Causes of Consumption. The human constitution, as shown by Liebig, in his profound work on Animal Chemistry, is governed by two forces, the nervous and the vegetative. The former disposes the particles composing the body to a state of motion; the latter inclines them to a position of rest.
In vegetative life there is motion in one direction only, so to speak; that is, motion which tends to the opposite of motion, namely, rest. In vegetables, whose life is wholly under this power, there is no waste; for here, all ultimate particles, having once taken a place of rest, remain undisturbed. In a tree, a layer of matter once deposited, always remains. Hence there is growth as long as the tree lives. There is no power to break up and destroy.
But in the animal body there is motion in two directions, or a circuit of motion. Particles which under the vegetative force have been put to rest, are perpetually being displaced by the nervous energy, and reduced to unorganized amorphous compounds, to be burned in warming the system, or cast out by the several excretory processes.
So constant is the action of these two forces, that John Hunter compared the human system to a whirlpool, into which the particles of matter are perpetually poured, under the influence of the vegetative power, and out of which they are as constantly whirled by the nervous force.
By a little reflection upon these antagonisms, the reader will see that it is just when the vegetative force transcends the nervous, that the body increases in weight, and acquires that state' in which the blood corpuscles abound, and the tendency, if to disease at an, is to that of the inflammatory kind. It is the tonic condition of the system. Nutrition is more rapid than destruction. New particles are laid down faster than old ones are taken up. The body grows.
On the other hand, when the nervous force overmasters the vegetative, when the outward or centrifugal motion of the whirlpool prevails, then it is that the body is attenuated, the blood thinned and made serous, and the consumptive or atonic condition is established. Now, there is too much motion. The nutritive particles, instead of tending to a state of deposit for the re supply of waste matter, become fugitive in their habits, perpetually fleeing, like convicts escaped from prison. Introduce this power, in excess, into the vegetable kingdom, and the matter deposited upon the tree, instead of remaining to swell its bulk, would be driven off by the nervous force; and the tree, instead of growing, would be annually lessened, become sickly, and die of consumption.
In Tuberculosis, the system is like a field deluged by a flood; nothing can take root. The repeated shocks of the nervous battery sent to the absorbents so quicken them in their work of removing waste matter, that they dislodge much which is not yet worn out, and assist in casting out of, the system not a little designed to be used in its renewal. A healthy deposit is thus prevented, and nutrition is at an end. The nutritive arteries, those little builders of the human frame, are overmastered by the stimulated lymphatics; the constructive material is wrested from them, and borne beyond their reach, and the body wastes from want of nourishment. The blood becomes thin and watery; and from the increased serous portion, chiefly albumen, are deposited upon the lungs and other tissues, the albuminous tumors called tubercles.
Here is found the cause of that peculiar smallness of bone and muscle, and thinness and tallness of person, so peculiar to consumptives. The absorbents, under the power of a very active nervous system, take down , the house we live in " faster than the nutritive arteries, confused by the motion around them, can effect its reconstitution. It is simply an unbalancing of the antagonistic forces, which build and pull down our earthly tenement. But from the age of seventeen to thirty~ five, when the vegetative power is losing something of its extraordinary activity, and the nervous force is showing its highest capabilities, then it is, as this theory indicates, that tubercular consumption does its dreadful work, then, that the outward world of this physiological Maelstrom casts upon the shores of mortality so many thinned, exhausted, and lifeless human forms. More than three fourths of all who sink under this disorder die between the ages just named. The brain, between these points of time, acquires its full size and force.
This disease prevails most, too, in those countries where an enlightened civilization gives to the nervous system it Is fullest development, as in Great Britain, France, and the United States, and in those where the nutritive process is most retarded by a relaxing climate ; and it is scarcely known among those people who are but little enlightened and have small brains, and among those who live in high and invigorating latitudes. As the most enlightened, however, are generally found in temperate climates, and those with the least cultivated brains in low latitudes, the rule is not perfectly explained by facts; yet it shows itself sufficiently to establish its validity, and to afford another proof of my theory.
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