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The Existence of God: Sections 31-40

By Francois Fenelon

      SECTION XXXI. Of the Structure of Man's Body.

      The body is made of clay; but let us admire the Hand that framed and polished it. The Artificer's Seal is stamped upon His work. He seems to have delighted in making a masterpiece with so vile a matter. Let us cast our eyes upon that body, in which the bones sustain the flesh that covers them. The nerves that are extended in it make up all its strength; and the muscles with which the sinews weave themselves, either by swelling or extending themselves, perform the most exact and regular motions. The bones are divided at certain distances, but they have joints, whereby they are set one within another, and are tied by nerves and tendons. Cicero admires, with reason, the excellent art with which the bones are knit together. For what is more supple for all various motions? And, on the other hand, what is more firm and durable? Even after a body is dead, and its parts are separated by corruption, we find that these joints and ligaments can hardly be destroyed. Thus this human machine or frame is either straight or crooked, stiff or supple, as we please. From the brain, which is the source of all the nerves, spring the spirits, which are so subtle that they escape the sight; and nevertheless so real, and of so great activity and force, that they perform all the motions of the machine, and make up all in strength. These spirits are in an instant conveyed to the very extremities of the members. Sometimes they flow gently and regularly, sometimes they move with impetuosity, as occasion requires; and they vary ad infinitum the postures, gestures, and other actions of the body.

      SECTION XXXII. Of the Skin.

      Let us consider the flesh. It is covered in certain places with a soft and tender skin, for the ornament of the body. If that skin, that renders the object so agreeable, and gives it so sweet a colour, were taken off, the same object would become ghastly, and create horror. In other places that same skin is harder and thicker, in order to resist the fatigue of those parts. As, for instance, how harder is the skin of the feet than that of the face? And that of the hinder part of the head than that of the forehead? That skin is all over full of holes like a sieve: but those holes, which are called pores, are imperceptible. Although sweat and other transpirations exhale through those pores, the blood never runs out that way. That skin has all the tenderness necessary to make it transparent, and give the face a lively, sweet, and graceful colour. If the skin were less close, and less smooth, the face would look bloody, and excoriated. Now, who is that knew how to temper and mix those colours with such nicety as to make a carnation which painters admire, but never can perfectly imitate?

      SECTION XXXIII. Of Veins and Arteries.

      There are in man's body numberless branches of blood-vessels. Some of them carry the blood from the centre to the extreme parts, and are called arteries. Through those various vessels runs the blood, a liquor soft and oily, and by this oiliness proper to retain the most subtle spirits, just as the most subtle and spirituous essences are preserved in gummy bodies. This blood moistens the flesh, as springs and rivers water the earth; and after it has filtrated in the flesh, it returns to its source, more slowly, and less full of spirits: but it renews, and is again subtilised in that source, in order to circulate without ceasing.

      SECTION XXXIV. Of the Bones, and their Jointing.

      Do you consider that excellent order and proportion of the limbs? The legs and thighs are great bones jointed one with another, and knit together by tendons. They are two sorts of pillars, equal and regular, erected to support the whole fabric. But those pillars fold; and the rotula of the knee is a bone of a circular figure, which is placed on purpose on the joint, in order to fill it up, and preserve it, when the bones fold, for the bending of the knee. Each column or pillar has its pedestal, which is composed of various inlaid parts, so well jointed together, that they can either bend, or keep stiff, as occasion requires. The pedestal, I mean the foot, turns, at a man's pleasure, under the pillar. In this foot we find nothing but nerves, tendons, and little bones closely knit, that this part may, at once, be either more supple or more firm, according to various occasions. Even the toes, with their articles and nails, serve to feel the ground a man walks on, to lean and stand with more dexterity and nimbleness, the better to preserve the equilibrium of the body, to rise, or to stoop. The two feet stretch forward, to keep the body from falling that way, when it stoops or bends. The two pillars are jointed together at the top, to bear up the rest of the body, but are still divided there in such a manner, that that joint affords man the conveniency of resting himself, by sitting on the two biggest muscles of the body.

      The body of the structure is proportioned to the height of the pillars. It contains such parts as are necessary for life, and which consequently ought to be placed in the centre, and shut up in the securest place. Therefore two rows of ribs pretty close to one another, that come out of the backbone, as the branches of a tree do from its trunk, form a kind of hoop, to hide and shelter those noble and tender parts. But because the ribs could not entirely shut up that centre of the human body, without hindering the dilatation of the stomach and of the entrails, they form that hoop but to a certain place, below which they leave an empty space, that the inside may freely distend and stretch, both for respiration and feeding.

      As for the backbone, all the works of man afford nothing so artfully and curiously wrought. It would be too stiff, and too frangible or brittle, if it were made of one single bone: and in such a case man could never bend or stoop. The author of this machine has prevented that inconveniency by forming vertebrae, which jointing one with another make up a whole, consisting of several pieces of bones, more strong than if it were of a single piece. This compound being sometimes supple and pliant, and sometimes stiff, stands either upright, or bends, in a moment, as a man pleases. All these vertebrae have in the middle a gutter or channel, that serves to convey a continuation of the substance of the brain to the extremities of the body, and with speed to send thither spirits through that pipe.

      But who can forbear admiring the nature of the bones? They are very hard; and we see that even the corruption of all the rest of the body, after death, does not affect them. Nevertheless, they are full of numberless holes and cavities that make them lighter; and in the middle they are full of the marrow, or pith, that is to nourish them. They are bored exactly in those places through which the ligaments that knit them are to pass. Moreover, their extremities are bigger than the middle, and form, as it were, two semicircular heads, to make one bone turn more easily with another, that so the whole may fold and bend without trouble.

      SECTION XXXV. Of the Organs.

      Within the enclosure of the ribs are placed in order all the great organs such as serve to make a man breathe; such as digest the aliments; and such as make new blood. Respiration, or breathing, is necessary to temper inward heat, occasioned by the boiling of the blood, and by the impetuous course of the spirits. The air is a kind of food that nourishes the animal, and by means of which he renews himself every moment of his life. Nor is digestion less necessary to prepare sensible aliments towards their being changed into blood, which is a liquor apt to penetrate everywhere, and to thicken into flesh in the extreme parts, in order to repair in all the members what they lose continually both by transpiration and the waste of spirits. The lungs are like great covers, which being spongy, easily dilate and contract themselves, and as they incessantly take in and blow out a great deal of air, they form a kind of bellows that are in perpetual motion. The stomach has a dissolvent that causes hunger, and puts man in mind of his want of food. That dissolvent, which stimulates and pricks the stomach, does, by that very uneasiness, prepare for it a very lively pleasure, when its craving is satisfied by the aliments. Then man, with delight, fills his belly with strange matter, which would create horror in him if he could see it as soon as it has entered his stomach, and which even displeases him, when he sees it being already satisfied. The stomach is made in the figure of a bagpipe. There the aliments being dissolved by a quick coction, or digestion, are all confounded, and make up a soft liquor, which afterwards becomes a kind of milk, called chyle; and which being at last brought into the heart, receives there, through the plenty of spirits, the form, vivacity, and colour of blood. But while the purest juice of the aliments passes from the stomach into the pipes destined for the preparation of chyle and blood, the gross particles of the same aliments are separated, just as bran is from flour by a sieve; and they are dejected downwards to ease the body of them, through the most hidden passages, and the most remote from the organs of the senses, lest these be offended at them. Thus the wonders of this machine are so great and numerous, that we find some unfathomable, even in the most abject and mortifying functions of the body, which modesty will not allow to be more particularly explained.

      SECTION XXXVI. Of the Inward Parts.

      I own that the inward parts are not so agreeable to the sight as the outward; but then be pleased to observe they are not made to be seen. Nay, it was necessary according to art and design that they should not be discovered without horror, and that a man should not without violent reluctance go about to discover them by cutting open this machine in another man. It is this very horror that prepares compassion and humanity in the hearts of men when one sees another wounded or hurt. Add to this, with St. Austin, that there are in those inward parts a proportion, order, and mechanism which still please more an attentive, inquisitive mind than external beauty can please the eyes of the body. That inside of man--which is at once so ghastly and horrid and so wonderful and admirable--is exactly as it should be to denote dirt and clay wrought by a Divine hand, for we find in it both the frailty of the creature and the art of the Creator.

      SECTION XXXVII. Of the Arms and their Use.

      From the top of that precious fabric we have described hang the two arms, which are terminated by the hands, and which bear a perfect symmetry one with another. The arms are knit with the shoulders in such a manner that they have a free motion, in that joint. They are besides divided at the elbow and at the wrist that they may fold, bend, and turn with quickness. The arms are of a just length to reach all the parts of the body. They are nervous and full of muscles, that they may, as well as the back, be often in action and sustain the greatest fatigue of all the body. The hands are a contexture of nerves and little bones set one within another in such a manner that they have all the strength and suppleness necessary to feel the neighbouring bodies, to seize on them, hold them fast, throw them, draw them to one, push them off, disentangle them, and untie them one from another.

      The fingers, the ends of which are armed with nails, are by the delicacy and variety of their motions contrived to exercise the most curious and marvellous arts. The arms and hands serve also, according as they are either extended, folded, or turned, to poise the body in such a manner as that it may stoop without any danger of falling. The whole machine has, besides, independently from all after-thoughts, a kind of spring that poises it on a sudden and makes it find the equilibrium in all its different postures and positions.

      SECTION XXXVIII. Of the Neck and Head.

      Above the body rises the neck, which is either firm or flexible at pleasure. Must a man bear a heavy burden on his head? This neck becomes as stiff as if it were made up of one single bone. Has he a mind to bow or turn his head? The neck bends every way as if all its bones were disjointed. This neck, a little raised above the shoulders, bears up with ease the head, which over-rules and governs the whole body. If it were less big it would bear no proportion with the rest of the machine; and if it were bigger it would not only be disproportioned and deformed, but, besides, its weight would both crush the neck and put man in danger of falling on the side it should lean a little too much. This head, fortified on all sides by very thick and very hard bones in order the better to preserve the precious treasure it encloses, is jointed with the vertebrae of the neck, and has a very quick communication with all the other parts of the body. It contains the brain, whose moist, soft, and spongy substance is made up of tender filaments or threads woven together; this is the centre of all the wonders we shall speak of afterwards. The skull is regularly perforated, or bored, with exact proportion, and symmetry, for, the two eyes, the two ears, the mouth, and the nostrils. There are nerves destined for sensations, that exercise and play in most of those pipes. The nose, which has no nerves for its sensation, has a cribriform, or spongy bone, to let odours pass on to the brain. Amongst the organs of these sensations the chief are double, to preserve to one side what the other might happen to be defective in by any accident. These two organs of the same sensation are symmetrically placed either on the forepart or on the sides, that man may use them with more ease to the right or to the left or right against him--that is to say, towards the places his joints direct his steps and all his actions. Besides, the flexibility of the neck makes all those organs turn in an instant which way soever he pleases. All the hinder part of the head, which is the least able to defend itself, is therefore the thickest. It is adorned with hair which at the same time serves to fortify the head against the injuries of the air; and, on the other hand, the hair likewise adorns the fore part of the head and renders the face more graceful. The face is the fore part of the head, wherein the principal sensations meet and centre with an order and proportion that render it very beautiful unless some accident or other happen to alter and impair so regular a piece of work. The two eyes are equal, being placed about the middle, on the two sides of the head, that they may, without trouble, discover afar off both on the right and left all strange objects, and that they may commodiously watch for the safety of all the parts of the body. The exact symmetry with which they are placed is the ornament of the face; and He that made them has kindled in them I know not what celestial flame, the like of which all the rest of nature does not afford. These eyes are a sort of looking-glasses, wherein all the objects of the whole world are painted by turns and without confusion in the bottom of the retina that the thinking part of man may see them in those looking-glasses. But though we perceive all objects by a double organ, yet we never see the objects double, because the two nerves that are subservient to sight in our eyes are but two branches that unite in one pipe, as the two glasses of a pair of spectacles unite in the upper part that joins them together. The two eyes are adorned with two equal eyebrows, and, that they may open and close, they are wrapped up with lids edged with hair that defend so delicate a part.

      SECTION XXXIX. Of the Forehead and Other Parts of the Face.

      The forehead gives majesty and gracefulness to all the face, and serves to heighten all its features. Were it not for the nose, which is placed in the middle, the whole face would look flat and deformed, of which they are fully convinced who have happened to see men in whom that part of the face is mutilated. It is placed just above the mouth, that it may the more easily discern, by the odours, whatever is most proper to feed man. The two nostrils serve at once both for the respiration and smell. Look upon the lips: their lively colour, freshness, figure, seat, and proportion, with the other features, render the face most beautiful. The mouth, by the correspondence of its motions with those of the eyes, animates, gladdens, suddens, softens, or troubles the face, and by sensible marks expresses every passion. The lips not only open to receive food, but by their suppleness and the variety of their motions serve likewise to vary the sounds that form speech. When they open they discover a double row of teeth with which the mouth is adorned. These teeth are little bones set in order in the two jaw-bones, which have a spring to open and another to shut in such a manner that the teeth grind, like a mill, the aliments in order to prepare their digestion. But these aliments thus ground go down into the stomach, through a pipe different from that through which we breathe, and these two pipes, though so neighbouring, have nothing common.

      SECTION XL. Of the Tongue and Teeth.

      The tongue is a contexture of small muscles and nerves so very supple, that it winds and turns like a serpent, with unconceivable mobility and pliantness. It performs in the mouth the same office which either the fingers or the bow of a master of music perform on a musical instrument: for sometimes it strikes the teeth, sometimes the roof of the mouth. There is a pipe that goes into the inside of the neck, called throat, from the roof of the mouth to the breast, which is made up of cartilaginous rings nicely set one within another, and lined within with a very smooth membrane, in order to render the air that is pushed from the lungs more sonorous. On the side of the roof of the mouth the end of that pipe is opened like a flute, by a slit, that either extends, or contracts itself as is necessary to render the voice either big or slender, hollow or clear. But lest the aliments, which have their separate pipe, should slide into the windpipe I have been describing, there is a kind of valve that lies on the orifice of the organ of the voice, and playing like a drawbridge, lets the aliments freely pass through their proper channel, but never suffers the least particle or drop to fall into the slit of the windpipe. This sort of valve has a very free motion, and easily turns any way, so that by shaking on that half-opened orifice, it performs the softest modulations of the voice. This instance is sufficient to show, by-the-by, and without entering long-winded details of anatomy, what a marvellous art there is in the frame of the inward parts. And indeed the organ I have described is the most perfect of all musical instruments, nor have these any perfection, but so far as they imitate that.

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See Also:
   Sections 1-6
   Sections 7-16
   Sections 17-23
   Sections 24-30
   Sections 31-40
   Sections 41-50
   Sections 51-60
   Sections 62-69
   Sections 70-81
   Sections 82-92


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