Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/March 1873/Literary Notices
The author of this lecture is well known to the scientific world, both in this country and Europe, as an original investigator in the field of physics. He has made numerous researches in various physical branches, the results of which have been published in the scientific journals, domestic and foreign. He is now prosecuting various inquiries at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, where they have the finest collection of physical apparatus that can be found in any institution in this country, if not in the world. Having won his spurs as an original experimenter, and established his place among those who extend and create scientific knowledge, he now turns his attention to the work of diffusing it among the people. It is common to say that original investigators are not good expositors; and this is often true, but it is also true that they are frequently the very best of teachers. We have recently had a conspicuous example of this in Prof. Tyndall, and we now have another in Prof. Mayer. The lecture before us is a model, in its logical form, its copious and beautiful experiments, and its lively and graphic language. As an exposition of the elements of terrestrial magnetism in a compressed and readable form, it is perfect. Trübner, of London, has caught it up and issued it; and the London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine, the first scientific authority, has reviewed it in so just and discriminating a way that we cannot do better than to quote a portion of its statement: This is the report of a lecture delivered before the Yale Scientific Club on February 14, 1872, in which the lecturer proposed to present to his audience 'one prominent truth in simple and striking experiments'. The truth which is kept steadily before the mind throughout the lecture is, that the earth is a great magnet; and this truth is developed step by step by experiments of the most conclusive kind, each having been rendered distinctly visible to the audience by means of the vertical lantern, so that the processes of demagnetizing, with all the interesting motions of the needles, were seen projected on a luminous screen, eighteen feet in diameter.
"The lecture itself is a masterly production, and exhibits the result of much close reading as well as experimental research. Quotations are given from earlier writers on magnetism, illustrative of the sound knowledge which they possessed; and, as each experiment illustrative of the lecture is described, as well as the apparatus employed in manipulation, the reader is conducted from a consideration of the most ordinary magnetic phenomena presented by bar and electro-magnets to that of the same phenomena evolved from terrestrial magnetism. A paragraph selected from the closing portion of the lecture will fully substantiate this statement: 'Now we have finished our experiments; and what have they shown? I have temporarily magnetized a bar of soft iron, by pointing it toward a pole of our large magnet. I did the same with the bar and the earth. I permanently magnetized an iron bar by directing its length toward the pole of the magnet, and vibrating it with a blow of a hammer. I did the same with a bar, struck when pointed toward the earth's magnetic pole. I have shown you the action of a small magnetic disk on iron filings placed above and around it. You saw the earth produced the same action on the beams of the aurora. I showed you the action of this disk on a freely-suspended magnetic needle, and pointed out to you the earth's similar action on a dipping-needle carried over its surface. I have evolved a current of electricity from a magnet, by cutting with a closed conductor across those lines in which a magnetic needle, freely suspended, places its length. I did the same with the earth by cutting across those lines which are marked out by the pointing of the dipping-needle. Therefore, what am I authorized to infer? When the effects are the same, the causes must be the same; for, according to all the principles of philosophy, and conformably to that universal experience which we call common-sense, like causes produce like effects.'"
This is a valuable monograph upon an important subject, and is an interesting indication both of the progress in medical science, and of the need and possibility of diffusing its benefits among the people. More and more as physiology and pathology advance, are we discerning the fundamental nature of the thermal processes in the living economy. That the animal body is, first of all, a furnace to which the digestive system furnishes fuel, and the respiratory system the agent of combustion, is not a mere curious chemical fact, but it is a central and vital physiological law, which is involved with the whole subject of health and disease, of life and death. It may not be proper to say that heat is life, but it is an essential condition of it, and is unquestionably the raw material of it—if not life, it is yet transformable into life. But the organism generates its heat and loses it by fixed physical laws, while the whole scheme of its activities depends upon the maintenance of the vital temperature at a given point, the norme of health, which is 98° Fahr. in the Caucasian race. Any deviation from this point is an indication of disturbance and disease. The rise of temperature above the standard involves one class of disturbances; its fall below, another class. The physician alone can deal with the special complications which arise when the temperature ascends or sinks abnormally, but it is in the power of those not physicians to observe the indications, and thus to determine not only when the medical man should be called, but to furnish him with positive and valuable data for his treatment. The use of the thermometer has become indispensable in intelligent medical practice, but Dr. Seguin has shown that it is equally indispensable to mothers in the intelligent management of their children. The only difficulty is to get them to use it, and to give a little attention to the method of registering the results observed. The ordinary thermometer is badly graduated with reference to this use, and so Dr. Seguin has devised a physiological thermometer marked in so simple a way that it may be employed by anybody with facility. The health-point, or norme, is marked zero; 0 = H, or health. From this point, in fever, the index runs up, and, in depression, it runs down, proportionally to the danger in both directions, the points of significance being indicated upon the scale. Careful directions are given for using the instrument, and simple charts are prepared for recording the observations. These charts, and the systematic records they contain, are indispensable as forming a history of the case, for it is not only the deviations of temperature, but the train of variations and intermittent changes, that it is desirable to know. Dr. Seguin says: "The supreme importance of the first observation of the first abnormal temperature, at the first moment of a sickness, cannot be overrated. If it rarely shows, by name, what the intruding illness will be, at least it can often, by exclusion, tell what it will not be. For instance, a high first temperature, as of 3 to 4° above the point of health, cannot herald typhoid fever, but can measles or scarlatina. Moreover, the first observation serves as a mile-post to start the reckoning of the future stages, of increase or effervescence, of full force or diminution, of convalescence or relapse." Dr. Seguin observes: "The A B C of motherhood is the name I would give to that part of nursing which mainly consists in spying the subtle and bold invasion of disease, and of measuring from the first its deadly strides into the vitals of the innocent. The mother who can do that is the sentry. When she detects the moment of the invasion of the cradle, and measures the strength of the enemy on the stem of her thermometer, and can transfer and read its warnings on her chart, she is prepared for the struggle with death itself." Yet there is a difficulty here which Dr. Seguin has not been slow to perceive, and which he states without reserve or circumlocution. He says: "But where shall we find a mother who has been taught her duty in that matter of life and death? No use to mince it; it is a shame and a scandal that, in the curriculum of education devised for our sisters and wives, there is room for algebra, trigonometry, etc., and none for the fine art of nursing; that they are taught to look through microscopes and telescopes, but not in the faces of the little ones to read therein health or sickness; that they can tell the latitude of Peking, the height of Chimborazo; know at what point potassium fuses, or mercury solidifies, but that not one ever heard at what point of elevation, of the latter metal in a thermometer life escapes from their dearest."
The novel and interesting feature of this book is its profuse and sumptuous illustrations. Its author has won some reputation as a popular writer on science, and the work has evidently lost nothing in translation and editing; yet its text alone would give it little claim to attention. The pictorial part of the work is not only copious and varied, but is finely executed, and renders the volume both attractive and instructive. It has no value as a text-book, and not much as an authority for reference; but it may be read with pleasure, and many of the illustrations cannot fail to be helpful to the student. The work is unique as a popular scientific luxury.
In this little work, which is mainly a reprint of the author's additions to Dr. Aitken's "Science and Practice of Medicine," we have, in compact form, a large amount of valuable information concerning one of the most dreaded, because most deadly, of man's diseases. As first published in 1866, and revised two years later, Dr. Clymer's monograph contained a sketch of the geographical and clinical history, the pathology and treatment of cerebro-spinal meningitis, as also, under the head of "Etiology," a brief account of the conditions attending outbreaks of the disease, and a very full list of authors upon the general subject. This new edition contains all the matter of the first two, and has, besides, a most valuable appendix, which deserves to be in the hands of every family that is capable of 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 numerous tribal groups of primitive men, those will prevail in the struggle for existence in which the lawless tendencies of individuals are most thoroughly subordinated by the yoke of tyrannical custom—the only yoke which uncivilized men can be made to wear. These communities will grow at the expense of less law-abiding tribes, until the result is a strong nation ruled by immovable custom, as in the case of Egypt, or China, or India. The problem now is how to get beyond this stage, and to relax the despotism of custom without entailing a retrogression toward primeval lawlessness. This problem has never been successfully solved except where a race, rendered organically law-abiding through some discipline of the foregoing kind, has been thrown into emulative conflict with other races similarly disciplined. And this condition has been completely fulfilled only in the case of the migrating Aryans who settled Europe.
"This is but one of Mr. Bagehot's many bright thoughts. We have barely room to hint at another. It was formerly assumed that, instead of mankind having arisen out of primeval savagery, modern savages have fallen from a primeval civilization, having lost the arts, the morals, and the intelligence which they originally possessed; and in our time some such thesis as this has been overtly maintained by the Duke of Argyll. Mr. Bagehot shows that in every way such a falling off is incompatible with the principle of natural selection. Take, for example, the ability to anticipate future contingencies—to abstain to-day that we may enjoy to-morrow. This is the most fundamental of the differences between civilization and savagery. Now, obviously, the ability to postpone present to future enjoyment is, in a mere material, economic, or military aspect, such an important acquisition to any race or group of men, that when once acquired it could never be lost. The race possessing this capacity could by no possibility yield ground to the races lacking it. Or take the ready belief in omens by which the life of the savage is so terribly hampered. Could a single tribe in old Australia have surmounted the necessity of searching for omens before undertaking any serious business, it would inevitably have subjugated all the other tribes on the continent. So, because the men who possess the attributes of civilization must necessarily prevail over the men who lack these attributes (and this is always true in the long-run, though now and then a great multitude of barbarians may temporarily overthrow a handful of civilized men), because this is so, it follows that there cannot have been, in prehistoric times, a general loss of the attributes of civilization.
"To do justice to Mr. Bagehot's fertile book would require a long article. With the best of intentions, we are conscious of having given but a sorry account of it in these brief paragraphs. But we hope we have said enough to recommend it to the attention of the thoughtful reader. We are glad to see that the young science of sociology has received such an early and satisfactory treatment in Dr. Youmans's series of popular books.
The Ten Laws of Health. By J. R. Black, M. D. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1872.
The American Chemist. A Monthly Journal of Theoretical, Analytical, and Technical Chemistry. Edited by Charles F. Chandler, Ph. D., F. C. S. Vols. I. and II.
Annals of the Dudley Observatory. Albany, 1871.
The Le Boulengé Chronograph. By Brevet-Captain O. E. Michaelis. New York: Van Nostrand, 1872.
Theoretical Navigation and Nautical Astronomy. By Lewis Clark, Lieutenant-Commander U. S. N. New York: Van Nostrand, 1872.
Primeval Man. An Examination of some Recent Speculations. By the Duke of Argyll. New York: De Witt C. Lent & Co., 1872.
A Century of Medicine and Chemistry. A Lecture Introductory to the Course of Lectures to the Medical Class at Yale College. By Prof. B. Silliman, M. D. New Haven, 1871.
A School sui generis. An Essay read before the New York State Teachers' Association at Syracuse. By C. H. Anthony, A.M. Albany: Weed, Parsons & Co., 1872.
The Commonwealth Reconstructed. By C. C. P. Clark. Oswego, 1872.
Introductory Lecture to the Course on Pathological Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. By Joseph G. Richardson, M. D. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1871.
Juries and Physicians on Questions of Insanity. By R. S. Guernsey, Esq., of the New York Bar
Organization and Constitution of the American Health Association. New York, 1872.
Report on the Water-Supply of the City of Rochester, New York.
Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Indiana Hospital for the Insane.
Biennial Catalogue of the University of South Carolina, 1871-'72.