Of the Muscles

Muscles, with their tendons, are the instruments by which animal motion is performed. It will be our business to point out instances in which, and properties with respect to which, the disposition of these muscles is as strictly mechanical, as that of the wires and strings of a puppet35.

I. We may observe, what I believe is universal, an exact relation between the joint and the muscles which move it. Whatever motion the joint, by its mechanical construction, is capable of performing, that motion, the annexed muscles, by their position, are capable of producing. For example; if there be, as at the knee and elbow, a hinge-joint, capable of motion only in the same plane, the leaders, as they are called, i.e. the muscular tendons, are placed in directions parallel to the bone, so as, by the contraction or relaxation of the muscles to which they belong, to produce that motion and no other. If these joints were capable of a freer motion, there are no muscles to produce it. Whereas at the shoulder and the hip, where the ball and socket joint allows by its construction of a rotatory or sweeping motion, tendons are placed in such a position, and pull in such a direction, as to produce the motion of which the joint admits. For instance, the sartorius, or tailor’s muscle, rising from the spine, running diagonally across the thigh, and taking hold of the inside of the main bone of the leg, a little below the knee, enable us, by its contraction, to throw one leg and thigh over the other; giving effect, at the same time, to the ball and socket joint at the hip, and the hinge-joint at the knee. [Pl. XII. fig. 1.]

There is, as we have seen, a specific mechanism in the bones, for the rotatory motions of the head and hands; there is, also, in the oblique direction of the head and hands; there is, also, in the oblique direction of the muscles belonging to them, a specific provision for the putting of this mechanism of the bones into action. [Pl. XII. fig. 2.] And mark the consent of uses. The oblique muscles would have been inefficient without that particular articulation would have been lost, without the oblique muscles. It may be proper, however, to observe with respect to the head, although I think it does not vary the case, that its oblique motions and inclinations are often motions in a diagonal, produced by the joint action of muscles lying in straight direction. But whether the pull be single or combined, the articulation is always such, as to be capable of obeying the action of the muscles. The oblique muscles attached to the head, are likewise so disposed, as to be capable of the steadying the globe, as well as of moving it. The head of a new-born infant is often obliged to be filleted up. After death, the head drops and rolls in every direction. So that it is by the equilibre of the muscles, by the aid of a considerable and equipollent muscular force in constant exertion, that the head maintains its erect posture. The muscles here supply what would otherwise be a great defect in the articulation; for the joint in the neck, although admirably adapted to the motion of the head, is insufficient for its support. It is not only by the means of a most curious structure of the bones that a man turns his head, but by virtue of an adjusted muscular power, that he even holds it up.

As another example of what we are illustrating, viz. conformity of use between the bones and the muscles, it has been observed of the different vertebrae, that their processes are exactly proportioned to the quantity of motion which the other bones allow of, and which the respective muscles are capable of producing.

II. A muscle acts only by contraction. Its force is exerted in no other way. When the exertion ceases, it relaxes itself, that is, it returns by relaxation to its former state; but without energy. This is the nature of the muscular fibre: and being so, it is evident that the reciprocal energetic motion of the limbs, by which we mean motion with force in opposite directions, can only be produced by the instrumentality of opposite or antagonist muscles; of flexors and extensors answering to each other. For instance, the biceps and brachiaeus internus muscles, placed in the front part of the upper arm by their contraction, bend the elbow; and with such degree of force, as the case requires, or the strength admits of. [Pl. XIII. fig. 1.] The relaxation of these muscles, after the effort, would merely let the forearm drop down. For the back stroke, therefore, and that the arm may not only bend at the elbow, but also extend and straighten itself, with force, other muscles, the longus and brevis brachiaeus externus, and the anconaeus, placed on the hinder part of the arms, by their contractile twitch fetch back the fore-arm into a straight line with the cubit, with no less force than that with which it was bent out of it. The same thing obtains in all the limbs, and in every movable part of the body. A finger is not bent and straightened, without the contraction of two muscles taking place. It is evident, therefore, that the animal functions require that particular disposition of the muscles which we describe by the name of antagonist muscles. And they are accordingly so disposed. Every muscle is provided with an adversary. They act, like two sawyers in a pit by an opposite pull; and nothing surely can more strongly indicate design and attention to an end, than their being thus stationed; than this collocation. The nature of the muscular fibre being what it is, the purposes of the animal could be answered by no other. And not only the capacity for motion, but the aspect and symmetry of the body, is preserved by the muscles being marshaled according to this order, e.g. the mouth is holden in the middle of the face, and its angles kept in a state of exact correspondency, by several muscles drawing against, and balancing each other. [See Pl. XI  .[sic] fig. 3.] In a hemiplegia, when the muscles on one side are weakened, the muscles on the other side draw the mouth awry.

Another property of the muscles, which could only be the result of care, is, their being almost universally so disposed, as not to obstruct or interfere with one another’s action. I know but one instance in which this impediment is perceived. We cannot easily swallow whilst we gape. This, I understand, is owing to the muscles employed in the act of deglutition, being so implicated with the muscles of the lower jaw, that, whilst these last are contracted, the former cannot act with freedom. The obstruction is, in this instance, attended with little inconveniency; but it shows what the effect is where it does exist; and what loss of faculty there would be if it were more frequent. Now, when we reflect upon the number of muscles, not fewer than four hundred and forty-six in the human body, known and named36, how contiguous they lie to each other, in layers, as it were, over one another, crossing one another, sometimes embedded in one another; sometimes perforating one another; an arrangement, which leaves to each its liberty, and its full play, must necessarily require meditation and counsel.


35Muscles are the fleshly parts of the body which surround the bones, having a fibrous texture; a muscle being composed of a number of muscular faciculi, which are composed of fibres still smaller; these result from fibres of a less volume, until by successive division we arrive at very small fibres no longer divisible. These muscular fibres are longer or shorter according to the muscles to which they belong; and every fibre is fixed by its two extremities to tendon or aponeurosis, which are the “wires and strings” which conduct the muscular power where they contract.—Paxton.
36Keill’s Anat. P.295, edit. 3. There are, however, five hundred and twenty-seven muscles described by more modern anatomists.  Paxton.

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