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Others surpass him again in the minuteness with which they can reproduce, as in a photograph, every lineament of a visage and every crease in a dress. But few can rival him in the intensity of his desire to be the useful teacher of those who are attracted to his works for amusement. His failing is to be overviolent in his denunciations of the things and persons he abominates, for, while this impresses the superficial reader in his favour, it repels the better-informed and the less impulsive. His book on the ‘Roman Question' would have had few readers had its tone been more measured, but it would have made many more converts.
That he should be so lively without being vulgar, so versatile yet so frequently successful, may be explained by the thoroughness with which he masters every topic he discusses. His knowledge has the stamp of home production. When he borrows ideas from others he re-mints and gives them forth much improved by the process. His mind is a lens which colours what passes through, and not a mirror which reflects what is placed before it. His wit is not forced, nor is there anything recondite in his allusions. He writes for the general public, not for the library of the student. The readers of his books can never complain of being puzzled or fatigued. Limpid as a stream flowing over a bed of sand, his diction can be enjoyed by all. In order to define his wit, we must employ the happy phrase of the writer who said that, like the wit of Molière and Voltaire, “it is but common sense sharpened till it shines."
When M. About's first book was published he was about twenty-five years of age. Ten years have elapsed since then. During the interval, he has given to the world upwards of twenty volumes, as well as a multitude of essays and articles which have not been reprinted. At the outset, it was feared that a writer so sparkling would soon exhaust his resources, and sink into a mediocrity; that, like a pile of wood when ignited, the blaze would be great, but the heat very trifling, and its duration very short. Those who formed these anticipations argued with apparent justice; experience, however, has belied their prognostics. His last productions are as brilliant as was his first; although his writing is now more matured and fuller in flavour, yet in character it is still original and unrivalled. Where so many rich harvests have been reaped, without any deterioration in the produce, we may fairly look for other crops equally abundant and valuable.
However, as the functions of the critic differ from those of the prophet, we must refrain from forecasting the future, and from indulging in speculations which may never be realized.
as was his hair prognostics. Tent justice ; expe
But of this we are certain : M. About has yet to write the book which shall immortalize his name. In nearly every branch of literature he has done something, and he has been applauded in most of the parts he has essayed. His indisputable talents have conquered for him the admiration alike of the ignorant and the discerning; his successes have drawn upon him both the envy and animadversion of many, who, starting from the same point, have failed to reach the goal. Energies and abilities like his, must, if properly directed, serve to carry him much further than he has yet gone. Indeed, he has distinguished himself so conspicuously, that, in order to merit the reputation he has obtained, he must press onwards and reach a still higher pinnacle of excellence. By his contemporaries in France his name is held in honour, but he will not have justified the good opinions of his admirers until his name shall have become an household word throughout the world. His ambition is evidently great ; his gifts are very rare. Among the thousands now struggling to merit by their works the approval of that manyheaded and infallible judge called Posterity, and to whom the mere prospect of success is the sole recompense for their lives of toil, few are better qualified to compete than M. Edmond About.
ART. VIII.-1. Experiments on Septic and Antiseptic Substances,
with Remarks relating to their use in the Theory of Medicine.
By SIR JOHN PRINGLE. 1750. 2. Traité des moyens de désinfecter l'air, de prévenir la conta
gion, et d'en arrêter les progrès. Par GUYTON MORVEAU.
1805. 3. Report of the Royal Commission on Cattle Plague. 1866.
A GREEK friend showed us a few months ago a small vessel, from the tomb of an ancient Athenian, and shaped not very unlike our pots of pomade. The lid fitted on in a loose way, as is the case with our own earthenware manufacture for the toilet-table, but the material was porous. We opened it, and strange to say the odour of attar of roses was distinct. We are informed that it was so when the tomb was discovered. This narthex, as we suppose it would be called, was not shattered, or even broken, but it illustrated Moore's verses better perhaps than anything known, and brought to our minds the passion for odours and unguents that seemed to have possessed the most refined senses of the ancient world. The scents were used as a luxury, but it is extremely probable that the fashion was fostered as a means of removing the unpleasant odours arising from persons who slept in the clothes which they wore during the day, and many of whom had no convenience for washing, notwithstanding the habit of bathing among others; and this opinion is confirmed by the fact that during all epidemics, perfumes and substances with decided odours, pleasant, or not very much so, were everywhere employed as disinfectants.
We like to visit Greek houses, because we find at every visit some new preserve, some new fragrance kept in sugar, some new fruit saved from decay by drying, or by syrup. We have never in the North made the rose into a delicious dish for breakfast, but this they have done in Greece; and they still preserve the fruit of the pines, making a compound that astonishes and delights our palates, and still more so when we think that this seems handed down from the ancients. We here have never learnt to eat pine-cones, perhaps because they grow less luxuriantly with us, and do not produce kernels of a nourishing quality, as Athenæus tells us was their character in old times, as now in Greece. Or are we less ingenious ? When we enter Greek houses, or read that last-named author, we are inclined to think that we have lost the art of preserving, and require to be taught.
Conservation of food is a kind of disinfection; it is a preven
tion of infection. The art of preserving food has grown slowly with us, by the aid of many patents, some of which are successful. They aim chiefly at driving out the oxygen of the air, either by steam, or by the use of other gases which take its place. The older plans of preserving by the use of sugar is far beyond the reach of patents, and is well used in this country for many purposes, although these purposes, as we have seen, may be made very much more numerous.
The preservation of meat is not yet brought to perfection, otherwise the cattle of distant parts of the world would be brought into our markets. Flesh becomes infected rapidly, and we require to invent new modes of disinfection in order to increase the supply of meat in this country, and thereby enable us to keep up that physical strength which always was a characteristic of a Briton, and which seems to be the main cause of his energy and success. It is not at all clear that in this department we can have any aid from the ancients. We are able to leave them when we arrive at the preservation of animal food; and if it is some pleasure to do so, it is not with perfect satisfaction, because we are aware that we ourselves have not made such progress as to allow us to boast.
Indeed, there is a department, namely, that of the preservation of the human body from decay, in which we find Egypt to have excelled the world, and to an extent which must ever be one of the wonders of history. A dry climate was a great aid, but even taking that into consideration, the work was well done. They removed the parts of the body which had least tenacity and most moisture, as these are invariably found to decay most rapidly. They then washed the whole with caustic soda. This is called natron, or nitre, and we cannot expect that the exact composition should be well known to Greeks and Romans, who certainly knew little of chemistry, and could not explain to us the Egyptian arts. The nitre was dried till it was light and spongy, or until all the water of crystallization had been removed. This was carbonate of soda ; when mixed with lime it became caustic; and the art of making this substance, now so lately introduced largely into commerce, seems to have been well known. The caustic condition was obtained, but it does not appear clear whether the lime used for the purpose was separated so as to produce the pure unmixed caustic soda, although we cannot doubt it, because that earth would fall of itself as soon as water was used for the solution. The embalming was continued with resins, pitch or tar, and aromaticsmore or less of the latter being used, according to the price to be paid.
The soda was generally sold along with the lime still mixed, as we gather from Pliny, who says that it is very pungent when rendered impure with lime, and very soluble when it is pure; but we cannot suppose that the separation was never made before it was actually used in the process of embalming, or sent to foreign markets.
In very warm and dry countries, preservation of thin pieces of flesh can be made by mere exposure to the sun. The moisture is removed before corruption begins. The mode of cutting it into strips and laying it out to dry is therefore adopted. It is marvellous what small changes in the atmosphere affect the success of this plan. It is said on the La Plata, where this is sometimes done, that if a small cloud appear on the horizon, no bigger than a hand, the drying will not be effected before corruption begins. This is not quite intelligible to us. It is true the cloud is the barometer, and tells us that the moisture of the air is increasing, and we know that moisture increases putrefaction and decay, as well as vigorous growth. Our difficulty lies in understanding why such a small amount should have such a powerful effect. This, however, we know, that however powerful a disinfectant may be, its strength will be diminished by increasing the amount of water.
It is, however, remarkable that bodies are preserved in some conditions without any adequate apparent cause. It is not clear why the bodies at the chapel near Bonn are kept from corruption. It is said that no means of preservation are used, and the only cause seems to be a constant draught of air blowing through the place. Bodies have in many cases been preserved without decay in Europe, when it has not been known that any embalming has been used. There are cases often mentioned, in which coffins have been opened and the bodies appeared as if they had never changed from the time of burial, but by a few minutes' exposure fell down into a small heap of dust. The kings of France at St. Denis are said to have undergone that rapid change. The bodies found in the earthenware coffins by Loftus, and described in his most interesting travels in Chaldea and Mesopotamia, were found also to fall into dust. There does not seem in such cases to have been any chemical action of the air at the moment of opening, but, in all probability, the slightest motion was enough to throw down the dust to which the bodies had long ago been reduced. The air gradually entering would bring out with it all the animal matter, united with oxygen in the form of carbonic acid, and the earths, phosphates, and substances not volatile would remain, not contracted into hard ash, as may occur when we burn it, but