Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/Literary Notices
A volume like this, summing up our knowledge of the atmosphere, has been long wanted, and it is now well supplied. The scientific investigation of the air may be said to have commenced with the discovery of its weight and the invention of the barometer about 1643, and the eight generations of investigation that have intervened have developed a vast body of facts and laws relating to atmospheric phenomena, so that, considered alone as a measure of what has been done in this period toward clearing up the mysteries of Nature, M. Flammarion's book would be very interesting. The French edition was twice the size of the present translation, and was a regular cyclopædia of atmology, but, by cutting off certain parts of it which dealt with the remoter relations of the air, as for example its influence upon plants, and by retrenching the exuberant imaginative style in which it was written, and in which popular French writers so delight, the translator has brought the work within very reasonable limits, and adapted it more perfectly to the taste of English readers. The edition has, moreover, gained greatly in accuracy and trustworthiness by the rigorous censorship of its editor, Mr. Glaisher, whose position as a scientific meteorologist is no doubt superior to that of the author of the work. The book is very free from technicalities, and, in its simplicity, accuracy, and attractiveness, it is an excellent example of popular scientific literature. Its general object, as stated by the editor, has been "to produce a work giving a broad outline of the causes which give rise to facts of every-day occurrence in the atmosphere, in such a form that any reader who wished to obtain a general view of such phenomena and their origin would be readily enabled to do so. The great number of subjects treated of will thus, to the majority of readers, who merely desire an insight into the general principles that produce phenomena, which every one has seen or heard of, be found to be rather an advantage, as the whole range of atmospheric action is thus displayed in the same volume in moderate compass, without so much detail being anywhere given as to make the book other than interesting to even the most casual reader.
"The work treats of the form, dimensions, and movements of the earth, and of the influence exerted on the meteorology by the physical conformation of our globe; of the figure, height, color, weight, and chemical components of the atmosphere; of the meteorological phenomena induced by the action of light, and the optical appearances which objects present as seen through different atmospheric strata; of the phenomena connected with heat, wind, clouds, rain, and electricity, including the subjects of the laws of climate. The contents are, therefore, of deep importance to all classes of persons, especially to the observer of Nature, the agriculturist, and the navigator."
The volume is elegantly executed, and in its whole style is a credit to the publishers.
The first edition of this comprehensive work appeared in 1854, and it has held a leading place as a text-book in the Continental colleges. It is an exhaustive and exact description of the anatomical machinery of which the bodies of our domestic animals are composed. As the first trait required in such a work is accuracy, Prof. Chauveau could not be satisfied with a compilation, no matter how weighty the authorities; and, although the whole range of anatomical erudition was consulted, the work took its character from the direct study of Nature, the position of the author as anatomical principal in the Imperial Veterinary School affording him the most extensive opportunities of observation and dissection. Moreover, the author aimed at something more than the. mere accumulation of an endless and arid mass of anatomical details. He sought the bonds, and relations, and meanings, by which they could be connected and harmonized, in a philosophic method. Inspired by the influence of the two illustrious anatomists, George Cuvier and Geoffroy St.-Hilaire, he thus speaks of their labors:
"The first, after immense researches, ventured to compare the innumerable species in the animal kingdom with each other; he seized their general characters––the analogies which allied them to one another; he weighed these analogies, contrasted them with the dissimilarities, and established among them different kinds and different degrees; and in this way was he able to form natural groups, themselves subdivided into several categories in which individuals were gathered together according to then analogies and affinities. Then the chaos was swept away, light appeared, and the field of science was no longer obscured; comparative anatomy was created in all its branches, and the structure of the animal kingdom was brought within those laws of uniformity which shine throughout the other parts of creation.
"Geoffroy St.-Hilaire followed Cuvier over the same ground. More exclusive than Cuvier, he entirely neglected the differential characters, and allowed himself to be governed by the consideration of resemblances. He especially pursued the discovery of a fixed rule for guidance in the search after these resemblances — a difficult task, and a dangerous reef, upon which the sagacity of his illustrious rival was stranded. To be more certain than Cuvier, and the better to grasp his subject, he restricted the scope of his observations, confining himself more particularly to the class of vertebrata, in order to solve the enigma whose answer he sought. At last he found it, and made it known to us in those memorable though abstruse pages, in which the meaning is often obscure and hidden, but which contain, nevertheless, magnificent hymns chanted to the honor of the Creator. The shape and functions of organs, he says, do not offer any stability, only their relations are invariable; these alone cannot give deceptive indications in the comparison of the vital instruments. He thus founded his great principle of connections, firmly established its value, and fortified it by accessory principles. Then was the philosophical sentiment decidedly introduced into the researches in organization, and anatomy became a veritable science."
The new edition of the work has been rewritten throughout, greatly extended, and brought up to the present time; but its method is the same. The two branches of anatomy, human and comparative, are brought into closer alliance, and the comparison of the organs of man with those of animals is made a prominent feature. The work is, therefore, not only a complete dissection-manual for the student of veterinary science, and a book of reference for the veterinary surgeon, but it is also available for the zoologist, the comparative anatomist, the ethnologist, and the medical practitioner. Although we have had good books on the structure of the horse, this is the first complete treatise on the anatomy of the domesticated animals in the English language, and will contribute materially to the progress of veterinary science, while being useful also to the community at large.
Dr. Packard has done an excellent thing in preparing this little hand-book. His large "Guide to the Study of Insects," with upward of 700 pages and 1,200 figures, although reduced to five dollars in price, is still too expensive for the great mass of readers; and it was therefore well to distill it over, with the contents of the American Naturalist, into a more portable and popular form. Good and cheap books on insects require to be multiplied, for we are all interested in them. They infest us inside and out, by day and by night, sleeping and waking, at home and abroad; they damage our food, poison our drink, spoil our clothes, kill our domestic animals, ravage our gardens, blast our fruit, and destroy our crops. The subject cannot be ignored, but we naturally approach it with prejudice. There are, however, compensations in all things. Although insects may be our enemies, they are yet scientifically very interesting creatures. We all have a high opinion of Nature, and are never done praising her; but she runs to insects incontinently—they could outvote all the rest of the animal kingdom five to one. As the higher tribes of life have been perishing out in multitudes along the geological march, it cannot be doubted that the same thing has happened in a much greater degree to the insects, although their vestiges were, of course, more difficult of preservation. But Dr. Packard tells us that there are upward of 200,000 living species, and, as species are held by many to be immutable, each one having been specially created, we have a clew to the exact number of miracles that these pests have cost: though why miraculous contrivance took such an excessive turn in this direction will perhaps be found explained in Dr. Bushnell's book of "Dark Things." But, however they came, the insects are here, a part of the world of life, growing, multiplying, and dying, like ourselves; undergoing curious transformations, and animated by wonderful instincts—social, industrious, and most instructive in all their ways and history. Dr. Packard selects the most common, those that are easily—often too easily—observed, and gives us their various stories with an interest that is quite romantic. His volume is compact with information upon the subject, and is adapted to all intelligent readers; but, for sensible boys and girls, it is worth a whole library of the fictitious drivel that now forms so large a part of the mental nourishment of the young.
This volume consists mainly of reprinted matter, but it contains a new and admirable chapter entitled "Hints on the Ancestry of Insects." The irrepressible question of origins is not to be escaped, and, as it has long haunted the souls of botanists, it now begins to torment the entomological soul. Insects cannot be studied without being classed, and they cannot be classed without knowing their resemblances and affinities, and these cannot be made out except through their embryological or developmental history. The question how things are runs into the question how they came to be, and the first thesis of Scripture becomes the last problem of science—that is, genesis. Dr. Packard inclines to the view that the primal ancestors of insects were worms, and he assumes without hesitation the doctrine of evolution as best explaining the facts of the science. We quote one or two passages upon this point:
"Many short-sighted persons complain that such a theory sets in the background the idea of a personal Creator; but minds no less devout, and perhaps a trifle more thoughtful, see the hand of a Creator not less in the evolution of plants and animals from preëxistent forms, through natural laws, than in the evolution of a summer's shower, through the laws discovered by the meteorologist, who looks back through myriads of ages to the causes that led to the distribution of mountain-chains, ocean-currents, and trade-winds, which combine to produce the necessary conditions resulting in that shower.
"Indeed, to the student of Nature, the evolution theory in biology, with the nebular hypothesis, and the grand law in physics of the correlation of forces, all independent, and revealing to us the mode in which the Creator of the universe works in the world of matter, together form an immeasurably grander conception of the order of creation and its ordainer than was possible for us to form before these laws were discovered and put to practical use."
Again he says:
"Thus the ovipositor of the bee has a history, and is not apparently a special creation, but a structure gradually developed to subserve the use of a defensive organ. So the organs of special sense in insects are, in most cases, simply altered hairs. The hairs themselves are modified epithelial cells. The eyes of insects, simple and compound, are at first simply epithelial cells, modified for a special purpose; and even the egg is but a modified epithelial cell attached to the walls of the ovary, which in turn is morphologically but a gland. Thus Nature deals in simples, and with her units of structure elaborates as her crowning work a temple in which the mind of man, formed in the image of God, may dwell. Her results are not the less marvelous because we are beginning to dimly trace the process by which they arise. It should not lessen our awe and reverence for Deity if, with minds made to adore, we also essay to trace the movements of his hand in the origin of the forms of life.
"Some writers of the evolution school are strenuous in the belief that the evolution hypothesis overthrows the idea of archetypes and plans of structure. But a true genealogy of animals and plants represents a natural system, and the types of animals, be they four, as Cuvier taught, or five, or more, are recognized by naturalists through the study of dry, hard, anatomical facts. Accepting, then, the type of articulates as founded in Nature from the similar modes of development and points of structure perceived between the worms and the crustacea on the one hand, and the worms and insects on the other, have we not a strong genetic bond uniting these three great groups into one grand sub-kingdom, and can we not in imagination perceive the successive steps by which the Creator, acting through the laws of evolution, has built up the great articulate division of the animal kingdom?"
This is a very small book, but it would certainly be wrong to measure its importance by its dimensions. In science, we are often told that there is no great and no small, by which it is meant that the interest and value of things in Nature are not dependent upon magnitude. It is desirable, as we all feel at times, that bridges should be well constructed, and, as their parts are held together by pins, all who travel are interested that these pins should be in proper proportions. Thanks to Bender for determining what these proportions are, and to Van Nostrand for diffusing a knowledge of them. We bear our testimony to the importance of the research, and the value of the publication, but we regret to say that we cannot recommend this monograph for popular reading, as it is brimful of mathematics.
Prof. Peck has prepared this treatise for the use of his own classes in Columbia College and the School of Mines. His object has been to present the subject in a narrower compass than is done in the usual voluminous works that are employed as text-books in the mathematical departments of the higher institutions. The author puts forward no claims to originality of method, and states that the general plan of the work does not differ essentially from that adopted by the earlier writers on the subject; but he has revised definitions, simplified explanations, abbreviated demonstrations, and conformed the limits of the treatment to the growing wants of scientific education.
If a peripatetic scientific lecturer may seek to draw listeners by proclaiming to make science "as fascinating as fairy tales," surely the author of this book is justified in terming his work a "Romance of the New School."
In eleven chapters he pictures with a flowing pen the birth, growth, maturity, and decay of Mother Earth; and to those who have puzzled their brains over the severe, concise formulas of Herbert Spencer, who have passed working hours on the nebular hypothesis, and striven with the problem of the precession of the equinoxes, or the data and inductions of Biology and Psychology, it is like sailing with a "wet sheet and a flowing sea" on the highest waves of the imagination over the formidable obstacles which those philosophical problems present.
The author professes to traverse the field with seven-leagued boots, and surely they are needed, for in this small volume is crowded the result of prolonged and profound speculations into the mystery of the earth, its geology, its life, the periods of its development, the evolution of its organisms, its social history, and its final dissolution.
With liberal quotations from the writings of modern scientists, with here and there an enlivenment of humor, and to deal with him gently — some considerable irrelevant frivolity, he puts forward in a fresh and brisk, if not altogether attractive presentation of the subject, the most advanced ideas of the evolutionists, and those who shudder at the definition of evolution as "a change from an indefinite incoherent homogeneity, to a definite coherent heterogeneity," may, not unprofitably, follow their chatty and lively guide, who certainly is never dull while acting as cicerone.
The first American contribution to the International Scientific Series will be by Josiah P. Cooke, Professor of Chemistry in Harvard College, on the "New Chemistry." It is well known that this science in recent years has undergone a profound change in its theory, with a corresponding change in its nomenclature. The new view is firmly established in the world of science, and modern text-books are slowly adopting it, while the mass of educated people still think in the old chemical ways. A book was needed to make this transition clear and easy for the non-scientific, which should explain the necessity and philosophy of the change more fully than is possible in the regular manuals, and such a work Prof. Cooke has now prepared. He has long taught the modern views, and his College Textbook of "Chemical Philosophy" embodies them; but, perceiving the public want, he prepared a course of lectures familiarly explaining the new doctrines, and delivered them at the Lowell Institute in Boston (immediately after the course of Prof. Tyndall), with great satisfaction to those who heard them. The volume containing these lectures, carefully revised and illustrated, is now going rapidly through the press, and will be ready in a very short time. It will be of interest to general readers who care to note the progress of scientific thought; but will be invaluable at the present time to all teachers of chemistry.
Acrididæ of North America, by Cyrus Thomas, Ph. D. (Geological Survey of the Territories.) Washington: Government Printing-Office, 1873.
Essay on the Glacial Epoch. By Dr. Philip Harvey. Burlington, Iowa, 1873, pp. 24.
New Vertebrata from Colorado Territory. By Prof. E. D. Cope. Government Printing-Office.
Law and Intelligence in Nature. By A. B. Palmer, A. M., M. D. Lansing, Mich., 1873, pp. 31.
Thysanura of Essex County, Mass., by A. S. Packard, Jr., with two other papers by the same author, on the New American Phalænidæ and the Cave Fauna of Indiana.
Seventh Annual Report of the Superintendent of Missouri Public Schools.
Eleventh Annual Meeting of the Missouri State Teachers' Association.