Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/September 1886/Popular Miscellany
Advantages of the Lick Observatory.—Mr. David P. Todd, in a pamphlet descriptive of the Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, California, mentions as among the advantages of its peculiar situation that the steadiness of the atmosphere at that height permits the regular employment of telescopic eye-pieces which magnify two or three times as much as the instruments in ordinary use. "It is thus not unreasonable to expect that a few nights in the course of each observing year may be found when the maximum magnifying power—about thirty-five hundred diameters—may be advantageously employed on the great telescope. The theoretical distance of the moon would then become about sixty miles, but the corresponding ideal conditions of perfect vision can never be obtained." The observer might, however, expect to see the moon much the same as he would without the telescope if it were only a hundred miles away. "The fact of mere elevation (less than a mile) above the sea-level," Mr. Todd observes, "will not, as is often supposed, greatly increase the apparent light of celestial objects, as the stars will appear to be only a small fraction of a magnitude brighter on the mountain than at the sea-level. But—what is incomparably more important—the gain in steadiness of the atmosphere has been much greater than any one expected at the onset, and will enable the astronomer not only to make good use of a multitude of clear nights which at less elevated stations are found to be of little value, but also to elevate the grade of all his work to the last degree of precision. Fewer observations will be required for the accurate determinations of the positions of stars. The elevation also makes effectively available a much larger region of sky than can be commanded at other stations in a like latitude, where observations at zenith distances much greater than seventy degrees are usually not worth the making."
Horse-Eating.—The origin of the use of horse-flesh as food is lost in the night of the past. The ancients held the meat in high esteem, and a number of modern peoples use it unhesitatingly. Several Latin and Greek authors mention it. Virgil, in the third book of the "Georgies," speaks of peoples who live on the milk, blood, and meat of their horses. Pliny and Martial refer to the same fact. Pliny says that the ancient Germans killed horses for food, and ate their raw flesh after they had made it tender by carrying it under their legs as they rode. Mixed with mare's milk and blood, this meat formed a royal dish; and the Sarmatian when pressed by hunger never hesitated to procure it for himself by cutting the veins of the animal on which he was riding. The ancient Persians held horse-meat in high esteem for their great feasts. Several Asiatic peoples offer it to guests as a mark of honor. The Tartars regard it as a most delicate meat, preferring the fat and viscera; and Tott, who was sent by the King of France on a mission to the Khan of Tartary, ate excellent smoked horse-sides at his Highness's table. The Yakut bride offers her spouse a cooked horse's head garnished with sauces from the same animal, and this dish constitutes the staple viand of the wedding-feast. The Arabs think as much of horse as of game, and the Chinese use it generally and daily. The South American Indians are passionately fond of horse-meat. The natives of Sumatra have a decided preference for it, particularly if the animal has been well fed on native grains. While horse-flesh was generally eaten among the Germans till they were converted to Christianity, or till the days of Charlemagne, it was regarded with aversion by the early Christians as a relic of idolatry. Gregory III, in the eighth century, advised St. Boniface, Archbishop of Mayence, to order the German clergy to preach against horse-eating as unclean and execrable. This prohibition being ineffective, Pope Zachary I launched a new anathema against the unfaithful "who eat the meat of the horse, hare, and other unclean animals." This crusade was potent over the defectively informed minds of the people of the middle ages, and they, believing the meat to be unwholesome and not fit to eat, abstained from it except in times of extreme scarcity. Nevertheless, it continued to be eaten in particular localities down to a very recent period. The present revival in the use of horse-flesh, concerning which the French papers have had much to say, is the result of a concerted movement among a number of prominent men, the principal object of which was to add to the food resources of the world.
Extremes of Weather in the Past.—Captain W. H. Gardner has examined, for the Alabama Weather Service, the records of the weather—such as exist from 1701 to 1885, and concludes from them that spells of severe weather of all kinds—extreme heat and cold, violent storms, hurricanes and tornadoes, disastrous floods, and parching droughts—were no more rare in the last century and the earlier part of the present century than now. In 1701 there were recorded at Biloxi, Mississippi, a winter cold that instantly froze water poured into a tumbler, and an August heat that made labor impossible except for two hours in the morning and two in the evening. In the winter of 1746 water was frozen solid in the bouses at Charleston, South Carolina. In 1748 and 1768 the Mississippi River at New Orleans was frozen from thirty to forty feet from the shores. In 1823 skating was possible on all the standing water in and around Mobile. In 1827-'28 the ground in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, was frozen hard from December till March. A flood in the lower Mississippi and a "fearful hurricane" on the Gulf coast were recorded in 1723; another destructive hurricane in 1732; and overflows of the lower Mississippi from January till June, 1735; after which came a long drought, and a lower river than had ever been known. In a hurricane at Dauphin Island, in September, 1740, a four-pounder cannon was moved by the wind to eighteen feet from where it had been lying. Other hurricanes of extreme fury were recorded in October, 1778; August, 1779; August, 1780; and August, 1781. In the last year the Mississippi at New Orleans, the Attakapas, and the Opelousas, were higher than ever before known. The Mississippi at St. Louis was equally high in the flood of 1785 and in July, 1884, and it reached its highest recorded flood in 1844. The flood of the Ohio River in 1832 was not exceeded till 1883. The year 1840 was one of almost continued drought in Alabama and Mississippi, and prayer-meetings were held in view of the apprehended famine. These are only a few of the instances of remarkable phenomena, comparable to those that now attract attention, of which mention is made in Captain Gardner's record.
Coal-Waste as a Manure.—Mr. J. A. Price, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, recommends the use of culm, or coal-waste, in agriculture, by reducing it to dust and applying it to land, to darken the color of the soil, produce porosity, and stimulate plant life. His opinion that benefits will be derived from this application is confirmed by the experiments he has made. A dark color of the soil is usually associated with fertility, and with reason, for it promotes the absorption of heat and thus makes the soil warmer and prolongs the season of freedom from frost at both ends. Mr. Price's observations of the effect of colors on soils side by side, and otherwise precisely alike, showed that a vigorous existence was maintained on a soil darkened by waste-coal, greatly in excess of that of the adjoining strip which was left in its original condition. So in the quality of porosity, in a soil treated as the author recommends—a blue clay or hard pan taken from an excavation and fertilized with organic manures—it was found that greater porosity as well as improved color was given, and the two sections, treated and untreated, exhibited all the peculiar features of two different soils. The corn upon the culm charged section exhibited a vigor of growth of tap and stay roots and of stalk and ear that surprisingly surpassed that of the other section. This result has been maintained through several plantings; and similar effects were observed with Lima beans. Since coal contains nearly all of the substances requisite for the healthy growth of plants, it is reasonable to suppose that its application will have the effect, as it is gradually decomposed by chemical action, of a positive manure. This supposition has also been confirmed by the experiments. The fertilizing results of this kind begin to reveal themselves in the second year.
The Irrawaddy River.—One of the largest rivers in the world is the Irrawaddy, and it is surrounded with a great mystery as to where is its source. The sea-front of its delta extends over about one hundred and fifty miles, with nine or ten mouths distributed over the space. The average annual discharge is about 521,794,000,000 of cubic yards, very nearly four fifths of that of the Mississippi River. But, while the Mississippi discharges pretty evenly all the year round, the Irrawaddy sends down three fourths of its total in the three months, July, August, and September, or in other words its monthly flood average is more than twice as great as that of the Mississippi. The extreme flood discharge of the Irrawaddy for one day in 1817 was at the rate of nearly 2,000,000 cubic feet per second, while the lowest known discharge occurred in the same year, and may be given in round numbers as 50,000 cubic feet per second, or one fortieth of the flood discharge. The highest flood discharge in one day is fifty per cent greater than that of the Mississippi, and double that of any river in Europe. The magnitude of the Irrawaddy in its mid-portion causes astonishment to every visitor whose ideas are formed from Western maps. Captain Hanney says, on this subject: "To this point no diminution in the volume of the Irrawaddy was perceptible, from which we may infer that all the principal feeder affluents which pour tributary streams into the Irrawaddy were still farther north, and had not yet been reached." Dr. Griffiths was astonished at the size of the river above Mandalay, and expressed the belief that it is probably "an outlet from some great river which drains an extensive tract of country."
Incidents of Travel in Somauli-Land.—Mr. F. L. James, while traveling in the Somauli country, East Africa, had a serious tax imposed upon him, from a custom of the natives to come to the camp every night to be fed. "They would sit silent on the ground near the camp-fires where our men would be eating, and, though they never asked for food, they always succeeded in getting it given to them." Living among all the Somauli tribes are low-caste tribes: the Midgans, who carry bows and poisoned arrows; the Tomals, workers in iron; and the Ebir, workers in leather charms. An interesting illustration of the faculty of adaptation to the environment is given in the ability of the animals of the country to go without water. The camels on one stretch passed fifteen days without drinking. Sheep are able to go from six to eight days, and the horses of the party several times went three days without water, and without apparent suffering. The arrival of the company at Gesloguby, one of the principal watering-places of the country, created much excitement among the people who were watering their stock. They crowded around the zariba in hundreds, "and expressed the greatest amazement at us and our doings. Smoking particularly astonished them, as they thought a pipe was part of our persons, and that the white man kept a fire somewhere inside; and, when one of our party shot a bird, many fell down, while others invoked the protection of Allah." There appears to be a vein of considerable shrewdness among these people. A faction who were opposed to Mr. James's journey found that the British consul-general had received an order from his government after the expedition had started, to stop its departure from the coast; and they made use of their knowledge with an ingenuity which was admirable and gave our travelers much annoyance. A chief of a neighboring nation, the Adone, having received Mr. James, used diplomatic arts which might have become a Gortchakoff to make of him an instrument with which to chastise one of his rivals; and it required all our author's skill to avoid a fight with one or both of the rivals, who, however much they might hate one another, would probably have come together to attack him. Among these Adone, who detest the Somauli, but sell them grain, a man is not looked upon with favor by the women of his tribe till he has killed another, either in a fair fight or by assassination and assassination is the more common—way. This entitles him to paint the boss of his shield red, or to wear a feather in his hair.
The Coming Metal.—It is predicted that aluminum is the coming metal, which is destined to supersede iron. It is the most abundant metal in the earth's crust, and is not exceeded in usefulness. It is the metallic base of mica, feldspar, slate, and clay. It is present in gems, colored blue in the sapphire, green in the emerald, yellow in the topaz, red in the ruby, brown in the emery, and so on to the white, gray, blue, and black of the slates and clays. It has never been found in a pure state, but is known to exist in combination in nearly two hundred different minerals. Corundum and pure emery are very rich in aluminum, which constitutes about fifty-four per cent of their substance. The metal is white, and next to silver in luster; it is as light as chalk, or only one third the weight of iron, or one fourth that of silver; is as malleable as gold, as tenacious as iron, and harder than steel. It is soft when ductility, fibrous when tenacity, and crystalline when hardness is required. It melts at 1,300° Fahr. or at least 600° below the melting-point of iron, and it neither oxidizes in the air nor tarnishes in contact with gases.
New Chemical Elements.—We are indebted to Professor H. Carrington Bolton for the following interesting table of new elements announced since 1877:
Forest Devastation in Japan.—We are permitted to publish the following extract from a private letter from Dr. Heinrich Mayr, who is now in Japan, in the course of a journey round the world: "The disappointment in regard to forests in Japan which I experienced was keen. The Japanese have sent out many students to Europe to study forestry, and have, therefore, the reputation of possessing forests; but nothing of that: the mountains are bare, and the forests burned down, just as they are in the eastern part of the Rocky Mountains.
Americans might take a fearful warning in regard to the future prospect of their great West; only the landscape will be still more desolate there, because the land is so divided into small holdings that no forest will be raised. Volcanic eruptions in Japan have buried, a hundred or more years ago, whole forests of "Sooghec," as the Japanese call their species of Sequoia. They are again dug up, and people wonder at their size, and the fine grain of the wood that has become gray, for which enormous sums are paid for cabinet-work; but they are not practical enough to consider that a careful culture might now cover the mountains again with the same wealth. Perhaps, already, in fifty years, America will have reached the same stage; a few monsters of the forest will be admired, and it will hardly appear credible that the ancestors in their greed and ignorance burned down these priceless treasures for an ephemeral gain, and even where not the slightest gain could be obtained by the wanton destruction. The United States possess still the finest forests of the globe, but in the land of haste, hurry, and greed, anything which can not be turned into money at short notice is destroyed. A little more forethought might benefit not only the future but also the present generations. The climate of Japan is not quite so fine as that of the Western United States, but similar results will follow similar causes. Where the land, freed from forests, is used for agricultural purposes, this forest destruction has a fair excuse; but, where enormous tracts of land are denuded for stock-raising, the very means will defeat the end: stock can not be raised without water, and water will not grow; and, with the disappearance of moisture and forests, hard, tough, varieties of grass will alone cover the mountain-slopes. Japan is the land of inundations, and the effects of forests upon moisture are here most strikingly illustrated. Every thundershower sends its whole quantity of water without delay to the rivers and the sea, and within a few hours a mountain-valley has seen a dry channel, a raging torrent, and a little brook occupying the same bed; thousands of acres of good land along these numerous mountain-streams can not be cultivated, because the forests are lacking which would retain the moisture and allow it only gradually to seek the river and ocean. We can not realize enough the consequences of forest destruction. But even arbor-days are only a small remedy; the state alone can own large tracts of successfully cultivated forest-land."
Cultivation of Liquorice.—The State Department has published a collection of consular reports on "The Liquorice-Plant and its Cultivation in Various Countries." In England the plant is cultivated in a sandy, loamy soil, the chief requisite of which is that it should be deep enough to allow the roots to get a good length. A manuring is given the ground at planting, and the crop is gathered in three years and a half afterward. The plants do better, after the first season, in a hot, dry summer. They are not harmed by frost, or afflicted by any worm or parasite. The soil between the rows may be cultivated in other plants during the first two years. The grower plants a fresh crop in the spring of each year, and in the fall of the same year harvests the one of three years and a half's growth. In harvesting, a deep trench is dug, to expose the roots without injuring them, and the whole plant is carefully taken out. Liquorice grows wild in Spain, but requires eight years to reach maturity. Where it has once taken root, it is almost impossible to eradicate it. It exhibits many varieties, in the color of the bark, the proportions of saccharine elements and starch, and woodiness. The ground is pulled at intervals of three, four, or five years, according to circumstances, by digging trenches and pulling all visible stalks as long as possible, until they break. The plant is also found and gathered in Asiatic Turkey, Greece, Italy, Sicily, etc.
Condition of the Oceanic Abysses.—Mr. John Murray, director of the Challenger publications, presents, as a summary of results, that in the abysmal regions which cover one half of the earth's surface, and which are undulating plains from two to five miles beneath the surface of the sea, we have a very uniform set of conditions. The temperature is near the freezing-point of fresh water, and its range does not exceed seven degrees, and is constant all the year round in any locality. Sunlight and plant-life are absent, and, although animals belonging to all the large types are present, there is no great variety of form or abundance of individuals; change of any kind is exceedingly slow. In the more elevated portions of the regions the deposits consist principally of dead shells and skeletons of surface animals; in the more depressed ones, of a red clay mixed with volcanic fragmental matter, the remains of pelagic vertebrates, cosmic dust, and manganese-iron nodules and zeolitic crystals. It has not yet been possible to recognize the analogues of the deposits now forming in the abysmal regions in the rocks making up the continents, but it is quite otherwise in the areas bordering on the continents. Almost all the matter brought down to the ocean in suspension is deposited in this region, which is that of variety and change, with respect to light, temperature, motion, and biological conditions. It extends from the sea-shore down, it may be, to a depth of three or four miles, and outward horizontally from sixty to three hundred miles, and includes all partially inclosed seas. Plants and animals flourish luxuriantly near the shore, and animals extend in relatively great abundance down to the lower limits of the region. Here we find now in process of formation deposits which will form rocks similar to those making up the great bulk of continental land. Throughout all geological time the deposits formed in this border or transitional area appear to have been pushed, forced, and folded up into dry land, through the secular cooling of the earth and the necessity of the outer crust to accommodate itself to the shrinking solid nucleus within. The changes in the abysmal region, though great, are not comparable with these. The results of many lines of investigation seem to show that in the abysmal regions we have the most permanent areas of the earth's surface.
Rivers underground.—General R. Maclagan, describing the rivers of the Punjab before the Royal Geographical Society, remarks that, when the measure is taken of the water in a river flowing in a wide channel in soft soil, we do not at any time get the whole of it. We measure what is flowing above the bed, but there is more beneath. It sinks down till retained by some impervious stratum, and may become something like a second river flowing under the larger one which we see. It happens sometimes that the whole of a small stream sinks into porous soil and disappears, and, if a retentive stratum which it meets beneath comes out to the surface at a lower part of its course, the filtered water will pour out and become a surface river again, after the ordinary manner of streams. The experiment has been made on the Jumna of shutting off the whole visible river with a weir and turning it into the canals on either bank. A few miles below, the water trickles down into the bed again, and farther below there is a river as before. In most river-beds, like those of the Punjab, when they are left dry at the sides in the low season, water is to be got under the dry bed, as well as under the river, and usually at no great depth. Plenty of water can often be got by scooping a mere hole. The water-supply of Lahore is pumped from wells sunk in the bed of the Ravi. The water which sinks under the beds of these great rivers finds a wide field of hidden usefulness open to it when it gets beneath. Spreading abroad it meets, and helps to make, the great underground lakes and springs on which every country so largely depends. In the rainless tract around the meeting of the rivers in the south of the Punjab, this underground reserve of water is abundant and near the surface. In the distribution of the reserves there are great variations, according to the varying extent, form, and positions of the dividing walls of impermeable soil. The admission of water to new canals is commonly followed by the rise of the water level in wells within a certain distance on either side. Like the Mississippi, the Indus has in a part of its course raised its bed by the deposition of silt, so that for nearly four hundred miles it runs on an embankment made by itself, with long gentle slopes on both sides down to the general low level of the country. As along the Mississippi, the country is protected by dikes, and danger is apprehended in flood-times from crevasses.
Advantages of Sea-Voyages.—A medical writer in "Chambers's Journal" makes a warm recommendation of sea-voyages as a means of restoring health and strength. Among the chief advantages of a voyage are the perfect rest and quiet it secures. It is sure to take the passenger and keep him for a time out of the reach of all home annoyances and home drudgeries, and in many cases out of mind of them. He "has only to eat, sleep, and live. The strain of life is withdrawn. The wheels of existence move easily and with lessened friction. The incessant emulation, the keen anxieties, the worrying cares which beset modern commercial and professional life, are as things that have never been." Another important advantage lies in the pure atmosphere and the long hours of uninterrupted sunshine and air that may be obtained, particularly in the warm latitudes, where the passengers may almost live on the deck. Other advantages lie in the equability of the climate, which varies but little from day to day, with freedom from chill, the saline particles in the air, the abundance of ozone, and the high average range of the barometer at sea. Drawbacks are not wanting, and they consist principally in the monotony of life on shipboard, the paucity of amusement and distraction, and the occasional discomforts of severe weather. The longer the voyage, provided it fall short of producing intolerable ennui, the greater the gain to health. Hence a sailing-vessel may be preferable to a steamer. A sailing-vessel has the further advantage that its progress being less rapid, the changes of climate in north and south voyages are more gradual than on the steamer. Sea-voyages are recommended to those who are suffering from affections of the respiratory organs, and to those who are simply overworked and in need of rest and change. But "those far advanced in disease, from whatever cause, and those threatened with melancholia or other form of insanity, should avoid a long sea-journey."
Fauna of Deep-lake Bottoms.—Although vegetation appears to be absent, the fauna of the depths of the Swiss lakes, considering as at great depths all points over seventy-five or eighty feet below the surface, is rich and abundant. All the deep-water classes except echinoderms are more or less perfectly represented, and, while the number of species is not very great, the types are remarkably varied. The individuals composing this fauna are generally of smaller size than those of corresponding littoral species; they are more opaque than in the pelagic fauna, and are seldom colored, for they live in a darker medium than the sea; and they are poor swimmers, and have no organs of attachment. Some of these animals exhibit curious features of adaptation, among the most remarkable of which is the smallness or entire absence of the eyes in some species. But this defect is far from being uniform. Thus, while some animals may be found with good eyes at the depth of one thousand feet, others will be found totally blind at one hundred feet, where there is still some light. This curious fact is explained by Dr. Plessis by supposing that an emigration has been going on from an extremely remote period and is still continuing, from the littoral and pelagic regions to the deep zone. The species which have most recently performed this emigration have not yet lost their eyes, while the species that went down in earlier times have had them atrophied, and have transmitted the defect to their offspring, even in regions where there is still light. This view is confirmed by the fact that we can find in the same species individuals wholly blind, others with their eyes in the way of atrophy, and others with sound eyes, but small, according as they may have descended from stocks that have emigrated at different epochs. Another feature in which adaptation is shown is in the organs of respiration. There are larvæ of Diptera in the lake-bottoms having a tracheal system, like those of surface insects, opening without by stigmata; but instead of air these tracheæ are filled with water. The Lymneæ of the bottom exhibit the same peculiarity. Forel always found their pulmonary sac filled with water. But they resume their normal method of respiration with a surprising facility as soon as they are placed in contact with the air, and this without appearing to suffer in the least.
School-Life and Chorea.—Dr. Octavius Sturgis, of the Westminster Hospital, London, has called attention to certain events and circumstances of school-life which during the year have within his own experience given origin to St. Vitus's dance. A patient whom he has had under treatment, a girl eleven years old, had been observed, before her chorea began, to be "restless at night, crying out in her sleep, or sitting up and rambling about her lessons. She was always eager to be at her books, and would bring home school-work to be prepared overnight. Owing, however, to the pressure of domestic matters, the lessons were often left undone, and as a consequence the girl was 'kept in' and otherwise punished. For some time the strange movements of the child had been noticed at home, but nothing was thought of them, and no change was made in the routine of her life. It was ascertained that there had been no intentional unkindness either at school or at home. The child was anxious to learn, but too little allowance was made for her scanty opportunities of mental culture, and she thus fell into undeserved disgrace." The malady is one which develops slowly, and is very rarely recognized at the beginning. "The rule is that for weeks or for months what is really disease is taken for carelessness or perversity, and a condition which needs for its cure the utmost tenderness and allowance is thus aggravated by repeated punishment."