Popular Science Monthly/Volume 22/April 1883/Popular Miscellany

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Aberrations in Fog-Signals.—Mr. Arnold B. Johnson, of the Light-house Board of the United States, has been pursuing on our coast parallel investigations with those reported some years ago by Professor Tyndall on the aberrations of audibility of fog-signals. The results of this work, as summarized by Lieutenant-Commander F. E. Chadwick, U.S. Navy, who aided in the investigation, are, that navigators, when attempting to pick up a fog-signal, must give attention to the direction of the wind. If they are to the windward of the signal, in a moderate breeze, the chances are very largely against their hearing it, for there is nearly always a sector, of about 120° to windward of the signal, in which it. either can not be heard at all, or is very faintly heard. As they bring the signal to bear at right angles with the wind, the sound will almost certainly in the case of a light wind increase, and will soon assume its normal volume, being heard almost without fail in the leeward semicircle. Fog appears not to be a factor of any consequence whatever in the question of sound. Signals may be heard at great distances through the densest fogs, which may be totally inaudible in the same directions and at the same distances in the clearest atmosphere. It seems established by numerous observations that the best possible circumstances for hearing a fog-signal are in a northeast snow-storm, and they appear to be best heard then with the observer to windward of the signal. In light winds the signal is best heard down the wind or at right angles with the wind. The worst conditions for hearing sound seem to be found in the atmosphere of a clear, frosty morning on which a warm sun has risen and has been shining for two or three hours. The result of the whole is, that "the mariner will do well, when he does not get the expected sound of a fog-signal, to assume that he may not hear a warning that is faithfully given, and then to heave his lead, and resort to the other means used by the careful navigator to make sure of his position." (Washington: Judd & Detweiler, printers.)

Herbert Spencer and the Land Question.—Mr. Herbert Spencer sends to the "St. James's Gazette" (London) the following communication, explanatory of his views on the ownership of land: "During my absence in America, there appeared in the 'St. James's Gazette' (27th of October, 1882) an article entitled 'Mr. Herbert Spencer's Political Theories.' Though, when it was pointed out to me after my return, I felt prompted to say something in explanation of my views, I should probably have let the matter pass had I not found that elsewhere such serious misapprehensions of them are being diffused that rectification seems imperative. Before commenting on the statements of your contributor, I must devote a paragraph to certain more recent statements which have far less justification. In old days among the Persians, the subordination of subject to ruler was so extreme that, even when punished, the subject thanked the ruler for taking notice of him. With like humility I suppose that now, when after I have been publishing books for a third of a century 'the leading critical organ' has recognized my existence, I ought to feel thankful, even though the recognition draws forth nothing save blame. But such elation as I might otherwise be expected to feel is checked by two facts. One is that the 'Edinburgh Review' has not itself discovered me, but has had its attention drawn to me by quotations in the work of Mr. Henry George—a work which I closed after a few minutes on finding how visionary were its ideas. The other is that, though there has been thus made known to the reviewer of a book of mine published thirty-two years ago, which I have withdrawn from circulation in England, and of which I have interdicted translations, he is apparently unconscious that I have written other books, sundry of them political; and especially he seems not to know that the last of them, 1 Political Institutions,' contains passages concerning the question he discusses. Writers in critical journals which have reputations to lose usually seek out the latest version of an author's views; and the more conscientious among them take the trouble to ascertain whether the constructions they put on detached passages are warranted or not by other passages. Bad the Edinburgh reviewer read even the next chapter to the one from which he quotes, he would have seen that, so far from attacking the right of private property, as he represents, my aim is to put that right upon an unquestionable basis, the basis alleged by Locke being unsatisfactory. He would have further seen that, so far from giving any countenance to communistic doctrines, I have devoted four sections of that chapter to the refutation of them. Had he dipped into the latter part of the work, or had he consulted the more recently published 'Study of Sociology' and 'Political Institutions,' he would not have recklessly coupled me with Mr. George as upholding 'the doctrines of communism, fatal alike to the welfare of society and to the moral character of man'; for he would have discovered the fact (familiar to many, though unknown to him) that much current legislation is regarded by me as communistic, and is for this reason condemned as socially injurious and individually degrading. The writer of the article in the 'St. James's Gazette' does not represent the facts correctly when he says that the view concerning ownership of land in 'Social Statics' is again expounded in 'Political Institutions'—'not so fully, but with as much confidence as ever.' In this last work I have said that, 'though industrialism has thus far tended to individualize possession of land, while individualizing all other possession, it may be doubted whether the final stage is at present reached.' Further on I have said that 'at a stage still more advanced, it may be that private ownership of land will disappear'; and that 'it seems possible that the primitive ownership of land by the community. . . will be revived.' And yet again I have said that 'perhaps the right of the community to the land, thus tacitly asserted, will, in time to come, be overtly asserted.' Now it seems to me that the words I have italicized imply no great 'confidence.' Contrariwise, I think they show quite clearly that the opinion conveyed is a tentative one. The fact is, that I have here expressed myself in a way much more qualified than is usual with me; because I do not see how certain tendencies, which are apparently conflicting, will eventually work out. The purely ethical view of the matter does not obviously harmonize with the political and the politico-economical views; some of the apparent incongruities being of the kind indicated by your contributor. This is not the place to repeat my reasons for thinking that the present system will not be the ultimate system. Nor do I propose to consider the obstacles, doubtless great, which stand in the way of change. All which I wish here to point out is that my opinion is by no means a positive one; and, further, that I regard the question as one to be dealt with in the future rather than at present. These two things the quotations I have given above prove conclusively."

Value of the Evidence of Stone Implements.—Professor Putnam suggests in his report, as curator of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, that it will not do to draw too large inferences from the finding of stone implements. That our recent Indians, he says, "used many exceedingly rude stone implements can not be questioned, and even today, among the Western tribes, stones picked up at random are used for various domestic purposes, and when a camp is changed many such are left, with other things which are of too little value to be taken away. From these facts it is evident that the ruder implements and utilized natural forms are not a certain evidence of the period of development of the people who made use of them. That we, in camping out, are so often forced to make use of stones, shells, bones, and withes of roots or bark, should be considered in drawing deductions from the rude character of any set of implements."

Responsibility of Criminal Lunatics.—Dr. S. S. Herrick, of the Louisiana State Board of Health, has published (New Orleans) a plea in favor of enforcing the responsibility of criminal lunatics, to the extent at least of putting them where they can do no harm. He starts with the obvious proposition that "the welfare of the sane members of society is vastly more important than the liberty, or even the life, of a dangerous lunatic," and expresses the belief that probably at least three sane persons are acquitted on the "insanity plea" for every insane criminal convicted. A vast amount of silly sentimentality, he continues, "is effused on criminals, both sane and insane; as if a few such worthless wretches deserve more consideration than the great mass of well-behaved and respectable people. It is indeed shocking to take the life of a madman, judicially or otherwise; but it is simply bad management to allow a lunatic to commit an act for which a sane person would be punished, and still worse to risk its repetition." Dr. Herrick objects to capital punishment for any class of criminals; but he advises that the insane be held amenable to punishment like other criminals, and be made to know that its infliction is sure. This will operate as a restraint upon them, and conduce to security of life and property and to the welfare of the insane. It may be alleged, adds Dr. Herrick, "that the restoration of penalties upon the insane is a relapse toward the barbarism of the past. The answer to this is, that by their immunity from punishment is demonstrated a deviation from progress, inasmuch as it practically increases crime and provokes violent and unlawful retaliation."

What is Adulteration.—What is the wrong of adulteration if the adulterant is not injurious is shown up by Professor Albert B. Prescott, of Ann Arbor, in one of the papers of the Michigan State Board of Health. Adulteration infringes upon the right of every person—unrestricted except by considerations of sanitary welfare and public police—to decide for himself what he shall eat. "An adulteration is a fraud, a deception, a counterfeit. It is systematically concealed from the purchaser. Its object is to induce people to accept an article which they would not accept for the use then wanted, if it were not for the deceit. To sell an admixture of coffee and chiccory, if the terms and proportions of the mixture are printed on the wrapper in a way to have them seen by the purchaser is not adulteration. To sell oleomargarine under its own distinctive name, with no credit borrowed from butter, is not an adulteration. But to supply sugar made from corn-starch for the ordinary sugar made from cane-juice, or to deal out milk-and-water or skim-milk for entire milk, is an adulteration—a violation of the right of the consumer to obtain his food on his own discretion." The plea that may be made, that the adulterant is as wholesome as the real article "is not to be heard at all; it belongs to the consumer to judge for himself what he will provide for his own table." Even if the falsification be not committed to injure health, it is directly objectionable on sanitary grounds, for it is a violation of a great safeguard of health. To the plea that people are not really deceived by the sophistications, but that they are understood, tolerated, and even preferred by customers, "let it be replied, if the pretense is so thin as to deceive no one, and if the admixture is in demand for use as it is, the pretense can the more easily be dropped, and at any rate the admixture must go under its own description and by its own name. Not a single article, unless indictable as a positive poison, need be withdrawn from the market."

Festivals of the Pagan Iroquois.—Mrs. Erminie A. Smith gave an interesting account, at the late meeting of the American Association, of some peculiar festivals and superstitions of the Iroquois Indians. About half the Iroquois, she said, are not Christians, but worship a Great Spirit, a god of love, and look to him with great confidence. Their religion is not idolatrous, but quite spiritual. Their only private worship is burning tobacco, and an occasional solitary dance of the squaws. There are eight annual festivals, at which varied Romish, Jewish, or Protestant forms have been engrafted on the ancient dancing, games, and incense-burning. The Tuscaroras of Western New York have hardly a trace of their old religion. About half the Senecas are still pagan. The Onondagas have numerous festivals, beginning with the feast at the first new moon of the new year, at which the chiefs occupy four days in narrating the teachings of Handsome Lake, who nearly a hundred years ago introduced a new form into their religion. On the next three days the chiefs and their followers "put their sins in the wampum" (i. e., confess). The clans are then divided into sides for the gambling, which lasts three days. A white dog is strangled and presented to the winning side, who decorate it and dance around it. Afterward the dog is thrown into the fire, and the sides are reunited. Then there are war-dances, and the women dance without lifting their feet from the ground. At the tapping of the maple-trees there is a war-dance to bring warm weather and make the sap flow. A seven days' festival is held at corn-planting, and there are also strawberry, bean, and green-corn festivals; the latter is preceded by a hunt. In the gambling the women sometimes play against the men for the silver brooches which cover their dresses. The last public festival is at the corn-gathering, when there is a repetition of the confession of sins. A special dance takes place at the death of a medicine-man. The property of an ordinary dead person is often played for. Friendships are cemented by dances. It is a sad fact that the pagan Iroquois are better than their Christian brethren. No wonder the missionaries have great obstacles, when all the immoral white intruders are counted as Christians. New York has much to answer for, and should care more for her Indians than for the Greenlanders and Hottentots. The author dwelt on the great influence for good of one good woman. Great results have flowed from some schools founded long ago. Mrs. Smith introduced the following names of the moons, or mouths, in the Mohawk tongue: January, old beech leaves fall; February, bull-frog on pond; March, moss all falls; April, turkeys gobble; May, plant corn; June, strawberries begin; July, corn getting ripe; August, corn quite ripe; September, all ripe and dry; October, getting cold; November, colder; December, very cold.

Suicide in Switzerland.—Mr. Wynell Mayow has attributed the high rate of suicide that has been remarked in Switzerland to Calvinism, and assumes that that republic "is the most Calvinistic country in the world." Mr. William Westall, in the London "Spectator," shows that he is wrong in two points. Calvinism is not the faith of the majority in the confederation, but only of a part of three fifths of the population, among whom Protestants of every denomination are included, and it has long ceased to be a living faith there. It would be more reasonable to ascribe the prevalence of self-murder to drink, for Switzerland is one of the most drunken countries in the world. The fact is, however, that suicide is not excessively prevalent among the Swiss. Self-murders are committed in the country, but not by natives. Thus the statistics show that, of 263 suicides committed in the Canton of Geneva between 1873 and 1878, 48·3 per cent were committed by foreigners, and only 26·6 per cent by natives of the canton, the others having been natives of other cantons than Geneva.

Folk-Lore of the Elder and the Juniper.—The elder and the juniper were formerly sacred to the German goddess Bercht Holda, and many traces of their former sanctity remain in popular customs. Thus elder branches are scattered around, and juniper is smoked, on the day of Corpus Christi. The German name of the juniper (Wachholder) appears to be a corruption of a combination of words, which, when analyzed, are found to signify the living tree of Holda. A number of superstitions may be traced back to the former connection of the elder bush with the goddess. Witches are thought to produce bad weather by stirring water with branches of elder. Some believe that to burn elder-wood will bring harm to the house. It is not considered lucky to cut down elder-bushes or juniper-trees without asking their consent, and offering an exchange. February was the month of Holda, and Lady-Day was her particular day. On that day, the women were accustomed to dance in the sunshine, having elder sticks in their hands, with which they struck the men who came near them. The ancient Prussians made offerings to the god of death under elder-trees, and the pollen was considered dangerous. The Slovaks made elder men out of the pith, to be servants of the death-god; and the Poles never ventured to cut down the bush except under the protection of an incantation. When any one died in Hildesheim, the undertaker took the measure for his coffin in silence with an elder-rod, and the driver of the hearse had a whip of elder-wood. The gods of the lower world were propitious to every one who planted an elder. In Inch, in the Tyrol, it was thought that any one on whose grave a transplanted elder-bush became green was happy; the bier of the dead was a cross made entirely of elder-wood. The wood was worn as a charm for protection against epilepsy, and whoever took hold of the amulet acquired the disease. Similar superstitions were attached to the juniper. The berries were holy; the plant, bearing green berries along with ripe ones, gave protection against the small-pox, as well as against witches. The pollen was considered invaluable for the young growth of the wood. The spirits loved to dwell among the bushes; whoever could make himself invisible could change himself into a juniper-bush, which no one would dare to touch. A statue of the Virgin was surrounded by juniper, and the Christ-child had a queen bee in his hand. The dead were burned with juniper-wood. The hornbeam had such an affection for the juniper that it would die if its neighbor was plucked up. The linden, the hypericum, the hazel, the service tree, and the ash, were also consecrated to Holda, and the first tree in the list played a prominent part as a magic tree, with which many different usages are associated.

Advantages of Cremation. Dr. W. H. Curtis, of Chicago, in an address before the American Public Health Association, at its Savannah meeting in 1881,[1] summarizes the objections to the disposition of the dead by burial as consisting in the pollution of the soil, air, and water—a real danger in crowded cemeteries; the peril from body-snatchers; and the possible danger of persons being buried alive. The objection to cremation, that it is a heathen rite and not a Christian one, is dismissed as untenable; it may be as Christian as any other method. There remain but two objections that deserve notice. Cremation may be used to destroy evidences of crime; and it is too costly for general use. The former objection is outweighed by the advantages that might be derived from the general adoption of cremation, and can be obviated by the enforcement of easy precautions. The cost is reducible to a very small amount by means of the modern appliances. "In the improved furnaces of to-day the body does not come in contact with the fire at all, only with an intense heat of 2000° or more. At this temperature the body simply withers away into a pure white ash. The gases generated are burned in a separated chamber adapted to the purpose, and no smoke, odor, or other unpleasant phenomena occur, to offend the sensibilities of any one, be they ever so acute. To attain these nearly perfect results, of course, costs money. The furnace can not be erected in this country for less than from three to five thousand dollars—a mere bagatelle compared with the cost of some of our cemeteries. The fuel necessary to attain this high temperature, with the necessary attendance, makes the expenses of the incineration of a single body about fifteen dollars. The apparatus used by the Danish society at Copenhagen effects the cremation in about an hour, and costs only from five to seven shillings. After all, the costliness of cremation does not seem to be such a very great objection. Of course, if we are forced to send the body to Washington, Pennsylvania, to Milan, to Padua, or any other of the existing crematories, the privilege is placed beyond the means of any but the rich. But when the crematories are more numerous and accessible, as they no doubt soon will be, the necessity for an expensive lot in an expensive cemetery, an expensive casket, and all the pride, pomp, and circumstance of a funeral à la mode, may be dispensed with."

Instruction in Physics.—The quality and best methods of education in physics may be stated as the subject of the address of Vice-President Mendenhall before Section B of the American Association at its recent Montreal meeting.[2] Presupposing that the diffusion of information, or instruction, is an important means of advancing science worthy of a place by the side of original research, and that teaching should be accompanied—not taking the place of it or surrendering itself to it—by experimental work, he suggests that quantitative work, and that the best possible under the circumstances, should occupy the attention of the student, while illustrative experiments and the qualitative work necessary to a good understanding of the subject should be relegated to the lecture-table of the instructor. That which the pupil gets which is of most worth in his course in a physical laboratory is not a familiarity with the principles of the science, but a training in the methods of investigation in use among physicists, including a knowledge of the use and abuse of experiment and the necessary limits of our knowledge derived therefrom. The study which he ought to make of errors, instrumental and accidental, will be of great value in various fields. It is better for the laboratory to contain a few instruments of precision than a large number of inferior performance and accuracy. It is not a matter of great importance upon what particular department of physics a student shall spend his time and strength. The underlying principles of the method are common to all, and skill in one begets facility in the others. To sum up, the course of study in physics for the undergraduate collegian should include a sufficient training in mathematics to enable him to apply his knowledge with ease and facility to the more common physical problems; a thorough and exacting course of textbook and lecture-work, in which the application of his mathematical knowledge would be made, and during which all illustrative experiments necessary to a complete understanding of the text should be exhibited by the instructor from the lecture-table; and, finally, this to be supplemented by a course in the laboratory in which more attention is paid to the quality than to the quantity of work done; during which every problem is discussed, as far as possible, both mathematically and experimentally, and especial attention is given to the discussion of the results of experiment and of the more elementary portions of the theory of errors. "Considering the work as thus divided into three parts," says Professor Mendenhall, "I am unable to see which is the least essential."

Work for Amateur Astronomers.—Professor Edward C. Pickering, of the Harvard College Observatory, invites amateurs who have small telescopes to the observation of the variable stars, and assures them that by systematizing their work, and each selecting a particular field, they can not only observe with more satisfaction to themselves, but may aid the progress of science. Some may make real discoveries, and they are promised all the credit they may deserve for them; if they give due early notice of the fact. Steady and repeated observations of the same object are wanted once or twice in every month, in order to secure determinations of their light-curves or variations. This point has been heretofore to a large extent omitted, and only the fact of variation, its period, and its extremes, have as a rule been ascertained. Amateurs may do service in this line, while professional observers are attending to more delicate points. Professor Pickering has published a pamphlet giving directions and the other information needed to secure intelligent observations, which may be had on application to him at Harvard College Observatory, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Roman Remains.—Mr. Alfred Tylor has recently described, before the Royal Institution of Great Britain, some Roman remains that were discovered last year in London about nineteen feet below the present surface of the ground. They include several cinerary urns, one of which, fifteen inches high, was of glass, containing the results of the cremation of human bodies, and a remarkable turned vase of stone. Four of the urns were inclosed in leaden ossuaria without solder, in the inside of one of which was found an emblem of Mithra, the Persian sun-god. Some of the other urns were protected by roofing-tiles. The coins found during the excavations bore dates from A.D. 60 to 300. The Mithraic emblem was probably of a date soon after A.D. 50.

Dizziness and Deafness.—Dr. William James, of Harvard University, has made some experiments to test the modern theory that the semicircular canals, instead of being connected with the sense of hearing, serve to convey the feeling of movement of the head through space, which, when intensified, becomes dizziness. It occurred to him that deaf-mutes, having their auricular organs injured, might afford some corroboration of the theory, if it were true, by showing a smaller susceptibility to dizziness than persons with normal hearing. Of 519 deaf-mutes examined by subjecting them to a rapid whirling, 186 were wholly insusceptible of being made dizzy, 134 were made dizzy in a very slight degree, and 199 were normally, and in a few cases abnormally, sensitive. Nearly 200 students and instructors in Harvard College, supposed to have normal hearing, were examined for purposes of comparison, and but a single one proved exempt from the vertigo. These results seemed to Dr. James to support the theory which was the object of his inquiry. It occurred to him that those persons not affected by dizziness ought also to lose their power of orientation when diving under water; but the experiments that were made to test the correctness of this view were so varied in their results that no conclusions could be drawn from them.

Errata.Messrs. Editors: Permit me to call attention to a few errors in the first column of page 714 that make nonsense of what I am quoted as saying of the supposed "lignified snake." According to my remarks, as published in the Washington "Star," in line two, "rudimentary" should read "rejectamentary." In line twenty-seven, "larva" should read "liber." In lines thirty-three, thirty-four, "without interference with the growth or soundness of the tree" should read "except where the bark is already loosened, a supposition which involves the idea of death or decay in the tree, and consequent incapacity to renew tissue.C. V. Riley."

  1. Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  2. Printed at the Salem Press, Salem, Massachusetts.