Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/May 1873/Correspondence
|←Sketch of Sir G. B. Airy||Popular Science Monthly Volume 3 May 1873 (1873)
To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly:
AS you have done my brief after-dinner speech (a kind of performance that usually perishes with the occasion) the honor of an elaborate criticism, which I think a little one-sided and unfair, I ask the privilege to reply.
You say that I used the occasion of the Tyndall banquet "to give a lesson to the scientific gentlemen present as to the proper limit of their inquiries." But that is hardly a just representation. Neither in matter nor manner did I pretend "to instruct" anybody; but, assuming that the Press, on which I was invited to speak, was a kind of universal reporter, I simply asked a few questions of an audience so competent to give the answer, as to the validity of certain speculative opinions confidently put forth in the name of science. That the mode of doing so was neither presumptuous nor offensive, I infer from the cordial approval given to my remarks by eminent scientific gentlemen, both at the time and since.
You seem to resent the speech as an impertinence in saying that "it has ever been a favorite occupation of outsiders to instruct the investigators of Nature where they must stop,"etc. But does Science set up any pretension to the character of an exclusive church? It is true I am an outsider; i. e., I have made no discoveries in science; I have cultivated no special branch of it as a pursuit; all that I know of it I have learned from others, by diligent though somewhat desultory reading, for thirty years past; but may I not, therefore, have an opinion of what I am taught? Is it temerity to endeavor to distinguish what is real science from what is not, particularly at a time when there is so much put forth that is likely to confuse the careless mind?
Be that as it may, what I complain of is, that you class me among the bigots, who in every age have protested against the progress of knowledge, alleging that I presented myself as "the champion of imperilled faith," whereas my protest was merely in behalf of true science against false. And, in order to make out your case, you suppress all reference to the first part of my speech, in which I uttered, as fully as the occasion allowed, the highest estimations of Science and my almost unbounded hopes of its future. Permit me to revive what I said: After hailing Science as the "King of the Epoch," to which all other forms of intellectual activity were doing homage, and as the "mighty Magician," that by its brilliant and fertile researches surpassed whatever the imagination had depicted in fable, I continued: "Science is to me not only a proof of man's intellectual superiority, and the seal of his emancipation from the tyranny of ignorance, but the pledge of an unimaginable progress in the future. By the beautiful uniformities of law, which it discovers in Nature, it discharges the human mind of those early superstitions which saw a despot god in every bush, whose wanton will paralyzed the free flight of our intellect, and debauched our best affections. Neither the tempests nor frowns of Nature are terrible to us, now that we may bend her most hostile forces into willing obedience, and find her full, not of malice, but of good-will. For, out of that benignity, and our supremacy over it, will yet come a power that will enable us to transform these poverty-smitten, sordid, unjust, and criminal civilizations, into happy and harmonious societies, when every man shall be glad in the gladness of his fellows, and, for the first time, feel the assurance of a universal Divine paternity. Science, moreover, in wresting from Creation her final secrets, will furnish to the philosophic mind the means of a more effulgent and glorious solution of the dark problems of life and destiny than it is possible to reach by unaided conjecture. She will prove what the spiritual insight of the seers has only dimly discerned, that Nature, which now seems so inscrutable to us, so hard and unfeeling toward human hopes and desires, is the most kindly and generous of helpmates, and not a tyrannic lord; that these outward appearances are but the shows of an inward reality which is entirely human; that these phenomenal forms and events are but the symbols of an eternal Love and Truth, which the great spiritual Sun of the Universe projects and photographs upon the sensitive plates of our finite human intelligence."
Thus, while I ascribed to science a potent and beneficent efficacy, first, in discharging the mind of its fears of Nature and of other superstitions; second, in perfecting civilization; and, lastly, in promising the surest groundwork for speculative generalizations, both naturalistic and theological, you represent me as deprecating its influences, and as even questioning its utility. That was scarcely fair. How, indeed, could I do so? Holding profoundly to the conviction (how derived is not here the question) that there is but one real Life in the Universe, whose infinite Love is the ground of all Force, and whose infinite truth is the ground of all Law, and that phenomenal Nature is but the varied manifestation of that life to and through the human mind, it would be intellectual suicide in me to attempt imposing fetters upon any legitimate search of Nature's methods. Every step we make in unfolding her secrets is a new revelation of an adorable goodness and wisdom, and a new help toward a nobler future.
But then I said and it was the whole purport of my speech, made in the interests of science as well as religion that we can only expect these results from true science, which investigates what Nature really is, and not from a hasty and presumptuous science, which pretends to give us what Nature may be supposed to be. And my criterion of true science, suggested in a phrase, was, that the methods and results of it bear the impress of exactitude or certainty. You remark, as if you did not receive these simple and fundamental principles, that the "exact sciences" are exact, while others are not. There, I think, we differ or misunderstand each other. I am aware that none of the sciences are exact in the mathematical sense of the word, save the ideal or abstract sciences; but it is none the less true that the real or concrete sciences are exact, in the usual sense of the word, both in their methods and products. If they are not exact, where does the inexactness come in? In the observation of facts? Then the induction is vitiated. In the induction itself? Then the law arrived at is imperfect. In the deductive verification or proof? Then we have no reason for trusting our process. Biology, psychology, and sociology, you say, are sciences and certain sciences; to which my reply is, that, to the extent in which they are not precise, they are not sciences. Indeed, saving in a popular and convenient sense, I should be disposed to doubt whether they are yet to be ranked as more than inchoate sciences. They belong to the domain of science, have gathered some of the richest materials for science, and have attained to some extent a scientific value; but there is yet so much uncertainty hanging over broad regions in each that we must await the future for the resolution of many unresolved questions, which may give a new aspect to the whole. Biology is the most advanced, but rather in its natural history and classification, than in its knowledge of the profounder laws of life, that are yet to be found. Psychology is so little of a science, that the teachers of it hardly agree on the fundamental points; or, if it be a science, whose exposition of it are we to accept, Sir William Hamilton's or Mr. Mill's, Herbert Spencer's or Dr. Porter's, who all profess to be experimental and inductive, and all disagree? As to Sociology, the name for which was invented only a few years since by Comte, it is still in a chaotic condition; and, unless Mr. Spencer, whose few introductory chapters are alone made public, succeeds in giving it consistency and form, it can hardly be called more than a hope. But, be the truth what it may, in respect to these particular branches of knowledge, I still insist that certainty is the criterion of true science, and that, if we give that criterion up, science loses its authority, its prestige, its assurance of march, and its sovereign position as an arbiter in the varying struggles of doctrine.
Well, then the examples I gave, without mentioning names, of what I considered false science, were, first, the gross materialism of Büchner, who derives all the phenomena of life from simple combinations of matter and force; second, the atheism of Comte, whose scientific pretensions Mr. Huxley ridicules, and whose results Mr. Spencer impugns; third, the identification of mind and motion by Mr. Taine, which Tyndall, in one of his most eloquent passages, says explains nothing, and is, moreover, utterly "unthinkable;" and, fourthly, Mr. Spencer's evolutionism, which, in spite of the marvellous ingenuity and information with which it is wrought out, seems to me, after no little study, as it does to others more capable than I am of forming a judgment, after greater study, to be full of un- supported assumptions, logical inconsistencies, and explanations that explain nothing, while in its general character it tends to the sheerest naturalism. Now, was I right or wrong in regarding these systems as speculative merely, and not scientific? Am I to infer, from your objections to my remarks, that The Popular Science Monthly holds materialism, atheism, and naturalism to be the legitimate outcome of science? Else why am I arraigned for designating them as unworthy of science, and as having no rightful claims to the name, under which their deplorable conclusions are commended to the public?
My object in these allusions was to indicate two capital distinctions, which it is always important to keep in view when estimating the scientific validity of a doctrine. The first is, that many questions determinable by science are not yet determined by it; and, until they are so determined, are to be regarded only as conjectural opinions, more or less pertinent or impertinent. Of this sort I hold the Nebular, the Darwinian, and the Spencerian views to be, i. e., hypotheses entirely within the domain of scientific theory, and capable, to a certain extent, of explaining the phenomena to which they refer; highly plausible and probable even at the first glance; but disputed by good authority, and not at all so verified as to be admissible into the rank of accredited science. They are suppositions to which the mind resorts to help it in the reduction of certain appearances of Nature to a general law; and, as such, they may be simple, ingenious, and even beautiful; but thus far they are no more than suppositions not proved, and therefore not entitled to the authority of scientific truth. You are probably too familiar with the history of scientific effort—which, like the history of many other kinds of intellectual effort, is a history of human error—not to know that, while hypothesis is an indispensable part of good method, it is also the part most liable to error. The records of astronomical, of geological, of physical, of chemical, and of biological research, are strewn with the débris of abandoned systems, all of which once had their vogue, but none of which now survive and many of which are hardly remembered. Recall for a moment the Ptolemaic cycles and epicycles; recall Kepler's nineteen different hypotheses, invented and discarded, before he found the true orbital motion of Mars; recall in geology Werner and Hutton, and the Plutonians and the Neptunians, superseded by the uniformitarians and the catastrophists, and now giving place to the evolutionists; recall in physics the many imponderable fluids, including Lamark's resonant fluid, that were held to be as real as the rocks only a few years ago; recall in chemistry, not to mention the alchemists and phlogistion, a dozen different modes of accounting for molecular action; recall in biology the animists and the vitalists, the devotees of plastic forces, of archei, of organizing ideas, and of central monads, all of them now deemed purely gratuitous assumptions that explained nothing, though put forth as science.
Even in regard to the question, so much discussed at present, of the gradual progression and harmony of being, the old monadology of Leibnitz, which endowed the ultimate units with varying doses of passion, consciousness, and spontaneity, and which built up the more complex structures and functions of organisms, from the combination of these—this theory, I say, somewhat modified and stripped of its mere metaphysical phases, could be made quite as rational and satisfactory as the more modern doctrines of development. Indeed, some eminent French philosophs—Renouvier, a first-class thinker, among the rest—have gone back to this notion; Darwin's suggestion of pangenesis, and Mr. Spencer'a physiological units, look toward it; and its adherents maintain that, beset with difficulties as it is, though not more so than others, it has yet this merit, that it leaves a way open to speculative thought, alike removed from the vagaries of mere ontological abstraction and the entire subjection of mind to a muddy and brute extraction. They might add, also, that this theory shows that, in the interpretation of the serial progress of being, we are not altogether shut up to a choice between specific and spasmodic creations and his own theory of evolution, as Mr. Spencer triumphantly assumes throughout his argument. Indeed, nothing is more easy than to make theories; but the difficulty is to get them adopted into Nature as the satisfactory reason of her processes. But, until they are so adopted, they are no more than the scaffolding of science—by no means the completed structure. Now, have the Darwinian and the Spencerian hypotheses been so adopted? Can we say that any questions on which such cautious observers and life-long students as Darwin, Owen, Huxley, Wallace, and Agassiz, still debate, are settled questions? Prof. Tyndall, for example, says: "Darwin draws heavily upon the scientific tolerance of the age;" and again, that "those who hold the doctrine of evolution are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they yield no more to it than a provisional assent." With what propriety, then, can a merely provisional conclusion be erected into an assured stand-point whence to assail traditionary beliefs as if they were old wives' fables?
More than that, a theory may be far more advanced than any of those; may be able to account satisfactorily for all the phenomena within its reach, as the Ptolemaic theory of the sidereal appearances did, even to the prediction of eclipses, or as the emanation theory of light did, up to the time of Dr. Young, and yet turn out altogether baseless. Nature is a prodigious quantity and a prodigious force; with all her outward uniformities she is often more cunning than the Sphinx; and, like Emerson's Brahma, she may declare to her students—
"They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass and turn again."
We have looked into her face a little, measured some of her ellipses and angles, weighed her gases and dusts, and unveiled certain forces, far and near—all which are glorious things to have done, and some of them seemingly miraculous; but we are still only in her outer courts. Humboldt's "Cosmos," written thirty years ago, is said to be already an antiquated book; and Comte, who died but lately, and whom these eyes of mine have seen, could hardly pass a college examination in the sciences he was supposed to have classified forever. Let us not be too confident, then, that our little systems of natural law will not, like other systems of thought spoken of by Tennyson, "have their day."
The other distinction I had in mind, in my speech, was that, while there are some problems accessible to scientific methods, there are others that are not; and, that any proffered scientific solution of the latter, either negative or affirmative, is most likely an imposition. What I meant was that science, according to its own confession, that is, according to the teachings of its most accredited organs, pretends to no other function than to the ascertainment of the actual phenomena of Nature and their constant relations. The sphere of the finite and the relative, i. e., of existence, not of essence, and of existence in its mutual and manifested dependencies in time and space, not in its absolute grounds, circumscribes and exhausts its jurisdiction. Was I wrongly taught, Mr. Editor? Does science assert for itself higher and broader pretensions? Does it propose to penetrate the supernatural or metaphysical realms, if there be any such? Does it intend to apply its instruments to the measurement of the infinite, and its crucibles to the decomposition of the absolute?
You, as a man of excellent sense, will promptly answer, No! But, then, I ask, is thought, whose expatiations are so restless and irrepressible, to be forever shut up to the phenomenal and relative? Is it to be forever stifled under a bushel-measure, or tied by the legs with a surveyor's chain? May it not make excursions into the field of the Probable, and solace itself with moral assurances when physical certainties fail? May it not, mounting the winged horse of analogy, when the good old drudge-horse induction gives out, fly through tracts of space and time, not yet laid down on the map? May not some men have insights into the working of laws yet unexplored, such as Mozart had into the laws of music, and Shakespeare into the laws of the human heart? Assuredly you cannot say nay, in the name of science, which, as we agree, being confined to the phenomenal and relative, has no right to pronounce either one way or the other, as to what, by supposition, lies beyond the phenomenal and relative. That supposed beyond may be wholly chimerical; but it is not from science that we shall learn the fact, if it be a fact. In other words, I contend—and here I hit upon the prime fallacy of many soi-disant scientists—that science has no right to erect what it does contain into a negation of everything which it does not contain. Still less has it a right to decide questions out of its confessed province, because it cannot reach them by its peculiar methods, or subject them to its peculiar tests?
Fortunately for me, though you take me especially to task for it, I am sustained in this position by some of the most eminent men of science of the day, and I may say, by great numbers of them, as I have reason to know. You yourself published, only a little while since, Dr. Carpenter's address, as President, to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in which, after expounding very clearly man's rightful function as "the interpreter of Nature," he said: "The science of modern times, however, has taken a more special direction. Fixing its attention exclusively on the order of Nature, it has separated itself wholly from theology, whose function it is to seek after its cause..... But, when science, passing beyond its own limits, assumes to take the place of theology and sets up its own conception of the order of Nature as a sufficient account of its cause, it is invading a province of thought to which it has no claim, and not unreasonably provokes the hostility of those who ought to be its best friends."
In the same number you published Dr. Gray's address, as President of the American Association, wherein, after quoting Miss Cobbe's remark, that "it is a singular fact, that when we find out how any thing is done, our first conclusion is, that God did not do it," he adds, that such a conclusion is "premature, unworthy, and deplorable," and concludes with the hope "that, in the future, even more than in the past, faith in an order which is the basis of science will not (as it cannot be reasonably) be dissevered from faith in an ordainer which is the basis of religion." And, my old friend, and honored teacher, Dr. Dlenry, from whose enthusiasm for natural studies I imbibed whatever taste for them I have retained, in a letter addressed to this Tyndall banquet, and published in your last number, wrote: "While we have endeavored to show that abstract science is entitled to high appreciation and liberal support, we do not claim for it the power of solving questions belonging to other realms of thought. . . . Much harm has been done by the antagonism which has sometimes arisen between the expounders of science on the one hand, and those of theology on the other, and we would deprecate the tendency which exhibits itself in certain minds to foster feelings antagonistic to the researches into the phenomena of Nature, for fear they should dis- prove the interpretations of Holy Writ made long before the revelations of physical science, which might serve for a better exegesis of what has been revealed; and also the tendency in other minds to transcend the known, and to pronounce dogmatically as to the possibility of modes of existence on which physical research has not thrown, and we think never can throw, positive light." Now, here is precisely, though not all, my meaning, and yet you rap me over the knuckles for it, while you publish the praises of Carpenter, Gray, and Henry.
All these illustrious men admit the limits of Science, and also the possibility of passing beyond them. As men of good common-sense, and no less as philosophers and scientists, they are perfectly aware that, while the scope of Science lies within the contents of experience, and of the inductions drawn from that experience, it is hazarding the character of it to go further. They feel too, no doubt, what I certainly do, that there are certain broad, deep, ineradicable instincts of the human mind, which, however they originated, whether implanted there by creative act, or formed by the slow growth of thousands of years, are now become the inexpugnable basis of all human credence and all human action. The convictions of the reality of Nature, of the independence of Mind, and of the being and authorship of God, in spite of every effort of Philosophy to get rid of them, either by declaring them unthinkable, or by merging one in the other, always return as the final no less than the initial postulates of thought. Any scheme of the universe, therefore, which leaves any of them out, declares itself impotent, like the project of an edifice which makes no provision for the corner-stones. Innumerable such schemes have gone before, and floated as bubbles for a while, but the first touch of these Realities broke them into thin air.
What the relations of these grand primal factors of the problem of existence are, or how they are to be harmonized with each other, we do not know; perhaps we never shall know; but, I think we shall learn more and more of them, and, in due time, by the instrumentalities that are given us. We shall learn of Nature, and of Man, so far as he is a dependant and denizen of Nature, by that digesting of experience which is the peculiar work of science. We shall learn of Man, so far as he has a deeper spring of life than observation reaches, from its wellings-up into consciousness at those rare moments of insight which often seem so mysterious; and we shall learn of God through both; i. e., as he works with the stupendous forces of time and space, which symbolize him, and as he inspires our feeble loves and wisdoms, which are no less symbols of him, with an intenser sense of his own supernal love and wisdom.
But, we shall learn little of either if we haughtily and peremptorily dismiss any of the elements out of the inquiry. Neither Nature nor Man is to be understood without God, nor can God be apprehended by pure intuition alone, or, save as he writes his hieroglyphics in objects and events, or imparts new impulses of goodness to the innermost soul. Tyndall, doubtless, caught a glimpse of the inseparableness of these elements when he said, "The passage from facts to principles is called induction, which, in its highest form, is inspiration," nor was he free from the same overshadowing truth, when, speaking of the possible solution of the ultimate physical problem, he remarks that, when it comes, "it will be one more of spiritual insight than of observation." For, if deity be, as it is sometimes said, the Spiritual Sun, the intellectual Light, he may evade scrutiny, as the common light evades vision. It is the condition of vision, "the light of all our seeing," in which all objects are seen, though itself unseen. Besides, we know that, even in the common light, there are rays which the physical eyes do not see, which the inward eyes of reason alone behold, but which, if the physical eyes could be made sensitive to their swift pulsations, might disclose, according to Tyndall's exquisite suggestion, a new heaven and a new earth, immediately around us, and "as far surpassing ours as ours surpasses that of the wallowing reptiles which once held possession of this planet."
Science must not deny the finer rays which she cannot see; she may remain indifferent to them if she pleases, and is, indeed, largely obliged to remain indifferent because of the very conditions under which she works; but, while delving in matter, there is no reason for getting suffocated by its gases, or stifled in its mud. For, in that event, the narrowness and dogmatism you impute to "the classes still called educated," to "the cultivators of sentimental literature," and to "college-bred people," would be most unquestionably hers; the opposition to freedom and progress of thought that you deplore would be hers; and she would lose at once that devotion to truth, whithersoever it may lead, which is now her proud boast. Indeed, as I observe the world, pretension and bigotry are not confined to the circles where you discover them; there are so-called men of science who partake the fault; and who set up their own little area of outlook for the sum of God's measureless world. There are those who, because they may have attended a course of lectures on mechanics, or compiled a treatise on heat, or performed a few simple experiments in chemistry, assume, not that wisdom will die with them, but that it was born with them. On the strength of these superior qualifications, they waive aside all the struggles of man after truth, in the past, as so many distempered dreams, which are about to be dispelled forever, because they have lit up a few farthing candles. Or, as a Buddhist poet says, "they are like infants born at midnight, who, because they see a sunrise, think there was never a yesterday." Let you and I, Mr. Editor, not be of the number. Let us be assured that some truth has come a good while ago, that it is coming still, in many ways, and will come in broader and rosier flashes in the future, though not to him who ostrich-like buries his head in the sand, or muffles his eyes against any of its illuminations.
|I have the honor to be|
|Your obedient servant,|
Mr. Editor: In Mommsen's "History of Rome"—one of the greatest intellectual productions of the age—vol. i., p. 30, American edition, occurs the following passage: "Nothing has hitherto been brought to light to warrant the supposition that mankind existed in Italy at a period anterior to the knowledge of agriculture and of the smelting of metals; and, if the human race ever within the bounds of Italy really occupied the level of that primitive stage of culture which we are accustomed to call the savage state, every trace of such a fact has disappeared."
Surprised at such a passage in such a book, I read it repeatedly, to be sure of its meaning. It seems to be plain enough. The statement is unwarranted; and, seeing that it is a negative one, it could hardly have been justifiable at the time it was written—probably twenty years ago. But, however that may be, it is certainly an oversight to retain it in the later editions without explanation.
Traces of early peoples who were savage in the extreme are plenty in many parts of Italy, even in the vicinity of Rome. Primitive stone weapons abound at Ponte Molle, Torre di Quinto, and Acqua Traversa, on the right bank of the Tiber. They are found in Liguria, and everywhere in what was Middle Etruria. Flint weapons of the rudest type are found in the lowermost beds of lava in ancient Latium. The like traces of a savage population are found at Imola, Casalvieri, and Alatri, in the neighborhood of Naples; at Ascoli, near Ancona; on Mount Brandon, in the vicinity of Ascoli, and on an island near Monticelli; in the territory of Borgo Ticino, on the plain of Vercelli-Borgo, and in the turf-pits of Mercurago and San Giovanni; in the region of San Germano, near Pinerolo, between the Tarnaro and Barrido, and on the right bank of the Agogna, in the territory of Briga; and in many other localities.
These relics consist mostly of hatchets and arrow or javelin points of flint and common greenstone. They are of all grades of workmanship, from the most rude to the most polished, and such is the variety in this respect that B. Gastaldi, who has thoroughly studied the specimens, believes that, if the usual division of the Stone Period into the Palæolithic and Neolithic (rough and polished stone) Ages be admissible, these relics would justify a further division of the Neolithic into two ages, according to the grade of workmanship.
Prof. Issel believes the evidence quite sufficient to show that the Ligurians remained stone-using savages, without knowledge of the metals, up to the time of their subjugation by the Celts and Romans.It is trite to observe that unqualified statements resting wholly on negative support are unsafe. Still the learned continue to make them. This of Mommsen's reminds one of Rénan's archæologico-poetic assumption that the Egyptian civilization had no foreground of preparation. This appears very funny in the light of evolution. Whether the Egyptians were autochthones of the Nile or not, their civilization had a long period of beginnings just as certainly as the Hellenic had; and late discoveries, of what are believed by some of the highest authorities to be flint implements, indicate that Egypt was once inhabited by the rudest of savages. It is not safe to affirm of any spot on earth which has been long enough above water, that it has not been inhabited by people in the stone-using phase of life.
J. S. Patterson.
Berlin Heights, Ohio.
Mr. Editor: The inquiry respecting the way in which spiders bridge chasms and streams, which is made in the note with the above heading, upon page 635 of the March number of this journal, has been often and satisfactorily answered by English writers, and the following is given merely as a confirmation of their more extended observations:
In March, 1866, I had taken a living male and female Nephila plumipes (sometimes called the "silk-spider of South Carolina") to the photographic establishment of Mr. Whipple, of Boston; while waiting for the taking of their pictures, and standing about six feet from the wire frame upon which was extended the female's web, I saw the little male suddenly cease climbing about the frame, and take position upon its upper margin; in a few seconds a silken thread floated near me; I allowed it to adhere to my sleeve; the spider then turned about, and made several vigorous pulls upon the line, as if to ascertain its fixity of attachment; when satisfied of this, he rapidly made his way toward me, but, in order to observe the act again, I hung my end of the line over the frame, so that he was left where he started; after a few turns he took position as before, with his abdomen elevated and directed toward the spot I had occupied; presently a fine line shot out from his spinners, and pursued an undulating course until it reached beyond the spot I had occupied, and began to rise toward the large ventilating cupola in the centre of the room; the spider would occasionally turn and try the line as before, but it did not become attached, and he did not embark upon it.
Feeling now quite sure that the current of air toward the ventilator both determined the spider's preparatory action and the progress of the line, I removed this line, and blew gently upon the spider in the opposite direction; he immediately turned about, elevated the abdomen as before, with the wind, and soon a line was carried in this direction for as long and as far as my breath could reach, and no farther. This was repeated with the same result in various directions. The extremity of the line appeared blunt and a little enlarged, which is in accordance with the view of Blackwall respecting the way in which it is started:
"The extremities of the spinners are brought into contact, and viscid matter is emitted from the papillæ; they are then separated by a lateral motion, which extends the viscid matter into filaments connecting the papillæ; on these filaments the current of air impinges, drawing them out to a length which is regulated by the will of the animal, and, on the extremities of the spinners being brought together, the filaments coalesce, and form one compound line. . . . If placed upon rods set upright in glass vessels with perpendicular sides, and containing clear water, they in vain attempt to escape from them in a still atmosphere. . . .
"The lines produced by spiders are not propelled from the spinners by any physical power possessed by those animals, but are invariably drawn from them by the mechanical action of external forces."
It is not so very strange that an American journal should reproduce the note which suggested this communication, without incorporating the desired information, since very few papers upon spiders have appeared in this country; but the conductors of Hardwicke's Science Gossip, in which it first appeared, must have been strangely oblivious of the already-quoted English accounts of the subject.
But this oversight is pardonable when compared to what occurred in Scribner's Monthly for May, 1872, in an account of spiders, evidently a compilation. The common garden spider is represented head upward in the centre of a web composed of concentric circles. Now, every one that has really examined a so-called geometrical web knows that it consists of a spiral line, and never of circles; and also knows that the Epeiridæ are as averse to reposing head upward as human beings are to assuming the
- "Fragments of Science," p. 60.
- Ibid., p. 100.
- Blackwall, "Spiders of Great Britain and Ireland" (Introduction, p. 11); Journal of Proceedings of Linnæan Society, vol. vii.; Transactions of Linnæan Society, vol. xv., p. 455.