Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/August 1886/Popular Miscellany

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The Nineteenth Century Club.—The Nineteenth Century Club has completed its fourth season of lectures and discourses with undiminished interest on the part of its constituency. The organization has been true to its idea of securing the presentation of all sides of important questions. Besides its social success, its general intellectual and moral influence has been salutary. In the discussions just concluded the conservative side of thought has been represented by the Rev. Mr. Haweis, Rev. William Lloyd, Rev. Dr. Edward McGlynn, President McCosh, the Hon. C. M. Depew, P. R. Coudert, and President Porter as leading speakers. The views of President Eliot, of Harvard, were controverted by President Porter and Dr. McCosh. President Porter also had a discussion on "Evolution" with Professor E. S. Morse, of Salem, and Professor H. Newell Martin, of Johns Hopkins University, but his address took up so much of the evening that the other side had no opportunity to be heard with corresponding fullness.


New Light on "Arbitration and Conciliation."—Much has been written on the supposed labor question which the events of the last six months have made obsolete. Of this kind is a large part of "a plea for arbitration and conciliation," as embodied in a pamphlet on "Labor Differences and their Settlement," by Mr. Joseph D. Weeks, of Pittsburg, which has been sent us, bearing the imprint of the Society for Political Education. If workmen were always the gentle, much-enduring lambs that this author assumes them to be, there would be a place to make the peaceful ways of settlement between them and their employers which he suggests the rule. But where can arbitration and conciliation come in in such cases as the New York Steam-Heating Company and the Gray and the Landgraf boycotts, and the Texas Pacific and Third Avenue and Lake Shore Railroad strikes and their attendant "tie-ups"? These events have cast a new light on the matter; and those writers who are advising employers to submit the control of their concerns to outside organizations and are asserting the equal right with employers to "determine" of men who are ready to destroy the establishment if it does not discharge its most faithful hands or overlook the transgressions of its unfaithful ones at their bid, will have to stand in the background till workmen have learned the duties they owe to one another and to society.


The "Profits" of Silk-Culture.—We published an article, last month, entitled "An Experiment in Silk-Culture," in which the writer made it very apparent that the business in this country, even when conducted with the most painstaking care, is likely to prove anything but a paying venture. Here is more testimony to the same effect, from a correspondent of the "Chicago Inter-Ocean": "Had I a pen of fire, and the sky for a scroll, and could I fly on the wings of the wind, I would at once start on my 'mission of mercy,' and, soaring through space from our blue Susquehanna to the mighty Pacific, I would inscribe in my flight in burning letters across our land, 'Let silk-culture most severely alone!' I know whereof I speak. I tried it to perfection under the most auspicious and exceptionally favorable circumstances—with every means and appliance at hand for 'clearing' two hundred dollars in the six weeks required to attend to the 'crop.' Within thirty miles of a market for the cocoons, with every surrounding the most encouraging, my hopes were high—but it was all a dead loss of time and money and work. It all ended in just forty-five cents worth of cocoons! I know how plausible it looks and reads. I know the inducements held out by silk-culture associations. I know, too, that the whole thing is as empty as a last year's bird-nest, and I, who have been so severely 'burned,' would fain caution others about going near the fire." The "Boston Herald" takes the same view, and is equally emphatic. It says: "The pleasant romance about the money made by girls throughout the country in raising silk comes to us every spring in an Associated Press dispatch, stating that the Agricultural Department is distributing silk-worm eggs to sanguine and enthusiastic applicants. When these worms are taught to look after their own sanitary arrangements, and, like the industrious ant, to garner food for their ravenous appetites, then the question of giving them the use rent free of some deserted shed or barn, in the hopes of getting a slight return for such worthless real estate, may be considered. Until the habits of these helpless and hungry paupers are improved, however, we advise all those who place the slightest value on their time and patience to shun the industry (an industry it is, with a vengeance!) as they would the advice of a quack advertisement. A few eggs will give one an entertaining and instructive lesson in natural history; an ounce of eggs will lead to trouble and vexation of spirit, an exasperating expenditure of time and patience, and absolutely no return, even for the rent of a wood-shed."


Parsee Children.—According to a writer in the "Westminster Review," when a child is born in a Parsee family, the exact time of its appearance is recorded, to a second. On the sixth night of its life, paper, pen, and ink, with some red powder and a cocoanut, are placed at the bedside of the child, so that "the goddess who presides over the infant" may record its destiny. In a few days an astrologer—it does not particularly matter of what religion he may be—is called in to cast the babe's nativity from the carefully recorded date of its birth. By the light of this sort of horoscope, he announces the names from which a choice may be made for the child, according to their affinity with the stars that were in the ascendant at the time of its birth. The Parsees having no fixed surnames, the son adds the name thus given him to the name which was similarly given to his father, dropping the grandfather's name which the father had assumed. If he be named Ardeshir and his father was named Framji, he becomes Ardeshir Framji. If his child, again, be named Pestanji, he is distinguished as Pestanji Ardeshir, and his son, in the following generation, might be Jehangir Pestanji. The Parsees possess in all about forty-nine names of Persian and twenty of Hindoo origin; hence there are always many persons bearing identical names. Further to distinguish between them, it has become customary to take as an atak, or distinguishing suffix, the name of a man's calling. So we may have Manakji Kavasji Sutar, or Manakji, the son of Kavasji, the carpenter. At the age of about seven years, the child receives the investiture of the holy shirt and girdle, accompanied with ceremonies calculated to impress him with the solemnity of the act, among which is his recital of the confession of faith in the Zoroastrian religion. The sadarah, or holy shirt, is a light, short muslin garment, worn next to the body; the kosti, or holy girdle, is a thin woolen cord of seventy-two threads, passed thrice round the waist and tied with four knots. The wearer, in tying the first knot, declares his belief in the doctrine of the one God, and at the second knot his faith in Zoroaster as the true prophet. In tying the last knot he says, "Perform good actions and abstain from evil ones." It is his duty, as soon as he has risen from sleep, to put on his kosti, wash his hands, and put wood on the fire. The astrologer has no place in the ceremony of investiture, but he presides over the arrangement of marriages, which take place early and usually between near relatives. The betrothal, the astrologer having pronounced the signs favorable, is made complete by the mere exchange between the parents of new dresses for the boy and girl.


Origin of Cancer.—Dr. H. Percy Dunn, of the West London Hospital, who has given attention to the study of cancer and the investigation of the causes of its increase in civilized countries, controverts the opinion that the disease is hereditary. The fact is admitted that cancer appears frequently consecutively in certain families, but this is not considered sufficient of itself to constitute an hereditary quality, while all the other characteristics of hereditary disease are absent. It fails to fulfill Quatrefages's definition of the hereditary quality, of becoming an agent of variation, and transmitting and accumulating the modifying actions of the conditions of life. But, while cancer is not transmissible as a disease, the predisposition to it may be inherited. The term predisposition is vague and hard to define, but may be described generally as "the shadow of a disease, as a disease without its substance—the reflection, as it were, in the offspring, distinct from the repetition of the morbid types common to one or both parents." The strongest element in the production of cancer is age, and it is most likely to appear between the thirty-fifth or fortieth and the sixtieth years. The disease may also be regarded as climatic or racial, prevailing most in the English climate and among the English people. It prevails most largely among women, and of them most with those who have had children. It is so prominently a nervous disease that Dr. Dunn gives his assent to the opinion that it may be and often is provoked by nervous shock. He, therefore, recognizes the expediency of preventing persons of middle age from being exposed to such shocks. In this relation to the nervous system, which is so trying in our busy age, is perhaps to be found the reason of the rapidly accelerated increase of cancer which has been lately remarked upon in England.


The King-Crab in New Waters.—Quite a sensation was stirred up among the fishermen of San Francisco on the 26th of May by the discovery of what was supposed to be a new crustacean. The creature was taken in the waters off the Farallone Islands by Captain Camilio, who was fishing there in his smack. When seen by some members of the United States Geological Survey, the "new crab" proved to be an old acquaintance, the Limulus Polyphemus, so common in the waters of the Eastern coast, where it is known as the king-crab on account of its great size, and the horse-foot crab because of its form. The living genus Limulus, if we reject two doubtful forms, has but three species our own L. Polyphemus, the L. moluccanus of the Spice Islands, and L. rotundicaudus of the Chinese and the Japanese waters. Geologically considered, this strange creature has the highest antiquity of any of the crustaceans. And its place in nature is a problem of profound difficulty. Dr. Samuel Lockwood, so long ago as 1869, showed that in form the larval Limulus was identical with the trilobite. Since then embryological and anatomical study has shown that the animal is not a crab, and it is now even doubtful which it favors most, the position of an aquatic scorpion or an aquatic arachnidan; for it really seems to have structural elements of both the spider and the scorpion. It is also interesting to know that, while the trilobite succumbed to geologic causes and became extinct, Limulus survived the most stupendous changes of land and sea. Whatever the species of the San Francisco specimen may be, as the first one taken in the Pacific waters it is highly interesting. But, supposing the specimen to be correctly determined as the species Polyphemus, that becomes a fact of very high significance. Although our Eastern king-crab survived the subsidence of large land areas, and the localizing of new seas, it was shut into a very circumscribed habitat—the eastern waters of the North Atlantic and the West Indies, and not even found in South America. In a word, it is an Atlantic form, and in its new habitat furnishes a fact as remarkable as if an African Hon should be discovered in the American forests. It is almost a certainty that its appearance on the Pacific coast comes of an accidental introduction of some Limulus-eggs at the time that the United States Fish Commission introduced into the California waters a lot of lobsters taken from the East, as an experiment in stocking the Pacific coast. This was seven or eight years ago. The above fact is another illustration of the faunal and floral distribution brought about by man, often, as in this instance, by sheer accident. In the parlance of geologic time, it is a certainty that all plant and animal forms, however restricted their habitats in Nature may be, if they will bear acclimatizing, will soon become so cosmopolitan that their history as indigenes can only be obtained from libraries, where their life records shall be found as the published work of the naturalists of to-day.


Education and Crime.—The London "Spectator" remarks that the old idea that education would of itself extirpate crime has gradually been dissipated by experience. "It was a foolish idea a priori, for there is nothing in the mere development of intelligence to remove the original causes of crime or to cure either malice, or lust, or greed; and it died away before the evidence that education rather changes the form of some kinds of criminality than extinguishes criminality itself. The educated man swindles when the boor would steal, but the instinct of thievishness is the same in both, while greed is slightly increased by education." It does not even make all men intelligent, for " the new Anarchist faction, which rejects all the teaching, not only of history, but of the commonest facts of experience, and even the conclusions of arithmetic, is led by educated men, sometimes of high intellectual attainments." M. Elisée Reel us, author of most delightful and learned geographical books, is an anarchist; Prince Krapotkine, who counsels the destruction of society by force, is a man of unusual cultivation; Mr. Hyndman, who, while he disclaims anarchism, avows a desire to seize all capital, equalize all men, and compel all to labor, is a graduate of London University; and many of the cosmopolitan revolutionists are men familiar with many literatures. We have further been told, time and again, and are still told, by the advocates of popular education, that that would be in itself a strong guarantee for social order. Education has gone on diffusing its benefits among larger proportions of mankind; and now while New England, Scotland, and Prussia, formerly among the most educated states, were also the most orderly, there are in Germany five hundred thousand socialists"; and "all over the Western world, discontent with the order of society, especially upon points which can not be altered, appears to grow deeper and more violent." Thus, while education may still give us much in the end, "the old enthusiastic hopes from it were, as regards the time of their fruition, evidently illusory. It is no more a panacea than any other, and the good it does is as slow to develop itself as the good that rain does. We have all been just like the poor, and have expected pleasant results too soon, and from mere decrees, and from too little labor."


Traits of the Somaulis.—Mr. F. L. James has given an account of an exploration made early in 1884 into the Somauli country of East Africa, in which he penetrated to places where he was the first European visitor. The people seem in many ways to approach more nearly to the ancient Egyptians than any other African race with which the author is acquainted. Their swords are exactly like those used by the ancient Egyptians. Every Somauli carries two spears, a shield, and a short sword, and the slightest difference of opinion with his neighbor prompts him to draw his sword or thrust with his spear. But, if he takes life, he, or his tribe for him, has to pay a heavy fine in camels. They can nearly always show several wounds, and are as proud of those which are behind as of those which are in front. They can also survive the gravest wounds, and recover quickly from injuries that would surely kill a European. They have quick tempers, which, when aroused, are absolutely beyond control, but, if they can once be got to listen to arguments, they are easily persuaded. They are great talkers, and every new plan is discussed for hours. The debaters sit in a circle, and divide themselves into parties, each appointing a spokesman; and he, holding a stick in his hand, will draw intricate geometrical designs in the sand while he holds forth on the subject in discussion. They are keenly sensitive to ridicule, so that, when trouble occurs among them, it is only necessary to raise a laugh against the leader of the disturbance, when he will cover his face and disappear from the scene. Mr. James had difficulty in getting his Somauli escort to submit to anything in the way of a leader. They rebelled when he undertook to put head-men over the guard-squads; and only the sense of a common danger when they got into strange parts, and a threat to expel troublesome persons from the camp, would keep them in order.


Earthquakes in China.—Dr. MacGowan, in connection with a record he has made of fifteen very perceptible earthquakes that were observed in China last year, remarked that three classes of seismic phenomena are distinguishable in that country, an insular, a littoral, and an inland class. Formosa and Hainan are both centers of seismic actions which often affect the mainland; and a considerable agitation of the sea has been observed in many cases of Formosan earthquakes. The Formosan earthquake of December 9th was the most violent one that foreigners so far have experienced; but the tall and slender pagoda towers that adorn all Southeastern China, having stood for centuries unaffected by earth-waves, afford evidence that the shocks, though frequent, are harmless. Occasionally earthquakes of the littoral region are followed by the appearance on the ground of substances designated "white hairs" by the Chinese. When Dr. MacGowan first gave attention to them he thought they might be acicular crystals precipitated by gaseous action, but further research seems to indicate that they are not mineral but organic. Three foci for interior earthquakes may be indicated, two of which, Szechuen and Shansi, are very far from volcanoes, while shocks are often reported from them as continuous for considerable periods.


A New Hot-Water Cooking Apparatus.—Mr. Edward Atkinson has invented a new process and a new apparatus for cooking, which he gives to the public. The apparatus is operated by the heat derived from a common kerosene-lamp or from a gas burner. The theory of it is based upon the non-conducting properties of certain materials with which the oven may be jacketed or incased. The inventor prefers pinewood, which he forms into a box having walls from one and a half to three inches thick, according to the time during which heat is to be maintained within it. This is lined with metal, to make it water-tight. From one side or end of the box is projected a metallic tube, starting from near the bottom, bent so as to form a rectangle, and returning into the box near the top. This serves the same purpose as the pipes affixed to the water-back of a range. Inside the lined box is put as much water as is needed, and in this are inserted the cooking-vessel or vessels, of whatever material, which may or may not fill the box, provided about half an inch of water is left between them and the metallic lining of it. The whole is provided with a safety-valve or open way, to let off steam if the water should boil. The box and its contents, including articles to be cooked, having been arranged, the heat of a kerosene-lamp or gas-burner is applied to the projecting pipe, whence the heat is transmitted to the water inside of the box. A variation in the construction of the box is to have double-walled linings, with a space of about half an inch between the walls, through which the hot water may circulate. These metallic walls are jacketed with asbestine or a mortar made of diatomaceous earth—"fossil meal,"—and then incased in wood; but the process of cooking goes on more slowly in this apparatus than in the one previously described. By throwing a woolen covering over the apparatus as soon as the cooking is done, the food may be kept hot for a considerable time. As no evaporation takes place within the apparatus, the cooked food comes out of about the same consistency as it went in. Allowance must be made for this fact is the preparation of the dishes. Though all of his apparatus has been crude and his efforts mostly tentative, Mr. Atkinson has had-excellent success with most of the dishes he has cooked in it. They came out as well cooked as in other apparatus, except that they are never browned. He believes that his invention is susceptible of great improvement and development. He invites suggestions looking to those ends, but desires that all improvements belong to the public, and that the use of his apparatus be not encumbered by any patents. The date of his communication to us is April 9, 1886. The name of "The Aladdin" has been given to the invention.


Oriental Carpets. The art of weaving applied first to goods for clothing and to hangings and curtains for the tents of the pastoral people—has existed in the East from the earliest times. The designs now used, it is supposed by Mr. Vincent J. Robinson—an enthusiast on the subject of Oriental design in a lecture on the subject before the British Society of Arts, are the same as were in use in the time of Abraham, and probably for centuries before. A representation of weaving, in a tomb at Beni Hassan, Egypt, which is as old at least as Abraham's time, shows two figures at work at a loom precisely like those now in use all over the East. Peculiar and distinguishing patterns marked the work of each tribe, and it is still often possible for the expert to determine by these patterns the district whence particular carpets have originated. Floor-coverings are pictorially indicated in the pavements of the palace at Nineveh, where the design of the carpet, marked by an inlaying of colored tesseræ, became a part of the permanent pavement. These designs are the same as those of some of the carpets still in use in Syria. Babylon was an important center of carpet-manufacturing; but, after the Roman conquest of Persia, all the goods of the region took the name of Persian, and it has lasted. The history of carpets in India can not be traced so far back, because of the obscurity of the sources and references; but there is reason to believe that, two or even three thousand years ago, the Indians had attained a higher state of refinement than they now possess. While sheep producing qualities of wool other than the finest abound in various parts of India, the very finest wool, called put, is only to be found in Turkistan, in the undergrowth which appears in the cold season. The fleece is shorn and the put is combed from the under part of it. This wool is used in the Cashmere shawls. Wool of similar quality is grown in Afghanistan and Khorassan, and about Shiraz and Kerman and Herat, at mountain-heights ranging from 4,500 to 7,600 feet. Besides these wools, camel's and goat's hair and the hair of the yak and the ibex are employed in carpet-manufacture. The finest of these is the peshur, or hair that grows close to the body of the goat, which is procured chiefly in the mountains of Afghanistan. Silk is occasionally used in Southern India, and gives an exceedingly lustrous effect to the pile. A carpet in the Vincent Robinson Collection, made entirely of silk, and probably of the sixteenth century, is wonderful as a mere piece of weaving, having four hundred stitches to the square inch. The old carpets were colored—red, with kermes or madder; yellow, with the pomegranate; and blue, with indigo. The manipulation of the manufacture consists in knotting with a double twist the wool forming the pile of the carpet firmly upon the foundation. The workman sits near the ground, with his legs in a hole in front of his work, which is wound upon a roller as it is done. A workman can make five or six inches by eighteen of the coarser kinds, less of the finer kinds, per day. Mr. Robinson is greatly impressed with the seemingly unconscious and special artistic gifts of the carpet-makers, and ascribes much of their success to their abhorrence of novelty. Indeed, he would like to make it an axiom that in fine design novelty must be excluded. The real carpet-industry of the East is threatened with ruin from the competition of inferior English prison work and the introduction of modern so called improvements; and the modern Smyrna carpets have so degenerated "as even, in England, not to be accounted ornamental."


Life-History of American Snails.—Snails, according to Mr. Binney's monograph on "American Land-Shells," live in the forest, passing the greater part of their lives sheltered under the trunks of fallen trees, layers of decaying leaves, or stones, or in the soil. In the early days of spring they come out in companies, to sun themselves, and—possibly—to make love. Their eggs, which are laid when the weather has become favorable, are deposited in bunches of from thirty to fifty or more, slightly stuck together without any order, under the shelter of the leaves, or at the sides of logs and stones, generally at as great a depth beneath the surface as the animal can reach, and are then abandoned. This act is repeated two or three times during the season. The embryo can be seen within the egg in two or three days after it is laid, and emerges in the course of from twenty to thirty days, according to the weather. The young animal gnaws its way out of the egg, and makes its first meal out of the shell it has just left, and is then a snail of about a whorl and a half. But it grows very fast. It begins to prepare for hibernation at about the first frost, by ceasing to feed, becoming inactive, and fixing itself to the under surface of the substance by which it is sheltered, or burrowing a little way into the soil. The aperture of the shell looks upward, and the snail closes it by forming a glutinous shell-substance over it which is called the epiphragm. In this condition it reposes till spring. It also forms an epiphragm when it is in danger of being dried up in' long droughts. Snails dislike to expose themselves to the sun, and are most lively on damp and dark days and at night. The American species are for the most part solitary, and in this respect differ greatly from their European congeners, which are social. Those, however, which have been introduced from Europe—and they are not few—retain their native habits. The appendages which perform the office of teeth for snails are peculiar in structure and various in form, and they do good execution on whatever eatables the animals may attack. The slugs are snails without external shells; are more nocturnal in their habits than the other snails; and are seldom visible in the daytime, though there may be thousands of them around. They do not hibernate, although they are partially torpid in cold weather. They have the faculty of suspending themselves in the air by means of a thread which they spin from a mucus secreted within their bodies. They have also the power of secreting at any point, or over the whole surface of their bodies, a more viscid and tenacious mucus, having the consistence of milk and nearly the same color—which constitutes a fairly valid armor of defense for them. It protects them against irritating substances, against corrosive gases, water, alcohol, and heat. They leave a trace of their usual secretion on every object over which they pass. This secretion appears to be necessary to their existence, for death follows the failure of the power to form it. All the species are exceedingly voracious, and feed upon plants and dead animal matter. Living creatures are too quick for them. They do much damage in the night and then retire to their hiding-places, leaving the gardener to wonder in the morning what destroying monster has been working among his plants.


Autobiography of an Ancient Cyclone.—Mr. John T. Campbell, of Rockville, Indiana, has described in the "American Naturalist" his tracing, by means of "tree-graves," of the course of a cyclone which passed more than three hundred years ago. The date of the storm was marked by noting the age of an oak which had grown on the top of one of the "tree-graves" or mounds. Its course was found by inquiring where other "tree-graves" had existed or had been observed in the past, and was traced in a belt about a thousand feet wide for fifteen miles. The "tree-graves," as Mr. Campbell calls them, are the marks that indicate where trees have been blown over, and consist of a depression formed by the pulling up of the ground by the roots of the tree, and a mound on the side of the pit toward which the tree fell, formed of the earth which was thus pulled up. They are commonly called "Indian graves" by the people, and are supposed to be spots where Indian burials have taken place. Where they are numerous, as in the path of Mr. Campbell's cyclone, they are supposed to mark the place where a fierce battle has occurred. In the wild forest these marks are, though more than three hundred years old, as well preserved and as distinct in outline as many made by trees that have fallen recently. But if the land is cleared and cultivated they disappear in a very few years under the action of the plow and of exposure to frost and rains. The preservation of the little mounds in the woods, which under the continuance of the conditions might last for five thousand or even ten thousand years, is due to the thin coating of forest leaves that lies upon them. "The leaves act as shingles in shedding the rains, so that they are not washed or worn down by the falling rain or melting snow. The frost does not penetrate through a good coating of leaves, and therefore they are not expanded and spread out by freezing and thawing. I can see a great difference between the mounds in the wild forest and those on land that has been set to grass and pastured a few years. The tramping of stock, and the frequent expansions from freezing, which the grass does not prevent, flatten them perceptibly. The grass, however, does preserve them against rain-washing?."


Fossil Fish in New Jersey Trias.—The triassic shales beneath the overflow of the trap-rocks of the Palisades of the west shore of the Hudson River have frequently been searched for fossils, but little besides dim tracings has yet been found in them. Mr. L. P. Gratacap says, however, in a communication to the "American Naturalist," that Mr. F. Braun, of Weehawken, New Jersey has lately found a number of fish remains in these slates, of which he has extracted specimens of considerable beauty, together with vegetable fossils. Among the remains are casts and impressions of plant-roots or root-like fragments, the lobate divisions of an aquatic plant, an enigmatical nut displaying its coaly and black nucleus, and numerous fishes in various stages of preservation, and in positions that seem to throw a light upon the local circumstances of their entombment. The fishes are apparently identical with Palæoniscus latus. In the sandstones below these shales, Mr. Braun has found tracks, ripple-marks, and rainfossæ.