Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/January 1881/Literary Notices

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 18 January 1881  (1881) 
Literary Notices

The Atomic Theory. By Charles Adolph Wurtz, Member of the French Institute. Translated by E. Cleminshaw, F.C.S. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 344. Price, $1.50.

There is a certain sense in which the modern atomic theory may be regarded as the realization of a dream or the fulfillment of a prophecy, or, still better, the verification of a shrewd guess inspired by common reflection and common sense. The notion of matter being all made up of infinitely small particles or atoms was a speculation of the ancient Greek philosophers which has been revived in modern times, and during the present century has become established as a fundamental theory of chemical and physical science. The atomic theory has now assumed a definite form, and binds into unity wide ranges of facts so as to afford a consistent and intelligible view of the constitution of material things. It has been a subject of acute, profound, and protracted controversy, but has grown in clearness and strength with time, as our experimental knowledge of matter has been gradually extended. The most subtle attacks upon it have generally resulted in confirming it, and it has been an instrument of progress even in the hands of those who have doubted it as an expression of a basal truth in nature. The history of the growth of this conception consequently forms one of the most interesting chapters in the development of scientific ideas; while an exposition of its principles affords the completest exemplification of the views now entertained of the structural and constitutive laws of matter.

All books upon chemistry are now to a certain extent treatises upon the atomic theory, which becomes more and more indispensable as this science increases in extent and complication. The latest phase of chemical progress—the "New Chemistry," as it is called—is entirely pervaded by atomic and molecular theories, while molecular physics is now more completely coordinated with chemistry through the intervention of the atomic hypothesis than has ever been possible before. So important has this idea become, that special treatises are required to deal with it. The "New Chemistry" of Professor Cooke is one of the ablest of these expositions, and has done a most valuable service to education by facilitating the mental transition from an old to a new order of ideas.

Yet the subject is one of so many aspects and such deep and comprehensive significance that it can not be exhausted in any single treatise. There was need for a book like this of Professor Wurtz, which discusses the atomic theory both in its historic evolution and in its present form, with the view of bringing out clearly the influence it has exercised upon the progress of science since the beginning of the century. And perhaps no other man of this age could have been selected so able to perform the task in a masterly way as the illustrious French chemist who contributed the present volume to the "International Scientific Series." He gave himself early to chemistry, and became chief of the chemical department in the Medical Faculty at Strasburg, at the age of twenty-two. He was soon after called to Paris, and became at once connected with its great scientific institutions. After the death of the celebrated toxicologist Orfila, in 1853, and the retirement of Dumas in 1854, their chairs were united in that of Medical Chemistry and given to Wurtz. In 1867 he became a member of the French Academy of Sciences, which had previously awarded him a prize of twenty thousand francs. He has written much upon chemistry, pure and applied, and has paid great attention to the history of chemical doctrines. Among English translations of his works are, "Chemical Philosophy, according to Modem Theories" (1867), and "Theory from the Age of Lavoisier" (1869). "The Atomic Theory" is his last and crowning work, and it has a special authority derived from its author's critical study of chemical progress in the present century.

It is impossible to convey to the reader, in a notice like this, any adequate idea of the scope, lucid instructiveness, and scientific interest of Professor Wurtz's book. The modern problems of chemistry, which are commonly so obscure from imperfect exposition, are here made wonderfully clear and attractive. The statements are sufficiently full without being overdone, the writer's object being simply to make the reader understand the topic that is treated. Many passages might be quoted; here is the account of the "vortex theory," taken from the final chapter of hypothesis upon "The Constitution of Matter":

In these later times a theory has arisen which seems to give a mathematical demonstration, and even an experimental illustration, of the indivisibility, or rather of the peculiar and eternal individuality, of atoms: I refer to the vortex atoms of Sir William Thomson.

Chemists can form an idea of this vortex motion by recalling to mind the rings which rise in still air whenever a bubble of phosphoretted hydrogen bursts upon the surface of water, and the rings which certain smokers are able to make are familiar to all. An apparatus has been constructed by which they may be produced at will. It is a wooden box, one side of which is furnished with a circular opening, and the other formed of a tightly stretched cloth. In the interior of the box fumes of sal-ammoniac are produced, which are driven out by a sharp blow on the elastic side. A ring of smoke is then seen to issue from the opening, and to move freely through the room. In this ring all is motion, and, independently of the motion of translation, the smoke-particles roll over each other and execute a rotary motion in every section of the ring. These motions take place from the interior toward the exterior of the ring, in the direction of the motion of translation, so that the entire mass of air, or of the smoke which forms the ring, revolves continually round a circular axis, which forms, as it were, the nucleus of the ring. There is this remarkable fact in this rotary motion, that all the particles which are situated upon one of the curves which can he drawn in each section of the ring, are indissolubly tied down to their circular paths, and can never quit them; so that the whole mass of the vortex ring will be always formed of the same particles. This theorem was proved by Helmholtz in 1858. This eminent physicist has analyzed the vortex motions which would exist in a perfect fluid free from all friction. He has proved that in such a medium vortex rings, hounded by a system of vortex lines,[1] are formed of an invariable quantity of the same liquid molecules, so that the rings can move, and even change their form, without the connection of their constituent parts ever being broken. They will continue to revolve, and nothing will be able to separate them, divide them, or destroy them. Those existing in the liquid will exist there for ever, and new ones can only be excited in it by a creative act.

The smoke-rings, of which we have spoken above, would give a perfect representation of these liquid vortex rings if they were formed and moved in a perfect fluid. They are not so; but such as can be formed can serve for the demonstration of some properties of matter in vortex motion. They are endowed with elasticity and can change their form. The circle is their position of equilibrium, and, when their form is altered, they oscillate round this position, and finally reassume the circular form. But, if we try to cut them, they recede before the knife, or bend round it, without allowing themselves to be injured. They give, therefore, a representation of something which would be indivisible. And when two rings meet each other, they behave like two solid elastic bodies; after the impact they vibrate energetically. It is a singular fact that when two rings are moving in the same direction, so that their centers are situated upon the same line, and their planes perpendicular to this line, the hinder ring contracts continually, while its velocity increases; the ring in advance, on the contrary, expands, and its velocity decreases until the other has passed it, when the same action recommences, so that the rings alternately pass through each other. But, through all these changes of form and velocity, each preserves its own individuality, and these two circular masses of smoke move through the air as if they were something perfectly distinct and independent. These curious experiments were made in England.[2]

Helmholtz, therefore, has discovered the fundamental properties of matter in vortex motion, and Sir William Thomson has stated, "This perfect medium and these vortex rings which move through it, represent the universe." A fluid fills all space, and what we call matter are portions of this fluid which are animated with vortex motion. There are innumerable legions of very small fractions or portions, but each of these portions is perfectly limited, distinct from the entire mass, and distinct from all others, not only in its own substance, but in its mass and its mode of motion—qualities which it will preserve for ever. These portions are atoms. In the perfect medium which contains them all, none of them can change or disappear, none of them can be formed spontaneously. Everywhere atoms of the same kind are constituted after the same fashion, and are endowed with the same properties. It is well known, in fact, that the atoms of hydrogen vibrate exactly in the same periods, whether we heat them in a Geissler's tube, observe them in the sun, or in the most distant nebulæ.

Such is, in a few words, the conception of vortex atoms. It accounts, in a satisfactory manner, for some properties of matter, and of all the hypotheses upon the nature of atoms it appears to be the most probable. We see also that it permits the revival of the ancient hypothesis of the unity of matter, and in a more acceptable form than that of Prout's hypothesis. Is the idea absolutely new? No; it was originally conceived by Descartes. So far is it true that, when the perpetual, and perhaps insolvable, problem of the constitution of matter is discussed, the human mind seems to turn in a circle, the same ideas lasting for ages, and being presented under fresh forms to the highest intellects who have endeavored to solve this problem But is there no difference among these great intellects in their manner of working? Most certainly: some, more powerful, perhaps, but bolder, have proceeded by intuition; others, better armed and stricter, by Induction. Here lies the progress and the superiority of modem methods, and it would be unjust to pretend that the important efforts, of which we have had striking testimony, have not made an advance in this difficult problem which was impossible to Lucretius and even to Descartes.
The Skin in Health and Disease. By L. Duncan Bulkley, M. D. Philadelphia: Presley Blakiston. Pp. 148. Price, 50 cents.

We have here an excellent contribution to the series of "American Health Primers." It is as good as its predecessors, which is no slight praise. There are many popular books on that important subject, "The Skin," and several of them meritorious, but this is no reason why Dr. Bulkley should not have made another—because, in the first place, this interesting organ of the body is very important in relation to health, and there are but few people who are at all aware of it. They have not only to be taught, but the lessons must be hammered into them by ceaseless repetition. Hence the need of fresh and unremitting inculcations. Dr. Bulkley's book is to be welcomed on this ground; but it has also a special merit which we have not before observed in popular skin treatises, and which gives it a special claim upon intelligent readers. It is not only a guide for the preservation of the health of the skin, but it is a kind of medical dictionary on the subject, giving important information which kindred books omit. This feature of the work is thus explained in the author's prefatory note: "He has therefore sought to introduce in its pages not only the medical terms used in reference to diseases of the skin, but also the popular names given, both those which are rightly and those which are wrongly applied. If, therefore, information be sought in reference to any particular matter, it will be well first to consult the index, which has been made particularly full."

A Text-Book of the Physiological Chemistry of the Animal Body. Including an Account of the Chemical Changes occurring in Disease. By Arthur Gamgee, M. D., F. R. S., Professor of Physiology in the Owens College. With Illustrations. Vol. V. Pp. 487. Macmillan & Co. Price, $4.50.

This elaborate work will prove most acceptable to the interested students of physiological and medical chemistry. The activity of research in these departments is very great; thoroughly equipped experimental laboratories are multiplying in different countries, and trained men are concentrating their efforts more and more upon special lines of inquiry. The consequence is, a rapid revision of former results, an extension of observations, and a noteworthy physiological progress. Dr. Gamgee's book is written from the point of view, not of former text-books, but of the latest original memoirs, which are continually referred to, and from the point of view of his own varied and laborious experimental investigations. The volume forms a complete and independent work, though it is intended to be followed by another within a year. It is devoted mainly to the elementary tissues or substances of the body—blood, lymph, and chyle being included in the classification—and it deals with the chemical composition, changes, and processes of these parts. The second volume will treat of the chemistry of the chief animal functions. In the method of the work physiological chemistry has been regarded from the point of view of the biologist and the physician rather than from that of the chemist. In this respect the book deviates widely from the typical plan of works on organic chemistry, where the dominant and classifying conceptions are of the chemical order. The volume will meet a want and be much appreciated as a high-class text-book, and it may be safely consulted by all interested in fundamental chemico-physiological questions.

A Physical Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. By J. E. H. Gordon, B. A., C. A. M. B., Assistant Secretary of the British Association. In Two Volumes. Pp. 618. D. Appleton & Co. Price, $7.

Of all sciences that of electricity is perhaps the most purely experimental. The agency has always to be evoked by special manipulation. While the properties of heat have always been more or less known to everybody, nothing was known of electricity for thousands of years. It was a revelation that followed the art of experimenting, and it has advanced at a rate exactly proportioned to the progress of experimental art.

Mr. Gordon in this new work has dealt with the science entirely from this side, limiting his use of mathematics, except in a few foot-notes and appendices, to simple algebraic operations. The work is issued in two beautifully printed volumes, which are profusely illustrated with finely executed engravings, representing the present perfection of electrical apparatus and the refinements of electrical processes, and, besides a clear and concise statement of the main facts of the science, contains an exposition of many of the more recent and important experimental researches.

The author claims that he has aimed throughout to interpret the various phenomena in accordance with the theory worked out mathematically by Maxwell and others, which regards inductive influence as transmitted by strain or vibrations of some kind in the intervening medium, instead of being a direct "action at a distance." In accordance with this purpose, most of the later researches to which attention is particularly given, are those which directly bear upon problems the solution of which will throw light upon what may be termed the mechanism of electrical action. Though not a popular work, the matter is presented in a manner to be of interest to others than professed students of the science, and should be read by those who desire to know something of the methods and appliances of experimental research in this branch of knowledge.

The subject is considered under the four general divisions of electro-statics, magnetism, electro-kinetics, and electro-optics. Of the first division, a large portion is devoted to the researches of various investigators, including the author, upon the specific inductive capacity of different insulating substances. The subject has important practical as well as theoretical bearings, for upon the low specific inductive capacity of the insulating material used in telegraph cables and wires depends the completeness of the insulation. It is important theoretically, as furnishing evidence by which to test the truth of the theory that induction is transmitted by strain in a continuous medium, as this requires certain relations between the specific inductive capacities and the refractive indices of transparent non-conductors. The work involved is one of considerable difficulty, and though many able experimenters have occupied themselves with the problem, the results obtained differ widely. Mr. Gordon's chapter is a very full presentation of all that has been done, and is one of the most valuable in the work. Besides this investigation, this division contains a clear and complete description of the electrometer of Sir William Thomson, supplemented with a number of drawings of the entire instrument and its various parts.

In the portion of the work devoted to magnetism, descriptions and illustrations of the best modern instruments for measuring magnetic elements—the Kew unifilar magnetometer and dip-circle, and the dip-circle of Mr. Fox for use at sea—are given, with the full instructions for their use. Electro-kinematics includes the various phenomena of voltaic electricity and electro-magnetism, and contains accounts of a number of important and difficult researches. Among these are the determination of the British Association unit of electrical resistance in absolute measure, Blaserne's experiments upon the extra currents, and the investigations of Faraday, Verdet, Weber, and Tyndall upon diamagnetism. A very full and complete description is given of the researches upon the discharge of the electric spark in different gases and at various pressures, and especially of De la Rue and Müller and Spottiswood upon the character of the discharge in high vacua, and the remarkable investigations of Mr. Crookes upon radiant matter. The experimental inquiries of Ayrton and Perry on the difference of potential produced by the contact of dissimilar metals, in elucidation of the question of the origin of electro-motive force in a battery, are also very fully considered.

The division of electro-optics is concerned with a class of important phenomena touching the relation of electricity and light. A full account is given of the discovery by Faraday of the rotation of a beam of polarized light in a magnetic field; and the further researches of Verdet, Becquerel, Kündt, Röntgen, Dr. Kerr, and the author. Mr. Gordon closes his work with a brief sketch of the electro-magnetic theory of light of the late Professor Maxwell, which he states to be that "electro-magnetic induction is propagated through space by strains or vibrations of the same ether which conveys the light-vibrations, or, in other words, 'light itself is an electro-magnetic disturbance.'" The evidence in favor of the theory is found in the similarity in the mode of propagation of both influences, the approximate equality of their velocity of transmission through space, and in the character of conductors. Light-vibrations are at right angles to the line of propagation, and this condition is shown mathematically to hold in the case of induction. The theory requires good conductors to be opaque, which as a fact they are. The most important evidence that both light and induction ore transmitted by the same ether is, however, found in the fact determined experimentally that they both have sensibly the same velocity in air and a vacuum. The theory might well bear a fuller exposition than Mr. Gordon has made, and many readers will regret that he has not set it forth at greater length.

School and Industrial Hygiene. By D. F. Lincoln, M. D. "American Health Primers." Philadelphia: Presley Blakiston. Pp. 156. Price, 50 cents.

We cordially welcome these cheap, useful manuals on topics of vital moment to the people, but the danger is that they will be too much cheapened, and become inadequate to the ends they propose. In the present case we think a mistake has been committed in dividing this book into two parts, the first treating of "School Hygiene," and the second of "Industrial Hygiene." These topics are too large and too momentous to be both dispatched in a fifty-cent primer. The author has done as well as he could with the subjects in the space assigned, and the book undoubtedly contains a good deal of important information well presented. The first part, comprising 106 pages, is much the best, but it would have been still better if he had devoted the other fifty pages to the same subject; various points that he has treated should have been much more amplified, and "Industrial Hygiene" dealt with in a separate book.

The Ocean as a Health-Resort: A Handbook of Practical Information as to Sea-Voyages for the Use of Tourists and Invalids. By William S. Wilson, L. R. C. P. Philadelphia: Presley Blakiston. Pp. 260. Price, $2.50.

In this age of restlessness, when "everybody goes to Europe," and the trip around the world is becoming commonplace, a special book on the requirements and experiences of sea-travel and its hygienic influence may be useful to a large number of persons. To the unpracticed traveler a first sea-voyage is generally a very uncomfortable experience. Aside from sea-sickness, there are many more inconveniences and disagreeablenesses than are compensated for by the novelty of the situation; and, if a person is out of health, these effects are naturally aggravated. The author of this book assumes that there would be a great mitigation of sea-troubles if there was more information about them to guide the traveler; and so he has attempted to bring together various hints, explanations, and practical directions by which sea-life may be made most comfortable. He gives instruction as to the outfit, and what is to be expected in the way of accommodation, food, and amusement in long voyages. The diseases to which sea-voyages are supposed to be favorable are considered, and the various curative effects of the ocean-climate. The most suitable routes for particular hygienic objects are pointed out, and the choice of ships and the best times of the year for voyaging are also noticed. There are chapters on the "Management of the Health at Sea," on "Occupations and Amusements at Sea," on "Objects of Interest at Sea," and on "The Meteorology of the Ocean." The book is English, and the author assumes the voyage to Australia by the Atlantic route to be, on account of its length and many advantages for invalids, the typical health-voyage; but he gives many particulars concerning various other sea-routes, so that those inclined to ocean-travel can have a choice of courses, and make their preparations accordingly. The volume is well worth consulting before going to sea, and, as it is not large, it may be found profitable to take it along.

The Philosophy of Mathematics, with Special Reference to the Elements of Geometry and the Infinitesimal Method. By Albert Taylor Bledsoe, LL. D. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. Pp. 248.

This work appeared several years ago, but its discussion of mathematical questions is of permanent interest. It is not a general philosophy of mathematics, such as might be based upon the historical development of mathematical conceptions, but it is limited to the higher mathematics, and is a critical inquiry into certain controverted questions which have long exercised the ingenuity of the learned. One of the main objects of the book is to combat the idea that the circle is to be regarded as but a regular polygon of an infinite number of sides. The book abounds in mathematical erudition, and has much interest for the devoted cultivators of the science.

The Orthoëpist: A Pronouncing Manual. By Alfred Ayres. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1880. Pp. 201. Price, $1.

The author has in this manual given the pronunciation, as determined by the best usage, of a large number of English words that are frequently mispronounced. The list contains about thirty-five hundred words, and includes the more commonly used foreign ones. The recognized authorities are cited in support of the pronunciation given, and when they differ the preponderant opinion is indicated. When the author inclines to a pronunciation differing from the received one, what he regards as sufficient reasons are given for the preference. The book is in compact form, and will be found a very desirable one to have at hand.

What to do first in Accidents or Poisoning. By Charles W. Dallas, M.D. Philadelphia: Presley Blakiston. Pp. 68. Price, 50 cents.

This is a brief but well-digested manual of directions as to what to do in accidental emergencies that are liable to happen to everybody. It is extremely brief, but pointed and practical.



The Omori Shell Mounds, reprinted from "Nature"; and Some Recent Publications on Japanese Archaeology, reprinted from "The American Naturalist." By Edward S. Morse. Salem, Mass. 1880.

The Feeling of Effort. By William James. M.D. Published by the Boston Society of Natural History. 1880. Pp. 32.

The Electric Laryngoscope. By A. Wellington Adams, M.D. Reprinted from "Archives of Laryngology." Pp. 5.

Thirty-seventh Annual Report of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor for the Year 1880. Pp. 47.

Hollow Brick. Solution of Equations and Interpolation in Series; Foundations; Arches in Masonry and Bridges. Washington: Government Printing-Office. 1880. Pp. 33. Illustrated.

Higher Education of Medical Men. By F. D. Lente: M.D. New York: C. L. Bermingham & Co. 1880. Pp. 16.

Current Views and Notes of Forty Days in France and England. By John Swinton. New York: G. W. Carleton & Co. 1880. Pp. 45. 25 cts.

Summary of Substantialism, or Philosophy of Knowledge. By Jean Story. Boston: Rand, Avery & Co. 1880. Pp. 11. 3.

First Annual Report upon Useful and Noxious Plants. By Professor T. J. Burrill. Springfield, Ill. 1880. Pp. 9.

On the Identity of the Ascending Process of the Astragalus in Birds with the Intermedium. By Professor Edward S. Morse. Published by the Boston Society of Natural History. 1880. Pp. 10. Illustrated.

Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers U. S. Army. 1880. Pp. 264.

Ontology. By Emanuel Swedenborg. Translated by Philip B. Cabell. A.M. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1880. Pp. 40.

The Geology of Hudson County. New Jersey. By Israel C. Russell. From the "Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences." Pp. 53. Illustrated.

The Relations of Science to Modern Life. By Henry C. Potter. D.D. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1880. Pp. 29.

Telegraphic Measurement of Differences of Longitude by Officers of the U.S. Navy. 1878 and 1879. Washington. 1880. Pp. 87. Illustrated.

Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah, with Atlas. By C. E. Dutton. Washington: Government Printing-Office. 1880. Pp. 307. Illustrated.

The Publishers' Trade List Annual. New York: F. Leypoldt. 1880. $1.50.

The Scientific Basis of Spiritualism. By Elpes Sargent. Boston: Colby & Rich. 1881. Pp. 372. $1.50.

Medical Heresies. By Gonzalvo C. Smythe, M.D. Philadelphia: Presley Blakiston. 1880. Pp. 228. $1.25.

A New School Physiology. By Richard J. Dunglison. M.D. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates. 1880. Pp. 314. $1.50.

A Practical Treatise on Nervous Exhaustion. Second and revised edition. By George M. Beard, M. D. New York: William Wood & Co. 1880. $1.75.

Diphtheria. By Rollin R. Gregg. M.D. Buffalo: Printed by Matthews Brothers & Bryant. 1880. Pp. 133. For sale by Author. $1.50.

Handbook of Chemical Physiology and Pathology. By Victor C. Vaughan. M.D., Ph. D. Third edition, revised and enlarged. Ann Arbor. 1880. Pp. 351. Illustrated. $3.

Transcendental Physics. By Johann Carl Friedrich Zöllner. Translated by Charles Carleton Massey. Boston: Colby & Rich. 1881. $1.50.

British Thought and Thinkers. By George S. Morris, A.M. Chicago: S. C. Griggs & Co. 1880. Pp. 388. $1.75.

The Beautiful and the Sublime. By John Steinfort Kedney. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1880. Pp. 214. $1.25.

Is Consumption Contagious? By Herbert C. Clapp, M.D. Boston: Otis Clapp & Son. 1881. Pp. 178.

Report of the Commissioner of Education for the Year 1878. Washington: Government Printing-Office. 1880. Pp. 730.

The Care and Culture of Children. By Thomas S. Sozinskey, M.D., Ph.D. Philadelphia: H. C. Watts & Co. 1880. Pp. 484. $2 50.

Practical Plane Geometry and Projection. By Henry Angel. Vol. I. Text. Pp. 352. Vol. II Plates. $3.50.


  1. "Wirbelfëden und Wirbellinien."
  2. P. G. Tait. "Lectures on some Recent Advances in Physical Science." London, 1876.