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Conversations on Chemistry Part 109

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It is chiefly the external parts that are warmer, and I am sure that you will be surprised to hear that the internal temperature of the body scarcely ever descends below ninety-five or ninety-six degrees, and seldom attains one hundred and four or one hundred and five degrees, even in the most violent fevers.

EMILY.

The greater quant.i.ty of caloric, therefore, that we receive from the atmosphere in summer, cannot raise the temperature of our bodies beyond certain limits, as it does that of inanimate bodies, because an excess of caloric is carried off by perspiration.

CAROLINE.

But the temperature of the atmosphere, and consequently that of inanimate bodies, is surely never so high as that of animal heat?

MRS. B.

I beg your pardon. Frequently in the East and West Indies, and sometimes in the southern parts of Europe, the atmosphere is above ninety-eight degrees, which is the common temperature of animal heat. Indeed, even in this country, it occasionally happens that the sun's rays, setting full on an object, elevate its temperature above that point.

In ill.u.s.tration of the power which our bodies have to resist the effects of external heat, Sir Charles Blagden, with some other gentlemen, made several very curious experiments. He remained for some time in an oven heated to a temperature not much inferior to that of boiling water, without suffering any other inconvenience than a profuse perspiration, which he supported by drinking plentifully.

EMILY.

He could scarcely consider the perspiration as an inconvenience, since it saved him from being baked by giving vent to the excess of caloric.

CAROLINE.

I always thought, I confess, that it was from the heat of the perspiration that we suffered in summer.

MRS. B.

You now find that you are quite mistaken. Whenever evaporation takes place, cold, you know, is produced in consequence of a quant.i.ty of caloric being carried off in a latent state; this is the case with perspiration, and it is in this way that it affords relief. It is on that account also that we are so apt to _catch cold_, when in a state of profuse perspiration. It is for the same reason that tea is often refreshing in summer, though it appears to heat you at the moment you drink it.

EMILY.

And in winter, on the contrary, tea is pleasant on account of its heat.

MRS. B.

Yes; for we have then rather to guard against a deficiency than an excess of caloric, and you do not find that tea will excite perspiration in winter, unless after dancing, or any other violent exercise.

CAROLINE.

What is the reason that it is dangerous to eat ice after dancing, or to drink any thing cold when one is very hot?

MRS. B.

Because the loss of heat arising from the perspiration, conjointly with the chill occasioned by the cold draught, produce more cold than can be borne with safety, unless you continue to use the same exercise after drinking that you did before; for the heat occasioned by the exercise will counteract the effects of the cold drink, and the danger will be removed. You may, however, contrary to the common notion, consider it as a rule, that cold liquids may, at all times, be drunk with perfect safety, however hot you may feel, provided you are not at the moment in a state of great perspiration, and on condition that you keep yourself in gentle exercise afterwards.

EMILY.

But since we are furnished with such resources against the extremes of heat or cold, I should have thought that all climates would have been equally wholesome.

MRS. B.

That is true, in a certain degree, with regard to those who have been accustomed to them from birth; for we find that the natives of those climates, which we consider as most deleterious, are as healthy as ourselves; and if such climates are unwholesome to those who are habituated to a more moderate temperature, it is because the animal economy does not easily accustom itself to considerable changes.

CAROLINE.

But pray, Mrs. B., if the circulation preserves the body of an uniform temperature, how does it happen that animals are sometimes frozen?

MRS. B.

Because, if more heat be carried off by the atmosphere than the circulation can supply, the cold will finally prevail, the heart will cease to beat, and the animal will be frozen. And, likewise, if the body remained long exposed to a degree of heat, greater than the perspiration could carry off, it would at last lose the power of resisting its destructive influence.

CAROLINE.

Fish, I suppose, have no animal heat, but only partake of the temperature of the water in which they live?

EMILY.

And their coldness, no doubt, proceeds from their not breathing?

MRS. B.

All kinds of fish breathe more or less, though in a much smaller degree than land animals. Nor are they entirely dest.i.tute of animal heat, though, for the same reason, they are much colder than other creatures.

They have comparatively but a very small quant.i.ty of blood, therefore but very little oxygen is required, and a proportionally small quant.i.ty of animal heat is generated.

CAROLINE.

But how can fish breathe under water?

MRS. B.

They breathe by means of the air which is dissolved in the water, and if you put them into water deprived of air by boiling, they are soon suffocated.

If a fish is confined in a vessel of water closed from the air, it soon dies; and any fish put in afterwards would be killed immediately, as all the air had been previously consumed.

CAROLINE.

Are there any species of animals that breathe more than we do?

MRS. B.

Yes; birds, of all animals, breathe the greatest quant.i.ty of air in proportion to their size; and it is to this that they are supposed to owe the peculiar firmness and strength of their muscles, by which they are enabled to support the violent exertion of flying.

This difference between birds and fish, which may be considered as the two extremes of the scale of muscular strength, is well worth observing.

Birds residing constantly in the atmosphere, surrounded by oxygen, and respiring it in greater proportions than any other species of animals, are endowed with a superior degree of muscular strength, whilst the muscles of fish, on the contrary, are flaccid and oily; these animals are comparatively feeble in their motions, and their temperature is scarcely above that of the water in which they live. This is, in all probability, owing to their imperfect respiration; the quant.i.ty of hydrogen and carbon, that is in consequence acc.u.mulated in their bodies, forms the oil which is so strongly characteristic of that species of animals, and which relaxes and softens the small quant.i.ty of fibrine which their muscles contain.

CAROLINE.

But, Mrs. B., there are some species of birds that frequent both elements, as, for instance, ducks and other water fowl. Of what nature is the flesh of these?

MRS. B.

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Conversations on Chemistry Part 109 summary

You're reading Conversations on Chemistry. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Jane Marcet. Already has 163 views.

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