Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), “A Chapter on Science and Art” (4th installment), Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1840, 7:49-50


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ON THE EXPANSION OF AIR IN ANIMAL BODIES AND ITS EFFECTS IN A PARTICULAR INSTANCE. — It is found that any animal when dead, being exposed to the air, is in a certain time wholly incorporated with it. This fact is proved in a very striking manner, by an extraordinary effect produced by those dead bodies, after they became filled with air, which were unfortunately drowned in the Royal George ship of war, at Spithead, on the 29th of August, 1782. This ship was heeled on her side for the purpose of some repair, when on a sudden a [[and]] violent gust of wind struck her, the water rushed into her lower port-holes, and sunk her almost instantaneously. She went down in 14 fathoms [[of]] water, and fell upon her side, as was evident from the topmasts which remained above water, in an inclined direction. A considerable time after the fatal accident, she suddenly righted, and her masts became perpendicular. No one could account for this extraordinary transaction, which was effected without any apparent cause; and it remained for some time a circumstance equally astonishing and inexplicable. The following solution, however, may not be unsatisfactory. By the muster-roll of this unfortunate ship, which floated out of her cabin, and was afterwards taken up, it appears that at least 495 souls must have perished between decks, being at their last dinner at the time she upset. As the bodies had no way to escape, they, of course, remained in that situation. Now, all bodies in a state of putrefaction, ferment, and this fermentation, generates large quantities of air; so that a putrefying carcase inflated by the generation of air, expands itself to a size far exceeding its original bulk, and becomes lighter than water in a very high degree, and will consequently be pressed upwards towards the surface with a power equal to the weight of a quantity of water adequate in bulk to the inflated carcase, and would rise immediately to the surface in a perpendicular line, if not obstructed in its passage. Thus it is obvious that the 495 carcases which lay between the decks until fermentation and putrefaction commenced, would rise as soon as the generated air rendered them specifically lighter than sea water; and as fermentation increased their bulk, they would, by their expansion, remove a quantity of water from between the decks, on the lowest side of the ship (to which by their gravity they would naturally incline when their breath first left them) equal to their increased bulk; and being then acted upon by the upward pressure of the water, would ascend against the under part of the decks, immediately over them, a power likewise equal to such weight of water as equals their increased bulk. The heaviest side of the ship, being thus first lightened by the displacing [[of]] so large a quantity of water, and exchanging it for air, and then acted upon by the pressure of the water upwards against the under side of the inflated carcasses, lifting hard against the decks, on or beneath the centre of the ship; and, farther, by the pressure of the water upwards against the under part of the hull, masts, yards, &c., together with the counterpoise of a large weight of water between decks, on the highest side, would cause her to be nearly in equilibrio, and, consequently, the first strong tide, as was the case, would swing her on her keel and right her. To show that 495 bloated carcases might have power sufficient to produce so strange a phenomenon, let us suppose each carcase at that time equal to a twenty gallon cask, and it could be no less, for, when in a state of putrefaction, not only the abdomen, but even the smallest vessel in the human frame, becomes inflated by the vapors generated in fermentation; so that the limbs swell to the extremities, and become buoyant, which makes the estimate of twenty gallons per carcase less perhaps than the truth. Then 495 (the number of carcases that remained between the decks,) being multiplied by 20, the number of gallons increased in each carcase, which divided by 252, (the number of gallons contained in a ton, liquid measure,) quote 39 tons 72 gallons, which multiplied by 3, to answer the treble power, makes 118 tons nearly, a difference of weight between the two sides fully sufficient, with the assistance of a spring-tide, to life the ship to balance, which the tide, though ever so strong, could not have effected without it. There were nearly 200 persons floated from her decks when the ship went down, many of whom were drowned, some, however, were saved; and among others two or three children, who being near some sheep on deck, caught hold of their fleeces and were carried safely on shore. The ship was afterwards thoroughly explored by means of a diving bell. Admiral Kempenfeldt was found sitting in his cabin, with a pen in his hands, as if busily engaged in writing. The Royal George never could be raised, after many attempts so to do, and there is now a considerable shoal, it is said, formed around her.


The Linden tree is frequent in all the northern and middle states of American, and is in grateful use as a shade tree in several of the principal cities — but we doubt if our fellow citizens are acquainted with its excellence in various purposes as detailed in the following extract from a Scotch paper — we recommend its perusal to our country readers:

Of ever other tree connected with rural economy, perhaps the linden is the most valuable. In [page 50:] Russia, its properties are so well understood that it is seen growing in every hamlet and village possessing a soil capable of nourishing it. The wood is not only manufactured into furniture, but into a variety of domestic utensils. Cords and matting are made from its inner rind, while its aromatic blossoms not only perfume the air and feed the bees, but make an agreeable ptisan for the invalid. The Circassians feed their bees on the blossoms, to produce the fine, green honey, aromatic in odor and delicious in flavor, esteemed so great a delicacy by the rich gourmands of Constantinople and Teheran. The young and tender sprigs, with their foliage, serve to mix with fodder during the depth of winter, being highly palatable to the cattle. It is an ornamental tree, and may be seen adorning nearly every public garden and promenade in Germany.


THE QUINQUINA TREE. — Loxa, or Loja, which is pronounced with a guttural aspiration familiar to the Spanish language, is a small town built by Mercadillo, one of Gonzales Pizarro’s captains, [[about]] 1546, in an agreeable valley, on the river Catamayo. The meridian altitudes of the sun, give its latitude four degrees and almost one minute south, that is, near seventy leagues south of Quito; being under the same meridian nearly, and about eighty leagues from the coast of Peru. Its elevation is a mean between that of the mountains which form the vast chain of the Andes, and the valleys of the coast. The quicksilver stood at Loxa at twenty-one inches eight lines, whence it may be concluded, on comparing several experiments, that Loxa is about eight hundred toises above the level of the sea. The climate is very pleasant, and the heats are indeed great, but not excessive.

The best quinquina, at least that of most repute, is found on the mountain of Cajanuma, about two leagues and a half to the south of Loxa; and from thence came the first that was carried to Europe. Within these sixty years, the dealers have obtained a certificate from a notary, that their quinquina is of the growth of Cajanuma.

The quinquina tree never grows on plains; it rises straight, and may be seen at a great distance above the tops of other trees about it; for it is never found in groves, but single, and scattered up and down among others of various sorts. If they are permitted to stand, they grow very large, sometimes larger than a man’s body. The middle size are eight or nine inches in diameter; but it is now rare to find them of these dimensions upon the mountain. The trees from whence the first bark was taken, which were very large, are all dead, having been entirely stripped, which infallibly kills them when they come to be old. Experience has shown, that stripping kills some of the young ones also, but the greatest part escape. For this operation, they use a common knife, which they hold in both hands; the barker sticks it into the bark as high as he can reach, and so draws it downwards as low as he can. It does not appear that the trees which grow where the old ones stood, have less virtue, the situation and soil being the same. The difference, if there be any, may arise, perhaps, from the different ages of the trees. Few but young ones are now to be met with.

At Loxa, heretofore, they have preferred the coarsest bark, and laid it by as a rarity; but now the finest is most esteemed. The merchants may possibly find their account in it, as it takes less room in packing. Formerly, a director of the English South Sea Company at Panama, through whom all the quinquina that used to go to Europe passed, asserted that the preference given to the fine bark was in consequence of several chemical analyses and experiments which had been made on both sorts in England. It seems probably, that the difficulty of throughly drying the large coarse bard, and the humidity it is naturally apt to contract and retain, contributed to bring it into disrepute. Vulgar prejudice will have it, that to lose nothing of its virtue, the tree should be barked in the moon’s decrease, and on the east side. These circumstances, as also its being fathered on the mountain of Cajanuma, were certified by a notary in 1735, when the Marquis de Castelfuerte procured a quantity of quinquina from Loxa, to carry to Spain on his return.

But for the sake of not being idle three-quarters of the year, this prejudice was pretty well got over; and all seasons of the year are found equally proper, provided the weather is dry. The bark, after taking it away, should be exposed to the sun several days together, and for its better preservation, should not be packed till it has lost all its humidity; and this is an essential circumstance. It is not uncommon, for want of this precaution before the packing, to find it mouldy, and then the merchants are apt to lay the fault upon the moon, rather than upon the negligence of those who did not dry it.

The leaves are fixed to a stem about half an inch long; they are smooth, and of a fine green, which is deep on the upper side, and bright beneath. Their outline is even, and of the shape of a lance, being rounded at bottom, and terminating in a point; they are, for the most part, an inch and a half or two inches broad, and two and a half or three inches long.



The item on “The Expansion of Air in Animal Bodies” touches on a subject of some significance in Poe’s “Mystery of Marie Roget.”

The two very ordinary entries about trees are not in keeping with the tone and currency of other items in the series. They suggest that Burton had only the initial item from Poe, who was no longer on his staff, and had to scramble to fill out the article to make the usual two pages. Further supporting this notion is the fact that there is an uncharacteristic inch of blank space at the end of the article.

Unlike the previous installments, there is only a single entry in the list of contents for the volume (as “Science and Art, a Chapter on”), with no entries for individul items. The general construction of the index for this volume is decidedly different in character, and in particular is far less detailed, than for the previous index, presumably as a result of Poe’s departure from Burton’s employment.


[S:0 - BGM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - A Chapter on Science and Art [part IV]