Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/127

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117
POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Obituary.—We have to record the death of the astronomer Leverrier, which took place at Paris on September 23d. Leverrier was born in 1811. Early in life he evinced great aptitude for chemical research, but his natural bent lay rather in the direction of the mathematical sciences. On being appointed to a position in the Polytechnic School, he devoted himself with great ardor to the study of the great problems of speculative astronomy, and soon earned high distinction by sundry memoirs. He was elected member of the Paris Academy of Sciences in 1846, and during the same year he made the great astronomical discovery of his life—that of the planet Neptune. In 1849 he entered political life as a deputy in the Legislative Assembly; under the Empire he was a senator, and for some time Inspector-General of Public Instruction. In 1853 he was appointed Director of the Paris Observatory, and so continued till 1870, when he resigned. He was reappointed in 1872, and held the position till his death. That sad event was no doubt hastened by the effects of mental overwork in his search for an intra-Mercurial planet.

 

The death is announced of J. P. Gassiot, F. R. S., in the eightieth year of his age. Mr. Gassiot was a merchant of London, but devoted his leisure to scientific research. In 1838 he was an active member of an electrical society, and for the remainder of his life devoted himself specially to the study of electrical phenomena. He was the author of several papers contributed to the "Philosophical Transactions" of the Royal Society of London. He was a munificent patron of science, and a helper of scientific men.

 

British Association Papers.—In his presidential address in Section D of the British Association, Dr. J. Gwyn Jeffreys vehemently attacked the doctrine of evolution, which he declared to be simply a "product of imagination. . . . I cannot," he said, "identify a single species of the Cretaceous Mollusca as now living or recent. All of them are evidently tropical forms. This question of identity depends, however, on the capability of hereditary persistence which some species possess; and although a certain degree of modification may be caused by an alteration of conditions in the course of incalculable ages, our knowledge is not sufficient to enable us to do more than vaguely speculate, and surely not to take for granted the transmutation of species. We have no proof of anything of the kind. Devolution or succession appears to be the law of Nature; evolution (in its modern interpretation) may be regarded as the product of human imagination. I am not a believer in the fixity of species, nor in their periodical extinction and replacement by other species. The notorious imperfection of the geological record ought to warn us against such hasty theorization. We cannot conceive the extent of this imperfection. Not merely are our means of geological information restricted to those outer layers of the earth which are within our sight, but nearly three-fourths of its surface is inaccessible to us, so long as it is covered by the sea. Were this not the case we might have some chance of discovering a few of the missing links which would connect the former with the existing fauna and flora. It is impossible even to guess what strata underlie the bottom of the ocean, or where the latter attained its present position relatively to that of the land. The materials of the sea-bed have been used over and over again in the formation of the earth's crust, and the future history of our globe will to the end of time repeat the past."

 

Miss A. W. Buckland, in a paper on "The Stimulants of Ancient and Modern Savages," said that the use of stimulants is almost universal. Among the lowest races the form of stimulant employed is now, as in ages past, some sort of root or leaf chewed for its strengthening and invigorating properties, such as the pitberry, recently discovered in use among nations in Central Australia, and the coca-leaf among the Indians of South America; but no sooner did the nations advance to the agricultural stage than they began to make fermented drinks from the roots of grains cultivated for food. Hence the beer of Egypt, which probably found its way with the wheat and barley of that land to the Swiss lake-dwellings, and over a great part of Europe, having been evidently known in Greece and