Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/549

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529
ELECTRICITY AND LIFE.

The latter are, at all events, exceedingly complex. There is in us, and in every organized being, an infinite world of the most various actions going on. The forces penetrating us are as manifold as the materials we are moulded from. In every point of our bodies, and at every moment of our existence, all the energies of Nature meet and unite. Yet, such order rules in the course of these wonderful workings, that harmonious blended action, instead of bewildering confusion, characterizes beings endowed with life. Every thing in them commands and answers, with balance and counterpoise. Buffon long ago felt and expressed this. "The animal," he said, "combines all the forces of Nature: his individuality is a centre to which every thing is referred, a point reflecting the whole universe, a world in little." A deep saying, coming from the great naturalist as the flash of an intuition of genius, rather than the result of rigid investigation—words which the movement of science confirms with ever stronger proofs, while borrowing from them light for its path.

Having determined that living bodies are in themselves sources of the electric fluid, we next inquire into the nature of the effects produced in the animal organism by electricity under different forms. The atmosphere contains a variable quantity of positive electricity; the earth itself is always charged with negative electricity. It is not yet precisely known how this diffused and silent force originates. Physicists suppose that it proceeds from vegetation and the evaporation of water. Becquerel has quite lately set forth a number of reasons, more or less plausible, for the belief that the chief part of atmospheric electricity is derived from the sun, and diffused by it into space together with light. Whether this be true or not, while the sky is clear this fluid has no visible effect on human beings; but, whenever it accumulates in the clouds, and gives rise to storms, it produces effects that are the most manifest proofs of the influence exerted over life by electricity. Persons killed by lightning present a great variety of appearances. Sometimes one struck by lightning is killed outright on the spot, the body remaining standing or sitting; sometimes, on the contrary, it is thrown to a great distance. Sometimes the flash tears off and destroys the victim's dress, leaving the body untouched, and sometimes the reverse is the case. In some instances the destruction is frightful, the heart is torn apart and the bones crushed; in others the organs are observed entirely uninjured. In certain cases flaccidity of the limbs occurs, softening of the bones, collapse of the lungs; in others, contractions and rigidity are remarked. Sometimes the body of the person struck decomposes rapidly, but at times it resists decay. Lightning, which shatters trees and overturns walls, seems not to produce mutilations in animals at all readily. When the stroke does not produce death, it creates at least serious disturbances—sometimes temporary, but oftener beyond remedy. Besides the burns and various eruptions noticed on the skin of those struck with lightning, they often