The four elementary forms of matter described in the chapter before the last, are so well determined, and so constantly referred to in all these works, that it would be impossible to mistake them ; beside, no ancient author has attempted to deny their existence ; but some have assumed that only two of them are primitive elements, or even one alone, the others being regarded as secondary.


I. In the little treatise, entitled, " On Fleshes, or the Origin of Man," fire and earth alone, are designated as elements. Fire is the active principle, which the author supposes to be endowed with intelligence, wisdom, and will ; he confounds it with the soul of the world, or God. The earth is the passive principle ; it receives, by the action of fire, or its mixture with it, all the apparent forms of the body. The physiology developed in this book is very odd, as the following extracts show:

" I think that what we have called heat is immortal, that it knows, sees, and understands all things in the past and in the future. When all things were created, it was developed in larger quantities in the upper regions. The ancients, I believe, gave it the name of ether. The other element, which remained below, is called the earth ; it is cold, dry, in active motion, and contains much heat. The third part, which is located in mid-air, is somewhat warm ; the fourth, which is nearest the earth, is damp and crude. After all had been impressed with a circular motion, they became mingled, and much more heat accumulated in some parts of the earth than in others. The quantity was considerable, but the volume was small."

" The earth, after a long time, becoming dry, a mould was found on it, as is often on old clothes ; and after another very long lapse of time, what there was of fat and moisture in this mould, proceeding from the earth, being at last burned, formed bones.

" That which was sticky, and contained the cold element, could not burn, though made hot, nor become moist. It then took a form different from the rest, and was developed into solid nerves, for there was no cold in them.

" The veins required much of the cold element. The exterior part of this element, acted upon by the heat, formed a dense envelope and became a membrane. The interior of the veins, melted by the heat, became liquid.(Traite des chairs, ou du commencement de l'homme, §§ 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Gardeil)

" In this way, in man and in other animals, the wind-pipe, the stomach, the abdomen, and intestines, all became hollow.

" The cold element continually growing warmer, the exterior was burned and became an envelope or membrane ; the interior cold that existed, being neither fatty nor viscous, became humid, and was changed into a liquid."

The author explains, after the same manner, the formation of all the structures of the human body, their nature, nutrition, and various functions.


" The brain," he says, " is the center of the cold element ; the fat. that of heat.

" The veins that come from the belly and the intestines, continually attract or absorb what is thinnest, and most liquid in the food and drinks. After the mixture has become heated, the grossest remains and becomes excrement, and passes to the large intestine. The nutritive substance, reaching the various tissues, is distributed, furnishing to each what is to be permanent of its structure. These tissues, moistened by the nutritious juice, all grow by the hot, cold, viscous, fatty, sweet, and bitter elements.

II. The treatise on regimen, of which we have spoken in our article on hygiene, includes a doctrine which is very analogous to the preceding, but differs from it, in that water takes the place of earth, and is a passive element. The author commences by discussing the preliminary knowledge necessary to write well, on the regimen of man, and places in the first rank the knowledge of the human nature, of its origin, and the parts or elements that concur to form it. "If," he says, " a physician is ignorant of what man is made at first, and what predominates in him, how can he prescribe what may be useful to him." After these general physiological considerations, on which he dilates at large, he enters into his subject-matter as follows : " Man and all animals combine, each in themselves, two principles, very different in regard to their relative powers, but which concur for various purposes : namely, fire and water. These two principles, alone, are sufficient to act on all the rest, and to maintain the general movements. One without the other would not be sufficient for the animal economy, nor any other being. Now I will state the powers of each. Fire is the source of all motion, and water of all nutrition. Each one possesses certain necessary qualities ; fire is hot and dry, water, cold and moist. They borrow, also, qualities from each other ; fire borrows from water, humidity, for there is in fire a humidity that comes from water ; water borrows from fire, dryness, for there is a dryness in water that comes from fire.

" Nothing is entirely lost, and nothing new is made ; only different combinations are formed. Men think that what is born comes from a state of death, and what disappears, perishes, and that it is necessary to rely more, in this matter, upon the senses than upon reason, in which they are wrong. Listen to reason!" The author then enlarges upon this beautiful thought, but only spoils it by a miserable concoction of physics and metaphysics.

At last, he comes to the generation of man, which he explains as follows : " The mixture of semen is vitalized by agitation, and it draws its nourishment partly from different aliments, and partly from the air that penetrates the body of the woman. At first, the mixture is entirely homogeneous, but becomes swollen and rarefied. It is next dried by the action of heat, which renders it firm, and consumes its internal humidity. That which is more firm in its nature, becomes compact and dry, and still being acted upon by heat, it hardens, and forms what are called bones and ligaments. Fire thus effects all the changes in the body, according to the structure of each part, by means of its effects upon moisture."

With this somewhat fantastic anthropogeny, the author attempts to show connections, not less curious, between vital and astral heat. The heat of the abdomen, which he terms the cavity of humidity, is, according to him, under the influence of the moon: the heat which goes to the surface of the body, to the fleshes, (tissues), is similar to that of the stars ; finally, the central heat of the body, which is carried by the vessels from within outward, is the most potent of all ; it exerts an influence analogous to that of the sun. " It is," continues our physiologist, " this central fire which directs every thing, according to the laws of nature, in an unseen, intangible, and noiseless manner. In it resides the soul, the intelligence, prudence, augmentation, motion, diminution, alternation, sleep, and wakefulness. It governs all things, every where, and at all times ; being never in repose."

After making so poor an application of astronomical knowledge, he next passes in review, the most common occupations of life, such as melting of metals, fulling, shoemaking, woodsawing, architecture, music, and divining. He finds that each of these offers an imitation of the regimen of man - a similitude with certain acts of the economy. Tor example, in speaking of goldsmiths, he says, " the goldsmith washes the gold, beats, and melts it in a moderate fire. Intense heat is not best adapted to it. After being thus prepared, he employs it for every purpose. So man gathers wheat, washes, grinds and bakes it, and employs it for food, without using intense heat. It is submitted during digestion, to a notable change, by the mild heat of the body."

When Empedocles reduced the primitive forms of matter to four ; when Hippocrates put forth his beautiful theory of coction and crisis, they both started on correct observations, both rested on the real relations, that a wise analysis had revealed to them ; whilst the inventors of the two theories that we have just read, have established their syntheses, on false or ti'ivial bases only, and by forced relations. They were anxious to invent something new, but have only succeeded in the hypothetical and ridiculous. It would have been much better to have followed the already beaten track, than the vagaries of a wild imagination.

III. To the physico-physiological systems, in which only two generative principles are allowed for the whole body, responds the pathological theory, according to which all diseases are supposed to proceed from two humors only. This last predominates in the two principal treatises on pathology, in the Hippocratic collection ; but it is not pure, and exempt from admixture, for we see in them, also, the doctrine of four humors. The following is in substance, what we read in one of these treatises: "all diseases, if they are internal, proceed from the bile or phlegm ; if they are external, from various accidents - such as excessive heat or cold, dryness or humidity. Melancholy, produced by black bile, causes paralysis.(Traite des Maladies, livre premiere, Gardeil) A little farther on, we read, " those whom atrabile torments become diseased whenever the blood is overcharged by bile and phlegm."(Ibid)

The second treatise on pathology, in which the theory of two humors reigns, is entitled ”on Affections." In this, we find the same mixture of doctrines above stated, as may be seen by reading only paragraphs 1 and 36. 

From History of Medicine by P.V. Renouard M.D.

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