Page:The fairy tales of science.djvu/71

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49
THE FOUR ELEMENTS.

these metalloids have been styled the organogens, or organ-forming elements. The chemist tells us that wood, sap, starch, muscle, blood, nerve, and all other organized substances, result from the combination of these four principles in varying proportions.

Vegetables feed upon inorganic matter; they derive their carbon from carbonic acid, their nitrogen from ammonia, and their oxygen and hydrogen from water.

Animals are dependent upon the vegetable kingdom for their sustenance. A large number of races feed directly upon herbs and fruits; others prey upon the bodies of these vegetable-feeders. When animals die, their bodies suffer decomposition, and their original constituents—water, ammonia, and carbonic acid, return to the atmosphere, to nourish another generation of plants, for another generation of animals to feed upon.

The elements are indestructible, and death merely alters the arrangement of their atoms.

The ancient philosopher contended that all things were formed out of four elements: the modern philosopher declares that the two great organic kingdoms spring from a few invisible gases. The theory seems almost as credible as the fact! The following words from the pen of a celebrated chemist,[1] read like a page of some wild romance, and

  1. Liebig.