This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The difficulty which scientific men find in getting out of beaten lines of examination, too often leads them to neglect opportunities which might have resulted in valuable knowledge. The case of Dr. Tanner is one in point. The celebrated Dr. Hammond was so sure that Dr. Tanner could not live forty days on water alone, that he neglected his chance. The natural phenomena accompanying such a case could not but have been peculiar, and in the hands of an unprejudiced and able physiologist could not but have been immensely valuable. And the newspapers are all asking what is the good of the Tanner experiment, and treating it as so much effort wasted. But even as the facts have been given by the papers, they show that where there is any danger of starvation it is much more important to provide security for water than for food, although, of course, all food contains some water, and one with food can live for a long time without water in a liquid form.
But there is a remarkable fact in the Tanner experiment which bears on the whole theory of nutrition in animals and in plants, which it is too bad should have been passed over by physiologists. From the 17th to 19th day of his fast there was an increase in his weight over and above the weight of the water which he had taken. Now we know that plant life takes in carbonaceous matter from the atmosphere, and that animal life cannot. We do not admit of any exception to the rule, unless, perhaps, in the organisms on the dividing line between the animal and vegetable class. But how do we know that there may not be some exceptions? This result in Tanner's case shows it to be probable; at least the idea would have suggested itself to a judicious scientific examiner. That this view is not wholly ridiculous is shown by the result of the first day of eating after the fast. He weighed 121 1/2 pounds when the fast was concluded. In six hours his weight had increased to 130 pounds, and judging by the newspaper statements, though eating and drinking fairly he had not taken this additional weight of food.
Now, if these are the exact facts, it can only be that under some circumstances animal life, in its higher form, can assume the functions of vegetable life, and derive carbon and other matter from the atmosphere in some small degree, and if this fact could have been demonstrated beyond doubt, there is no telling in how many ways the principle might have been made to work to the advantage of human kind.
It is perhaps natural that scientific men should hesitate about being thought to sympathize with humbug or childishness.and no doubt even Franklin went kite flying with some hesitation lest he should be thought to be doing a childish thing.