Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/735

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

going on more actively than ever. Prof. G. Kraus has well said that, if some giant hand should remove at one stroke all the plants which have not grown native among us from time immemorial, our gardens and large spots in our cultivated fields would be reduced to the condition of deserts. From the annals of the botanical gardens, beginning with the establishment of that of the University of Padua, in 1545, an important chapter could be gathered in the history of the migrations of plants. A few American guests appeared there about the middle of the sixteenth century, which were at first called Indian or Spanish plants. Among them was the Papas peruanorum, which was cultivated as an ornamental plant without a suspicion of its coming destiny the potato. There were preferences among the strangers, and the fashions changed; Oriental bulbs were succeeded by Canadian plants, among which the Robinia, or locust, the Virginia creeper, asters, and evening primrose, were high in favor. Then came greenhouse plants from the Cape of Good Hope—scarlet pelargoniums, dracænas, charming heaths, and others, which are still in favor. American trees were then sought for park plantations, with the crab-apples and flowering shrubs of Siberia. After these improved commercial facilities favored the introduction of the curious eucalypti and other plants of Australia; botanists are traveling everywhere with their Wardian cases, collecting and bringing safely home the rarest and most delicate orchids and palms of the tropical forests, and plants of every region where vegetation flourishes. About 1,500 species of plants grow wild in England. In 1891 there were cultivated in the botanical gardens at Kew 19,800 species and varieties; in Berlin, in 1890, 19,000 sorts; and in St. Petersburg, 25,000 varieties with 71,850 specimens.

 

Chinese Characters and Hieroglyphics.—In a paper on the social and religious ideas of the Chinese, as illustrated in the ideographic characters of the language, Prof. R. K. Douglas shows that the Chinese ideographic characters are picture-writings, and as such supply an interpretation of the meaning of words as they were understood by the inventors of the characters representing them. These characters, developed from the original hieroglyphic forms, were considered illustrative of the ideas of the people on political, social, scientific, and religious subjects. For example, the importance attached to the qualities of the sovereign is exemplified in the choice of the symbol employed to express a supreme ruler, the component parts of which together signify "ruler of himself." By means of the same graphic system a kingdom is shown as "men and arms within a frontier." The domestic life is illustrated by ideograms descriptive of household arrangements and relationships. The speaker in succession traced in the written characters the ideas associated with men and women—their virtues and failings; the notions associated with marriage; and the evidences of pastoral and agricultural habits among the people. The discussion of the popular religious faiths showed how prominent is the belief in the god of the soil, whose presence brings blessings, and whose averted countenance is followed by misfortunes.

 

Death-week in Rural Russia.—Some very curious ceremonies are observed by the peasants of rural Russia, on the breaking up of the ice toward the end of March. The breaking is supposed to be due to the water spirit, who, waking hungry and angry after his winter's sleep, bursts the ice and sends the floes drifting, drives the fish from their haunts, and causes the streams to overflow. Previous to this the peasants prepare a sacrifice as the beginning of their "death-week" celebration, to be offered to the spirit. They combine to buy a young horse, which must be purchased, not given, each contributing an equal amount. The horse having been sumptuously fed for three days, is taken on the fourth day at midnight, decorated, conducted by all the villagers in a body, tied, weighted, and plunged through a hole in the ice. In some districts fat, in others a horse's head, is thrown in instead of a living horse. A sacrifice is then made to the house spirit. A fat black pig is killed and cut into as many pieces as there are residents of the village, of which each resident receives one and buries it under the doorstep at the entrance to his house. The principal ceremony of the season is that of