John Lord.

Beacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents online

. (page 24 of 26)
Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 24 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

volts, raised by means of step-up transformers to 22,000, 40,000, and
60,000 volts, according to the distance of transmission. Each of the
revolving parts of these machines will weigh 141,000 pounds. To what
gigantic proportions has the little infant dynamo of Faraday grown in
this short time since its birth!

The low rates at which electric power can be sold in the immediate
neighborhood of the Niagara generating plant have naturally resulted in
an enormous growth of the electro-chemical industries, for these
industries could never otherwise develop into extended commercial
applications. Of the total output of, say, 55,000 horse-power at the
Niagara Falls generating plant, no less than 23,200 horse-power is used
in various electrolytic and electro-thermal processes in the immediate
neighborhood. Some of the more important consumers of the electric
power, named in the order of consumption, are for the manufacture of the
following products: calcium carbide, aluminium, caustic soda and
bleaching salt, carborundum, and graphite.

Calcium carbide, employed in the production of acetylene gas, either for
the purposes of artificial illumination, or for the manufacture of ethyl
alcohol, is produced by subjecting a mixture of carbon and lime to the
prolonged action of heat in an electric furnace.

Aluminium, the now well-known valuable metal, present in clay, bauxite,
and a variety of other mineral substances, is electrolytically deposited
from a bath of alumina obtained by dissolving bauxite either in
potassium fluoride or in cryolite. Aluminium is now coming into extended
use in the construction of long-distance electric power
transmission lines.

Caustic soda and bleaching salt are produced by the electrolytic
decomposition of brine (chloride of sodium). The chlorine liberated at
the anode is employed in the manufacture of bleaching-salt, and the
sodium is liberated at a mercury cathode, with which it at once enters
into combination as an alloy. On throwing this alloy into water the
sodium is liberated as caustic soda.

Carborundum, a silicide of carbon, is a valuable substance produced by
the action of the heat of an electric furnace on an intimate mixture of
carbon and sand. It has an extensive use as an abrasive for grinding and

Artificial graphite is another product produced by the long-continued
action of the heat of the electric furnace on carbon under certain

According to reports from the United States Geological Survey, the
graphite works at Niagara Falls produced in 1901, 2,500,000 lbs. of
artificial graphite, valued at $119,000. This was an increase from
860,270 lbs., valued at $69,860 for 1900, and from 162,382 lbs., valued
at $10,140, in 1897, the first year of its commercial production. In
1901, more than half of the output was in the form of graphitized
electrodes employed in the production of caustic soda and bleaching
salt, and in other electrolytic processes.

The Niagara Falls power transmission system stands to-day as a
magnificent testimonial to the genius of Faraday, and as a living
monument of the varied and valuable gifts his researches have bestowed
upon mankind. For here we have not only the dynamo, motors, and
transformers that he gave freely to the world, not only the
alternating-current transformer, and the system of transmission of
power, but we even find that the principal consumers of the enormous
electric power produced are employing it in carrying on some of the many
processes in electro-chemistry, a science that he had done so much
to advance.

Among some of the surprises electro-chemistry may have in store for the
world in the comparatively near future, may be a nearer approach to a
mastery of the laws which govern the combination of elementary
substances when under the influence of plant-life. If these laws ever
become so well known that man is able to form hi his laboratory the
various food products that are now formed naturally in plant organisms,
such a revolution would be wrought that the work of the agriculturist
would be largely transferred to the electro-chemist. Some little has
already been done in the direct formation of some vegetable substances,
such as camphor, the peculiar flavoring substance present in the vanilla
bean, and in many other substances. Should such discoveries ever reach
to the direct formation of some food staple, the wide-reaching
importance and significance of the discovery would be almost beyond

But, while the direct electro-synthetic formation of food products is
yet to be accomplished on a practical scale, the problem appears to be
nearing actual solution in an indirect manner. It has been known since
the time of Cavendish, in 1785, that small quantities of nitric acid
could be formed directly from the nitrogen and oxygen of the atmosphere
by the passage of electric sparks; but heretofore, the quantity so found
has been too small to be of any commercial value. Quite recently,
however, one of the electro-chemical companies at Niagara Falls has
succeeded in commercially solving the important problem of the fixation
of the nitrogen of the atmosphere; it being claimed that the cost of
thus producing one ton of commercial nitric acid, of a market value of
over eighty dollars, does not greatly exceed twenty dollars. Since
sodium nitrate can readily be produced by the process, and its value as
a fertilizer of wheat-fields is too well known to need comment, there
would thus, to a limited extent, be indirectly solved the
electro-chemical production of food staples.

Faraday's high rank as an investigator in the domain of natural science
was fully recognized by the learned societies of his time, by admission
into their fellowships. As early as 1824, he was honored by the Royal
Society of London by election as one of its Fellows, and in 1825 he had
become a member of the Royal Institution. It is recorded of the great
philosopher that the membership in the Royal Institution was the only
one which he personally sought; all others came unsought, but they came
so rapidly from all portions of the globe that in 1844 he was a member
of no less than seventy of the leading learned societies of the world.
Ries, the German electrician, so well known in connection with his
invention of the speaking telephone, addressed Faraday as "Professor
Michael Faraday, Member of all the Academies." Besides his membership in
the learned societies, Faraday received numerous degrees from the
colleges and universities of his time. Among some of these are the
following: The University of Prague, the degree of Ph.D.; Oxford, the
degree of D.C.L.; and Cambridge, the degree of LL.D. He also received
numerous medals of honor, and was offered the Presidency of the Royal
Society, which, however, he declined, as he did also a knighthood
proffered by the government of England. Faraday died on the 25th of
August, 1867, after a long, well-spent, useful life.

We have thus briefly traced some of the more important discoveries of
Michael Faraday. Many have necessarily been passed by, but what we have
given are more than sufficient to stamp him as a great philosopher and
investigator. Speaking of Faraday in this connection, Professor Tyndall
says: "Take him for all in all, I think it will be conceded that Michael
Faraday is the greatest experimental philosopher the world has ever
seen; and I will add the opinion that the progress of future research
will tend not to diminish or decrease, but to enhance and glorify, the
labors of this mighty investigator."


Experimental Researches in Electricity. By Michael Faraday. From the
Philosophical Transactions.

Abstracts of the Philosophical Transactions from 1800 to 1837.

Faraday's Experimental Researches in Electricity and Magnetism. 3 vols.

Life and Letters of Faraday. By Dr. Bence Jones.

Michael Faraday. By J.H. Gladstone.

Students' Text-Book of Electricity. By Henry M. Noad. Revised by W.H.

Michael Faraday. By John Tyndall.

Pioneers of Electricity. By J. Munro.

Dynamo-Electric Machinery. By Silvanus P. Thompson.

A Dictionary of Electrical Words, Terms, and Phrases. By Edwin J.

Electricity and Magnetism. By Edwin J. Houston.

Electricity One Hundred Years Ago and To-Day. By Edwin J. Houston.

Magnetism; Electro-Technical Series. By Edwin J. Houston and Arthur E.

Electro-Dynamic Machinery. By Edwin J. Houston and A. E. Kennelly.





Stagnation was the state of medicine when the Nineteenth Century opened.
It was only three years before that Jenner had announced and
demonstrated the protective efficacy of vaccination against small-pox.
His teaching, in spite of the vehement cavillings of the "antis" of his
day, gained credence readily, and vaccination speedily became recognized
and was constantly resorted to, but hardly any attempt at perfecting the
practice was made until after more than fifty years had elapsed. His
discovery - or, rather, his proof of the truth of a rustic
tradition - fell like a pebble into the doldrums; the ripple soon
subsided, and nobody was encouraged to start another. At the present
time such an announcement would be promptly followed by investigations
leading up to such doctrines as that of the attenuation of viruses and
that of antitoxines. But the times were not ripe for anything of that
sort; medicine reposed on tradition, or at best gave itself only to such
plausibilities in the way of innovation as were cleverly advocated.
Physicians strove not to advance the healing art; as individuals, they
were content to rely on their manners, their tact, and their assumption
of wisdom. In short, the body medical was in a state of suspended
animation, possessed of a mere vegetative existence.

The Humoral pathology, or that doctrine of the nature of disease which
ascribed all ailments to excess, deficiency, or ill "concoction" of some
one of the four humors (yellow and black bile, blood, and phlegm), had
not yet lost its hold on men's convictions, or at least not further than
to make them look upon exposure to cold and errors of diet as amply
explanatory of all diseases not plainly infectious. The medical writers
who were most revered were those who busied themselves with nosology;
that is to say, the naming and classifying of diseases. Wonderful were
the onomatological feats performed by some of these men, and most
diverse and grotesque were the data on which they founded their
classifications. To label a disease was high art; to cure it was
something that Providence might or might not allow. In the treatment of
"sthenic" acute diseases (meaning those accompanied by excitement and
high fever), blood-letting, mercury given to the point of salivation,
antimony, and opium, together with starvation (all included under the
euphemism of "lowering measures"), were the means universally resorted
to and reputed "sheet anchors." Some advance had been made from the
times when disease had been looked upon as an entity to be exorcised,
but it was still so far regarded as a material thing that it was to be
starved out.

But the century was not out of its second decade when signs of an
awakening from this lethargy began to show themselves. The first steps,
naturally, were along preparatory lines, and for those we are largely
indebted to the physicists, the chemists, and the botanists. Gross
anatomy became better known, owing for the most part to more enlightened
legislation on the subject of the dissection of the human body; minute
anatomy (histology) sprang into existence as the result of improvements
of the compound microscope. Physiology took on something of the
experimental; and medication was rendered far less gross and repulsive
by the isolation of the active principles of medicinal plants. But it
was long after all this that the telling strides were taken. Up to
within the memory of many men who are now living, "peritonitis" tortured
its victims to death, said "peritonitis" being often interpreted as a
manifestation of rheumatism, for example, and no well-directed
interposition was attempted against it, whereas we now know perfectly
well that the vast majority of cases of peritonitis are due to local
septic poisoning and for the most part quite readily remediable by the
removal (with a minimum of danger) of the organ from which such
poisoning arises - almost always the vermiform appendix. "Appendicitis,"
of which we hear so much nowadays, is no new disease; it is simply the
"peritonitis" that killed so many people in former times. But while no
well-informed person would now maintain that this disease was a new one,
there are many, and those, too, among the best instructed, who find it
difficult to avoid the conclusion that, if not new, it must at least be
of far more frequent occurrence than formerly. It must be borne in mind,
however, that in the great majority of instances in past years it ended
spontaneously in recovery and was forgotten.

Two features of the progress in medicine in the Nineteenth Century,
negative as they may seem to have been, were undoubtedly potent in the
promotion of advance. They were the recognition of the fact that many
dangerous diseases are self-limited, and the experiment of the so-called
"expectant treatment." The result of the first of them was to teach men
to desist from futile attempts to _cure_ the self-limited diseases, in
the sense of cutting them short in their course, and the "expectant
treatment" followed as a natural consequence. It was a method of
managing disease rather than attempting to cure it. There was no
interference save to promote the patient's comfort, to nourish him as
thoroughly as might be without unduly taxing his powers, and to meet
complications as they arose. It was stooping to conquer, perhaps, but it
was a policy that conduced greatly to the well-being of the sick,
improved their chances of recovery, and enabled physicians to study
disease more accurately by reason of its course not being rendered
irregular by meddlesome medication. It has never been dropped, and it
never will be, save as such directly curative agents as the antitoxines
are made available.

In the early part of the century, except for gross anatomy and operative
surgery, medicine was taught almost wholly, so far as the schools were
concerned, by means of didactic lectures. The "drawing" capacity of a
professor was proportionate rather to his rhetorical powers and to the
persuasiveness with which he inculcated the views peculiar to himself
than to the amount of real information that he conveyed to the students.
Although the apprentice system - for that was what the practice of
students' attaching themselves to individual practitioners, whom they
called their preceptors, virtually amounted to - in many instances made
up more or less completely for the lack of systematic clinical teaching,
yet in the great majority of cases it amounted to little more than the
preceptor's allowing the student the use of his library and occasionally
examining into the latter's diligence and intelligence, in return for
which he, the preceptor, required an annual fee and exacted from the
student such minor services as his proficiency enabled him to render. It
is true the students "walked" the hospitals, drinking in some great
man's utterances, but they did it in droves, not a moiety of them being
able to get a good look at a patient, unless it was such a passing
glance as might tell them that the patient was jaundiced. By clinical
teaching we understand teaching, not in glittering generalities, but in
the concrete, either at the bedside, as the word _clinical_ originally
implied, or at least with the patient actually present to illustrate in
his person the professor's descriptions and the success or failure of
the treatment employed. The clinic is now firmly established, and has
been for years, but it was long before this grand result was attained.

Experimental methods of study gradually came into vogue, particularly in
the domain of physiology. In this sphere Dr. William Beaumont, of the
United States Army, was a pioneer. His historic experiments on Alexis
St. Martin, a soldier who had been wounded in the stomach and recovered
with a permanent opening into that organ, will ever rank among the most
important of the early experimental studies of digestion. It was not
long before Claude Bernard extended similar inquiries to the other
functions of the body, notably those of the nervous system; and since
his time there has been a long array of brilliant investigators of
physiology and of other branches of science tributary to medicine.
Experiments on living animals were almost the only means of carrying on
these researches. In the early days the animals employed were doubtless
put to a great deal of pain - perhaps in many instances to unnecessary
suffering - and an altogether laudable feeling of humanity has led good
people to band themselves together for the purpose of putting a stop to
vivisection, or at least of greatly restricting the practice and of
freeing it from all avoidable infliction of pain. These praiseworthy
efforts have in some instances been carried so far, unfortunately, as to
seriously hamper scientific investigation - investigation which has for
its object the alleviation of human suffering and the saving of human
life. We may earnestly deprecate and strive to prevent wanton
reiteration of painful experiments for purposes of demonstrating anew
that which is unquestioned, and we may resort to all possible means to
render necessary experiments free from actual pain (from the anguish of
trepidation we can seldom relieve the poor animals), but let us not
block the wheels of scientific progress.

At the dawn of the Nineteenth Century, to examine a sick person's
pulse, to inspect his tongue, to observe his breathing, to interrogate
his skin by our sense of touch, and to try to make his statements and
those of his friends fit in with some tenable theory of the nature of
his ailment, were about all we could do. Possibly it was because he
realized to an uncommon degree the tremendous impediment of this narrow
limitation that Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of Homoeopathy, cut the
Gordian knot in sheer rebelliousness, and proclaimed, as he virtually
did, that a diagnosis was not necessary to the successful treatment of
disease, but that one only needed to know empirically how to subdue
symptoms, meaning mainly, if not solely, what we term "subjective"
symptoms - those of which the patient complains, as opposed to those that
we ourselves discover. But the physical examination of the sick, before
extremely meagre in its sphere and restricted in its possibilities, was
destined to expand before many years into the minute and positive
physical diagnosis of the present day.

In the year 1816 a French physician, Réné Théophile Hyacinthe Laennec,
achieved undying fame by publishing to the world an account of his
labors in the application of mediate auscultation and of percussion to
the diagnosis of the diseases of the chest. It is true that no less a
personage than the "Father of Medicine," Hippocrates, is reputed to have
practised succussion as a means of diagnosis; that is, the shaking of a
patient, as one would shake a cask, to ascertain by the occurrence or
non-occurrence of a splashing sound if the person's pleural cavity was
distended partly with water and partly with air. It is probable that
Hippocrates and many others after him carried the physical examination
of the chest still further, for it is difficult to imagine, for example,
that so simple a device as that of thumping a partition to make out the
situation of a joist by the sound evoked should not early have been
applied to the human chest. But, be this as it may, to Laennec belongs
the great credit of having laid a substantial foundation for the
physical diagnosis of the present time, and, more than for laying a
foundation, for constructing a fairly complete edifice. He who should
now undertake to practise general medicine without having first made
himself proficient in the detection and interpretation of the sounds
elicited by auscultation and percussion in diseases of the heart and
lungs would foredoom himself to failure.

It was not until many years later, early in the second half of the
century, that the clinical thermometer came into general use, but it
soon showed most strikingly the superiority of the "instrument of
precision" to the unaided senses of man. Who would think now of trying
to estimate the height of a fever by laying his hand on the patient's
skin, or who, even among the laity, would be satisfied with such a
procedure? "Doubtless," said the present writer in a former publication
("New York Medical Journal," Dec. 29, 1900), "the use of the thermometer
has occasionally given rise to needless alarm, but almost invariably it
may be interpreted with great certainty. Often it dispels unnecessary
anxiety as in a twinkling by its negative indication, and surely it is
to be credited with being distinctly diagnostic in those diseases of
which it has itself established the 'curve.'" By the thermometric
"curve" of a disease is understood the general visual impression made by
the graphic chart of a temperature record - the course of a zigzag line
connecting the points indicated by the various individual observations.

Numerous other instruments of precision are now in constant use, among
the most wonderful of which perhaps is the ophthalmoscope, whereby we
are enabled to subject the retina and the intervening media of the eye
to minute visual examination. There is not an organ of the body that is
not now interrogated daily in the way of physical diagnosis, and we even
examine separately the secretion of each of the two kidneys. In
addition, there are multitudinous specific signs of which we were not
long ago in complete ignorance. To cite only one of these, there is
Widal's agglutination test, by which the bacteriologist can usually make
a diagnosis of typhoid fever far in advance of the time at which it
could otherwise be distinguished. The use of the Röntgen rays in
diagnosis was one of the crowning achievements of the century, and now
we seem about to enter upon a course of their successful employment in
the treatment of disease - even some forms of cancer - as well as in its

Beyond the vermin that infest the skin and the hair, tapeworm, and a few
other intestinal worms, little if anything was known of morbific
parasites before the Nineteenth Century; but the labors of Van Beneden,
Küchenmeister, Cobbold, Manson, Laveran, and others have now established
the causal relationship between great numbers of animal parasites - gross
and microscopic - and certain definite morbid states. This has led to a
great increase in our knowledge of the connection between the parasites
of the lower animals and grave disease in human beings, and on this
knowledge rest many of the precautions that we are now able to take
against the spread of such disease. From the consideration of animal
parasites as the direct causes of disease, we naturally come to the
contemplation of the subject of insects as the carriers of disease. The
later years of the century have witnessed the demonstration of the fly's
agency in the transmission of malignant pustule and typhoid fever, and
that of certain mosquitoes in the conveyance of yellow fever and
malarial disease. We now know that bad air (the original meaning of the
word _malaria_) has nothing to do with fever and ague, and that swamps
are not unwholesome if they are free from infected mosquitoes. The
mosquito does not originate the malarial infection; it simply serves as
the temporary host of the micro-organism (_Plasmodium malarioe_) which
is the cause of the disease, having obtained its transient "guest" from
some human being. Consequently, marshy districts that are full of
mosquitoes are not malarious unless the mosquitoes are of the kinds
capable of lodging the plasmodium, and unless there is or has recently
been present in the neighborhood some person affected with malarial
disease. Moreover, the most virulently malarious region is a safe place
of residence for human beings, provided they protect themselves
absolutely against the bite of the mosquito. This has been strikingly
demonstrated in the case of the Roman Campagna.

From the disease-producing animal parasites we come now to those that
are believed to be of vegetable nature. Under the general name of
_bacteria_, there are multitudes of micro-organisms having pathogenic

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 26

Online LibraryJohn LordBeacon Lights of History, Volume 14 The New Era; A Supplementary Volume, by Recent Writers, as Set Forth in the Preface and Table of Contents → online text (page 24 of 26)