Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/February 1882/Entertaining Varieties

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ENTERTAINING VARIETIES.
 

 

——Four-footed Outlaws.—"France must elevate her soul to the height of the situation," wrote Louis Napoleon after the battle of Gravelotte. She didn't; but the instincts, as we are pleased to call the talents of our dumb fellow-creatures, seem really able to adapt themselves to any possible emergency. In the border-lands of culture, in the Jura, the Cheviot Hills and the Adirondacks, there are deer and foxes that can not be outwitted by ordinary means, and succumb only to an in pre-calculable combination of circumstances. Among the half-wild cattle of the Texas frontier there are individuals whom the Genius of Civilization has given up for lost, human ingenuity being no match for such instincts as theirs. Even in the Belgian Ardennes, where every acre of woodland is under the control of professional foresters, a runaway pony managed to elude his pursuers for more than eight years. His haunts were pretty well known, experience and emulation had sharpened the wits of his persecutors, but all plans to recapture him went somehow aglee—he was not only cautious but caution incarnate the quintessence of his five senses seemed concentrated on the problem of preserving his liberty. A single glance enabled him to distinguish harmless bipeds from dangerous or suspicious ones; old crones in quest of their milch-cows, and berry-gathering boys, he simply ignored; but at the approach of a game-keeper he instantly vanished from human sight or at least out of rifle-range. He used to make his headquarters in the dense pine-jungles of the Sambre highlands, but in night-time he sometimes revisited the glimpses of the moon on business that finally brought him to grief. After he had repeatedly stampeded the mares of a highland stud-farm, the proprietors put a price on his head, and—ne Theseus quidem contra plures—the wary outlaw was at last shot near the Col de Grappe, on the border of Lorraine.

——A Paragon of Ugliness.—The ancient Huns seem to have been the ugliest of all the ugly races of Central Asia; and the homeliest individual—with one exception—was probably the "veiled Prophet of Bokhara," Mullah Ibn Said, the repulsiveness of whose features was so overpowering that he did not dare to show himself without a mask, for which he afterward substituted a golden veil, whence his surname, Almukana—"The Veiled One." Yet his biographer, Ibn Chaldir, assures us that an elder cousin of Almukana, who proudly disdained to hide his face, exceeded him not only in erudition but also in ugliness. This man, called Kofta Ben Lukas, and famous as a philosopher and grammarian, must actually have been the ne plus ultra of homeliness. He was an accomplished teacher of languages, but the only pupils he could procure at the Lyceum of Bagdad were adult males, of exceptional fortitude, all others being overcome by the terrors of his presence. When Almohadi, the Caliph, inquired after the best teacher of the Persian language, the name of Ben Lukas was mentioned among those of the highest merit, but when further inquiries proved this worthy to be identical with the formidable licentiate of Bagdad, Almohadi, who wanted the instructor for his own son, was earnestly advised to alter Ids choice, as a prince of such tender years would surely succumb to nervous prostration at the first grammatical interview. The Caliph ridiculed these fears, and ordered the grammarian to report at his court; but no sooner had Kofta Ben Lukas made his salaam to the Commander of the Faithful, than he was presented with a purse of four hundred and fifty golden denari, and offered fifty more if he would leave the capital before night. He had been summoned through a misunderstanding, they told him, and the Caliph did not wish it to become public that by his mistake an illustrious scholar had thus been foolishly interrupted in his studies.

——Marshal Vendôme.—If cynicism had not ceased to rank as a branch of philosophy, France could boast of having produced the greatest philosopher of the last twenty centuries. Louis-Joseph, Duke of Vendôme, great-grandson of Henry IV, was a man of principles. He used to take a bath on the first day of every month, and during the remaining four weeks avoided water in every form—his toilet-articles being limited to a jackknife and a piece of beeswax. On the day of the monthly purification his rooms were also cleansed, his study with a broom and his bedroom with a shovel, for a pack of hunting-dogs shared his couch and often reared their progeny under his bed. The destruction of all earthly laundries would not have shaken the peace of his manly soul; his underwear consisted of a buckskin shirt and short socks of the same material, his bed of a bunk and three blankets, one of them rolled up in the shape of a pillow. At the table of the Comte d'Amblève he often gorged himself till he could hardly rise from his chair; but at home he used to avoid that difficulty by taking his meals in bed, and there were weeks when he did not leave his bed at all. Brushes, combs, looking-glasses, marriage-rings, prayer-books, handkerchiefs, soap and wash-basins, were luxuries the noble warrior managed to dispense with; ceremonies were his grand aversion, and the demerits of the frail sex the subject of his daily anathemas. But this man, whom the priests accused of all the vices mentioned in Peter Lombard's revised catalogue, was a Mars on the battle-field, the idol of the army, and, in the opinion of Prince Eugene, the one soldier who could have saved France if the petticoat-government had not thwarted him.

——Curious Predictions.Mother Shipton, too, has foundered on a cliff that is strewed with the wreck of numerous vaticinations. On this side of the Indus, it seems, Messiahs are not sufficiently encouraged to venture upon a second advent. "This whole business of the Delphic fraternity," says Professor Hegel, "is nothing but Scheiben-schiessen im Nebel—target-practice in a fog." Still, it must be admitted that some of the marksmen have scored remarkable hits. Not all prophets have "prophesied after the event," for it can not be denied that, eight years before the birth of Napoleon Bonaparte, the author of the "Contrat Social" (Jean Jacques Rousseau) recorded in print the following augurium: "J'ai un présentiment que la Corse produira un homme qui étonnera le monde"—("I have a presentiment that Corsica is going to produce a man who will astonish the world)." Napoleon himself believed in omens and portents as firmly as any Roman Cæsar, and openly professed his confidence in certain lucky days (the 2d of December and 24th of October, for instance). He confessed to Las Casas that in the night before the battle of Leipsic he was on the point of revoking all his orders and abandoning his position, having been seized with a sudden misgiving, which only the stronger fear of ridicule helped him to overcome; and after his Russian campaign he certainly had some excuse for being a little superstitious. In the winter of 1807 the arbiter of Europe took it into his head one day to consult the famous clairvoyante Lenormand, whose feats in "astrology" were setting all Paris agog. The Pythoness told him that his fears of another outbreak in Austria were unfounded. "Your power has not culminated yet," she said, "your star will keep in the ascendant for another five years; but after that it will decline and be eclipsed for ever." The downfall of the Roman Empire was foretold by many portents and prodigies, of which even the elder Pliny enumerates a long list; and the testimony of numerous Spanish historians makes it certain that long before the birth of Columbus the ancestors of Montezuma were frightened by an ominous prophecy which presaged the overthrow and total ruin of their nation. Strange men, cunning, strong, and altogether invincible, were to come from the East and consume the race of the Aztecs as the hoar-frost of the Cordilleras is consumed by the morning sun. Lord Bacon's bonmot respecting forebodings might be applied to this kind of prophecies, that "a man troubled with misgivings has commonly good reasons to expect things to go amiss"; but, even in the noontide of prosperity, such omens of a sudden night have now and then appeared. King Rodrigo, a year before the altogether unexpected invasion of the Saracens, had a vision that "prostrated his mind like a sentence of death," and on the battle-field of Xeres, when squadron after squadron of his iron-clad warriors was borne down by the onset of the Moslem fanatics, he turned to the Bishop of Toledo with the words: "Está venido!''—it has come! These horses and these riders I saw approaching in my trance a twelvemonth ago; they are going to overtake me now."

—— The principal literary event in the interest of popular science in Mexico is the issue of a "Pocket-Cyclopædia of Useful Knowledge" ("Enciclopedia Manual de Ciencias útiles," three vols., Puebla, Manzanares & Co., 1881)—a publication which seems to enjoy an increasing popularity, though the editor has been unable to deprecate the hostility of the orthodox press. "The eminent publishers have discontinued the sale of transparent French cards," says the "Correo National," "but we should like to know how and where they would draw the line which makes immoralities detestable in colored lithographs, which are endured in the form of black types on the pages of the 'Enciclopedia.' Don Yriarte, the editor of that publication, affects to doubt the fact that King Philip II possessed a duplicate skeleton of St. Laurentius, and plainly insinuates that 'at least' one of those relics must have been spurious. History proves that the skeletons in question were originally owned by ecclesiastical establishments of the highest respectability, and we need hardly remind our readers that the Bishop of Velez Malaga recognized the miracle of the dualism as a special dispensation of Divine Grace. Don Yriarte's views are therefore utterly untenable, and valuable only as an additional proof of the immoral tendency of his writings." "In his article on 'Church Government' and the 'Sequestration of Ecclesiastical Domains,'" says the "Espectador," "the editor of the 'Enciclopedia' quotes the speeches of Emilio Castelar and others of his class, while such writers as the Duke of Braganza y Nunez (author of the 'Sacred Petticoat of Santa Eulalia') have never been permitted to offer their views. Nay, in a review of the 'History of International Statistics,' Don Yriarte has no hesitation in illustrating the applications of the 'Rule of Three' by certain formulas whose promulgation would be so directly subversive of the chief dogma of the Trinitarian Church that we must decline to sully these pages" (contaminar estas páginas) "by quoting them. We, with thousands, pray that the re-establishment of the Holy Inquisition may put a stop to such outrages on the interests of the national Church—unless the 'Enciclopedia' will revoke its atheistical teachings, and become such an organ of science as the great body of intelligent Mexicans will admit with confidence into their homes."

F. O.

——The letters of Sir Charles Lyell have just appeared, in two solid volumes, and contain much that is interesting. The following extracts are from those written about 1830, when he was bringing out the first edition of his "Principles of Geology," and advocating what was at that time the heresy of uniformity against catastrophe in the earth's great geological changes:

—— "I shall be glad to hear your honest opinion of the work, regarded as one comprehensible to the uninitiated. I am afraid that what delights my friend Scrope more than all—the honest history of the Mosaico-geological system—will hurt the sale. D'Aubisson said this morning: 'We Catholic geologists flatter ourselves that we have kept clear of the mixing of things sacred and profane, but the three great Protestants, Deluc, Cuvier, and Buckland, have not done so; have they done good to science or to religion? No; but some say that they have to themselves by it. Pray, gentlemen, is it true that Oxford is a most orthodox university?' 'Certainly.' 'Well, then, I make allowances for a professor there, dividing events into ante-and post-diluvian: perhaps he could get no audience by other means.'"

—— "I have just had this morning a famous geologico-botanical discussion with Professor de Candolle, and am almost certain that my spick-and-span new theory on this subject will hold water."

—— "Considering that no lectures on geology are authorized in the Sapienza (Rome), I was amused at the late French embassador, Count de Rayneval, having made a splendid collection of tertiary fossils in the hill of the Vatican, which he and Ponza are preparing for publication. They are curious, and intermediate it seems between Miocene and Pliocene. For five years they have worked away under the Pope's window, to throw light on the earth's antiquity."

—— "Longman has paid down five hundred guineas to Mr. Ure, of Dublin, for a popular work on geology just coming out. It is to prove the Hebrew cosmogony, and that we ought all to be burned in Smithfield. So much the better. I have got a rod for the fanatics from a quarter where they expect it not. The last Pope did positively dare to convoke a congregation, and reverse all that his predecessors had done against Galileo, and there was only a minority of one against; and he instituted lectures on the Mosaic cosmogony to set free astronomy and geology. How these things are so little known in Paris and London Heaven knows. They are golden facts, and I find the state of the question here to shame the Granville-Penn school of England."

—— "Some thirty years ago I was told at Bonn of two processions of peasants who had climbed to the top of the Petersberg, one composed of vine-dressers, who were intending to return thanks for sunshine and pray for its continuance; the other, from a corn district, wanting the drought to cease and rain to fall. Each were eager to get possession of the shrine of St. Peter's chapel before the other, to secure the saint's good offices, so they came to blows with fists and sticks, much to the amusement of the Protestant heretics at Bonn, who I hope did not by such prayers as you allude to commit the same solecism occasionally, only less coarsely carried out into action."

—— "Cuvier is in great force, and gave a famous soirée the other day. He has been chosen by the ministers to defend their municipal law in the tribune: two months of his time will thus be lost to science. He talked to me of the Catholic question, our corporation rights, etc., and not a word could I get on natural history. Yet this year be has come out with four volumes on fish, and eight more will appear in two years. He has received between £2,000 and £2,200 for it, whereas no other person in Paris could persuade a librarian to publish one volume for nothing. He is also publishing another edition of his 'Règne Animal,' and other things. He has been very obliging to me, for, on my applying for casts of animals for Mantell, who has been begging in vain for a long time, he gave me an order for whatever I liked; so I have sent off from the museum a huge box with casts of every thing."

—— "I got into Cuvier's sanctum sanctorum yesterday, and it is truly characteristic of the man. In every part it displays that extraordinary power of methodizing which is the grand secret of the prodigious feats which he performs annually without appearing to give himself the least trouble. But, before I introduce you to his study, I should tell you that there is first the museum of natural history opposite his house, and admirably arranged by himself; then the anatomy museum, connected with his dwelling. In the latter is a library disposed in a suite of rooms, each containing works on one subject. There is one where there are all the works on ornithology, in another room all on ichthyology, in another osteology, in another law books (!) etc., etc. When he is engaged in such works as require continual reference to a variety of authors, he has a stove shifted into one of these rooms, in which everything on that subject is systematically arranged, so that in the same work he often takes the round of many apartments. But the ordinary studio contains no book-shelves. It is a longish room, comfortably furnished, lighted from above, and furnished with eleven desks to stand to, and two low tables, like a public office for so many clerks. But all is for the one man, who multiplies himself as author, and, admitting no one into this room, moves as he finds necessary, or as fancy inclines him, from one occupation to another. Each desk is furnished with a complete establishment of inkstands, pens, pins to pin manuscripts of the same work, etc. There is a separate bell to several desks. The low tables are to sit to when he is tired. The collaborateurs are not numerous, but always chosen well. They save him every mechanical labor, find references, etc., are rarely admitted to the study, receive orders, and speak not."

—— "Brongniart, who in imitation of Cuvier has many clerks and collaborateurs, is known to lose more time in organizing this auxiliary force than he gains by their work, but this is never the case with Cuvier. When I went to get Mantell's casts, I found that the man who made molds, and the painter of them, had distinct apartments, so that there was no confusion, and the dispatch with which all was executed was admirable. It cost Cuvier a word only."