Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/February 1889/Popular Miscellany

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Faults of City Schools. — In his recent annual report on the public instruction of the State of New York, Superintendent Draper, after mentioning the first-class appliances for education employed in the cities and larger villages of the State, the systematic arrangements and competent superintendence found there, goes on to show the deficiencies of the city schools as follows: "Yet school-work in great cities is encompassed with innumerable perplexities. The conditions of life among the people are widely different in all localities, but these differences are multiplied and intensified in great and thickly settled communities. All classes meet in public schools. The schools are large. The grading and classification of pupils are necessarily close and arbitrary. Individuality disappears, and there is small opportunity to bestow special care upon those personal traits of character and genius which in smaller and less mechanical schools are developed and cultivated so advantageously. The exactions and controversies of politics, unfortunately, encroach more upon the administration of school affairs in large places than in small ones. The people are farther removed from the schools, and they manifest less interest in them because they have less responsibility and power in managing and directing them. It not infrequently happens, also, that the law leaves the granting of appropriations for the extension or even the maintenance of a city school system with the Common Council, or some board which, in cither case, was chosen without any reference to the schools, and which seems bound to offset its extravagances in other directions with severe parsimony toward the schools."

 

Sense of Direction in Insects.—Dr. H. C. McCook has observed a very accurate sense of direction displayed by the "horse-ant" (Formica rufa) of Great Britain, in laying out roads from the ant-hills to points in the surrounding woods. These roads or trails had in places a width of from two to four inches, and were distinctly marked upon the surface of the ground, which was stained a dark brown or black, probably by the formic acid exuded from the insects, and the leaves and grass over which they ran were pressed down and smoothed by the constant passing of innumerable logs. From one large mound three roads ran beneath the tall undergrowth with remarkable directness to different oak-trees in which numerous aphides afforded a food-supply. Road No. 1 was about sixty-five feat in length, and ran in an almost perfectly straight line. No. 2 was about seventy feet long, and varied less than three inches from a direct line measuring from the tree to a point within two feet of the terminal tree. There the trail made a detour of about six inches. No, 3 was a little over one hundred feet in length. A short distance from the nest it touched an old stump which deflected the path at a slight angle, and further on it crossed a foot-path where the travel of the ants was much interfered with by passing human feet. In spite of the difficulties of the track, when the entire trail was staked off, its terminus was found to deviate less than three feet from a straight line drawn from the point of departure.

 

Australian Message-Sticks.—The descriptions by Mr. A. W. Howitt in the British Association represent a considerable variety as prevailing among the Australian tribes in the use of message-sticks. Some of them are elaborately marked, highly ornamented, and even brightly painted. No messenger known to be such is ever injured. The message-stick is made by the sender and kept by the recipient as a reminder of what he has to do. In one tribe the messenger, for friendly meetings, carries a man's kilt and a woman's apron hung on a reed; but for meetings for hostile purposes, the kilt is hung upon the point of a spear. With a tribe in Victoria, the principal man prepares a message-stick by making certain notches upon it with a knife. The man who is to carry it looks on, and thus learns the connection between the marks on the stick and the message. A notch is made at one end to indicate the sender, and probably notches also for those who join in sending the message. If all the people of a tribe are invited to attend a meeting, the stick is notched from end to end; if part only are invited, only a portion of the stick is notched; and if very few people are invited to meet or referred to in the verbal message, then a notch is made for each person as he is named to the messenger. The messenger carries the stick in a net-bag, and, on arriving at the camp to which he is sent, hands it to the head-man at some place apart from the others, saying, "So-and-so sends you this," and then gives his message, referring, as he does so, to the marks on the message-stick. As a rule, the notches on a message-stick are only reminders to the messenger of the message he is instructed to deliver, and are unintelligible to a man to whom they have not been explained; but certain notches appear to have a definite meaning, and to indicate different classes. Mr. Howitt explained a method for indicating members, which fully disposes of the idea that the paucity of numerals in the language of the Australians arises from any inability to conceive of higher numbers than two, three, or four.

 

Modern Greek Personifications of the Sun.—According to Mr. J. Theodore Bent, the personifications of the sun among the peasants of modern Greece compare well with the legends of classical times. His beauty, power, and strength endow him with regal attributes, and he is supposed at nighttime to seek his kingdom and live in a palace, where his mother tends upon him. We have also the sun's wife and the sun's daughter, and can compare the Macedonian legend of Heliojenni with the Homeric myths of Perse and her children, Circe and Aïetes. The sun, as messenger, may be compared with the words of the dying Ajax. The connection between sun-worship and that of the prophet Elias is very marked in modern Greece. Elias looks after rain, and is the Greek St. Swithin. Churches to him are always found on sites of ancient temples to Apollo. This idea of a union between St. Elias and a power over the elements is clearly shown in a manuscript from Lesbos. There is a connection between sun-worship and St. George, noticeable not only in the islands, but in Macedonia, where a curious swing ceremony is performed on St. George's day in honor of the sun's bride having been swung up to heaven on that day, and the κάρα fires are lit.

 

New Medicinal Plants.—Mrs. H. C. De S. Abbott has published an account of the enterprise of Mr. Thomas Christy, of London, in investigating and introducing the active principles of valuable medicinal plants. His operations are carried on at his estate in Sydenham and in the native countries of the plants, where he has agents employed in collecting and cultivating. One of the most important plants lately introduced is the Strophanthus, or arrow-poison of Africa, from which the powerful cardiac remedy strophantine is extracted. The plant is a creeper, topping the tallest trees, and bearing intensely bitter seed-pods. The oily pulp of the seeds, with which the natives smear their arrows, causes instant death, or stupor and foaming at the mouth, followed by death in the animals with whose blood it is mixed, while it does not appear to affect badly the flesh far from the wound. Among other new drugs are kerpod, good for chilblains; alvelos, efficient in skin-diseases; and the haya poison and sassy-bark, which produce anæsthesia of the cornea. Mrs. Abbott suggests that a rich field of research, to be cultivated with great advantage to the healing art, lies in the study of the uninvestigated plants of our own country. It is a field in which she is herself an earnest laborer.

 

Absence of Memory and Presence of Mind.—The sudden lapses of memory that occasionally attack persons of strong mind are frequently very surprising. Such lapses have occasionally been known to come upon public speakers without the audience seeming to have been aware that the speech had been marred. Thackeray relates that he once lost the thread of an after-dinner speech, and thought that he had made a fool of himself; but his mother, who was within hearing, was of the opposite opinion. The Rev. Henry Ware, of Boston, lost himself in the middle of a sermon and stopped abruptly. He was consoled after the service by hearing one member of the congregation remark to another that that was the best sermon Mr. Ware had ever preached. "That pause was sublime!" A French preacher, when a similar accident befell him, remarked, "Friends, I had forgot to say that a person much afflicted is recommended to your immediate prayers," and knelt down to pray. The afflicted person was himself, and his device was successful to the restoration of the thread of his discourse. A famous Irish actor was once called upon to sing his favorite song, "The Sprig of Shillalah," although it was not on the bills. He could not recollect the beginning, and appealed to the audience: "Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that I have sung this song so often that I forget the first line!" The audience gave him the first line, and he went on with the song amid great applause. Father Taylor, the "sailor's preacher," when he once got confused, cried out: "Boys, I've lost my nominative case; but never mind, we're on the way to glory!"

 

British Gold-Mines.—The existence of gold in the British Islands, in quantities perhaps sufficient to pay for modest mining, seems to be established, thereby justifying Strabo's inclusion of the precious metals as among their products. In Wales, gold is found in Carmarthenshire and Merionethshire. At Gogafan, in the former county, are to be seen traces of extensive ancient (probably Roman) workings. At the Viga Cloga Mine, an average annual return of £2,500 was realized from 1860 to 1867, since when the yield has declined. In this mine the vein appears to have been more productive as the working was extended to a greater depth, contrary to what is generally believed about gold-mines. From the Cambrian Mine, 300 ounces, and from the Prince of Wales's Mine, from 300 to 400 ounces of gold have been extracted to the ton of ore. Gold-fields were worked in Ireland at the close of the last century, but operations were stopped in 1802 because the cost exceeded the profit. The attempt was renewed in 1840, but given up again on account of disputes. The principal mining sites were Ballin Valley, Ballintemple, and Killahurler. Gold-fields lie in Lanarkshire and Sutherlandshire in Scotland. They were worked with considerable profit in the days of the Jameses. The gold-field of southeast Sutherlandshire covers an area of thirty miles by twenty. The occurrence of gold in England is rather a matter of speculation; but it exists, and can be found and obtained. Mineral in north Cornwall has assayed eleven ounces to the ton. Mr. J. S. Farrer thinks that the reason no gold-mines are at present being worked in the United Kingdom may he "far more in the state of the law than in that of the ground."

 

Children's Punishments.—Something can be said in favor of most of the forms of correction—the rod, strap, tasks, confinement, restriction to plain food, and many others—which have been more or less employed in the school and the family. But there is one which on no account should be employed. Boxing or pulling the ears, or, indeed, striking any part of the head, is most injudicious. Not every form of corporal punishment is so objectionable, but in applying it judgment should be employed. Thus, if a chastisement suitable for a robust child is given to a nervous or feeble one, it will be doubly felt, and will be out of proportion to the offense. Moral means of correction may be the most suitable for sensitive children, and, in the case of school tasks, may possess a certain educational value. There is, however, an important objection to such as imply confinement indoors, especially in cases where the culprit is some poorly nourished youngster to whom fresh air is a luxury, or in any case where the punishment is frequently repeated.

 

Searching for the Canals of Mars.—In his report at the American Association on the aspect of Mars, as observed at the National Observatory, Washington, Prof. A. Hall said that while observing satellites in April, attempts were made on several nights to see the canals, but without success, and then it was determined to make the trial in twilight, when the observers could see more in detail on the surface of the planet. But nothing like the regular canals drawn by European observers could be seen, although the usual reddish and dark spots and markings were visible nearly every night.

 

Japanese Mirrors.—The peculiar property of the Japanese "magic mirrors," some of which reflect the figures carved or stamped on their hacks, was explained by Prof. Mendenhall, at the American Association. It has been known to the Japanese for a thousand years, but did not receive scientific attention till a few years ago, when a Frenchman studied out the reason of it. The mirrors are round metal disks with short handles covered with bamboo and curiously carved backs. The peculiar thing about them is that, when a ray of light is reflected from their surface upon a screen, instead of a mere blotch of light there appears a reflection of the figures upon the back of the metal. How this is accomplished Prof. Mendenhall explained on the principle of the divergence of rays of light from a convex surface. It has been discovered that the polished surfaces of some of the mirrors are slightly convex. In addition to this, the smooth surface is really irregular, though the irregularity can not be noticed with the naked eye. When the mirror is cast, the cooling process has the effect of drawing it slightly out of shape, and the impress of the ornamentation on the back of the disk gives a practically indistinguishable variation in convexity on the smooth surface that is only noticed when the reflection is cast upon a screen. The mirrors are not made for the "magic" purpose. They are ordinary mirrors, whose magic properties are the result of chance, and not more than one in a thousand possesses them. The author conceives an application of the principle of these mirrors to the realization of the idea of seeing by telegraph, and suggests that, by the use of electro-magnets and selenium, a metal peculiarly sensitive to light-rays, it might be possible to transfer over hundreds or thousands of miles the reflection of letters, or even faces.

 

Effects of Tile-Draining.—The influence of tile-draining in flood and drought was thus presented by Prof. R. C. Kedzie, in a paper read at the American Association: "1. Surface ditching in conjunction with deforesting may increase floods and contribute to droughts. 2. Tile-draining may increase floods at the "break-up" in the spring, where the waters accumulated in the surface-soil by joint action of frost and soil capillarity during the winter and surface accumulation in form of snow are suddenly set free by a rapid thaw. 3. During the warm months tile-draining tends to mitigate floods by taking up the excessive rainfall and holding it in capillary form, keeping back the sudden flow that would pass over the surface of the soil if not absorbed by it and escape by flood; and also in mitigating summer drought by increasing the capacity of the soil to hold water in capillary form and draw upon the subsoil water-supply by reason of the increasing capillary power of such soil produced by tile-draining."

 

International Congress of Hydrology and Climatology.—The second triennial session of the International Congress of Hydrology and Climatology is to be held in Paris near the beginning of October, 1889. The President of the Committee on Organization is M. E. Renou, director of the Meteorological Observatory of the Pare de Saint-Maur. The committee has already arranged that the following questions, among others, shall be discussed: Conditions to be observed in the installation of a meteorological observatory; rules for weather-forecasting, and organization of weather-announcements at sanitary stations; climatology of different sanitary stations; comparison and classification of sanitary stations from the point of view of their climatological conditions; on the action of altitude and climates m affections of the lungs; programme of a course of instruction in climatology. Communications should be addressed to the secretary-general, M. Dr. de Rause, Paris, 53 Avenue Montaigne, from the 1st of October to the 1st of June, and at Neris (Allier), from the 1st of June to the 1st of October.

 

Mineral Evolution.—Dr. T. Sterry Hunt has asserted that "the transformation of the primitive igneous material of this earth's crust through the action of air and water, aided by internal heat, presents a mineralogical evolution not less regular, constant, and definite in its results than the evolution apparent in the organic kingdoms." Continuing the discussion of this subject in the British Association, he shows that the stability of silicated species under atmospheric influence is very variable, some being readily decomposed, and others very permanent; the indifference or chemical resistance, moreover, increasing with the hardness or mechanical resistance. "These two qualities vary for species of analogous constitution directly as their condensation; while, for species of similar condensation and hardness, the chemical indifference increases as alumina takes the place of the ordinary protoxide base, lime, magnesia, ferrous oxide, and alkalies—a fact readily explained by the comparative insolubility of alumina and aluminous silicates in atmospheric waters." Other changes less well known take place in silicates by the subterranean action of watery solutions, when a greater insolubility determines the formation of certain softer hydrated magnesian and aluminous species by epigenesis from harder and more condensed species, Mr. E. A. Ridsdale has spoken of the production and conservation of more stable species as described by Dr. Hunt as a gradual "selection of inert forms," and, further, as "a survival of the most inert." But, "as inertness consists in stability, and in fitness to resist alike the chemical and the mechanical agencies which destroy other species, it is evident that his phraseology is but another statement of the formula of 'the survival of the fittest.' The great principle of the change of the mineral matters which existed in former conditions of our planet, into other forms more stable under the altered conditions of later ages, is but an extension to the mineral kingdom of the laws already recognized in astronomical and biological development."

 

Training the Emotions.—It has been proposed to give some attention to regulating the development of the emotions, both in the young and in the adult public. Frances Power Cobbe, in the "Fortnightly Review," maintains that emotions come to persons by a sort of contagion far oftener than they spring up of themselves in the human breast. Any attempt to communicate our emotions by command, however, tends rather to produce the opposite feelings. In order to educate the emotions of others, we must employ this natural agency, contagion. In order to inspire a person with a given feeling, we must exhibit the feeling in ourselves. Parents, duly impressed with the importance of the subject, would carefully suppress, or at least conceal, such of their own emotions as they would regret to see caught up by their children. A teacher who has the respect and esteem of his pupils will affect their emotions for evil or good according as he betrays enthusiasm or aversion for selfish and sanguinary conquerors, according as he justifies or condemns assassins and anarchists, according as he represents science as seeking triumphs or truths, and according as he treats efforts for the elevation of mankind with levity or respect. The companions of the young have a great influence on the development of their emotions. As regards girls, their doubly emotional natures make it a matter of moral life and death that their companions should be pure and honorable minded. Too little precaution is taken, especially in American public schools, against the herding of innocent children with others who have been familiar with vice. As regards the education of the emotions of the community, an excessively demoralizing influence was removed when the public was excluded from executions. Admirable machinery for the communication of noble emotions through the masses is furnished by majestic public functions and by funerals of distinguished men. Literature has an immense power to sway the emotions of all educated people. The stage is another great agency for training the emotions of the public, and, even when it produces only harmless merriment, its influence is wholesome and beneficent. Music and the beauty of nature and of art are also powerful levers of the higher emotions, which it becomes us to use for the benefit of our fellows whenever it is practicable to do so.

 

The Botanical Outlook.—In his address to the Biological Section of the British Association, Mr. W. T. Thiselton Dyer, while asserting the importance of botany, admitted that the outlook for systematic botany was at present somewhat discouraging. France, Germany, and Austria, he said, "no longer possess anything like a school on the subject, though they still supply able and distinguished workers. That these are, however, few, may be judged from the fact that it is difficult to fill the place of the lamented Eichler in the direction of the Botanic Garden and herbarium at Berlin. Outside of our own country Switzerland is the most important seat of general systematic study, to which three generations of De Candolles have devoted themselves. The most active centers of work at the moment are, however, to be found in our own country, in the United States, and in Russia, And the reason is, in each case, no doubt the same. The enormous area of the earth's surface over which each country holds sway brings to them a vast amount of material which peremptorily demands discussion. . . . The data of systematic botany, when properly discussed, lend themselves to very important generalizations. Perhaps those which are yielded by the study of geographical distribution are of the most general interest. The mantle of vegetation which covers the earth, if only we could rightly unravel its texture, would tell us a good deal about geological history. The study of geological distribution, rightly handled, affords an independent line of attack upon the problem of the past distribution of land and sea. It would probably never afford sufficient data for a complete independent solution of the problem; but it must always be extremely useful as a check upon other methods. Here, however, we are embarrassed by the enormous amount of work which has yet to be accomplished; and, unfortunately, this is not of a kind which can be indefinitely postponed. The old terrestrial order is fast passing away before our eyes. Everywhere the primitive vegetation is disappearing as more and more of the earth's surface is brought into cultivation, or at any rate denuded of its forests. A good deal, however, has been done." Mr. Bentham and Sir Ferdinand Mueller have given a comprehensive flora of Australia, the first largo area of the earth's surface of which the vegetation has been completely worked out. Sir Joseph Hooker is busy with the Indo-Malayan flora of the British dominions, and the Dutch botanists have described the Malayan flora proper. British botanists have begun to work the Chinese flora, and the French that of Yunnan. Prof. Bayley Balfour and Dr. Schweinfurth have studied the anomalous flora of Socotra. The flora of Africa has been partly studied, and of this, that of Madagascar is the most interesting. American botanists are still busy with their own flora, and the Russians are continually adding to our knowledge of the flora of Northern and Central Asia. The flora and fauna of Central America have been provided for by the munificence of two English men of science. The flora of Brazil is under slow examination and arrangement in Prof. Urban's "Flora Braziliensis." And the deep-sea exploring expeditions have made known the floras of remote islands.

 

An Enthusiast in Science.—Prof. W. Stanley Jevons wrote to his sister, from Melbourne, Australia, April 9, 1859: "This afternoon I called at the Melbourne Observatory upon the director. Prof. Neumayer, a rather new-comer. I was introduced to a little spare German, who received me with a tremendous bow, to which I was obliged to respond with interest. . . . With the greatest enthusiasm he at once commenced a complete round of his observatory, showing and discussing with me every instrument, meteorological, magnetic, and astronomical, of which, at least the two former kinds, he had a numerous and very varied collection, all in active use throughout the twenty-four hours. Then he showed me many of the numerical results, explaining the method of reducing them, and carefully taking my direction and name, that he might post me his published reports, and even promising immediately to set his assistants to work to copy out a few barometer readings which I required, and had made the ostensible purpose of my visit. . . . How delightful it is to meet this enthusiasm for true and highly useful things, when one passes whole years together among those who are enthusiastic and greedy only about gold! One would be willingly snubbed each day of the year by the rich and addle-headed, if only received so well as this by the truly best of their race."

 

Nascent Species of Plants.—Through the discussions of the floras of the western Pacific islands, collected by the Challenger Expedition, we have for the first time been enabled, says the Rev. W. T. Thiselton Dyer, to get some idea how a tropical island was furnished with plants, and to discriminate the littoral clement, due to the action of oceanic currents, from the interior forest, almost wholly due to frugivorous birds. The recent examination of Christmas Island by the English Admiralty has shown the process of flora-making in another stage. The plants collected by Mr. Lister prove to be closely allied to those of Java. But the effect of isolation has begun to tell; and it is said by Prof. Oliver that the plants can not be for the most part exactly matched with their congeners from Java, but yet do not differ sufficiently to be specifically distinguished. "We have here, therefore, it appears to me, a manifest case of nascent species."