Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/664

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ment into the body and there digesting it, the definition so changed will cover all animals, except certain parasites, and the few and exceptional cases of non-parasitic animals which do not feed at all. On the other hand, the definition thus amended will exclude all ordinary vegetable organisms.

Cuvier himself practically gives up his second distinctive mark when he admits that it is wanting in the simpler animals.

The third distinction is based on a completely erroneous conception of the chemical differences and resemblances between the constituents of animal and vegetable organisms, for which Cuvier is not responsible, as it was current among contemporary chemists.

It is now established that nitrogen is as essential a constituent of vegetable as of animal living matter; and that the latter is, chemically speaking, just as complicated as the former. Starchy substances, cellulose and sugar, once supposed to be exclusively confined to plants, are now known to be regular and normal products of animals. Amylaceous and saccharine substances are largely manufactured, even by the highest animals; cellulose is widespread as a constituent of the skeletons of the lower animals; and it is probable that amyloid substances are universally present in the animal organism, though not in the precise form of starch.

Moreover, although it remains true that there is an inverse relation between the green plant in sunshine and the animal, in so far as, under these circumstances, the green plant decomposes carbonic acid, and exhales oxygen, while the animal absorbs oxygen and exhales carbonic acid; yet the exact investigations of the modern chemical investigator of the physiological processes of plants have clearly demonstrated the fallacy of attempting to draw any general distinction between animal and vegetable on this ground. In fact, the difference vanishes with the sunshine, even in the case of the green plant; which, in the dark, absorbs oxygen and gives out carbonic acid like any animal. While those plants, such as the fungi, which contain no chlorophyl and are not green, are always, so far as respiration is concerned, in the exact position of animals. They absorb oxygen and give out carbonic acid.

Thus, by the progress of knowledge, Cuvier's fourth distinction between the animal and the plant has been as completely invalidated as the third and second; and even the first can be retained only in a modified form and subject to exceptions.

But has the advance of biology simply tended to break down old distinctions, without establishing new ones?

With a qualification, to be considered presently, the answer to this question is undoubtedly in the affirmative. The famous researches of Schwann and Schleiden, in 1837 and the following years, founded the modern science of histology, or that branch of anatomy which deals with the ultimate visible structure of organisms, as revealed by the