Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/February 1893/Popular Miscellany

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 February 1893  (1893) 
Popular Miscellany


The Indo-European Conception of the Soul.—In a paper in the British Association on The Indo-Europeans' Conception of a Future Life and its Bearing upon their Religions, Prof. G. Hartwell Jones said that three heads naturally suggested themselves: 1. The connection of body and soul. 2. The condition of the deceased. 3. The relations between the departed and those left behind. With regard to the nature of the soul, he pointed out that in primitive times souls were ascribed to the universe—the anima mundi—to nymphs of various kinds, to the lower animals, to fountains, or trees. Heaven was the source from which the soul of man was derived, and to which it returned after purification. As to its creation, it had no corporeal element; it was created before the body; sometimes it was identified with fire. The etymology of the expressions for soul were instructive—e. g., Sanskrit atïndriya, or "transcending the senses"; Greek θύμος, from a root meaning to shake, or fan; so, too, the notion of "air," "vapor," "shade." Still more common was the idea of "breath." Its seat was the heart or blood. At the moment of dissolution the soul escaped through the mouth or nostrils; it left with a groan, it passed to the ethereal regions. Death was often looked upon as a kind of sleep. Their stoicism in the face of death was attested by the frequency of suicide, or of substitution, or the prohibition of mourning. The theory of a future life prevalent in the animistic stage was that of continuance, the tastes and occupations being the same as in this world; even Homer had not overgrown this. But this existence was incomplete and dreary; the ghosts gibbered and were doomed to silence. The severance was not complete, for the welfare of the spirit depended upon the proper treatment of the body, else it wandered disconsolate. Hence the observance of rites. At first the body was disposed of by inhumation, probably to preserve the identity of the deceased; but in certain conditions of life, as during war or the chase, cremation was employed. At least a handful of dust had to be sprinkled over the corpse before the spirit could obtain repose; its neglect was regarded with horror. The same motive dictated the rearing of cenotaphs. The tomb was constructed on the model of the house. The deceased was furnished with all the necessaries for his new home—attendants and wives, dogs and horses, weapons, clothing, and earthenware. As to the abode of the dead, the earliest theory was that the soul became ethereal, passing into the wind, or fire, or constellations. The exact locality was uncertain, because of the nebulous character of their life, for they followed certain Great Spirits. Then the region of bliss was placed in the west. The germs of a theory of recompense and punishment were found early. No doubt the idea gained in clearness when they came into contact with the Semites. Transmigration, regeneration, and purification belonged to a later time. The relation between the living and the departed was a wide question. In addition to the care taken at burial, there was constant communication—e. g., in dreams. Hence the respect shown to (1) kindly spirits, like the pitaras, fravashi, manes, etc.—the givers of wealth; (2) the evil-disposed, like the lemures or larvæ. This gave rise to ancestral worship, and was connected with the sustentation of the family; children were buried under the eaves of houses, and did not need propitiation. Thus the worshipers were actuated by fear and sympathy.


Cultivation of Sunflowers.—The history of the cultivation of the sunflower in Russia is easily written, for it was begun in 1842 by one Bokareff, at Voronezh, for the purpose of making oil from the seed. It has now extended to the adjacent provinces in the Volga basin, so that the acreage in sunflowers increased from 367,800 acres in 1881 to 704,500 acres in 1887. Sunflowers with small seeds are cultivated for the oil, and those with large seeds for eating the seeds as nuts. The oil is extremely nutritious, and has a pleasant flavor. Another source of profit is found in the residual cake, for which there is a constant and growing demand abroad. The shells or husks of the seeds also form a valuable article of trade as fuel, when wood is scarce; and the seed "cups" are prized by farmers as food for sheep. The money value per acre of the crop is large, perhaps superior to that of any other crop cultivated in Russia. The methods of cultivation are various. Some of the Russian farmers invariably sow sunflowers after wheat or rye, and others only after oats. Others advocate sowing after clover, and some consider it most profitable to put sunflowers into land which, after four or five crops, has lain fallow for two years. On the other hand, it seems generally admitted to be a mistake to sow grains immediately after a sunflower crop, an interval of a year being necessary to rest the land. Some of the farmers of Voronezh sow sunflowers in the same field for seven years in succession; then sow buckwheat; and then, after a year's rest, rye. As firewood, the stalks of the sunflower plants produce a bright, hot flame quickly, and form a pleasant and fragrant fire. An acre of sunflowers will yield about a ton of this fuel. As the sunflower is rich in potassium, even the ashes have a commercial value for fertilizing purposes.


Respect for Books.—The London Spectator remarks upon the respect which the average Briton has for libraries in themselves, no matter how little he reads or how averse he may be to spending money for books, as one of the most inexplicable features of his character. "The impressiveness of a library," it says, "is felt by classes far outside the one which passes its life in using books. The ordinary population of an ordinary town, though it will not always vote the cost of a free library, is proud to believe that the town library is a good one, regards its increase as something to be recorded with triumph, and enters the rooms in which it is kept with a kind of awe. It is considered a mark of caste to possess a good library, and a house will sell better because there is a room in it which has been devoted to the keeping of books, and that to men who would regard a day spent among books . . . as intolerably tedious." The feeling is said to extend to those who can not read, "and it is undoubtedly true that servants, though they will neglect a library to any extent, and apparently believe that dust on book-shelves is matter in the right place, will take any trouble not to injure books if they are accumulated in any numbers. . . . We suppose the true reason is that, as all men respect knowledge, and especially knowledge of which they only dimly perceive the use, they regard a library as a deposit of bottled wisdom, by which they can hardly profit, indeed, but which they had rather not injure or disperse." There are evidences that the same feeling of respect for books as books has influence also with cultivated people.


A Hopi (Indian) Baby.—After a child is born to a Hopi Indian (says Mr. J. G. Owens, in an article in the American Journal of Ethnology and Archæology) the mother bathes her head in a suds made of the amole root, and an attendant bathes the baby in a suds of the same, and rubs it, except its head, in ashes, these being supposed to kill the hair on the body. The baby is then put in a cradle, and an ear of corn is placed by its side to watch it. The regular Hopi cradle consists of a wicker base, woven of small twigs of Rhus trilobata, about two and a half feet long and a foot wide. Six or eight inches from one end, the head, is a bow of the same material, about two inches wide and nine inches high in the center. This is to keep anything thrown over the cradle from falling on the face of the baby. Covering three quarters of the base is a mat of cedar bark. Several small blankets are laid across the cradle and the little one is placed upon them, with its head generally lower than the rest of the body. The arms are laid straight by its side, and the blankets are folded over and kept in place by lacing a heavy woolen cord with loops of the same material on either side of the cradle. Frequently the presence of a baby in a house would be entirely unsuspected; but should you attempt to sit upon what appears to be a pile of blankets in a corner, the protests of the watchful mother will at once admonish you of your mistake. Until the fifth day the mother must not see the sun or put on her moccasins. On the morning of that day she bathes her own head and that of the baby with amole, puts on her moccasins, and is then at liberty to go out of the house. She resumes charge of the household affairs, and by the tenth or twelfth day seems to have regained her normal strength. Sometimes a mental record of the age of the baby is kept, with the aid of the fingers; in other cases scratches are made by the thumb-nail on the wall. On the tenth and fifteenth days, respectively, the mother again washes her head with amole, and bathes and rubs the baby with ashes, just as on the first day. On the twentieth day the chief ceremony takes place, which includes the purification of the mother, the naming of the baby, and the presentation of the baby to the sun. These are described in detail in Mr. Owens's article.


The Crustacean's Shell.—No group of animals, says Prof. W. K. Brooks, is more favorable than the Crustacea for the study of the significance and origin of larval forms, for these animals possess a number of peculiarities which serve to render the problem of their life history both interesting and significant, and at the same time unusually intelligible; nor are these peculiar features exhibited in the same degree by any other great group of animals. The body of the arthropod is completely covered, down to the tip of each microscopic hair, by a continuous shell of excreted matter, and as this chitinous shell is not cellular, it can not grow by the interpolation of new cells, nor can it, like the excreted shell of a mollusk, grow by the deposition of new matter around its edges, for there are no such edges, except in a few exceptional cases, such as the barnacles. Once formed and hardened, the cuticle of an arthropod admits no increase in size, and as soon as it is outgrown it must be discarded and replaced by a new and larger one. The new shell is gradually excreted, in a soft condition, under the old one, and as soon as this is thrown off the new one quickly becomes distended and solid. As a result, from the very nature of the chitinous shell and the method of renewal which its structure entails, the growth of an arthropod, from infancy to an adult condition, takes place by a series of well-marked steps or stages, each one characterized by the formation of a new cuticle and by a sudden increase in size. In most arthropods the newly born young are very different in structure from the adults, and growth is accompanied by metamorphosis. As the changes of structure are necessarily confined to the molting periods, the stages of growth coincide with the stages of change in organization, and there is none of the indefiniteness which often characterizes the different larval stages of animals with a more continuous metomorphosis. On the contrary, the nature of each change is as sharply defined and as characteristic as the structure of the adult itself. As the molting period is frequently a time of inactivity, the animal may then undergo profound changes without inconvenience, and the successive steps in the metamorphosis of an arthropod are not only well marked but often very profound as well.


The Bantu.—More than thirty-five years have elapsed since the term Bantu has been applied to a large and widespread family of African languages; but it is little known except to specialists. There is no Bantu country, no nation of that name; the word has become an ethnographical but hardly a geographical expression. And yet, after a little explanation, says The Athenæum, it will be found so pregnant of meaning, so expressive of the hundred and more languages to which it applies, that it is not likely ever to be superseded. Bantu is the plural of mu-ntu, the general term for a human being common, with hardly any modification, to the languages spoken throughout South Africa, "from the Keiskamma River to the equator on the east, and from Walfish Bay to the Old Kalabar River on the fifth parallel of north latitude in the west"—that is, to the whole of the southern half of that vast continent, with the sole exception of the territories occupied by the Hottentot and Bushman tribes. The term Bantu, it should be added, is mainly used by the natives when speaking of themselves in contradistinction to white people. One of the various characteristics of these languages is to mark the grammatical categories almost exclusively by prefixes; and another to regulate the building up of sentences by certain laws of alliteration, the so-called "concords." It is, moreover, a remarkable fact that there is common to all these languages a great resemblance, not only of grammatical forms, but also of words, and, to a certain extent, of idioms, so that it is in some cases difficult to decide whether any two languages, though separated by wide tracts of country, do not actually stand in the relation of mere dialets. Indeed, as to closeness of kinship, the Bantu languages can far more fitly be compared to the Neo Latin or Slavonic than to the Indo-European languages. There are on the northwestern confines of the Bantu field, and beyond, a number of languages somewhat akin to the Bantu, to which Mr. Torrend, in his Comparative Grammar of the South African Bantu Languages, assigns the name of semi-Bantu. They stand in the same relation to the Bantu as the Melanesian languages do to the Malayo-Polynesian.


Intemperance in Cycling.—Noticing some recent extraordinary achievements in cycling—such as the conveyance of a dispatch from Chicago to New York in one hundred and eight hours and the covering of four hundred and thirteen miles in twenty-four hours—The Lancet inquires into the cost of such exploits, and answers: "The cost to the rider is, we say at once, altogether unwarrantable, for during the twenty-four hours in which a rider is occupied in covering four hundred miles his heart knows no rest from full activity, and the elastic coat of every artery in his body is in full tension. In some instances such is the tension that the man literally propels himself in what may be called blindness. His legs work automatically and his course is directed in a manner very little different. When a bicyclist was unfortunately killed from an accident caused by fast riding, a witness said, on oath, that the rider was going so fast and was so intent on the race he did not hear witness until it was too late, that is to say, until he got within two yards of a cart into which he ran, when he altered his whole position, called out 'Oh!' and coming into collision received the fatal injury. In another instance, where one of the long and sleepless rides was carried out, the rider was seized with vomiting, which never ceased during the whole of the effort. He, too, lost the guiding power of his senses, and for some miles tugged on as if he were blind, tearing away, in fact, in a kind of trance, his higher nervous centers paralyzed and his body retaining its life and mere animal power, held living by the respiratory center and the heart, they also being taxed to the very extremity of danger." Young men may occasionally do such things for once, without apparent immediate damage, but it is with great peril to their future vigor.


Famons Automatons.—Many ingeniously constructed automatons are mentioned in history or the fiction that goes with it. Among them are a wooden dove that was made b. c. 400; a fly presented to Charles V which went round in a circle and returned to its starting point; a bronze fly made by a bishop of Naples in the eleventh century which kept real flies out of the city; an eagle that flew before the Emperor Maximilian; and the brazen men that were made by Roger Bacon, or, according to others, by Albertus Magnus or Reysolius. A spider of the ordinary size was exhibited in London in 1810, which was caused by wheelwork to walk on a plate, and to shake its paws when taken hold of. A swan was on view about the same time, swimming in a basin of water along with some fish. It would seize a fish, swallow it, and then shake its wings. A few years afterward a gold bird appeared, which would come out of a tobacco box, spread its wings, and sing. The famous automaton chess-player was a humbug. It was not moved by machinery, but by a man hidden inside. Some very curious automatons were constructed by Vaucanson in the eighteenth century. Among them were a flute-player which played a dozen airs, and another performer which played twenty different tunes with a tambourine and a flageolet. These "artists" were worked by a strong spring that acted on numerous whistles supplied with air from reservoirs which were opened at the proper times. Vaucanson also made an asp for Marmontel's Cleopatra theatre, which could coil itself, thrust out its tongue, and hiss. His duck was a very famous imitation; for it could move its head around in search of food, swallow, and "digest." The secret of its "digesting" was discovered by Robert Houdin when he was engaged in repairing it. The food that was given it was removed during the intervals between the exhibitions and suitable "digested" matter, or the imitation of it, supplied. Houdin was very ingenious and was employed to repair other complicated machines. Among them was a mechanical organ that could improvise variations, that had been taken to pieces without marking where the several parts belonged. He succeeded in putting it together again, but it is not known what eventually became of it. The visitors to a certain seminary in the old times were met at the door by an automatic skeleton which welcomed them by clapping its fleshless finger-bones.


Periodical Variations of Glaciers.—The question of the periodicity of changes in the glaciers of the Alps is hereafter to be studied systematically. It has been taken up by the Council of the Canton of Le Valais, which has put the matter in charge of the administration of forests. A report made by M. Forel to the head of the Home Department represents that glaciers in general, and particularly those of Le Valais, are subject to variations in shape, which, according to an irregular periodicity, cause them sometimes to grow in length, in breadth, and in thickness, and sometimes to decrease, often in very considerable proportions. It has been recognized that most of the great catastrophes which have ravaged the region of the high Alps have been caused by these glacial variations. It is when the glacier extends, lengthens, and arrives at its maximum, that it invades the fields and destroys Alpine chalets, barricades the valleys, arrests the flow of rivers, and creates temporary lakes, the evacuation of which devastates the country; or else, surpassing its usual dimensions, it forms an avalanche, the destructive power of which is terrible. The preparatory study of these variations that has been made in the last few years has shown that their periodicity is much longer than was formerly believed to be the case; the popular dictum that the increase in size of glaciers recurs every seven years is certainly incorrect. Definite figures can not yet be given, but probably the cycle of glacial variation is as much as from thirty-five to fifty years. If 1850 or 1855 be fixed upon as the epoch of maximum, they have been steadily decreasing in past years, so that from 1870 to 1875 not a single glacier was known to be on the increase. Since then an increase appears to have begun in the glaciers of the Mont Blanc group, but most of the others are still retreating or stationary. Hence the phenomenon is one of which a man in an ordinary lifetime can see only a single manifestation; and it is therefore impossible for one man to make an adequate study of it. This is the ground on which M. Forel asked the state to take charge of the matter.


A Remarkable Fig Tree.—Fig trees grow in Brittany, usually in sheltered places, where they are rarely much taller than the structures that protect them. Near Roscoff is a tree of unusual size and which is very famous. It is about the same height as the other trees of the region—say twelve or sixteen feet—but covers with its branches a surface which may be estimated at about four hundred square metres. It is situated in a farm garden. Its single low, gnarled trunk is partly inclosed in a broad wall, so that it is difficult to measure its diameter exactly, but it is in the neighborhood of twenty inches. From it, starting at about six feet from the ground, a great many limbs extend horizontally in all directions—some of them as far as fifty feet. These limbs are supported on two garden walls and on thirty-eight granite posts, between two of the rows of which is a covered alley-way, about eighty feet long. A French writer, M. A. Mehard, says that when he saw this tree for the first time, in September, 1884, it was covered with a thick, green foliage, and had on it a great many figs, some of which were beginning to ripen. He asked how old it was, and was told that the oldest persons in the region had never known it to be different from its present appearance. "How many figs a year does it bear?" "As many as we want; if we pick them every day, there are always some left." "But how many do you pick a day?" "Several baskets a season" (of two or three months). "Is it still growing." "Yes, sir; it would soon cover the whole plot if I didn't cut off the ends of the limbs every year." It is true that the tree, though very old, is still vigorous and bears good fruit; and that, notwithstanding the disproportion between the trunk and branches, the latter make good growths. The tree stands at the extreme limit of vegetation approaching the seashore.


Botany as a University-extension Study.—Writing in University Extension in favor of placing botany among the subjects of extension lectures, Prof. J. M. McFarlane remarks upon the extent to which the mind has been blinded by the current system of education to the perception of all that is in the living world outside it. One, he says, "can watch the process going on. Every average child shows a natural desire to become acquainted not only with the men, women, and children that he meets day by day, but with the animals and plants that he sees moving, and growing. This tendency is usually encouraged by the parents if they are sensible and know something of the facts of Nature. In the majority of cases, however, through pure ignorance they stifle the budding qualities of the child. And as school education advances, the stifling process is completed, for the child is silently taught that all knowledge can only come from books or the talk of teachers, and that to acquire knowledge through the tongue, by touch, from the sounds of natural objects, or by an eye-to-eye study of them, is a waste of time." Perceiving that the course of a few extension lectures is not sufficient to ground pupils well in Nature studies, the author suggests the combination with it of correspondence teaching. In proof of the feasibility of this, he shows that he has himself for eight years directed the work of students hundreds of miles apart, some of whom were advanced to the study of the highest works on the subject. But, besides the use of books and hand diagrams, he every fortnight forwarded from ten to thirty fresh specimens to each, which they were required to examine, describe, and classify. Material for microscopic study was supplied for those possessed of suitable instruments. Many of these pupils are now successful teachers of biology in schools and colleges, and two of them have established school botanic gardens.


Pepper-raising in Cambodia.—The pepper plant, says M. Adhémard Leclère, in the Revue Scientifique, is not a bush, as some writers say, but a vine which has to be supported by a tree when wild and by a strong stake when cultivated. The author has seen the vines growing nearly wild near Chandoc in Cambodia, where they had been planted by the villagers and left to themselves. They grew vigorously and to considerable length, but bore only a few bunches of fruit and that of an inferior quality. An abundant crop of good pepper can be obtained only by careful and skillful cultivation. The industry thrives in the province of Kampot, where it is pursued in some twenty villages. At the village of Suam Ampil there are eighty-nine planters and more than a hundred plantations, containing 48,441 stocks. The plants are propagated from cuttings, which are made about eighteen inches long and are taken from stocks two or three years old; they are supported by stakes about ten feet high, which are solidly planted in the ground; and are fertilized at the same season every year with a special manure which is composed of eight parts of good soil and one part of pounded shrimp shells. The plants are liable to attack by a minute parasite that destroys their fruitfulness, to obviate which they are treated with a decoction of tobacco. The first crop, but an insignificant one, appears in the third year from planting. A crop of about a kilogramme per stake of two plants is gathered in the fourth year, and the increase continues for eight or ten years. Exceptional plants in good soil may return four kilogrammes per stake; but a crop of from two to two kilogrammes and a half is considered a fair average. Some plants will live fifty years, but they are seldom remunerative after forty years; and, as a rule, a plant thirty-five years old is considered of no further value. The plants bloom in May and June, and the gathering of the crop begins in February. The bunches which have turned red are picked, and the others are left for future visitations. The berries are stripped from the bunches and dried in the sun till they are black, when they are packed and made ready for sale. White or gray pepper is produced by letting the berries get a little riper, and cleansing them from their outside envelopes. In some districts the removal is assisted by soaking the berries in sea-water. One laborer can usually take care of about one thousand stakes.


Yaks, Wild and Domestic.—Immense herds of wild yaks still pasture on the steppes in the region of the Lob Nor and Thibet. Individual species have been domesticated and are as cows and oxen to the people of the country. Thick and strong cloths are made from their hair; the tufts of their tails are used in standards; their meat is juicy, and their milk is not inferior to that of our domestic cows; and they are highly valued by the Thibetans as draught and pack animals, and even for riding, on account of their hardiness, readiness, and sure-footedness. Attempts have been made to domesticate them in France, but the climate proved not suitable to them. Comparison of the skins of domestic yaks with those of wild ones shows how the animal has been modified under human influence and through changes in its medium. The hide of the domestic yak has become fine, is often silver-white, or gray varied with white; and the horns, when they have not disappeared, form a simple curve outward and upward; while in the wild yak the hide is uniformly black or very lightly shaded with brown, and the horns, which are nearly three feet long, describe an incomplete S, starting outward, then growing forward and then upward. Judging from the specimens presented to the Paris Museum by the Prince of Orleans, the wild yaks are much larger than the domestic animals, and the long hair on their flanks and legs grows lower down. Like the buffalo, these animals are dangerous to hunt, unless they are killed at the first shot.


Color Phenomena on Mars.—Prof. W. H. Pickering writes to the Journal of Astronomy and Astro-Physics concerning his observations of Mars at Arequipa, Peru: "The sudden changes of color exhibited by some of the smaller areas upon the planet Mars are sometimes almost startling. A recent view was obtained shortly before sunrise, when the snowy region about the south pole appeared of a most brilliant green, quite equaling in color the rather narrow green band situated just to the north of it. Later, as the sun came up, the color of the snow changed to a bright yellow, the rest of the disc changing in the mean time to orange. Later the seeing improved, several of the canals became visible, and the snow became as colorless as upon our surrounding mountains. The two former effects were probably due to bad seeing, the fluctuations of our own atmosphere superporing the colors of the surrounding regions upon the snow. We have laid it down as a rule never to rely greatly upon our color observations unless the snow-caps of the planet appear perfectly colorless and the canal system is well defined." A curious feature of the observations described by Prof. Pickering is an actual change of color which, eliminating all probable sources of error, the planet really seems to undergo. He believes that some time in the future these changes will be understood and their laws determined. He thinks the greatest danger lies from optical illusion.