Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/April 1897/Fragments of Science

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 50 April 1897  (1897) 
Fragments of Science
 

Fragments of Science.



The Library of Prof. Da Bois-Reymond. — The library of the late Prof. Emil Du Bois-Reymond, a collection of extraordinarily high value, is for sale by Gustav Fock, Neumarkt 40 and Magazingasse 4, Leipzig, Saxony. It comprises more than fourteen thousand volumes and pamphlets, nearly all the books being bound, while the smaller writings are mostly arranged in collecting boxes, partly alphabetically and partly systematically. It contains sets, more or less complete, of about forty-five scientific journals and transactions of societies of all scientific countries and nearly every scientific work that has been written on physiology, physics, and philosophy. Almost every volume bears Prof. Du Bois-Reymond's own signature; and a very large number of the books, especially of his own works, are enriched by additions, memoranda, notices, appendices, and remarks in his own handwriting — of unique value. Prof. Du Bois Raymond's heirs desire that the library be kept unseparated; and, to promote this object, will give preference to bidders who will guarantee preservation as a whole. In the case of duplicates reasonable arrangements will be made for the repurchase by Herr Fock of such volumes in that category as may not be wanted. The library, valued at 30,000 marks, or $7,500, is offered for 22,000 marks, or $5,500. Cable messages regarding the purchase may be sent to the cable address, "Buchfock," Leipzig; "Du Bois," if the proposition is to purchase the complete set on the terms offered; "Reymond," if a catalogue is wanted before giving a decision.

 

Tides of the Bay of Fundy. The real character and height of the famous tides of the Bay of Fundy, as given by Prof. W. M. Davis in Science, from the Canadian Geological reports, are as follows: "From the mouth of the bay, forty eight miles wide and from seventy to one hundred and ten fathoms deep, the bottom rises at the rate of four feet a mile over a distance of about one hundred and forty-five miles to the head. On the coasts adjacent to the mouth the spring tides vary from twelve to eighteen feet. Within the bay the spring and neap tides are as follows: Digby Neck, 22·18; St. John, 27·23; Petitcodac River, 46·36; Cumberland Basin, 44·35; Noel River in Cobequid Bay, 53·31; the last named being the greatest tidal oscillation in any part of the bay. The flood tide rises about twenty feet above mean sea level; the ebb falls the same amount below, leaving the branch bays empty or nearly so. The tidal bore is seen in Maccan River, entering Cumberland Basin, but is stronger in Petitcodac River, entering Shepody Bay, At the head of this river, by Monctin twenty miles from the bay head, the bore is seen to best advantage; it rushes in ‘as a foaming breaker, five or six feet high, with a velocity of five or six miles an hour.’ The spring and neap tides have forty-five and thirty-eight feet range. The ebb tide runs like a mill race; the water rapidly sinking, and the river is reduced to a small meandering stream. It so remains about two hours, when the rushing waters of the bore are heard again, and the river is soon filled with their sweeping flood."

 

Necessities of Geological Time.  — One of the questions considered by Prof. E. B. Poulton, in his presidential address before the Geological Section of the British Association, related to the length of time required for the development of animal life on the earth to its present condition — "whether the present state of paleontological and zoölogical knowledge increases or diminishes the weight of the opinion of Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer, that the time during which the geologists concluded that the fossiliferous rocks had been formed was utterly insufficient for organic evolution." The arguments of the physicists, derived from the supposed effect of tidal action upon the length of the day, and from the estimated length of the time occupied by the earth in cooling from an assumed temperature to its present condition, are shown to have been proved invalid as bases for calculating the probable age of the earth as a life-bearing body. The argument derived from the supposed life of the sun has not yet been ruled out, and that gives a maximum of five hundred million years. The computation of the time required for depositing the geological strata gives a minimum of seventy-three million and a maximum of six hundred and eighty million years — possibly four hundred million years. The author's inquiry as to how much of the whole scheme of organic evolution has been worked out in the time during which the fossiliferous rocks were formed does not deal with the time required for the origin of life or for the development of the lowest beings with which we are acquainted from the first formed beings, of which we know nothing; but only with so much of the process of evolution as we can infer from the structure of living and fossil forms. The comparison is made from a study of the evolution of the phyla. All available evidence points to the extreme slowness of progressive evolutionary changes in the cœlenterate phyla, although the protozoa are even more conservative. When we consider further on the five cœlenterate phyla that occur fossil, we shall find that the progressive changes were slower, and indeed hardly appreciable in the echinoderms and gephyrea, as compared with the mollusca, appendiculata, and vertebrata. Within these latter phyla we have evidence for the evolution of higher groups, presenting a more or less marked advance in organization. As a whole, the comparison is quite enough to necessitate a very large increase in the time estimated by the geologist. We can hardly escape the conclusion that, for the development of the arthropod branches from a common chetopodlike ancestor and for the further development of the classes of each branch, a period many times the length of the fossiliferous series is required. The evolution of the ancestor of each of the higher animal phyla probably occupied as long a period as that required for the evolution which subsequently occurred within the phylum. But the consideration of the higher phyla which occur fossil, except the vertebrata, leads to the irresistible conclusion that the whole period in which the fossiliferous rocks were laid down must be multiplied several times for this later history alone. The period thus obtained requires to be again increased and perhaps doubled for the earlier history.

 

The New Zealand Alps. — The "Alps" of the Southern Island of New Zealand are described by Mr. Fitz-Gerald as being more like the Pyrenees than the Swiss Alps in structure, in that they are a single range rather than constituted of parallel folds. The highest peak, Aorangi, or Mount Cook, is 12,349 feet high, but not many of the others rise above 10,000 feet. The snow line is, however, 2,000 feet lower than in Switzerland, and the glaciers descend much nearer to the sea level, the great Tasman Glacier coming down to about 2,350 feet, several to 1,200 feet, and the Fox Glacier to 700 feat. Nearly twice as much snow falls upon some of their slopes as at corresponding positions on the Alps. The peaks and glaciers are in many respects harder to climb than those of Switzerland. Besides serious deficiencies in roads and accommodations, and the absence of guides so complete that the explorer has to bring his own with him from Europe, they are actually more dangerous than peaks of corresponding elevation in Switzerland, the rock being very incoherent and slippery. Mr. Fitz-Gerald had many narrow escapes, the most serious accident being caused by the unexpected fall of a great block of stone. He ascended four peaks — Mount Tasman, 11, 475 feet; Mount Sefton, 10,350 feet; Mount Haidinger, 10,054 feet; and Mount Sealy, 8,631 feet — and crossed three new glacier passes. One of these, to which the author's name has been given, is practicable and valuable, in that it makes possible direct communication between the eastern and western coasts, where none had been before except by sea.

 

Bees as Weapons of War. — History records two instances, according to Mr. Whiteley Stokes in the London Athenæum, in which bees have been used in warfare as weapons against besieging forces. The first is related by Appian, of the siege of Themiscyra in Pontus, by Lucullus in his war against Mithridates. Turrets were brought up, mounds were built, and huge mines were made by the Romans. The people of Themiscyra dug open these mines from above, and through the holes cast down upon the workmen bears and other wild animals, and hives or swarms of bees. The second instance is recorded in an Irish manuscript in the Bibliotheque royale, at Brussels, and tells how the Danes and Norwegians attacked Chester, which was defended by the Saxons and some Gallic auxiliaries. The Danes were worsted by a stratagem ; but the Norwegians, sheltered by hurdles, tried to pierce the walls of the town — when, "what the Saxons and the Gaeidhil who were among them did, was to throw down large rocks, by which they broke down the hurdles over their heads. What the others did to check this was to place large posts under the hurdles. What the Saxons did next was to put all the beer and water of the town into the caldrons of the town, to boil them and spill them down upon those who were under the hurdles, so that their skins were peeled off. The remedy which the Lochlans applied to this was to place hides outside on the hurdles. What the Saxons did next was to throw down all the beehives in the town upon the besiegers, which prevented them from moving their hands or legs, from the number of bees which stung them. They afterward desisted and left the city."

 

Artistic Decoration. — Two theories of decoration were recognized by Walter Crane in a recent lecture: the organic, in which the decoration is an essential and integral part of the structure; and the inorganic, in which it is considered merely as so much superadded or surface ornament. With the development of Gothic architecture, sculpture, as indeed decoration of all kinds, became more and more important. It was strictly organic, being used to emphasize structural necessities. The sculpture of the Doric temple was also organic, though on a different principle. In the course of social and architectural evolution we have become more mixed and composite in our architectural styles. With complexity of life, complexity of form has increased, with the result that modern buildings have lost to a great extent that impressiveness which was due to simplicity and the organic relation between structure and decoration. Decoration may be considered from three points of view: from that of public sentiment and national characters and ideals, as the expression of the design, object, and purpose of particular buildings; from the technical point of view of methods and materials; and with regard to adaptation to climatic conditions. The decoration of buildings should be the highest form of art, as it was in the middle ages. The history and legends of localities should be carefully preserved in and identified with buildings. Churches have from time immemorial been the recipients of untold treasures of art and craftsmanship, and still seem to afford the largest field for the designer; but there is another sort of public buildings of ever-increasing importance — the school, in which permanent mural decoration might fill an important part in stimulating the imagination and forming the mind. In decoration attention should be centered upon some leading and distinctive feature. If sculpture is the method, est should be centered upon it. We can not go outside our own times. If we do not cave for beauty and harmony in our public buildings, if we are entirely absorbed in seeking our individual prosperity and are oblivious of the social bond, we are not likely to get noble buildings and impressive decorations.

 

Labor's Share of Profit.  — The purpose of a paper by Mr. S. N. D. North, on Some Fallacies of Industrial Statistics, is to point out the false uses that are made of these statistics and the "grotesquely erroneous" deductions that are based upon them. A study of them without thorough consideration of the relations of the various factors of which they are composed necessarily leads to wrong conclusions, and even when these elements are duly regarded, disturbances and variations are constantly interfering, and "fallibility lurks everywhere." Thus, the value given by the census of 1890 of $9,370, 107,624 for the annual products of manufacture in the United States is a fictitious total, representing a vast conglomeration of duplications and reduplications of the finished products of one industry which become the raw materials of the next in the ascending industrial scale, and is about double the real value. There is no way, the author contends, of measuring, with any approximation to accuracy, what are the relative shares of labor and of capital from the results of their joint operation, as revealed in the census returns. The most essential factor for such a calculation — the prime value of all the raw materials in their first crude form — is missing. We do know, however, that the total return of wages by the eleventh census is more than fifty per cent of the aggregate amount added to the value of raw materials. Out of its less than half, moreover, capital has to pay its expenses, and this very seriously reduces its share, while it further has to suffer the loss by wear and tear. The return on capital invested in manufacturing enterprise and on the labor and brains required to manage and direct that enterprise is no larger than, if it is indeed as large as, the return upon the same amount of capital in mercantile and other commercial occupations. Rightly compiled and analyzed, the statistics show that labor gets the lion's share of the net product of industry; reduced to percentages, a share of not less than eighty per cent on the direct return in the form of wages paid to the operative class. Save in rare and exceptional cases, the share which the workingman receives is, as a broad general rule applicable to present business conditions, all that the industry can stand without driving the capital that operates it into some other and more lucrative channel.

 

Congratulations to Prof. Young. — A remarkable observation was made by Prof. C. A. Young during the solar eclipse of 1870. The dark lines of the solar spectrum are really luminous, and appear dark only by contrast with the much blighter vapors that lie back of those vapors of which they are the signs. At one moment of the eclipse — lasting only a second or two these brighter vapors on the edge of the sun's disk are hidden, while the less luminous ones giving the dark lines are still in view. During that instant these usually dark lines should appear bright. During the eclipse of 1870 Prof. Young caught this happy moment, and saw this reversed, "flash" spectrum of bright lines. "All at once," he says, "as suddenly as a bursting rocket shoots out its stars, the whole field of view was filled with bright lines more numerous than one could count. The duration of the bright lines was only about two seconds, and the layer of vapors must have been under a thousand miles in thickness." At total eclipses since 1870 observations have been made going to confirm \Prof. Young's views in a general way, but in none of them was a permanent record obtained till the eclipse of August, 1890, at Novaya Zemlya, when Mr. Shackelton, seizing the right moment, secured a photograph of the phenomenon. It consists of a very narrow spectrum of bright lines, which are Indeed the Fraunhofer lines reversed just as Prof. Young had described them. "The congratulations of astronomers," says the London Times, "are due to Prof. Young on this complete, though late, confirmation of his observation of 1870, and of his views, speaking broadly, of solar absorption founded upon it." It is a curious circumstance that only three days before this eclipse Prof. Lockyer wrote to Nature that "to my mind the reversing layer is dead and buried already, but may the Fates be propitious on the 9th and enable us to place a wreath on its tomb!" "The Fates," the London Times observes, "were indeed propitious in furnishing a funeral wreath, which, however, it would seem, must be placed upon the tomb of Prof. Lockyer's own theory."

 

At the Top of the Andes. —  An attempt was made in December and January last by Mr. Edward Fitzgerald, a native of New York, and the Swiss guide Zurbriggen, to ascend Mount Aconcagua, supposed to be the highest peak of the Andes. They started on the 25th of December, and at the height of 21,000 feet found the card of Gussfeldt, the German explorer, in a tin box. The climbers were obliged to descend into the valley, but beginning a second attempt, December 30th, reached a height of 22,500 feet January 2d. On a third attempt the two reached the arête, 23,000 feet, January 14th. Mr. Fitzgerald had to turn back, but Zurbriggen continued on and reached the summit, the height of which has been variously estimated at from 22,422 to 23,910 feet. This competes with the height of Sir Martin Conway's ascent of Pioneer Peak in the Himalayas, which is also about 28,000 feet, in being the loftiest mountain ascent yet made. The previous highest ascent in recent years was that of Mr. Mummery and Mr. Hastings of 21,000 feet, on Nanga-Parbat, Himalayas. Mr. Fitzgerald has recently made an exploration of what are called the New Zealand Alps, and has published a book on the subject.

 

The Ideal of a Frieze. — Discussing Grecian architecture, Mr. H. O. Taylor observes, in his Ancient Ideals, that a frieze, on account of its shape, is adapted to represent a continuous matter. It can not well have a center toward which the rest tends, or even a center of supreme interest to which all the rest is accessory. It must rather, to vary the threatening monotony of its long line, show rising and falling waves of interest — quiet here to rest the spectator, vivid action there to excite his interest, and through all a rhythm of movement and a harmony of composition excluding everything which by disproportionate interest or size might detract from what precedes and follows. The Parthenon frieze effects this rise and fall of interest by the succession of groups taking part in the Panathenæa procession which forms its subject. We see stately maidens moving quietly, eager horses and their riders, magistrates and onlookers, till our eye finally rests with the seated gods. No one could see the whole frieze at once, but successive portions of it, as he walked beneath it. Hence it was fitting that the whole frieze should not present the same moment of time, but give the idea of a procession making ready, starting, and in motion — a plan which readily affords a rise and fall of interest. Some of the youths are not yet mounted; ahead of them are others on horses starting at slow pace, preceded by yet others in rapid gallop. Waves of rhythm appear in the rise and fall of the horses' limbs and bodies, while their heads, and still more the heads of the riders, remain more nearly on a line. This last conformity to the shape of a frieze gives a general tone of control and order to the squadron, and excludes all fear of the eager horses mastering their riders.

 

A Slavic Deity and St. Ellas. — Peron, the thunder god, was an important divinity in the calendar of the Slavs of a thousand years ago and is a conspicuous figure in their folklore. An idol erected in his honor at Kiev about a.d. 980 had a silver head, a golden beard, and a wooden body. He was also commemorated in a famous idol at Novgorod. His name has been incorporated into a great many names of places, as is shown in a list compiled by M. N. Barsov. He was worshiped with human sacrifices. In 988 the Czar Vladimir, having been converted to Christianity, ordered all the figures of Peron to be pulled down, scourged, dragged at the tails of wild horses, mutilated, and thrown into the rivers or burned; yet his name abode among the people in many widespread legends, in which he figures as master of the thunder and the storms. As Christian and Hebrew saints were introduced to take the place of the heathen heroes, he became confounded with Elias, who is described in the Bible as having also a sort of command of the air and its phenomena. Elias was the first saint accepted by the Russian Christians, and was invoked to heal wounds caused by firearms. As the Slavic Peron and the Scandinavian Thor traverse the sky during storms in chariots drawn by two horses or two bucks, and as Elijah ascended to heaven in the midst of lightnings and thunders in a chariot drawn by two horses, the Russian, Servian, and Bulgarian peasants hear in the thunder the rolling of Elias's chariot wheels and imagine him chastising God's enemies with thunderbolts. A solemn festival to Elias is held in Russia at the season when droughts usually occur, in which the saint is invoked to let the rain fall. There were at Novgorod in the middle ages two churches, one dedicated to Elias humid and the other to Elias dry, to which processions marched according to the kind of weather that was wanted. Other ceremonies of devotion to Elias as the saint of the storm, and legends giving him the attributes of their old thunder god and associating him with meteorological phenomena characteristic of the Slavic countries, are described by M. Henri Galiment in the Revue de l' École d' Anthropologie, all going to illustrate how hard it is to eradicate the ideas and customs of their olden times from the minds of the people, and how the old persists in living by the side of the new ; and teaching that when two forms of religion are standing in rivalry with one another, the younger, even with the aid of the secular arm, can never supplant the older except by making concessions to it.

 

Asiatic and African Explorations in 1896. — The long list of geographical explorations accomplished during 1896, some of the most important features of which have already been mentioned in the Monthly, includes the exploration of a large region pertaining to the upper Yang-tse-Kiang River, Chinese Empire, by M. Bonin, a French officer in Tonkin, who visited countries not previously traversed by Europeans, and has been able to make important corrections in the map of the Yang-tse-Kiang and its tributaries. Dr. Sven Hedin, in exploring the Takla Makan, a continuation of the Desert of Gobi, has found the ruins of two of the towns said to be partly buried in the desert, and has made interesting investigations on the past and present hydrography of the Lob Nor region. M. D. Elements, sent out by the Siberian Geographical Society to the Khengai Mountains of northwest Mongolia, found a great glacier on the western slope of the mountain, and everywhere signs of former volcanic activity. A Russian expedition has been exploring the course of the Amu Daria, with a view to ascertaining if it would be possible to divert its waters by means of a canal into the Caspian Sea. The exploration of Asia Minor, predominantly archæological, has been continued by young men of the University of Oxford.

 

Antiquity of Writing. — It is observed by Dr. Bühler, in his book on Indian Palæography, that a very remote period is indicated for the beginning of writing by the fact that in a Jain text of about 300 b. c. its origin is forgotten and its invention attributed to the creator Brahma. Indian imitations of Greek drachmas prove that the Greek alphabet was employed in northwestern India before the time of Alexander the Great. Knowledge of the art of writing is established for the earliest Vedic period by one of the great works; and the grammarian Panini, who is assigned to the fourth century, mentions Greek writing and the words signifying writer. The evidence of the canonical books of Ceylon indicates that the knowledge of writing was pre-Buddhistic; and passages in the Jataka and in the Maha Vagga prove the existence, at the time of their composition, of writing schools and of a wooden slate, such as is still used in Indian elementary schools. Writing, as a subject of elementary instruction, is also mentioned in an inscription of the second century before Christ. The palæographical evidence of the Asoka inscription clearly shows that writing was no recent invention in the third century before Christ; for most of the letters have several, often very divergent, forms, sometimes nine or ten.

 

The St. Lawrence Drainage System. — The drainage system of the St. Lawrence River is characterized by Mr. G. K. Gilbert, in his paper on Niagara Falls and their History, as of exceptional character, in that it has no such continuous slope from the primary rill through the brook and succeeding tributaries and the river itself to the sea as mark the drainage systems of most other regions; but "the district is composed mainly of a group of great basins, like hollows, in each of which the surface slopes toward some central point, and not toward the mouth of the river. Each basin is filled with water to the lowest point of its rim, and each of the lakes thus formed is a storage reservoir receiving a group of streams from the surrounding country, and pouring an even discharge over its rim to one of its neighbors." The Niagara River is thus, from one point of view, a strait connecting the two inland seas of Erie and Ontario occupying two of these basins; from another point of view it is a part of the St. Lawrence River — the part connecting the two expansions. "Viewed either way, it departs so widely from the ordinary or normal river that its name is almost misleading." Further, "a normal river receives most of its water directly from rain or melting snow and varies with the season, swelling to a flood in time of storm or at the spring snow melting, and dwindling to relative insignificance in time of drought. The water of Niagara comes only remotely from storm and thaw. The floods of the tributaries are stored by the lakes, to whose broad surface they add but a thin layer. The volume of Niagara depends only on the height of Lake Erie at Buffalo, and from season to season this height varies but little. On rare occasions a westerly gale will crowd the lake water toward its eastern end, and the river will grow large. On still rarer occasions a winter storm will so pile up or jam the lake ice at the entrance to the river as to make a dam, and for a day or two the river will lose most of its water." The wastings of soil and gravel that are usually carried along by the streams in their course are carried by the tributaries of the St. Lawrence system only to the lakes, where they settle to the bottom. Hence, "Niagara is ever clear. Sometimes, when a storm lashes the shores of Erie, a little sand is washed to the head of the river and carried down stream; sometimes a little mud is washed into the river by the small creeks that reach its banks. Thus Niagara is not absolutely devoid of load, but its bur- den is so minute that it is hard to detect."

 

Himalayan Tea Porters. — Darjeeling tea, said Mr. George W. Christison, in a lecture before the British Society of Arts, is all carried by the hardy hill-men up the steep mountain roads to the nearest railway station on the way to market. It is no unusual day's work for a coolie to carry a tea chest, weigHing from one hundred and ten to one hundred and thirty pounds, a distance of five or six miles, making at the same time an ascent of from twenty-five hundred to thirty-five hundred feet in sheer vertical elevation. There can be no deception about a task like that, and we can not but have an admiration for the powers of endurance of those who perform such a feat. Of course, these people are trained to load-carrying and mountain-climbing from their very infancy, and hence the peculiar set of muscular faculties required for them are fully developed, if not actually called into existence at the cost of others — so much so that walking on a level, after a few miles, becomes positively painful to them. In the prosecution of their own trade, or in domestic affairs, they frequently undertake long, arduous journeys over ridges and along and across hot valleys, varying many thousands of feet in elevation, occupying many days, carrying heavy loads of from one hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds, and over and in addition to their food and bedding most cheerfully lighting a fire, cooking and eating their scanty meal, and going to sleep by the wayside. There is a story still current of a Bhootean in old times having carried a grand piano up the hill to Darjeeling, a distance of fifty miles forward, and involving a rise of more than five thousand feet in elevation by the old road. These hill tribes are a hardy people, capable of performing marvelous journeys without partaking of food, or on the most meager fare.

 

Progress in Botanical Study. — In connection with the history of the Botanical Gazette, Prof. C. E. Bessy has given in a paper on the Evolution of a Botanical Journal, read at the University of Nebraska and published in the American Naturalist, a view of the growth of interest in botany in the United States. The Gazette was started in November, 1875, by Prof. John M. Coulter, of Hanover College, Indiana, as the Botanical Bulletin, a monthly publication of four pages. Its name was changed in the second year to the Botanical Gazette. Its editorial force was increased from time to time, it went through several enlargements, and improvements were made in it; in ten years it had won an established position. The twentieth volume, instead of 52 pages of short, mostly local notes, had 568 pages of structural, physiological, ecological, systematic, and paleontological matter. Now a further enlargement has been found necessary, under which the numbers will average 65 pages each, and the magazine becomes one of the publications of the University of Chicago, with a still further increased editorial force, to which it is contemplated to add one or more European botanists. The magazine, Prof. Bessy says, "has grown and developed as the science of botany has grown and developed in this country. When we look over the earlier volumes-with surprise at the little notes which fill the pages, we must not forget that American botany had not then generally risen above such contributions. It is true that we had a few masters in the science, but these masters wrote little for general readers, and their technically systematic contributions were mostly published in the proceedings of learned societies. The one thing which stands out to-day in sharp contrast with the botany of two decades ago is the very great increase in the number of masters in the science who are making liberal contributions from many different departments."