Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/July 1882/Entertaining Varieties

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ENTERTAINING VARIETIES.
 

 

—— Charles Darwin—paid a splendid compliment to John Fiske in a letter he wrote him after reading the "Cosmic Philosophy." This is part of what he said: "You must allow me to thank you for the very great interest with which I have at last slowly read the whole of your work. I have long wished to read something about the views of the many great men whose doctrines you give. I never in my life read so lucid an expositor (and therefore thinker) as you are; and I think that I understand nearly the whole, though perhaps less clearly about cosmic theism and causation than other parts. It is hopeless to attempt out of so much to specify what has interested me most, and probably you would not care to hear. It pleased me to find that here and there I had arrived, from my own crude thoughts, at some of the same conclusions with you, though I could seldom or never have given my reasons for such conclusions." It was but natural that Mr. Fiske should feel that he owed something to the memory of his departed friend for this beautiful tribute to his own labors, and he has well repaid it in his article upon Charles Darwin in the June "Atlantic Monthly." This paper is not only a cordial and highly appreciative eulogy of the character of the great naturalist, but it is probably the most "lucid exposition" that has yet been given of the special doctrines that will in future be associated with the eminent name of Darwin.

—— The Word of a Khan.—Hulaku, the grandson of the great Genghis Khan, exceeded even the first Caliphs in religious respect for the sanctity of his word, and it is said that he invariably refused to make a promise "till the possibility of fulfilling it became absolutely indubitable." In the winter of 1257 he laid siege to the city of Bagdad, and, after planting his battering-rams, demanded an unconditional surrender, with the threat that both the Caliph and his subjects would be made to repent it if the gates were not opened before night. The defenders hesitated, but on the following day the Tartars erected a lofty gallows-tree, and the frightened Caliph preferred to come to terms. The magnificence of his gifts seemed to soften the heart of the conqueror, for the ominous scaffold was removed; but, after a private consultation with his captains, Hulaku concluded that, after all, something or other must be done to redeem his word. So, after enjoying the hospitality of the Caliph for a day or two, they marched him to headquarters, and, instead of hanging him, sewed him up in a leathern bag and dragged him across-lots till "every joint and bone in his body was pounded as in a mortar"; and, instead of burning the inhabitants with their city, they brained eight hundred thousand of them, and flung them into the Tigris, till the river was actually choked with corpses. Andrew Crichton ("History of Arabia," vol. ii, p. 45) adds that the number of the slain did not even include the victims of the neighboring villages!

—— Happiness.—"Happiness," says Leibnitz, "results from the attainment of any greatly desired or greatly needed object."—"Happiness is health," says Helvetius.—"And luck," adds Diderot.—The harmonious development of our mental and physical faculties: Spurzheim.—Peace with God: Eckart.—Nil admirari: Horace.—Moral freedom: Campanella.—Victory: Simonides.—A cheerful disposition: Pestalozzi.—Self-approval: Fichte.—The enjoyment of harmless pleasures and abstinence from injurious ones: Epicurus.—Self-improvement: Hobbes.—An income of five thousand pounds: Richard Porson.—Success: Bolingbroke.—The citizenship of an illustrious state: Sophocles.—Health, books, and solitude: Zimmermann.—Health, wealth, and a liberal education: D'Alembert.—Day-dreams for those who still hope; resignation and a padded easy-chair for those who know better: Schopenhauer.—Visions of glory before the battle of life; a comfortable lazaretto after the inevitable thrashing: Id.—Virtue and resignation: Seneca.—Freedom from the tyranny of kings and vices: J. J. Rousseau.—A good bank-account, a good cook, and a good digestion: Edmond About.—Fortitude in adversity, moderation in prosperity: Anaxagoras.—Peace: Buddha.

 

—— In an article on English Poetry the "Quarterly Review" declares that the historic method shows "how the mind and spirit of the English people in each age is reflected in the poetry of that age as it is nowhere else reflected"; and again, "how truly England's poetry has mirrored the historic condition of the several ages which produced it." The "Quarterly" thus illustrates its theory: 14 No English poet has more historic value than Chaucer, for none more faithfully reflects all the mingled influences that swayed his time. Though belonging by birth to the middle class, Chaucer's sympathies, as those of Shakespeare and of "Walter Scott, were with the aristocrats. He soon became a gentleman and a courtier, and saw life from that side." This looks much as if Chaucer's poetic mirror was somewhat warped, and this is still further confirmed by what the "Quarterly" says: "Wide as was Chaucer's genial humanity, he still looked at life through the eyes of the well-to-do, even of the aristocratic class with whom he was so much associated. No one would guess from his poems that he lived in what a modern historian has called 'a time of shame and suffering, such as England had never known; when her conquests were lost, her shores insulted, her fleet sunk, her commerce destroyed, her people exhausted by the long and costly wars with France, and by the ravages of pestilence.' None would guess from his poems that his was the day when the black-death swept off half the population of England, and when the peasant revolt threatened revolution."

 

—— The Age of Faith.—The credulity of the patristic era may be inferred from the superstitions of the so-called philosophers of that age. Celsus, Lucan, and Apuleius, then hailed as morning-stars of rationalism, would now be in danger of a strait-jacket. The elder Pliny has been called the Roman Humboldt, and his "Natural History" a thesaurus of universal knowledge. The value of that treasury may be estimated by the following specimen-bricks: Among the feræ naturæ of Africa he mentions a catoplus, "an animal found only in Ethiopia. All who behold the eyes of this beast fall dead on the spot. Luckily, the creature has' a heavy head, which is always weighed down to the earth. Were it not for this circumstance it would prove the destruction of the human race. "The bodies of whelks and oysters," the Roman Humboldt assures us, "are increased in size and again diminished by the influence of the moon. Certain accurate (!) observers have found out that the entrails of field-mice correspond in number to the days of the moon's age." The flight of ravens, too, is influenced by the changes of the lunar phases, though their observance of certain days may be due to a religious sentiment. In the case of barn-yard fowls there is no room for any such doubt. They are religious birds. By way of establishing this point he thinks it sufficient x to mention that chickens throw dust over their bodies in the manner observed by the augurs in the week of purification. During the fortnight of the waning moon the actions of crows and starlings evince a sad disregard of religious duties, but "burying black briony in the four corners of a field will secure it against the ravages of the most impious bird." Need we wonder that the Kiddles of that age could credit the miracles of St. Polycarp?

 

—— The Biter bitten.—"Intellectual presence of mind," says Lavater, "favors the practice of dissimulation, as well as the art of repartee." This latter gift seems to be a characteristic talent of the Semitic race. Al-Mansour, the second Abbasside Caliph, was importuned to commute the sentence of a rebellious governor of Morocco, on the ground that the followers of the rebel revered him as a saint and a prophet. "That's no excuse," said the Caliph, "for, if he is endowed with the gift of prescience, he must have foreseen that I am going to hang him to-morrow."

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the neglected fields of Northern Spain formed a humiliating contrast with the flourishing huertas of the Moorish provinces; yet Alfonso IV of Aragon tried to demonstrate the superiority of his countrymen from this very difference. "In our country men handle the sword and clowns the spade," he told the Moorish embassador; "my cavaliers are too proud to meddle with agriculture." "And yet sixty thousand of these hidalgos have condescended to fertilize the fields of Xeres," observed the Morisco.

But, of all biters bitten, the most astonished was, perhaps, the Jesuit Görres, who insulted meek Moses Mendelssohn by the question, "how it came that in all countries of Christendom the Hebrews were dreaded as cheats?" "No wonder," replied the philosopher, with his blandest smile, "since you have all been so amazingly cheated by one of oar people."

 

—— American Stock-Breeding—is thus magnified by President Francis A. Walker, writing in the "Princeton Review": "The trotting horse we have created, certainly the most useful variety of the equine species, and we have improved that variety in a degree unprecedented in natural history.-Two generations ago the trotting of a mile in two minutes forty seconds was so rare as to give rise to a proverbial phrase indicating something extraordinary; it is now a common occurrence. 'But a few years ago,' wrote Professor Brewer, in 1876, 'the speed of a mile in 2·30 was unheard of; now, perhaps, five or six hundred horses are known to have trotted a mile in that time.' The number is to-day, perhaps, nearer one thousand than five hundred. Steadily onward have American horse-raisers pressed the limit of mile-speed, till, within the last three seasons, the amazing figures 2·10 have been reached by one trotter and closely approached by another."

 

—— About 1800 we began to import, in considerable numbers, the favorite English cattle, the short-horn. The first American short-horn herd-book was published in 1846. In 1873 a sale of short-horn cattle took place in Western New York, at which a herd of 109 head were sold for a total sum of $382,000—one animal, a cow, bringing $40,600; another, a calf five months old, $27,000; both for the English market. To-day Devons and short-horns are freely exported from New York and Boston to England, to improve the native stock.

 

—— The Society of Dilettanti was formed one hundred and fifty years ago, by a number of gentlemen who had traveled in Italy and enjoyed its treasures of antiquity and art, for social intercourse and aesthetic improvement. Englishmen most distinguished in politics and literature have been among its members. Originally it was indispensable that a candidate for admission should have been met in Italy by the member proposing him. This rule is said to have led on one occasion to a resolution of the members which might well astonish geographers. A candidate had been elected on the strength of his having been met at Avignon—at that time really more Italian than French in all its associations. The mistake was seen, and in order to maintain the validity of the election a special resolution was carried, that "in the opinion of this society Avignon is in Italy." It was then considered that a dangerous precedent might have been created, and forthwith a second resolution was passed, that "in the opinion of this society Avignon is the only town in France which is in Italy."

 

—— Christian Liberality.—President Arthur being on Long Island the other Sunday with some publicans and sinners, and the party being an hungered while the corn was not eared, plucked the contents of a trout-pond and did eat. Whereupon the Scribes and Pharisees are shocked at this desecration of the Sabbath-day. The "Christian Union," in an article suffused with complacency at its well-known Christian liberality, remarks: "The country can afford to have a mistaken public policy maintained through four years of misadministration better than it can afford to have a bad example of Sabbath-breaking, impiety, and vulgarity, set before the whole community by men of the first eminence."

 

—— Ownership and Rental.—Of the 3,800,000 farms, approximately, into which the cultivated area of the United States is divided, sixty, or even seventy, per cent are cultivated by their owners. In the Northern States the proportion rises to eighty per cent, or even higher. Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts, of the New England States, and Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, of the Northwestern States, show an excess of ninety per cent.

 

—— The bigotry of the orthodox Russians, like that of the conservative Spaniards, is a sort of mental disease, but there is less method and more humor in the madness of the Muscovites; a facetious answer has often propitiated the wrath of their clerical inquisitors. The Synod of Moscow once arraigned the philosopher Lermontoff on the charge of being an abettor of the Copernican heresies, especially of the "doctrine of plural worlds," and requested him to explain his paradogmas. "From the bugs in the beard of your Eminence," Lermontoff addressed the "grand metropolitan," "I infer that the beards of the worshipful coadjutors are similarly infested, and by a parity of reasoning the population of this earth inclines me to suspect a plurality of inhabited planets." They let him go.

General Skobeleff, in his memoirs of the Turkish campaign, tells an equally good story at the expense of his orthodox countrymen. When the vanguard of his cavalry approached the hamlet of Kerzanlik, in the eastern Balkan, the frightened burghers sent out a deputation of prominent citizens to implore the clemency of the conqueror. Skobeleff returned an evasive reply, and, after a private consultation with his colleagues, the spokesman of the committee repeated his appeal with the following amendment: that, rather than have their town pillaged, the citizens would agree to supply every trooper of his command with sixteen pints of slibovitz (plum-brandy), and consent to believe in any number of gods not exceeding two dozen!