Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/146

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and are reported upon. The collection of reptiles and batrachians made by Mr. Leonhard Stejneger is particularly noteworthy as being the first attempt in this country on a similar scale to gather the material of this class according to a national plan and with a definite purpose in view. The result is a fine series of nine hundred specimens, unique in its completeness with respect to geographic localities within the area explored by the expedition, a tract of almost a hundred thousand square miles, comprising a number of nearly parallel desert valleys separated by intervening narrow mountain ranges. The effort to collect every species in all the characteristic localities has resulted in the accumulation of a material by which it has been possible in many instances to follow the geographic variation in its several directions. Thereby the author has been enabled to settle many vexed questions, and to point out various nice distinctions where some of his colleagues had failed, chiefly from lack of suitable material. According to Prof. Merriam's own observations, most of the desert shrubs are social plants and are distributed in well-marked belts or zones, the vertical limits of which are fixed by the temperature during the period of growth and reproduction. The boundaries of the several belts conform largely to the contours of altitude, with such flexures as variations in base level and slope exposure impose.

 

Conventionalism and Originality.—Having discussed the tendency of conventional and original minds to come into collision on social matters, the London Spectator finds the occasions for collision less in the case of purely intellectual questions, for the conventionals would take so little interest in matters requiring real thought that they would dismiss them unconsidered. But to those capable of appreciating such subjects, how refreshing in their distinctiveness of character are the workings of the original mind, both in ideas and in expression! For there is a touch of genius, or what the French call feu sacré, kindling its thoughts. "Life can never be an altogether dull thing in the company of the original man, for his inventive mind will so combine its various elements as to produce a new and unexpected result. He will see things from some point of view disregarded before; like what we have seen, yet somehow quite different—fresh and unexpected as the thoughts of a child. For, in truth, we shall find there is a close kinship between his mind and that of a thoughtful child. Both continually surprise and delight us, because, through ignorance in the one case and disregard in the other, of the ordinary points of view, they simply and naturally take their own. And in both cases there is the probability that they will strike the truth, because, unblinded by convention or prejudice, they aim straight at the heart of a question. We see, both with children and with poor people, that education, however useful as a refiner of the raw material of originality, is no necessity of its existence. For what rare and racy originality do we often find in the sayings of the poor and uneducated! Their conversation may be often richer in this golden ore than that of those who are called their betters; for having heard less of other men's views, their shrewd, observant minds are driven to take their own. . . . Yet, on the other hand, who that delights in certain gifted authors would deny that mental cultivation gives an added grace to originality?"

 

The Alaskan Climate.—The climate of southeastern Alaska, says Prof. J. J. Stevenson, in the Scottish Geographical Magazine, is a source of constant surprise to visitors from the Atlantic slope. On the same parallels with bleak and dismal Labrador and Cape York on Hudson Bay, where the summer heat penetrates only a few feet below the surface, trees grow three thousand feet above the sea at Wrangel, and up to the mountain tops at Juneau. The rainfall is great, and the variation in temperature is not; the mercury rarely falls below ten degrees above zero at Sitka, and as seldom rises above seventy-five degrees. Of course, the extremes are much greater on the mainland beyond the mountains, where the summer heat and winter cold are much more intense than immediately on the coast. Alaska has not been an unprofitable investment for the United States. The purchase money has been repaid, or nearly so, by royalties on seal-fishing. But the agricultural capabilities are limited indeed. There is little land fitted for tillage; and the moist summer