Relations

When several different parts contribute to one effect; or, which is the same thing, when an effect is produced by the joint action of different instruments; the fitness of such parts or instruments to one another, for the purpose of producing, by their united action, the effect, is what I call relation; and wherever this is observed in the works of nature or of man, it appears to me to carry along with it decisive evidence of understanding, intention, art. In examining, for instance, the several parts of a watch, the spring, the barrel, the chain, the fusee, the balance, the wheels of various sizes, forms, and positions, what is it which would take an observer’s attention, as most plainly evincing a construction, directed by thought, deliberation, and contrivance? It is the suitableness of these parts to one another; first, in the succession and order in which they act; and, secondly, with a view to the effect finally produced. Thus, referring the spring to the wheels, he sees in it that which originates and upholds their motion; in the chain, that which transmits the motion to the fusee; in the fusee, that which communicates it to the wheels: in the conical figure of the fusee, if he refer back again to the spring, he sees that which corrects the inequality of its force. Referring the wheels to one another, he notices, first, their teeth, which would have been without use or meaning, if there had been only one wheel, or if the wheels had had no connexion between themselves, or common bearing upon some joint effect; secondly, the correspondency of their position, so that the teeth of one wheel catch into the teeth of another; thirdly, the proportion observed in the number of teeth of each wheel, which determines the rate of going. Referring the balance to the rest of the works, he saw, when he came to understand its action, that which rendered their motions equable. Lastly, in looking upon the index and face of the watch, he saw the use and conclusion of the mechanism, viz. marking the succession of minutes and hours; but all depending upon the motions within, all upon the system of intermediate actions between the spring and the pointer. What thus struck his attention in the several parts of the watch, he might probably designate by one general name of “relation;” and observing with respect to all cases whatever, in which the origin and formation of a thing could be ascertained by evidence, that these relations were found in things produced by art and design, and in no other things, he would rightly deem of them as characteristic of such productions.—To apply the reasoning here described to the works of nature.

The animal economy is full; is made up of these relations:

I. There are, first, what in one form or other belong to all animals, the parts and powers which successively act upon their food. Compare this action with the process of a manufactory. In men and quadrupeds, the aliment is first broken and bruised by mechanical instruments of mastication, viz. sharp spikes or hard knobs, pressing against or rubbing upon one another: thus ground and comminuted, it is carried by a pipe into the stomach, where it waits to undergo a great chemical action, which we call digestion: when digested, it is delivered through an orifice, which opens and shuts as there is occasion, into the first intestine; there after being mixed with certain proper ingredients, poured through a hole in the side of the vessel, it is farther dissolved; in this state, the milk, chyle, or part which is wanted, and which is suited for animal nourishment, is strained off by the mouths of very small tubes, opening into the cavity of the intestines: thus freed from its grosser parts, the percolated fluid is carried by a long, winding, but traceable course, into the main stream of the old circulation; which conveys it, in its progress, to every part of the body. Now, I say again, compare this with the process of a manufactory; with the making of cider, for example; with the bruising of the apples in the mill, the squeezing of them when so bruised in the press, the fermentation in the hogsheads, the drawing off into bottles, the pouring out for use into the glass. Let any one show me any difference between these two cases, as to the point of contrivance. That which is at present under our consideration, the “relation” of the parts successively employed, is not more clear in the last case, than in the first. The aptness of the jaws and teeth to prepare the food for the stomach, is, at least, as manifest, as that of the cider-mill to crush the apples for the press. The concoction of the food in the stomach is as necessary for its future use, as the fermentation of the stum in the vat is to the perfection of the liquor. The disposal of the aliment afterwards; the action and change which it undergoes, the route which it is made to take, in order that, and until that, it arrive at its destination, is more complex indeed and intricate, but, in the midst of complication and intricacy, as evident and certain, as is the apparatus of cocks, pipes, tunnels, for transferring the cider from one vessel to another; of barrels and bottles for preserving it till fit for use, or of cups and glasses for bringing it, when wanted, to the lip of the consumer. The character of the machinery is in both cases this, that one part answers to another part, and every part to the final result.

This parallel, between the alimentary operation and some of the processes of art, might be carried farther into detail. Spallanzani has remarked79 a circumstantial resemblance between the stomachs of gallinaceous fowls and the structure of corn-mills. Whilst the two sides of the gizzard perform the office of the mill-stones, the craw or crop supplies the place of the hopper. When our fowls are abundantly supplied with meat they soon fill their craw: but it does not immediately pass thence into the gizzard; it always enters in very small quantities, in proportion to the progress of trituration;—in like manner as, in a mill, a receiver is fixed above the two large stones which serve for grinding the corn; which receiver, although the corn be put into it by bushels, allows the grain to dribble only in small quantities, into the central hole in the upper mill-stone.

But we have not done with the alimentary history. There subsists a general relation between the external organs of an animal by which it procures its food, and the internal powers by which it digests it80. Birds of prey, by their talons and beaks, are qualified to seize and devour many species, both of other birds and of quadrupeds. The constitution of the stomach agrees exactly with the form of the members. The gastric juice of a bird of prey, of an owl, a falcon, or a kite, acts upon the animal fibre alone; it will not act upon seeds or grasses at all. On the other hand the conformation of the mouth of the sheep or of the ox is suited for browsing upon herbage. Nothing about these animals is fitted for the pursuit of living prey. Accordingly it has been found by experiments, tried not many years ago, with perforated balls, that the gastric juice of ruminating animals, such as the sheen and the ox, speedily dissolves vegetables, but makes no impression upon animal bodies. This accordancy is still more particular. The gastric juice, even of granivorous birds, will not act upon the grain whilst whole and entire. In performing the experiment of digestion with the gastric juice in vessels, the grain must be crushed and bruised before it be submitted to the menstruum; that is to say, must undergo by art without the body, the preparatory action which the gizzard exerts upon it within the body; or no digestion will take place. So strict, in this case, is the relation between the mechanical operation, and the chemical process.


79Diss. I. Sect liv.

80This subject of the relation of parts, and the correspondence of one part of the animal structure to all the others which is here briefly spoken of by our author, has since been made, in the hands of some distinguished anatomists, of immense importance in a scientific point of view. The following extract from Mr. Bell’s Treatise on Animal Mechanics, shows how extensively it is capable of being considered, and what interesting results may be drawn from it.—Ed.

“What we have to state has been the result of the studies of many naturalists; but although they have labored, as it were, in their own department of comparative anatomy, they have failed to seize upon it with the privilege of genius, and to handle it in the masterly manner of Cuvier.

“Suppose a man ignorant of anatomy to pick up a bone in an unexplored country, he learns nothing, except that some animal has lived and died there; but the anatomist can, by that single bone, estimate, not merely the size of the animal, as well as if he saw the print of its foot, but the form and joints of the skeleton, the structure of its jaws, and teeth, the nature of its food, and its internal economy. This, to one ignorant of the subject, must appear wonderful, but it is after this manner that the anatomist proceeds; let us suppose that he has taken up that portion of bone in the limb of the quadruped which corresponds to the human wrist; and that he finds that the form of the bone does not admit of free motion in various directions, like the paw of the carnivorous creature. It is obvious, by the structure of the part, that the limb must have been merely for supporting the animal, and for progression, and not for seizing prey. This leads him to the fact that there were no bones resembling those of the hands and fingers, or those of the claws of the tiger; for the motions which that conformation of bones permits in the paw, would be useless, without the rotation of the wrist—he concludes that these bones were formed in one mass, like the cannon-bone, pastern-bone, and coffin-bones of the horse’s foot.

‘The motion limited to flection and extension of the foot of a hoofed animal implies the absence of a collar-bone and a restrained motion in the shoulder-joint; and thus the naturalist, from the specimen in his hand has got a perfect notion of all the bones of the anterior extremity! The motions of the extremities imply a condition of the spine which unites them. Each bone of the spine will have that form which permits the bounding of the stag, or the galloping of the horse, but it will not have that form of joining which admits the turning or writhing of the spine, as in the leopard or the tiger.

“And now he comes to the head:—the teeth of a carnivorous animal, he says, would be useless to rend prey, unless there were claws to hold it, and a mobility of the extremities like the hand, to grasp it. He considers, therefore, that the teeth must have been for bruising herbs, and the back teeth for grinding.  The socketing of these teeth in the jaw gives a peculiar form to these bones, and the muscles which move them are also peculiar; in short, he forms a conception of the shape of the skull. From this point he may set out anew, for by the form of the teeth, he ascertains the nature of the stomach, the length of the intestines, and all the peculiarities which mark a vegetable feeder.

“Thus the whole parts of the animal system are so connected with one another, that from one single bone or fragment of bone, be it of the jaw, or of the spine, or of the extremity, a really accurate conception of the shape, motions, and habits of the animal, may be formed.

“It will readily be understood that the same process of reasoning will ascertain, from a small portion of a skeleton, the existence of a carnivorous animal, or of a fowl, or of a bat, or of a lizard, or of a fish; and what a conviction is here brought home to us, of the extent of that plan which adapts the members of every creature to its proper office, and yet exhibits a system extending through the whole range of animated beings, whose motions are conducted by the operation of muscles and bones!

“After all, this is but a part of the wonders disclosed through the knowledge of a thing so despised as a fragment of bone. It carries us into another science; since the knowledge of the skeleton not only teaches us the classification of creatures, now alive, but affords proofs of the former existence of animated beings which are not now to be found on the surface of the earth. We are thus led to an unexpected conclusion from such premises; not merely the existence of an individual animal, or race of animals; but even the changes which the globe itself has undergone in times before all existing records, and before the creation of human beings to inhabit the earth, are opened to our contemplation.”

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