Page:The fairy tales of science.djvu/52

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Man himself seems to be built up of the four elements, and according to the first theoretical system of medicine, health indicates their perfect balance, and disease, the preponderance of one of them.

Such is the old doctrine of the Four Elements, simple and concise enough, but unfortunately false.

Modern science has satisfactorily demonstrated the compound nature of fire, air, earth, and water, and they can no longer be regarded as elements. By the term element, we understand any kind of matter which up to the present time has never been decomposed into constituents, and which consequently appears to have a simple nature. The true elementary bodies may be compared to the letters of the alphabet, and the diversified compounds which compose the material world to the words which form a language.

Let us examine the imaginary elements of the ancients, and see whether they will help us to arrive at the true solution of the problem—what is the world made of?

A candle in burning seems to disappear completely, and when the combustion is over, an insignificant trace of ash from the wick is all that remains to the eye. According to the Greek philosophers, tallow contains an ethereal substance called Fire, which being set free, takes the form of flame; the gradual decrease of the candle is therefore accounted for by the dissipation of its chief constituent.