Chap. VII.

Concerning Weight.

THAT Men weigh heavier dead then alive, if experiment hath not failed us, we cannot reasonably grant.[1] For though the trial hereof cannot so well be made on the body of Man, nor will the difference be sensible in the abate of scruples or dragms,[2] yet can we not confirm the same in lesser Animals, from whence the inference is good; and the affirmative of Pliny saith, that it is true in all.[3] For exactly weighing and strangling a Chicken in the Scales; upon an immediate ponderation, we could discover no sensible difference in weight; but suffering it to lie eight or ten hours, until it grew perfectly cold, it weighed most sensibly lighter; the like we attempted, and verified in Mice, and performed their trials in Scales, that would turn upon the eighth or tenth part of a graine.[4]

Now whereas some alledge that spirits are lighter substances, and naturally ascending, do elevate and waft the body upward, whereof dead bodies being destitute, contract a greater gravity; although we concede that spirits are light, comparatively unto the body, yet that they are absolutely so, or have no weight at all, we cannot readily allow. For since Phylosophy affirmeth, that spirits are middle substances between the soul and body, they must admit of some corporiety, which supposeth weight or gravity. Beside, in carcasses warm, and bodies newly disanimated, while transpiration remaineth, there do exhale and breath out vaporous and fluid parts, which carry away some power of gravitation. Which though we allow, we do not make answerable unto living expiration; and therefore the Chicken or Mice were not so light being dead, as they would have been after ten hours kept alive; for in that space a man abateth many ounces. Nor if it had slept, for in that space of sleep, a Man will sometimes abate forty ounces; nor if it had been in the middle of summer, for then a Man weigheth some pounds less, then in the height of winter; according to experience, and the statick Aphorisms of Sanctorius.

Againe, Whereas Men affirm they perceive an addition of ponderosity in dead bodies, comparing them usually unto blocks and stones, whensoever they lift or carry them; this accesional preponderancy is rather in appearance then reality. For being destitute of any motion, they confer no relief unto the Agents; or Elevators; which makes us meet with the same complaints of gravity in animated and living bodies, where the Nerves subside, and the faculty locomotive seems abolished; as may be observed in the lifting or supporting of persons inebriated, Apoplectical, or in Lipothymies and swoundings.

Many are also of opinion, and some learned Men maintain, that Men are lighter after meals then before, and that by a supply and addition of spirits obscuring the gross ponderosity of the aliment ingested; but the contrary hereof we have found in the trial of sundry persons in different sex and ages. And we conceive Men may mistake if they distinguish not the sense of levity uno themselves, and in regard of the scale or decision of trutination. For after a draught of wine, a Man may seem lighter in himself from sudden refection, although he be heavier in the balance, from a corporal and ponderous addition; but a Man in the morning is lighter in the scale, because in sleep some pounds have perspired; and is also lighter unto himself, because he is refected.

And to speak strictly, a Man that holds his breath is weightier while his lungs are full, then upon expiration. For a bladder blown is weightier then one empty, and if it containe a quart, expressed and emptied it will abate about a quarter of a grain. And therefore we somewhat mistrust the experiment of a pumice stone taken up by Montanus, in his Comment upon Avicenna, where declaring how the rarity of parts, and numerosity of pores, occasioneth a lightness in bodies, he affirms that a pumice-stone powdered, is lighter then one entire; which is an experiment beyond our satisfaction; for beside that abatement can hardly be avoided in the Trituration; if a bladder of good capacity will scarce include a graine of ayre, a pumice of three or foure dragms, cannot be presumed to containe the hundredth part thereof; which will not be sensible upon the exactest beams we use. Nor is it to be taken strictly which is delivered by the learned Lord Verulam, and referred unto further experiment; That a dissolution of Iron in aqua fortis, will bear as good weight as their bodies did before, notwithstanding a great deal of wast by a thick vapour that issueth during the working; for we cannot find it to hold neither in Iron nor Copper, which is dissolved with less ebullition; and hereof we made trial in Scales of good exactness: wherein if there be a defect, or such as will not turn upon quarter grains, there may be frequent mistakes in experiments of this nature. That also may be considered which is delivered by Hamerus Poppius,5 that Antimony calcin'd or reduced to ashes by a burning glass, although it emit a gross and ponderous exhalation, doth rather exceed then abate its former gravity.[6] Neverthelesse, strange it is, how very little and almost insensible abatement there will be sometimes in such operations, or rather some encrease, as in the refining of metals, in the test of bone ashes, according to experience: and in a burnt brick, as Monsieur de Clave7 affirmeth. Mistake may be made in this way of trial, when the Antimony is not weighed immediately upon the calcination; but permitted the air, it imbibeth the humidity thereof, and so repaireth its gravity.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross answers this chapter in Arcana Microcosmi II.2.ii.

1 [Ross, Arcana Microcosmi, writes "Why doth a Man fall down in his sleep, who stood upright when he was awake, if he be not heavier than he was?" Silly as that sounds, it actually gets at some of the reason for the perceived increase in weight of dead bodies.]

2 [A scruple is 20 grains, 1/3 drachm, or 1/24 oz. (apothecaries); a drachm is 1/8 of an oz. (apothecaries)]

3 [Pliny NH vii (77) (englished by Holland.]

4 [A grain is approximately 1/7000 of a pound.]

5 Basilica Antimonii.

6 [Wren: This is like that other refuted before, that a pumice powdered weighs heavier then before.]

7 Des Pierres.

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