Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/February 1875/Literary Notices

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Popular Science Monthly Volume 6 February 1875  (1875) 
Literary Notices
 
LITERARY NOTICES.

The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America. By Hubert Howe Bancroft. Vol. I. Wild Tribes. 797 pages. Price, $5. D. Appleton & Co.

If it, be true that "the proper study of mankind is man," it is equally true that mankind has shamefully neglected its lessons. There is, perhaps, no great subject upon which the knowledge attained is so scanty, chaotic, and misleading, as that relating to the different sorts of humanity, or the races and varieties of mankind. Into the cause of this it is not necessary here to enter, but it is probably connected, in an intimate manner, with the laws of growing intelligence. Until there arises some perception of the value of knowledge, of the relation of facts to principles, and the importance of valid generalizations, there will be no such thing as accurate, methodical observations, and the systematic collection of the data requisite for the formation of intelligent opinions. The unfilled gaps in "Spencer's Tables of Descriptive Sociology" give us the most striking illustrations of the deficiency of trustworthy information regarding the characters, habits, and peculiarities, of the different tribes of men. It is a matter of great importance that these deficiencies should be supplied, and the prominence which ethnological studies have latterly assumed, as a part of the general progress of science, gives assurance that the subject will be less neglected in the future. We have reached a stage in the growth of knowledge concerning the social relations of men which makes it necessary to have the elementary facts exhaustively collated, carefully digested, and thrown into conveniently-accessible forms for general reference and study.

This necessity has been distinctly seen by the author of the work before us. For many years a resident of San Francisco, in the midst of decaying races and the relics of old civilizations, he was attracted to ethnological problems, and saw the importance of making the subject a matter of comprehensive study. He has devoted twenty years to this task, the result of which is a work of encyclopedic scope, the first volume being devoted to the wild tribes of the Pacific region of North America, and this is now published. The second volume will treat of the civilized nations, to be followed by three volumes on the Mythology, Languages, Antiquities, and Migrations of the races and tribes that are embraced within his scheme. Of the thoroughness with which Mr. Bancroft has carried on his work, the following extracts from his preface give a good intimation:

"To some it may be of interest to know the nature and extent of my resources for writing so important a series of works. The books and manuscripts necessary for the task existed in no library in the world; hence, in 1859, I commenced collecting material relative to the Pacific States. After securing every thing within my reach in America, I twice visited Europe, spending about two years in thorough researches in England and the chief cities of the Continent. Having exhausted every available source, I was obliged to content myself with lying in wait for opportunities. Not long afterward, and at a time when the prospect of materially adding to my collection seemed any thing but hopeful, the 'Biblioteca Imperial de Méjico,' of the unfortunate Maximilian, collected during a period of forty years, by Don Jose de Maria Audrade, littérateur and publisher of the city of Mexico, was thrown upon the European market, and furnished me about three thousand additional volumes.

"In 1869, having accumulated some sixteen thousand books, manuscripts, and pamphlets, besides maps and cumbersome files of Pacific coast journals, I determined to go to work. But I soon found that, like Tantalus, while up to my neck in water, I was dying of thirst. The facts which I required were so copiously diluted with trash, that to follow different subjects through this trackless sea of erudition, in the exhaustive manner I had proposed, with but one lifetime to devote to the work, was simply impracticable. In this emergency, my friend Mr. Henry L. Oak, librarian of the collection, came to my relief. After many consultations, and not a few partial failures, a system of indexing the subject-matter of the whole library was devised, sufficiently general to be practicable, and sufficiently particular to direct me immediately to all my authorities on any given point. The system, on trial, stands the test, and the index, when completed, as it already is for the twelve hundred authors quoted in this work, will more than double the practical value of the library."

Of the spirit in which the work has been executed we may say that the writer's main object has been to make it trustworthy and valuable for the use of students. He is evidently a most painstaking and conscientious worker, and is constantly careful to give the authorities for his statements. Although not without his own views upon the various questions which arise, he is not dogmatical, and puts his reader in full possession of the grounds upon which his judgments are formed. It may be added that, though the present volume contains a great amount of information which might be supposed to be dry and unattractive, its pages are nevertheless extremely readable; and, to those who have any interest in ethnological inquiries, they will have a strong fascination.

Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1872.

The recent reports of the Department of Agriculture show, we think, considerable advance on their predecessors. The Statistical Division is the work of six thousand collaborators. The entomological report, by Townsend Glover, who is himself scientist, artist, and engraver, is a really able exhibit of the Diptera or flies, from the great bot-flies, to the diminutive wheat-midge, which caused a loss in the cereals to the State of New York in 1854 of $15,000,000! Ryland Brown, the chemist, gives analyses of vegetables, soils, and fertilizers, etc. The report of George Vasey, the botanist, contains well-worked papers on arboriculture, especially on the cinchona, a tree which yields the Peruvian bark, and from which is obtained quinine. Thomas Taylor details exhaustive work as a microscopist on the fungi which produce the pear-blight, and the yellows in the peach-tree. The epizooty, fish-culture, and forest cultivation on the Plains, receive attention. There is also a good report on industrial education, etc., etc. The whole report gives evidence of painstaking work in the field of agriculture, and the results given are practical to a degree. The article by Prof. James Law on "Influenza in Horses" deserves circulation as a separate document.

Insanity and Disease. An Address before the Oneida County Medical Society, October 13, 1874. By L. A. Tourtellot, M. D., Utica, New York.

The question of the relation of mind and body, while it has a profound interest for the speculative thinker, takes on a more practical aspect to the physician. Yet it is true that this practical urgency of the problem to the medical man is the chief cause of the more rigorous scientific investigation which the subject has received in the present century, and which has revolutionized the older views that were entertained concerning it. But the question may be properly raised whether this revolution has not proceeded too far, and led to indefensible extremes of doctrine as a reaction from the absurdities of the older belief. We understand this to be substantially Dr. Tourtellot's ground in this able address. He says: "During the middle ages and down nearly to the present century the secondary and inferior nature of matter as compared with mind was a doctrine almost undisputed in the world of learning. This doctrine is reflected in the sentiment which despised and contemned the human body and discouraged the studies of physiology and pathology. It followed also that bodily diseases were attributed to sin or to possession by evil spirits. Mental disorder especially was considered a disorder of the soul, and moral insanity was thought to demand punishment rather than to excuse from it. It is easy to see how such a belief operated to cause that abuse and neglect of the insane which so long prevailed. Its evil effects upon society also appear in the monastic rules, the severe penances, and the thousand extravagances of religious fanaticism which history records."

The reaction from this doctrine, beginning in that higher respect for matter which modern science inculcates, professes to base itself upon the results of physiology and pathology, and propounds the view that mental disorder is in all cases simply a bodily or brain disease. The implication is that mind, in its normal or usual manifestation, is a cerebral function, and this is held to necessitate the inference that abnormal mental manifestations are caused only by physiological derangement. This is the ground taken by that eminent alienist Dr. Maudsley, and Dr. Tourtellot admits that, however great may be the want of evidence to establish the theory, it is at least a consistent position. Dr. Maudsley says, "To write as if sanity is a thing of the immaterial, and insanity a thing of the material world, is to infer that men are furnished with brains only that they may become insane." Yet it seems that some physicians find it convenient to entertain both theories; and we are informed in this discourse that Dr. John P. Gray, Superintendent of the State Lunatic Asylum at Utica, in a paper read before the New York State Medical Society, on "The Dependence of Insanity on Physical Disease," takes the ground that mental aberration is due to bodily disorder; but, being "no materialist, he does not regard sound mental action as the result of a sound and healthy brain, and denounces such a notion" as "an attempt to revive the exploded vagaries of the French materialism of the encyclopedists and the Revolution." Obviously the superintendent is a politician as well as a doctor.

But, even assuming that insanity is a bodily disease, Dr. Tourtellot maintains that it is impossible to find the indications of it in the bodily structures. He quotes Leidersdorf as declaring any such demonstration "outside the realm of possibility;" while Griesinger, the celebrated German authority, ridicules the "belief that every mental disorder must correspond to a palpable cerebral lesion." The practical evil of the extreme theory, that insanity is in all cases essentially a bodily disease, Dr. Tourtellot thinks to be an undue reliance upon medication for a cure. This leads to the appeal for legislative aid upon an enormous scale, to provide medical establishments for the treatment of the insane. Upon this point Dr. Tourtellot remarks:

"I must point you to one other evil, of perhaps greater magnitude, which is directly due to Dr. Gray's false theory and vicious reasoning. You are doubtless aware that the demand for new hospital-asylums, to provide for all the insane of the State, has been based mainly upon the doctrine that insanity is a bodily disease, easily curable in its early stages. At length, the Legislature of this State was prevailed upon to authorize the building of two such asylums. And, as they were in the end to save vast sums of money through the speedy cure of those who must otherwise, as incurable, become a public charge for life, it was not necessary to spare expense upon them. These asylums, in fact, were planned to reqiure an outlay of from $8,000,000 to $10,000,000 for a total capacity of 800 patients. Now, I need not stop to prove to you how even more absurd is the plan of 'stamping out' insanity by medical treatment than that of exterminating cancer and scrofula would be. The serious proposal of such a scheme by a medical man in any part of Europe would be enough to brand him as a visionary or a quack. That it should not only have been proposed, but apparently accepted as the basis of a policy of provision for the insane in this country, seems hardly credible. But, as you know, the policy is still urged upon our State Legislatures, and the argument for it is repeated in nearly all our asylum-reports, year after year."

Dr. Gray makes the statement in his last report to the Legislature, that "a recovery of four-fifths" (of insane persons) "might reasonably be expected, if treated within three months of the first attack; while, if twelve months are allowed to elapse, the same proportion may be considered as incurable." Dr. Tourtellot replies that this is a fallacy, and states that, in a large number of the cases, the outbreak is sudden and transient, and that "it is quite certain that four-fifths of such patients will recover even without special treatment.... But, on the other hand, patients brought to the asylum a year or more after their attack, are of a wholly different class. Their insanity was chronic, not only in its fully-developed stage, but in the stage of invasion. It was never possible to bring them to an asylum within three months of the date of their attack. Their insanity came on imperceptibly, and opinions might differ months or even years as to the time of its beginning."

In regard to the vexed question of the definition of insanity, the author remarks:

"After what has been said, you will not expect me, in closing, to present you with a definition of insanity as a physical fact. The term is a purely metaphysical one, and cannot be translated into the language of natural science. To say that insanity is morbid energy of the nervous element, is to state what we all admit to be a legitimate scientific hypothesis, but at the same time know to be worthless as a definition. On the other
hand, a precise definition from the side of mental science is acknowledged to be impossible. Taken in its broad sense, the word simply denotes a marked degree of mental disorder. What that degree is, depends upon the practical issue presented in each case. In highly-civilized countries a moderate degree only, more or less incapacitating for the due performance of the social relations, constitutes insanity, and entitles its subjects to the charity and protection of the state. Where it is claimed to excuse from the punishment of crime, a high degree of mental disorder is required to be shown. Other degrees are necessary in order to make void a will, or excuse from the performance of a contract. A slight degree only may constitute a medical case of insanity, of the greatest interest and importance. In a narrower and technical sense, insanity denotes chronic mental disorder not obviously belonging, as a symptom, to some recognized form of bodily disease."

Animal Physiology: The Structure and Functions of the Human Body. By John Cleland, M. D., F. R. S. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 12mo, 325 pages. Price, $1.50.

In the first chapter of this work the author gives a brief account of the relations of physiology to other departments of science; a description of the composition and properties of organic matter; definitions of the principal functions; and a couple of pages on the neucleated corpuscle, which he is disposed to regard as the ultimate physiological unit. Connective tissues; the skeleton and its function, with the minute structure of bones, ligaments, and cartilages; muscles, their structure and mode of action; and the structure and functions of the skin and mucous membrane, form the subjects of the four succeeding chapters. Alimentation, and the apparatus and process of digestion, are next treated; and then follow in the usual order chapters on the blood, the circulation and its organs, and respiration. The structure and functions of the glands are next disposed of; and three chapters are given to the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, including the organs of special sense. Voice and speech are next treated; and the book closes with a chapter on the subject of reproduction and development. The matter of the work is largely anatomical, too much so, in our opinion, for a book on physiology; but, as the author says that it is intended for those "previously unacquainted with anatomical details," this feature may be exactly suited to their needs. In this case, however, the physiology should have been similarly graded, which it is not, being much too advanced for pupils ignorant of anatomy. The work is mainly a compilation, the author claiming originality only in his method of grouping the facts. The style is clear, the illustrations are numerous and well executed, and both a glossary and index are appended.

Elements of Zoology for Schools and Science Classes. By M. Harrison. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 16mo, 172 pages. Price, 75 cents.

The title of this book is doubly misleading. It is called a zoology, when, in fact, it deals with only one department of that great subject, viz., comparative anatomy; and, instead of giving the elements of this, goes rather to the opposite extreme, being little more than a bare statement of those later generalizations embodied in modern systems of classification. The book is not adapted to the wants of beginners, and is, therefore, quite out of place in an "elementary series." Those, however, desiring a brief summary of this branch of zoological science will find it of service, though the works of Huxley, from which it is mainly derived, put the subject in a much more attractive shape. The book is copiously illustrated, has a series of questions attached to each of the chapters, and is provided with a glossary.