“Utiliumque sagax rerum.”


In estimating the practical penetration and clear judgment of
Abernethy, it was almost necessary to see him placed by the side of
other men.

His mind was so quick at perceiving the difficulties which lay around
any subject, that it appeared to radiate on the most difficult, a
luminosity that made it comparatively easy, by at least putting that
which, to ordinary minds, might have been a confused puzzle, into the
shape of an easy, definite, and intelligible proposition.

It was immaterial whether the difficulties were such as could be
overcome, or whether they were in part insurmountable; both were
clearly placed before you; and whilst the work of the quickest mind was
facilitated, the slowest had the great assistance of seeing clearly
what it had to do.

All this was done by Abernethy in a manner so little suggestive of
effort, that, like his lecturing, it was so apparently easy, that one
wondered how it happened that nobody could ever do it so well.

But when we saw him placed in juxtaposition with other men, these
peculiarities, which, from the easy manner in which they were
exhibited, we had perhaps estimated but lightly, were thrown into high
relief, and by contrast showed the superiority of his powers.

The second series of Essays he had dedicated to his old master, Sir
Charles Blicke. The third, the subject of our present consideration,
he inscribed to his early instructor in anatomy, Sir W. Blizard. The
dedication is straightforward and grateful.

The first paper of the series is interesting in two points of view.
First, it was an important improvement in the management of a difficult
form of a very serious class of accidents—”Injuries of the Head;”
and secondly, it derives a peculiar interest from the parallelism it
suggests between Abernethy and one of the most distinguished surgeons
of France, the celebrated Pierre Joseph Desault—a parallelism
honourable to both, yet remarkably instructive as to the superior
discriminative powers of Abernethy. Desault’s pupil, Bichat, himself
one of the most accomplished anatomists of his time, has left an
eloquent eulogium on Desault, which, although somewhat florid, is
by no means above his merits. He says he was the father of Surgical
Anatomy in France; and certainly few men evinced more sagacity, in that
immediate application of a fact to practical purposes which constitutes
art, than Desault.

Bichat, in his glowing analysis of Desault’s character, amongst
other things in relation to his study of the profession, observes
of him that “Un esprit profond et réfléchi, ardent à entreprendre,
opiniâtre à continuer, le disposa de bonne heure à surmonter des
dégoûts qui précédent, et les difficultés qui accompagnent son étude.
A cet âge où l’âme encore fermée à la réflexion semble ne s’ouvrir
qu’au plaisir, apprendre fut son premier besoin—savoir sa première
jouissance—devancer les autres sa première passion[23].”

A quick and clear perception, for the most part untrammelled by
preconceived opinions, led Desault to a vivid appreciation of the
immediate results of surgical proceedings; and as these were definite,
successful, doubtful, or abortive, he either persevered with a
characteristic tenacity of purpose, or at once and for ever abandoned
them. He was remarkably happy in his selection and appreciation of the
mechanical parts of surgery; and his quick perception disclosed to him
several useful points in practice which depend on the more important
truths of medical surgery.

Now _almost_ all this, as applied to the active portion of Abernethy’s
life, is equally true of both. But Desault was by no means so deep
or so original a thinker as Abernethy. Like Abernethy, he was clear
and penetrative; but he did not see nearly so far, nor were his views
nearly as comprehensive. Desault was quick at detecting an error
in practice, and in sensibly rejecting it. Abernethy would unfold
it, examine it, and, by his talents, convert the very defect into
usefulness. Desault had by no means, in the same degree, that power
of reflection, that suggestive faculty, which, in endeavouring to
interpret the meaning of phenomena, can point out the true question
which it is desired to ask of nature, as well as the mode of inquiry.

All this, and much more, was strikingly developed in Abernethy. The
paper before us involves a subject which had engaged the attention
both of Abernethy and Desault. They had met with the same difficulty;
and the practical solution of it which each obtained, though somewhat
different, was extremely characteristic. We will try to make this
intelligible. In severe injuries in which the cranium is broken, it
frequently happens that a portion of bone is so displaced that it
presses on the brain. The consequence of this, in _many cases_, is a
train of symptoms sufficiently alarming in themselves, but the actual
cause of which many circumstances sometimes concur to complicate or

The same forces which produce the accident not unfrequently involve a
violent shock to the whole body. Sometimes fracture or other injury of
other parts. Sometimes the patient is deeply intoxicated. Then, again,
patients are presented to the surgeon, in different cases, at extremely
different intervals after the reception of the injury; so that a case
may wear a very different aspect according to period or the phase at
which it is first brought under his observation.

These and many other circumstances give rise to various modifications
of the symptoms, and, _under some complications_, constitute a class
of cases which yield to none in importance or difficulty. There is
something in the idea of a piece of bone pressing on the brain, which
instinctively suggests the expediency of raising it to the natural
level. This is, in fact, the object of what is called “trepanning;” or,
as we generally term it, “trephining.”

The operation is very simple; it consists in carefully perforating the
cranium, and then, by means of an instrument adapted for that purpose,
restoring the piece of bone, which has been depressed, to its natural
level. In many instances, the proceeding was very successful; but in
many others, the cases terminated unfavourably. From what has been
already hinted, it is clear that, in many injuries of the head, this
trephining must have been unnecessary; in others, inapplicable; and in
both (as adding to the injury), mischievous. Still, surgeons went on as
before; so that, in a large class of injuries of the head, there was
(if the bone was depressed) an almost uniform recourse to the trephine.

Again, in cases where it did not immediately appear that the bone was
depressed, too often very unnecessary explorative operations were
undertaken to determine that circumstance. In short, there was too
much of analogy between the matter-of-course adoption of the trephine
in severe injuries of the cranium, and that which we have noticed in
regard to bleeding in more ordinary accidents.

For correcting the abuse of this very serious operation, we are under
great obligations to Abernethy and Desault; and we couple these
illustrious names together on this occasion, because, although the
amount of our obligation to Abernethy is much the greater, we would not
willingly omit the justice due to Desault.

Desault may have been said to have given the first blow, which so often
determines the ultimate fate of a mischievous conventionalism—that blow
which _compels the consideration_ of its claims on our common sense.

Desault had become extremely disgusted with the results of the
operation of the trephine in his hands at the Hôtel Dieu; and, on
consideration, although, as it would seem from Bichat’s edition of his
works, he did not in theory absolutely ignore the occasional propriety
of the operation, he practically for ever abandoned it; thus at once
cutting the knot he felt it difficult or impracticable to unravel. As
this was many years before his death, the principal argument on which
he supported the relinquishment of the operation was simply that his
success in the treatment of injuries of the head had been much greater
since he had altogether laid it aside.

This is eminently characteristic of what people call “a practical man;”
but, after all, it is not very sound reasoning. Now, here it was that
the discriminative excellence of Abernethy began to tell.

In the first place, he observed that the raising of the bone could
only be necessary _where it produced symptoms_. He also observed
that experience had recorded certain cases in which, notwithstanding
that the bone had been depressed, the patients had recovered without
any operation. Then again he thought it not improbable that, where
the depression was slight, even though some symptoms might at first
arise, yet, if we were not too precipitate, we might find that they
would again subside, and thus so serious an operation be rendered
unnecessary. These and similar reasonings led him to recommend a more
cautious practice, and to refrain from trephining, even where the bone
_was depressed_, except on conditions which referred to the general
effects of pressure _on the brain_, rather than to the abstract fact of
depression of the bone.

He did not stop here; but having thus placed restrictions on the use of
the trephine, where it had been too indiscriminately employed, he then
describes the practice which is to be pursued where the pressure is
produced from _effusion_ on the brain.

Although, in laying down the rules to be observed in such cases,
there is much of painful uncertainty as to the existence of
effused blood, the site it may occupy, and other circumstances of
embarrassment,—still the rules he proposes in relation to the
avoidance of large vessels, the condition of the bone as indicative
of the actual state of the parts beneath it, &c. are all clearly and
beautifully stated, as deducible from the anatomical and vascular
relations of the parts. The result of all this discrimination is, that
the trephine is seldom employed, whilst the treatment of the various
injuries of the head is much more successfully conducted.

He next proceeds to consider the distinction between those cases in
which the brain has been _shaken_ merely (concussion), and those where
it has been subjected to mechanical pressure. There are two points in
this part of the paper of great interest to the practical surgeon: the
one in which he treats of the distinction of the two cases; the other,
in which he marshals the discordant practices of different surgeons in
cases of concussion, and defines the proper phase of the case in which
we may make them respectively applicable. When, for example, we may by
warmth maintain, or even by cautious stimulation excite, the depressed
powers; or, by judicious abstinence from either, avoid provoking too
violent reaction; and, lastly, how we should combat the latter, if it
unfortunately supervene.

His Remarks on the Assistance to be derived from the consideration
of the Phenomena of Apoplexy, his reference to the cases which had
occurred in the practice of other surgeons, and the observations he
makes on the lamentable _omission of facts in the record of cases_, are
all worthy of profound attention. Equally excellent is the ingenuity
with which he attempts the distinction between the cases of concussion,
and compression, of the brain. His endeavour to discriminate the cases
in which the effusion, or inflammatory action, respectively, affect
one or other membrane, is also extremely sagacious and characteristic.
Whether we consider all or any of these features in the paper before
us; or, lastly, that triumph of science and humanity with which he has
so defined the limits of a dangerous operation, as to have achieved a
comparative abandonment of it; we think most surgeons will be inclined
to regard this essay as one of his happiest contributions to the
improvement of practical science.

In 1804, he added some cases in illustration of the views unfolded
in this paper; and one case which appeared to be exceptional, with
what he considered to be its appropriate explanation. He also gives
an interesting case of a suicide, in whom he had tied the carotid
artery, and in whom the operation was followed by an inflammatory
state of the brain. Here, again, his quick perception suggested to him
the significant idea that _similar_ conditions of brain might result
from _different_ and even _opposite_ states of the circulation—a
conclusion now, I believe, well established; one of great practical
importance; and one for which, so far as I know, we are greatly
indebted to the observations of Dr. Marshall Hall on blood-letting.
In this case, Abernethy eulogizes the plan recommended by Desault, of
feeding a patient by a tube introduced through the left nostril. In
concluding this remarkable paper, which shows how much a great mind may
extract from common subjects—

“Tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris”—

we quote one remark, which impresses the importance of a requisition,
the essential basis of all scientific inquiries—namely, a careful
collection of facts.

“In proportion as we advance in knowledge,” says Mr. Abernethy, “we
are led to record many circumstances in the progress of the disorder
which had before passed without notice, but which, if known and duly
attended to, would clearly point out to us the nature and remedy of the
complaint. Hence the records of former cases are of much less value, as
the symptoms about which we are _now anxious to inquire_, have in them
_been entirely overlooked_.”

[Footnote 23: Bichat, Eloge de Desault. Œuvres.]

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your
philosophy, Horatio,” is a sentiment which, in some form or other,
occurs to the most uninformed peasant, and to the most profound

The very small difference between the acquisitions of the two, however
marvellous when viewed abstractedly, sinks into nothing when compared
to the secrets of nature which yet remain unexplored. This comparison
is the true source of that humility which, while it adds dignity to
the acquirements of intellect, is the foundation on which we may most
securely rest the hope of increasing possessions.

The intellectual vision of the wisest man confines him to a very small
area, when compared with the boundless realms of nature. There are,
indeed, a number of objects within the range of his perceptions whose
nature and relations he has the power of examining; but there are also
a multitude of others which, from their dimly sketched outline, he
feels to be beyond the bounds assigned to his limited faculties.

One of the most curious things in animals is the rigidity or stiffness
of their muscles after death. It is, as it were, the last effort of
the living principle. This phenomenon may be indefinitely modified
by particular states, by lightning, by poison, and other peculiar
conditions, induced by the manner and the period at which the death may
have occurred; and in all cases it continues but for a short time. It
is the last exercise of that power which resides in muscles or flesh,
of contracting, and thus moving the various parts to which it is
attached. In a very large sense, this power is under the dominion of
the will, and enables animals to move as their instincts or their wants

Now it is a curious thing to think that this power can be excited after
death, by placing the parts between two pieces of metal, or galvanizing
them; so called after the name of the discoverer, Galvani.

It is difficult, at this day, to imagine the astonishment of the wife
of Galvani, or his pupil, when first they observed the leg of a dead
frog thrown into convulsions on being touched by a piece of metal.
Such, however, was the apparently simple origin of a long series
of wonderful discoveries. It has been well observed, however, that
“discoveries, apparently the result of accident, always imply the
exercise of profound thought.” And this was no less the case in respect
to galvanism. A fact, which, but for the mention of it to Galvani by
his wife, might have passed unobserved, was, by the scarcely less than
creative power of mind, improved into a most important branch of human

Ignorant as men still remain of the _intrinsic nature_ of the principle
or power which gives rise to the phenomenon, the observation and study
of _its laws_ and _operations_ have led to discoveries which, in their
value, their importance, and their surprising character, yield to no
other yet achieved.

Abernethy, who, at this laborious period of his life, had his
observation directed everywhere, made some experiments on this power
(galvanism), in its relations to the muscles of frogs.

His object seems to have been as follows: Fontana (a celebrated
physiologist, born in the Tyrol about 1734) had showed that a muscle
which could no longer be excited to contract under water, might be
excited anew, if taken out of the water, and exposed for some time
to air. This observation had suggested the idea that air was in some
way or other conducive to this “irritability,” as it was termed. Dr.
Girtanner had also endeavoured to prove that the irritability depended
on the oxygen taken into the blood during respiration; and further,
that it was in a direct ratio to the quantity of oxygen respired—”an
opinion which some writers in this country seem disposed to adopt.”

Abernethy doubted the soundness of such a view, and he accordingly
instituted some experiments, in the hope that if he could not
absolutely determine the question, he might throw some light on it. His
experiments were very numerous, but he published only a few of them. We
will give one or two. “_Having killed a frog_ (for he properly objected
to experiments on _living_ animals), he experimented on the muscles
of two legs; one was put into a bottle containing oxygen gas procured
from manganese, and which was very pure; the other into a bottle
containing atmospheric air; the quantity in each bottle was about six
ounces by measure; the limbs were supported in the gases, and wholly
surrounded by them. After five hours, the muscles had nearly ceased to
act in both limbs; those, however, of the thigh belonging to that limb
inclosed in the _common air_ acted more vividly than the others, but
in a little time even these could no longer be excited. Upon comparing
the limbs afterwards, the muscles of that limb which had been exposed
to the oxygen gas were evidently the most flabby. Several other trials
were made with a similar result;” whence he observes: “I am disposed
to conclude that oxygenous gas has _no greater power_ of supporting
the irritability of parts _separated_ from the animal than the common

In some of his experiments the limbs continued to be excitable after
eighteen hours, but with little difference in the two gases.

He next made several experiments, by placing the limbs of frogs
in _nitrogen_ and _hydrogen_: the limbs in nitrogen lost their
irritability in about _two hours and a half_; those in hydrogen, in
about _four_ hours.

Experiments then follow which consisted in placing other limbs in
carbonic acid and nitrous gases respectively; when he found that in
both cases the muscles ceased to act in an hour and a half.

He also placed limbs in carburetted hydrogen, and found that they
ceased to act after the same period. In other experiments, he found the
correctness of Fontana’s results; viz. that limbs placed under water,
and which had lost their irritability, had for a time recovered it by
exposure to air and moisture.

Perhaps the most interesting of the whole series are those in which he
compared the results obtained _in vacuo_ and atmospheric air. He says:
“I put one prepared limb of a frog under the exhausted receiver of an
air-pump; it lay on a plate of glass, supported by a cup; zinc was
placed beneath the thigh, and gold under the leg; and, by means of a
probe passing through a collar of leather, I could touch both metals,
so as to excite the muscles to contraction. This I did occasionally,
and found the limb capable of excitement for twenty-two hours. The
corresponding limb, which was left exposed to the atmosphere, also
contracted at the end of that time; so that it was doubtful which of
them retained their powers in the greater degree. The same experiment
was repeated several times, with results so nearly alike, that I am
inclined to believe _irritability_ continues very little longer in
common air than it does in the exhausted receiver of an air-pump.

“I have frequently produced numerous contractions in the limbs of frogs
inclosed in azotic, hydrogenous, and other gases; which likewise tend
to show that the cause of irritability does _not depend on oxygen_ for
its power of action.”

He then remarks that, notwithstanding the great importance of oxygen,
he thinks it has been overrated; for, says he, “Different tribes of
animals partake of it in different degrees; and those who have the
least of it are far _from being the least vivacious_.”

He here reasons on premises which were then universally admitted, and
which form at present a portion of many very questionable impressions
in relation to respiration.

We mention one: “that fish, frogs, &c., breathe less oxygen than
warm-blooded animals.” But whilst, in respect to the frog, there are
many conditions relating to the skin to be considered before we can
admit this proposition, we hold it to be _demonstrable_ that fish
breathe more oxygen than most other animals; due attention not having
been paid to the enormous proportion of oxygen in the air found in
water; being in fact, about, one-third. In his concluding remarks, he
says, that as regards nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbonic acid, it only
shows what we knew before: that they are injurious to life, and that
oxygen is not more beneficial than common air. The experiments “showing
the long continuance of life and action in muscles in an exhausted
receiver, he considers worthy of notice, as tending to show that the
cause of irritability in muscles, when once formed, does not require
the assistance of external matter.”

Lastly, he gives an experiment on the blood (which shows how he was
working in every direction), in aid of the opinion that the blood
derives its scarlet colour from the action of oxygen. “I took the
coagulum of venous blood left in a basin after bleeding, and, turning
it bottom upwards, waited till its surface had become of a scarlet
colour. I then took slices of this surface, and similar slices of the
interior part of the coagulum, which had a very dark appearance, and
exposed them repeatedly to azotic and nitrous gases. The scarlet colour
gradually faded upon such exposure; and the azotic gas being afterwards
examined, was found to contain oxygen, while nitrous gas was much
diminished, doubtless by combining with the same principle. The gases
to which the dark-coloured blood was exposed underwent no change in
this experiment. That blood takes oxygen from the air, when it becomes
florid, will not, I suppose, be denied, and the experiment I have
related shows that it will again part with it, though slowly, without
_any alteration in its temperature_.”

The principal interest, as we think, of this paper on “Irritability,”
is the evidence it affords of his determination to keep his mind
free from preconceived notions on a subject which was at that time
calculated to mislead him; especially as he then participated in the
general impression that the Oxygen was “the great source of animal
heat;” a view which he afterwards, and as we think for excellent
reasons, mistrusted.

This view has been revived, but, as far as we know, in no very
philosophical spirit. Whilst we would respect the opinions of men,
we can only reason on the paramount authority of nature; and we
see increasing ground to believe that he who would leave out of
physiological inquiries so large a portion of the necessary induction
as the phenomena of disease, no matter what be his authority, will
only add to the number of those who have shown that, the moment we
neglect the most comprehensive search for facts of which our knowledge
admits, we fall into error. Mr. Hunter has recorded his opinion of the
impossibility of obtaining a knowledge of functions without considering
the phenomena of disease; and all experience hitherto has tended to
give this observation the validity of an axiom.

“Know, Nature’s children all divide her care;
The fur that warms a monarch warmed a bear.”


In the foregoing experiments, the reader will have observed the
significant words, “having killed a frog”—Abernethy not approving
of experiments on living animals. When we reflect for a moment on
the thousands of dreadful experiments which have been made on living
animals, and the utter inconclusiveness of them for any useful purpose,
there are, amongst the numerous errors by which so many philosophical
inquiries have been delayed or defeated, few that are more lamentable.

This mode of investigation has not, so far as we can see, produced _any
one useful discovery_; whilst it has tended to obscure, by all that is
disgusting and repulsive, the true mode of cultivating a most alluring

But as we write, however humbly, as physiologists, and may be regarded
as advocating the claims and attractions of that science with something
of the _esprit de métier_, rather than in the cautious spirit which
should characterize a philosophical discussion,—let us for one moment
consider the claims of physiology on the attention of mankind.

Physiology has for its object the investigation of the functions and
relations of the whole organic kingdom (the vegetable and animal
creation), and cannot be successfully cultivated without consulting the
phenomena in both these kingdoms of nature.

The branch of physiology most interesting to the medical philosopher
is that which deals with the functions of animals in general, and of
man in particular. The special interest to the medical philosopher
is therefore obvious: let us just glance at its more general claims.
Linnæus said that the world was one vast museum; and it illustrates the
nature and attributes of the Deity.

But how? In the first place, by the numerous evidences it _everywhere_
presents, even to our finite capacities, of design, wisdom, and
power; and further, of the Unity of that power. But, to our finite
perceptions, it does not _everywhere_ present evidences of love, mercy,
and parental care. Not because they may not exist universally, but
because our faculties do not allow us to connect these ideas with any
but “sentient beings.”

This alone renders physiology one of the most elevating of all human
studies—most general in its application—most comprehensive in the
attributes it unfolds to us, and therefore most refining to our moral

Although, therefore, we would claim the _special_ theological evidences
of physiology, as the distinguishing excellence of this science, it
is not less commanding as regard the evidences which it affords in
_common_ with other parts of the Creation.

In animals, we see not less indications of design, wisdom, power,
and beauty, than elsewhere; but we _also_ see a provision for their
wants and comforts, of such a kind as leaves no room for doubting
that both have been the objects of design. We need not here go into
the multiplied proofs of this proposition. _A priori_, then, it would
seem very unlikely that a mode of investigating the functions of
animals would be productive, which begins by ignoring one of their most
striking relations.

This, too, at once suggests the moral question, Is it right? There
is no necessity, for our present purpose, to moot that question. We
have, over and over again, challenged investigation; but the case is
too clear to admit of discussion. Again, although we humbly submit
that the moral bearing of philosophical questions must always be a
legitimate subject of inquiry, yet it is inexpedient to introduce that
question where it is not required. The questions whether the progress
of physiology has been _accelerated_ by experiments on living animals,
or whether the _treatment of diseases_ has been improved by that mode
of inquiry, or whether it has _tended to mislead people_ into erroneous
and mischievous views, are all things that admit of proof entirely
independent of moral considerations. Now we should be sorry to appear
to undervalue that which we most highly prize, or to represent that to
be irrelevant which is, in all subjects, the great consideration; but
it is wise to take the ground chosen by those who argue in support of a
fallacy; not that which they would ignore, or regard as disputable.

As we have already observed, we think it demonstrable that experiments
on living animals, _involving cruelty_, have been entirely
unproductive, whilst they have tended to mislead more than any other
mode of investigation whatever. Many years since, we corrected some
very extraordinary mis-statements in regard to the experiments of
Orfila, Sir Charles Bell, and others, which could only be accounted
for by a want of attention to the works from which they were selected;
for it is curious to observe that (though different in kind) the
most conclusive evidence of the erroneous value attributed to the
experiments is furnished by the distinguished authors themselves.

Orfila wished to know what would be the effect of various poisons on
the animal economy. He therefore set to work as follows:—He opened
the gullet of a living animal, put in the poison, and then tied the
tube; and this to ascertain how the stomach dealt with substances of
this kind taken into that organ. Now there have been, unfortunately,
too many instances afforded, by accidents and by suicides, of these
very things in the human subject; presenting us with a series of facts,
deplorable enough, it is true, but which, regarded merely as grounds of
philosophical inquiry, are comparatively free from objection; whilst
the experiments made by Orfila on his tortured animals are obviously
loaded with all the elements of fallacy. It is surely not necessary to
urge, as one of these, so serious a preliminary as placing a ligature
on the gullet. We say nothing of the horrible cries that Orfila
describes these animals as uttering; but surely, if the object had
been to interfere with and obscure the processes of nature by every
conceivable ingenuity, one could not have imagined any conditions
better calculated for this purpose.

Sir Charles Bell was a physiologist who distinguished himself by a
really important discovery; and it has been cited as an example of the
successful application of the mode of inquiry in question. This is
entirely an error. Whoever will read his book, will at once perceive
the truth of that which he himself judiciously observes; namely, that
physiology is much more a science of observation than experiment. As
to the influence of experiments on animals, in his own discoveries,
we have the best possible authority for denying it; viz. Sir Charles
Bell himself. He states very clearly the object with which he was
_reluctantly_ induced to make some experiments. They had, in fact,
nothing to do with his _discovery_. They were made in reluctant
concession to the slowly-paced perceptions of others.

This he had the manliness to acknowledge, and the benevolence to
regret. In short, examine what series of such experiments we may, we
always find them either wholly unproductive, or, if they appear to
prove anything of value, it is always something that is much more
_logically_ deducible from sources altogether unobjectionable. But if
this be so, is there no mischief in unproductive modes of inquiry?
Again—putting aside the brutalizing tendency of such practices as
part of the moral question—Is life so long? Is Science so easy? Is
Physiology, and especially the deplorably halt condition of Medical
Science, in such a state that we can afford to waste time in _vicious
modes_ of inquiry? We think not. Is there nothing mischievous in our
endeavour to obtain by the evidence of sense (the eye) that insight
into nature which Lord Bacon has so emphatically warned us is the
office of higher—in fact, of our intellectual—perceptions? If we
are not allowed to indulge in feelings of disgust and abhorrence at
all that is revolting to common sense, and our best and kindliest
sentiments, can we read, without distrust, of experiments which so
disgust by their nature that we know not how to describe them; or which
are so revolting, from their cruelty, that the mind recoils from the
contemplation of them? Is it possible to read many of the experiments
of Spallanzani[24], without feeling the same disgust that Abernethy
used to express in regard to them; or to read of opening animals alive,
dividing them with instruments, breaking their bones, or running
red-hot wires into their cavities, without feeling (if, indeed, any
thing better is to be regarded as merely “mawkish sentimentality”) that
at least valuable time has been wasted in pursuits which have been
brutalizing and unproductive?

In a review of a Biography of Sir Astley Cooper, in the “Quarterly,”
an experiment there described was characterized by the writer as
“Hellish.” We have no desire whatever to use unnecessarily strong
terms; nor do we think that the one above mentioned was too strong
for the case to which it referred; but we think that this extremely
fallacious mode of investigation will be most quickly abandoned, by
meeting fairly and in a mild and moderate spirit any allegations in its
favour. Dr. Hull, of Norwich, and several other eminent persons, have
expressed their dissent from this mode of inquiry.

Sir Isaac Newton considered cruelty to animals a violation of Christian

For our part, we have several times stated _our willingness to discuss_
any class of experiments which may be selected; for, although we may
not express ourselves so well as a late writer in the “Quarterly,”
yet to our minds heaven and hell do not present an idea of greater
contrast than that afforded by the notion—that laws which govern the
whole animal kingdom, and which present, at every moment, accumulating
evidences of goodness and mercy, should be auspiciously sought, much
less have their nature and relations developed, by torture of those
very objects for whom such benevolent provisions have been designed.
We have paid some attention to this subject; and it is very curious to
remark, that observations or experiments, when they cease to be cruel,
become instructive.

Indeed, if we reflect for a moment, we shall see that it must be so.
If we desire to know the actual nature of any living being, it must be
as if we were ourselves unseen—that is, that the animal may be in a
_perfectly_ undisturbed condition. The moment we _lose_ this, elements
of interference immediately arise and fog our reasoning; and the more
refined the inquiry, the more the avoidance of disturbance becomes
essential: in fact, the utmost success in obtaining the conditions
_philosophically_ necessary, depends on maintaining as nearly as
possible the natural condition—that is, the comfort of the animal; so
that the conditions necessary on philosophical grounds, and those which
we regard as still more important after all, coincide.

In every path of life, there are unpleasant duties; and it might
have happened that the functions of animals could only have been
investigated by the means we would repudiate: but the simple truth is,
that it is demonstrably otherwise.

Abernethy had a decided objection to experiments involving cruelty.
He never made any himself that could fairly be so called; and he
never alludes to the subject without some remark tending to show his
disapproval of them. Nor is it, in our view, any disparagement that
his benevolent feelings were largely influential in governing his
opinions on this subject. He began his researches, with the ability
and inclination to investigate Life under every phase, at a time
when no one had begun, so far as we know, to question this mode of
investigation. But, whilst he left no other untried, he only recognized
experimenting on living animals so far as to show that his benevolence
could be sufficiently discriminative to select experiments where the
existence of suffering was doubtful, and that the doubt alone was
sufficient to induce him to abandon the pursuit.

We are sorry to dismiss a subject of so great importance, both in a
moral and physiological point of view, with what we feel to be so
meagre a discussion. But it would require more than our whole space
to examine the many thousand torturing experiments, and expose the
uselessness and _fallacies_ which they exemplify. We have elsewhere
discussed the subject somewhat more at large[26]: here we have only
the opportunity of just touching on it. The greatest respect we can pay
the memory of a great man, is to apply carefully any principles which
he may have left sufficiently matured for practical purposes; and so to
treat those of which he may have only _given us hints, or elementary
suggestions_[27], as shall most searchingly examine their nature and
claims to further development and cultivation. If every opportunity is
not sufficient to do this in full, we must comfort ourselves with the
hope that, where there is not ability to produce conviction, there may
appear sincerity of purpose sufficient to suggest what is even more
valuable, “patient inquiry.”

This is a duty we owe to every subject on which we venture to form any
opinion, either in the study or the practice of our profession; and we
have the utmost confidence that the scientific investigation and the
moral argument will be found to coincide.

“Heaven’s attribute is universal care,
And man’s prerogative to rule, but spare.”

[Footnote 24: See the extracts from his Lectures at the College, in
this volume.]

[Footnote 25: See Life by Brewster, 2 vols. 8vo.]

[Footnote 26: Remarks on Vivisection in relation to Physiological
Investigation. T. Hatchard, 1847.]

[Footnote 27: See Extracts from Lectures, _infra_.]

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