Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/774

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researches, and his essay is thoroughly up in the latest results of acoustics and the physiology of sound, while his lecture is not only crowded with interesting scientific facts, but it is written in a remarkably clear and familiar style; the only difficulty being, that there is not half enough of it. He closes with the following suggestive passage: "If you were to tell a thoughtful man, who happened to be quite ignorant of the mechanism and action of the voice, that there were living beings who endeavored to express their wishes, thoughts, and feelings, merely by the aid of mechanical vibrations, thus causing the particles of air to swing like invisible pendulums backward and forward in certain ways, your listener would be impressed by the poverty of the device, and would too hastily conclude that only a few of the simplest and rudest ideas could possibly find expression by the aid of a contrivance so clumsy. He would tell you it was conceivable, perhaps, that, by appropriate use of vibrations, the idea of joy, or rage, or fear, or possibly of hunger, might be imperfectly expressed, with a few others of like character, but that to expect more would be visionary. He would urge that all vibrations were necessarily so similar in general character, that it would be impossible to communicate to them the stamp of thought or feeling. And yet how wonderfully each one of us employs just such vibrations, and, with a skill which seems truly superhuman, impresses upon and commits to them an infinite variety of thoughts, feelings, and ideas, which at times we pour forth in torrents that seem inexhaustible; the vastness of the result attained, the poverty of the means, are utterly overwhelming!

"Think, also, for a moment, of that gift by which we read the stories written on the invisible waves of the air; how we instantly interpret and disentangle their complexities, as they roll in toward us, thousands in a second, with the velocity of rifle-bullets. The powers to hear and speak are gifts which, from purely physical and mathematical standpoints, are absolutely magnificent! And we the possessors of such powers! Is it conceivable that they have been bestowed on us only to be used as at present? Do they not point to a future for our race when they will be employed in a manner which better accords with their inexpressible richness and grandeur?"

Myths and Myth-Makers. Old Tales and Superstitions interpreted by Comparative Mythology. By John Fiske, M.A., of Harvard University. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co.

Mr. Fiske has given us a book, which is at once sensible and attractive, on a subject about which much is written that is crotchety or tedious. He has devoted himself to the study of myths without allowing them to impair his judgment on matters of fact, and he has become familiar with myth-makers without adopting their hazy views and ambiguous expressions; and so, although we may not entirely agree with him on every point, yet we can heartily recommend his unpretending but instructive volume to the large class of readers who are interested in the subjects with which he deals. It does not claim to be a work of scientific arrangement and close reasoning. Its author, indeed, speaks of it, in his modest preface, as a "somewhat rambling and unsystematic series of papers;" but to the general public it will not, on that account, prove less agreeable.

Mr. Fiske disclaims any attempt "to review, otherwise than incidentally, the works of Grimm, Müller, Kuhn, Bréal, Dasent, and Tylor," nor does he claim "to have added any thing of consequence, save now and then some bit of explanatory comment, to the results obtained by the labor of these scholars;" but it has been his aim, he says, "to present these results in such a way as to awaken general interest in them." This aim he seems to us to have fully attained; and we shall be surprised if his book does not do good service in enlisting the sympathies of a large number of readers in behalf of a science which some critics find it more easy to deride than to comprehend. Mr. Fiske's volume comprises seven chapters, which seem to have been originally as many reviews of various works on mythology and animism. Beginning with "The Origins of Folklore," he traces home some of the most widely-spread of the pseudo-historic stories, such as those of William Tell, and of Llewellyn and Gellert, as well as a few of the Popular Tales which have