Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/August 1883/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 23 August 1883  (1883) 
Popular Miscellany


Nationalities in New York City.—"The Impress of Nationalities on the City of New York" is the subject of a paper recently read by Mr. James W. Gerard before the New York Historical Society. The subject is a difficult one, for the impress is multiple and the population of the city is exceedingly heterogeneous. The characteristics of the old population were derived from the Dutch and the English. The Dutch brought with them the same spirit of independence that had characterized their forefathers and made them in Europe the pioneers of civil rights, and which had become national instincts. They also brought the spirit of toleration. During the English period the descendants of the Dutch settlers kept equal in the race with their English brethren in all matters of political and military action and enterprise. Their thrift and plodding industry and business sagacity have left their marks to this day. The French Huguenots, who came over during the period of the French persecutions, brought an improved cookery and a national gayety and courtesy that tended much to modify the habits and manners of our people. When we consider the principles and origin of the population thus formed, we can well imagine that the men were not afraid of the Revolution. "These were the descendants of the Dutch patriots, of Independents of the English fighting-stock under Cromwell, of French Huguenots, of banished Covenanters from Scotland, of soldiers of Monmouth's rebellion, and of men who had fought under the banner of both of the Pretenders." The Anglo-Saxon has, however, been the dominant type here, with which the Dutch and French have been absorbed by intermarriage; and the conditions of settlement and acclimatization, acting on the combined type, have produced a new, deviating race. To this may be added the infusion of the blood of the New-Englander, who is more conservative in character, more grave in temperament, and at the same time more enterprising and more persistent in action than the descendants of the Dutch and English settlers. This element, though Anglo-Saxon and formed into the local life, has still distinctive features. The deviation of the new race is apparent in its physical, mental, and perhaps in its moral attributes, and also in its lingual expression. Under the conditions of the new life, nerve-force and energy have been called upon, and have developed rapidly. The Irish and German nationalities, more recent acquisitions, have exercised great influence upon the city and its inhabitants. New York endures most of the evils and gets least of the advantages of immigration. The Irish, from their knowledge of our language, have exerted a stronger influence upon the city than the Germans, who keep more apart, and a greater proportion of whom travel westward or settle in districts of the city where they are separated from the rest of the population. But while the Dutch and the French have flowed into the general result, the Irish and Germans have been of too late introduction to have become factors in the formation of the general local character.

Prehistoric Underground Chambers.—The subterranean works called by the people of Poitou "gueriments" are little known, though the tradition of the country assigns their origin to prehistoric times. I purpose to describe one of these which I visited, with my brother, in 1878, and which may be regarded as a type of the whole series. The chalk of Beaumont, stretching south of Chatellerault, resembles a vast ants'-nest, so numerous are the galleries with which it is honeycombed. The one that I am about to describe is at a place called La Fuye, and is only a few hundred yards from the old Roman road between Colombiers and Jaulnay. We went down into a hole, A, overgrown with bushes, that looked very much like a fox's hole, and came upon a large hall, B, on which abutted the passages G and R. The passages are of about the height of a common-sized man, but less than two feet wide. They appear to have once been tightly closed by doors and fortified by beams. After going in about a hundred metres, and making a number of turns, I came to a sudden descent, and fell into the hole K (see the section D K II). When I came to myself, and was able to examine the place, I found that the narrow passage led to a steep ladder of five steps, L, at the end of which was the hole into which I had fallen, about six feet deep. Hence led another narrow gallery, which we explored with great difficulty, but at the end of which we came to the spacious chamber D, where we found a quantity of large bones, charcoal, and blocks of flint, and, by digging, a badly decayed piece of coarse pottery.PSM V23 D586 Prehistoric underground chambers.jpgGallery E opened out from this passage, but it had become choked up. Returning, we climbed up the passage K with the aid of the foot-holes M M in the wall, and went through the gallery I, into the chamber C, which contained a number of circular pits, J, N, P, suggesting the form of a cistern, but they could not have been used to hold water. The galleries O and Q were choked up. Returning to the first chamber, and passing the half-filled pit F, we went by the corridor R into the galleries s, u, t, v, y, in which we remarked two tubes, pierced at t and s, so as to form a direct communication between W and B. The construction of all the "gueriments" is analogous to that of this one. They are cut in the rock itself, and consist of large chambers connected by narrow galleries, and present a striking similarity of aspect to those dwellings which insects hollow out in the trunks of trees. The openings of descending passages had been closed by trap-doors and fastened by wooden cross-beams. Niches in which lights could be placed were cut at convenient distances. Many "gueriments" communicated with a well; and, as some of the galleries have been wholly stopped up, at some more or less remote period in the past, the only entrance now is by the well. I have only visited three caves of this kind, but I know of a considerable number of them that can not be explored because of the presence of an excess of carbonic acid in them.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from La Nature.

[Note by the Editor of Popular Science Monthly. Strabo, in his accounts of the Siculi around Lake Avernus in Central Italy, says: "Ephorus assigns the place to the Kimmerioi, and says they lived in underground dwellings which they called argillai, and through certain excavated passages passed about to each other, and conveyed strangers to the oracle, which was constructed deep in the ground."] Musical Fishes.—Cases of peculiar sounds being heard at sea and ascribed to fishes are not rare. Lieutenant White, of our navy, relates that, when at the mouth of a river in Cambodia in 1824, he and the crew of his vessel were struck by hearing extraordinary sounds, like a mixture of the bass of an organ, the ringing of bells, the guttural cries of a large frog, and the tones of an enormous harp, which they heard around the bottom of their vessel. The interpreter said they were produced by a troop of a kind of fish. Dr. Buist, in 1847, told of a party in a boat near Bombay, who heard sounds not unlike the others, which the boatmen said were produced by fish. Similar sounds were reported two years afterward as having been heard from beneath the water at Vizagapatam. Sir J. Emerson Tennent heard like sounds from the Lake of Batticaloa, in Ceylon, and the natives said that a shell made them. A correspondent of the "Field," in 1867, alleged that the vessel in which he was at Greytown, Nicaragua, was haunted at night by these sounds. A similar account, probably of the same occurrence, is given by Mr. Dennely, in "Nature" of May 12, 1870. Another correspondent of the "Field" told of sounds "produced by fishes" which he heard in the Tavoy River. A review of all the accounts shows that the sounds were nearly always heard in ships at sea, though Canon Kingsley once heard them at Trinidad from the shore; that they are most commonly heard in tropical regions, but sometimes in the temperate zone; that they have been noticed along an extensive line of coasts, American, European, and Asiatic, northern and southern; that they are invariably heard at night; and that they are most generally heard near the mouths of rivers. Dr. Dufossé, who has made the production of sound by fishes a special study, says that, while many fishes can make themselves heard, there is a great variety in the manner in which the noises are evolved. Sometimes they proceed from the movements or friction of the pharyngeal bones, or the vibration of the muscles of the swimming bladder. In the latter way a gurnard produces nearly an octave of notes. The males of the genus Ophidium are provided with a drumming apparatus, consisting of bones and muscles developed in relation to the swimming-bladder. The sounds made by the Umbrinas of the Mediterranean have been heard from a depth of twenty fathoms.


Action of Acids on Tin-Ware.—Mr. Francis P. Hall reports the results of experiments on the action of vegetable acids—acetic, tartaric, and citric acids—on lead and tin. The results were rather negative in their tendency, and seem hardly to bear out the assertions that are made respecting the danger of lead-poisoning from tinned goods. The most danger is from the solder, and from the action of the acids on the tin itself. The corrosion does not appear to increase as regularly as is supposed with the strength of these acids; but it was found that corrosion, in the case of canned fruits, takes place very rapidly after the can is opened, so that a can when opened should be emptied at once. Mr. Hall's analyses of bright tin-plate failed in every case to show enough lead impurity to justify the charge of intended adulteration, even in the worst looking ware from the five-cent stores. Terne plate, used for roofing, is known to contain large quantities of lead, but no one with his eyes open is ever likely to buy it for genuine tin. Tin-foil, which is used for enveloping various kinds of food, is in some cases pure tin, in other cases heavily adulterated. Specimens used for wrapping different kinds of compressed yeast were pure. The worst specimen (89·87 per cent lead) was embossed, and on a very fashionable cake of chocolate.


German Explorations in Africa.—The Germans claim the honor of having done the most after the English for the exploration of the interior of Africa. The trading posts of the Hamburg merchants on the east coast have long exercised a civilizing influence there. To German missionaries are due the first important discoveries that were made in that region, viz., the discovery of Mount Kilimanjaro by the missionary Rebmann, in 1848; that of Mount Kenia by the missionary Krapf, in 1849; and the execution of a map of the country, showing the Ukerewe Lake, by Rebmann and Erhardt, a work which provoked the English expeditions of Burton, and of Grant and Speke. Dr. Albert Roscher planned the ascent of Kilimanjaro in 1859, but gave it up to seek for Lake Nyanza, and died in that attempt. Baron Claus von Decken, in the next year, climbed Kilimanjaro to the height of 8,360 feet, and ascertained the total height of the mountain (18,710 feet). Again, in 1862, he, with Dr. Otto Kersten, climbed the mountain to 14,160 feet, and determined its volcanic nature and its situation. Von der Decken was finally murdered by Somaulis, in his fourth expedition up the Juba River. Richard Brenner followed this adventurous traveler, and retraced his last journey. In 1875 J. M. Hildebrandt was sent out by the Karl Ritter Stiftung and the Berlin Academy of Sciences on an expedition to the mountain region, which was fruitful in scientific results. Other important expeditions were made by Clemens Denhardt, in 1878, by Dr. Schweinfurth, and, more recently, by Gerhard Rolfs and Dr. Nachtigal. Lastly, Dr. G. A. Fischer, who took part in Denhardt's expedition, has gone out under the auspices of the Geographical Society of Hamburg for an exploration of Somauli-land and the Galla country.


Brain-Health.—In a lecture at Edinburgh, on "The Establishment and Maintenance of Brain-Health," Dr. J. Batty Tuke pointed out a certain class of influences acting for good or evil on the brain over which the individual had no control. They were those connected with his antecedents and bringing up. A man might be handicapped for life by the mistakes or faults of his ancestors; and, differently from the race-horse, he had to carry weight in the race of life according to his imperfections, not according to his advantages. In respect to this point, every child's future history depends upon the food it gets and on its surroundings, and much upon the mother, whether she be well and vigorous or the contrary. Of other food than mother's milk, the Scotch oatmeal-porridge and milk is a "typical" food, and the best. Tea should be condemned. In education, home influence should never be spared. To send a child away from the family influence into an atmosphere of necessarily strict discipline and routine should be the last resource of misfortune. The life of a child so placed is artificial, its individuality is endangered, and its experience circumscribed. Therefore, at all hazards, keep the child in the family, and send him no farther than to the day-school. One of the great causes of overstraining in early youth is the vicious system of offering prizes for competition. It deflects the mind of the child from the main aim and object of its study, and often defeats them. Our whole educational system tends too much in the direction of abstract facts and theories, and to produce a sort of brain-dyspepsia or indigestion; for the child's brain is not given time to assimilate the food it gets. Among women, idleness and ignorance are much more prolific causes of disease than overwork. It is not work, but worry, that kills the brain. The most highly educated and hard-working women the lecturer knew were eminently healthy. Breakdown from overwork does, however, occasionally take place, and the first really important symptom is sleeplessness. When that sets in there is cause for alarm. Headache also comes on; and, as soon as a child or young person develops continuous headache, work should be discontinued at once. Most men working in this department of medicine recognize that, if there is a hope of diminishing the amount of brain-disease, it is to be effected by preventive measures. The lecturer had therefore directed attention more especially to the transgressions of the father than to those of the son.


Deformities due to School-Life.—Dr. Dally read a paper at the Geneva Hygienic Congress on the "Deformation of the Body during School-Life." The researches of Dr. Chaussier, who found that only 122 out of 23,200 newly-born infants examined by him possessed abnormal peculiarities of any kind, indicate that children are, as a rule straight when they start to school. The deformities which they exhibit at a later period may therefore be attributed to the enforced maintenance of one attitude for a considerable length of time. The various parts of the organism of youth are easily displaced, and, if the cause operates continuously, the displacement is liable to become permanent. Doctors were exhorted to pay more attention to the medical aspects of school-life. Sonic Peculiarities of Color-Blindness.—Mr. R. Brudenel Carter defines colorblindness, in his Cantor Lectures on that subject, as incapacity on the part of the nerves of vision to respond to the stimulus which one of the three kinds of light is calculated to produce. It will help us to realize the nature of the defect to assume, which is not quite the case, that white light is composed of red, green, and violet in equal proportions and of equal luminosity; then to eyes which are incapable of seeing one of the colors, one third of the illumination of natural objects is extinguished, and the appearance the objects present is not that of their real color, but only of that fraction of their real color in which the two visible colors are combined in them. White is not white to the color-blind, but a mixture of green and violet to the red-blind, of red and violet to the green-blind, and so through the other shades and the other varieties of colorblindness. It is impossible to obtain an exact idea of what the color-blind see, except a person be examined who has one eye normal-sighted while the other eye is defective. Professor Holmgren has examined two such persons, one of whom was red-blind, the other violet-blind in one eye, with results tending to confirm what had been predicted on the subject in accordance with the Young-Helmholtz theory. The mistakes made by the color-blind in daily life are much less numerous and less remarkable than might have been supposed; so much so, that the recently acquired knowledge of the great prevalence of the condition has come as a great surprise to most of the world; and persons may live for years having the defect without knowing it till the fact is revealed by some unexpected test being applied in an unusual manner. The color-blind are seldom fully insensible to differences in the colors between which they can not distinguish critically. They learn by habit to perceive differences in the appearance of objects which are called by different color-names—difference it may be in shade, or in intensity of light—which they learn to associate with the color-names, and will so escape being caught. Men on railroads may thus learn to distinguish red from green lights by one of them being bright and the other dim, and may go for a long time without being found out. Their defect, however, will some day expose them, probably when they are least suspicious of its influence. It has been remarked that color-blind men regularly eliminate themselves from railway-service in the course of a few years, by a kind of unintelligent selection, so that they are never found among the old servants of any company. They get discharged for carelessness, or for drunkenness, for accidents which were really owing to color-blindness. It is evident from these considerations that no test of the color-sense can be wholly satisfactory that depends on calling the colors by their right names, for that becomes a matter of habit—not one that depends on the exhibition of differently colored lights, for the blindest know a difference, although not the difference, between them. Holmgren's variously colored worsteds, of about a hundred and fifty shades, which candidates are required to assort and match, afford the most satisfactory and a nearly perfect test.


Cat-Lore.—The origin of domestic cats is obscure, but seems by all accounts to fall somewhere within historic times. All the histories of ancient nations seem to go back to a time when they had no cats. M. Lenormant says that a wild cat was hunted and eaten by the Swiss lake-dwellers in the age of stone; but Africa, south of Egypt, appears to have been the cradle of the cat as a domesticated animal. Pussy appears in the middle-empire Egyptian monuments in the character of a retriever seated in the boat of the wild-fowl hunter, a circumstance indicating that those people had a strain that did not have as unconquerable an aversion to the water as our cats; and there have been cats, even in modern times, that could bring themselves up to diving after fish. The cat, like everything else, whether agreeable or horrible, was raised to the odor of sanctity in Egypt and became the emblem of the goddess Pasht, the Egyptian Diana. M. Lenormant believes, however, that this worship was comparatively late, and finds no trace of the animal among the monuments of the ancient empire. Under the earlier dynasties, Pasht was a lioness-goddess, and not till the twelfth dynasty, and the conquests in the land of Cush, did the cat come to the front. We may therefore regard the cat as a Cushite animal, derived from the Felis maniculata, which was found wild in upper Nubia and the Soodan. The Egyptians carried their reverence for cats to what seems to us a ridiculous excess. If any of them voluntarily slew one of the sacred animals, he was punished with death; and Diodorus relates that a Roman soldier who had killed a cat could hardly escape the fury of the people. When a cat died in a house, the people shaved their eyebrows; and dead cats were embalmed and buried in the city of Bubastis, which was sacred to Pasht. According to M. Lenormant, the Egyptians still respect cats, and in Cairo serve up a copious banquet every day to the cats of each quarter, "in the court of the house of the cadi." The late introduction of domesticated cats among Semitic peoples seems to be proved by the absence of mention of them in the Bible. The Assyrians and Babylonians are said to have been equally ignorant of the animal. A lively discussion between Mr. A. S. Murray and Professor Mahaffy a few years ago, as to whether the Greeks had cats, seems to have resulted in an understanding that they had not. Their cat was a polecat or something else, and the Byzantine writers of later days seem to have been the first who gave its name to the modern cat. No Greek or Roman pictures or representations of the mau or "mew-cat" of the Egyptians are known, except one that M. Longpérier has found on a Tarentine coin struck shortly before the wars of Pyrrhus, and one on a lost post-Christian tombstone. The Indo-Aryans of the Vedic age seem to have lived and died ignorant of cats. The Sanskrit names of the animal mean "the animal of the house," "the house-wolf," "the rat-eater," "the enemy of mice." M. Pictet thinks that none of the European names for the cat belong to the old Aryan tongue. The Roman name, catus, signifies sly, cunning, crafty, but is traced by him back to the Syriac gatô and the Arabic gitt, and thence back to African words of which the Nubian kadiska is an example. This gives more evidence, such as it is, of the African origin of the animal. Some of the names, such as the Persian puschak and its variants, appear related to our puss, and are connected by M. Pictet with the Sanskrit putchha, tail—the creature with the waving tail. Our cat is supposed to be derived from the wild-cat an animal which gave the name to the clan Chattan, and a title to the Duchess of Sutherland, which is said to mean "the Great Lady of the Cat." Finally, the "Saturday Review," from which we derive this gossip, expresses its admiration at the sagacity with which the cat passes a double life—"a sleek domestic favorite all day, a wild animal of unbridled impulse in the darkness of night."


Bedouin Weddings.—Dr. Siegfried Langer pleasantly describes in "Das Ausland" the marriage customs of the Bedouins of Es Salt, Palestine. First, as is the usage among all Semitic peoples, the bride is bought. The purchase-money is paid, half to her parents in compensation for bringing her up and supporting her, whence it is called milk-money; the other half in the form of dresses and ornaments for the bride, or of a provision for a settlement in case of divorce: and all must be paid in cash. As the time of the marriage approaches, the groom's associates collect around his house some evening and perform a wild symbolical dance with a great noise. The bride's friends, in the mean while are making her dress, which, when it is done, is paraded at the head of a procession singing praises of the beauty and accomplishments of the bride and the manly virtues of the groom. On the wedding-day the bride, if she lives in another town, is brought to her future home unveiled and on horseback, with an escort of a dozen armed men. She finds the friends of the bridegroom awaiting her, and they engage in a contest to gain the right by seizing to become her host for dinner. These contests sometimes become real fights. If, however, the bride lives in the same town with the groom, her friends serve her at the bath, and the putting on of her wedding-clothes, after which she takes her seat of honor to wait for the groom. He, in the mean time, has ridden to the nearest well for a bath, followed to the gate of the town by a procession of women bearing a figure adorned with pieces of the bride's outfit. Having performed his ablutions, he rides back, and on the way strikes with his riding-whip the bridal doll, which is held up for the purpose. That is his part of the marriage ceremony. He then goes to his house, and the bride is brought up on horseback, thickly veiled, with much shouting. As she steps upon the threshold, she must cut in two with her whip an olive-branch which is put over the door; if she does not succeed, it is a bad sign. As she enters the room, a number of young fellows armed with switches rush upon the couple and try to give them a good thrashing. Then they all prepare for the feast. Abundant supplies of provisions are sent down to the madari, or Arab inn. The poor and travelers are admitted; and the bridegroom takes the seat of honor amid the congratulations of the crowd. After the feast the couple take a seat together and spend the whole evening and sometimes the next day silently receiving the presents and greetings of their acquaintances. On the third day they are permitted to begin their regular married life.


Microscopy as a Science.—The proper scientific position of microscopy is well set forth by Mr. Albert H. Tuttle in his address as Vice-President of the Section of Histology and Microscopy of the Montreal meeting of the American Association. The claim of microscopy to scientific consideration docs not rest on anything in the perfection of its instruments and accessories or the delicacy of its manipulations, for they are mere technics, and, however important in their scientific bearing, are not science; nor on the fact that it is engaged with objects too small to be seen without the aid of the instrument, for many of those objects have their proper place in well-defined fields of science; but on the fact that there is a department, investigations in which must be carried on wholly by the aid of the microscope. This department is that of-the study of cell-life, in all its bearings, in plant and animal alike. It embraces all matters relating to the protozoa and the protophyta, including particularly the ferment-organisms. To it belong all studies dealing with cell-life in the higher organisms; on the morphology of cells and the higher morphological questions treated by histological method; and on the development of cells and the structure and significance of embryonic layers and tissues.


Two Vital Phenomena explained.—Speaking of the paucity of births and the decrease of marriages shown in the French census returns for 1881, M. Levasseur remarked in the French Association that they ought not to occasion too much alarm, for they might be only temporary. Men married at thirty or thirty-five, and the men who were now of that age belonged to the class who served in the defense of the country in 1870 and 1871, which was decimated. If the decrease should be continuous for three or four years, it would be grave, and a new fact. Poverty had nothing to do with the decrease of births, for that was conspicuous in the richest departments, as in Normandy. M. Passy said that the same was the case in Switzerland. When a canton reached a certain degree of wealth, the births were fewer. A kind of indolence, mingled with a care for the future, set in, and the desire began to prevail to secure an easy position with a small expenditure, and without running any risks.