Popular Science Monthly/Volume 2/December 1872/Miscellany

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Facts relating to Niagara.—We have received a letter stating that the article on Niagara Falls, which was published in the September Monthly, contains various inaccuracies, the following being the most important. The author of the article states that a barrier fifteen feet high, stretching across the plateau at the head of the rapids, would throw the water back on Lake Erie. Our correspondent objects that this barrier would have five feet of water flowing over it. The critic further states that the writer of the article blunders about the source of Gill Creek, in such a way as to require its waters to rise 350 feet before they could discharge into Niagara River; and, finally, the author of the article affirms that the falls, in cutting their way southward, have lost 35 feet in height each mile, which, in 6 ½ miles, the distance to Lewiston, would amount to 227 feet, while our correspondent affirms that this loss of height is but 99 feet.

The Monas Prodigiosa.—In our common household experience we may often observe the sudden appearance of a phenomenon, which, as is remarked by a writer in the Danziger Zeitung, is of great interest, both from the historical and the scientific point of view. The writer says that housewives in Danzig must have noticed blood-red spots making their appearance on farinaceous articles of food, when laid aside for a little while. This phenomenon has been often observed in that city lately, and is attributable to the presence in the food of a microscopic animalcule in the lowest stage of organic development, and consisting of a single mucous sac; though the botanist would perhaps class it among plants. It is probable that house-flies transfer from place to place these animalcules, which adhere to their feet, and thus occasion in provisions those apparent spots of blood which cause housewives so much annoyance. These animalcules acted an important and tragic part in the history of the middle ages, producing the phenomenon of bleeding hosts which repeatedly gave the signal for fearful persecutions of the Jews. It will be remembered that in those ages of fanaticism the Jews were often accused of stabbing the consecrated Host, and causing it to bleed, and on this charge over 300 Jews were at one time put to death in Basle, during the fourteenth century. Bolsena, a town in the late Pontifical States, was once the scene of a great miracle, produced by these animalcules. Down to the present day they exhibit at Bolsena, as a famous relic, the robe worn by a certain priest who, in the act of consecrating the eucharistic elements, entertained a doubt as to transubstantiation, when suddenly he perceived on his alb (white robe) drops of blood, which had previously been concealed by the plaits of the garment. He hastened to hide the stain, but in the excited state of his imagination only saw the appearances of bleeding hosts multiplying. This wonderful occurrence (as it was then esteemed) gave occasion to the establishment of the festival of Corpus Christi by Pope Urban IV., and is the subject of Raffaelle's beautiful Miracolo di Bolsena, which he painted in the year 1512. The well-known savant, Ehrenberg of Berlin, was the first to attempt an explanation of the occurrence, by assigning natural causes for it. A Berlinese lady, having shown to him some potatoes boiled in their skins, and then laid aside for the space of one day, with a deep-red color appearing where the skins had burst, he discovered the existence, at the broken places, of a microscopic animalcule 1/3000 to 1/8000th of a line in diameter, which he recognized as the cause of the phenomenon. In memory of the marvels wrought by the creature in past times, he gave it the name of Monas prodigiosa—the miraculous monad.

"The City of the Future."—There is a tendency among the more comfortable classes to make cities merely places to work in, but to abandon them for the country as soon as business is over for the day. Mr. O. B. Bunce, in Appletons' Journal, opposes this movement, and claims for city-life superiority over country-life, in almost every respect. He proposes to utilize the pure air above our heads, by erecting buildings of many stories, with steam-elevators and every modern convenience. This would bring the entire population within easy reach of the theatre, lecture and concert-hall, art-gallery, museum, etc. In short, the writer makes out a strong case for the city, as regards intellectual life. Then come physical health and comfort. It is an error to suppose that the city is less salubrious than the country; a walk up Broadway is sufficient to prove this. Dyspepsia, rheumatism, and diseases arising from damp houses and undrained lands, are more common in the country. The city, too, is not subject to the plague of mosquitoes. The writer would have city people employ all the resources of science, to evolve from their surroundings all the health and comfort, all the enjoyment and intellectual life, which the town can afford.

An Aged Carp.—The following remarkable story concerning the age of a carp recently killed at Chantilly, while fighting with a pike, is told by the Paris Gaulois: "It was the oldest carp in the world, being 475 years of age, and belonged to M. C——, the proprietor of a fine property at Chantilly. It was an historical carp, a carp which was born at the Comte de Cosse's, in the time of Francois I.; it had passed through various fortunes, having had no less than thirty-two masters. M. G—— purchased it a year since for 1,300 francs. The name of the carp was Gabrielle, and it measured nearly 29¾ inches round, and 38⅔ inches in length."

The Potato-Disease.—According to recent statements in the English papers, one of the most serious of the multiplied ills from which England is now suffering is the almost total failure of this year's potato-crop, due to the attack of a parasitic fungus peculiar to plants belonging to the same natural order as the potato. This affection, which is known as the potato-disease, or more commonly rust, was first observed in Germany in 1842, where it assumed a serious character. In 1844 it broke out in Canada, and did a great amount of damage. In the following year it was first noticed in England, and in 1846 prevailed all over Europe, but was most destructive in Ireland, where it gave rise to the celebrated Irish famine. The mycelium of this fungus eats into and completely destroys the tissue of the leaf and stem, and, when once its ravages have commenced, there is little hope of arresting them. From the leaves and stem the disease frequently extends to the tubers, where it sometimes lies dormant for months, so that, after being stored, apparently sound in autumn, they become affected in the following spring. When the disease appears in the growing plant, brown spots are first seen on the margins of the leaves, corrugating them as they spread. Very rapid extension of the disease, and decay of the leaves and stalks, often ensue. Botrytis infestans is the name applied to the fungus, and it is on the under surface of the leaf that it is generally found; it abounds also in the diseased tubers, which, when cut, produce an abundant crop from the fresh surface, and it sometimes vegetates even from the natural skins. The resting spores of the fungus may lie dormant through the winter, germinating the next season; and hence, though the eyes of a diseased tuber appear healthy, to plant them would be the certain means of spreading the disease. The same fungus has been found in the berries of the tomato when diseased, and on the leaves of other plants of the natural order Solanaceæ, but never on any plant not of that order.

The influences which favor the development of Botrytis are not well understood. It is most prevalent, however, in cloudy, moist summers, and all authorities agree that it makes its first decided appearance during thundery weather. The exceptional amount of electrical disturbance which extended over almost the whole of England, during July last, appears to have been most unfavorable to the potato-crop, but in a portion of the county of Devon, where thunder-storms are remarkably rare, the potatoes are said to be comparatively free from the disease. The most destructive out-breaks of the blight have been observed to recur at intervals of about twelve years. In 1846, as before mentioned, the disease was general in Europe, and in some places, as in Ireland, it swept away the entire crop. From 1859 to 1861 it again did a great amount of damage; and now, in 1872, it is more destructive than at anytime since 1846. The London Times states that the loss to the country from the destruction of the present crop will exceed twenty millions sterling, and very pertinently asks: "What are we doing, or what have we done, to obviate the recurrence of a disease which is always impending? Probably all we can remember is, that there is always a talk of the potato-rot, and that some years it has been worse than others. We can only say that this is a disgraceful confession. There is no matter in which science could interfere with more advantage; and we seem to have all the conditions of the subject under control." Nature, in an article upon the subject, admits the force of these remarks, and, pointing out the reasons why neither individuals nor societies should be expected to undertake the work, urges that the government appoint a commission to investigate the origin, course and remedies for the potato-disease.

"Little objection can be anticipated to the course we advocate, on the ground of the money value at stake in the question. We are at the present time spending a large sum of money and employing the highest talent in the country in the settlement of a claim for a few millions; to save the country several times as much per annum cannot be objected to as a matter unworthy the attention of our rulers. And yet, because the one infliction will fall upon us in the form of an additional twopence to our income-tax for a single year, the other in the form of a much heavier addition to our butchers' and greengrocers' bills for many years in succession, we are content in the latter case to grumble and bear it, without making any serious efforts to relieve ourselves from it. Science is often charged with being 'un-practical;' indeed, in the minds of perhaps the majority of people, there is a kind of hazy feeling of a necessary antagonism between what is scientific and what is practical. It is time for science to redeem herself from this imputation, and no better opportunity could be found than in discovering a remedy for the potato-disease."

Action of Plaster on Soils.—Though generally employed by farmers as a fertilizer, the action of plaster (gypsum) on the soil is not well understood. It has been shown, however, by actual experiment, that plaster is capable of absorbing ammonia from the air, and also from decomposing animal and vegetable matter, holding it in the form of sulphide of ammonium. This, again, may be changed into carbonate of ammonia, by absorption of carbonic acid from the air. These changes occur when gypsum is brought in contact with moisture and vegetable matter. Whatever other purpose it may serve, this must be regarded as the most important, as by it plants are supplied with food of the highest value.

From this fact it may be inferred that must prove highly serviceable to moist, mossy hills, and also to meadows that are not too wet. The north side of a hill is sometimes greatly benefited by plaster, when upon a southern exposure it produces no perceptible effect. It may be used with confidence on pastures and fields which are strong enough, and moist enough, to support deciduous trees. A hill-side, where moss will grow so as to crowd out good grasses, is, usually, promptly benefited by plaster, white-clover quickly following its application.

Facts about Glass.—Common greenish glass is found to change color under the influence of the sun's light, becoming first yellow, then rose-colored, and finally violet. And even the purest white glass is found sometimes to undergo the same changes. Thus M. E. Siegwart, from whose monograph on "Glass Manufacture," we gather these items, found the abductor tube of a chlorohydric gas apparatus deeply tinged with violet at the parts exposed to sunlight. When fused anew, the original color returns to the glass. It is commonly supposed that glass is not corroded by the atmosphere, nor even by strong acids. But this is an error; for Siegwart found, on actual experiment, that the exposed surface of glass combines with the constituents of the air. If glass is suffered to cool very gradually, it undergoes a transformation which is in most cases visible to the eye. At first there appear specks, which soon dot the entire surface. The glass now becomes cloudy; and finally changes into an opaque body like porcelain, and called Réaumur porcelain. This devitrification is the most remarkable phenomenon in the manufacture of glass, and explains several of the faults found in that material.

War and Insanity.—It was supposed that the disasters attending the late war had had the effect of increasing the number of insane persons in France, but statistics, so far from confirming this conclusion, show rather that the number of insane patients was smaller during the year ending July 1, 1871, than during the preceding year. Dr. Lunier, who has studied this subject, shows that in 1869-'70 there were admitted into the asylums 11,165 patients; whereas for the year of the war and the insurrection the number was 10,243. Of these 10,243 patients, 1,322 became insane by reason of the calamities produced by the war. During the first half of the year after the war, 400 patients were admitted who had lost their reason from the same cause. The sum total, therefore, of such cases is between 1,700 and 1,800; and the asylums now contain 3,000 less patients than in 1869.

Parliamentary Ventilation.—After spending immense sums of money, and trying numerous methods, the ventilation of the English houses of Parliament is still exceedingly imperfect. The system now in operation is one of exhaustion, or in other words one of suction, the air within the building being sucked out, and, to supply its place, the surrounding external air is sucked in, no matter how impure or how unfit for breathing purposes it may be. This plan is condemned by a writer in the Journal of the Society of Arts on the following grounds: Exhaustion creates a partial tendency to a vacuum, when, to maintain the atmospheric equilibrium, the surrounding air rushes in from every quarter. Impure sources are thus as likely to be drawn upon as any other, and the air introduced is scarcely an improvement on that withdrawn. The tendency to a vacuum also favors the occurrence of draughts. Every chink about a door or window, and every crack in the wood-work, becomes an opening for the admission of cold damp air in the shape of a sensible current. A system of suction also perceptibly affects the acoustic properties of rooms to which it is applied. The reason for this is that, whenever there is a partial vacuum, in the same ratio as that has been reached, has the power of the air to transmit pulsations of sound been impaired.

Preparations for observing the Transit of Venus.—The French are making active preparations for observing the approaching transit of Venus, the Assembly having voted $20,000 for the construction of instruments, with the promise of $40,000 more during the coming year. Nine stations have been selected for observation, at four of which the entrance and exit of the planet will be visible, while at the other five but one of the two incidents can be observed. French savants are now corresponding with the astronomers of England, Germany, Russia, and this country, with a view to parcelling out the stations to the different observers in such a way that all shall be favorably located, and all the useful points of the earth's surface available for these important observations occupied. After use in 1874, the French apparatus will be carefully preserved for observing the transit of 1882, which is followed by a period of one hundred and twenty years, in which no transit occurs.

The Boring-Organ of Pholades.—It is well known that certain molluseous animals have the power of boring their way into solid substances, making the hole thus excavated their future home. The teredo or ship-worm, for example, honeycombs the densest timber, others excavate in clay or chalk, and pholas perforates the hardest rocks. With what part of the animal the work is accomplished has long been a matter of dispute, some zoologists regarding the rough, rasp-like shell as the perforating organ, while others believe that the work is done by the foot. In a paper on the subject, read at the recent meeting of the British Association, Mr. John Robertson adopts, the former view, maintaining that the perforations are made by the rotating movements which the creature is capable of imparting to its shell. In the discussion which followed, Mr. Bryson, a close observer of the habits of pholas, was quoted to the effect that the boring is accomplished by the foot, which, charged with siliceous particles, acts like the leaden wheel of the lapidary. Mr. Gwynn Jeffreys also regards the foot, in all the boring Conchifera, as the instrument of perforation. Several facts were cited in support of this. In Teredo navalis, as was long ago shown by Sellius, the foot is the only organ of perforation, and the posterior extremity of the shell has a large excavation into which this organ is received. Pholadideain the young state excavates by means of the foot, but afterward the aperture becomes closed by gelatinous matter, when no further excavation takes place. In pholas, also, no part of the shell can act at the bottom of the excavation, the foot alone being capable of use in that position.

The Polaris Expedition.—Captain C. F. Hall writes, under date August 24,1871, from Tossak, North Greenland, that all goes well with his vessel, the Polaris. The captain has abundant supplies, and is well provided with Esquimaux dogs, reindeer-furs, seal-skins, etc. Hans Christian, well known to readers of Kane's narrative, accompanies the Polaris Expedition, together with his family of wife and three children. Various charts and notes of Baron von Otter, commander of the Swedish Expedition, and of other scientific men, are in the possession of Captain Hall, and have led him to abandon the Jones Sound route; to cross Melville Bay to Cape Dudley Diggs; and thence make for Smith's Sound, with a view to reach Kennedy Channel.

Disastrous Volcanic Eruption.—A very violent eruption of the volcano of Merapi, in Java, took place on the 15th of April. The event was totally unexpected, and the loss of life and property was great, many villages being destroyed. In some places the ashes fell for three days, and it became so dark that lamps had to be lit. About 200 dead bodies had at last accounts been found on one side of the volcano.

Chemical Products of Eucalyptus.—Eucalyptus is the name of a genus of trees containing many species, mostly natives of Australia, where the tree is very abundant. Several species yield a copious resinous secretion, and are therefore known as gum trees. Some of these attain a great size, it is said, exceeding in height the giant red-woods of California. The bodies are slender and without branches, except near the top, where the branchlets droop like those of the weeping-willow. The leaves are entire, of a leathery texture, and, instead of being placed with one surface toward the ground and another toward the sky, hang with their edges in these positions, so that the two surfaces of the leaf are equally exposed to the light. The trees are of very rapid growth, and furnish a timber that when green is soft and easily worked, and that when dry becomes very hard. Eucalyptus has been introduced with success both into Europe and California, and the valuable character of the tree is becoming more and more appreciated as its properties are better known. Ramel first brought it into Europe in 1856, and it has since flourished in the southern portion of the continent. As far north as Paris, however, it does not thrive, the winters proving too cold for it. Owing to the great absorbent power of its roots and leaves, and the fact that the latter yield a strong aromatic odor, the tree is regarded as peculiarly suitable for marshy and unhealthy districts. The leaves contain a notable quantity of a volatile aromatic oil, and afford, both in the fresh and dry state, a very fluid essence, which is slightly colored, and gives off an aromatic odor that reminds one of camphor.

The following preparations are at present manufactured from Eucalyptus:

1. The essence already spoken of, which is administered in doses of a few grms. in the form of globules.

2. Leaf-powder, which contains all the active principles of the plant (essence, tannin, bitter principle), and which is prescribed in doses of 4, 8, 12, and even 16 grms. daily.

3. The infusion and decoction of the leaves. With half a leaf (about 1 grm.) it is possible to aromatize three or four cups, affording a good substitute for tea. This is employed as a stimulating drink. For topical applications, 8 grms. in decoction, in a litre of water, forms a liquor well charged with the principles indicated.

4. Water distilled from the leaves, which may be advantageously used with stimulating drinks.

5. Aqueous extract, alcoholic extract, employed as febrifuges.

6. Tincture or alcoholate.

7. A liquor, which is similar to the liquor of mastic, and a wine, which is a tonic and febrifuge.

8. Cigars and cigarettes.

Dr. Gimbert has studied on himself the effects of essence of Eucalyptus when taken into the system. He took various doses of from 10 to 20 drops, and found it had a soothing effect. It diminishes the vascular tension, and the sense of comfort arising from it induces sleep. A very strong dose produces temporary excitement, headache, and slight fatigue.

New Method for disintegrating Wheat.—An inventor of Bristol, England, has contrived a mill for reducing wheat to flour, which is said to do the work much more rapidly than millstones, and at the same time yields a vastly superior product. The arrangement consists of iron cages containing revolving radii, driven at the rate of four hundred revolutions a minute, which almost instantaneously reduces the wheat to powder. At Edinburgh two such mills have been running for more than a year. Each one does the work of twenty-seven pair of ordinary millstones, with a saving of five and a half per cent, in favor of the new mill. The bread made from the flour which this mill turns out is pronounced remarkable for its lightness and good keeping qualities.

Instinct at Fault in a Humming-Bird.—Says a correspondent in the Bulletin of the Torry Botanical Club: "I was reminded the other day of the story told by Pliny, of the painter Zeuxis, who represented a bunch of grapes so naturally that the birds flew at the picture to eat the fruit. My friend Mrs. P. W. told us that a gentleman, the Rev. Mr. P., was sitting on the piazza of her house with his feet encased in a pair of worked slippers, adorned with some highly-colored flowers, and that she saw a humming-bird repeatedly peck at the flowers, in the vain attempt to find in them his accustomed nourishment. This curious fact seems to indicate that the attraction in such cases is not due to the odor of the flowers, but simply to their bright color; and that the Greek story is not so improbable, after all"

White Partridge-Berries.—Of this berry, sometimes called Squawberry, and which is normally a brilliant scarlet, a good many white ones were found this autumn at Canaan, Conn. The white berries grew on separate vines, ripened like the red ones, but were much larger.

An Army of Caterpillars.—A writer in the Gardener's Monthly gives some interesting particulars concerning the habits of the caterpillars, which last spring visited the region about Memphis in such unheard-of numbers. They were so numerous, that several trains of cars coming into the city were stopped on each of the two roads, the masses covering the rails for hundreds of yards in a body, compelling the brakemen to get down and sweep them off before the driving-wheels could get sufficient hold to pass over the obstruction. They lived on the young leaves of both forest and fruit trees—the oak, quince, apple, and plum, being their favorite food. Whole orchards were denuded of foliage, and great lanes of bare trees marked their track through the forests. They are characterized by one remarkable peculiarity. Unless prowling through thick grass, or when about half grown, descending by the long web which each spins, from a tall rough forest-tree, they are always arranged in military style; and travel, also, in long, straight lines, several abreast.

Insect-Life in a Coal-Mine.—A coal-pit in England having become infested with large-winged insects, which caused the workmen considerable annoyance, by flitting around their lamps and often extinguishing them, a search was made to discover the source from which they came. The wooden props supporting the workings were found to be pierced in several places, as though by gimlets, and in the holes were found a number of moth-like insects. The wood had come from abroad, and had been in the pit some four years before the insects began to make their appearance.

An Unpatentable Pavement.—A writer in the Journal of the Society of Arts advocates the adoption of a kind of wooden pavement for the streets of London, which in point of wear he believes to be superior to all other varieties of wooden pavement, and with the additional advantage that it cannot be made the subject of a patent. He says: "Now, the only wood pavement fit to stand London traffic, and entailing the smallest cost, could not be patented by the most astute lawyer. Instead of fashioning the blocks into patent dice, hexagons, polygons, or dove-tailed complications in any form, we have only to slice barked trees of any size or quality into cylindrical slices about thirteen inches in thickness, and put the largest size down first into a good rammed foundation, and then the smaller sizes, until the remaining interstices may be filled up with what may be called pegs, the proper ramming of which will render the whole one solid mass of timber, while the economy of wood is so great that not a chip will be wasted. The surface will present end-grain only, and with the different sorts and sizes will afford a much better foothold than granite blocks."

Gold In Sea-Water.—In a series of researches on the composition of sea-water, a chemist named Sonstadt has been able to make out the presence of gold as one of its constituents. It appears to be completely dissolved, and is held in solution by the action of iodate of calcium, which, as shown by the same chemist, sea-water also contains. He demonstrates the presence of gold by three separate and entirely different methods, and estimates the proportion to be less than one grain per ton of water.