Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/154

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A scheme of the French Government to encourage the intermarriage of life-convicts in New Caledonia with life-convicts imported from the prisons at home is pronounced mischievous by the "Lancet." The purpose is to build up family relations in the interest of morality; but British experience is to the effect that such alliances lead to the multiplication of criminals, and that the real check to crime lies in breaking up and isolating the criminal class. Testimony gleaned by M. Louis Barron from the journals of New Caledonia points in the same direction, and forms an instructive commentary on the law of heredity as deduced by Darwin.

The French fishermen are troubled by the depredations of porpoises, for which they have not succeeded in finding a remedy. An attempt was made to catch them in seine nets, but they jumped out of the snares. They were scared away by guns and torpedoes, but the fish were frightened and disappeared with them. They are too numerous to be shot one by one in an effective manner. The only thing to be done seems to be for the fishermen to unite and drive them away in crowds; but this will have to be often repeated. Insurance and payment of damages by the Government are the last measures of relief suggested; but they, too, are expensive to somebody.

Vanilla is produced from a species of orchid that attaches itself to walls, trees, and other suitable objects. The plant has a long, fleshy stem, and the leaves are alternate, oval, and lanceolate. The flower is of a greenish-white color, and forms axillary spikes. The fruit is a pod, measuring when full grown some ten or twelve inches in length and about half an inch in diameter. The quality of the pod can be determined by the presence or non-presence of a crystalline efflorescence called givre, and by its dark chocolate-brown color. The fragrant givre is vanillin, C8H8O3. The pods also contain vanillic acid, oily matter, soft resin, sugar, gum, and oxalate of lime.

A striking example of degeneration in growth is exhibited by the scale that attacks greenhouse and other plants. According to Mr. Bernard Thomas, in "Science Gossip," it is a degenerated female which lives upon the sap of the plant, continuing to increase in size and reproduce its young. These may be found underneath it as minute red bodies, just visible to the naked eye, and at this time of their life comparatively active creatures; but they soon settle down and begin to degenerate. Their eyes become indistinct, and finally, with their antenna; and legs, shrivel away, the body loses its thickness, and they appear as if without life.

Totems are defined by Mr. J. G. Fraser as "a class of material objects which a savage regards with superstitious respect, believing that there exists between him and every member of the class an intimate and altogether special relation." They are tribal emblems, family symbols, signals of nationality, expressions of religion, bonds of union, and regulators of marriage-laws and of the social institutions. The system of totems exists among most primitive peoples, and in similar forms with the North American Indians, Australians, South Africans, Arabs, hill tribes of India, Polynesians, and many other peoples. Among a tribe in Colombia, where descent is in the female line, it goes so far that if a man happens to cut himself with his own knife, to fall off from his own horse, or to hurt himself in any way, his mother's clan demand blood-money from him for injuring one of their totems.


Prof. Van Quenstedt, of Tübingen, one of the most famous of German paleontologists, died December 21st, at an advanced age. He was the author of a work on the Jura, and of a Handbook of Petrefactenkunde, or the science of petrifactions. He had an especially profound knowledge of the Lias of Würtemberg and its fossils.

M. Ch. Fievez, assistant in the spectroscopic department of the Royal Observatory of Brussels, died February 2d, aged forty-five years. He studied first for the military profession, but was invited to the observatory by M. Houzeau, and entered it after studying under Janssen at Meudon. His most important work was the construction of a chart of the solar spectrum on a larger scale than that of Angström. He made a detailed study of the spectrum of carbon, and experiments on the behavior of spectral lines under the influence of magnetism and of changes of temperature.

Dr. C. C. Parry, a distinguished American botanist, recently died at Davenport, Iowa, aged sixty-seven years. He made valuable collections of plants, and was an authority in the classification of the North American flora. He was for several years a botanist in the* Agricultural Department in Washington. Mount Parry, near Denver, was named after him.

Prof. Richard Owen, geologist, died from accidental poisoning at his home in New Harmony, Ind., March 24th. He was a son of the Scotch philanthropist, Robert Owen, and was born in Scotland, January 6, 1810. Having been schooled in Europe and come to the United States, he studied civil engineering in Kentucky, was a Professor of Geology there, served in the United States Survey, was a captain in the Mexican War, was State Geologist for Indiana, professor in Indiana State University, and lieutenant-colonel and colonel in Indiana volunteer regiments.