Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/September 1889/Popular Miscellany

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Practical and Moral Instruction in Schools.—What shall be taught in the schools, says the New York State Superintendent, in his last report, is a difficult question to answer. The law leaves it to each locality to settle for itself. "The tendency of the times, particularly in the larger places, is to undertake too much. It ought to be remembered that it does not devolve upon the public schools to put into the child's head all that he will ever be expected to know. . . . It is better to create a desire for knowledge, and supply the implements with which to gain it." The trial of manual training is commended, and this, it is observed, need not be confined to carpentry work with boys and making aprons and dresses with girls. Free-hand or industrial drawing may train the hand and the eye more effectually than handling a saw or a needle. Every school in the State may undertake this without difficulty. The importance of a pervading moral influence in the school-room is insisted upon. "There is, unfortunately," the superintendent remarks, "but little done to stimulate patriotism among children in the public schools, or outside of them. A generation ago it was common to use the masterpieces of our national oratory for the purposes of recitation and declamation in the schools, and the resultant influences were of no small consequence in arousing and cultivating patriotic ardor in the rising generations. Then every child was required to take part in the exercises. But even this is no longer common. The modern fashion is to take pupils who give promise of special success as orators and readers and train them elaborately for show upon public occasions. The older custom might be revived with profit." The normal schools continue to grow in size and extent and to improve in the character and quality of the work performed; and they are gradually confining themselves more and more closely to their legitimate work, the preparation of teachers for the public schools.


Methods of Transportation.—The development of the art of carrying is considered by Prof. O. T. Mason in a paper in the "American Anthropologist" on "The Beginnings of the Carrying Industry." Twenty distinct forms of the art are enumerated by him as preceding the modern inventions of transportation by the power of machinery. Among them are carrying in the hand, which is universal; with both hands, when the load is divided and balanced; on the fingers—the method of the ancient royal cup-bearers; with a baldric; with the load hung to a belt—chiefly employed in carrying treasure; hung to the arm, as when a basket is used; hung from the shoulders, on the shoulder, on the scapula?, on the back, on the head, on the forehead or bregma, in pockets, by men combined, by hauling, by throwing or tossing, by caravans, with relays, and by couriers. Primitive commerce, says the author, "and all the carrying and running involved in primeval arts connected with food, shelter, clothing, rest, enjoyment, and war, were accomplished on the heads or foreheads, shoulders or backs, or in the bands of men and women; and civilization, while it has invented many ways of burden-bearing, finds also an endless variety of uses for the old methods. . . . It is, for instance, only a few years since the invention of the passenger and freight elevator began to supplant that caravan of hod-carriers who have been since the beginning of architecture carrying upward to its completion every wooden and brick structure in the world. . . . The back is the natural resting-place for the burden. The lowest savages know this, and inventive genius early began to devise apparatus for harnessing this part of the body. In Africa, on the Andes, in Mexico, throughout the civilized world, the peaceable carrier bears on his back the commerce of the race."


Mexican Porters.—Mr. W. A. Croffut relates, in the "American Anthropologist," that of half a dozen porters whom he saw resting at a Mexican railway station—"One had a sofa on his shoulders, strapped on I could not see how; another bore a tower of chairs locked into each other and rising not less than eight feet above his head; another carried a hencoop with a dozen or twenty hens, and others were conveying laden barrels and various household goods. They had come, they said, from San Luis Potosi, not less than fifty miles distant." The carriers were almost always in sight from the car-windows of the Mexican National Kailroad, and were declared by President Purdy to be its rivals. If it were not for them, the country would treble its railroads in the next year, and the roads would double their profits. "We are combating the custom of centuries. Those fellows carry on their backs to Mexico the entire crops of great haciendas far over the mountains."


Monthly Distribution of Incendiary Fires.—Mr. Franklin Webster has found that the prevalence of incendiarism is susceptible of being graphically represented systematically according to the season. The monthly curves for the four years ending in 1886 show that there are more criminal fires in January than in February; that the number increases through March, April, and May, falls off in June, and then increases again till November, to fall of: again in December. Taking the years separately, there appears to be an extraordinary regularity in the number of criminal fires in the first six months, while the chief irregularities and widest fluctuations are in the last half of the year; and in this period, criminal fires, taking the whole country, are excessive compared with the earlier months. In the farming districts they are more frequent when the greatest activity prevails, and are especially numerous in the time devoted to harvest; while, during the months when most of the great crops are growing, there is a lull in the reports of incendiarism. Mr. Webster concludes that incendiary fires for the sake of collecting insurance are rare as compared with other fires of criminal origin.


California's Thermal Springs.—According to a paper read by Prof. W. F. McNutt before the International Medical Congress, more than two hundred localities are known in California where waters of temperatures rising to 212° F., and charged with salts and gases of high therapeutic value, pour forth from the earth in great profusion. The number of individual springs in different localities ranges from one to thirty, each varying in composition, temperature, and possibly other as yet undetermined qualities. Although the character of these springs is known, only a few of them have, as yet, been carefully analyzed, and at still fewer have patients been under a competent observer's care. The seven aguas calientes springs at Warner's Ranch, fifty miles from San Diego, vary in temperature from 58° to 142°. An account is given of a wonderful little valley near Elsinore, containing altogether one hundred and eighty-six springs of hot and cold water, sulphur, soda, white sulphur, magnesia, iron, borax, hot mud, fresh water, etc. The Arrowhead hot springs, at an altitude of over two thousand feet, vary in temperature from 140° to 210°. An immense petroleum spring is mentioned as being some ten miles west of Santa Barbara, situated in the bed of the ocean, about a mile and a half from the shore, the product of which continually rises to the surface of the water and floats upon it over an area of many miles. At the thermal acid springs in the Coso Range, Inyo County, thousands of tons of pure sulphur cover the ground, which were deposited there in former times, when the water must have contained large quantities of sulphureted hydrogen. Owens Lake is a remarkable body of water, which is more than twice as salt as the Atlantic Ocean, Volcanic mineral springs are lugubriously situated in Death Valley, and Saratoga Springs at the south end of Funeral Range, south of Death Valley. Mono Lake, in many of its Jeatures, resembles the Dead Sea. Of Byron Springs, in Contra Costa County, one, called "Surprise," is both cathartic and emetic. Some of the springs are sparkling with carbonic acid; others contain sulphureted and phosphureted hydrogen; and there are hot mud-baths. Lassen County is full of hot (boiling) springs, having a temperature of from 200° to 212°.


Alpine Funerals.—A clew to the origin of the Irish wake and other funeral pomposities, which we are sometimes inclined to regard as relics of barbarism, may be found in the funeral customs of some of the Alpine regions. The circle of acquaintance of the more prosperous people of the villages often extends over miles of country; and the friends of a deceased proprietor will make long journeys to attend his funeral. The dictates of hospitality require that their physical wants be provided for; or, if not, they will meet at the inn and naturally have something very like a feast. In some districts, even before death occurs and the patient is in his last agonies, all around are informed of the fact and expected to make a ceremonial last visit. They enter the sick-room, take a long look at the dying man, and go their ways. After death, when the body has been prepared for burial, a table is spread covered with refreshments, and open house is held till the funeral. Whoever comes is invited to eat and drink. Two candles are kept burning by the coffin, and two women are employed to watch and pass their time in prayer. After the funeral a hot meal is given to the guests. In Carinthia, while perfect quiet and decency are preserved, the friends are invited to come in and say a prayer for the soul of their late friend, at stated hours, or during the whole time; and occasionally one of them repeats the prayer aloud, while the others join in. On leaving the room, each of the visitors is offered a piece of bread and a glass of wine or spirits, and is expected to accept. Such customs, perfectly simple and proper in their origin, may easily, when carried to excess or abused by unworthy persons or intruders, degenerate into the repulsive wake.


The Girl's Kitchen-Garden.—The Girl's Kitchen-Garden, a practical development of the Kindergarten in adaptation to English or American habits, is an institution for teaching girls from very childhood those things which pertain to good house-work and good housekeeping, by a series of illustrative lessons which are made as attractive as possible. It includes a graduated series of three courses. In the first course the girls are taught methodical daily work, by being taken step by step through the series of duties, to the accompaniment of lively songs, bright object-lessons, and little toy models for table-setting and bed-making. The second course includes washing, ironing, and housecleaning; in the third course, the parts of beef and mutton, pie-making, baby-dressing with dolly, and "waiting on the door." An English journal observes, respecting the possible utility of the institution: "One can not but notice how happy little girls are if allowed to dust mother's chairs or to iron the stockings and handkerchiefs; how deftly they manage the sweeping-broom with a handle about twice as tall as themselves; how delighted to have a small piece of dough and make grimy little editions of mother's tarts. And one can not but be struck, too, by the fact that as these same little girls grow older they lose this taste, and come to look upon domestic work as drudgery, preferring, when they leave school, any occupation but housework. Is not this, in a great measure, due to the fact that this natural womanly taste is neglected, and its cultivation left out of the girl's education, with the result that our girls go out as little maids-of-all-work with such profound ignorance and want of method that they are a torment to the mistress and a misery to themselves?" The kitchen-garden is intended to help remedy this evil.

Flirtation in Battak-Land.—The Battaks are a people of common origin with the Malays and resembling them in many respects, who live along the western coast and in the interior of the island of Sumatra. The district chiefs form a confederation, the strongest one among them residing near the Toba Lake. They have enjoyed the advantages of civilization, are good agriculturists, have an original system of writing, and take care to have their children instructed in such arts and knowledge as they appreciate; and yet they eat enemies who are taken armed, and criminals of a certain class, and adorn their tombs with obscene figures. As sentimental people in Western countries practice in a "language of flowers," so the young people of either sex among the Battaks correspond by means of a language of leaves. The leaves themselves have no significance, but their names, modified, perhaps, within the bounds of poetic license, indicate or rhyme with the word which the correspondent wishes to suggest. Besides leaves, corals, bells, ants, and the figures of all sorts of objects are employed for the same purpose. Dr. Yan der Tunk, who has studied the Battak language, tells of another method of sentimental communication among them, by means of quatrains, which are called by them endes or umpana. In these the first two lines are suggested by the language of the leaves, which is employed to suggest their catchword. They, however, have no particular significance, but lead up to the second pair of lines, in which is embodied the sentiment that the lover wishes to express. To be expert in the use of these endes, it is necessary to know a considerable number of them by heart. The young maidens are usually better versed in this lore than the young men, and there are often in the Battak villages Bome who make a business of supplying and interpreting them. It is one of the customs of the people that girls, as soon as they reach a marriageable age, shall leave the houses of their parents and go to live with some other unmarried woman (a widow or grass-widow). A strict surveillance is pretended to be kept over them, which is usually more honored in the relaxation than in the exact observance; and they are by no means debarred the society of young men during this period, nor ignorant of the art of flirtation. While occupied here in weaving mats and making tobacco-boxes and sirih-bags, they teach one another the endes which they have learned from their grandmothers and other old women, and for retaining which their memories possess enormous capacities.


Atmospheric Tides.—The question of the tides similar to ocean tides that may be created in the atmosphere by the moon has engaged the attention of many physicists since Newton. The longest series of studies on the subject is that of Eisenlohr, which includes thirty-two thousand observations distributed through twenty-three consecutive years. The author concluded that a certain equalization of atmospheric pressure is produced during a revolution of the moon around the earth. According to M. Maurice Guist, a later observer, the equalization is not brought about by the movement of masses of air, but by a kind of expansion of the atmosphere, which only sets in motion distinct particles of the whole mass. Since, in this way, the density of the air at any given point does not change much during a revolution of the moon, the temperature and hygrometric condition are no more influenced; neither the barometer nor other meteorological instruments, therefore, give proof of an atmospheric tide, although, in other points of view, the influence of the moon may be well marked by the instruments. The action of the sun must be still weaker than that of the moon. The equalization of pressure, in this view, takes place the more easily as the difference is less between the augmentation and diminution of density. These conditions exist when the regions of less and of greater density are near one another. Thus the equalization can take place at the quadratures rather than the syzygies; or when the sun and moon are 90° apart their influence is not cumulative as it is at the syzygies. This is fully confirmed by observations. Every culmination of the moon is preceded, for any meridian, by a barometric height inferior to the mean, and is followed by a superior height. The increase of pressure after the culmination is explained by the fact that the atmosphere, not being so much sustained by the moon, bears more heavily upon the mercury in the barometer, while the inverse phenomenon occurs previous to the culmination. These two inverse variations of pressure may, however, be masked by meteorological conditions, as when there is an ascending or a descending current. During the winter months the mean pressure in the hours following the culmination of the moon is greater than in the hours preceding it. A current of rising air could mask the phenomenon, but there rarely is one at this season. During the summer months the variation is less marked. Finally, if we take account of the action of the sun, we shall find that these differences are more accentuated at the syzygies than at the quadratures, corresponding with what has been observed above. The results of observation thus prove that there really exists an atmospheric tide. It is hardly sensible to our instruments, because we are at the bottom of the ocean, subject to the action of the moon and the sun, and because the elastic force of the air is constantly tending to equalization of pressures.


Art and Fun of the Eskimos.—Much as has been written of the Eskimos, says Mr. E, F. Payne, in a paper read before the Canadian Institute, we find in almost every writing something new to interest us. Mr. Payne's own essay bears out the assertion. In building their igloos the Eskimos take advantage of the tendency of the snow to drift on the southeastern sides of the hills, so that the author, on visiting a village after a snow-storm, was struck with its resemblance to a lot of mole-hills. Nothing could be seen but a little snow thrown up on each side of a hole by which a passage led to the igloo; but, on a nearer approach, windows could be seen a little below the surface, from which the snow had been removed. Upon entering some of those igloos, passageways were found cut through the drifted snow, so connecting the huts as to give the appearance of an underground village. The people are not destitute of the art-sense, but have an inborn love of sketching, and are proficient in carving. Good models of kyacks, animals, and birds in ivory are made, especially on the north side of the strait, where the artists vie with one another in trying to make the smallest models. The art of drawing is confined for the most part to describing figures on the level surface of the snow, either with a piece of stick, or in larger figures with the feet. In several instances correct drawings of their own people were made by slowly moving along with the feet close together, and afterward dexterously adding details with one foot. Perspective was a great mystery to them; and even those who were accustomed to look daily at the pictures on the walls of the author's house could not understand it. Involuntarily their hands would steal up to the picture and feel for the objects that seemed to project; while other persons would shift their heads to look behind screens or doors in the picture. Amusements are few, and only one or two excite interest. Throwing the harpoon has the greatest attraction for the men, and wrestling and running are occasionally practiced till the weaker side loses interest. Foot-ball was played with the blown bladder of a walrus covered with leather. "Men, women, and children all took part in it, and no quarter was allowed. Here a woman, carrying her child on her back, might be seen running at full speed after the ball, and the next moment she might be lying at full length with her naked child floundering in the snow a few feet beyond her. A minute later the child would be again in its place, and nearly choking with laughter she would be seen elbowing her way after the ball again. Boys make small spears and throw them at marks; and girls have dolls and keep them till they are married, and they play at housekeeping and going a-visiting just like United States girls.


The Otter at Home.—The otter, as he may be seen sunning himself on a tree-trunk, looks like a large cat which has been thrown into the water and crawled out. Some people think that the fur of the otter throws the water off like the feathers on a duck's back. That is not the case; his fur protects his body in a different way. Any one who has seen a water-rat come up on a bank after a dive will have a good idea of the general appearance of the otter's fur. Now he gives his coat a shake and combs his fur a bit with his short, webbed feet. His head looks for the moment just like that of an infuriated tiger in miniature, as, with ears drawn close to his head, he snarls and shows his teeth. When properly treated, the otter is easily converted into an affectionate and playful pet. He is a trifle larger than a cat, having a very similar head, only flatter, which is provided with a fine set of teeth, and he can use them with terrible force for his size. On his lip he has a lot of strong bristles. His eyes are small and have a watchful look about them; the neck is almost as thick as his chest; his body is long and round; the legs are very short, strong, and flexible; the toes webbed for a great part of their length, and the claws on them sharp. The tail is thick at the root, and tapers off to a point. It is very powerful, and is, in fact, his swimming machine. In color he is dark brown, as a rule, with the sides of his head and throat brownish gray. On land the otter moves with a peculiar loping gait. When he comes up out of the water, there is first a little swell on the surface, then his head appears, and if everything is quiet he silently crawls up on a log or bank. When startled, he makes one gliding plunge, and the water closes over him with scarcely a ripple.


The Value of Human Variation.—Mr. Francis Galton, addressing the Anthropological Institute recently, said that anthropologists ought to give more consideration to variety than they have hitherto bestowed upon it. They commonly devote their inquiries to the mean values of different groups, while the variety of the individuals who constitute those groups is too often passed over with contented neglect. An average man is morally and intellectually a very uninteresting being. The class to which he belongs is bulky, and no doubt serves to keep social life in motion. It also affords, by its inertia, a regulator that, like the fly-wheel to the steam-engine, resists sudden and irregular changes. But the average man is of no direct help toward evolution, which appears to our dim vision to be the primary purpose, so to speak, of all living existence. Evolution is an unresting progression; the nature of the average individual is essentially unprogressive. His children tend to resemble him exactly, whereas the children of exceptional persons tend to regress toward mediocrity. The Hebrew race, whose average worth is not especially notable, is mainly of interest on account of its variability, which in ancient and modern times seems to have been extraordinarily great. It has been able to supply men, time after time, who have towered high above their fellows, and left enduring marks on the history of the world. In a mob of mediocrities, the general standard of thought and morals must be mediocre, and, what is worse, contentedly so. The lack of living men to afford lofty examples and to educate the virtue of reverence would leave an irremediable blank. All men would find themselves at nearly the same dead average level, each as meanly endowed as his neighbor. These remarks apply with obvious modifications to variety in the physical faculties. Peculiar gifts, moreover, afford an especial justification for division of labor, each man doing that which he can do best.


The Interdependence of Life.—The doctrine of the dependence of life on external conditions, says General R. Strachey, includes life itself as an important concurrent agency in the general results observed. Thus, in order to supply the food and other requirements of animals, the presence of vegetables or other animals is necessary. To some animals, as well as to some plants, the shelter of forests or particular forms of plants is essential. Parasites need for their sustenance living plants and animals. The fertilization and hence the propagation of plants is a development of life not deviating in any particular direction from that which follows the hereditary principle. It rather appears that the existing face of nature is the result of a succession of incidents, unimportant in themselves, which by some very slight alteration of local circumstances might have been turned in a different direction. For instance, a difference in the constitution or sequence of the substrata at some locality might have determined the elevation of mountains where a hollow filled by the sea was actually formed, or the converse, whereby the climatal and other conditions of a particular area would have been changed, and a different impulse there given to the development of life. All that we see or know to have existed upon the earth has been controlled to its most minute details by the original constitution of the matter which was drawn together to form our planet. The character of all inorganic substances, as of all living creatures, is only consistent with the actual constitution and proportion of the various substances of which the earth is composed. Other proportions than those present in the constituents of the atmosphere would have required a different organization in all air-breathing animals, and probably in all plants. Any considerable difference in the quantity of water, either in the sea or distributed as vapor, must have involved corresponding changes in the constitution of living creatures.


The Medium of Electro-magnetic Action.—It was decided by experiment, during 1888, according to Prof. G. F. Fitzgerald, in the British Association, that electro-magnetic action takes place, not at a distance, but through an intervening medium. The experiments were made by Hertz in Germany, who observed the interference of electromagnetic waves quite analogous to those of light, and proved that electro-magnetic actions are propagated in air with the velocity of light. "By a beautiful device Hertz has produced rapidly alternating currents of such frequency that their wave-length is only about two metres. I may pause for a minute to call your attention to what that means. If they vibrated three hundred thousand times a second, the waves would be each a kilometre long. This rate of vibration is much higher than the highest audible note, and yet the waves are much too long to be manageable. We want a vibration about a thousand times as fast again, with waves about a metre long. Hertz produced such vibrations, vibrating more than a hundred million times a second." While this rate is too slow for visibility or light, and the vibrations are also inaudible, the experimenter was able to detect them by resonance. He constructed a circuit whose period of vibration for electric currents was the same as that of his generating vibrator, and "was able to see sparks, due to the induced vibration, leaping across a small air-space in this resonant circuit." By this combination—of a vibrating generating circuit with a resonant receiving circuit—which the author had recommended at the Southport meeting of the Association to be used for this very investigation, Hertz was able to observe the interference between waves incident on a wall and the reflected waves. The phenomenon is the same as what are known as Lloyd's bands, in optics, which are due to the interference between a direct and a reflected wave. "It follows, hence, that just as Young's and Fresnel's researches on the interference of light prove the undulatory theory of optics, so Hertz's experiment proves the ethereal theory of electro-magnetism. It is a splendid result. Henceforth I hope no learner will fail to be impressed with the theory—hypothesis no longer—that electro-magnetic actions are due to a medium pervading all space, and that it is the same medium as the one by which light is conducted."


Washing Men and Children by Machinery.—One of the latest inventions in sanitation is machinery for personal washing. A French colonel, according to Mr. Edwin Chadwick, ascertained that he could wash his men with, tepid water for a centime, or one tenth of a penny a head, soap included. The man undresses, steps into a tray of water, and soaps himself, when a jet of tepid water is played upon him. He then dries and dresses himself in five minutes, against twenty minutes in the bath, and with five gallons of water against seventy in the usual bath. In Germany they have an arrangement under which half a million of soldiers are regularly washed. By an adaptation of apparatus to the use of schools, a child may be completely washed in three minutes.


Modern Deterioration of Eye-sight.—Dr. R. Brudenell Carter, when questioned about the causes of modern deterioration of eyesight, replied that the circumstances of civilization are unfavorable to the cultivation of eye-sight. We are not as dependent on keenness of vision as our ancestors were. Much of the work of dwellers in towns is done upon objects close to them, from which they obtain large retinal images, whence they become comparatively insensible to small ones. They often work by defective light, and are thus driven to approach the object still more closely; and it is by such approximation that the malformation which produces short sight is mainly brought about. The increase of the malformation is provided by itself: "structurally it is handed down to posterity, and mechanically it is increased by the practice which it compels of turning the eyes inward to combine upon a very near point." Among the consequences of short-sightedness are failure to develop the power of observation; blindness to the expression of the human face; an acuteness expending itself upon details with but a restricted power of grasping principles. The remedies proposed for the defect include testing of visual power and limitations of tasks to capabilities, and, in reading matter, large type with the upper part of the letters cut with particular clearness.


A Tame Gorilla.—An English trader at Ngove, on the southwest coast of Africa, Mr, J. J. Jones, has had for some time a young female gorilla whose docility is most remarkable. Jeannie, as the baby gorilla has been named, sleeps with her master, and follows him wherever he goes, weeping like a child if left behind. She recently accompanied him on a journey of twenty miles or more, walking all the way. She has acquired many civilized tastes and habits, and will drink tea, ale, brandy, etc., out of a cup or glass, displaying the utmost carefulness not to break the vessel. She will, in fact, do almost anything her master wishes, and is surprisingly intelligent and affectionate. This is by no means a solitary instance of the facility with which young gorillas can be tamed. The experience of others who have lived in the Fernand Vaz corroborates this statement as to their tractable disposition when treated with kindness, as well as the distress they exhibit if scolded for misconduct.


Proposed Storage of Nile Floods.—Mr. Cope Whitehouse presented before the British Association at Bath a plan, which he has been advocating for several years, for storing the surplus waters of the floods of the Nile in the depression called the Raian basin—which he believes to be the site of ancient Lake Moeris—to be drawn off again to irrigate the land of Egypt in the dry season. He computes that a reservoir capable of supplying low Nile with 50,000,000 cubic metres of water a day for 100 days can be made for £500,000. The canal of escape for the excess of the Nile flood, to be used as the canal of supply and discharge, can be opened in 300 days, by the excavation and handling of 3,000,000 cubic metres of sand, clay, and soft rock. The area and productive wealth of Egypt would be increased by more than one third. No burden would be imposed upon the present tax-payers. The works would be mainly the utilization and restoration of dikes, canals, and physical characteristics in actual use for the same purpose during 2,000 years, and, in part, in continuous operation from b. c. 1800 to the present time.