Part 1 out of 6
Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE HISTORY OF A MOUTHFUL OF BREAD:
And Its Effect on the Organization of Men and Animals.
BY JEAN MACÉ.
Translated Prom the Eighth French Edition, By Mrs. Alfred Gatty.
EXTRACTS FROM THE PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION.
The volume of which the following pages are a translation, has been
adopted by the _University Commission at Paris_ among their prize
books, and has reached an eighth edition. Perhaps these facts speak
sufficiently in its favor; but as translator, and to some extent editor,
I wish to add my testimony to the great charm as well as merit of the
little work. I sat down to it, I must own, with no special predilection
in favor of the subject as a suitable one for young people; but in the
course of the labor have become a thorough convert to the author's
views that such a study--perhaps I ought to add, so pursued as he has
enabled it to be--is likely to prove a most useful and most desirable
The precise age at which the interest of a young mind can be turned
towards this practical branch of natural history is an open question,
and not worth disputing about. It may vary even in different
individuals. The letters are addressed to a _child_--in the original
even to a _little girl_--and most undoubtedly, as the book stands, it is
fit for any child's perusal who can find amusement in its pages: while
to the rather older readers, of whom I trust there will be a great many,
I will venture to say that the advantage they will gain in the subject
having been so treated as to be brought within the comprehension and
adapted to the tastes of a child, is pretty nearly incalculable. The
quaintness and drollery of the illustrations with which difficult
scientific facts are set forth will provoke many a smile, no doubt, and
in some young people perhaps a tendency to feel themselves treated
_babyishly_; but if in the course of the babyish treatment they find
themselves almost unexpectedly becoming masters of an amount of valuable
information on very difficult subjects, they will have nothing to
complain of. Let such young readers refer to even a popular
Encyclopaedia for an insight into any of the subjects of the
twenty-eight chapters of this volume--"The Heart," "The Lungs," "The
Stomach," "Atmospheric Pressure,"--no matter which, and see how much
they can understand of it without an amount of preliminary instruction
which would require half-a-year's study, and they will then thoroughly
appreciate the quite marvellous ingenuity and beautiful skill with
which M. Macé has brought the great leading anatomical and physical
facts of life out of the depths of scientific learning, and made them
literally comprehensible by a child.
* * * * *
There is one point (independent of the scientific teaching) and that,
happily, the only really important one, in which the English translator
has had no change to make or desire. The religious teaching of the
book is unexceptionable. There is no strained introduction of the
subject, but there is throughout the volume an acknowledgment of the
Great Creator of this marvellous work of the human frame, of the daily
and hourly gratitude we owe to Him, and of the utter impossibility of
our tracing out half his wonders, even in the things nearest to our
senses, and most constantly subject to observation. M. Macé will help,
and not hinder the humility with which the Christian naturalist lifts
one veil only to recognise another beyond.
It will be satisfactory to any one who may be inclined to wonder how
a lady can feel sure of having correctly translated the various
scientific and anatomical statements contained in the volume, to know
that the whole has been submitted to the careful revision of a medical
friend, to whom I have reason to be very grateful for valuable
explanations and corrections whenever they were necessary. In the same
way the chapter on "Atmospheric Pressure," where, owing to the
difference between French and English weights and measures, several
alterations of illustrations, etc., had to be made, has received similar
kind offices from the hands of a competent mathematician.
* * * * *
Ecclesfield, June, 1864.
NOTE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
In May '66, the seventeenth edition of this work was on sale in Paris.
The date of Mrs. Gatty's preface, it will be observed, is June '64,
and at that time, the eighth French edition only had been reached.
That it should be a popular book and command large sale wherever it
is known, will not surprise any one who reads it: the only remarkable
circumstance about it is, that it should not have been republished
here long ere this. Even this may probably be accounted for, on the
supposition that the title under which the translation was published
in England, was so unmeaning--conveying not the slightest idea of the
contents of the book--that none of our publishers even ventured to
hand it over to their "readers" to examine.
The author's title, _The History of a Mouthful of Bread_, while
falling far short of giving a clear notion of the entire scope of the
work, is shockingly diluted and meaningless, when translated _The
History of a Bit of Bread!_
To the translation of Mrs. Gatty, which is in the main an excellent
one, for she has generally seized upon the idea of the author and
rendered it with singular felicity, it may be very properly objected
that she has taken some liberties with the text when there was any
conflict of opinion between herself and her author, and has given her
own ideas instead of his, which is, probably, what she refers to when
she calls herself "to some extent editor."
The reader of this edition will, in all these cases, find the thought
of the author and not that of his translator; for the reason that a
careful examination of the original has convinced the publisher that
in every instance the author was to be preferred to the translator,
to say nothing of the right an author may have to be faithfully
Besides making these restorations, the copy from which this edition
was printed has been carefully compared with the last edition of the
author and a vast number of corrections made, and in its present shape
it is respectfully submitted and dedicated to every one (whose name
is legion, of course) who numbers among his young friends a "_my
dear child_" to present it to.
FIRST PART MAN.
V.--THE TEETH (_continued_)
VI.--THE TEETH (_continued_)
IX.--THE STOMACH (_continued_)
X.--THE INTESTINAL CANAL
XV.--THE NOURISHMENT OF THE ORGANS
XVII.--ARTERIAL AND VENOUS BLOOD
XIX.--THE ACTION OF THE LUNGS
XX.--CARBON AND OXYGEN
XXIII.--ACTION OF THE BLOOD UPON THE ORGANS
XXIV.--THE WORK OF THE ORGANS
XXVI.--ALIMENTS OF COMBUSTION
XXVII.--ALIMENTS OF NUTRITION (_continued_)--NITROGEN OR AZOTE
XXVIII.--COMPOSITION OF THE BLOOD
XXIX.--CLASSIFICATION OF ANIMALS
XXXVIII.--CRUSTACEA--MOLLUSKA. (_Crustaceans and Mollusks_)
XXXIX.--VERMES--ZOOPHYTA. (_Worms and Zoophytes_)
XL.--THE NOURISHMENT OF PLANTS
I am going to tell you, my dear child, something of the life and nature
of men and animals, believing the information may be of use to you in
after-life, besides being an amusement to you now.
Of course, I shall have to explain to you a great many particulars
which are generally considered very difficult to understand, and which
are not always taught even to grown-up people. But if we work together,
and between us succeed in getting them clearly into your head, it will
be a great triumph to me, and you will find out that the science of
learned men is more entertaining for little girls, as well as more
comprehensible, than it is sometimes supposed to be. Moreover, you
will be in advance of your years, as it were, and one day may be
astonished to find that you had mastered in childhood, almost as a
mere amusement, some of the first principles of anatomy, chemistry,
and several other of the physical sciences, as well as having attained
to some knowledge of natural history generally.
I begin at once, then, with the _History of a Mouthful of Bread_,
although I am aware you may be tempted to exclaim, that if I am going
to talk only about that, I may save myself the trouble. You know all
about it, you say, as well as I do, and need not surely be told how
to chew a bit of bread-and-butter! Well, but you must let me begin at
the very beginning with you, and you have no notion what an incredible
number of facts will be found to be connected with this chewing of a
piece of bread. A big book might be written about them, were all the
details to be entered into.
First and foremost--Have you ever asked yourself _why_ people eat?
You laugh at such a ridiculous question.
"Why do people eat? Why, because there are bonbons, and cakes, and
gingerbread, and sweetmeats, and fruit, and all manner of things good
to eat." Very well, that is a very good reason, no doubt, and you may
think that no other is wanted. If there were nothing but soup in the
world, indeed, the case would be different. There might be some excuse
then for making the inquiry.
Now, then, let us suppose for once that there _is_ nothing in the
world to eat but soup; and it is true that there are plenty of poor
little children for whom there is nothing else, but who go on eating
nevertheless, and with a very good appetite, too, I assure you, as
their parents know but too well very often. Why do people eat, then,
even when they have nothing to eat but soup? This is what I am going
to tell you, if you do not already know.
The other day, when your mamma said that your frock "had grown" too
short, and that you could not go out visiting till we had given you
another with longer sleeves and waist, what was the real cause of this
What a droll question, you say, and you answer--"Because I had grown,
To which I say "of course," too; for undoubtedly it was you who had
outgrown your frock. But then I must push the question further, and
ask--How had you grown?
Now you are puzzled. Nobody had been to your bed and pulled out your
arms or your legs as you lay asleep. Nobody had pieced a bit on at the
elbow or the knee, as people slip in a new leaf to a table when there
is going to be a larger party than usual at dinner. How was it, then,
that the sleeves no longer came down to your wrists, or that the body
only reached your knees? Nothing grows larger without being added to,
any more than anything gets smaller without having lost something; you
may lay that down as a rule, once for all. If, therefore, nothing was
added to you from without, something must have been added to you from
within. Some sly goblin, as it were, must have been cramming into your
frame whatever increase it has made in arms, legs, or anything else.
And who, do you think, this sly goblin is?
Why, my dear, it is _yourself!_
Ay! Bethink you, now, of all the bread-and-butter, and bonbons, and
gingerbread, and cakes, and sweetmeats, and even soup and plain food
(the soup and plain food being the most useful of all) which you have
been sending, day by day, for some time past, down what we used to
call "the red lane," into the little gulf below. What do you think
became of them when they got there? Well, they set to work at once,
without asking your leave, to transform themselves into something else;
and gliding cunningly into all the holes and corners of your body,
became there, each as best he might, bones, flesh, blood, etc.,
etc. Touch yourself where you will, it is upon these things you lay
your hand, though, of course, without recognizing them, for the
transformation is perfect and complete. And it is the same with
Look at your little pink nails, which push out further and further
every morning; examine the tips of your beautiful fair hair, which
gets longer and longer by degrees; coming out from your head as grass
springs up from the earth; feel the firm corners of your second teeth,
which are gradually succeeding those which came to you in infancy; you
have _eaten_ all these things, and that no long time ago.
Nor are you children the only creatures who are busy in this way. There
is your kitten, for instance, who a few months ago was only a tiny bit
of fur, but is now turning gradually into a grown-up cat. It is her
daily food which is daily becoming a cat inside her--her saucers of
milk now, and very soon her mice, all serve to the same end.
The large ox, too, of whom you are so much afraid, because you cannot
as yet be persuaded what a good-natured beast he really is, and how
unlikely to do any harm to children who do none to him--that large ox
began life as a small calf, and it is the grass which he has been
eating for some time past which has transformed him into the huge mass
of flesh you now see, and which by-and-by will be eaten by man, to
become man's flesh in the same manner.
But, further, still: Even the forest trees, which grow so high and
spread so wide, were at first no bigger than your little finger, and
all the grandeur and size you now look upon, they have taken in by the
process of eating. "What, _do trees eat?_" you ask.
Verily, do they; and they are, by no means, the least greedy of eaters,
for they eat day and night without ceasing. Not, as you may suppose,
that they crunch bonbons, or anything else as you do; nor is the process
with them precisely the same as with you. Yet you will be surprised
hereafter, I assure you, to find how many points of resemblance exist
between them and us in this matter. But we will speak further of this
Now, I think you must allow that there are few fairytales more
marvellous than this history of bread and meat turning into little
boys and girls, milk and mice turning into cats, and grass into oxen!
And I call it a _history_, observe, because it is a transformation
that never happens suddenly, but by degrees, as time goes on.
Now, then, for the explanation. You have heard, I dare say, of those
wonderful spinning-machines which take in at one end a mass of raw
cotton, very like what you see in wadding, and give out at the other
a roll of fine calico, all folded and packed up ready to be delivered
to the tradespeople. Well, you have within you, a machine even more
ingenious than that, which receives from you all the bread-and-butter
and other sorts of food you choose to put into it, and returns it to
you changed into the nails, hair, bones and flesh we have been talking
about, and many other things besides; for there are quantities of
things in your body, all different from each other, which you are
manufacturing in this manner all day long, without knowing anything
about it. And a very fortunate thing this is for you: for I do not
know what would become of you if you had to be thinking from morning
to night of all that requires to be done in your body, as your mother
has to look after and remember all that has to be done in the house.
Just think what a relief it would be to her to possess a machine which
should sweep the rooms, cook the dinners, wash the plates, mend torn
clothes, and keep watch over everything without giving her any trouble;
and, moreover, make no more noise or fuss than yours does, which has
been working away ever since you were born without your ever troubling
your head about it, or probably even knowing of its existence! Just
think of this and be thankful.
But do not fancy you are the only possessor of a magical machine of
this sort. Your kitten has one also, and the ox we were speaking of,
and all other living creatures. And theirs render the same service to
them that yours does to you, and much in the same way; for all these
machines are made after one model, though with certain variations
adapted to the differences in each animal. And, as you will see
by-and-by, these variations exactly correspond with the different sort
of work that has to be done in each particular case. For instance,
where the machine has grass to act upon, as in the ox, it is differently
constructed from that in the cat which has to deal with meat and mice.
In the same way in our manufactories, though all the spinning-machines
are made upon one model, there is one particular arrangement for those
which spin cotton, another for those which spin wool, another for flax,
and so on.
You have possibly noticed already, without being told, that all animals
are not of equal value; or, at least, to use a better expression, they
have not all had the same advantages bestowed on them. The dog, for
instance, that loving and intelligent companion, who almost reads your
thoughts in your eyes, and is as affectionate and obedient to his master
as it were to be wished all children were to their parents--this dog
is, as you must own, very superior, in all ways, to the frog, with its
large goggle eyes and clammy body, hiding itself in the water as soon
as you come near it. But again, the frog, which can come and go as it
likes, is decidedly superior to the oyster, which has neither head nor
limbs, and lives all alone, glued into a shell, in a sort of perpetual
Now the machine I have been telling you about is found in the oyster
and in the frog as well as in the dog, only it is less complicated,
and therefore less perfect in the oyster than in the frog; and less
perfect again in the frog than in the dog; for as we descend in the
scale of animals we find it becoming less and less elaborate--losing
here one of its parts, there another, but nevertheless remaining still
the same machine to all intents and purposes; though by the time it
has reached its lowest condition of structure we should hardly be able
to recognize it again, if we had not watched it through all its
gradations of form, and escorted it, as it were, from stage to stage.
Let me make this clear to you by a comparison.
You know the lamp which is lit every evening on the drawing-room table,
and around which you all assemble to work or read. Take off first the
shade, which throws the light on your book--then the glass which
prevents it smoking--then the little chimney which holds the wick and
drives the air into the flame to make it burn brightly. Then take away
the screw, which sends the wick up and down; undo the pieces one by
one, until none remain but those absolutely necessary to having a light
at all--namely, the receptacle for the oil and the floating wick which
Now if any one should come in and hear you say, "Look at my lamp,"
what would he reply? He would most likely ask at once, "What lamp?"--for
there would be very little resemblance to a lamp in that mere ghost
of one before him.
But to you, who have seen the different parts removed one after another,
that wick soaked in oil (let your friend shake his head about it as
he pleases) will still be the lamp to you, however divested of much
that made it once so perfect, and however dimly it may shine in
And this is exactly what happens when the machine we are discussing
is examined in the different grades of animals. The ignoramus who has
not followed it through its changes and reductions cannot recognize
it when it is presented to him in its lowest condition; but any one
who has carefully observed it throughout, knows that it is, in point
of fact, the same machine still.
This, then, is what we are now going to look at together, my dear
little girl. We will study first, piece by piece, the exquisite machine
within ourselves, which is of such unceasing use to us as long as we
do not give it more than a proper share of work to perform. Do you
understand? We will see what becomes of the mouthful of bread which
you place so coolly between your teeth, as if when that was done nothing
further remained to be thought about. We will trace it in its passage
through every part of the machine, from beginning to end. It will
therefore be simply only the _History of a Mouthful of Bread_ I
am telling you, even while I seem to be talking of other matters; for
to make that comprehensible I shall have to enter into a good many
And when you have thoroughly got to understand the history of what you
eat yourself, we will look a little into the history of what other
animals eat, beginning by those most like ourselves, and going on to
the rest in regular succession downwards. And while we are on the
subject, I will say a word or two on the way in which vegetables eat,
for, as you remember, I have stated that they do eat also.
Do you think this is likely to interest you, and be worth the trouble
of some thought and attention?
Perhaps you may tell me it sounds very tedious, and like making a great
fuss about a trifle; that you have all your life eaten mouthfuls of
bread without troubling yourself as to what became of them, and yet
have not been stopped growing by your ignorance, any more than the
little cat, who knows no more how it happens than you do.
True, my dear; but the cat is only a little cat, and you are a little
girl. Up to the present moment you and she have known, one as much as
the other on this subject, and on that point you have therefore had
no superiority over her. But she will never trouble herself about it,
and will always remain a little cat. You, on the contrary, are intended
by God to become something more in intelligence than you are now, and
it is by learning more than the cat that you will rise above her in
this respect. To learn, is the duty of all men, not only for the
pleasure of curiosity and the vanity of being called learned, but
because in proportion to what we learn we approach nearer to the destiny
which God has appointed to man, and when we walk obediently in the
path which God himself has marked out for us, we necessarily become
It is sometimes said to grown-up people, that it is never too late to
learn. To children one may say that it is never too early to learn.
And among the things which they may learn, those which I want now to
teach you have the double merit of being, in the first place amusing,
and afterwards, and above all, calculated to accustom you to think of
God, by causing you to observe the wonders which He has done. Sure am
I that when you know them you will not fail to admire them; moreover
I promise your mother that you will be all the better, as well as
wiser, for the study.
At the foot of the mountains, from whence I write to you, my dear
child, when we want to show the country to a stranger, we commence by
making him climb one of the heights, whence he may take in at a glance
the whole landscape below, all the woods and villages scattered over
the plain, even up to the blue line of the Rhine, which stretches out
to the distant horizon. After this he will easily find his way about.
It is to the top of a mountain equally useful that I have just led
you. It has cost you some trouble to climb with me. You have had to
keep your eyes very wide open that you might see to the end of the
road we had to go together. Now then, let us come down and view the
country in detail. Then we shall go as if we were on wheels.
And now let us begin at the beginning:
Well, doubtless, as the subject is eating, you will expect me to begin
with the mouth.
Wait a moment; there is something else first. But you are so accustomed
to make use of it, that you have never given it a thought, I dare say.
It is not enough merely that one should have a mouth; we must be able
to put what we want within it. What would you do at dinner, for
instance, if you had no hands?
The hand is then the first thing to be considered.
I shall not give you a description of it; you know what it is like.
But what, perhaps, you do not know, because you have never thought
about it, is, the reason why your hand is a more convenient, and
consequently more perfect, instrument than a cat's paw, for instance,
which yet answers a similar purpose, for it helps the cat to catch
Among your five fingers there is one which is called the thumb, which
stands out on one side quite apart from the others. Look at it with
respect; it is to these two little bones, covered over with a little
flesh, that man owes part of his physical superiority to other animals.
It is one of his best servants, one of the noblest of God's gifts to
him. Without the thumb three-fourths (at least) of human arts would
yet have to be invented; and to begin with, the art not only of carrying
the contents of one's plate to one's mouth, but of filling the plate
(a very important question in another way) would, but for the thumb,
have had difficulties to surmount of which you can form no idea.
Have you noticed that when you want to take hold of anything (a piece
of bread, we will say, as we are on the subject of eating), have you
noticed that it is always the thumb who puts himself forward, and that
he is always on one side by himself, whilst the rest of the fingers
are on the other? If the thumb is not helping, nothing remains in your
hand, and you don't know what to do with it. Try, by way of experiment,
to carry your spoon to your mouth without putting your thumb to it,
and you will see what a long time it will take you to get through a
poor little plateful of broth. The thumb is placed in such a manner
on your hand that it can face each of the other fingers one after
another, or all together, as you please; and by this we are enabled
to grasp, as if with a pair of pincers, whatever object, whether large
or small. Our hands owe their perfection of usefulness to this happy
arrangement, which has been bestowed on no other animal, except the
monkey, our nearest neighbor.
I may even add, while we are about it, that it is this which
distinguishes the hand from a paw or a foot. Our feet, which have other
things to do than to pick up apples or lay hold of a fork, our feet
have also each five fingers, but the largest cannot face the others;
it is not a thumb, therefore, and it is because of this that our feet
are not hands. Now the monkey has thumbs on the four members
corresponding to our arms and legs, and thus we may say that he has
hands at the end of his legs as well as of his arms. Nevertheless, he
is not on that account better off than we are, but quite the contrary.
I will explain this to you presently.
To return to our subject. You see that it was necessary, before saying
anything about the mouth, to consider the hand, which is the mouth's
purveyor. Before the cook lights the fires the maid must go to market,
must she not? And it is a very valuable maid that we have here: what
would become of us without her?
If we were in the habit of giving thought to everything, we should
never even gather a nut without being grateful to the Providence which
has provided us with the thumb, by means of which we are able to do
it so easily.
But however well I may have expressed it, I am by no means sure, after
all, that I have succeeded in showing you clearly, how absolutely
necessary our hand is to us in eating, and why it has the honor to
stand at the beginning of the history of what we eat.
It still appears to you, I suspect, that even if you were to lose the
use of your hands you would not, for all that, let yourself die of
This is because you have not attended to another circumstance, which
nevertheless demands your notice--namely, that from one end of the
world to the other, quantities of hands are being employed in providing
you with the wherewithal to eat.
To go on further: Have you any idea how many hands have been put in
motion merely to enable you to have your coffee and roll in the morning?
What a number, to be sure, over this cup of coffee (which is a trifle
in comparison with the other food you will consume in the course of
the day); from the hand of the negro who gathered the coffee crop to
that of the cook who ground the berries, to say nothing of the hand
of the sailor who guided the ship which bore them to our shores. Again,
from the hand of the laborer who sowed the corn, and that of the miller
who ground it into flour, to the hand of the baker who made it into
a roll. Then the hand of the farmer's wife who milked the cow, and the
hand of the refiner who made the sugar; to say nothing of the many
others who prepared his work for him, and I know not how many more.
How would it be, then, if I were to amuse myself by counting up all
the hands that are wanted to furnish--
The sugar-refiner's manufactory,
The milkmaid's shed,
The baker's oven,
The miller's mill,
The laborer's plough,
The sailor's ship?
And even now is there nothing we have forgotten? Ah, yes! the most
important of all the hands to you;--the hand which brings together
for your benefit the fruits of the labor of all the others--the hand
of your dear mother, always active, always ready, that hand which so
often acts as yours when your own is awkward or idle.
Now, then, you see how you might really manage to do without those two
comparatively helpless little paws of yours (although there is a thumb
to each), without suffering too much for want of food. With such an
army of hands at work, in every way, to furnish provision for that
little mouth, there would not be much danger.
But cut off your cat's fore paws--oh dear! what am I saying? Suppose,
rather, that she has not got any, and then count how many mice she
will catch in a day. The milk you give her is another matter, remember.
Like your cup of coffee, that is provided for her by others.
Believe me, if you were suddenly left all alone in a wood, like those
pretty squirrels who nibble hazel-nuts so daintily, you would soon
discover, from being thus thrown upon your own resources, that the
mouth is not the only thing required for eating, and that whether it
be a paw or a hand, there must always be a servant to go to market for
Mr. Mouth, and to provide him with food.
Happily, we are not driven to this extremity. We take hold of our
coffee-biscuit between the thumb and forefinger, and behold it is on
its road--Open the mouth, and it is soon done!
But before we begin to chew, let us stop to consider a little.
The mouth is the door at which everything enters. Now, to every
well-kept door there is a doorkeeper, or porter. And what is the office
of a well-instructed porter? Well, he asks the people that present
themselves, who they are, and what they have come for; and if he does
not like their appearance, he refuses them admittance. We too, then,
to be complete, need a porter of this sort in our mouths, and I am
happy to say we have one accordingly. I wonder whether you know him?
You look at me quite aghast! Oh, ungrateful child, not to know your
dearest friend! As a punishment, I shall not tell you who he is to-day.
I will give you till to-morrow to think about it.
Meanwhile, as I have a little time left, I will say one word more about
what we are going to look at together. It would hardly be worth while
to tell you this pretty story which we have begun, if from time to
time we were not to extract a moral from it. And what is the moral of
our history to-day?
It has more than one.
In the first place it teaches you, if you never knew it before, that
you are under great obligations to other people, indeed to almost
everybody, and most of all perhaps to people whom you may be tempted
to look down upon. This laborer, with his coarse smock-frock and heavy
shoes, whom you are so ready to ridicule, is the very person who, with
his rough hand, has been the means of procuring for you half the good
things you eat. That workman, with turned-up sleeves, whose dirty black
fingers you are afraid of touching, has very likely blackened and
dirtied them in your service. You owe great respect to all these people,
I assure you, for they all work for you. Do not, then, go and fancy
yourself of great consequence among them--you who are of no use in any
way at present, who want everybody's help yourself, but as yet can
Not that I mean to reproach you by saying this. Your turn has not come
yet, and everybody began like you originally. But I do wish to impress
upon you that you must prepare yourself to become some day useful to
others, so that you may pay back the debts which you are now
Every time you look at your little hand, remember that you have its
education to accomplish, its debts of honor to repay, and that you
must make haste and teach it to be very clever, so that it may no
longer be said of you, that you are of no use to anybody.
And then, my dear child, remember that a day will come, when the revered
hands that now take care of your childhood--those hands which to-day
are yours, as it were--will become weak and incapacitated by age. You
will be strong, then, probably, and the assistance which you receive
now, you must then render to her, render it to her as you have received
it--that is to say, with your hands. It is the mother's hand which
comes and goes without ceasing about her little girl now. It is the
daughter's hand which should come and go around the old mother
hereafter--her hand and not another's.
Here again, my child, the mouth is nothing without the hand. The mouth
says, "I love," the hand proves it.
Now, about this doorkeeper, or porter, as we will call him, of the
mouth. I do not suppose you have guessed who he is; so I am going to
The porter who keeps the door of the mouth is _the sense of taste_.
It is he who does the honors of the house so agreeably to proper
visitors, and gives such an unscrupulous dismissal to unpleasant
intruders. In other words, it is by his directions that we welcome so
affectionately with tongue and lips whatever is good to eat, and spit
out unhesitatingly whatever is unpleasant.
I could speak very ill of this porter if I chose; which would not be
very pleasant for certain little gourmands that I see here, who think
a good deal too much of him. But I would rather begin by praising him.
I can make my exceptions afterwards.
In the history I am going to give you, my dear child, there is one
thing you must never lose sight of, even when I do not allude to it;
and that is, that everything we shall examine into, has been expressly
arranged by God for the good and accommodation of our being in this
world; just as a cradle is arranged by a mother for the comfort of her
baby. We must look upon all these things, therefore, as so many
presentsfrom the Almighty himself; and abstain from speaking ill of
them, were it only out of respect for the hand which has bestowed them.
Moreover, there is a very easy plan by which we may satisfy ourselves
of the usefulness and propriety of these gifts--namely, by considering
what would become of us if we were deprived of any one of them.
Suppose, for instance, that you were totally deficient in the sense
of taste, and that when you put a piece of cake into your mouth, it
should create no more sensation in you than when you held it in your
You would not have thought of imagining such a case yourself, I am
aware; for it never comes into a child's head to think that things can
be otherwise than as God has made them. And in that respect children
are sometimes wiser than philosophers. Nevertheless, we will suppose
this for once, and consider what would happen in consequence.
Well, in the first place, you would eat old mouldy cake with just the
same relish as if it were fresh; and this mouldy cake, which now you
carefully avoid because it is mouldy, is very unwholesome food, and
would poison you were you to eat a great deal of it.
I give this merely as an instance, but it is one of a thousand. And
although, with regard to eatables, you only know such as have been
prepared either in shops or in your mamma's kitchen, still you must
be aware there are many we ought to avoid, because they would do no
good in our stomachs, and that we should often be puzzled to distinguish
these from others, if the sense of taste did not warn us about them.
You must admit, therefore, that such warnings are not without their
In short, it is a marvellous fact that what is unfit for food, is
_almost always_ to be recognized as it enters the mouth, by its
disagreeable taste; a further proof that God has thought of everything.
Medicines, it is true, are unpleasant to the taste, and yet have to
be swallowed in certain cases. But we may compare them to
chimney-sweepers, who are neither pretty to look at, nor invited into
the drawing-room; but who, nevertheless, are from time to time let
into the grandest houses by the porters--though possibly with a
grimace--because their services are wanted. And in the same way
medicines have to be admitted sometimes--despite their
unpleasantness--because they, too, have to work in the chimney. Taste
does not deceive you about them, however; they are not intended to
serve as food. If any one should try to breakfast, dine, and sup upon
physic he would soon find this out.
Besides, I only said _almost_ always, in speaking of unwholesome
food making itself known to us by its nasty taste; for it is an
unfortunate truth that men have invented a thousand plans for baffling
their natural guardian, and for bringing thieves secretly into the
company of honest people. They sometimes put poison, for instance,
into sugar--as is too often done in the case of those horrible green
and blue sugar plums, against which I have an old grudge, for they
poisoned a friend whom I loved dearly in my youth. Such things as these
pass imprudently by the porter, who sees nothing of their real
character--Mr. Sugar concealing the rogues behind him.
Moreover, we are sometimes so foolish as not to leave the porter time
to make his examination. We swallow one thing after another greedily,
without tasting; and such a crowd of arrivals, coming in with a rush,
"forces the sentry," as they say; and whose fault is it, if, after
this, we find thieves established in the house?
But animals have more sense than we have.
Look at your kitten when you give her some tit-bit she is not acquainted
with--how cautiously and gently she puts out her nose, so as to give
herself time for consideration. Then how delicately she touches the
unknown object with the tip of her tongue, once, twice, and perhaps
three times. And when the tip of the tongue has thus gone forward
several times to make observations (for this is the great post of
observation for the cat's porter as well as for ours), she ventures
to decide upon swallowing, but not before. If she has the least
suspicion, no amount of coaxing makes any difference to her; you may
call "puss, puss," for ever; all your tender invitations are useless,
and she turns away.
Very good; here then is one little animal, at least, who understands
for what end she has received the sense of taste, and who makes a
reasonable use of it. Very different from some children of my
acquaintance, who heedlessly stuff into their mouths whatever comes
into their hands, without even taking the trouble to taste it, and who
would escape a good many stomach-aches, if nothing else, if they were
as sensible as Pussy.
This is the really useful side of _the sense of taste_; but its
agreeable side, which is sufficiently well known to you, is not to be
despised either, even on the grounds of utility.
You must know, between ourselves, that eating would be a very tiresome
business if we did not taste what we are eating; and I can well imagine
what trouble mammas would have in persuading their children to come
to dinner or tea, if it were only a question of working their little
jaws, and nothing further. What struggles--what tears! And setting
aside children, who are by no means always the most disobedient to the
will of a good GOD, how few men would care to stop in the midst of
their occupations, to go and grind their teeth one against another for
half-an-hour, if there were not some pleasure attached to an exercise
not naturally amusing in itself? Ay, ay, my dear child, were it not
for the reward in pleasure which is given to men when they eat, the
human race, who as a whole do not live too well already, would live
still worse. And it is necessary that we should be fed, and well fed
too, if we would perform properly here below the mission which we have
received from above.
Yes, "reward" was the word I used. Now it seems absurd to you, perhaps,
that it should be necessary to reward a man for eating a good dinner?
Well, well, GOD has been more kind to him, then, than you would be.
To every duty imposed by Him upon man, He has joined a pleasure as a
reward for fulfilling it. How many things should I not have to say to
you on this subject, if you were older? For the present, I will content
myself with making a comparison.
When a mother thinks her child is not reasonable enough to do, of her
own accord, something which it is nevertheless important she should
do, as learning to read, for instance, or to work with her needle,
&c., she comes to the rescue with rewards, and gives her a plaything
when she has done well. And thus GOD, who had not confidence enough
in man's reason to trust to it alone for supplying the wants of human
nature, has placed a plaything in the shape of pleasure after every
necessity; and in supplying the want, man finds the reward.
You will hardly believe that what I have here explained to you so
quietly by a childish comparison, has been, and alas! still is, the
subject of terrible disputes among grown-up people. If hereafter they
reach your ears, remember what I have told you now, viz., that the
pleasure lodged in the tongue and its surroundings, is a plaything,
but a plaything given to us by GOD; and that we must use it accordingly.
If a little girl has had a plaything given to her by her mother, would
she think to please her by breaking it or throwing it into a corner?
No, certainly not: she would know that in so doing she would be going
directly against her mother's intentions and wishes. Nevertheless she
would amuse herself with it in play hours, with an easy conscience,
and, if she is amiable, she will remember while she does so, that it
comes to her from her mother, and will thank her at the bottom of her
It is the same with man, of whose playthings we are speaking.
But, moreover, this little girl (it is taken for granted that she is
a good little girl) will not make the plaything the business of her
whole day, the object of all her thoughts; she will not forget
everything for it, she will leave it unhesitatingly when her mamma
calls her. Neither will she wish to be alone in her enjoyments, but
will gladly see her little friends also enjoy similar playthings,
because she thinks that what is good for her must be good for others
It is thus that man should do with his playthings; but, alas! this is
what he does not by any means always do with them, and hence a great
deal has been said against them. Little girls, in particular, are apt
to fail on this point, and that is how the dreadful word _gluttony_
came to be invented. For the same reason, also, people get punished
from time to time; such punishments being the consequence of the misuse
I speak of.
If people who call to see your mamma were, instead of going straight
up stairs to her, to establish themselves at the lodge with the porter,
and stay there chatting with him, do you think she would be much
flattered by their visits? And yet this is exactly what people do who,
when eating, attend only to the porter. He is so pleasant, this porter;
he says such pretty things to you, that you go on talking to him just
as if he were the master of the house, who, meanwhile, has quite gone
out of your head.
You heap sugar-plums upon sugar-plums, cakes upon cakes, sweetmeats
upon sweetmeats--everything that pleases the porter, but is of no use
whatever to the master of the house. And then what happens? The master
gets angry sometimes, and no wonder. Mr. Stomach grows weary of these
visits, which are of no use to him. He rings all the bells, makes no
end of a noise in the house, and forces that traitor of a porter who
has engrossed all his company, to do penance. You are ill--your mouth
is out of order--you have no appetite for anything. The mamma has taken
away the plaything which has been misused, and when she gives it back,
there must be great care taken not to do the same thing over again.
I have thought it only right, my dear child, in telling you the history
of eating, to give to this little detail of its beginning, a place
proportioned to your interest in it. You see by what I have said, that
you are not altogether wrong in following your taste; but neither must
it be forgotten that this part of the business is not in reality the
most important; that a plaything is but a plaything, and that the
porter is not the master of the house.
Now that we have made our good friend's acquaintance, we will wish him
farewell, and I will presently introduce you to his companions of the
antechamber, who are ranged on the two sides of the door, to make the
toilettes for the visitors who present themselves, and to put them in
order for being received in the drawing-room. You will see there some
jolly little fellows, who are also very useful in their way, and whose
history is no less curious. They are called TEETH.
When you were quite little, my dear child, and still a nursling, you
had nothing behind your lips but two little rosy bars, which were of
no service for gnawing an apple, as they were not supplied with teeth.
You had no need of these then, since nothing but milk passed your lips,
neither had your nurse bargained for your having teeth to bite with.
You see that God provides for everything, as I have already said, and
shall often have occasion to point out to you.
But by degrees the little infant grew into a great girl, and it became
necessary to think of giving her something more solid than milk to
eat; and for this purpose she required teeth. Then some little germs,
which had lain dormant, concealed within the jaws, awoke one after
another, like faithful workmen when they hear the striking of the
clock. Each set to work in his little cell, and with the help of some
phosphorus and some lime, it began to make itself a kind of white
armour, as hard as a stone, which grew larger from day to day.
You know what lime is; that sort of white pulp which you have seen
standing in large troughs where the masons are building houses, andwhich
they use in making mortar; it is with this that your little
masons build your teeth.
As to phosphorus, I am afraid you may never have seen any; but you may
have heard it spoken of. It is sold at the druggist's in the form of
little white sticks, about as thick as your finger; they have a
disagreeable, garlicky smell, and are obliged to be kept in jars of
water, because they seize every opportunity of taking fire; so I advise
you, if ever you do see any phosphorus, not to meddle with it--for in
burning, it sticks closely to the skin, and there is the greatest
difficulty in the world in extinguishing it, and the burns it makes
are fearful. I give you this caution, because phosphorus possesses a
very curious property, which might attract little girls. Wherever it
is rubbed, in the dark, on a door, or on a wall, it leaves a luminous
trail of a very peculiar appearance, which has been called
phosphorescent, from the name of the substance which produces it. And
in this way one can write on walls in letters of fire, to the terror
of cowards. Now, come; if you will promise to be very wise, and only
to make the experiment when your mamma is present, I will teach you
how to make phosphorescent lights without having to go to the
druggist's! There is a small quantity of phosphorus in lucifer matches,
which their garlicky smell proves. Rub them gently in the dark on a
bit of wood, and you will see a ray of light which will shine for some
moments. But mind, you must not play at that game when you are alone;
it is a dangerous amusement, and one hears every day of terrible
accidents caused by disobedient children playing with lucifer matches.
And while we are on the subject, let me warn you against putting them
into your mouth. Phosphorus is a poison, and such a powerful one that
people poison rats with bread-crumb balls in which it has been
"Oh dear me! and that poison makes part of our teeth?"
Exactly so, and it even forms part of all our bones, and of the bones
of all animals; the best proof of which is, that the phosphorus of
lucifer matches has been procured out of bones from the slaughter-house.
One could make it from the teeth of little girls if one could get
enough of them.
Now I see what puzzles you, and well it may. You are asking yourself
how those little tooth-makers, the gums, get hold of this terrible
phosphorus, which is set on fire by a mere nothing, and which we dare
not put into our mouths; where do they find the lime which I also
protest is not fit to eat, and yet of which we have stores from our
heads to our feet?
It is very surprising, too, to think of its being forthcoming in the
jaws just when it is wanted there.
You begin to perceive that there are many things to be learnt before
we come to the end of our history, and that we find ourselves checked
at every step; now listen, for we are coming to something very
In distant country-seats, where people are thrown entirely upon their
own resources, they must be provided beforehand with all that is
requisite for repairing the building; and there is, accordingly, a
person called a steward, who keeps everything under lock and key, and
distributes to the workmen whatever materials they may require. Thus,
the steward gives tiles to the slater, planks to the carpenter, colors
to the painter, lime and bricks to the mason--the very same lime that
we have in our teeth--in fact, he has got everything that can be wanted
in his storehouse, and it is to him that every one applies in time of
Now our body also is a mansion, and has its steward too. But what a
steward--how active! what a universal genius I how inefficient by
comparison are the stewards of the greatest lords! He goes, he comes,
he is everywhere at once; and this really, and not as we use the phrase
in speaking of a merely active man: for the _being everywhere at
once_ is in this case, a fact. He keeps everything, not in a
storehouse, but what is far better, in his very pockets, which he
empties by degrees as he goes about, distributing their contents without
ever making a mistake, without stopping, without delaying; and returns
to replenish his resources in a ceaseless, indefatigable course, which
never flags, night nor day. And you can form no idea how many workmen
he has under his orders, all laboring without intermission, all
requiring different things--not one of them pausing, even for a
joke!--not even to say--"Wait a moment;"--they do not understand what
waiting means: he must always keep giving, giving, giving. By and by
we shall have a long account to give of this wonderful steward, whose
name, be it known, if you have not already guessed it, is Blood.
It is he who, one fine day when he was making his round of the jaws,
found those little germs I spoke of, awake and eager for work; and he
began at once to start them with materials. He knew that phosphorus
and lime were what they needed: he drew phosphorus and lime therefore
out of his pockets,--and, to be very exact, some other little matters
too,--but these were the most important; but I cannot stop to tell you
everything at once.
Now, where did the blood obtain this phosphorus and lime?
I expected you to ask this, but if you want everything explained as
we go along, we shall not get very far. In fact, if I answer all your
questions I shall be letting out my secret too soon, and telling you
the end of my story almost before it is begun.
So be it, however; perhaps you will feel more courage to go on, when
you know where we are going.
The steward of a country-house distributes tiles, planks, paint, bricks,
lime; but none of these things are his own, as you know; he has received
them from his master: and, in the same way, our steward has nothing
of his own: everything he distributes comes from the master of the
house, and as I have already told you, this master is the stomach. As
fast as the steward distributes, therefore, must the master renew the
stores--and renew them all, for unless he does this, the work would
stop. In proportion as the blood gives out on all sides the contents
of his pockets, the stomach must replenish them, and fill them with
everything necessary, or there would be a revolution in the house.
Now, as there can be nothing in the stomach but what has got into it
by the mouth, it behooves us to put into the mouth whatever is needed
for the supply of our numerous workmen; and this is why we eat.
I perceive that I have plunged here into an explanation out of which
I shall not easily extricate myself, for I can guess what you are going
to say next. When you began to cut your teeth, you had eaten neither
phosphorus nor lime, as nothing but milk had entered your mouth.
That is true. Neither then, nor since then, have you eaten those things,
and what is more, I hope you never will. And yet both must have got
into your mouth, for without them your teeth could never have grown.
How are we to get out of this puzzle?
Suppose now, for a moment, that instead of phosphorus and lime,
thelittle workmen in your jaws had asked the blood for sugar to make the
teeth with. Fortunately this is only a supposition; otherwise I should
be in great fear for the poor teeth: they would not last very long.
Suppose, further, that instead of your eating the lump of sugar which
was destined to turn into a tooth, your mamma had melted it in a glass
of water, and had given it to you to drink; you could not say you had
eaten sugar, and yet the sugar would really have got into your stomach,
and there would be nothing very wonderful if the stomach had found it
out and given it to the blood, and the blood had carried it off to the
place where it was wanted. Now, allowing that the lump of sugar was
very small, and the glass of water very large, the sugar might have
passed without your perceiving it, and yet the tooth would have grown
all the same, and without the help of a miracle.
And this is how it was. In the milk which you drank as a baby there
were both phosphorus and lime, though in very small quantities. There
were many other things besides; everything of course that the blood
required for the use of its work-people, because at that time the
stomach was only receiving milk, and yet all the work was going on as
And therefore, my dear child, whenever in the course of our studies,
you hear me describe such and such a thing as being within us, say
quietly to yourself, "that also was in the milk which nourished me
when I was a baby."
Of course, the same things are in what you eat now; only now they come
in a form more difficult to deal with, and the labor of detaching them
from the surrounding ingredients is much greater. The whole business
indeed of this famous machine which we are studying consists in
unfastening the links which hold things together, and in laying aside
what is useful, to be sent to the blood divested of the refuse. The
stomach was too feeble in your infancy to have encountered the work
it has to do now. It is for this reason that God devised for the benefit
of little children that excellent nourishment--milk--which contains,
all ready for use, every ingredient the blood wants; and is almost,
in fact, blood ready made.
Only think, my child, what you owe to her who gave you this nourishment!
It was actually her blood she was giving you; her blood which entered
into your veins, and which wrought within you in the wonderful way
which I have been describing. Other people gave you sugar-plums, kisses,
and toys; but she gave you the teeth which crunched the sugar-plums,
the flesh of the rosy cheeks which got the kisses, and of the little
hands which handled the toys. If ever you can forget this, you are
Now, beware of going on to ask me how we know that there are so many
sorts of things in milk, or I shall end by getting angry. Question
after question; why, you might drive me in this way to the end of the
world, and we should never reach the point we are aiming at. We have
already traveled far away from the teeth, concerning which I wanted
to talk to you at this time, but our lesson is nearly over and we have
scarcely said a word about them! One cannot learn everything at once.
Upon the point in question you must take my word; and as you may
believe, I would not run the risk of being contradicted before you,
by those who have authority on the subject.
Let it suffice you, for to-day, to have gained some idea of the manner
in which the materials which constitute our bodies are manufactured
within us. We have got at this by talking of the teeth; to-morrow, it
may be the saliva, the next day something else. What I have now told
you will be of use all the way through, and I do not regret the time
we have given to the subject. If you have understood that well; the
time has not been lost.
THE TEETH _(continued.)_
My thoughts return involuntarily to the subject I last explained to
you, my dear child, and I find that I have a great deal to say about
You see now, I hope, that we have something else to consult besides
a dainty taste when we are eating; and that if we are to work to any
good purpose we must think a little about this poor blood; who has so
much to do, and who often finds himself so much at fault, when we send
him nothing but barley-sugar and biscuits for his support. It is not
with such stuff as that, as you may well imagine, that he can be enabled
to answer satisfactorily to the constant demands of his little workmen,
and we expose him to the risk of getting into disgrace with them, if
we furnish him with no better provisions.
And who is the sufferer? Not I who am giving you this information,
Now, when children hesitate about eating plain food, and fly from beef
to rush at dessert, they act as a man would do who should begin to
build by giving his workmen reeds instead of beams, and squares of
gingerbread instead of bricks. A pretty house he would have of it;
On the contrary, what your mother asks you to eat, my dear little
epicure, is sure to be something which contains the indispensable
supplies for which your blood is craving; for people knew all about
this by experience long before they could explain the why and the
wherefore. But now that you are so much better informed than even the
most learned men were a century ago, pouting and wry faces at table
are no longer excusable, and I should be sadly ashamed of you if I
should hear you continued to make them.
And this is what I was more particularly thinking of just now, when
I took up my pen again. No doubt it is very amusing to be able to look
clearly into one's frame, and see what goes on inside, but the amusement
anything affords is the least important part of it; you have begun to
find this out already, and you will find it out more and more every
day. What seems to me one of the great advantages of the study we have
begun together is, that at every step you take you will meet with the
most practical and useful instruction, as well as the most unanswerable
reasons for doing what your parents ask you to do every day.
To obey without knowing why is certainly possible, and may be done
happily enough. But we obey more readily and easily when we understand
the reason for doing so; and a duty which one can satisfy oneself
about, forces itself upon one as a sort of necessity. And what can
throw a stronger light on our duties than a thorough acquaintance with
It is upwards of two thousand two hundred years ago (and that is not
yesterday, you must own!) since one of the greatest minds of the
world--Socrates--never forget that name--taught his disciples, as a
foundation precept, this apparently simple maxim, "Know thyself." He
meant this, it is true, in a much higher sense than we are aiming at
in these conversations of ours, but his rule is so practical, that
although you have only as yet taken a mere peep into one small corner
of self-knowledge, you find, if I am not much mistaken, that your heart
has beaten once or twice rather faster than it did before. Was I wrong,
in saying from the beginning, that we become better as we grow in
knowledge? Is it not true that you have felt more tenderly than ever
towards her who nourished you with her milk, since I explained to you
the value of milk; and that you have kissed your mother's hand all the
more lovingly since you heard my history of the hand? To tell you the
truth, if you had not done so, I should have been dissatisfied both
with you and myself.
And wait! While we are talking thus, another thought has come into my
head about hands and nurses, which I must tell you of.
There is something of the nurse, my child, in those who take the best
fruits of their intellect and heart, and transform them, as it were,
into milk, in order that your infant soul may receive a nourishment
it will be able to digest without too much effort. In this way their
very soul enters into you, and it is but fair that you should reward
them as they deserve. Young as you are, too, you have a recompense in
your power: one more acceptable even than Academic prizes--of which
it is indispensable not to be too avaricious--you can give them your
Besides, it is not only hands but heads that are at work for you, and
of these many more than you suppose; and your debt of gratitude is as
much due to the one as to the other.
Perhaps my first letter may have led you to suppose that I was inclined
to laugh at what I called learned men; and they are perhaps a little
to blame for not thinking often enough about little girls; but
nevertheless these men are of the greatest use to them in an indirect
way. You owe them much, therefore, and without them could have known
nothing of what I am teaching you. It is very grand for us, is it not,
to know that there is phosphorus and lime in our teeth? But it took
generations of learned men, and investigations and discoveries without
end, and ages of laborious study, to extract from nature this secret
which you have learnt in five minutes. And whatever others you may
learn hereafter, remember that it is the same story with all. While
profiting, therefore, at your ease, by all these conquests of science,
I would have you hold in grateful recollection those who have gained
them at so much cost to themselves: almost always at the expense of
their fortune, sometimes at the peril of their lives.
There they are, observe, a little knot of men with no sort of outward
pretension. They speak a language which scares children away. They
weigh dirty little powders in apothecaries' scales; steep sheets of
copper in acid-water; and watch air-bubbles passing through bent glass
tubes, some of which are as dangerous as cannon balls. They scrape old
bones, and slice scraps no bigger than a pin's head. They keep theireyes
fixed for hours upon things they are examining through microscopes
of a dozen glasses, and when you go to see what they are looking at,
you find nothing at all. To see them at work, in what they call their
laboratories, you would say that they were a set of madmen. But at the
end, it is found, some fine day, that they have changed the face of
the earth; have worked revolutions before which emperors and kings bow
in respect; have enriched nations by millions at a time; have revealed
to the human race, divine laws of which it had hitherto been ignorant;
finally, have furnished the means of teaching little boys and girls
some very curious things, which will make them more agreeable as well
as reasonable. And this is a benefit not to be despised, since these
children are destined one day to become fathers and mothers, and so
to govern the next generation; and the better they themselves are
instructed, the better this will be done.
But now let us go back to the poor teeth, whom we seem to have forgotten
altogether. However, we knew very well that they would not run away
I told you before that it was their business to dress and prepare
whatever was presented to them, but the reception they bestow is not
one which would suit every body's taste, for it consists in being made
mince-meat of And in order to do their work in the best way possible
they divide their labor; some cut up, others tear, and others pound.
First, there are those flat teeth in front of the two jaws, just below
the nose. Touch yours with the tip of your finger; you will find that
they terminate in sharp-edged blades, like knives. These are called
_incisors,_ from the Latin word _incidere,_ which means to cut, and it
is with them we bite bread and apples, where the first business is to
cut. It is with the same teeth that lazy little girls bite their thread,
when they will not take the trouble to find their scissors; and, by the
by, this is a very bad trick, because by rubbing them one against
another in this manner we wear them out, and, as you will soon discover,
worn-out teeth never grow again.
The next sort are those little pointed teeth, which come after the
_incisors,_ on each side of both jaws. You will easily find them;
and if you press against them a little, you will feel their points.
If we call the first set the knives of the mouth, we may call these
its forks. They serve to pierce whatever requires to be torn, and they
are called _canine_ teeth, from the Latin word _canis_, a dog, because
dogs make great use of them in tearing their food. They place their paws
upon it, and plunging the canine teeth into it, pull off pieces by a
jerk of the head. Look into the mouth of papa's dog: you will recognize
these teeth by their rather curved points. They are longer than the
rest, and are called fangs. I do not know, after all, why they have
chosen to name these teeth _canine_, as all carnivorous animals have the
same fangs, and in the lion, the tiger, and many other species, they are
much more developed and sharper than in the dog. In cats they are like
little nails. However, the name is given, and we cannot alter it.
The last teeth, which are placed at the back of the jaw, are called
molars, from the Latin word _mola_, which means a millstone.
You must be prepared to meet with several Latin words as we go on; but
never mind; this will give you the opportunity of learning a little
Latin, and so of keeping your brother in order, if he ever looks down
upon you because he is learning Latin at school. Formerly, all learned
men wrote in Latin, and as they ruled supreme in all such subjects as
those we are discussing, they gave to everything such names as they
pleased, without consulting the public, who did not just then trouble
their heads about the matter. Now they give Greek names, which can
hardly be called an improvement; but if they ever wish to attract the
attention of little girls they must translate their hard words into
our own language.
To return to our grinders: they perform the same office as a miller's
millstone; that is to say, they grind everything that comes in their
way. These teeth have flat, square tops, with little inequalities on
the surface, which you can feel the moment you lay your finger on them.
These are the largest and strongest of the three sets, and with them
we even crack nuts, when we prefer the risk of breaking our teeth to
the trouble of looking for the nut-crackers!
Now, I will answer for it that you cannot explain to me why we always
place what is hard to break between the _molars,_ and never employ
the _incisors_ in the work? And yet everybody does this alike--from
the child to the grown-up man--and all equally without thinking of
what they are doing.
I will tell you the reason, however, if you will first tell me why,
when you are going to snip off the tip of your thread (which offers
very little resistance), you do it with the point of your scissors;
whereas you put any tough thing which is likely to resist strongly (a
match, for instance) close up to their hinge; particularly if you have
no scruple about spoiling the scissors, by the way!
If you were a grown-up lad, and I were teaching you natural philosophy,
I should have here a fine opportunity for explaining what is called
_the theory of the lever_. But I think _the theory of the lever_ would
frighten you; so we must get out of the difficulty in some other way.
I find, however, that I have been joking so much as I went along, that
I have but little space left, and feel quite ashamed of myself. We
seem quite unlucky over these teeth.
I have already been scolded by people who are not altogether wrong in
accusing me of losing my time in chattering, first of one thing and
then of another. They complain that by thus nibbling at every blade
of grass on the way-side we shall never get to the end of our journey;
and there is some truth in what they say. Still, I will whisper to you
in excuse that I thought we might play truant a little bit while we
were on familiar ground, where naturally you were sure to feel a
particular interest in everything. The hand, the tongue, the
teeth--these are all old friends of yours--and I thought you would
like to hear all about them. By-and-bye we shall be in the little black
hole, and then we shall get on much more rapidly.
THE TEETH _(continued)._
I left off at the _molars_, which are the teeth one selects to
crack nuts with; and if I remember rightly, we talked about different
ways of cutting with scissors.
Let us look at the subject from a distance, that we may understand it
more clearly. Let us imagine a horse drawing a heavy cart slowly along.
Ask it to gallop, and it will answer, "With all my heart! but you must
give me a lighter carriage to draw." And now fancy another flying over
the ground with a gig behind it. Ask it to exchange the gig for the
cart, and it will say, "Yes; but then I shall have to go slowly."
Whereby you see that with the same amount of strength to work with,
one has the choice of two things: either of conquering a great
resistance slowly, or a slight one quickly.
And it is partly on this account, dear child, that I teach you so
gradually; for young heads, fresh to the work, are less easily drawn
along than others, and have but a certain amount of strength.
Hitherto all has been clear as the day. Now take your scissors in your
left hand; hold the lower ring of the handle firmly between your thumb
and closed hand, so that the blade shall remain straight and immovable:
then with your other hand cause the upper ring to go up and down, and
watch the blade as it moves. The whole of it moves at once, and is put
in motion by the same power--viz., your right hand. But the point makes
a long circuit in the air, while the hinge end makes only a very little
one--indeed, moves almost imperceptibly: and, as you may imagine, a
different sort of effort is required from the motive power (your hand)
according as resistance is made at the point or at the hinge. The point
goes full gallop: it is the horse in the gig; the light work is for
him. The hinge moves slowly; it is the cart-horse, and takes the heavy
I hope I have made you understand this, for it explains the cracking
of our nut, though you may not suspect it. Move your scissors once
more in the same way. Now, you have before you the pattern of the two
jaws on one side of your face, from the ear to the nose; the upper
one, which never moves (as you may convince yourself by placing a
finger on your upper lip when you either speak or eat), and the lower
one which goes up and down. Two pairs of scissors set points to points
give you the whole jaw. The _incisors_ are at the points, they
gallop up and down, and are worthless for doing hard work; the
_molars_ are at the hinges, and move slowly; and if anything tough
has to be dealt with, it comes to them as a matter of course; hence
they are the nutcrackers. You must own that it is pleasant to reflect
thus upon what we are doing every day, and the next time you see a
stonemason moving stones of twenty times his own weight with his iron
bar, ask your papa to explain to you the principle of the lever. After
what I have told you, you will understand it very readily, or at least
enough of it to satisfy your mind.
But, besides this power of moving up and down, the lower jaw possesses
another less obvious one, by means of which it goes from right to left.
This is precisely what naughty children make use of when they grind
their teeth: not that I mean this remark for you, for I have a better
opinion of you than to suppose you do such things. Those who make such
bad use of their jaws deserve to lose the power of ever moving them
thus, and then they would find themselves sadly at a loss how to chew
their bread--for their _molars_ would be of but little service
to them in such a case; as it is chiefly by this second action of the
jaw that the food is pounded. Try to chew a bit of bread by only moving
your jaw up and down, and you will soon tire of the attempt.
One word more to complete my description of the teeth: that portion
of them which is in the jaw is called the _root_; and the _incisors_,
which cannot work hard because, like the gig-horses, they have but
little resisting power, possess only small and short roots; whereas the
_canines,_ whose duty it is to tear the food sideways, would run the
risk of being dragged out and left sticking in the substances they are
at work upon, if they were not well secured; these, therefore, have
roots which go much deeper into the jaw, and in consequence of this they
give us more pain than the others when the dentist extracts them: those
famous _eye-teeth_, which so terrify people on such occasions, are the
_canines_ of the upper jaw, and lie, in fact, just below the eye.
The _molars_ meanwhile would be in danger of being shaken in the
sideway movement, while chewing: so they do as you would do if you
were pushed aside. Now you would throw out your feet right and left
in order to steady yourself, and thus the molars, which have always
two roots, throw them out right and left for the same purpose. Some
have three, some four, and they require no less for the business they
have to do.
Above the root comes what is called the crown; that is the part of the
tooth which is exposed to the air; the part which does the work, and
which bears the brunt of all the rubbing. Now, however hard it may be,
it would soon end in being worn out by all this fun if it were not
covered by a still harder substance, which is called _enamel_.
The _enamel_ which forms the coating of china plates, and which
you can easily distinguish by examining a broken plate, will give you
a very exact idea of it. It is this enamel which gives the teeth the
polish and brilliancy we so much admire, and it is desirable to be
very careful of it, not out of vanity, though there is no objection
to a little vanity on the subject, but because the enamel is
the protector of the teeth, and when that is destroyed, you may say good-
bye to the teeth themselves. All acids eat into the enamel, as vinegar or
lemon-juice does into marble; and one of the best means of preserving
this protecting armor of the teeth is never to eat the unripe windfalls
of fruit, which I have seen unreasonable children pick up in orchards
and devour so recklessly. They give sufficient warning, by their
acidity, that they are not fit for food, and when this warning is
neglected, they take their revenge by corroding the enamel of the
teeth; not to speak of the disturbance which they afterwards cause in
the poor stomach.
I said that without this coating of enamel, the teeth would be
prematurely worn out, the reason of which is, that the teeth have not
the property of growing again, as the nails and hair have. When those
little germs of which I spoke when we began to describe the teeth,
have finished their work, they perish and fall out, like masons who,
when they have built the house, take their departure forever.
But the "forever" wants explanation. For such stern conditions would
fall hard on very little children, who, not having come to their reason,
cannot be expected to understand the great value of their teeth, and
take all the care they need of them. So to them _a second_ chance
Your first teeth, the _milk-teeth_, as they are called, count for
nothing: they are a kind of specimen, just to serve while you are very
When you are approaching what is called the age of reason, (and this
word implies a great deal, my dear child,) the real teeth, the teeth
which are to serve you for life, begin to whisper among themselves,
"Now, here is a little girl who is becoming reasonable, and who will
soon, or else never, be fit to take charge of her teeth." No sooner
said than done: other masons set to work in other cells, placed under
the first set, and as the permanent teeth keep growing and growing,
they gradually push out the milk-teeth, which were only keeping their
places ready for them till they came.
This is just your case at present, and you now understand your
responsibility, and how necessary it is to preserve those good teeth
which have placed so generous a confidence in your care of them, and
which, once gone, can never be replaced.
You have no loss by the exchange; you had twenty-four at first, you
will now have twenty-eight. Twenty-eight, did I say? nay, you will
have thirty-two; but the last four will come later still. The last
_molars_ on each side, above and below, in both jaws, will not
make their appearance till you are grown up. They are a fastidious and
timid set, and will not run any risks; and they are called
_wisdom-teeth_, because they do not appear till we are supposed
to have arrived at years of discretion. Some people do not cut them
before they are thirty, and you will agree that, if they have not
become wise by that time, they have but a very poor chance of ever
There is much more still to be said about the teeth; but I think I
have told you quite enough to teach you the importance of these little
bony possessions of yours, which children do not always value as they
deserve, and whose safety they endanger as carelessly as if they had
fresh supplies of them ready in their pockets. If so many skilful
contrivances have been devised for enabling us to masticate our food
properly, it is clear that this process is not an unimportant one.
Those, therefore, who swallow a mouthful after two or three turns,
forget that they are thereby forcing the stomach to do the work the
teeth have neglected to do, and this is very bad economy, I can assure
you. You will see hereafter, when we speak about animals, that by a
marvellous compensation of nature, the power of the stomach is always
great in proportion to the _in_efficiency of the teeth, and that
by the same rule, it is weakest when the jaws are best furnished. Now,
no jaw is more completely furnished than the human one; it is clear,
then, that it should do its own work and not leave it to be done by
those who are less able: and the little girl who, in order to finish
her dinner more quickly, shirks the use of her teeth, and sends food,
half chewed, into her stomach, is like a man who, having two servants,
the one strong and vigorous, the other feeble and delicate, allows the
first to dawdle at his ease, and puts all the hard work on the other.
He would be very unjust in so doing, would he not? And as injustice
always meets with its reward, his work is sure to be badly done.
Now, the work in question consists in reducing what we eat into a sort
of pulp or liquid paste, from which the blood extracts at last whatever
it requires. But the teeth may bite and tear the materials as they
please, they can make nothing of them but a powder, which would never
turn into a pulp, if during their labors they were not assisted by an
indispensable auxiliary. To make pap for infants what do we add to the
bread after it is cut in little bits? Without being a very clever cook,
you will know that it is water which is wanted. And thus, to assist
us in making pap for the blood, Providence has furnished us with a
number of small spongy organs within the mouth, which are always filled
with water. These are called _salivary glands_. This water oozes
out from them of itself, on the least movement of the jaw, which presses
upon the sponges as it goes up and down. The name of this water, as
I need scarcely tell you, is _saliva_.
When I call it water, it is not merely from its resemblance; _saliva_ is
really pure water with a little _albumen_ added. Do not be afraid of
that word--it is not so alarming as it appears to be. It means simply
the substance you know as the _white of egg_. There is also a little
soda in the water, which you know is one of the ingredients of which
soap is made. And this explains why the saliva becomes frothy, when the
cheeks and tongue set it in motion in the mouth while we are talking;
just as the whites of egg, or soapy water, become frothy when whipped up
or beaten in a basin.
But the albumen and the soda have not been added to the saliva, in our
case, merely to make it frothy; that would have been of very little
use. They give to the water a greater power to dissolve the food into
paste, and thus to begin that series of transformations by which it
gradually becomes the fine red blood which shows itself in little drops
at the tip of your finger when you have been using your needle
When once minced up by the teeth and moistened by the saliva, the food
is reduced to a state of pulp, and having nothing further to do in the
mouth, is ready to pass forward. But getting out of the mouth on its
journey downwards is not so simple an affair as getting into it by the
_front door_, as it did at first. Swallowing is in fact a complicated
action, and not to be explained in half a dozen words, and I think we
have already chatted enough for to-day. I only wish I may not have tired
you out with these interminable teeth! But you may expect something
quite new when I begin again.
You remember a certain door-keeper, or porter, of whom we have already
spoken a good deal, who resides in the mouth--the sense of taste, I
Well, it is a porter's business to sweep out the entrance to a house,
and you may always recognize him in the courtyard by his broom.
And accordingly our porter too has a broom specially placed at his
service, namely, the tongue; and an unrivalled broom it is--for it is
self-acting, never wears out, and makes no dust--qualities we cannot
succeed in obtaining in any brooms of our own manufacture.
When the time has come for the pounded mouthful (described in the last
chapter) to travel forward (the teeth having properly prepared it),
the broom begins its work; scouring all along the gums, twisting and
turning right and left, backwards and forwards, up and down; picking
up the least grains of the pulp which have been manufactured in the
mouth; and as the heap increases, it makes itself into a shovel--another
accomplishment one would scarcely have expected it to possess. What
it gathers together thus, rolls by degrees on its surface into a ball,
which at last finds itself fixed between the palate and the tongue in
such a manner that it cannot escape; at which moment the tongue presses
its tip against the upper front teeth, forms of itself an inclined
plane, and--but stop! we are getting on too fast.
At the back of the mouth, (which is the antechamber, as we said before,)
is a sort of lobby, separated from the mouth by a little fleshy
tongue_let_, suspended to the palate, exactly like those tapestry
curtains which are sometimes hung between two rooms, under which one
is enabled to pass, by just lifting them up.
If this lobby led only from the mouth to the stomach, the act of
swallowing would be the simplest thing in the world; the tongue would
be raised, the pounded ball would glide on, would pass under the
curtain, and then good-bye to it. Unfortunately, however, the architect
of the house seems to have economized his construction-apparatus here.
The lobby serves two purposes; it is the passage from the mouth to the
stomach, as well as from the nose to the lungs.
The air we breathe has its two separate doors there--one opening
towards the nose, the other towards the lungs; through neither of which
is any sort of food allowed to pass. But, as you may imagine, the food
itself knows nothing of such spiteful restraints, and it is a matter
of perfect indifference to it through which of the doors it passes.
Not unlike a good many children who, though they are reasonable
creatures, will push their way into places where they have been
forbidden to go; and who can expect a pulpy food-ball to be more
reasonable than a child? It was necessary, therefore, so to arrange
matters that there should be no choice on the subject; that when the
food-ball got into the lobby it should find no door open but its own,
namely, that which led to the stomach. And that is exactly what is
You have not, perhaps, remarked that in the act of swallowing, something
rises and contracts itself at the same moment in your throat, producing
a kind of internal convulsion which jerks whatever is inside. People
do not think about it when they are eating, because it is an involuntary
action, and their attention is otherwise engaged.
But try to swallow when there is nothing in your mouth, and you will
perceive what I mean at once.
Now, imagine our lobby at the back of the throat as a small closet,
with a doorway in its wall, half-way up, the doorway being closed by
a curtain. In the ceiling is a hole, which leads to the nose; in the
floor two large tubes open out; the front one leading to the lungs,
the one behind, to the stomach.
Now swallow, and I will tell you what happens. The curtain rises up
and clings to the ceiling, and thus the passage to the nose is stopped
up. The lung-tube rises along the wall, and hides itself under the
door, contracting itself, and making itself quite small, as if it
wished to leave plenty of room for the mouthful of food which is about
to pass over it; and, for still greater security, at the very moment
it rises, it pushes against a small trap-door which shuts up its mouth.
No other road remains, therefore, but through the tube which leads to
the stomach; the pulpy mouthful drops straight therein, without risk
of mistake, and when it is once there, everything readjusts itself as
These are very ingenious contrivances, and I will venture to say that
if we would but study the wonders of the marvellous and varied machinery
which is constantly at work in our behalf within us, we should be much
better employed than in learning things from which no practical good
can be derived. Moreover, we should be ashamed to trust, like the lower
animals, only to our instinct, (which, after all, is much less developed
in us than in them,) for blindly escaping the thousand chances of
destruction that beset a structure so fragile and delicate in its
contrivances as the human body. Besides, it is not only our own
machinery that is entrusted to us, we are liable to be responsible for
that of others, whose development it is our duty to guard and watch;
and how can we do this with a safe conscience, if we are ignorant of
the construction, the action, the laws of all sorts which the great
Artificer has, so to speak, made use of in forming our bodies?
When you, in your turn, are a mother, you dear little rogue, who sit
there opening wide your bright eyes, and not comprehending a word of
what I am saying, you will be glad that you were taught when you were
little, how your own little girl ought to be managed. You will find
a hundred opportunities of making good use, in her behalf, of what you
and I are learning together, and in the meantime there is no reason
why you should not yourself profit by the knowledge you have gained.
I am quite sure, for instance, that in repeating to your child the
simple rule of politeness, with which everybody is acquainted, "_Never
talk when you are eating_," you will be very careful to add, "_and
especially when you are swallowing_," for reasons I am about to detail.
When we want to speak we have to drive the air from the lungs into the
mouth, and our words are sounds produced by this air as it passes
through. This is the reason why I advise you to go on gently, and make
the proper stops in reading aloud: to _take breath_, in fact, as
it is called; otherwise, breath would all at once fail you, and you
would be obliged to stop short in the middle of a sentence and wait
like a simpleton till you had refilled the lungs with air by breathing.
It was for this purpose, also, and not for mere economy's sake, as you
may have thought, that the little cross-road of four doors has been
placed at the back of the mouth, enabling it to communicate at pleasure
with either the lungs or the stomach. It is a dangerous passage for
food-parcels making their way to the stomach; but if you could
substitute for it, as it may have occurred to you to do lately, a
simple tube going directly to the stomach,--behold! you would find
yourself dumb;--a serious misfortune, eh? for a little girl! But come,
I am quizzing too much, so console yourself. I know many grown-up
people who would be at least as sorry as yourself.
To return to our subject. We have said that, in order to guard against
accidents, the lung-tube is closed at the moment we are about to
swallow. But if by any unlucky chance the air is coming up from the
lungs at the same moment, it must have a free passage. Its tube cannot
help returning to its place; the little trap-door which shuts up the
opening opens whether or no, and then adieu to all the precautions of
good Mother Nature! The mouthful when it drops, falls outside of its
proper tube--that is to say, into the other, which is exactly in front
of it, and we find that we have _swallowed the wrong way_.
You know what happens in such a case. You cough and cough till you are
torn to pieces, till you grow scarlet, or even blue in the face; till
you lose your breath; till your body trembles; till your eyes start
out of their sockets. Let who will be there, there is no resource but
to hide your face in your handkerchief. The tube, which was only made
for the passage of air, on finding an intruder forcing an entrance,
does its utmost to drive it back through the door. Then the lungs,
which would be destroyed by its getting to them, come to the assistance
of the faithful servant who is struggling for their protection: they
agitate themselves violently, and send forth gusts of air which drive
all before them. Thence arises the cough, and by this means at last
the enemy is thrust out of the mouth, like dust before the wind. And
it is only when the passages are cleared that the storm subsides. But
the commotion is no laughing matter, I assure you; for if one had
swallowed a little _too far_ the wrong way, or if the substance
swallowed had been too heavy for the air-tube, aided by the lungs, to
eject within a certain time, death would have ensued: instances of
which are by no means unknown. Nature does nothing in vain; this is
no case of a man frightened by a mouse. When you find your whole being
concentrating its efforts to one point, and betraying such distress,
at an accident apparently so trifling, you may be sure there is danger,
and real danger too; and if you doubt it, that makes no
difference--happily for you.
Now you have learned why little girls should not attempt to talk and
swallow at the same time, and, I may add, still less laugh; for
laughingis a kind of somersault, performed by the lungs, and is always
accompanied by the ejectment of a great deal more breath than is
necessary in speaking, so that the jerks it occasions derange still
more the wise provisions made to protect life whenever we swallow
anything, and therefore we are more apt to swallow the wrong way while
laughing than while speaking.
Need I say that we ought equally to guard against making others laugh
or talk; or exciting, or frightening them, while they are swallowing;
in short, avoid doing anything to create a sudden shock which might
suddenly force the air out of their lungs, and cause them in the same
manner to swallow the wrong way? Politeness requires this from us, and
what I have now said will fix the lesson still more strongly on your
mind. What would become of you if you were to see a person die in your
presence in consequence of some foolish joke, however apparently
Not to conclude with so painful a picture, I will, before we part,
give you the right names of the _curtain_, the _lobby_ or _closet_, and
the _tubes_ of which we have been speaking.
The curtain is called the _Soft Palate_.
The lobby, the _Pharynx_.
The tube which leads to the stomach, the _Aesophagus_.
The tube leading to the lungs, the _Larynx_.
The opening of this tube is the _Glottis_, and the little trap-door
which closes it when one swallows, is the _Epiglottis_.
You must excuse my attempting to explain the meanings of all these
names; it would take me too long to do so. After all, the mere names
are nothing. If I have succeeded in making you understand how all the
different parts act, you may call them what you like.
Here we will rest. We are now on our way to where we shall see the
large apartments, and be introduced to the master, that head of the
house, whom no one can approach without so many ceremonies.
Once in the _oesophagus_ (you remember this is the name of the tube
which leads to the stomach), the mouthful of food has nothing to do but
to proceed on its way. All along this tube there is a succession
of small elastic rings, [Footnote: Properly, _contractile circular
fibres_.] which contract behind the food to force it forward, and
widen before it to give it free passage. They thus propel it forward,
one after another, till it reaches the entrance to the stomach, into
which the last ring pushes it, closing upon it at the same time.
Have you ever observed a worm or a leech in motion? You see a successive
swelling up of the whole surface of its body, as the creature gradually
pushes forward, just as if there was something in its inside rolling
along from the tail to the head. Such is precisely the appearance which
the _oesophagus_ would present to you, as the food passes down it, if
you had the opportunity of seeing it in action; and this has been called
_the vermicular movement_, in consequence of its resemblance to the
movement of a worm.
Here I wish to draw your attention to the very important fact, that
this movement is in one respect of a quite different nature from that
of your thumb when you take hold of a bit of bread, or that of your
jaw when you bite with your teeth, or of your tongue, &c., when you
swallow. All these actions belong to yourself, to a certain extent;
they are voluntary, and under your own guidance; that is, you may
perform them or not, as you choose. There is a constant connexion
between you and them, and you knew what I meant at once as I named
each of them in succession. But in speaking of this other movement we
enter upon another world, of which you know nothing. Here is the black
hole of which I spoke. The little rings of the _oesophagus_ perform
their work by themselves, and you have no power in the matter. Not
only do they move independently of you, but were you to take it into
your head to stop them, it would be about as wise a proceeding as if
you were to talk to them. We will speak hereafter, in another place,
of these impertinent servants, who do not recognise your authority,
and with whom we shall have constantly to do, throughout what remains
to be said on the subject of eating. The truth is, your body is like
a little kingdom, of which you have to be the queen, but queen of the
frontiers only. The arms, the legs, the lips, the eyelids, all the
exterior parts, are your very humble servants; at your slightest bidding
they move or keep still: your will is their law. But in the interior
you are quite unknown. There, there is a little republic to itself,
ruling itself independently of your orders, which it would laugh at,
if you attempted to issue them.
This republic, to make use of another metaphor, is the kitchen of the
body. It is there they make blood, as they know how; putting it to all
sorts of uses for your advantage, it is true, but without your consent.
You are in the position of the lady of a house whose servants have
shut the door of the kitchen in her face that they may carry on their
business after their own fashion, leaving only the housemaid and
coachman at her command. It may be humiliating, perhaps, to be thus
only partially mistress at home; but what can you do, my little
demi-queen? I will tell you: make up your mind to govern the subjects
under your orders as wisely as possible; and, as to the rest, be content
with the only resource left you: viz., that of looking in at the window
of the kitchen to see what goes on there!
The stomach is the head cook: the president of the internal republic.
He has charge of the stoves; the whole weight of affairs is on his
hands, and he provides for the interests of all. Aesop taught us this,
long ago, in his fable of "The Belly and Members." [Footnote: La
Fontaine's translation is quoted in the French original, where the
name of the fable is "_Messer Gaster_," a more correct title than our
own. _Gaster_ is a Greek word signifying stomach; and it is strictly
_the stomach_ which is _meant_ in the fable. From this comes, too, the
medical term _gastritis_, the name of a disease of the stomach.--TR.] It
is a very good fable, and was wisely appealed to once by a Roman Consul
to appease a disturbance in the State. But the application was not quite
fair in one respect; and since I have started the subject, I will
satisfy myself by explaining to you where it was wrong. The time will
not be wasted, for this fable has furnished information to a great many
people about the economy of their insides, and possibly to you; and I
should like you to know the exact truth of all the particulars alluded
to. Whether Aesop understood them all, I cannot pretend to say; but the
application by the old Roman to the quarrel between the big-wig senators
and the people was on one point decidedly unjust; for there was, as far
as facts are concerned, something to be said on behalf of the stomach,
which Consul Menenius seems not to have thought of.
When you come to this part of the Roman history you will learn that
the Roman Senate was a large and fat stomach, which did, it is true,
furnish good nourishment to the other members of the State, but kept
the best share for itself. We may say this now without risk of offence,
it having been dead for so long a time. Our stomach is the leanest,
slightest, frailest part of our body. It is master in the sense in
which it is said in the Gospel, "Let him that is first among you be
the servant of the others." It receives everything, but it gives
everything back, and keeps nothing, or almost nothing, for itself.
Between ourselves, Consul Menenius, the advocate of the Senate, had
no business to talk to the poor wretches at Rome of any comparison
between their government and so careful an administrator of the public
good as a human stomach. He should have taken his subject of comparison
from the families of geese or ducks--animals which have no teeth. These
have strong, well-grown stomachs--true Roman senators--whose stoutness
is in proportion to the work given them to do. But man provides his
with work already prepared by chewing, supposing him to have had the
sense to chew it, of course. It was not from a comparison with man,
therefore, that Menenius ought to have got his boasted apologue, which
was but a poor jest on the subject.
You did not expect, my dear, to come in for a lesson on Roman History
in a discussion on the stomach. But the study of nature is connected
with everything else, though without appearing to be so, and I was not
sorry to give you, incidentally, this proof of the unexpected light
which it throws, as we go along, upon a thousand questions which appear
perfectly foreign to it. Look, for example, at this old fable cited
by Menenius. For the two thousand years and upwards that it has been
in circulation, troops of historians, poets, orators, and writers of
all kinds, have passed it forward from one to the other, without having
troubled themselves to investigate the laws of nature in connection
with the stomach; therefore, not one, that I am aware of, has observed
this small error, so trifling in appearance, so important in reality,
which nevertheless is obvious to the first young naturalist who thinks
the matter over.
But enough of the Romans. Let us return to our master--the head cook,
if you choose to call him so.
I was telling you just now that he managed the stoves, and you may
have thought that I was merely using similes, as I am apt to do. But
not so: it is quite true that he cooks; and so now tell me, if you
can, whence he gets his fire to cook with, or rather, to speak more
correctly, who gives it to him?
Now you are quite puzzled, so I must help you out.
In the mansion we were talking about some time ago, to whom would anyone
who wanted to light a fire, apply for wood?
I think you can answer this yourself, for you cannot have forgotten
our famous steward, who gives everything to everybody. But, you will
wonder, I dare say, how the blood can carry wood in his pockets.
Wood? Ay, and real wood too, as we shall soon see: but it is not wood
we are talking about now. The blood has something more to the purpose
than wood in his pockets, for he has heat ready made. So when the
stomach wishes to set to work, it appeals to the blood, which comes
running from all parts of the body, and heats it so effectually that
everything within is really and actually cooked. This is why one feels
a sort of slight shudder down the back when the stomach has a great
deal to do at once, for the blood being called for in a hurry, comes
rushing along in great gushes, and carries with it the heat from the
other parts of the body.
It is for this reason, too, that it is so dangerous to bathe when the
stomach is at work cooking, because the cold of the water drives
suddenly back all the blood which has accumulated around the little
saucepan, and this causes such a shock in the body that people often
die of it.
Do not ask me, to-day, where this heat of the blood comes from; we
will speak of that hereafter. But I may tell you at once that our dear
steward is not a bit cleverer in this matter than other people, and
obtains his heat, like the humblest mortal, by burning his wood. Do
not puzzle yourself to find out how. Enough that he burns it as we do,
and by a similar process.
Well, in one way or another, the master cook has his fire at command.
You know also, already, what it is he has to get cooked; namely, the
pulpy stew, which has begun in the mouth by chewing, and which it is
his business now to finish perfectly. Now see what a cook does who has
got her stew over the fire. She turns and turns it again and again,
and shakes the saucepan from time to time, that the ingredients may
be more thoroughly mixed up together; and this is precisely what is
done by the stomach; for all the time that the cooking is going on,
he swells and contracts himself alternately, after the fashion of those
rings of the _oesophagus_ we were talking about, tossing and tumbling
the food from one side to another, so as to knead it, as it were.
Again, the cook adds water to her stew from time to time to keep it
moist; and so the stomach pours constantly upon his stew a liquid,
which contains a great deal of water, and which flows in from a quantity
of little holes, sunk in his delicate coats.
The cook puts in a little salt: and this the stomach takes care not
to forget either, for he is a cook who understands his business. In
the liquid of which I am speaking, there is, if not exactly salt as
one sees it at table, at all events the most active part of salt, that
which possesses in the highest degree the property of reducing
everything we eat to a paste; and this is the real reason why we find
all food so insipid which has not been seasoned with salt. As salt
contains a principle essential to the work to be done by the stomach,
some method had to be devised to induce us to provide him with it, and
this method the porter up above has hit upon. He makes a face if we
offer him anything without a little salt on it, as much as to say--"How
can you expect them to cook you properly down below, my good friend,
if you don't bring them proper materials?"
Upon which hint men have always acted from the beginning; and as far
as we can trace history back, we find them mixing salt with their food,
though without knowing the real reason why. It is the same, too, with
the lower animals. They know nothing of the matter either, but this
does not prevent their having a natural relish for salt, as any one
will tell you who has the charge of cattle; for their stomachs require
for their cooking the very same seasoning as our own, and therefore
their porter above has received the same orders.
Salt is not the only thing, however, that exists in that liquid in the
stomach. Learned men, after making minute researches, have found in
it another equally powerful material, which is also found in milk.
Therefore cheese, which contains this material as well as salt, is
quite in its place at the end of dinner. It furnishes reinforcements
for the stomach in cooking, and this is why you so often hear people
say that a little cheese helps the digestion.
The _digestion_! Yes, that is the word I ought to have begun with.
It is the real name of all this cooking; an operation after which I
would defy you to recognise the nice little cakes you have eaten, any
better than your mamma can trace her pretty rosy-cheeked apples in the
jelly which she left on the fire two hours ago. The stomach, as you
see, is very busy quite as long a time as that, and if we have to be
very careful (as I pointed out before) not to disturb him too suddenly
in his work after dinner, it is also important that we should not,