Some Standard Wisdom on Brain Pickling

One of the recurrent themes in the articles that caught my eye while reading through the 1880 editions of the Christian Standard was the confidence with which they trumpeted the scientific knowledge of their day. Looking at the science of a bygone era, in edition to being tremendously amusing, ought to give us pause today about our own scientific hubris and force us to wonder how future generations will perceive our cutting-edge thought, particularly as it filters down to the popular level. This piece was copied by the Standard from Scientific American, which is still in publication.

[…], by far the greatest anatomist of the age, used to say that he could distinguish in the darkest room by one stroke of the scalpel the brain of the inebriate from that of a person who lived soberly. Now and then he could congratulate his class upon the possession of a drunkard’s brain, admirably fitted from its hardness and more completed preservation for the purpose of demonstration. When the anatomist wishes to preserve a human brain for any length of time, he effects that object by keeping that organ in a vessel of alcohol. From a soft pulpy substance , it then becomes comparatively hard, but the inebriate, anticipating the anatomist, begins the indurating process before death, begins it while the brain remains the consecrated temple of the soul while, while its delicate and gossamer-like tissues still throb with the pulse of heaven-born life. Strange infatuation this, to desecrate the God-like. Terrible enchantment that dries up all the fountains of generous feelings, petrifies all the tender humanities and sweet charities of life, leaving only a brain of lead and a heart of stone.

Unfortunately, The Itinerant Mind will be going dark for the remainder of the summer.  (No, not because I’ve been flagged by the NSA.)  I will just be far away from any Internet or computers for the next six to eight weeks and did not have time to adequately prep the site to publish on its own.  I expect the Standard Wisdom series and all my postings to resume in the fall, full force.

Thus ends my exercise in delusions of importance.

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One thought on “Some Standard Wisdom on Brain Pickling

  1. Steve says:

    Amazing. So that is what Scientific American sounded like in the late 19th century. I enjoyed reading it. On one of my business trips, at a meal that called a memory to his mind, a colleague related to me that one of his two medical student sons mentioned that he had never autopsied an alcoholic whose veins were not clear. I forget whether that was his Harvard son or UCLA son. Nonetheless, it seems alcohol does express its effects on the physical person. Paul’s intuition and admonition to Timothy regarding wine has a valid basis. Have a great summer!

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