Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/June 1877/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 11 June 1877  (1877) 
Popular Miscellany


Proposed Scientific Expedition around the World.—For some months Mr. James O. Woodruff, of Indianapolis, has been busily engaged in organizing a "scientific expedition around the world," the object of which is to visit points of general and special interest, to study architecture, archæology, geology, and the fauna and flora of new or little known localities, and to make collections and studies in natural history generally.

It is proposed to start from New York some time next fall, in a steamship of a thousand tons, officered by experienced men from our navy, and fitted with all the appliances necessary for such an expedition. Ten scientific professors, selected from the faculties of our leading universities, are to go along in the capacity of teachers, giving lectures and instruction in the various subjects of study.

The island of Marajo, at the mouth of the Amazon, Valparaiso, some of the less known islands of the Central Pacific, New Guinea, Borneo, Ceylon, and Alexandria, are a few of the more prominent points it is proposed to visit; the ship returning by the way of France and England. Inland excursions, for the purposes of exploration and the collection of specimens, will be a feature of the expedition. Eighty students can be accommodated. The trip is expected to consume two years, and will cost each student, according to published estimates, about $5,000.


Fruit-Farming in England.—The home-supply of fruit in England being very inadequate to the demand, foreign fruit has to be imported in enormous quantity. Hence the price of fruit is very high, and the great mass of the population have to deny themselves this wholesome form of nutriment. The London Society of Arts has undertaken the investigation of the question of fruit-growing, and is laboring to awaken a popular interest in the matter. In this country fruit is cheap and abundant, yet many of the suggestions made on the other side of the Atlantic would not be out of place even here. In one of the papers read before the Society of Arts, it is stated that only 40,000 acres of land are set apart in England for market-gardens. Considering what enormous crops of fruit are obtained from this inconsiderable acreage, how shall we estimate the product of waste lands were they to be cultivated? The market-gardens, as we have seen, cover less than 60 square miles; but the railway embankments represent about 200 square miles of land, one-third of which, at least, could be used for the cultivation of fruit. The little plots of ground attached to cottages in the country and in villages and suburban districts might also be utilized for fruit-growing. Roadsides in the country might also be cultivated profitably. The prospect of success in this effort at enlarging the area of fruit-culture in England is not very encouraging, owing to the unthriftiness of the people. In this respect they compare very unfavorably with their neighbors, the French.


Frequency of Color-Blindness.—There is some reason for believing that writers on "color-blindness" have in many instances exaggerated with regard to the frequency of its occurrence. Thus it has been stated as a fact that no less than ten per cent, of the railroad engine-drivers in Sweden are unable to announce properly the color of the signal-lamps, owing to color-blindness. Mr. Herbert W. Page, surgeon to the London and Northwestern Railway, is of the opinion that, so far from being common, this affection is extremely rare. He cites the testimony of three railway examining surgeons in support of his views. One of these, who in the course of twenty-five years had examined many hundreds of men, writes that color-blindness "is of excessive rarity;" another "has not found it common;" while a third, a surgeon of long experience, writes that he has met with "only three cases of well-marked color-blindness" among many hundreds examined by him. In 800 men examined by Mr. Page himself, not one instance of true color-blindness was found. Similar testimony is given by Dr. Macaldin, of the Midland Railway.

How, then, are we to account for the positive statements of other writers who assert the extreme frequency of this affection? In very many cases ignorance of the names of colors is, doubtless, mistaken for inability to distinguish between colors themselves. Then, many persons are hesitating and slow in their recognition of colors. "Green may be spoken of as blue by one, red as green by another, and the name persisted in till the man be asked to compare the one before him with some familiar color, as the grass or sky, when his mistake will be recognized at once. I cannot help thinking," adds Mr. Page, "that such cases as these have often been mistaken as instances of color-blindness. It certainly is within my own experience, that errors of this kind may creep in unawares unless time and care he given to the examination of those who are ignorant stupid, or nervous."


Marsh-Fevers.—A substantial addition to our knowledge of the true nature of paludic fevers appears to have been made by Messrs. Lanzi and Terrigi, of Rome. Lanzi has found in the cells of microscopic algæ from the Roman marshes certain dark-green granules, which are most numerous when the plants are farthest gone in decomposition. At length these granules fill the cells, are black under the microscope, and the algae emit an offensive odor. In the Campagna marshes are formed in winter, which in spring develop algae abundantly. In summer the water disappears, and the algae then putrefy, the ground afterward growing phanerogamous plants. Toward the fall of the year the algae in the parts still covered with water also die, and the slime at the bottom of the marshes contains quantities of the dark granules. The latter may also arise from other plants in the state of decay, even where there are no marshes. Lanzi regards these granules as a sort of ferments. Now, the pigment-granules found in the liver and spleen of individuals suffering from malaria have quite similar properties to those ferment-granules, and they can be developed quite similarly. M. Terrigi has specially devoted himself to the means of disinfection, which may prevent the decaying process and development of the granules; he found chloride of lime, lime, and chloral, the most efficacious. With aspirators and air-filtering apparatus he ascertained that the germs rose to a height of fifty centimetres (about twenty inches) above the marsh-bottom, where they could easily be carried away by the winds. M. Terrigi found the "malaria-melanin" (as they call it) abundant in the liver and spleen of Guinea-pigs that had breathed the marsh-air for some time.


How the Chinese go a-Fishing.—Under the title "Fishing Extraordinary" a writer in Chambers's Journal describes various singular devices used in different countries for catching fish. Some portions of the narrative are calculated to put a strain upon the credulity of the reader, as, for instance, when we are informed that "the lakes and rivers of China, and especially of the north, are so abundantly stocked with fish, that in some places the men called fish-catchers make their living by actually seizing and drawing them out with their hands." If any of our readers should happen to dwell in the vicinity of such fish-abounding streams, they will be pleased to learn how these fish-catchers set about their work. Here is the modus operandi: The man goes into the water, and proceeds, half walking, half swimming, raising his arms above his head and letting them drop, striking the surface with his hands. Meanwhile his feet are moving on the muddy bottom. Presently he stoops with a rapid dive and brings up a fish in his hand. His object in striking the surface is to frighten the fish, which, when alarmed, sink to the bottom; then the naked feet feel them in the mud, and, once felt, the practised hand secures them in a moment.

Another Chinese method of fishing described by this writer is very ingenious. It is usually practised at night, and depends upon a peculiar power which a white screen, stretched under the water, seems to possess over the fishes, decoying them to it and making them leap. A man sitting in the stern of a long, narrow boat, steers her with a paddle to the middle of a river, and there stops. Along the right-hand side of his boat a narrow sheet of white canvas is stretched; when he leans to that side it dips under the surface, and, if it be a moonlight night, gleams through the water. Along the other side of the boat a net is fastened, so as to form a barrier two or three feet high. The boatman keeping perfectly still, the fish, attracted by the white canvas, approach and leap, and would go over the narrow boat and be free in their native waters on the other side, but for the screen of neting, which stops them and throws them down before the man's feet.


The Use of Anti-Ferments.—To prevent fermentation, a wine-grower in New Jersey added to a twelve-gallon keg of new wine about one gramme (1512 grains) of salicylic acid, or a very little more than the minimum quantity as given by Neubauer. Soon the wine lost its natural flavor, and acquired a flavor something like that of camphor. A sample of this altered nine having been submitted to Dr. Endemann for examination, he at once referred the new flavor to the presence of salicylic ether. In a communication to the American Chemical Society, Dr. Endemann writes: "The formation of this ether may be understood if we regard the circumstances. The wine was only one year old, and could not be considered ripe and ready for sale, and should therefore have received not the minimum quantity but rather more salicylic acid, to entirely prevent after-fermentation. The quantity, therefore, being insufficient, salicylic acid came in contact with alcohol in statu nascendi, which caused this abnormal action. Wine-growers are naturally very suspicious of chemicals, and are therefore very apt to make the same mistake—that is, they prefer to use the minimum quantity; and I should not be surprised if similar experiences had followed the application of this substance in other places."


Determination of Copper.—Mr. J. M. Merrick, of Boston, proposes a new method of determining very small quantities of copper. It is intended as a supplement to Bergeron and l'Hôte's colorimetric test, which fails to indicate a quantity of copper less than 0.5 milligramme. Mr. Merrick's method consists simply in concentrating to a very small bulk the solution suspected to contain copper, and then depositing the copper, if present, upon platinum, by the battery. He uses for a depositing-cell a very small test-tube, on a foot cut off, so as to give a vessel about one and a half inch deep. Into this is introduced the solution acidified with sulphuric acid, and a platinum anode and cathode—each about an inch long and one-eighth inch or less wide—are hung face to face, and very close together; and, the circuit being completed, very satisfactory deposits of copper are obtained with incredibly minute quantities of the metal. The amounts are determined by the increased weight of the cathode (which is provided with a platinum wire soldered on with gold, by which it can be hooked to a balance) and on the loss of weight of the same after washing with nitric acid. The platinum is polished and heated red-hot before the first weighing, and then gently heated before hanging in the solution. The contrast in color between deposited copper and bright platinum is, of course, striking and characteristic. In this way, 0.1 milligramme of copper may be, the author thinks, safely determined; while for mere qualitative analysis this method may be employed where the amount is even smaller.


Award of the Bigsby Medal to Prof. O. C. Marsh.—Prof. P. Martin Duncan, President of the Geological Society of London, in announcing the award of the Bigsby Medal to Prof. O. C. Marsh for his services in investigating the paleontology of the Vertebrata, paid a high but well-merited compliment to the learned Yale professor. Said Prof. Duncan: "He has distinguished himself by studying the fossil remains of nearly every great group of the vertebrata from the palæozoic, cretaceous, and cainozoic strata of the New World. The field of his research has been immense, but it has been very correct; and his descriptive and classificatory paleontological work indicates his effective grasp of anatomical details, and his great power as a comparative osteologist." Prof. Duncan then enumerated in some details the chief lines of research pursued by Prof. Marsh, and was followed by Mr. Hulke, himself a paleontologist, who heartily approved all that had been said by the president with respect to the value of Prof. Marsh's services to paleontology. "These," he said, "are so numerous and important as to mark an epoch in this line of research. The present recognition of the value of his labors will doubtless prove an incentive to fresh work."


What is Moderate Drinking?—The advocates of total abstinence from intoxicating liquors are wont to condemn even a moderate use of stimulating drinks, on the ground that "moderate drinking is the parent of excessive drinking." The Lancet questions the correctness of this proposition, but in its negative definition of what is meant by "moderate" drinking the votaries of Bacchus will find very little comfort. "The man," says the Lancet," who begins the day with a 'soda-and-brandy,' has very little respect for his constitution, and if he does not alter his habits, they will alter his health. Odd glasses of beer and glasses of spirit in a forenoon do not come within the range of moderate drinking. That is not moderate drinking which adds fifteen or twenty beats to the pulse, or which flushes the face. Finally, all casual drinking is bad, presumably, and not moderate drinking. The system will not receive food merely as a matter of conviviality, at all sorts of odd hours. Still less will it receive with impunity drink in this way. Drinking which disturbs sleep, either by making it heavy or by driving it away, is not moderate. Moderate drinking is that which consists with a clean tongue, a good appetite, a slow pulse, a cool skin, a clear head, a steady hand, good walking-power, and light, refreshing sleep. It is associated with meals, and is entirely subordinated to more convenient and less objectionable forms of food. That such drinking produces drunkenness, has yet to be proved, as it has yet to be proved to be essential to health."


Retention of Impressions by the Retina.—Does the retina retain in death the image last impressed upon it? That such is the case has been asserted, but hitherto the evidence has not been satisfactory, to say the least. But recent experiments made by Prof. Kühne, of Heidelberg, appear to show that the image does remain. He took a rabbit and fixed its head and one of its eyeballs at a distance of about five feet from a small opening in a window-shutter. The head was covered for five minutes with a black cloth and then exposed for three minutes to a somewhat clouded mid-day sky. The rabbit was then instantly decapitated; the eyeball which had been exposed was extirpated in yellow light, then opened and instantly plunged into a weak solution of alum. Two minutes after deatb the second eyeball, without removal from the head, was subjected to exactly the same processes. On the following morning the retinæ of both eyes were carefully isolated, separated from the optic nerve, and turned. They exhibited a nearly square, sharp image, with sharply-defined edges.


Extirpation of our Larger Mammals.—In a paper on the extirpation of our larger indigenous mammals, published in the Penn Monthly, Mr. J. A. Allen remarks that the larger, the less sagacious, or the otherwise more easily-captured species, have always been the first to be destroyed. The walrus, being hunted for its ivory and its oil, soon became extinct in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; the bison wholly disappeared east of the Mississippi (south of Wisconsin) prior to the year 1800; the moose and the caribou were early pressed back into the remoter northern forests; and the elk everywhere quickly disappeared before the advancing settlements. Formerly abundant from the Great Lakes nearly to the Gulf coast, its sole survivors east of the Mississippi for the last few decades have been confined to the least frequented parts of the Alleghanies, where few, if any, still survive. Thirty years ago it was abundant over nearly all of the prairies, plains, and mountain valleys of the Great West, where it is now confined within comparatively narrow boundaries, and its present rapid rate of decrease portends its speedy total extirpation south of the forty-ninth parallel. The Virginia deer, once a common denizen of the whole eastern half of the United States, now scarcely exists in New England south of the forests of Maine and Northern New Hampshire, or in New York south or west of the great Adirondack Wilderness, or anywhere in the Middle States away from the mountains. It has also disappeared from a large part of the Atlantic coast-region farther southward, and from the greater part of the area between the Great Lakes and the Tennessee river. The bear, the panther, the gray wolf, and the lynx, have become similarly restricted. The fisher, the marten, and the Canada porcupine, former inhabitants of the northern parts of the northern tier of States, as well as of the Appalachian highlands to or beyond Virginia, have only here and there a few lingering representatives in the least frequented parts of the mountains, and are much more rare than formerly in the forests of Northern New England and the great unsettled region north of the St. Lawrence. The same is true of the beaver, except that it had a much more extended range to the southward, being a former inhabitant of Northern Florida and the middle and northern portions of the Gulf States, and of all the intervening region thence northward.


Psychic Phenomena.—Mr. Sergeant Cox, in a letter to the London Spectator, made the assertion that no one who had investigated "psychic phenomena" ever had "come to any other conclusion than that they were real." To this Moncure D. Conway replies as follows:

"I beg to inform that gentleman that I have for more than twenty years, both in the United States and in England, and in the presence of well-known mediums as well as private circles, diligently investigated the subject, and I have never seen any phenomena at all worthy of notice, except such as indicate the audacity of some persons and the weakness of others."


Extending the Meat-Supply.—One of the most enthusiastic hippophagists of Paris, M. Decroix, not content with advocating the use of horse-flesh for food, now would have people eat the flesh of diseased animals. He has made it a practice to cat the flesh of horses killed in his service, which had glanders or farcy, and, whether thoroughly or partially cooked, he found no evil results to his health. Further, ever since 1861 he has eaten the flesh of all animals that have died within his reach, no matter from what disease. He affirms that one may eat with impunity the flesh, cooked (not putrid), of any of the domesticated animals, no matter what they died of—glanders, typhus, hydrophobia, etc. So far from the flesh of animals which have died naturally having a repugnant appearance or a peculiar flavor, he states that he has placed the two kinds side by side in the same pan and with the same sauce, and, in serving to different persons, many of them connoisseurs, the meat of animals that have died a natural death has invariably been pronounced superior to that from the slaughter-house!


New Test of Death.—The importance of having some readily-applied and indisputable test of the fact of death is apparent, and many are the processes that have been offered to determine it. Nevertheless, such a test appears to be still a desideratum—unless, indeed, we accept that offered by Kappeler. In the course of his researches on the electrical stimulation of dead muscles, Kappeler subjected twenty corpses to the action of various electric currents, noting the times of disappearance of contractility. In persons emaciated by chronic maladies, it disappeared much more rapidly than in well-nourished individuals, or those who had had acute disease. It disappeared seventy-five minutes after death at the quickest, and six and a half hours at the slowest. In cases where a rise of temperature is observed after death electric contractility persists longest. So long as there remains the least flicker of life the contractions continue intact. In the most prolonged faints, in the deepest lethargies, in poisoning by carbonic oxide, chloroform, etc., there is contraction so long as life lasts. But if the muscles make no response to the electrical stimulation, Kappeler pronounces life to be extinct.


Voracity of the Trout.—A correspondent writing from Au Sable Forks, New York, communicates to The Monthly the following very remarkable instance of voracity in a trout: While he and another gentleman were fishing in a stream near the place of his residence, they came to a "long still hole," into which his companion dropped a hook and line, and immediately after pulled up a trout measuring about nine inches. The trout had swallowed the hook, and, in trying to extricate it, the fish's mouth, throat, and stomach, were found to be almost filled with a snake. They pulled the animal out and threw it on the bank; it had evidently been recently killed. "We did not measure the snake," writes our correspondent, "but each of us estimated its length at fourteen inches. We took," he adds, "about a dozen more trout from the same hole, which seemed to show that this enormous meal had not made the trout in the least sluggish, or dulled the edge of his appetite; for if it had, some of the smaller fish would have taken the bait before him."


Deaths from Inhalation of Chloroform.—In communicating to the Cincinnati Academy of Medicine a list of deaths by chloroform occurring in that city and its vicinity, Dr. Charles Anderson recognizes a "strange fatality" attending the use of the drug in Cincinnati. No other city in the United States numbers so many deaths from this cause; yet, perhaps, if all the chloroform casualties of other cities had been duly recorded, Cincinnati would no longer hold this bad preëminence. The author calls attention to a singular anomaly observed in the action of this anæsthetic, viz., that many of those who have died from chloroform have taken it repeatedly, and often for a considerable lime, without any unpleasant symptoms, whereas an attempt to give it a short time afterward has proved fatal. Thus one patient, who had taken it frequently during ten years, died from forty drops; another had taken it a hundred times, and had once been under its influence for five hours; the last dose, which was fatal, consisted of an inhalation or two from a chloroformed handkerchief. After citing other similar instances, Dr. Anderson, whose communication we find in the Clinic, expresses the opinion that in these cases there exists a sort of floating idiosyncrasy—one that may have hold of a man for an hour or an instant. "It may be on him to-day," adds the author, "and off to-morrow; but if, while under its influence, he inhale the vapor of chloroform, he is almost sure to die. I was on the point of saying, if he inhale the slightest quantity of the vapor of chloroform, it will prove fatal. I am almost convinced that that would not be putting it too forcibly. When you consider the remarkably small quantity given in all the cases, I think you will be inclined to say that there is something in the theory."