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

The time which is required to cause death by starvation depends on the amount of fat in the body, on the degree of exercise, as in labour or exertion of any kind, on the temperature of the air, and finally, on the presence or absence of water.  Through the skin and lungs there escapes a certain quantity of water, and as the presence of water is essential to the continuance of the vital motions, its dissipation hastens death.  Cases have occurred, in which a full supply of water being accessible to the sufferer, death has not occurred till after the lapse of twenty days.  In one case, life was sustained in this way for the period of sixty days.

In all chronic diseases death is produced by the same cause, namely, the chemical action of the atmosphere.  When those substances are wanting, whose function in the organism is to support the process of respiration, when the diseased organs are incapable of performing their proper function of producing these substances, when they have lost the power of transforming the food into that shape in which it may, by entering into combination with the oxygen of the air, protect the system from its influence, then, the substance of the organs themselves, the fat of the body, the substance of the muscles, the nerves, and the brain, are unavoidably consumed.

The true cause of death in these cases is the respiratory process, that is, the action of the atmosphere.

A deficiency of food, and a want of power to convert the food into a part of the organism, are both, equally, a want of resistance; and this is the negative cause of the cessation of the vital process.  The flame is extinguished, because the oil is consumed; and it is the oxygen of the air which has consumed it.

In many diseases substances are produced which are incapable of assimilation.  By the mere deprivation of food, these substances are removed from the body without leaving a trace behind; their elements have entered into combination with the oxygen of the air.

From the first moment that the function of the lungs or of the skin is interrupted or disturbed, compounds, rich in carbon, appear in the urine, which acquires a brown colour.  Over the whole surface of the body oxygen is absorbed, and combines with all the substances which offer no resistance to it.  In those parts of the body where the access of oxygen is impeded; for example, in the arm-pits, or in the soles of the feet, peculiar compounds are given out, recognisable by their appearance, or by their odour.  These compounds contain much carbon.

Respiration is the falling weight—­the bent spring, which keeps the clock in motion; the inspirations and expirations are the strokes of the pendulum which regulate it.  In our ordinary time-pieces, we know with mathematical accuracy the effect produced on their rate of going, by changes in the length of the pendulum, or in the external temperature.  Few, however, have a clear conception of the influence of air and temperature on the health of the human body; and yet the research into the conditions necessary to keep it in the normal state is not more difficult than in the case of a clock.

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