Popular Science Monthly/Volume 14/March 1879/Correspondence

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To the Editors of the Popular Science Monthly.

READING the article in your November number from "Nature" on "Singing Mice" recalls my experience with one of these interesting little animals: Some years since, while residing at Santa Fé, New Mexico, one of these vocal mice made its appearance in my house. The sounds were noticed; some time before the animal was seen. As with Mr. Lee's mice, there was a canary-bird in the room, and for a time the notes coming from the wall were attributed to the canary. At last, however, the mouse would come out on the carpet seeking for crumbs, and there sing. The notes were almost identical with those of a canary. It would not trill so long, but in pitch and tone were identical—at least to an unmusical ear. The same filling and throbbing in the throat seen in a bird were also seen in the mouse while he sang. The sound was not sibilant, but strictly canorous with the pitch of an ordinary canary. After this mouse had furnished entertainment for a month to myself and family, I found him so tame I could touch him, and that he was utterly blind. It was very touching to see the gentle little creature turn up its cloudy, sightless eyes to the candle when he was brought near to it on the floor of the dining-room. Small parties would assemble in the evening to hear this wonderful little vocalist without frightening him. He would come out on the carpet with all the confidence and aplomb of an old actor, and delight his hearers. I was afraid to keep him in confinement for fear he would die. Our cat was banished for the same reason, and we would not set any traps for fear he would be caught. Finally, we became so overrun that we had either to commence hostilities or abandon the house. We set a trap in a cupboard in the room, and alas! poor little singing Mus was the very first victim. I found, on examining the body, that he was exceedingly old—so old as to be blind, as I remarked—and his teeth were very long and yellow. The lower ones had grown up above the nostril. The existence of messmates or anything internal I did not verify. As for the theory of this accomplishment being the result of pregnancy, that was eliminated by the sex. I then had an idea that the sounds might have been produced by the air being forced through the long, overgrown gnawers, they acting as a sort of string. The animal was a true mouse. We have here a rat very little larger than a mouse, but it was not one of these. It was identical with the ordinary American mouse, and there was no peculiarity in color or length of ears, as remarked by Lee. This was the only one I ever had an opportunity of examining. The Mexicans, however, say they are not uncommon, and are superstitious about their appearance. My servants were greatly distressed and alarmed at the death of this one: a coincident ill fortune in the family was looked upon as having a plain and sufficient raison d'étre.

Lewis Kennon, A.M., M.D.
Fort Bayard, New Mexico,
January 14, 1879.


To the Editors of the Popular Science Monthly.

In your February number, Dr. Burns somewhat autocratically takes you to task for stating that Dr. Lardner had declared in some of his earlier lectures that steam-navigation across the Atlantic was "impracticable," and he quotes, from a very imperfect edition of Dr. Lardner's early lectures on the steam-engine, a foot-note by Professor Renwick, to show that it was the latter and not Dr. Lardner who at that time deemed the experiment impracticable.

As usual, you are correct in your statement, and Dr. Burns has fallen into a very material error, in the first place from not understanding the position of Dr. Lardner as implied by your remark in the December number of the journal, and from evidently not having read Dr. Lardner's later and fuller lectures on "The Prospects of Steam-Navigation," delivered in the principal cities of the United States during 1843 and 1844. The best edition of these lectures is the one published by Greeley and McElrath, of the "Tribune," in 1846, which edition was revised for publication by Dr. Lardner himself. I quote from his lecture on "The Prospects of Steam-Navigation," as found on page 269 of Volume I. His lecture begins with this statement of the facts obtaining then, as to ocean navigation, and his opinion as to its practicability:

"Ten years have now rolled away since the project was first announced to the world, to supersede the far-famed New York and Liverpool packet-ships, by a magnificent establishment of steam liners. . . . The announcement was hailed with one general shout of acclamation. . . . There were some, however, who, being conversant with the actual condition of the art of steam-engineering as applied to navigation, . . . were enabled to estimate, calmly and dispassionately, the difficulties and drawbacks, as well as the advantages of the undertaking. . . . These persons entertained doubts, which clouded the brightness of their hopes, and warned the commercial world against the indulgence of too sanguine anticipations of the immediate and unqualified realization of the project. But the voice of remonstrance was drowned amid the loud shouts of public enthusiasm, excited by the promise of an immediate practical realization of a scheme so grand.

"The keel of the Great Western was laid, an assurance was given that the seasons would not twice run through their changes before she would be followed by a splendid line of vessels which should consign the 'packet-ships' to the care of the historian, as 'things that were.'

"The Great Western progressed and was launched, and the enterprise has now had a fair trial during ten years, a sufficiently long time, it is presumed, to test it. The packet-ships, however, have not been swept from the ocean; on the contrary, they have been improved in efficiency, increased in magnitude, and multiplied in number. Capital, instead of being drawn from them, allured by the prospective advantages of the steam liners, has only collected around them in augmented amount, obeying, as it always does, that irresistible attraction which profitable results invariably exercise in commerce. On the other hand, the steam project which was to prove their doom has made its flash, and disappeared, leaving the Great Western . . . alone in her glory . . . to establish at once the abstract practicability of the scheme in a mechanical sense, and the utter inadequacy of its organization in a commercial sense."

This was the opinion of Dr. Lardner in 1846, nearly twenty years after the publication of the edition of his lectures quoted by Dr Burns, and more than ten years after ocean steam-navigation had become an established mechanical fact. The views entertained by Dr. Lardner at that time were very similar to those entertained by scientists to-day in regard to the problem of aërial navigation, mechanically practicable, but in the present conditions of inventions pertaining to it, so far as its commercial value is concerned, an impracticability; moreover. Dr. Lardner, in the lecture from which I quote, uses almost the same arguments quoted by Dr. Burns, from Professor Renwick's foot-note, viz., the large amount of fuel necessary for long ocean voyages, and the great expense attending its use, as compared with the cost of sailing vessels.

Dr. Lardner, however, lived to see ocean navigation by steam a success, commercially as well as mechanically, and to qualify many of the ideas and arguments advanced in his earlier lectures.

Very respectfully,

A. W. Erwin.
Sioux City, Iowa, February 3, 1879.