Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/October 1873/Literary Notices
Although this neat and attractive little volume claims to be a popular introduction to the study of the forces of Nature, we think it should rather be regarded as a book for those who have been previously introduced to the subject. It is rather devoted to an exposition of the author's speculative views than to a simplified and elementary statement for those who are beginning to study. The author holds to a universal ether, and maintains besides that matter is constituted from it, and consists of it, and he aims to build up the universe of ethereal atoms and motion. The work is written from the modern point of view of the correlation of forces, and contains much interesting information upon this subject, but the author is less concerned merely to interpret the phenomena of interaction among the forces than to get below them to what he regards as the causes of their unity. "The atom and motion, behold the universe!" is a somewhat Frenchy and fantastic cosmology. To readers of a speculative turn of mind the book will prove interesting.
This work is in all respects a contrast to that of M. Saigey. Instead of transcendental ether, it treats of descendental sewerage, and, instead of remote imaginative speculations, it is occupied with the most immediate and practical of the interests of daily life. Of the importance of the subject treated, the preservation of life and health by the thorough construction of sanitary works, there can be no question, and the author claims that it is the first book exclusively devoted to subjects relating to sanitary engineering. He has gathered his material from official reports, periodical papers, and various works which touch the subject incidentally, and, adding to them the results of his own practice, has produced a most valuable treatise. As science unravels the complicated conditions of life, it becomes more and more apparent that health can only be maintained by the destruction or thorough removal of those deleterious products which are engendered in dwellings. The necessity of drainage is well understood, and the art has been long practised in all civilized countries; but, like all other arts, its intelligent and efficient practice depends upon scientific principles, and therefore progresses with a growing knowledge of the subject. The questions involved in the proper sewerage of a district are numerous. Its geological character and physical features have to be considered; the meteorological element of rainfall is important; the constitution of the soil and subsoil must be taken into account; the sources and extent of artificial water-supply are of moment; and the area of the district to be sewered, and its present and prospective population, cannot be overlooked. Much information of this kind requires also to be called into requisition in the construction of separate country-residences. The physical circumstances being given, there then arise numerous questions in regard to drainage, construction, household contrivances, the materials employed, and the cost, efficiency, and permanency of works. Mr. Latham's volume treats this whole series of topics in a systematic and exhaustive way. It is profusely illustrated with wood-cuts and maps, and contains numerous tables which are indispensable for the guidance of constructors. It is not reprinted, but is supplied by the New-York branch of the London house, who hold it at an exorbitant price.
Travellers to the United States, and American authors themselves, have often remarked on the affectionate veneration shown by Americans for the oldest things in Europe, and for all the associations connecting their present life with the life of their forefathers in the old country. Not long ago, it may be remembered, the builders of a new meeting-house at Boston (United States), sent for a brick from the prototype still standing at our Boston in England. We now find an officer of Harvard University putting forth labor which is evidently a labor of love, and the literary skill and taste in which the best American writers set an example worth commending to many of ours; and the things he speaks of belong to the Old World; to a world, indeed, so far off that for centuries we had lost its meaning, and have only just learned to spell it out again. His theme takes him back from the New World, not only to England, not only to Europe, but to the ancient home of the Aryan race, a world still full of wonders for the dwellers in it, whose changes of days and seasons, interpreted by the analogy of human will and action, were instinct with manifold life; where the imagination of our fathers shaped the splendid and gracious forms which have gone forth over the earth, as their children went forth, and prevailed in many lands, and have lived on through all the diverse fates of the kindred peoples in India, in Greece, in Iceland, to bear witness in the latter days to the unity of the parent stock. This book, which Mr. Fiske modestly introduces as a "somewhat rambling and unsystematic series of papers," seems to us to give the leading results of comparative mythology in a happier manner and with greater success than has yet been attained in so small a compass. It is the work of a student who follows in the steps of the great leaders with right-minded appreciation, and who, though he does not make any claim to originality, is no ordinary compiler. He is enthusiastic in his pursuit, without being a fanatic; his style has the attractiveness, due to a certain subtle tact or refinement hard to analyze, but quite sensibly felt, which marks the best American essay-writing; and his manner of dealing with his subject is well fitted to reassure those who have been deterred from seeking any acquaintance with comparative mythology, either by the formidable appearance of philological apparatus and Vedic proper names, or by the aggressive boldness of one or two champions of the new learning. It is very natural to feel a rebellious impulse at being told that half the gods and heroes of the classical epics, or even the nursery tales, which have delighted us from our youth up, are sun and sky, light and darkness, summer and winter, in various disguises.
The myth is in its origin neither an allegory—as Bacon and many others have thought—nor a metaphor as seems now and then to be implied in the language of modern comparative mythologists—but a genuinely-accepted explanation of facts, a "theorem of primitive Aryan science," as Mr. Fiske happily expresses it. This view is brought out in the last essay of the volume, entitled "The Primeval Ghost World," where the genesis of mythology is held not to be explicable by the science of language alone, and is rather ascribed to the complete absence of distinction between animate and inanimate Nature, which is now known to be common to all tribes of men in a primitive condition, and to which Mr. Tylor has given the name of Animism. We are pleased to find Mr. Fiske praising Mr. Tylor's work warmly, and even enthusiastically: here is another of the many proofs that the ties of common language and culture are in the long-run stronger than diplomacy and Indirect Claims. We find mentioned, among other instances of animism, the belief that a man's shadow is a sort of ghost or other self. This belief has, in comparatively-recent times, made its mark even in so civilized a tongue as the Greek. Στοιχεδ in Romaic is a ghost, or rather a personified object generally, and seems to correspond exactly to the other self attributed by primitive man to all creatures, living or not living, indiscriminately. Mr. Geldart, in a note to his book on Modern Greek (Oxford, 1870), which well deserves the attention of students of language and mythology, traces this as well as older allied meanings from the original meaning of στοιχείον in classical Greek, as the shadow on the sun-dial, acutely observing that the moving shadow would seem to the natural man far more alive and mysterious than the fixed rod.
There are several matters dealt with in special chapters by Mr. Fiske which we must put off with little more than allusion: the book is indeed a small one, but so full of interest that choice among its contents is not easy. An essay on "The Descent of Fire" treats of the divining-rod and other talismans endowed with the faculty of rending open rocks and revealing hidden treasure, which all appear to be symbols, sometimes obvious, sometimes remotely and fancifully derived, of the lightning which breaks the cloud and lets loose the treasures of the rain. There is also a chapter on the mythology of non-Aryan tribes, showing the difference between the vague resemblance of these to Aryan myths and to one another, and the close family likeness which leads to the certain conclusion that the great mass of Aryan mythology came from a common stock.—Spectator.
In a late number of this journal is an excellent article by Prof. Alexander Hogg, of the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, entitled "More Geometry—less Arithmetic," that contains various suggestions worthy the thoughtful attention of teachers. It was a favorite idea of the late Josiah Holbrook, which he enforced upon educators on all occasions, that rudimentary geometry should be introduced into all primary schools j but he insisted with equal earnestness upon his theory of their order, which was embodied in his aphorism, "Drawing before writing, and geometry before arithmetic." The priority of geometrical or arithmetical conception in the unfolding mind is a subtle psychological question, into which it is not necessary for the teacher to go, the practical question being to get a recognition of the larger claims of geometry, and this is the point to which Prof. Hogg wisely directs the discussion. The fact is, mental development has been too much considered in its linear and successive aspects, and the theories that are laid down concerning the true order of studies have been hitherto too much confined to this idea. Starting with inherited aptitudes, mental development begins in the intercourse of the infant mind with the environment, and, while it is true that there is a sequence of mental experience in each increasing complexity, it is equally true that many kinds of mental action are unfolded together. Ideas of form are certainly among the earliest, and therefore should have an early cultivation. To all that Prof. Hogg says about the need of increasing the amount of geometry in education we cordially subscribe, and we think he is equally right in condemning the excess of attention that is given to arithmetic, which is mainly due to its supposed practical character as a preparation for business. But neither is geometry without its important practical uses. The professor says:
"Let us see, then, what a pupil with enough arithmetic and the plane geometry can perform. He can measure heights and distances; determine areas; knows that, having enclosed one acre with a certain amount of fencing, to enclose four acres he only has to double the amount of fencing; that the same is true of his buildings. In circles, in round plats, or in cylindrical vessels, he will see a beautiful, universal law pervading the whole—the increase of the circumference is proportional to the increase of the diameter, while the increase of the circle is as the square of the diameter. . . .
"Thousands of boys are stuffed to repletion with 'interest,' 'discount,' and 'partnership,' in which they have experienced much 'loss' but no 'profit;' have mastered as many as five arithmetics, and yet, upon being sent into the surveyor's office, machine-shop, and carpenter-shop, could not erect a perpendicular to a straight line, or find the centre of a circle already described, if their lives depended upon it. Many eminent teachers think that young persons are incapable of reasoning, and that the truths of geometry are too abstruse to be comprehended by them. . . .
"Children are taught to read, not for what is contained in the reading-books, but that they may be able to read through life; so, let enough of the leading branches be taught, if no more, to enable the pupil to pursue whatever he may need most in afterlife. Let, then, an amount of geometry commensurate with its importance be taught even in the common schools; let it be taught at the same time with arithmetic; let as much time be given to it, and we shall find thousands who, instead of closing their mathematical books on leaving school, will be led to pursue the higher mathematics in their maturer years."
The purpose of this work is to reconcile the essential principles of religious faith with the present tendencies of thought in the sphere of positive and physical science. Mr. Picton is not a votary of modern skepticism, although he recognizes the fact of its existence, and its bearing on vital questions. Nor is he a partisan of any of the current systems of philosophy or science, but discusses their various pretensions in the spirit of intelligent and impartial criticism. He has no fear of their progress or influence; he accepts many of their conclusions; he honors the earnestness and ability of their expounders; while he believes that their results are in harmony with the essential ideas of religion. It is possible, he affirms, that all forms of finite existence may be reduced to modes of motion. But this is of no consequence in a religious point of view, for motion itself is only the visible manifestation of the energy of an infinite life. "To me," he says, "the doctrine of an eternal continuity of development has no terrors; for, believing matter to be in its ultimate essence spiritual, I see in every cosmic revolution a 'change from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.' I can look down the uncreated, unbeginning past, without the sickness of bewildered faith. I want no silent dark eternity in which no world was; for I am a disciple of One who said, 'My Father worketh hitherto.' My sense of eternal order is no longer jarred by the sudden appearance in the universe of a dead, inane substance, foreign to God and spiritual being. And if, with a true insight, I could stand so high above the world as to take any comprehensive survey of its unceasing evolutions—here a nebula dawning at the silent fiat 'be light,' there the populous globe, where the communion of the many with the One brings the creature back to the Creator—I am sure that the oneness of the vision, so far from degrading, would unspeakably elevate my sense of the dignity and blessedness of created being. I have no temptation, therefore, to join in cursing the discoverer who tracks the chain of divine forces by which finite consciousness has been brought to take its present form; because I know he can never find more than that which was in the beginning, and is, and ever shall be—the 'power of an endless life.'"
With regard to the speculations of Prof. Huxley, the author, so far from bewailing their effects, pronounces them decidedly favorable to the interests of religion. They present a formidable barrier to the encroachments of materialism. In this respect, he thinks that Prof. Huxley has rendered services to the Church, if less signal, not less valuable, than those which he has rendered to science. He has brought the religious world face to face with facts with a vigor and a clearness peculiar to himself. Not only so. In the opinion of the author, he has made suggestions concerning those facts of vast importance to the future of religion. He has defined the only terms on which harmony is possible between spiritual religion and physical science. Equalling Berkeley in transparent distinctness of statement, while he far surpasses him in knowledge of physical phenomena, Mr. Huxley has shown that, whether we start with materialism or idealism, we are brought at length to the same point. He has thus proved himself one of the most powerful opponents that materialism ever had. All that he did in his celebrated discourse on the "Physical Basis of Life" was, to call attention to certain indisputable facts. "And perhaps it was the impossibility of denying these facts which was a main cause of the uneasiness that most of us felt. Thus he told us that all organizations, from the lichen up to the man, are all composed mainly of one sort of matter, which in all cases, even those at the extremity of the scale, is almost identical in composition. And the one other fact on which he insisted was, that every living action, from the vibrations of cilia by the foraminifer to the imagination of Hamlet or the composition of the Messiah, is accompanied by, and in a sense finds an equivalent expression in, a definite waste or disintegration of material tissue. Thus it is no less certain that the muscles of a horse are strained by a heavy load, than it is that the brain of a Shakespeare undergoes molecular agitation, producing definite chemical results, in the sublime effort of imagination."
But, at first blush, such statements produce a shock in the minds of most readers. They are reluctant to be told that the soul never acts by itself apart from some excitement of bodily tissue. It seems monstrous that thought and love, which in one direction find their expression in the majesty of eloquence, should in another direction find their expression in evolving carbonic acid and water. Such a union between soul and body seemed to amount to identity. And yet the soul was conscious that, whatever might be said, it was not one of the chemical elements, nor all of them put together.
The mental anxiety referred to has been aggravated by the hold which has been taken on most inquiring minds, by the doctrine of development. Whether natural selection is or is not sufficient to account for the origin of species, the idea of successive acts of creation out of nothing has been virtually abandoned by all whose observations of Nature have been on such a scale as to entitle their opinions to any weight. What was once the property of a few isolated thinkers has been made completely accessible to minds of common intelligence. But the terrors which have been awakened by the popular reception of novel scientific theories are entirely founded on the assumption that matter and spirit are fundamentally distinct in their nature. It has been the general belief that matter was something heavy, lifeless, inert, something that forms the hidden basis of the ethereal vision of the world. But, argues the author, if that assumption be the mere creature of false analogy, and is wholly incongruous and unthinkable, it does not indeed follow that materialism, in a fair sense of the word, is impossible, still the conclusion cannot be avoided that materialism and spiritualism would then exhibit only different aspects of the same everlasting fact, and physical research might henceforth unfold to us only the energies of Infinite Life self-governed by eternal law.
But, admitting the universal action of molecular mechanics, the author adduces numerous instances which show that the explanation they offer of the phenomena of sensation cannot be realized in consciousness. Nothing is really an explanation which cannot be reproduced in consciousness as such. We demand a cause from which the effect can rationally be educed. The perception of distance, for example, is explained by the action of the muscular sense and the experience of touch. This is an adequate explanation, for it can be realized in consciousness. But the case is far otherwise with the explanation of sensation by molecular mechanics. Physical research lands us in a dead inert substance called matter, which, though without soul or meaning in itself, produces by its vibrations the most beautiful visions and sublime emotions in our consciousness. But the external phenomena, inseparable from our consciousness of sight or sound, cannot be rationally connected with the consciousness that gives them all their interest. No one to whom the Hallelujah Chorus utters the joy of heaven, or for whom a sonata of Beethoven gives a voice to the unutterable, can make it seem real to himself that his mind is invaded by mere waves of vibrating air. At no point in the chain of vibrations, not even the point most deeply buried in the brain, can we conceive that molecular action is converted into any thing besides material movement, or resistance to movement. But this does not exhaust the consciousness. The emotional, imaginative, and moral wealth of human life opens a world of reality immeasurably greater than can be contained in mere mechanical movement.
Assuming, then, the fact of a nature in man, of which the molecular laws are not the substance, but the condition, the author takes up the inquiry as to the essential nature of religion. This he defines to be the endeavor after a practical expression of man's conscious relation to the Infinite. The savage who wonders at the unseen but mighty wind that streams from unknown realms of power ha3 already the germ of the feeling which inspires religion. But the conscious relation to the Infinite includes every stage in this consciousness, just as the name of a plant includes the blade as well as the fruit. If the evolution of religion be a normal phase in the development of mankind, there must be at the root of it that grand and measureless Power which is the inevitable complement of the conception of evolution. All evolution implies a divine Power, but religious evolution has to do with the dim apprehension of that Power in consciousness. Mr. Herbert Spencer, to continue the reasoning of the author, has been much blamed, by many religious thinkers, for making the reconciliation between science and religion to lie in the recognition on both sides that "the Power which the universe manifests to us is utterly inscrutable." Yet the very persons who most strenuously object to this suggestion are in the habit of quoting the words of Scripture which declare the unsearchable mystery of the Divine Nature. Those words are used to rebuke the arrogance of philosophy. But, when philosophy learns the lesson, its humility is condemned as wilful blindness. The true philosophy of ignorance, however, retains as an indestructible element of human consciousness an apprehension of something beyond all fragmentary existence, the Absolute Being, at once the only true substance, and the One that constitutes a universe from the phenomenal world. It is inevitable that attempts should be made to give practical expression to this feeling. And in such efforts we find the first germs of religion.
With the imperfect summary which we have given of the views maintained in this volume, it will be perceived that its position in literature is that of a commentary on new developments of thought, rather than of a complete exposition of any system of philosophy or science. Accepting the consequences of modern physical research, it aims to establish their consistency with the principles of a high religious faith, and thus to remove the vague alarms which their prevalence has called forth in certain portions of the community. The author is evidently a man of an ardent poetical temperament, of a reverent and tender spirit, and an aptitude for illustration rather than for demonstration.—N. Y. Tribune.
This is number one of Van Nostrand's science series, and is a technological monograph that will be useful to engineers and builders. The author says: "Furnaces or closed fireplaces, which it is the main design of this essay to treat upon, are essentially different in principle and construction to the ordinary open fireplaces of dwelling-houses, as they are exceedingly different in their general scope and object, and in the vast variety of their applications;" and he then proceeds to expound the general philosophy of special chimneys for furnaces and steam-boilers.
This is number two of the same series, and is a most instructive and readable essay. The editor states that, although published ten years ago, later experiences would add but little if any thing to the knowledge it affords. The various observed scientific questions in regard to the causes of steam-boiler explosions, such as over-heating, electricity, the spheroidal state, decomposed steam, etc., are considered, but Mr. Colburn maintains that, whether these are valid causes of explosion or not, they are collectively as nothing compared with the one great cause—defective boilers. The style in which this essay is written is a model of simplicity and clearness.
The Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences commences this year the publication of their Bulletin, which it is proposed to continue, four numbers to be issued annually. The two numbers before us contain seven papers, six of which are devoted to the describing and cataloguing of American moths, and one gives descriptions of new species of fungi. The author of the latter paper is Charles H. Peck; all the others are by Augustus R. Grote. Mr. Grote is well known to entomologists as an authority on the subjects which he discusses, and the Buffalo society is to be congratulated for being the medium through which the laborious and valuable researches of so able a naturalist are published to the world. The papers are strictly scientific and technical, being intended solely for those who pursue methodically the special branches of science to which they refer. They are not popular expositions, but rather brief notes on certain departments of natural science, to be understood and valued only by the initiated. The Bulletin is handsomely printed on good paper, in octavo form. Subscription price, $2.50 per volume.
This paper was read at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Newport, R. I., in 1860, and was published in the volume of proceedings of the Association for that year. The extraordinary interest taken in Arctic affairs during the past two years has led to its reissue in pamphlet form, with brief introductory observations on the present state of the problem. Accepting the view, now quite generally held, that an open sea, or at least a much ameliorated climate, exists in the vicinity of the pole, the author, in this paper, aims to show that such a condition of things "is largely if not entirely due to the currents of the air from the equatorial regions which move in the higher strata of the earth's atmosphere, bearing heat and moisture with them." How well he succeeds in this undertaking, we leave the readers of the argument to judge.
Washington Catalogue of Stars. By order of Rear-Admiral Sands, U. S. N. Washington, 1873.
First Annual Report of the Minnesota State Board of Health. St. Paul, 1873, pp. 102.
Scientific and Industrial Education. A Lecture. By G. B. Stebbins. Detroit, 1873, pp. 24.
The Railroads of the United States. By Henry V. Poor. New York: H. V. & H. W. Poor, 68 Broadway, pp. 29.
Cosmical and Molecular Harmonics, No. II. By Pliny Earle Chase, M. A. Philadelphia, 1873, pp. 16.
Nickel. By Dr. Lewis Feuchtwanger, pp. 19.
Diminution of Water on the Earth, and its Permanent Conversion into Solid Forms. By Mrs. George W. Houk. Dayton, 0., 1873, pp. 39.
Sixth Annual Report of the Trustees of the Peabody Museum of American Archæology and Ethnology. Cambridge, 1873, pp. 27. Mr. Gillman's report of his explorations of the ancient mounds on the St. Clair River is an important contribution to archæology. The museum is in a flourishing state, and growing steadily. The Niccolucci collection of ancient crania and implements was the most important addition made during the past year.