Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/408

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394
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

salamander's young, which never have access to water, is not a mark of inferiority but of superiority; it is, in reality, the casting off of the old or larval and aquatic characters and the putting on of the new and higher features of the land-animal. Even the degeneration of human structures—the modification of the tail which early human existence exhibits, and of muscular structures well developed in lower life—are no proofs of inferiority, but are evidences of superiority in ourselves. Thus, even in the great work of evolving higher races out of the lower, to degeneration much is owing for its aid in repressing larval characters and the structures which belong to lower existences. While progressive evolution develops the great tree of life, extends each branch, clothes it with verdure, and expands each blossom, it is degeneration which lops the worn and aged stems, prunes the weakly foliage, trims the budding growths, and so directs and molds the outlines of the organic whole. It is to evolution and progress that the world of life largely owes its forward march. But hardly less is the debt of gratitude due by the living hosts to degenerative change and retrogression which, though stern and oft times cruel in their ways, nevertheless mark wisely and well the pathways of life, and prevent the useless and weak from cumbering the ground.—Gentleman's Magazine.

 

THE PHENOMENA OF DEATH.
By THOMAS D. SPENCER, M. D.

THERE seems to be no subject from which the mind so instinctively shrinks, few thoughts more repellent to the soul, and no dread vision of the night, howsoever fantastic it be, that presents to the imagination so formidable an aspect as that of death. Indeed, with this all nature seems at variance. The English ivy creeping over fallen ruins, or the fresh moss covering the prostrate trunk of some forest oak, seems as if endeavoring to hide from view the havoc which death has made. Beyond the merely instinctive desire to exist, the dread of death is a matter of education. Never does the child forget his first sight of a corpse; the darkened chamber, the storm of grief, the white face and rigid features, all combine to form an indelible impression on the mind.

It is probably the extensive paraphernalia attending the funeral of the present day that render death so formidable. In war—on the battle-field, where death assumes its most sanguinary aspect—the mind of the soldier, from constant association, becomes so inured, that it ceases to be impressed with natural terror, and death seems but another foe to be met and conquered. Although the consideration of this topic be repugnant to the naturally healthy mind, there