217, 218, 379. Bryant, p. 7. Shaw's Supplement, p. 11. Hyde de Relig. Vet. Pers, p. 339,