Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/April 1873/Literary Notices

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

LITERARY NOTICES.

Key to North American Birds, containing a Concise Account of every Species of Living and Fossil Bird at present known upon the Continent north of the Mexican and United States Boundary. Illustrated by Six Steel Plates and upward of 250 Woodcuts. By Elliott Coues, Assistant Surgeon United States Army. Boston: Estes & Lauriat. New York: Dodd & Mead, 1872.

This exhaustive and beautifully executed folio comes to us as an exponent of the present state of American ornithological science. The position of Dr. Coues as a naturalist is a guarantee of the character of his work. He lays under contribution the latest results, having been assisted by various eminent gentlemen, while a large part of the volume consists of his own original observations. While the work is attractive to all who care for this fascinating subject, the author has nevertheless aimed at strict scientific accuracy in his statements. At the outset he puts the question, "What is a bird?" and most people would think the answer very simple, but in such matters most people are apt, unhappily, to be mistaken. How loose and insufficient the common notion would be as compared with the conception of science, may be shown by quoting the answer that Dr. Coues gives to his own question: "A bird is an air-breathing, egg-laying, warm-blooded, feathered vertebrate, with two limbs (legs) for walking or swimming, two limbs (wings) for flying or swimming, fixed lungs in a cavity communicating with other air-cavities, and one outlet of genito-urinary and digestive organs; with (negative characters) no teats, no teeth, no fleshy lips, no external fleshy ears, no (perfect) epiglottis nor diaphragm; no bladder, no scrotum, no corpus callosum; and with the following collateral characters, mostly shared by more or fewer other animals: under jaw hinged with the rest of the skull by means of an interposed movable bone, that is also movably jointed with two bones of the upper jaw; head jointed with neck by only one hinge; shoulder-joints connected with each other by a curved bone, the clavicle (with rare exceptions), and with the breast-bone by a straight, stout bone, the coracoid; ribs all bony, most of them jointed in the middle as well as with back-bone and breast-bone, and having offsets; less than three separate wrist and hand bones; two fingers, of one or two bones; head of thigh-bone hinged in a ring, not in a cup; one of the two leg-bones not forming the ankle-joint; no separate ankle-bones; less than three separate foot-bones; two to four toes, of two to five bones, always ending in claws; both jaws horny-sheathed and nostrils in the upper one; feet and toes (when not feathered) horny-sheathed; three eyelids; eyeball with hard plates in it, eight muscles on it, and a peculiar vascular organ inside; two larynges, or 'Adam's apples;' two bronchi; two lungs, perforated to send air into various air-sacs and even the inside of bones; four-chambered heart, with perfect double-blood circulation; tongue with several bones; two or three stomachs; one liver, forked to receive the heart in its cleft; gall-bladder or none; more or less diffuse pancreas or 'sweet-bread;' a spleen; intestines of much the same size throughout; cæca or none; two lobulated, fixed kidneys; two testicles fixed in the small of the back, and subject to periodical enlargement and decrease; one functional ovary and oviduct; outlets of these last three organs in an enlargement at end of intestine, and their products, with refuse of digestion, all discharged through a common orifice. But of all these, and other characters that come under the head of description rather than of definition, one is peculiarly characteristic of birds; for every bird has feathers, and no other animal has feathers."

Mysteries of the Voice and Ear. By Prof. O. N. Rood, of Columbia College. Chatfield & Co., New Haven. University Series.

This pamphlet is one of the most admirable expositions of its subject that we have ever read. Prof. Rood is one of our first physicists, the author of many valuable researches, and his essay is thoroughly up in the latest results of acoustics and the physiology of sound, while his lecture is not only crowded with interesting scientific facts, but it is written in a remarkably clear and familiar style; the only difficulty being, that there is not half enough of it. He closes with the following suggestive passage: "If you were to tell a thoughtful man, who happened to be quite ignorant of the mechanism and action of the voice, that there were living beings who endeavored to express their wishes, thoughts, and feelings, merely by the aid of mechanical vibrations, thus causing the particles of air to swing like invisible pendulums backward and forward in certain ways, your listener would be impressed by the poverty of the device, and would too hastily conclude that only a few of the simplest and rudest ideas could possibly find expression by the aid of a contrivance so clumsy. He would tell you it was conceivable, perhaps, that, by appropriate use of vibrations, the idea of joy, or rage, or fear, or possibly of hunger, might be imperfectly expressed, with a few others of like character, but that to expect more would be visionary. He would urge that all vibrations were necessarily so similar in general character, that it would be impossible to communicate to them the stamp of thought or feeling. And yet how wonderfully each one of us employs just such vibrations, and, with a skill which seems truly superhuman, impresses upon and commits to them an infinite variety of thoughts, feelings, and ideas, which at times we pour forth in torrents that seem inexhaustible; the vastness of the result attained, the poverty of the means, are utterly overwhelming!

"Think, also, for a moment, of that gift by which we read the stories written on the invisible waves of the air; how we instantly interpret and disentangle their complexities, as they roll in toward us, thousands in a second, with the velocity of rifle-bullets. The powers to hear and speak are gifts which, from purely physical and mathematical standpoints, are absolutely magnificent! And we the possessors of such powers! Is it conceivable that they have been bestowed on us only to be used as at present? Do they not point to a future for our race when they will be employed in a manner which better accords with their inexpressible richness and grandeur?"

Myths and Myth-Makers. Old Tales and Superstitions interpreted by Comparative Mythology. By John Fiske, M.A., of Harvard University. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co.

Mr. Fiske has given us a book, which is at once sensible and attractive, on a subject about which much is written that is crotchety or tedious. He has devoted himself to the study of myths without allowing them to impair his judgment on matters of fact, and he has become familiar with myth-makers without adopting their hazy views and ambiguous expressions; and so, although we may not entirely agree with him on every point, yet we can heartily recommend his unpretending but instructive volume to the large class of readers who are interested in the subjects with which he deals. It does not claim to be a work of scientific arrangement and close reasoning. Its author, indeed, speaks of it, in his modest preface, as a "somewhat rambling and unsystematic series of papers;" but to the general public it will not, on that account, prove less agreeable.

Mr. Fiske disclaims any attempt "to review, otherwise than incidentally, the works of Grimm, Müller, Kuhn, Bréal, Dasent, and Tylor," nor does he claim "to have added any thing of consequence, save now and then some bit of explanatory comment, to the results obtained by the labor of these scholars;" but it has been his aim, he says, "to present these results in such a way as to awaken general interest in them." This aim he seems to us to have fully attained; and we shall be surprised if his book does not do good service in enlisting the sympathies of a large number of readers in behalf of a science which some critics find it more easy to deride than to comprehend. Mr. Fiske's volume comprises seven chapters, which seem to have been originally as many reviews of various works on mythology and animism. Beginning with "The Origins of Folklore," he traces home some of the most widely-spread of the pseudo-historic stories, such as those of William Tell, and of Llewellyn and Gellert, as well as a few of the Popular Tales which have caught the fancy of most nations, such as that of "The Master Thief," or "The Giant who had no Heart in his Body." His conclusions, which we are not altogether inclined to accept, are, "that the Tell myth was known, in its general features, to our Aryan ancestors before ever they left their primitive dwelling-place in Central Asia;" and that the Popular Tales

"have been handed down from parent to child for more than a hundred generations; that the primitive Aryan cottager, as he took his evening meal yava and sipped his fermented mead, listened with his children to the stories of Boots, and Cinderella, and the Master Thief, in the days when the squat Laplander was master of Europe, and the dark-skinned Sudra was as yet unmolested in the Punjab."

This is Dr. Dasent's view, and, to a certain extent, that of a still greater authority, Prof. Max Müller. For our part, we are rather of the opinion of Prof. Benfy and his school, and are inclined to recognize, in at least most of the longer and more dramatic of our fireside and nursery romances, mere echoes of tales told long ago by Indian story-tellers. But Mr. Fiske's creed is likely to be the more popular of the two, and he has defined and justified it in a manner which all must praise. His remarks on the vexed question of the Homeric poems can scarcely offend even those critics who are least inclined to identify Athene and Helen with the dawn or any other atmospheric phenomenon; for he is fully conscious of a truth which has been over-looked by the more enthusiastic writers on the subject—that tales and traditions in their present forms are seldom capable of being straightway resolved into perfect Nature-myths, and that in many cases they have been moulded into their present forms by composers or adapters who were perfectly innocent of mythical meaning—that, as he justly remarks:

"The primitive meaning of a myth fades away as inevitably as the primitive meaning of a word or phrase; and the rabbins who told of a worm which shatters rocks no more thought of the writhing thunderbolts, than the modern reader thinks of oyster-shells when he sees the word ostracism, or consciously breathes a prayer as he writes the phrase good-by."

The second chapter of Mr. Fiske's book is devoted to "The Descent of Fire," and seems to have been originally intended as a review of Prof. Kuhn's admirable essay on that subject, or of Mr. Kelly's "Indo-European Folklore," a book based upon the works of Kuhn, Grimm, and Mannhardt. The third chapter is to a great extent borrowed from Mr. Baring-Gould's writings on "Werewolves and Swan-Maidens," and is rather inferior to the rest of the book in the matter of critical rejection. It is followed by a chapter on "Light and Darkness," which contains several interesting studies of the numerous evil spirits to which the fancy of different peoples has given rise, and especially of "the mediæval conception of the devil." The fifth chapter, on "The Myths of the Barbaric World," will probably prove the most novel and amusing of all to the general reader, but it makes no pretence of offering any thing that is new to students who are acquainted with Mr. Tylor's works, and with those less known, but valuable books, Brinton's "Myths of the New World," Callaway's "Zulu Nursery Tales," and Bleek's "Hottentot Fables."—Athenæum.

Coffee: Its History, Cultivation, and Uses. By Robert Hewitt, Jr. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1872.

This claims to be the first book in the language exclusively on the subject of coffee, of the history, cultivation, and uses, of which it gives much information. The introduction of coffee into the great capitals of Europe, and the history of their cafés, as well as the old coffee-houses in New York, are described in several entertaining pages. Java and South America are the two principal coffee-producing countries, the former furnishing the most highly-prized bean, which is unequalled for delicacy of aroma and the mild oily richness of the beverage. The latter, however, furnishes the most important staple, and its influence as a branch of industry and an element of commerce is shown by the fact that no less than 244,000,000 pounds of Rio coffee were consumed in the United States in a single year, which makes us the largest coffee-consuming nation in the world. Numerous methods of preparing coffee are mentioned in the volume, the best contrivance being stated as the following: It consists of a double coffee-pot, the inner one, containing the coffee and water, being completely surrounded by steam which is generated in a pan or receiver, over which is placed the coffee-pot. In this way all the rich, oily aromas are thoroughly extracted by the action of steam-heat surrounding all parts of the inner vessel. The coffee can never boil, and the result is a beverage more perfect than any percolating, boiling, or straining process has ever produced.

A chapter is devoted to the analysis and adulterations of coffee, and the volume contains a beautiful colored frontispiece representing the coffee-plant, and a map showing its geographical distribution. The work is very neatly gotten up.

The Ten Laws of Health; or, How Disease is produced and can be prevented. By J. R. Black, M.D. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1872.

In another part of this number of the Monthly, the reader will find an interesting paper from Dr. Black, on "Applied Sanitary Science," in which, after pointing out some of the more formidable difficulties obstructing a general application of sanitary rules, he urges, as the only effective means of making these rules universally available, that every intelligent member of the community master the leading facts and principles of the subject. In this way his eyes will be opened to the dangers which surround him, and the knowledge necessary to their avoidance or removal will also be at hand for practical use. To this important educational work the book before us is a valuable contribution. The author begins by enforcing the proposition, with which most intelligent physicians will doubtless agree, that diseases are, as a rule, preventible; that man brings them upon himself through ignorance and carelessness, and that most of them may be avoided by conforming to certain well-ascertained laws of health. These laws he ranges under ten heads, in the order of their importance, and then considers each in a threefold manner: the various ways in which it is commonly violated are first pointed out; the results which follow are next indicated; and, lastly, comes a description of the ways and means necessary to its proper observance. With some slight exceptions, the matter of the book is eminently sound, and its precepts safe to follow, while the style is clear and vigorous, qualities which, united with the excellence of its mechanical get-up, admirably fit it for popular reading.

Administration of Justice under Military and Martial Law. By Charles M. Clode. London: Murray. New York: Scribner, 1872.

A royal commission in England, some time since, expressed a desire for some such work as the present, and the British War Department have made an acquaintance with military law an essential condition of promotion in the army. It is therefore plain that this work meets a want in England; and, as the United States Army is governed by a code remodelled on the basis of the British Mutiny Act, military men on this side of the Atlantic will probably find these pages valuable for reference.

Lectures on Light. Delivered in the United States, in the Winter of 1872-'73. By Prof. John Tyndall, LL.D., F.R.S. 196 pages. D. Appleton & Co.

In his address at the farewell banquet, Prof. Tyndall said: "On quitting England, I had no intention of publishing the lectures I have given here, and, except a fragment or two, they were wholly unwritten when I arrived in this city. Since that time, besides lecturing in New York, Brooklyn, and New Haven, the lectures have been written out. No doubt many evidences of the rapidity of their production will appear; but I thought it due to those who listened to them with such unwavering attention, as also to those who wished to hear them, but were unable to do so, to leave them behind me in an authentic form." Many thousands who listened to these lectures, and many more thousands who did not, will be grateful to Prof. Tyndall for having written them out so fully for general perusal. Accompanied as they are with numerous illustrations of apparatus and experiments, and written in the author's vivid and graphic way, they will interest the reader almost as much as they did those who heard them.

These lectures were undoubtedly prepared with rapidity, but the reader, we think, will find few traces of it. They were written out with extreme care, and, in vividness of description, felicity of illustration, and transparent clearness, they fall below nothing that this author has given us before. The text is accompanied with numerous neatly-executed cuts of apparatus and experiments, which will aid the thousands who heard the lectures to recall the scenes and circumstances of their delivery, while other thousands, who saved their time and money by absence, will get the result of the professor's teachings in a form by no means unsatisfactory.

Prof. Tyndall came to this country, not to have a "good time," but to do hard work; and he worked hard, not to profit himself, but to promote the interests of science, which he has most at heart. And he not only gave his talent, his exertion, and six months of his precious time, to this object, but he left all the profits of the enterprise to be used for promoting scientific education.

Prof. Tyndall's receipts from his lectures in the several cities were as follows:

Boston, six lectures $1,500
Philadelphia, six lectures 3,000
Baltimore, three lectures 1,000
Washington, six lectures 2,000
New York, six lectures 8,500
Brooklyn, six lectures 6,100
New Haven, two lectures 1,000
————
Total $23,100

Of this amount, the surplus above expenses, amounting to upward of $13,000, was conveyed, by an article of trust, to the charge of a committee, of which Prof. Joseph Henry is chairman, and which is authorized to expend the interest in aid of students who devote themselves to original researches. This is certainly a noble example, and deserves to be emulated.

The "Proceedings of the Farewell Banquet to Prof. Tyndall" are now in press, and are soon to be published in a pamphlet. It will contain letters from the scientific men throughout the country, and all the speeches delivered on the occasion, revised by their authors.

Arrangements have been made by the firm of Holt & Williams to furnish the Fortnightly Review to American subscribers at the reduced price of $6.00 a year, or 50 cents a number. This able periodical was projected and established by Mr. George H. Lewes, some ten years ago, and was at first, as its name implies, published once a fortnight. It was modelled on the* plan of the Revue des Deux Mondes, the leading French periodical, which is issued every two weeks. After three or four years, however, Mr. Lewes withdrew from his management, and it was changed to a monthly, under the editorship of Mr. Morley, author of the excellent papers on Voltaire and Rousseau. The Fortnightly is the chief organ of the Positivist writers in England, such as Mill, Harrison, Brydges, and contains much able discussion of radical politics and advanced philosophy.

Annals of Bee Culture, for 1872, D. L. Adair, Editor (published by John P. Morton, Louisville, Ky.), contains twenty-two papers by well-known authorities on matters relating to the apiary. The opening article, "The Genesis of the Honey-Bee," by the editor, will well repay an attentive perusal.

 

 
PUBLICATIONS RECEIVED.

Manual of Paleontology. By Henry Alleyne Nicholson. Edinburgh, 1872. Blackwood.

Caliban: the Missing Link. By Daniel Wilson, LL. D. London and New York: Macmillan.

Modern Diabolism; Commonly called Modern Spiritualism. With New Theories of Light, Heat, etc. By M. J. Williamson. New York, 1873. James Miller. (Not worth reading.)

Arrangement of the Families of Fishes (Smithsonian . Miscellaneous Collections, 247). By Theodore Gill, M. D., Ph. D. Washington, 1872.

Arrangement of the Families of Mammals. Same author.

Traction Engines and Steam Road-rollers. By Prof. R. H. Thurston, of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Lecture before the Burlington Library Association, by Philip Harvey, M. D.

Birds of North America.

What Physiological Value has Phosphorus as an Original Element? By Samuel R. Percy, M. D. Philadelphia: Collins, 705 Jayne Street, 1872.

Report of the Committee on Climatology, etc., of Arkansas. By Geo. W. Lawrence, M. D. (Same publisher.)

Twenty-first Annual Report of the Regents of the University of the State of New York, on State Cabinet of Natural History, etc. Albany, 1871.

Researches in Actino-Chemistry. Memoir Second. By John W. Draper, M. D., LL. D.

Australian Kinship. By Lewis H. Morgan.

Second Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Department of Public Parks (New York City). 1872.

Mysteries of the Voice and Ear. By Prof. O. N. Rood. New Haven: Chatfield, 1873.