Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/January 1879/Correspondence

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To the Editors of the Popular Science Monthly.

GENTLEMEN: Mr. L. C. Fisher, of Galveston, Texas, has seen fit, in a recent pamphlet,[1] to attack my article on "Yellow Fever," published in the October number of your valuable magazine, with considerable warmth and even asperity. He considers himself aggrieved by the statement that yellow fever is endemic in the cities of the Gulf and South Atlantic coast. If the gentleman wishes to enter into a controversy on the subject, I must certainly decline to meet him, for two reasons: first, because your space is too valuable for interminable discussions; and, second, it is a matter of general experience that arguments on professional questions with non-professional persons are very unsatisfactory. A few explanatory words, however, I may be allowed to say, and further than this I shall decline to discuss medical questions with a layman.

He says, "If it is only endemic in the Gulf and South Atlantic cities, will Dr. Tracy explain why the disease appeared in Boston and Philadelphia so many years before it appeared in New Orleans?" The answer is a simple one. It was brought to the Northern cities earlier because of their earlier commercial relations with the West Indies, and the difference in the two cases is, that the disease never appears in the Northern cities unless it is imported, while in New Orleans it has never left the city since it was first brought there. New Orleans was exempt up to 1796, but, according to Dr. J. C. Nott, "from that time to the present (1870) there has never been a single year without sporadic cases when they escaped epidemics." Mr. Fisher appears to have the idea that a disease cannot be called endemic excepting where it originates de novo, like the malarial poison, for instance. In this sense it cannot be proved that yellow fever is endemic anywhere; for, however it may have first started, it is now the accepted belief that it only occurs as a result of previous cases, and it is fairly said to be endemic in places where the poison does not appear to have ever been destroyed since it was first brought to them. The occasional dormancy of the disease does not imply its extinction, for there is no place in the world where it rages as an epidemic the year round.

Mr. Fisher is also perturbed in spirit because I spoke of yellow fever as "beginning its march" and "following water-courses and lines of ocean-travel." He thinks a metaphor out of place in a scientific article, and suggests that "a truly scientific physician would say yellow fever, or its germs or fomites, is carried," etc. The use of metaphor is of course a matter of taste. He does not like it. I do. And that is the end of it. But when he attributes to the "truly scientific physician" such an expression as the fomites of yellow fever, he shows that he is getting out of his depth. Let him look up the word fomites and see what it means.

His suggestion that my unpretending article was the result of a deep-laid plot to ruin the commerce of Southern cities is really too funny for sober consideration. Why did he not go a little further, and accuse me of ulterior designs on the throne of Mexico?

I am sure I should be the last to wish to injure the prospects of any section of our country, and if the present efforts to establish a national quarantine should be successful, and the disease should actually be exterminated in our Southern cities, I should be very much gratified. But, until that is accomplished, I may surely be allowed to have my own opinion on a question on which opinions are, and always have been, so much divided, and to believe that quarantine alone will not banish yellow fever from our Gulf cities at least. Mr. Fisher's energy and earnestness in the matter are to be highly commended, however, and I certainly shall not try to put any obstacles in his way, however much I may disagree with his theories. Yours, very respectfully,

Roger S. Tracy.
New York, November 18, 1878.


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

My dear Professor: How I wish you were here to see the eager way in which an audience of intelligent Japanese listen to lectures from their own countrymen and from a few of us who have been fortunate enough to be invited to address them!

I have just finished a course of four lectures on Darwinism. Mr. Kikuchi, a native professor in the university, and a graduate of Cambridge, England, and a wrangler besides, interpreted for me. I had my blackboard and chalk, and did my best to make the principles of natural selection clear. As soon as I can write them out they will be published in Japanese, with illustrations, which I shall draw as far as possible from Japanese animals. Prof. Penollosa, one of the new foreign professors at the university, follows with a course of four lectures on the evolution of religions.

It seems such a delight to these people to find that there are some other views held abroad besides those taught by the missionaries, and the hearty way in which they applaud shows how welcome rational views are.

Prof. Mendenhall, of the university, formerly of the Ohio State University, will give a course of lectures on the magnet, capillarity, gravitation, and other subjects, before the same audience—Mr. Agee, the originator of the course, interpreting for him. All the money raised in this way will be devoted to building a lecture hall in Tokio.

At present the lectures are given in a large tea-house on Sunday afternoons—the large audience seated in the usual Japanese fashion on the floor, with boxes of hot coals here and there for the convenience of pipe-smokers. The audience have presented to them from four to five lectures succeeding each other, with but a few minutes' intermission between each lecturer. Their endurance in this respect is remarkable. I hope to lecture for them repeatedly during the winter.

Faithfully yours,

Edward S. Morse.
Tokio, November 10, 1878.

  1. "Yellow Fever's Origin. The Disease not Endemic in this Country." By L. C. Fisher. Galveston, Texas.