Popular Science Monthly/Volume 6/March 1875/Literary Notices
This volume is one of unique and remarkable interest, founded on one of the most terrible tragedies in all history. Within a period of twenty-four hours an immense portion of a great city was laid in ashes. The total area burned over was 2,124 acres, or nearly 31⁄3 square miles, containing about 73 miles of streets and 18,000 buildings, while, of a population of 334,000, the houses of 100,000 were destroyed. Of the experience of that terrible Sunday night, when the conflagration spread through the city before a driving gale of wind, the "Report" remarks as follows:
But, appalling as was this phase of the great disaster, the consequences it immediately entailed were hardly less dreadful:
A popular exposition of the general doctrine of Development and Descent, within moderate limits, has been long wanted. Mr. Darwin's works are voluminous, and they elaborate special points with a minuteness of detail and a wealth of learning that are the delight of the student, but are not attractive to the general reader. A compend of the main facts and essential logic of his system, as now widely accepted by naturalists, is therefore a desideratum in scientific literature. Various attempts have been made to meet this need, but they have generally been defective in statement, and made by men who did not know the subject at first hand. Prof. Schmidt's volume fairly covers the ground, and is brought within convenient limits for the general reader; while its author is an independent investigator in natural history, and has made his own original contributions to the theory which his book explains. As a piece of exposition the volume is quite remarkable, and its writer may be congratulated for having done his part toward relieving German men of science from the imputation recently intimated by Helmholtz, that they are behind those of other countries as lucid and successful popular teachers. There are a meatiness and a density of thought in this little work which betray the close German thinker, and keep the reader well occupied; but there are a wit, point, and polemical force in his pages, that relieve them from dryness, and well sustain the reader's attention. Yet the characteristic of the volume is that the author has seized the essential points of the great argument, and brought out, with unexampled success, the strength of what may be called the Darwinian position. The broad philosophic doctrine of Evolution he does not attempt to discuss, but limits his argument to the field of biology, to the Animal World in its Present State, the Phenomena of Reproduction, Historical and Paleontological Development, the Geological and Geographical Distribution of Life, Heredity, Reversion, Selection, Derivation, and Pedigree. An able chapter is given to Special Creation and the Nature of Species; the Bearing of Linguistic Inquiry upon the Doctrine of Development is presented; and the concluding chapter is devoted to the question of the Descent of Man. On all these subjects the author is up to the latest results, and presents them in a well-methodized form.
This volume covers very important ground in the popular scientific series to which it belongs, as its doctrines are sometimes implied and frequently referred to in the other books, and it is therefore satisfactory to know that Prof. Schmidt has executed his work with judgment and ability.
Dr. Martineau is one of the most affluent and captivating of modern theological writers, and is regarded as perhaps the leading English champion of Unitarian heterodoxy. His "Essays, Philosophical and Theological," reprinted by the Putnams, range over a wide variety of topics, and display much acuteness and logical force, but their chief characteristic is the imaginative raciness of their style. The essay now issued, and which was delivered as an address before the Manchester New College, is a brilliant rhetorical polemic, called forth by Tyndall's address, in which the author aims to expose what, he regards as the inconsistency, the baselessness, and the absurdity, of modern materialistic philosophy. Many of his hits are fine, and many of his sarcasms biting, and the whole discussion is most readable, but we think the author leaves the subject very much as he found it. We fail to see that his breadth and liberality give him any advantage in this discussion over the narrow and bigoted theologian. As an historical fact, theological doctrines have stood in the way of Science at every great step of its advancement. Nor have the theologians ever consented to take their doctrines out of the way; the disagreeable duty has been imposed upon Science, all along, of displacing them. Nor does there seem to be yet, on the part of theologians, much disposition to change their tactics; they still plant down their dogmas in the pathway of investigation, and then denounce the antagonism of science, and the aggressiveness of its cultivators—because they will hold to their old course and drive on. In the present phase of the conflict, it is insisted upon, with a strange perversity, that Science is somehow the rival of the Deity; that what Science gains, the Creator loses. To the vulgar religious mind, thunder and lightning were formerly regarded as the immediate displays of Divine power and intervention in the management of earthly affairs, and, when Science affirmed that it could discern the promise and potency of these effects in matter, the ignorant theologian protested that God was in this way expelled from so much of his universe. Science has thus been interpreted as driving him out of sphere after sphere, until at last only a corner of the universe remains where the operations of the Divinity can be seen, and that is the realm of life. Prof. Tyndall now comes forward and says that he sees also in matter the promise and potency of every form of life, and the cry is raised that this is the final audacious aggression of Science, which drives the Divinity from the universe, and lands the human mind in scientific materialism and scientific atheism. If we understand Dr. Martineau, he holds this position in common with the narrowest of the orthodox. Yet there are many divines who see that the whole course of theology in this respect has been wrong, and that, rightly viewed, every successive step taken by Science, in conquering the world to the laws of order, has only strengthened and exalted the true view of the Divine government of the world.
The three elaborate essays which constitute this work are on the following subjects: I. Nature; II. Utility of Religion; III. Theism. The first two of these were written some twenty years ago, the last within half a dozen years; but Miss Taylor, the editor, in her "Introductory Notice," says that Mr. Mill intended to publish the essay on Nature—one of the first written—in 1873. From this it would appear that she views upon religious subjects which Mr. Mill entertained a quarter of a century ago were those that he continued to hold during life; indeed, Miss Taylor says that "it is certain that the author considered the opinions expressed in these different essays as fundamentally consistent;" and she adds, "It is apparent that his manner of thinking had undergone no substantial change."
Now, whatever Mr. Mill wrote upon subjects that had engaged his long and earnest attention was always valuable and worthy of thoughtful perusal; and, certainly, his reflections upon so universally important a matter as religion are entitled to grave consideration. And yet Mr. Mill's claim to be heard rests only upon the broad presumptive ground of his acknowledged greatness as a thinker, and our interest to know what he said is much the same as it would be in the views of Plato, Averroes, or Kant. For, as a thinker, Mr. Mill is already historic—historic not merely in the sense that he is dead, but that he is separated from the present by a great epoch of change in the philosophic view of Nature, and as belonging to an old dispensation of thought. As we have shown before, Mr. Mill virtually antedated the scientific era. He was educated in the most despotic manner, and with no more reference to science than if that agency had not appeared in human affairs. His whole discipline and mental furniture, although thorough and full, were on a method that had been perfected before science arose; and it was natural, if not inevitable, that his philosophic opinions on the subject of Nature and religion should have been in substantial harmony with the old skeptical school. Many questions are undoubtedly handled with originality and power; but the standing-point from which the whole subject is considered belongs to the last century.
That this stand-point has been greatly altered within a few years, so as to give new aspects to old religious problems, can hardly be doubted. The doctrine of evolution, which has latterly come forward so prominently, is not merely a theory of the origin of animal diversities; it is nothing less than a philosophy of Nature, and gives a new complexion to the great religious questions in which the interpretation of Nature is involved. Our space will not allow us to go into this inquiry, but the case was so well stated, the other day, in relation to Mr. Mill, in the editorial columns of the New York Times, that we cannot do better than to quote a passage or two from the article. The writer says:
"Much as Mr. Mill had labored in the field of modern metaphysics, he was by no means so familiar with the modes of reasoning of modern science. Had he been more so, he could never have indulged in his irreverent and almost flippant objections to the perfection and the ends of the workings of Nature. Nor would he have been so confident of the tendencies in Nature toward pain and degeneracy. The truth is, to the modern natural philosopher Nature is by no means so simple a machinery, or collection of guided forces, as it was to the investigator even twenty years since. Darwinism has changed all that. The simplest results in natural phenomena are plainly the effects and balancings of countless forces and forms of life, perhaps through millions of ages. The aspect and features, for instance, of a summer field—its flowers, insects, shrubbery, and animals, the soil and rocks and contour, the very hue of the flowers and the color of the insects—every simple phenomenon in it is the result and final balance of struggling forms of life and opposing forces, which must have been working under a guiding hand to produce this effect for 'eons of eons.' The philosopher who should say that this did not show contrivance, or the perfection he expected, or that this complicated machinery suffered from jars, friction, and defects, would now, in the judgment of the most skeptical scientific men, be like a savage criticising the machinery of a steam-engine or the operations of a Babbage counting-machine. The matter is too complicated for any human observer to form any intelligent opinion upon. He neither sees the beginning nor the end. He is not certain that he can trace out a few threads of the intertwined web, even for a short distance. His best theory, that of 'the survival of the fittest,' is only a negative theory. It shows why forms of life are destroyed, but never 'the origin of species.' The only thing which a philosophical observer can do with any reason is to observe, during the short space of human history, the drift of things. Now, modern science, whether it be correctly based or not, is singularly opposed to Mr. Mill's pessimism in this.
"According to Darwinism, at least (which Mr. Mill certainly would recognize as a good working hypothesis), there is nothing in the universe existing or created for pain alone. Every instrument of destruction or torture—the claws of the tiger, the sting of the hornet, the venom of the rattlesnake, the teeth of the shark, the beak of the hawk—are not designed, or have not arisen, to give pain without purpose. They are all originally means of defense, or means of gaining sustenance, or weapons of attack in the struggle for food, or variations of harmless organs. Pain is incidental to them. And pain, in the Darwinian theory, is never an object per se, except as it tends to improve the subject. We are not now defending this theory of the universe; we only urge that modern science, on which Mr. Mill so confidently rests, does not present us with a universe where pain is the apparent object of creation, or where it has no useful ends.
"Moreover, Mr. Mill would be surprised to find that under the Darwinian hypothesis there is no degeneracy of the world, no drift toward the worst. Nature, to the Darwinian, is by no means so black as the elder and younger Mills paint her. According to the development hypothesis, there is an eternal progressive movement through the whole universe toward higher forms of life; in other words, modern science believes in necessary and ever-continuing advance. But a current toward the Best, a plan of the Cosmos which points toward perfection, a drift in the direction of what is complete, a movement like that of the stars of heaven, continuing slowly but surely through countless millions of ages, toward one centre of the universe—the perfectly Good—is surely one of the grandest of all indications in natural theology of a benevolent and perfect Creator. And for an observer, who has but a moment's time for observation, to criticise the movement because it is slow, reaches the height of irreverence and conceit."
This volume has nothing marked about it that calls for attention. It belongs to a class, already numerous, which purport to be introductions to the study of the human mind. It is metaphysical in its method, and old in its inculcations. While the author designs it "principally for the use of students" who are beginning their philosophical studies, he confesses to another purpose, as follows: "The writer is ready to admit that one principal object which he kept before his mind in the preparation of the book, was to show the inadequacy and unsatisfactoriness of a prevailing system of psychology which may be indicated by the word phenomenalism." By phenomenalism we suppose he means corporealism, or the psychology which takes organic conditions into account in studying mental effects. But he "shows the inadequacy" of that method chiefly by ignoring it, and if disembodied spirits want a text-book of psychology adapted to their circumstances, the present work may be recommended to them as so well suited that it would not need revision to free it of any sublunary dross.
An elegantly-printed little volume, with an attractive title, which is suggestive of a most interesting class of scientific questions. But the contents of the book are sorely disappointing. The questions we expected to meet are not considered, and the little science there is is bad. In a chapter devoted to "The Nature and Origin of Sound," the current physical explanation of the phenomena is rejected, and a sonorous or musical fluid is resorted to. The author says: "Why do not all the extended cords of a musical instrument, such as a piano, violin, violoncello or guitar, repeat together the tone or cry of the voice which utters sounds above them? Why, of all the cords of the same instrument, do those only which are in unison with this voice produce sound? Did not the noise, the sound, the sonorous wave, as they choose to call it, which escapes from the mouth, strike, disturb, and agitate all the strings? Yes, but the sonorous fluid did not find all of these its Leyden jar, nor in any the capacity for being charged with the sonorous fluid. This, I think, is the explanation of the phenomenon that can never be explained by the theory of the molecular vibration of the bodies, or of the undulations of the air." Where such crude notions are entertained, we cannot expect a very refined analysis of the relations of music to the nervous system; nevertheless, the volume contains a good deal of information in which the lovers of music may be interested.
This is a very valuable little hand-book for the student of practical mineralogy, and an immense amount of careful and accurate information has been condensed into its pages. It grew out of the necessities of practical teaching in the school of Freiberg, and has been revised and adapted for use in this country by an experienced American geologist, and it is a guide to practical work which every student of minerals will find indispensable. The method of study to which it is tributary is thus indicated in a passage from the translator's introduction:
"Every one who has had the good fortune to study at the Royal Saxon Mining Academy, in Freiburg, will bear witness to the efficacy of the system there pursued for instructing young students in the art of distinguishing mineral species on the spot, by the aid of a tolerable memory, and an intelligent observation of a few of their most striking physical properties—both brought to the highest point of perfection of which they are capable by judicious cultivation, and kept in their best condition by assiduous daily exercise.
"The method of practical instruction pursued there, and which has been introduced by Freiberg graduates into many schools in this country, requires merely a cabinet of unlabeled minerals, and a professor who can determine—not one who has learned them. Each student, of a class of ten or more, places a tray of such minerals before him, and occupies the two hours devoted to "Praktische Uebung" in discovering, by the aid of the knife, the streak-tablet, the file, and the magnifying-glass, the true nature of as many of these minerals as possible. There is, however, a large class of minerals (the silicates, etc.) which, unless distinctly crystallized, present considerable difficulties to the field-worker. To partly overcome these difficulties, the supplementary tables were added by Prof. Weisbach, whereby, through the instrumentality of a bottle of acid, a matrass, a blow-pipe, and a couple of fluxes, a still larger number of species can be identified."
Dr. Spottiswoode is equally well known in the scientific and business world: in the scientific world as a mathematician, physicist, and member of the Royal Society; in the business world as printer to her Majesty, and the proprietor of an immense book-manufacturing establishment. The excellent little volume which is just produced on one of the most difficult departments of optics is, in a certain sense, the product of both the activities in which the author is engaged. It consists of lectures delivered at various times to audiences of the working people in his employ. In these lectures Mr. Spottiswoode attacked the most complex part of optical science, and one which it has hitherto proved most difficult to expound satisfactorily in a book; but, by the profuse employment of experiments, the lecturer was probably able to bring the subject within the range of his listeners' comprehension—its striking phenomena, at all events, if not their completest explanation. In this little volume the text is as clear as is consistent with extreme brevity, and the numerous well-executed woodcuts are valuable helps to the understanding of the subject, and will go far to replace the experiments which were made with the instruments represented.
The science of chemistry is growing into immense proportions, and with its enormous expansion there comes a revolution in its theory of so radical a nature as to bewilder the old students, and raise a serious question how the prodigious mass of facts and details is ever going to be got into any thing like rational order. But, while Theory is perplexed, Practice proceeds with but little disturbance; only, as the field extends, division of labor has to be carried farther, and the more special departments of science are increasingly cultivated. The present work appears in obedience to this tendency, and furnishes a hand-book for a branch of analysis of no small importance, and which has hitherto hardly had its proper share of attention. The author remarks in his preface:
"Proximate organic analysis is not altogether impracticable, and organic chemistry is not solely a science of synthetical operations, even at present. It is true, as the chief analytical chemists have repeatedly pointed out, that in the rapid accumulation of organic compounds, the means of their identification and separation have been left in comparative neglect. It is true, also, that the field is limitless, but this is not a reason for doing nothing in it. Fifty years ago, the workers in inorganic analysis were unprovided with a comprehensive system, but they went on exploring the mineral kingdom, and using their scanty means to gain valuable results."
Though but a pamphlet of 42 pages, it contains seven papers, each giving good, solid, original work on a difficult subject. Prof. Mayer has of late made acoustics a special field of investigation, and has given to science some admirable results.
This is Part III. of Mr. Packard's series, "Half-Hours with Insects," which we have already mentioned in the Monthly. The author here considers the relations of insects to man. Of course those insects which live by preying on human kind receive special attention. We do not remember ever before to have heard that the Cimex, or bedbug, is originally a parasite of birds, especially doves and swallows. "The opinion," says Prof. Packard, "that the bedbug originally lived under the feathers of semi-domestic birds is strengthened by the fact that a European species of Cimex lives on the body of the swallow, another on the bat, while a third is found in pigeon-houses." Insects that are of service to man are also considered, and, singularly enough, we find in this category the cockroach, which, instead of being the unmitigated nuisance generally thought, is the mortal foe of the bedbug, and really does good work in ridding our houses of that disgusting pest. The pamphlet is full of useful information, and is well illustrated.
The author of this little essay was laughed at by eminent medical authorities in Edinburgh, when, some twenty years ago, he ventured publicly to affirm that certain human diseases may be artificially produced in the lower animals. Things have changed since then, and the identity of various diseases in man and animals is now admitted. Nor is this true of physical diseases only; Dr. Lindsay has found that the lower animals, or at least some of them, not only possess mind resembling that of man, but are subject to the same classes of mental disorder, produced by the same predisposing and exciting causes. The work before us gives a long catalogue of bodily and mental maladies that are known to be common to man and animals. The list includes typhus, yellow fever, puerperal fever, gout, hysteria, mania, idiocy, goitre, asthma, quinsy, and Bright's disease; and he shows that various poisons affect animals in the same way as they affect man.
This paper is reprinted from the "Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History," 1874. The quasi-volcanic metamorphisms of which it treats are singularly interesting, and here for the first time adequately described. In the "Bad Lands" of the Upper Missouri there exist highly-metamorphosed beds of clays and sands, accompanied by pumiceous and lava-like materials, which closely resemble volcanic products. Still the efficient cause was simply the burning of the underlying beds of lignite. Over hundreds and even thousands of square miles the evidences of these fires are to be seen in the mountain-ridges and buttes. There are frequent indications of the bursting through of these subterranean fires to the surface. Thus we find multitudes of jagged, chimney-like mounds of volcanic brescia. These were little volcanoes, having their seat of action in the burning coal-seam, ten, fifteen, or perhaps fifty feet below. The paper is one of rare value.
Excursions round the world are now made with such facility and regularity that the number of those who undertake them is rapidly increasing, while the variety and vivid contrast of the traveler's experiences, as he passes from continent to continent, offer an equal temptation to edify the stay-at-homes with a book describing the tour. A definite round-the-world literature of travel may thus be expected to grow up, and if it all proves to be as pleasant and instructive as Baron de Hübner's book, there will be no reason for regret. The present work is, however, more than an ordinary narrative of observation and traveling adventure. Its author, an Austrian nobleman, a man of culture and with wide experience of character, manners, and institutions, travels as a thinker, as well as a looker-on, and gives to his pages something of the insight of study as well as vivacity of narration. Of course it is impossible to go round the world in eight months and see through every thing, and sum up the philosophy of governments, races, and civilization, within the limits of a single portable volume. Baron de Hübner does not attempt this, but he has the faculty of seizing the most important features of the subjects considered, and his reflections are always sensible and suggestive, and often acute and valuable. His work is divided into three parts: I. America; II. Japan; III. China. To the first part he devotes twelve chapters, and to Parts II. and III. each eight chapters.
The author tells us that the objects of his journey were "to behold, beyond the Rocky Mountains, in the virgin forests of the Sierra Nevada, civilization in its struggle with savage Nature; to behold, in the Empire of the Rising Sun, the efforts of certain remarkable men to launch their country abruptly in the path of progress; to behold, in the Celestial Empire, the silent, constant, and generally passive, but always obstinate, resistance which the spirit of the Chinese opposes to the moral, political, and commercial invasions of Europe."
The author of these volumes, a trained artist in vocal music, attempted to give instruction in that art, but found that the usual methods consist simply of empirical formulas, without any thing like scientific coordination. Accordingly, she undertook to discover for herself a rational method of instructing pupils. While Helmholtz was accumulating material for his great work, "Tonempfindungen," she became his pupil, and, to some extent, his collaborator. The result is these two volumes, which, in the words of Du Bois-Reymond, show an "acquaintance with all the facts and theories concerning the production of the human voice."
These observations extend through four seasons, and are limited to Pennsylvania. The explanation why the cow-bird's egg hatches first in the nest of smaller eggs where it is clandestinely placed by the parent, is ingenious. The egg being larger than the others, is pressed upon by the incubating bird, hence it gets the most heat from the bird's breast. In descriptive ornithology science abounds, but, in recording the life-traits of birds, too little has been done, hence the peculiar value of this contribution.
This is a reprint of the "Nomenclature of Diseases" drawn up by a joint committee appointed by the Royal College of Physicians, London. Its republication is intended to aid in promoting the acceptance of a common nomenclature among the medical profession in all English-speaking countries.
The foes herein discussed are "paper money, protective tariffs, and party spirit." Though approving the object of the Grange movement, the professor dislikes its secrecy. With a good deal in it that is somewhat ad captandum, such as "greenback-grasshoppers are worse than any other kind of grasshoppers," the address is an able tract on political economy as affecting the farmer's interest.
This work is adapted to the use of students acquainted with algebra and familiar with at least the simple definitions of trigonometry and the elements of physics. It is published as one of a series of "School Class Books;" but who expects to receive theoretic or practical knowledge of steam at any "school" whatever? As a manual for the earnest student, who has access to steam-engines and steam-driven machinery, the work is valuable. It is divided into four sections, whereof the first treats of heat, the second of steam-engines and boilers, the third of locomotives, and the fourth of marine-engines.
It is gratifying to receive so substantial an evidence as this of the progress of science in the more recently-settled portions of our country. The titles of the papers in the present number are: "Birds of Minnesota," by Dr. P. L. Hatch; "Mammalia of Minnesota," by Dr. A. E. Ames; "Report of the Curator of the Museum;" "Prerequisites to a Proper Study of Science," by Dr. Charles Simpson; "Minnesota Geological Notes," by N. H. Winchell; "Antiquity of Man," by Dr. A. E. Johnson; "Astronomy—Scientific and Unscientific," by G. W. Tinsley.
This is anew periodical, and as a "first number" the specimen before us is excellent. The Archives has no rival on this side of the Atlantic, and this circumstance, taken in connection with its intrinsic worth, ought to insure its success. Besides original communications, of which the present number contains six, the Archives will contain the Transactions of the New York Dermatological Society, clinical records, a digest of the current literature of dermatology, reviews and bibliography, and editorials.
Dr. Curtis is Professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics in the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, and this is his introductory lecture for the winter course of 1873. It is an able argument for the oneness of the physical basis of life throughout the organic world. Though the lecture was originally addressed to medical students, it nevertheless may be read understandingly and with profit by the lay public.
The primary aim of this little manual appears to be, to fit students for passing the examinations of the English "Science and Art Department." In so far as the book discusses its subject-matter proper, viz., the chemistry of the carbon compounds, it is as full and explicit as could be expected, considering its size.
These valuable Reports form a part of the published work of the geographical and geological explorations under the charge of Lieutenant Wheeler. The Ornithological Report is by Dr. H. C. Yarrow, and has been revised and corrected by Robert Ridgway, of the Smithsonian Institution. The Catalogue of Plants is by Mr. Sereno Watson and Dr. J. T. Rothrock.