Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/January 1883/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 22 January 1883  (1883) 
Popular Miscellany


Mortality in Town and Country.—Professor Finkelnburg attempted to show, in a paper read at the recent Sanitary Congress in Cologne, that cities are not of necessity less healthy than country districts, and that, where they appear to be so, the fact can generally be attributed to local influences affecting the hygienic or economical condition of the population. The analysis and comparison of adult male and female mortality and infant mortality bring out many interesting facts. The male population of the cities is described as being less healthy than the female population, and liable to consumption and affections of the heart, brain, and kidneys. In Cologne, the mortality among women over thirty years of age is not only less than among men, but is less than the death-rate among women of the same ages in other parts of the Cologne district. Similar results are shown at Bonn. The deaths of men from consumption show a marked predominance in the centers of the textile and metal industries. The fact that a similar result appears in country districts where labor of a similar character is carried on is presumptive evidence that the mortality is associated with the industrial activity of the towns. Epidemic diseases seem to show an excessive urban mortality only in the case of young children. Infant mortality appears to reach its highest point where the population is most dense, and the proportion of female labor in the factories is most considerable. A more favorable condition, however, seems to prevail in those districts where domestic labor is general. It is proved with a certain amount of clearness that infant mortality varies according to the dwelling accommodation in towns and the amount of parental care which circumstances permit. This result is not a sure guide as to all diseases, for which diarrhœa and similar disorders contribute a notable proportion to urban mortality in general; deaths from diphtheria and whooping-cough in the Rhine provinces are more numerous in the country than in the towns. Professor Finkelnburg also notices that the mortality in cities increases in the summer and fall, while the increase in the country takes place during the winter and spring.


Indians of the Hudson Bay Territory.—Dr. John Rae has furnished the Society of Arts with some information about the native tribes of the Hudson Cay Company's Territories, which is all the more valuable because it is thirty years or more old; for it brings us nearer to the original condition of the tribes before they were affected as much as they are now by intercourse with the white men. Dr. Rae divides the native tribes of the Territory into the Innuits, or Esquimaux, of the Arctic sea-board down to Labrador; the Dené Dinjié, eleven tribes east of the Rocky Mountains and south of the Esquimaux; the Algonquins, twelve tribes; and the Hurons-Iroquois, of Lake Huron, the Ottawa River, and the Province of Quebec. The Wood Crees, one of the principal tribes on Hudson Bay, are a fine, docile race, with comparatively few faults, and these injurious only to themselves. They are very fond of strong drinks, and have a great dislike to agricultural labor on their own account, although they work very well for others when paid for it. They make their living by hunting wild fowl and animals, of which the most valuable to them appears to be the rabbit. Their clothing was chiefly made of rabbit and reindeer-skins before they came in contact with the white men. Rabbit-skins sewed together make the warmest of blankets, even though the fingers may be pushed through them anywhere, and an Indian child dressed up in them, like "baby bunting," is a funny-looking but very cozy creature. The Indian babies seem never to cry, never to squall, as more civilized babies are in the habit of doing, and are never chastised. "It would be thought very unnatural and cruel in a mother to flog or strike her child." All the Indians treat with much ceremony and respect the body of any bear they may have killed. He is placed in a sitting posture against a tree, and long speeches are made of apology and regret for having been under the disagreeable necessity of killing him. Then, as the bear may come to life again even after he has been disemboweled, a stick is put into his mouth to keep it wide open, and a profuse and humble apology is made to him for the additional indignity. The supposed necessity for this precaution is believed to have arisen from the fact that a bear, thought to be dead, came to life again while being carried home, and took a mouthful out of one of his Indian bearers. With a small tribe called the Dog-ribs, or slaves, the custom prevails of wrestling for the right to a wife, "the lady sitting by, an apparently careless and indifferent spectator of the struggle for possession. No other ceremony is required than that the victor, whether her former husband or not, claims his wife." Another custom, and an unfortunate one, is that on the death of a near relative these Indians must destroy every article of property of value that they possess, excepting perhaps an old deer-skin robe and a few other articles. They, moreover, can not hunt during the season in which the loss occurs, and are thus exposed to great poverty. With nearly all the Indians, a certain favorite piece of deer or bird is tabooed to the women, and they dare not taste it, or even come near where it is cooking, under a severe penalty. With the Chippewas it is the moose-nose, with the Wood Crees some part of the wild-goose, and with the Dog-ribs the reindeer head. A peculiarity of the Hudson Bay Company's tariff, which has been considerably misrepresented, is that far higher prices, in proportion to their value, are paid to the Indians for inferior furs than for the finer ones. The object of this regulation is simply to prevent the undue hunting of the more expensive. furs. "I fear," says Dr. Rae, "that little can be done for these northern Indians, unless they can be reasoned out of their prejudices and superstitions, which, with their imprudences and wastefulness, are the cause of their being so poor."


Ass's Milk for Infants.—M. Parrot, physician at the Hospital for Assisted Children in Paris, has recently made a report of the success which has attended the efforts he has made to introduce an improved system of alimentation into the nursery of that institution. His conclusions, confirmed as they are by the observations of his colleague, M. Tarnier, who had the charge of an important class of young nurses, deserve the particular attention of hospital and municipal administrations. Good nurses are very scarce, and it is hard to keep a strict watch upon the children consigned by the public charities to their care. On the other hand, a goodly number of these poor little ones come into the world afflicted with diseases which forbid their being committed to a nurse, because they would be in danger of infecting her. At the Children's Hospital, where the proportion of these wretched infants is always considerable, it has been found necessary to feed them from the bottle in the halls of the infirmary. Notwithstanding the most intelligent care, this means has not been efficient to restore the strength of the infants, who were, in fact, nearly moribund with disease contracted in their mother's womb. M. Parrot had a single chance to save them and tried it; it was to nurse them directly at the teat of an animal. The nursery which has been established in the gardens of the Hospital for Assisted Children has been in operation for about a year, and the results of the experiments have been so satisfactory that no reason exists for waiting for a longer trial before making them known. In the face

PSM V22 D440 Ass milk nursery at the hospital for assisted children in paris.jpg
Ass's Milk Nursery at the Hospital for Assisted Children, Paris.

of the preliminary difficulties in personal instruction and the insufficient number of animals at the disposal of the hospital, the rate of mortality has been greatly reduced. The infants were at first fed with goat's milk, but it was soon found that ass's milk was better for them; and they are now all fed with milk which they draw directly from the teat of the animal. One, two, and sometimes three children are presented to the ass at the same time, being held at the teat in the arms of the nurse, and the operation is performed with wonderful ease. Numbers speak most eloquently of the success of the method. During six months, eighty-six children afflicted with congenital and contagious diseases were fed at the nursery. The first six were fed, by stress of particular circumstances, with cow's milk from the bottle; only one of them recovered. Forty-two were nursed at the teat of the goat; eight recovered, thirty-four died. Thirty-eight were nursed at the teat of the ass; twenty-eight recovered, ten died. In the face of such results there can be hardly any hesitation in declaring that in hospitals, at least, the best method of feeding new-born children, who can not, for any reason, be confided to a nurse, is to put them to suck directly from the teat of an ass. The virtues of ass's milk have not waited for recognition till this late day. Paris and other large cities have, for many years, enjoyed the visits of troops of asses which have been brought in to supply the restorative liquid to the sick and feeble. If we may credit the legend, the use of this milk was introduced into France during the reign of Francis I. That brave monarch had fallen into a state of extreme exhaustion, in consequence of his over-exertion in military and other exercises. His physicians not being able to produce any change in his condition, a Jew was brought from Constantinople, who prescribed simply a beverage of ass's milk; he took it, according to the chronicle, and became better. Ass's milk owes the advantages which it possesses over that of goats to its chemical composition, the distinguishing feature of which is that it contains less plastic substance and butter than goat's milk. Like mother's milk, it forms a precipitate of little isolated flakes easily soluble in an excess of gastric juice. It does not load the stomach of the sickly and puny infants, who ought to be spared all possible difficulty in digestion. Mare's milk would be, if it were easy to get, a still better substitute for mother's milk. It has nearly the same composition, and M. Berling, a Russian physician who has tried it, has found in it all the qualities necessary to sustain new-born children.


Aborigines of the Isthmus.—Mr. E. G. Barney has given in the "American Antiquarian" an account of the history and present condition of the native races of the United States of Colombia. The territory of that republic, now divided into nine States and six Territories, was inhabited at the time of the discovery and conquest, from 1498 to 1545, by a dense population, which was variously estimated at from eight million to twenty million souls. The inhabitants of the State of Panama were in various stages of advancement, "from dwellers in the tree-tops to a degree of civilization very much superior to that of Britain at the time of the Roman conquest, or indeed at the time the Saxons ruled the island." Columbus in one of his letters speaks of his brother having seen a house devoted to the dead, and containing many well-embalmed bodies, over which were wooden slabs engraved with the figures of various animals, and one bearing a good portrait of the deceased. During a journey in the interior, this brother found a dense population, entirely agricultural, and passed at one place eighteen miles through continued fields of corn. The inhabitants of the coasts and islands wore little clothing, but valuable ornaments of gold, and these appear to have been imported from other states, being bought for gold-dust, dried fish, and products of the soil. Balboa and his forces were entertained in the spacious house of a cacique, in one of the rooms of which were kept the embalmed ancestors of the chief for many generations, and which was surrounded by large grounds with towering palm-trees and gardens and orchards. These people, who appear to have compared favorably with most European nations before the invention of gunpowder, are believed to have been of the same race with the North American Indians, but agricultural in their habits. Their weapons of war were bows and arrows, darts, lances, war-clubs, etc. Their implements of husbandry were stone axes and sharpened sticks hardened in the fire, and their mills were smooth stones, rubbed together with the hand. Their nets for fishing were made of the fibers of the Agave Americana, and their hooks were made from turtle-shells. On the head-waters of some of the tributaries of the Atrato "were found one tribe of very skillful artisans in golden ornaments; another equally skillful in spinning and weaving cotton cloths, nets, hammocks, etc., the former being very tastefully colored; and another tribe adjacent were agriculturists, but showed unusual taste in adorning the surroundings of their homes with gardens, fruit-orchards, etc. One tomb is mentioned as having been artistically constructed, from which the sum of forty thousand dollars was taken by César and his party. . . . These tribes are said to have had adoratorios, and a system of religious belief too variously stated to enable me to form any opinion of its character." In the upper valley of the Cauca, on the slopes and valleys of two immense mountain-ranges, dwelt many tribes, either wholly agriculturists or partly agriculturists and partly fishermen, or manufacturers of salt, golden ornaments, or cotton cloth, etc. Many of the tribes in this valley were considerably advanced in culture; some had the streets of their towns wide and regular; some were manufacturers of cotton goods; one manufactured golden ornaments, and two made salt by boiling down saline waters. It cost much Castilian blood to subdue these people, but, finding that they could not contend against the superior weapons of the Europeans, they generally refused to plant, and in two years the Spaniards were compelled to begin to introduce negroes to till the ground so lately occupied by a happy and contented people. "Along the eastern side of the Gulf of Darien and along the northern slopes of the Abibe, the descendants of the independent tribes, whose poisoned arrows defeated nearly every attempt to penetrate their country, still hold their native land as free from the intruder as when the European invader first attempted its conquest. . . An infinity" of mounds was found in one locality, and twenty-four human figures in wood in one of the temples, and golden bells outside, "which gave out sweet chimes in ever-varying tones." Some of the mounds contained ornaments, in imitation of every form of life, from the ant to a human being, and of every value from $10 to $30,000.


Waste of the World's Forests.—When the forests of such a country as Cyprus were destroyed, said Mr. Thistelton Dyer in a discussion in the British Society of Arts, it was like a burned cinder. Many of the West Indian Islands are in much the same condition, and the rate with which the destruction takes place when once commenced is almost incredible. In the Island of Mauritius, in 1835, about three fourths of the soil was in the condition of primeval forest, viz., 300,000 acres; in 1879, the acreage of woods was reduced to 70,000; and in the next year, when an exact survey was made by an Indian forest officer, he stated that the only forest worth speaking about was 35,000 acres. Sir William Gregory says that in Ceylon, the eye, looking from the top of a mountain in the center of the island, ranged in every direction over an unbroken extent of forest. Six years later the whole forest had disappeared. The denudation of the forests is accompanied by a deterioration in the soil; and the Rev. R. Abbay, who went to Ceylon on the eclipse expedition, calculated, from the percentage of solid matter in a stream, that one third of an inch per annum was being washed away from the cultivated surface of the island. In some colonies the timber was being destroyed at such a rate as would soon lead to economic difficulties. In Jamaica, nearly all the timber required for building purposes has already to be imported. In New Brunswick, the hemlock-spruce is rapidly disappearing, one manufacturer in Boiestown using the bark of one hundred thousand trees every year for tanning. In Demerara, one of the most important and valuable trees, the greenheart, is in a fair way of being exterminated. They actually cut down small saplings to make rollers on which to roll the large trunks. In New Zealand, Captain Walker says he fears that the present generation will see the extermination of the Kauri pine, one of the most important trees. All these facts show that this is a most urgent question, which at no distant date will have to be vigorously dealt with.


Professor Huggins on Comets.—Professor Huggins endeavored, in a recent lecture on comets, to distinguish as clearly as possible between what we know about those bodies, and what is only speculation. Some comets have become permanent members of our system, while others probably visit us once only, never to return. It depends upon a comet's velocity whether its orbit shall take the shape of a returning curve or not. If the velocity, at the earth's distance from the sun, exceeds twenty-six miles a second, the comet will go off into space, never to come back to us. The small portion of the comet's life during which we are able to study it—when it is in a condition of extreme excitement, in consequence of its nearness to the sun—is quite unlike its ordinary humdrum existence, when it has only a nucleus and no tail. Spectroscopic observations of comets show that they shine with an original light, the bands of which indicate a composition of carbon combined with hydrogen, and also with a reflected light, the lines of which indicate the presence of a nitrogen compound of carbon. Moreover, "certain minor modifications of the common type of spectrum are often present, and show, as was to be expected, that the conditions prevailing in different comets, and, indeed, in any one comet from day to day, are not rigidly uniform." The study of meteorites, Mr. Huggins suggests, may throw some light on the constitution of the nuclei of comets, which are probably similar to them, and therefore solid. The tails have been supposed to be gaseous matter sent off by the sun's repulsive action. The gases are probably not products of decomposition, but matter that has been occluded. Experiments so far throw little light on the question whether cyanogen is present in combination or otherwise within the comet, or whether it is found at the time by the interaction of carbonaceous and nitrogenous matter. In the latter case we should have to admit a high temperature, which would be in favor of the view of an electric origin of the comet's light. The curved forms of the tails of comets, and their greater density on the convex side, admit of explanation on the supposition that they are matter repelled from the sun. On this hypothesis, also, a comet would suffer, of course, a large waste of material at each return to perihelion, since the nucleus would be unable to gather up again to itself the scattered matter of the tail; and this view is in accordance with the fact that no comet of short period has a tail of any considerable magnitude. There seems to be a rapidly growing feeling among physicists that both the self-light of comets and the phenomena of their tails belong to the order of electrical manifestations.


The Sunken Southern Continent again.—The French Academy of Sciences recently had before it the question of the former existence of the hypothetical Southern Continent. M. Émile Blanchard presented the condition of living faunas and floras as affording evidence of the former existence of such a continent. Additional proof was suggested by the examination of the charts of the sea-depths, which show that the whole region where the lands that may be regarded as the remains of a continent are located is one of comparatively shallow water; beyond this space, the seas are very deep. The large accumulations of remains of moas that are observed in small districts indicate that an enormous number of those gigantic birds must have existed in New Zealand at no very remote period. It is hard to believe that their extinction can have been brought about by the Maories, never very numerous. Physical events must probably have been the primary cause of their destruction. While they were scattered over an extensive territory, their existence was easy; as the land sunk from under them, they had to take refuge in the spaces that remained above water. Under the new conditions the moas would have perished by hundreds wherever they became crowded together in too great numbers. Thus the extinction of these birds lends further probability to the hypothesis of the sinking of a southern continent. We are still without sufficient information respecting the floras, especially do we lack precise knowledge of the entomological fauna of the little islands which are suspected of being the remains of a continent. M. Alphonse Milne-Edwards remarked that it seemed hard to believe that the Mascarene Islands, small as they are, and apparently so little favorable to the vigor of their respective faunas, can each have been the cradle of species so well characterized and so different from those that exist elsewhere. More probably each of the volcanic cones constituting the nucleus of those islands existed before the lands were sunk to a considerable extent, and served as the last refuge for the now extinct zoological population of the neighboring region. This fauna has such points of resemblance with those of New Zealand and other parts of the Antarctic region, that we can not hesitate to class it with the Austral faunas. It may, thus, possibly have extended farther south. We are thus brought to the idea of a great land formerly existing in the part of the Atlantic Ocean now occupied by the immense masses of marine plants commonly known as kelp. The absence of mammalia from any region does not particularly indicate that the land was unfitted for them, but that it was separated from the rest of the globe before mammalia appeared.


The Decline of Life-insurance.—The English life-insurance agents arc remarking upon the fact that a pause has come in the expansion of their business. This may be partly owing to a change in the general disposition to insure, in consequence of the growth of the idea that the same end may be reached by saving; partly by the increasing age at which the insuring classes marry; and partly by the vigorous and successful competition of American offices, which seem to be offering better security and better terms. The "Spectator" thinks that these causes are relatively insignificant, and that the main reason for the decline of insurance "is a desire on the part of the public for less trouble, more security, and better terms." It suggests that the companies regard themselves too much in the light of benefactors of the human species, and not as much as they ought in the light of trades. men anxious for custom. "At present the insurer is treated as a swindler, to be guarded against, and cross-questioned, and watched; and, as he seldom insures in complete free-will, but is compelled by his relatives, or his wife's relatives, or his creditors, he is unusually and unduly affected by his treatment." The minuteness of the medical inquiry required as a preliminary to insurance operates as a deterrent. The candidate does not like to have symptoms discovered by an over-zealous examiner which arc invisible to laymen, and even to himself; "to have all his weak places found out; to stand a cross-examination from a man he did not select, and regards, for the moment, as an enemy, as to his habits of life; or to run the risk of the shock involved in a rejection, for reasons left unexplained." Insurance is a business in which a much slighter annoyance than this will turn a waverer, and induce him to resolve that he will save his money to himself. The value of the inquiry is, moreover, vastly overrated. The physician may be able to decide upon the candidate's bodily condition at the moment, but he can not decide what it will be three months hence, nor estimate "that quality of vitality which, and not health, is the question for the insurance-office." Persons who seem almost at the point of death frequently live for years; while those who appear most vigorous are as subject as any to quick death from fever. Persons also hesitate to insure because they can never understand the financial condition of the company, or satisfy themselves that they can get back the money they pay in premiums. More clear statements of accounts would commend the offices to a degree of confidence they do not now enjoy; and a provision by which the loss of premiums already paid in, in case of default, would be obviated, would go far toward strengthening the courage of the weak, and toward meeting the secret apprehension of the intending insurer that he might not be able to keep up his insurance.


Coeval Grades of Civilization.—A writer in "Blackwood's Magazine" has found, in the Island of Coll, of the Hebrides, evidence of the co-existence of widely removed degrees of civilization at an extremely remote antiquity. The storm of December, 1879, which caused the destruction of the Tay Bridge, also effected the removal of a few inches of sand from the bottom of a deep sand-valley near the castle, and exposed a number of old dwellings and human remains. Among the remains were kitchen-middens like those of Denmark, composed of littoral shells; bones and teeth of wild and domestic animals, split up for the sake of their marrow; chips of flint, all unpolished or paleolithic; and many fragments of rude, unglazed pottery. Along with these, in one of the heaps, were two curious bronze implements or ornaments, one of them a rich penannular brooch, of considerable beauty and finish, jeweled in twelve holes, and bearing distinct traces of having been gilt. The other ornament was a bronze pin, which had apparently been molded. Here, then, "at the most remote point of the prehistoric life of Coll to which we can reach, we find man, if a savage, still a person of taste, who could appreciate high art, and knew how to supply the wants of the dandy." These people carried on a commerce, for they had flints, which are not found in Coll, or anywhere near it, and were acquainted with the art of sailing, for their flints must have been brought from the south of England. The antiquity of the remains is estimated from their geological situation. They lie in the bottom of a shifting-sand valley, with large masses of sand around them, in a situation where no man would have ventured to settle if the sand had then been in the neighborhood to anything like the extent it is now. The sand is the result of the disintegration of the shells of snails which live on the island, and must, the most of it, have accumulated since the village was occupied. A palæolithic age and a considerable degree of civilization were coeval then in the Hebrides, and they are coeval there now. At Tiree, which is separated from Coll by a channel only two miles wide, craggans and other articles of pottery, exactly similar to these palæolithic ones of Coll, are manufactured and used at this day. "The old woman of Tiree, in this very year, takes the brown, stiff clay at her cab indoor, picks the pebbles out of it, pounds it down and softens it with a rude wooden mallet, molds it into shape with her rough, horny hands, and, without the aid of a potter's wheel, ornaments it, after a time- honored fashion, with a little stick or her thumb-nails; places the rude vessel thus formed—a kind of bowl or cup—in the strong heat of the sun, or before the blaze of the peat-fire, and so produces a rough, unglazed craggan, out of which she drinks her milk, and in which she infuses her tea. And all the while—let it be noted with all the emphasis at our command—several of her neighbors, with whom she is in daily intercourse, and with whom her teacher has been in daily intercourse, possess and use some of the finest ware that Leek or Burslem can produce. All round here, even in Tiree, are products of advanced art; but this native artist goes on her way unheeding all change and all advance, and turning out her unglazed ware as her ancestors had done—though probably in a superior style of art and workmanship—for perhaps thousands of years." Another fact to be noticed about these prehistoric remains is "that, of existing 'Celtic' brooches and penannular rings exhumed from great depths, the most highly finished, both in form and ornamentation, design and workmanship, are certainly the oldest," all showing that there has "at least been a relapse in a particular art."


Birds in Cold Weather.—M. F. Lescuyer has published some interesting observations concerning the power that was shown by the birds of his district of the valley of the Marne, France, for resisting the severe cold of the winter of 1879-'80. The sparrows, finding shelter and food around the houses, passed the season fairly well, but some of them perished in the roads and gardens; they became more scarce toward the end of the winter, and lost all their liveliness. The partridges gave way under sixty-one days of cold and hunger, and those that survived fell an easy prey to the hawks. A private watchman caught more than thirty with his hands, warmed them up, and let them loose again. The owls in the lofts and steeples could not resist the cold, and fell dead to the ground, or took refuge in the houses, where they were captured. The stomachs of all these birds were empty or nearly empty. The crows, which range over a larger extent of land than the former birds, which may be called sedentary birds, came nearer to the houses when the cold was at its worst, and considerable numbers of them were seen during the whole winter in the barn-yards and fields. Some of them came into the court-yards to eat with the pigeons, but many were frozen to death on the limbs where they roosted. The few birds of passage that staid in the country to winter showed very unequal powers of resistance. The bullfinches and grossbeaks did not seem to suffer, but the larks, yellow-hammers, greenfinches, robin-redbreasts, magpies, blackbirds, and jays were decimated. Never were so few birds seen in the woods at that season as in the following spring. Birds of passage, coming from the north to seek a milder climate in France, were disappointed. Domestic birds would have suffered greatly but for the shelter and feeding they enjoyed; fowls were worse affected than web-footed birds. The winter to which these observations relate was one of the severest ever experienced in France, and was very much like one of our Northern winters.