When we contemplate the wonderful structure of the human frame, the varied form in which it is supplied with what is necessary to its perfection the resources accumulated to obviate accidental wants, and the exertions of nature to supply every defect, we appear to be calculated for immortality. Disease, however, sometimes rapidly terminates the scene; but age, without its aid, undermines the vital and mental powers, and the wonderful machine of man sinks again into feeble infancy, and the mental imbecility of the same period, so as to be the shadow of his former self, the ruin of the once boasted structure.
To trace this change, it will be necessary to examine the progressive stages of life, as they affect the different parts of the system. In the circulation, we have found the arterial system strong in proportion to the venal, and gradually decaying in activity and power. In the nervous system, irritability lessens, and torpor succeeds; in the muscular fibres, the same torpor occasions their less ready obedience to stimuli and to volition. From all these causes the circulation languishes, the extremities become cold, the feeling is blunted, the veins filled, and the excretions sluggish. Ossifications take place in the arteries; and mortification, from this cause, closes the scene: the bronchial glands cannot propel their contents, and, occasionally, suffocation follows; the distended veins burst in the head, and the principle of life is at once overwhelmed. In other circumstances, the activity of the circulation languishes, the blood is confined to the larger vessels, and the heart can no longer contend with the increasing load; or the vital power is gradually sunk in sleep, and at last in death, assuming the form of a deeper slumber.
The causes of death, at an earlier period, are cither the destruction of an organ essential to life; a total obstruction to the supply of nutriment; or a poison gradually introduced, cither undermining the vital powers, or exhausting the strength, by the regularly returning paroxysms of hectic. In continued fevers we cannot distinctly see the action of either cause separately; but the most frequent is exhausted strength, or an oppressed brain.
The signs of approaching death are, a rapid and very small, scarcely distinguishable, pulse, cold extremities, clammy sweats, "a lack lustre eye,"features sunk, the expression lost, and a hollowness particularly at the temples: the three last characters constitute the facies Hippocratica. These are all signs of a total loss of activity and power in the circulating and nervous systems.
In these different slates, the mind seems to sink with the body; its powers decay pari. passu: and when the medium through which the activity of the soul is manifested can act no longer, we cannot expect to find any further traces even of its existence. Yet at the period of its separation, we are told of brilliant mental exertions, of powers of intellect, not equalled in the best portion of existence. It has not been our fortune to see such intellectual animation. At the moment of death, anxiety for those we have loved will sometimes occasion apparently disproportioned exertions; and, as they were unexpected, they have been exaggerated. But in no instance could we ever detect the activity of mind independent of the body. To this temporary prison the soul is confined, till, by the destruction of the machine, its animating principle is emancipated, soaring probably in higher, and, we trust, more blissful, regions. Ebilitates, (from debilis, weak). Diseases effeciency, as blindness, want of appetite, etc.