Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/649

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

studying intelligently its own welfare. This portion of the work was prepared on the heels of the terrible epidemic of cerebro-spinal meningitis in New York during the first six months of last year, when, out of 790 persons attacked, 607 died. Availing himself of the records of the Health Department, and of the observations of Dr. Russell, Registrar of Vital Statistics, the author has been able, in this appendix, to throw much light upon the vexed question of the causes of the disorder. Thorough investigation proved these to be filth, overcrowding, defective sewage-pipes, and the like. It would appear that the disease is not propagated by contagion or infection, and consequently its origin must be ascribed to unwholesome conditions in the household or neighborhood where it manifests itself. If the public would be awake to the dangers they may themselves be creating, they would do well to procure this book, and give the appendix, at least, a careful perusal.

The following discriminating notice of "Physics and Politics," from the pen of Prof. John Fiske, appeared in the February Atlantic. It gives so clear an insight into the quality of that remarkable little volume, that our readers will thank us for reproducing it:

"If the International Scientific Series proceeds as it has begun, it will more than fulfil the promise given to the reading public in its prospectus. The first volume, by Prof. Tyndall, was a model of lucid and attractive scientific exposition; and now we have a second, by Mr. Walter Bagehot, which is not only very lucid and charming, but also original and suggestive in the highest degree. Nowhere, perhaps, since the publication of Sir Henry Maine's 'Ancient Law,' have we seen so many fruitful thoughts suggested in the course of a couple of hundred pages.

"The principal aim of Mr. Bagehot's book is to point out some of the conditions essential to progress in civilization, and to show how it is that so small a portion of the human race has attained to permanent progressiveness. It has been customary to contrast man with inferior animals as alone capable of improving his condition from age to age; the implication being that, while none of the inferior animals show any capacity for progress, on the other hand all men, without distinction save as to degree, possess such capacity. And some metaphysical writers have gone so far as to describe progressiveness as a tendency inherent in humanity. The gulf between man and other animals, wide enough in any event, has in this way been unduly exaggerated. In reality it need not take a very long survey of human societies, past and present, to assure us that beyond a certain point stagnation has been the rule, and progress the exception. Over a large part of the earth's surface the slow progress painfully achieved during thousands of prehistoric ages has stopped short with the savage state, as exemplified by those African, Polynesian, and American tribes which can neither work out a civilization for themselves, nor appropriate the civilization of higher races with whom they are brought into contact. Half the human race, having surmounted savagery, have been arrested in an immobile type of civilization, as in ancient Egypt, modern China, and in the East generally. It is only in the Aryan race, with the Jews and Magyars, that we can find evidences of a persistent tendency to progress; and that there is no inherent race tendency at work in this is shown by the fact that some of the Aryans, as the Hindoo, and Persians, are among the most unprogressive of men. The progress of the European Aryans, like the evolution of higher forms of life, has been due only to a concurrence of favorable circumstances.

"It is one of the puzzles of sociology that the very state of things which is preëminently useful in bringing men out of savagery, is also likely to be preëminently in the way of their attaining to a persistently progressive civilization. 'No one,' says Mr. Bagehot, 'will ever comprehend the arrested civilizations unless he sees the strict dilemma of early society. Either men had no law at all, and lived in confused tribes, hardly hanging together, or they had to obtain a fixed law by processes of incredible difficulty. Those who surmounted that difficulty soon destroyed all those that lay in their way who did not. And then they themselves were caught in their own yoke. The customary discipline, which could only be imposed on any early men by terrible sanctions, continued with those sanctions, and killed out of the whole society the propensities to variation, which are the principle of progress.'

"A word to the wise will suffice to show that Mr. Bagehot has here struck nearer to the explanation of the arrested civilizations than any previous writer. Among numer-