Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/August 1883/Correspondence

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
CORRESPONDENCE.



DEVELOPING A NEW INSTINCT.

Messrs. Editors:

A COW (half Jersey) ran with others in an orchard, and showed herself exceedingly fond of green, sour apples. So persistently did she "go for them," that it was suggested she would climb the trees yet. But she did not take to climbing; she invented another method: she took to shaking the limbs.

At first she reached directly for the fruit and foliage, but at the same time, no doubt, observed that, when the limb sprang back, apples fell to the ground. This left an impression known as memory; and, at length, keeping hold of the limb with her teeth, she shook it precisely as a man would, jerking it downward a number of times in quick succession, and then letting go her hold to pick up the apples. I once drove her away from a tree which she was relieving of its fruit rather successfully, when she went to another tree, apparently intent on business, seeming to have forgotten that she had previously shaken off all the apples within reach; but, when there, she either observed that there was no fruit to shake off, or else recollected that she had already harvested all that was to be had; at any rate, she did no shaking.

To protect the fruit against her fertile genius, I tied her head to a fore-leg, with about twenty inches interval between them. She would then support herself on three legs, lift up the fourth one and seize with her teeth limbs as much as five feet from the ground, and shake them as skillfully as before.

In this case there is no mistake about the fact. I have witnessed the novel performance many times; and, when not looking, I have heard the peculiar sound of the shaking limb and falling apples, and realized how strikingly suggestive it was of a human presence. The animal is now four years old, and has given exhibitions of her skill the last two summers.

This trick was not learned by witnessing a like act of man or animal. It was independently invented through suggestion, as a human being would independently invent a mechanical process. The animal in question is not any wiser than her comrades in other respects; but, though she invented limb-shaking for herself, they have not taken the first step toward imitating her. Still it would be plausible to suppose that other cattle, especially her own offspring, would come to follow her example by-and-by, and that if they ran constantly in apple-orchards they might become permanently endowed with the limb-shaking instinct—not of miraculous but of purely utilitarian origin.

J. S. Patterson. 
 Berlin Heights, Ohio, April, 1883.
 

 
THE AGE OF TREES.

Messrs. Editors:

In the December number of "The Popular Science Monthly" I observe an article by A. L. Childs, M.D., stating that the old notion that a person could tell the age of a tree by the number of the concentric rings shown on a cross-section of the timber was a fallacy, and giving some facts to sustain the theory advanced. As the "Monthly" is searching for the truth only on scientific questions, permit me to give a few facts, which tend to support the old theory that Dr. Childs attacks.

When Virginia ceded to the United States the territory northwest of the river Ohio, she reserved all the lands lying between the Scioto and Little Miami Rivers, in order to satisfy the bounty lands given by her to her soldiers who had served in the Revolutionary War. The State of Virginia had given lands varying in quantity from one hundred acres to a private soldier, five thousand acres to a colonel, to fifteen thousand acres to a major-general, to all those who had served as such soldiers and officers during the war, and issued what were termed "land-war-rants" to such soldiers and officers for the land to which each was entitled. These parties took the "land-warrants" thus issued to them, and made their own entries of the lands called for on any vacant land in the district, describing the same on the "Book of Entries," and then had these entries surveyed by the surveyor of the district, who marked the boundaries and corners of the several surveys on the growing timber, by hacking the same that happened to be standing along the lines of the surveys or near the corners thereof; and on these surveys being returned by the holder to the General Land-Office, at Washington city, the Government issued a patent for the land thus surveyed to the holder of the warrant, his heirs and assigns. Some of these surveys were made before General Anthony Wayne defeated the Indian tribes in 1794, and others were made as late as 1857. From the fact that parties made their own entries, there were many overlapping and interfering entries and surveys, and very frequently junior entries and surveys obtained the first patent. (Some of the tries are not yet surveyed, and some of the surveys not yet patented.) Out of this system endless confusion and litigation arose in settling the disputed lines and overlapping entries and surveys.

This litigation was not wholly settled until long after I came to the bar, in 1847, and it was my fortune to be engaged in many of these cases. In the trial of these cases it very frequently became important to show the date of the surveys These dates were shown by the indorsement on the survey itself, and corroborated by an examination of the hacks on the line and corner trees of the survey. These hacks invariably left a scar, which, to the practical surveyor, was readily detected, even after a lapse of sixty years. By "blocking" the tree, as it was called, and taking the block and counting the concentric rings, from the hack made by the surveyor to the outside of the tree, it invariably corresponded with the dates as they appeared upon the returns made by the surveyor, showing as many rings as years had elapsed from the date of the survey, thus proving that for each year of the life of the tree an additional concentric ring had been added.

The prevailing timber was oak, in its many varieties, and they were rarely marked unless they were at least four inches and upward in diameter. It will be very difficult to convince an old surveyor, or an old lawyer who has tried many of these land cases, that each concentric ring, on an oak tree at least, does not indicate a year's growth only of such tree.

Judge N. H. Swayne, late of the Supreme Court of the United States, but now residing in New York city, practiced for many years, before he was called to a seat on the bench, in the Virginia military district, and is familiar with these facts. If you will drop a note to him, he will corroborate me.

P. C. Smith.  
 Circleville, Ohio, January 8, 1883.
 

 
WÖHLER AND "VITAL ENERGY."

Messrs. Editors:

In the June issue of your magazine (vol. xxiii, No. II), in the opening paragraph of an article entitled "Darwin and Copernicus," reference is made to Wöhler as the "chemist who by the first organic synthesis helped to dispel the illusion of vital energy." Have the artificial production of urea by synthesis and subsequent achievements in that line satisfied scientists that vital energy is an illusion, or does Du Bois-Reymond so characterize it upon the basis of his own speculations and the conjecture of a school of physicists? If the non-existence of vital energy has not been demonstrated beyond question, does he not violate "scientific candor" in his assertion? A well-known chemist, for several years pupil and assistant of Wöhler, familiar with his work, and conversant with later chemical research, has told me that in his judgment the expression referred to above is unwarrantable.

Very respectfully,
Austin B. Bassett, 
Department of Physics, Massachusetts Agricultural College.
 Amherst, June 5, 1883.
 

 
TEACHING ENGLISH.

Messrs. Editors:

Not long since the Board of Education in this city decided to employ a teacher of English and Elocution for their high-school, one of the largest for places of equal size in the country. But, although the University of Michigan, with its fourteen hundred students, is situated here, no one could be found among its graduates competent to teach how to write the most important and forcible of all languages, our own mother tongue, and at the same time speak it with ease, grace, and the most artistic expression. Hundreds are prepared to teach dead languages, none to write and speak the English, and hence a teacher had to be imported. Herbert Spencer's question, "What knowledge is of most worth?" is very pertinent here. Why so much time on dead languages, and none on speaking our own?

X. 
 Ann Arbor, Mich., June 26, 1883.
 

 
THE CASE OF THE DOG PLUTO.

Messrs. Editors:

In your issue of the present month appears the article of Mr. Eugene N. S. Ringueberg, describing the strange actions of his pointer Pluto. It seems to me a strained explanation which attributes the conduct of this dog, as described, to superstition or the fear of ghosts, etc.

In your number of April last was a paper on "Perceptional Insanities," by Dr. W. A. Hammond, and any person who has read that article, or who is otherwise at all familiar with the subject of illusions and hallucinations, must recognize the fact that all which is related by Mr. Ringueberg is more reasonably to be accounted for by supposing Pluto to have been a victim of perceptional insanity.

The animals, sharing much with man even as to mental or spiritual qualities, arc, like him, subject to madness and insanity, and there is no reason for supposing that they do not occasionally suffer from deception of the senses. In the case of Pluto, the first noticed attack followed immediately upon hearing the noise caused by the falling of a stick of wood in the stove behind which the dog was sleeping. It seems probable that the sudden clatter impressed the startled animal as being the sound uttered by some dangerous enemy. If such were the case, it was natural for the beast to search for the thing itself that terrified him, which in fact was done, for he immediately fastened his gaze upon the leaf that lay on the floor and commenced against it his timid hostilities. This conduct upon his part justifies the inference that the noise of the falling stick suggested a visible enemy, possibly a serpent; and so, the withdrawing of his paw accompanied by the licking of it would seem to tell us that the illusion or hallucination affected the sense of touch as well as those of hearing and sight.

Having once passed through this experience as following the hearing of the noise made by the falling stick, it was natural that there should be an association within him between sudden noises in general and the thing of terror, and hence, as Mr. Ringueberg tells us, he was apt to be thrown by such noises into paroxysms; and so, the sound which caused the first trouble having arisen in the kitchen, noises coming subsequently from that quarter were the most disturbing to him, just as stated. Proceeding one step further, as the first attack came upon Pluto in the kitchen, it was natural for him to regard that spot as the abiding-place of this enemy, and to show signs of terror, as he did, at all times when passing through that apartment. And, when particularly disposed to a violent attack, the association of ideas connected with the kitchen was most likely to there bring upon him the climax of his trouble.

Mr. Ringueberg speaks always of these paroxysms as accompanied by a fixed staring at some particular object, whether a spot upon the ceiling, a hanging towel, or something else, and a terrified retreat there-from; all of which suggests a false sight, bringing up the image of some material enemy, and it is rather imaginative, under all the circumstances, to suppose that it was ghosts, or things spiritual, which he had before him, in imagination.

Respectfully yours,
Frank McGloin. 
 New Orleans, May 18, 1883.