Familiar Letters on Chemistry eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 103 pages of information about Familiar Letters on Chemistry.

The oxygen taken into the system is given out again in the same form, both in summer and winter:  we expire more carbon at a low than at a high temperature, and require more or less carbon in our food in the same proportion; and, consequently, more is respired in Sweden than in Sicily, and in our own country and eighth more in winter than in summer.  Even if an equal weight of food is consumed in hot and cold climates, Infinite Wisdom has ordained that very unequal proportions of carbon shall be taken in it.  The food prepared for the inhabitants of southern climes does not contain in a fresh state more than 12 per cent. of carbon, while the blubber and train oil which feed the inhabitants of Polar regions contain 66 to 80 per cent. of that element.

From the same cause it is comparatively easy to be temperate in warm climates, or to bear hunger for a long time under the equator; but cold and hunger united very soon produce exhaustion.

The oxygen of the atmosphere received into the blood in the lungs, and circulated throughout every part of the animal body, acting upon the elements of the food, is the source of animal heat.

[Footnote 1:  This account is deduced from observations made upon the average daily consumption of about 30 soldiers in barracks.  The food of these men, consisting of meat, bread, potatoes, lentils, peas, beans, butter, salt, pepper, &c., was accurately weighed during a month, and each article subjected to ultimate analysis.  Of the quantity of food, beer, and spirits, taken by the men when out of barracks, we have a close approximation from the report of the sergeant; and from the weight and analysis of the faeces and urine, it appears that the carbon which passes off through these channels may be considered equivalent to the amount taken in that portion of the food, and of sour-crout, which was not included in the estimate.]

[Footnote 2:  17.5 ounces = 0.5 kilogramme.]

LETTER VII

My dear Sir,

The source of animal heat, its laws, and the influence it exerts upon the functions of the animal body, constitute a curious and highly interesting subject, to which I would now direct your attention.

All living creatures, whose existence depends upon the absorption of oxygen, possess within themselves a source of heat, independent of surrounding objects.

This general truth applies to all animals, and extends to the seed of plants in the act of germination, to flower-buds when developing, and fruits during their maturation.

In the animal body, heat is produced only in those parts to which arterial blood, and with it the oxygen absorbed in respiration, is conveyed.  Hair, wool, and feathers, receive no arterial blood, and, therefore, in them no heat is developed.  The combination of a combustible substance with oxygen is, under all circumstances, the only source of animal heat.  In whatever way carbon may combine with oxygen, the act of combination is accompanied by the disengagement of heat.  It is indifferent whether this combination takes place rapidly or slowly, at a high or at a low temperature:  the amount of heat liberated is a constant quantity.

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