Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/April 1877/Literary Notices
|←Editor's Table||Popular Science Monthly Volume 10 April 1877 (1877)
This book is an attempt to unfold the "mystery and art" of life-insurance, to the general reader; to put before him in simple form, rid, as far as may be, of technicalities, a statement of the data upon which life-insurance problems are based, and the methods by which they are solved. For fifty years and more the business has been prominently before the public. It has been urged and expounded with a zeal and persistency that have become proverbial, and the inference is natural that there ought, by this time, to be among the people at large a respectable amount of acquired information about it. Such, however, is not the case. The savings of the frugal have been embarked to the extent of $2,000,000,000 in schemes which claim to be designed for their mutual protection, not upon informed and deliberate judgment, but in great part as the simple result of yielding to the blandishments of the canvasser, combined with a sublime faith in the efficacy of statistical tables and mathematical formulae which were not understood. Recognizing the extent of this ignorance, and the discomfort and distrust to which it is likely to give rise, the author has tried to make the road to knowledge in this direction easier. He has put into reasonable limits, and into logical and accessible shape, the more essential information pertaining to the theory of life-insurance, which heretofore was only to be gleaned from rare and expensive books, which were quite out of the reach of the non-professional reader. That this was no easy task is a fact which should be taken into account when measuring the degree of his success.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I. is theoretical. The tables of mortality are given, and we are shown how from these are obtained the expectation of life, and—assuming a given rate of interest the net premium and the reserve—or, as the author prefers to call it, the trust-fund deposit. The theory of annuities is discussed in a series of problems; and the mechanism of the commutation tables—those working-tools of the actuary—is explained.
Part II. is devoted to the discussion of such practical considerations as: the general management of companies; stock and mutual rates; the various plans of insurance; gross and net valuations, which involve the relation of the companies to the State; surrender values; annual statements, etc. The views under these heads are sound and well put, and, if they were widely circulated and read, would contribute to the welfare of both managers and the insured, and help to put their relations upon a surer footing. Algebraical discussions and formulae and tables are relegated to an appendix, where they can be mastered or omitted, as the reader may choose.
We warmly second the author's hope that this little volume will be widely distributed and carefully studied, but must confess we are not very sanguine about the latter. It is true, as he says, that it contains no science that is very abstruse; there is nothing which a man with a little arithmetic and less algebra may not master, but it does imply that he should put himself to the strain of a little application and study, and this is just what the majority of men are unwilling to undertake. To average an interest account is a very simple matter, but most men who have never learned or have forgotten how to do it will, when one is rendered to them, take the chances on its correctness rather than take the trouble to verify it, and insure themselves against loss.
The issue of this third edition is timely. The management of insurance companies is a matter over which the public mind is just now very properly exercised. We know of no other attempt to give the information required for its intelligent consideration, and, so far as Mr. Smith's book succeeds in throwing light upon the subject, it will be doing a good work.
This work embodies the last considerable effort, made by experimental physiology, to unravel and explain the mode of action of that most complex and obscure of all mechanisms—the brain of animals and of man. The author wisely says: "We are still only on the threshold of the inquiry, and it may be questioned whether the time has even yet arrived for an attempt to explain the mechanism of the brain and its functions." Much, however, has undoubtedly been accomplished toward the attainment of this end, though the steps forward are slow, uncertain, and difficult. What can be positively gained by any special research seems so small in comparison with the complete problem to be solved as to be hardly worth the immense labor involved; yet there is a fascination in the inquiry, and a grandeur in the result aimed at which awakens the enthusiasm of investigators, and assures the continuance of indefatigable research. Dr. Ferrier's investigations led him to certain important conclusions regarding the localization of functions in the brain, which have been approved by some physiologists, and criticised by others, although all agree as to the value of his skillful and well-directed experiments. The chief object of this volume is to present the author's views of the bearing of his experiments, although it contains a concise and well-digested account of the functions of the cerebro-spinal system in general, with the view more especially of pointing out the mutual relations between the higher and the lower nerve-centres. Dr. Ferrier's work was elaborately reviewed and in some respects adversely criticised by Mr. George Henry Lewes in two numbers of Nature. We have no space to state the points in issue, but will give his estimate of the work as presented in the closing passage:
It was an excellent idea to get together in one compact volume the best thoughts of Carlyle, for there is a better and worse in his writings, as well as in those of all other authors. He has produced a lot of books in his day, unequal among themselves, but all containing, here and there, brilliant and powerful passages, well deserving to be thus separated and brought together for entertainment and edification at odd hours. We suspect, indeed, that Carlyle will be longer remembered for these strokes of extraordinary insight than on account of his elaborate works, in the great bulk of which there is a prodigious amount of wordiness—a fault which he so hated in other people. His works are mountainous, brilliant with gilded peaks, but with great stretches of valley between. It was not a bad idea of Barrett's to truncate the upper cones, and get the peaks all together in a single book, and, if Carlyle approves of it, as he says he does, and must do, all readers will be pleased.
We have already referred to this important work in very commendatory terms, and we may add that its character is well sustained to the later issues. It is not so much a dictionary of chemistry, in which the science is pulverized into a great number of fragments, and each placed under its alphabetical head, as a work in which the great leading subjects of chemical manufacture are taken up in succession, and treated in elaborate and exhaustive essays. The work is hence in no sense a rival of Watt's "Dictionary of Chemistry," which deals with the pure science rather than its practical applications to art and manufacture. The last installments treat of the subjects of dyeing and calico-printing, electro-metallurgy, enamels, ether, explosives, preservation of food, fuel, and gas. These topics are considered with fullness, and brought up to the latest results of scientific investigation.
This is a very good little essay on government, but there is hardly enough science in it to justify the author in inventing a new term to describe it. He points out the great strides of the modern physical sciences, and contrasts with them the little that has been done of this kind in the fields of abstract thought, "especially in the all-important science of government." He says, "This failure of a scientific treatment has been most remarkable;" and, as an attempt to remedy this defect by the development of a distinct science of government, the following treatise has been prepared. The little book is systematic and suggestive, and its matter is well presented; but the writer, in our opinion, has very little true conception of what science is in its applications to this subject.
This is a lively, entertaining, and withal a very instructive volume on the Indians and Western life. Its author writes from observation and experience, and has a happy faculty of seizing the most striking and significant features in description, and representing them in vivid and forcible language. The work abounds in sketches of travel, delineations of camp-life, pictures of scenery, accounts of game, and episodes of sporting adventure. But its main and most important portion is that which is devoted to the religion, social life, habits, amusements, occupations, and what we may call the general natural history of the Indians. Appended to the volume is an instructive table of Indians living in the United States, omitting those in Alaska, with the numbers and locations of the tribes and fragments of tribes that still survive. The introduction by Mr. Blackmore gives some striking facts in regard to the destruction of the buffalo. He says that during the three years 1872-'74 four and a half million of these animals were destroyed, of which three million were killed merely for their hides. This is equal to the destruction of all the cattle in Holland and Belgium, and is as if in three years half the cattle of Texas, or all the cattle in Canada, had been carried off by a plague!
Mr. Blackmore quotes a passage from Bishop Whipple, on "Our Indian Policy," that furnishes an excellent example of the working of "American politics," and gives data by which we can compare the fruits of administration of the "best government on earth" with the miserable monarchy that rules on the other side of the St. Lawrence:
"One one side of the line is a nation that has spent $500,000,000 in Indian wars; a people who have not one hundred miles between the Atlantic and the Pacific which has not been the scene of an Indian massacre; a government which has not passed twenty years without an Indian war; not one Indian tribe to whom it has given Christian civilization; and which celebrates its centenary by another bloody Indian war. On the other side of the line are the same greedy, dominant, Anglo-Saxon race, and the same heathen. They have not spent one dollar in Indian wars, and have had no Indian massacres. Why? In Canada the Indian treaties call these men 'the Indian subjects of her majesty.' When civilization approaches them they are placed on ample reservations, receive aid in civilization, have personal rights in property, are amenable to law and protected by law, have schools, and Christian teachers send them the best teachers. We expend more than one hundred dollars to their one in caring for Indian wards."
Five years ago a sumptuous volume appeared in Paris, by Amédée Guillemin, which was translated into English by the Lockyers, and republished by Macmillan, under the title of "The Forces of Nature." It aimed to be a popular account of the great physical forces, gravity, heat, light, and electricity. By the aid of numerous and finely-executed engravings, it attempted to make clear the principles of pure science with no reference to their uses or applications to the practical arts. A companion volume has now appeared by the same author, editor, and publishers, which supplements the first, by taking up the applications of physical forces. The book is done in the same splendid style, and we should wonder where so expensive and luxurious a scientific book could find buyers, did we not remember that the two editions in French and English make it accessible to the largest portion of the readers of the civilized world. It is difficult to convey a just idea of the scope and detail of this work, with its thirty-eight elaborate chapters and its four hundred and sixty-seven admirable illustrations, and we can only say that it is the most elegant and exhaustive pictorial work on the applications of science in its great leading departments that has yet appeared.
Besides its waters, which are of interest to chemists, geologists, and invalids, and its gay summer life, so dear to the devotees of fashion, which combine to make Saratoga famous, the place is also celebrated for its lawyers. A county which has given to the bench such men as Cowen, Walworth, Willard, Bockes, and Spear, and to the bar such pleaders as Hill, Reynolds, Porter, and Beach, certainly deserves to have its legal history written out, and Mr. Mann has accordingly done it in a very creditable manner. In giving a sketch of the legal profession of the county, which has of course been closely associated with the growth of its population, the author has brought out various points of incidental interest. It appears that about 1790, before Saratoga Springs or Ballston Spa had yet been heard of, the town of Ballston included all the western and northern portions of the county, stretching away toward the Adirondacks. In that year two man, named Palmer and Gorden, were candidates for the supervisorship of this extensive region. The election for that spring was called to be held in the Milton Hill meeting-house. The day was bright and balmy, and so it was suggested that the election take place outside the church, and one of the justices, taking a suitable position, declared the polls open. The votes were taken viva voce, and "the people" went strongly for Gorden, who had been supervisor for several years before. Palmer, seeing he had no chance, drew off one of the justices, quietly went into the church and opened another poll, where thirteen men voted for him. The town-meeting had been appointed to be held in the church, and so Palmer was proclaimed unanimously elected by the citizens of Ballston. Gorden protested, but Palmer was "counted in," the same as nowadays. A feud followed between these office-seekers, the public espousing the causes of the rivals, and promoting their ambition. The knavish trick of the town-meeting ended in making both men county judges, and in sending each for two terms to the National House of Representatives. It is evident that Saratoga early furnished an excellent soil for the production of lawyers.
The first court-house and jail were erected at Ballston Centre, at a cost of $6,500, and were ready for use in 1796. Justice was dispensed there for twenty years, when it was burned down, with the following accompanying circumstances: Raymond Taylor, the jailer, was a man very full of the dignity and importance of his position, and would tolerate nothing that derogated from it in the prisoners under his charge. One named Billings had ruffled the jailer's complacency by some disrespectful words, and so Taylor had him securely fastened to the floor by a large ox-chain, riveted round his body by a blacksmith, and riveted also to the sill of the floor. Another prisoner set fire to the wall of his cell to burn his way out, and, as the flames rapidly extended, efforts were made to rescue Billings, but they could not loosen the chain, and so he was consumed with the burning court-house. As a further illustration of how modern politics is developed from its early germs, it may be stated that there was a law forbidding the jailer to furnish the prisoners with lights, so Taylor arranged with another man to furnish them, and divided the profits.
In a history of nearly a hundred years, only two men have been publicly strangled in Saratoga County in the interest of justice, and the first of them, hanged in 1820, is said by the author of this work to have been insane.
The chief contents of the volume, consisting of personal sketches, anecdotes, and accounts of lawsuits, are, as might be expected, only of local interest.
This is a valuable little volume for all teachers and professors who desire to cultivate the art of illustrating their numerous scientific subjects by the projection of optical images of objects upon screens for the inspection of classes, or lecture-room auditories. Full attention is first given to the construction of apparatus, much of which, the author says, can be extemporized; and the author then points out how a surprisingly large number of experiments can be performed with these instruments in numerous departments of science and art. The book is full of neat woodcuts which aid the text in the description of operations, and it seems a thoroughly well-executed manual for helping on the work of scientific instruction.
Dr. Michael Foster has here given to the world a first-rate book on physiology. He is a good investigator, and a clear, pointed, and vigorous writer, and, with excellent scientific judgment in presenting the proportions of a subject, he has prepared a volume trustworthy in exposition and agreeable in its style. It is designed for medical students, and does not aim to be elementary, as the author proposes to begin about where Prof. Huxley's physiology leaves off. In fact, he hopes his book may come to be considered as a kind of advanced companion to Huxley's smaller volume.
The work contains a few simple diagrams, but it cannot be said to be illustrated, and herein we are inclined to think the author has made a serious mistake. His reasons for it are as follows: "I have, moreover, given neither figures nor elaborate descriptions of physiological instruments and apparatus. These must be seen, not read about; the student can learn more by five minutes' inspection of a piece apparatus, especially one at work, than by hours of study of even the most expensive and finished pictures, and most detailed verbal descriptions." True, but shall we therefore give up illustrations? It is always better to see the thing itself, and it should be the first law of education to get at the thing itself, and not take a picture in place of it, wherever that can be done. But then figures do no harm; they may be still helpful to those who have had the opportunity of inspection, while in the case of multitudes who have no such chance the pictures are much better than nothing. No one can look over the fine and accurate illustrations of such a work as Flint's "Manual of Physiology," for example, without recognizing the great advantage that most students will gain by referring to them.
This neat and elegantly-illustrated volume is a kind of introduction to the history of naval warfare. It is devoted to an account of sea-fights in old times, and it cannot fail to be very interesting to all who have a concern in the subject. We have greatly admired the finely-executed illustrations of the lubberly old ships that were employed before the improved modern craft came into use.
The Microscopist: A Manual of Microscopy By J. H. Wythe. Third edition, rewritten and enlarged. Pp. 259. With Plates. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston. Price, $4.50.
Michigan State Board of Health, 1876. Pp. 254. Lansing: W. S. George & Co. print.
Acoustics, Light, and Heat. By William Lees, A. M. Pp. 299. New York: Putnams. Price, $1.50.
Smithsonian Report, 1875. Pp. 422. Washington: Government Printing-Office.
Properties of Continuous Bridges. By C. Bender, C.E. Pp. 150. Boiler Incrustation. By F. J. Rowan. Pp. 88. New York: Van Nostrand. Price, 50 cents.
"The Jukes:" A Study in Crime, Pauperism, etc. By R. J. Dugdale. Pp. 118. New York: Putnams. Price, 50 cents.
Origin of the Chinese Race. Pp. 30. Japanese Wrecks in the North Pacific. Pp. 23. Early Maritime Intercourse of Ancient Western Nations. Pp. 13. By diaries Wolcott Brooks. San Francisco: Reprinted from the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences.
The Stone Age in New Jersey. By Dr. C. C. Abbott. Pp. 134. With numerous Plates. Washington: Government Printing-Office.
The Science of Astronomy. Lecture by A. K. Bartlett. Pp. 36. Battle Creek, Mich.: The Author. Price, 50 cents.
Analysis of Milk. By E. von Baumhauer. Pp. 34. New York: J. F. Trow & Son print.
Wisconsin Geological Survey for 1876. By T. C. Chamberlin. Pp. 40. Madison: S. D. Carpenter print.
The Chinese Scientific Magazine. Monthly. Vol. I., No* 10. John Fryer, Editor, Shanghai (printed in Chinese). Price, 50 cents per annum.
Addresses before the St. Louis Academy of Science. By C. V. Riley. Pp. 16. St. Louis: R. R. Studley & Co. print.
The Index. Containing classified Index of Periodical Literature. Monthly. Pp. 16. New York: William Erving. Price, 1.00 a year.
Theory of the Radiometer. By William Crookes, F.R.S. Pp. 16. London, 1877.
Minnesota Normal School Board for 1876. Pp. 40. ,St. Paul: Pioneer Press print.
Polar Colonization. By H. W. Howgate. Pp. 40. With Chart. Washington Beresford print.
Zoölogical Society of Cincinnati. First, Second, and Third Annual Reports. Cincinnati, O.: Printed for the Society.
Common-School Education. By B. A. Hinsdale, A.M. Pp. 38. Cleveland, 0.: Robinson, Savage & Co. print.
Metric System of Weights and Measures. Pp. 12. Boston: The Society of Civil Engineers.
Vitality of Certain Land-Mollusks. By R. E. C. Stearns. Pp. 2. With Plates. From the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences.
Report of the Commissioners of the State Survey for 1877. Albany: Parmenter print.
Outlines of Field Geology. By Prof. Geikie. Pp. 61. Price, 25 cents. Absorption of Light. By Prof. Stokes. Pp. 43. Price, 20 cents. London and New York: Macmillan.
Excrescences and Eccentric Wood-Growths in the Trunks of Trees. By Thomas Meehan. Pp. 6. From the Proceedings of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.
Milk-Adulteration in the New York Courts. Pp. 32. New York: J. F. Trow & Son print.