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therefore, to be regarded as a very important link in the great chain of universal life and harmony.
The constituent principles of animal matter we have already enumerated: they are most of them compound substances, and fall back into their respective primordia as the putrefactive process sets them at liberty. This process commences among the constituent gases; and it is only necessary to notice the respective changes that take place in this quarter, as every other change is an induced result.
Of these gases I have already observed, that azote or nitrogene is by far the largest in respect of quantity, and it appears also to be by far the most active. Hence, on the cessation of the vital principle, the azotic corpuscles very speedily make an advance towards those of oxygene, and generally in the softer and more fluid parts of the system; the control of the vital principle being here looser and less powerfully exerted. An union readily takes place between the two, and thus combined they fly off in the form of nitric acid: while at the same time another portion of azote combines with some portion of hydrogene, and escapes in the form of ammonia or volatile alkali. A spontaneous decomposition having thus commenced, all the other component parts of the lifeless machine are set at liberty, and fly off, either separately, or in different combinations; during which series of actions, from the union of hydrogene with carbone, and especially if conjoined at the same time with some portion of phosphorus or sulphur, is thrown forth that offensive aura which is the peculiar characteristic of the putrefactive process, and which, according to the par
ticular mode in which the different elementary substances combine, constitutes the fetor that escapes from putrid fishes, rotten eggs, or any other decomposing animal substances.
In this manner, then, by simple, binary, or ternary attractions and combinations, the whole of the substance constituting the animal system, when destitute of its vital principle, flies off progressively to convey new pabulum to the world of vegetation; and nothing is left behind but lime or the earth of bones, and soil or the earth of vegetables: the former furnishing plants with a perpetual stimulus by the eagerness with which it imbibes oxygene, and the latter offering them a food ready prepared for their digestive organs.
In order, however, that putrefaction should take place, it is necessary that certain accessaries to such a process should be present, without which putrefaction will never follow. Of these the chief are, rest, air, moisture, and heat.
Without REST the putrefactive process in no instance takes place readily, and in some instances does not take place at all: for animal flesh, when exposed to the perpetual action of running water, is often found converted into one common mass of fat or spermaceti, as I shall presently have occasion to observe more minutely.
AIR must necessarily co-exist, for putrefaction can never be induced in a vacuum. Yet we must not only have air, but genuine atmospheric air; or, in other words, the surrounding medium must be compounded of the gases which constitute the air of the atmosphere, and in their just proportions. To prove this, it is sufficient to mention that dead
animal substance has been exposed by M. Morveau*, and other chemists, for five or six years, in confined vessels, to the action of simple nitrogene, hydrogene, carbone, and various other gases, without any change that can be entitled to the appellation of putrefaction.
There must also be MOISTURE; for, as I have already observed, putrefaction commences in the softer and more fluid parts of the animal system. On this account it rarely occurs during a sere harmattan or drying wind of any kind, and never in a frost so severe as to destroy all moisture whatsoever; the power of frost exercising quite as effective a control over the elements of animal matter as the living principle itself.
For the same reason there must be HEAT; since in the total absence of heat frost must necessarily take place, together with an entire privation of moisture. On this last account, again, the heat made use of must only be to a certain extent, as about 65° of Fahrenheit; for, if carried much higher, the rarefaction which takes place in the surrounding atmosphere will induce an ascent of all the fluids in the animal substance towards its surface; whence they will fly off in the form of vapour, before the putrefying process can have had time to commence, and leave nothing behind but dry indurated materials, incapable of putrefaction because destitute of all moisture. Our dinner tables
* See Mémoire sur la Nature des Fluides élastiques aëriformes, qui se dégagent de quelques Matières animales, &c. par M. Lavoisier, Mém. de l'Acad. 1782; as also, M. Brugnatelli's paper in Crell's Chemical Annals for 1708, Ueber die Faulung thierischer Theile in verschieden Luftarten.
osed br too often supply us with instances of this fact, in dishes of roast or boiled meat too long exposed to the action of the fire, and hence reduced to juiceless and ragged fibres, totally devoid of nutriment, and capable of keeping for weeks or months, without betraying any putrefactive indication.
In like manner, when bodies are buried beneath the hot and arid sands of Egypt or Arabia, with a sultry sun shining, almost without ceasing, upon the sandy surface, the heat hereby produced is so considerable as to raise the whole of the fluids of the animal system to the cuticle, whence they are immediately and voraciously drunk up by the bibulous sands that surround it; or, piercing their interstices, are thrown off into the atmosphere in the form of insensible vapour. In consequence of which, when a body thus buried is dug up a few weeks after its interment, instead of being converted into its original elements, it is found changed into a natural mummy, altogether as hard and as capable of preservation as any artificial mummy, prepared with the costliest septics employed on such occasions.
When dead animal organs are deposited in situations in which only a very small portion of atmo, spheric air is capable of having access to them, a change indeed takes place, but of a very different description from that of putrefaction, and which is of a most curious and extraordinary nature. For in such cases the animal organs, instead of being converted into their original elements, are transmuted into fat, wax, or spermaceti; or rather into a substance sui generis, and possessing a middle nature between that of the two former, whence the French chemists have given it the appellation of ADIPOCIRE;
a term not strictly classical, but for which the chemists of our own country have not hitherto substituted any other.
This result is observed, not unfrequently, in bodies that are drowned, and rendered incapable of rising to the surface of the water; for in such a situation but very little air, and, consequently, very little oxygene, can reach them from the external atmosphere. And it is to these circumstances we ought, perhaps, to resolve the singular appearance in the body of Colonel Pollen, who was wrecked a few years ago in the Baltic sea, near Memel, and within sight of the coast; and whose corpse was six months afterwards thrown on shore, with the features of the face so little varied, that every one of his acquaintance recognised him at the first glance. The body had probably been entangled in the submarine sands on first sinking, and been retained in this situation for months, cut off from that exposure to external air which is absolutely necessary in all cases of putrefaction properly so called. A similar conversion into wax-fat was observed also in 1786 and 1787, on opening the fosses communes, or common burial-pits in the churchyard of the Innocents at Paris, for the purpose of laying the foundation of a new pile of buildings. For the bodies that on this occasion were dug up, instead of being dissolved into their elementary corpuscles, were found for the most part converted into this very substance of waxy fat or adipocire. The populace were alarmed at the phænomenon, and the chemists were applied to for an explanation. M. Fourcroy, among others, attended upon this occasion; and his solution, which will apply to all