Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/84

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expense of the patient, and then die out again. Indeed, it seems to be thoroughly established that many diseases are due to the excessive multiplication of microscopic organisms, and we are not without hope that means will be discovered by which, without injury to the patient, these terrible though minute enemies may be destroyed, and the disease thus stayed. The interesting researches of Burdon-Sanderson, Greenfield, Koch, Pasteur, Toussaint, and others, seem to justify the hope that we may be able to modify these and other germs, and then by appropriate inoculation to protect ourselves against fever and other acute diseases.

The history of anæsthetics is a most remarkable illustration of how long we may be on the very verge of a most important discovery. Ether, which, as we all know, produces perfect insensibility to pain, was discovered as long ago as 1540. The anæsthetic property of nitrous oxide, now so extensively used, was observed in 1800 by Sir H. Davy, who actually experimented on himself, and had one of his teeth painlessly extracted when under its influence. He even suggests that, "as nitrous oxide gas seems capable of destroying pain, it could probably be used with advantage in surgical operations." Nay, this property of nitrous oxide was habitually explained and illustrated in the chemical lectures given in hospitals, and yet for fifty years the gas was never used in actual operations.

Few branches of science have made more rapid progress in the last half-century than that which deals with the ancient condition of man. When our Association was founded, it was generally considered that the human race suddenly appeared on the scene, about six thousand years ago, after the disappearance of the extinct mammalia, and when Europe, both as regards physical conditions and the other animals by which it was inhabited, was pretty much in the same condition as in the period covered by Greek and Roman history. Since then the persevering researches of Layard, Rawlinson, Botta, and others have made known to us, not only the statues and palaces of the ancient Assyrian monarchs, but even their libraries; the cuneiform characters have been deciphered, and we can not only see, but read in the British Museum, the actual contemporary records, on burned-clay cylinders, of the events recorded in the historical books of the Old Testament and in the pages of Herodotus. The researches in Egypt also seem to have satisfactorily established the fact that the pyramids themselves are at least six thousand years old, while it is obvious that the Assyrian and Egyptian monarchies can not suddenly have attained to the wealth and power, the state of social organization, and progress in the arts, of which we have before us, preserved by the sand of the desert from the ravages of man, such wonderful proofs.

In Europe, the writings of the earliest historians and poets indicated that, before iron came into general use, there was a time when bronze was the ordinary material of weapons, axes, and other cutting