Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/May 1883/Popular Miscellany

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Fossil Man in America.—The question of the contemporaneity of man with the horse and other pliocene mammals was recently brought up, in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, in the presentation of some fossil remains of horses by Professor Leidy. Professor Cope said that he believed that the contemporaneity would soon be satisfactorily established, and brought forward the Calaveras skull, which was said to have been taken from the gold-bearing gravel of California, and two observations of his own, made in 1879 in Oregon and California, as further confirmatory of the point. The "Carson foot-prints" of Nevada could also be placed in evidence, for they probably belonged to an ancestor of existing man. Professor II. Carvill Lewis insisted that caution should be exercised in accepting as evidence of pliocene man any facts as yet not verified by scientific observers. While the facts proving a post-glacial man were indisputable, the existence of pre-glacial man, either in our own country or in Europe, was not attested by any scientific evidence. The discoveries in California, made for the most part by miners in search of gold, carried with them several serious objections to the theory of great antiquity. The implements were identical in character with those of modern workman, ship, and the Calaveras skull closely resembled that of a modern Indian. The fact is not generally mentioned that implements in all respects similar to those of the auriferous gravel occur upon the surface of the ground, and are believed to be the work of well-known tribes. Neither the Calaveras skull nor the implements have suffered the amount of corrosion or weathering that a great antiquity should have given them. The adherence of compact gravel to the Calaveras skull, which is regarded as a sign of great antiquity, is no evidence at all of it, for the same is seen in the case of modern coins and other objects of known date. The very fact that the relics under consideration all occur in a gold-bearing gravel may indicate the method by which many of them were buried. Gold-mining was carried on, on quite an extensive scale, by the aborigines in these same gravels. School-craft describes an ancient shaft in Table Mountain two hundred and ten feet deep, at the bottom of which human bones and implements were found. The argument from analogy is so strong against the great antiquity of the California relics, that evidence of the most satisfactory kind must be required to support such a conclusion.

 

Dr. George M. Beard.—The late Dr. George M. Beard, whose articles in the Monthly will be remembered by many of our readers, was a graduate of Yale College began his medical studies in the same institution, and, after an experience of eighteen months as acting assistant surgeon in the United States Navy, received the degree of M.D. at the expiration of a two years' course in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of this city. Beginning practice in New York, he early turned his attention to the study of nervous diseases, and almost immediately began to write and publish on medical subjects. Among his earlier works "Our Home Physician," 1869, "Eating and Drinking," and "Stimulants and Narcotics," 1871, were designed for popular use, and have, we understand, had a wide circulation. In conjunction with Dr. A. D. Rockwell he published, in 1875, "Medical and Surgical Electricity." "Hay-Fever, or Summer Catarrh" appeared in 1876; "The Scientific Bases of Delusions," 1877; "Nervous Exhaustion," 1880; "American Nervousness, with its Causes and Consequences," 1881. These are among his more important contributions to medical science, and, with a large number of pamphlets and magazine articles on allied subjects, make up a volume of literary work it is rarely accorded to one man to accomplish. And when we reflect that behind much of it there lies a large amount of observation and experiment on which many of his views are founded, it becomes apparent that Dr. Beard's was an exceptionally busy as well as useful life. Yet, enthusiastic and indefatigable as he was in his chosen field, it must be confessed that the quantity of his work was too often at the expense of the quality. His conclusions were not always as thoroughly matured and as accurately verified as the interests of science demand; or, as a personal friend has said of him, while he had wonderful insight as an investigator, "his defects were too rapid generalization and too positive and comprehensive assertion of results. . . . His fame would be more enduring if he had written five books instead of fifty." Although his work is liable to these criticisms, he undoubtedly did a valuable service in calling attention to and throwing light upon a class of nervo-mental affections which, though very common and the cause of much suffering, are not yet well understood. In their further study the future investigator will find much to aid him in the writings of Dr. Beard, and, as the difficulties of the subject are more clearly realized, the work that he has done will be better appreciated.

 

Treatment of Stammering.—Mr. J. E. Suitterlin has for eight years conducted an institute in this city for the cure of stuttering and stammering, with most satisfactory success. His system is philosophical and simple, and is based on the plainest commonsense principles. Excluding reliance on medical aids, it comprises chiefly careful drill of the vocal organs, and such mental discipline as will contribute to the object. In the first stage of treatment, the subject is not permitted to talk, except to practice his exercises, and to make such movements in speech as can be guided and observed by the teacher. During this time he is taught to consider himself, not a patient, but a student of speech. In the second stage, which is begun when enough has been done in the first, the pupil is encouraged to talk, for practice, at every opportunity, with a "legato" movement (as in music) and a strong accent. In the third stage he is allowed to talk more naturally, but in a studied manner; and in the fourth stage he is permitted to employ his normal way of speaking, but is by this time relieved from the impediment under which he formerly suffered. The psychic part of the treatment, which aims to divert the pupil's mind from himself and his troubles, is the most difficult and, at the same time, the most essential part. The time required for success depends very largely and, in fact, chiefly on the mental constitution of the subject.

From this brief description of an effective method of treatment, the parent may gather the useful hint that, to remedy any incipient tendency in his child to stammer, he should exercise a mild and kind but firm ruling, suppress all irritability of temper, observe for the child all the laws of health, and be careful as to his own manner of talking and the patterns he may set for the child. By attention to such matters, even the most unskilled may correct the evil before the child begins to be conscious that he is a stammerer; and, by a general regard to such principles as are here laid down, the affliction might be wholly removed or its frequency greatly reduced in the course of a generation or two. The statistics collected and preserved by Mr. Suitterlin show that the stammering habit is contracted, with only very rare exceptions, between infancy and ten years of age.

 

The First Daguerrean Portrait.—Professor Charles E. West, who was a personal witness of the event, has contributed to the "New York Times" an interesting account of the introduction of the daguerreotype process into the United States, and of the taking of the first portrait by Professor John W. Draper, and not by Mr. A. S. Wolcott, for whom the honor has been claimed. The secret of the process having been bought and published by the French Government, a pamphlet describing it was brought to New York by a Mr. Seger. Professor Morse, to whom the pamphlet was given, employed Mr. George W. Prosch to make an instrument after the description in it. The first picture taken with this instrument—the first daguerreotype of still-life taken in this country—was a view of the old Brick Church and the City Hall in New York, and was a great curiosity. Daguerre's process required an exposure of twenty minutes, and he said that living objects could not be taken by it, on account of the difficulty of their keeping still so long. Professor Draper succeeded in shortening the exposure by substituting bromide of iodine for the iodine used by Daguerre, and with the aid of this compound took the first portrait of the human face. This was in 1839, and the success of the experiment was announced in a note dated March 81, 1840, in the London "Philosophical Magazine" for June, 1840. Professor Morse afterward tried the process, and took a portrait of his daughter. Mr. Prosch opened a daguerrean gallery at the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street, where Professor West was the first to sit for his portrait. The light of the sun was thrown directly upon his face by reflection from a mirror; consequently, he had to shut his eyes, and they were represented closed. Mr. Wolcott was not ready to begin his work till the spring of 1840; but he was successful in taking the best portraits in the city. The question of priority was not raised till 1860, when it was considered by a committee of the American Institute, to whom Professor Draper submitted a written statement, while the friends of Wolcott failed to do so. Draper is also credited in the "Edinburgh Review" for January, 1843, with having been the first person who took portraits by the daguerreotype process.

 

The Prevention of Insanity.—Dr. Nathan Allen, of Lowell, Massachusetts, in a pamphlet on that subject, calls attention to the prevention of insanity as a question which, although much neglected, is at least quite as important as that of the cure of insanity. The disease is very largely dependent on physical and sanitary conditions, and these should be studied out and brought within such regulation as will prevent its development. Since, according to the late Sir James Coxe, insanity originates in some form of disease or in a deterioration of the body rather than in an exclusive affection of the nervous system, its growth should be checked by a general diffusion of the knowledge of the laws of the human organism and the use of all means necessary for the preservation of good health. So far as insanity is hereditary, its transmission should be prevented by avoiding marriage with persons predisposed to it. It should be the aim of the medical profession to become so well acquainted with the diseases of the nervous system and the brain that they could detect the first symptoms of disturbed or deranged states of mind, so as to be able to treat them understandingly, and, in all probability, in many cases successfully.

 

The New York State Museum of Natural History.—The Trustees of the New York State Museum of Natural History, having about eight thousand square feet of space available for the exhibition of specimens requiring twenty-one thousand square feet for their proper display, complain that the present museum-building has become entirely inadequate for its intended purpose. Relief is anticipated, however, from the gradual occupation of the State Hall, a fireproof building, which is authorized as fast as its rooms may become vacant by the removal of State offices to the new Capitol. A consolidation of the scientific work done under the patronage of the State, which is now scattered under several distinct heads, is recommended by the trustees, so as to make it all a part of the museum. The reports of the museum, and the scientific work generally, now lagging far behind, under the operation of the political patronage and plunder system of printing, are impatiently waited for by the scientific world, and the trustees suggest that the demand could be more speedily and fully satisfied if the printing of them were intrusted directly to the institution. Four volumes of valuable museum reports are still unprinted, though long due. Of the Geological Survey's work on Paleontology, five parts have been published in seven bound volumes. Five bound volumes are required to complete the work, for which a considerable proportion of the plates and manuscript are prepared. Seventeen letters and declarations, from as many eminent scientific men and societies, are published, in connection with the statement of the trustees of the museum, attesting the anxiety with which they are looking for the completion of this, one of the most important and meritorious works of the kind ever attempted.

 

The Solar Eclipse of May, 1883. M. Janssen announced in the French Academy of Sciences, on the 26th of February, that the French Scientific Expedition to observe the total eclipse of the sun in May would start on the 6th of March, to meet at Panama a French naval vessel which would take it to Caroline Island, a hundred leagues north of Tahiti. After the observation is completed, the expedition will proceed to Tahiti and San Francisco, whence M. Janssen proposes to visit the observatories and scientific establishments of the United States. Search for intra-Mercurial planets will be made for the first time by the aid of photography. A grand photographic apparatus has been prepared to take in the whole field surrounding the sun for about thirty degrees, which will furnish images, if the sky is clear, of all the stars to the eighth magnitude. Gelatine plates of extreme sensibility will be employed. Other instruments are provided for photographing the corona and its spectrum, for examining the spectrum of the corona, and for the exploration of the solar regions. Several foreign astronomers will be attached to the expedition at their own request, and the American and English expeditions will co-operate with it at the same place; so that the ordinarily uninhabited Island of Caroline will become, for the hour, the scientific center of the world. It will enjoy this distinction chiefly because it and Flint Island, not very far off, are the spots most favorable for the observation of the eclipse. This eclipse is expected to offer unusual facilities for observation, on account of the long duration of totality (5m 33s at Flint Island, 5m 13s at Caroline Island).

 

What shall we do with our Drunkards?—Dr. Orpheus Everts, Superintendent of the Cincinnati Sanitarium, in an inquiry on "What shall we do with the drunkard?" regards drunkenness as a disease. The only ways of dealing with it effectually are by prohibition of the sale of intoxicating liquors and inhibition or restriction of the drunkard. The former measure he dismisses as essentially impracticable, on account of the antagonism it must always excite; and he is left only the latter one, which he would have surrounded with the sanctions of the law. He proposes a scheme of a law for the establishment of Public Hospitals for the Cure of Drunkenness and Conservatories for the Protection of the Infirm, to which persons defined by it as coming under its import may be formally and legally committed for cure or care. When thus committed, they should be allowed every liberty or natural right which can be conserved without lessening the efficiency of the law, and should be protected, under the sanction of stringent penalties, against assaults upon their weakness, or temptations from any source.

 

Niagara Falls as a State Park.—The movement for the rescue and preservation of Niagara Falls is gathering strength, and is now seeking legislative action, authorizing the appointment of a commission to examine the question and estimate the cost of carrying out the project as an enterprise of the State of New York. It is a real disgrace to our people that this, the most wonderful object of the kind on the earth, the first feature of our natural scenery which strangers from all climes hasten to see, and which ought of right to belong to mankind, should have been left in the hands of speculators till it has been shorn of many of its natural beauties, and it can not be seen at all from our territory except on the payment of a showman's fee. By reason of these facts, and the endless extortions characteristic of the place, what used to be one of the favorite pleasure-grounds of the continent is now visited for a few hours only, as a kind of side-show, and that largely by excursions in the lump. The plan for the State's acquisition of the territory, as approved by the State Survey, contemplates the purchase of really only a small area, generally of about a hundred feet in width, extending from the head of the rapids to the upper suspension bridge, and of the islands. Then by suitable plantations and the provision of water-breaks the ground is to be restored as nearly as possible to its natural condition and kept so. With these improvements, and the relief from extortion that will accompany State ownership, visitors will be attracted in greater numbers than ever before, as the facilities of access are improved, and what now offends their eyes is removed. The present condition of the falls and the character of their visitors, the imminent danger they are in of being robbed of all that makes them attractive, and the facts that make the question of their immediate rescue a pressing one, are forcibly presented by Mr. J. B. Harrison, Corresponding Secretary of the Niagara Falls Association, Franklin Falls, New Hampshire, in a pamphlet "On the Condition of Niagara Falls and the Means needed to preserve them." California has reserved the Yosemite Valley and the Big Tree Grounds, and the United States the Yellowstone Lake and Geysers, as public parks. It should be the duty of the State of New York to add to the list its stupendous cataract.

 

Dyspepsia.—The late Dr. Leared, in his recently published essay on "The Causes and Treatment of Indigestion," lays down as a fundamental principle that the amount of food which each man is capable of digesting with ease always has a limit which bears relation to his age, constitution, health, and habits, and that indigestion is a consequence of exceeding this limit. Different kinds of food are also differently adapted to different constitutions. Dyspepsia may be brought on by eating irregularly, by allowing too long an interval between meals, and by eating too often. Frequently the meals are not gauged as to their relative amount, or distributed with a due regard to health. Thus, when we go out after taking a light breakfast and keep at our work, with a still lighter lunch only during the interval, till evening, we are apt, with the solid meal which tempts us to indulgence, to put the stomach to a harder test than it can bear. "When a light breakfast is eaten, a solid meal is requisite in the middle of the day. When the organs are left too long unemployed they secrete an excess of mucus which greatly interferes with digestion. One meal has a direct influence on the next; and a poor breakfast leaves the stomach over-active for dinner. . . . The point to bear in mind is, that not to eat a sufficiency at one meal makes you too hungry for the next; and that, when you arc too hungry, you are apt to overload the stomach, and give the gastric juices more to do than they have the power to perform." Persons who eat one meal too quickly on another must likewise expect the stomach finally to give notice that it is imposed upon. Other provocatives of dyspepsia are imperfect mastication, smoking, and snuff-taking, which occasion a waste of saliva—although some people find that smoking assists digestion, if done in moderation—sitting in positions that cramp the stomach, and the pressure that is inflicted on the stomach by the tools of some trades, as of curriers, shoe-makers, and weavers. The general symptoms of dyspepsia are well known. Some that deserve special remark are fancies that the limbs or the hands are distorted, mental depression, extreme nervousness, hypochondria, and other affections of the mind. The cure is to be sought in avoiding the food and habits by which dyspepsia is promoted, and using and practicing those which arc found to agree best with the system of the subject. Regularity in the hours of meals can not be too strongly insisted on. "The stomach should not be disappointed when it expects to be replenished. If disappointed, even a diminished amount of food will be taken without appetite, which causes the secretions to injure the stomach, or else impairs its muscular action."

 

Scotch Funerals in the Olden Time.—Mr. William McQueen, in "Macmillan's Magazine," gives a somewhat amusing description of the Scotch funeral customs of the olden time. The usages varied in details in different parts of the country, but were marked as a whole by a general similarity. In some places every man who heard of a death made it a point to attend the funeral; if a Sunday intervened, the time of the funeral was intimated in the church-yard between the services. In other places messengers were sent around to give information of the death—not to invite friends to attend, for that was regarded as a matter of course; but in Glen Urquhart the next-door neighbor of the deceased would not go to a funeral without receiving a direct invitation. The custom of supplying drink at the funeral was once universal, but it was found expedient in some places to postpone the treat till the corpse had been safely taken care of. At Bridgton, a glass of wine was given to each mourner, and a biscuit, on the top of which was placed a piece of dark-colored orange-peel. It is just possible that the presence of this ornament "was the perpetuation of a symbol used at old heathen rites. Quite within living memory it was also customary to put a black mark on some of the oat-cakes served along with whisky in public-houses in Rutherglen, near Glasgow. Few, if any, of those who observed this custom in baking the cakes latterly could have the least notion of what their action implied; but its origin may be traced to the old heathen practice at the feasts of Baal, of giving bread with a black mark upon it to those unhappy persons who were selected as victims to be sacrificed." No religious service was held at the grave; only the hats of the attendants were taken off sometimes for a moment when the coffin was lowered. The omission "had its origin, no doubt, in the Scotch horror of doing anything that might give a color to the charge of following the Roman Catholic fashion of praying for the dead." Sometimes a chapter in the Bible was read and a short prayer pronounced in the house before the procession set out for the churchyard; but care was generally taken in these preliminaries to disconnect them from the peculiar circumstances of the occasion. Thus, at one funeral, refreshments were served, and the offering of the prayers was so arranged as to give them the appearance of being a grace before and a grace after meat. The starting of the funeral procession was colloquially called "lifting," in allusion to the "lifting" of the coffin or the taking of it up to carry it from the trestles on which it rested, with "spokes" or bearing-poles. Efforts to do away with funeral treats, which were justly prompted by the scandals to which the drinking gave rise, were strongly and bitterly opposed. One man, who had become an abstainer, gave great offense by providing milk instead of liquor. His neighbors ascribed his conduct to meanness, and had nothing but scorn for his plea of principle. "Principle had nothing, and could have nothing, to do with it," they asserted. "The minister had no scruple in taking off his dram, and was he going to set himself up as better than the minister?"

 

Burmese Animal Life.—The "British Burmah Gazetteer" gives some notes of rare interest on the zoölogy of the country to which it relates. The mammalia include the Malasian tapir, four species of rhinoceros, a fresh-water dolphin, and bats. Most of the bats hibernate, as their congeners do in Europe, and one is remarked for the reservoir of fat which it accumulates in its tail, to serve it in winter. The list of birds runs up to seven hundred and seventy-three species, or a hundred more than there are in all Europe. A curious fact is that several species are found in the Island of Java, eight hundred miles south, while they are wholly wanting in the neighboring peninsula of Malacca. Species that are found in India only at the foot of the Himalayas, at a considerable elevation, occur here at the level of the sea. Species of birds identical with those of Europe, or similar to them, are not rare. The variety of the fauna is explained by the physical configuration of the region, where a walk of a few hours will carry one from the green sod of meadows intersected by rice-fields to the inaccessible precipices of the granitic mountains, from the sea-shore jungles of bamboo and the rich, tropical vegetation of the coasts to immense virgin forests and the stiff and dark pines of the mountain-sides. The list of reptiles is discouraging to the settler, for it furnishes four crocodiles and seventy serpents, one of which is a python thirty feet long, and the bite of fifteen is poisonous. The list of fishes is the most interesting of all. It includes the Anabas scandens, which they say comes out of the water and goes up into the trees for insects; species that have a reservoir of air above the gills, and will die of asphyxia if they are kept under water and prevented from drawing air directly from the atmosphere; a siluroid that has an accessory respiratory apparatus attached to the branchiæ; and the fish-scorpion, which has a long air-vessel passing across the muscles of the back, and communicating interiorly with the gills: this explains how these fish can live in mud. These respiratory organs seem closely adapted to the estivation which is the forced consequence of the pluvial régime of the country. After a heavy shower numerous fish will make their appearance in places that were absolutely dry a few hours before. Living fishes of certain species may be found buried two feet below the dry surface of the soil. The Ophiocephalidæ, like our eels, pass from one pond to another by gliding through the moist grass, and the Amphipnous cuchia loves to rest on the ground hidden in high grass; and one may see it leap into the water when he approaches it. The Ophiocephalus striatus builds a nest with its tail among the aquatic plants on the banks of the rivers, and finishes it off with blades of grass, which it cuts with its mouth. The eggs are laid in the nest, and the male takes care of them, or, if he dies or is captured, the female takes his place. Both watch the fry with as much care as a hen takes of her chickens, but will drive them away when they have become large enough, and will eat them up if they do not go. The male of the Arius burmanicus hatches out its little ones in its mouth; fifteen or twenty eggs in different stages of development, ana even recently hatched young ones, may be found in the buccal cavity and on the branchiæ; and, during the whole period of this incubation, the fish takes no food. The varieties of the fauna of this country support the hypothesis that it was primitively an archipelago, separated by arms of the sea. The forms are often totally different on mountains, having precisely the same geological formation, only fifteen or twenty miles apart.

 

A Premature Burial.—M. G. Eric Mackay presented, in "The Popular Science Monthly" for January, 1880, a number of apparently authentic instances of cases in which premature burial had occurred. In a subsequent number of the "Monthly" (August, 1880), Dr. William Lee depreciated the danger, and undertook to show that premature burials were extremely rare. An instance very similar to some of those recorded by Mr. Mackay, and showing that the danger is an actual one, is related in the "Viedomosti" of Samara, Russia. A clerk while drunk was seized with an epileptic fit, and apparently died. As the next two days would be holidays, when burials would not be permitted, it was decided to lay him in the ground that very night. Drops of sweat were seen on his face during the funeral services, but no attention was paid to the matter because it was thought the drops might have come from snow that fell on his face on the way to the church. But little earth was thrown on the coffin, on account of the lateness of the hour. When the grave-digger went the next morning to fill up the grave, he heard a noise, as of groaning and struggling in it. Instead of releasing the man, the sexton went to the priest to ask permission to do so. The priest sent him to the police; the police sent him and the man's wife, who had joined him, to the chief; the chief sent them to the archimandrite, and he to the procurator. At last a permit was obtained, after five hours, but then the man was dead, having left in the coffin evidences of a hard struggle. He had turned around, bitten his fingers, torn his flesh, and rent his clothing. It is hard, in reading this story, to decide whether most to admire the stupidity of the grave-digger and the victim's wife, or the elaborate complication of Russian red-tape.

 

Improvements in Insurance Management. The "Pall Mall Gazette" notices signs of improvement and invigoration in the management of the English life-assurance companies during the past year, particularly in the matters of the settlement of claims immediately after death, liberal extensions of the limits of residence, facilities for the renewal of lapsed policies, the introduction of the paid-up policy system, and the simplification of the initiatory stages in paid up policies. Tendencies are observed, too, toward the reduction of rates to a simple living basis, and the gradual working out of the "bonus" system. The companies are still, however, obliged to meet the sharp competition of American enterprises, which are able to offer inducements enhanced by the higher interest on their investments; but they ought to be able to neutralize these advantages, it is suggested, by those which they enjoy from the prestige of their long career and honorable position, and from the less cost at which their business is conducted.