Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/139

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127
LITERARY NOTICES.

cators of this continent. Our firm belief is, that the truth can take care of itself — that it does not need any bolstering or hedging round or underpinning; and we therefore throw our pages open to any one who can discuss a timely subject bearing upon the progress of human interests in a scientific manner. We know of no other principle upon which a "Popular Science Monthly" could be honestly or successfully conducted; and, as to our pages being "disgraced by remarks about Christianity which are too spiteful to be scientific," we can only say that an unsupported charge of this kind, in the face of the record made by the magazine from its beginning, need give us extremely little concern. Some time ago we had occasion to remark that a single number of the "Canada Educational Monthly" contained two articles borrowed from "The Popular Science Monthly" — one of them without acknowledgment. We think that such practical approval of the wares we offer the public goes far to set off the illiberal criticism above quoted from the same quarter.




LITERARY NOTICES.

The Folk-Lore of Plants. By T. F. Thiselton Dyer. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 328. Price, $1.50.

Folk-lore is always a fascinating study, and no branch of it offers more of peculiar interest than that of plants. Prof. Dyer, therefore, has chosen a popular theme, one that has engaged the attention of many writers before him, and the present volume is a condensation in large part from previous books and papers upon the subject. In the author's own prefatory words it is "a brief, systematic summary, with a few illustrations in each case of the many branches into which the subject naturally subdivides itself." The book before us is, therefore, a hand-book to all who are interested in the subject upon which it treats. A mention of some of the twenty-three chapters into which the work is divided will help to present a faint idea of the scope and success of Prof. Dyer's compilation. Plants in witchcraft, plants in fairy lore, love-charms, plant language, doctrine of signatures, sacred plants, plants in folk-medicine, and mystic plants; these are suggestive of the careful systematic work done by the author. It is impossible to epitomize a work of this kind which in itself is an epitome of a vast subject. The foot-notes and references, one or more on nearly every page, illustrate how very wide has been the gleaning of the painstaking author. Open the book at any page, and a pleasing, succinct statement will be found of some ancient superstition of plant spirit, plant worship, plant witchery, plant demonology, or plant legend. Darwin, in his famous work upon "Movements of Plants," says: "Why a touch, slight pressure, or any other irritant such as electricity, heat, or the absorption of animal matter should modify the turgescence of the affected cells in such a manner as to cause movement we do not know." In the light of this frank confession of ignorance by one of the wisest of Nature's modern students it is not strange that during the early ages of the world every living thing was believed to be under the direct control of some spirit, good or evil, which was none the less real to the ignorant people because unseen. It was natural for the ancients to ascribe causes to well-established effects, and the world of plant life came in for its full share. They believed blindly in the vegetable origin of the human race — that is, man sprang from some sacred world-tree. In modem times the belief is not altogether different from this, but the method is through the gradual unfolding of the higher from the lower by the slow process of evolution. In like manner the ancients, in seeking for a divinity, ascribed superhuman power to the mighty oak, and clothed other trees as with the garb of gods. The worship of to-day is often of structures far less lofty and inspiring than the forest giants. In our time we can with profit glance back and note the growth of ideas as they broaden with the ages and see that our own idols must be broken in pieces by the relentless wheels of progress. This is one of the good features of such books as the one before us, and should make them popular, because being a history of the people in everyday life — their common thought and conversation.