New thinking, including a greater attention to science, inspired curiosity and pushed intellectual life forward, and it had benefits to society that would appear in the form of a better hygiene and an advancing technology. Ignorance continued to plague the medical profession, and faith healing was still widespread. But, with the new intellectuality, more was known about the body, including circulation of the blood, discovered in the 1600s. Europe was becoming a world leader in public health.
The rise of intellectual life and curiosity had brought an improvement in agriculture – first among the Dutch. It had been common for harvests to fail every eight or nine years, with people surviving by gathering nuts, stripping bark from trees and eating grass and dandelions. The improvement in Europe's agriculture came with rotating crops rather than rotating fields that were to lie fallow. Grains exhausted the soil, and growers had been leaving fields fallow to allow for soil recovery. Planting peas, beans, turnips, potatoes and clover, it was discovered, rejuvenated exhausted soil by restoring nitrogen.
An improving agriculture was accompanied by other improvements. Seeing progress, more Europeans believed in it. The old pessimism had new competition in the expectation that life on earth could be improved.
There was the building of more roads, which helped in the distribution of food to areas where crops had failed. The centralized storage of food increased. And with the introduction of the potato from the Americas – a food rich in calories – carbohydrates and vitamins A and C spread through Europe.
More swamps were drained and the number of insects reduced. And with the more enlightened view, societies were improving their water supplies.
And Europeans were lucky. Plague arrived by ship at the port of Marseilles, France, in 1720, but it was the last of the great bubonic plagues in Western and Central Europe. The black rat, which had been host to the kind of flea that carried the plague, was losing territory to the brown rat, which did not have this kind of flea. And there was more use of the quarantine at Europe's Mediterranean ports and along the border with the Ottoman Empire.
Copyright © 2003-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.