Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/May 1897/Fragments of Science

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Fragments of Science.

Horticultural Extension Schools.—Experiments in methods of extension teaching as applied to horticulture have been made by Prof. L. H. Bailey in connection with the Cornell University Experiment Station, through itinerant or local experiment, readable expository bulletins, the itinerant horticultural school, elementary instruction in rural schools, and correspondence and reading courses. The greatest good as yet accomplished seems to have come through the bulletins. These have taken the form of surveys of the status of certain industries, with especial attention given to floriculture and ornamental gardening. Besides the consecutive teaching of horticultural schools, Nature study and object lessons were taught in a series of schools, with the object, besides imparting specific horticultural information, of awakening closeness of observation and careful reasoning from it on the part of the attendants. Observation lessons constituted one of the most useful exercises in connection with these schools. Small objects, like leaves or roots or flowers or seeds, were put in the hands of all the attendants, and after they had examined them for a few minutes the instructor began to ask questions concerning them. This exercise drilled every participant in observation and in drawing proper inferences from what he saw, and was productive of the greatest interest and good. Such schools serve better as the culmination of a series of extension efforts than as a primary or preliminary means of awakening the rural communities. Another series of lessons had the determination of the manner in which pupils could be reached by means of object-lesson teaching, and the amount of interest they would be likely to manifest in agricultural matters in case it should ever be found desirable to introduce such teaching as a part of the distinct school work. The conclusion is drawn by Prof. Bailey, from this experimental work, that the farmers, as a whole, are willing and anxious for education. They are difficult to reach, because they have not been well taught, not because they are unwilling to learn.

 

Effect of Veils on Eyesight.—In experimenting upon the effect of the wearing of veils upon the eyesight. Dr. Casey A. Wood, of Chicago, selected a dozen typical specimens of veils and applied the ordinary tests of ability to read while wearing them. These tests showed that every description of veil affects more or less the ability to see distinctly, both in the distance and near at hand. The most objectionable kind is the dotted veil. Other things being equal, vision is interfered with in direct proportion to the number of meshes per square inch. The texture of the veil plays an important part in the matter. When the sides of the mesh are single, compact threads, the eye is much less embarrassed than when double threads are employed. The least objectionable veil is without dots, sprays, or other figures, but with large, regular meshes made with single, compact threads. Eve troubles do not necessarily result from wearing veils, for the healthy eye is as able as any other part of the body to resist the strain they impose upon it. But weak eyes are hurt by them, and prudence should teach not to strain healthy eyes too much.

 

Domestication of the Egret.—A resolution was adopted at the International Zoölogical Congress held in Leyden in 1895, favoring measures for the preservation and domestication of the egret. Under present conditions the bird, so highly prized for its plumes, is undergoing rapid extermination. M. J. Forest, the author of the Leyden resolution, is confident that the domestication of the egret herons will be found as practicable as that of the ostrich has proved to be. The little egret, or garzette, in particular, has already shown itself quite susceptible to the taming process. In a heronry established at Tunis in 1873, a flock of thirty young birds has increased to about four hundred. The establishment contains a pool and trees, and cost less than twenty-eight hundred dollars. It was stocked in the beginning with captured wild birds, whose disposition and capacity to breed did not seem to be affected by their captivity. The proprietor represents that he gets six or seven dollars a year from each bird, plucking the plumes twice a year, in June and October, besides the increase of the flock. The capacity of the large egret for domestication is not so well established; but a specimen of this bird, which had been captured wild and then tamed, was sent to the Jardin d'Avcclinatation in Paris from Guiana in 1853; and several travelers—Paul Marcoy, Thouar, the lamented Crévaux, and Ehrenreich—mention having seen in Paraguay and along the Amazon numerous domesticated birds, herons and grebes among them, living in the Indian villages on whatever they could find to eat there. Herons bearing ash-gray plumes are kept in some of the larger houses of Bagdad.

 

Inventing a Match.—The credit of the invention of chemical matches is claimed for various persons in different countries—for Friedrich Kamrer in Germany, Roemer and Preschel in Austria, Ironvi and Moldenhauer in Hungary, Ivan Worstakoff in Russia, Watt and Isaac Holden in England, and Charles Lauria in France. The one thing agreed upon is the date—1833. For Lauria the claim is made by M. Jacques Boyer that he thought about the matter in 1827, when he saw Gay-Lussac's hydrogen tinder box at Lyons in 1827, and had made a practical match before 1833. Immediately after witnessing Gay-Lussac's experiment he began to look for a fulminating powder which would enable him to realize the dream he had conceived, and while still in this search saw his professor of chemistry, Nicollet, produce the detonation of powdered sulphur and chlorate of potash. Then he thought that if he could incorporate phosphorus with this mixture he might produce the blaze he wanted. He had no apparatus but a few sticks of sulphur-tipped pine and some glass tubes. He had got some parcels of sulphur and chlorate from the college laboratory at Dole, and having obtained a little phosphorus from a pharmacy, he proceeded to melt this mixture. As he was inexperienced and awkward at the work, he suffered a number of accidents, in which his bed curtains proved readier to take fire than his matches. At last he dipped the end of one of his sulphured sticks into the chlorate slightly warmed. Some of the chlorate adhered, and, rubbing his half-finished match on the wall where a trace of phosphorus had found its way, the stick blazed up at once. Lauria called his comrades and the principal of the college to witness his achievement, and enjoyed a kind of triumph. He made a few improvements in his invention, added a little gum arable to his mixture to make it more adhesive, and had what is in principle the match of to-day. His fellow-students amused themselves with the matches. Prof. Puttenay made some for his own use, and they found their way into a café at Dole, but the effort to find a more general market for them did not succeed.

 

Young Animals at School.—A new theory of the sports of young animals put forth by Prof. Groos, of the University of Giessen, holds that they are a preparation for afterlife, for the adaptation of the faculties for the sterner purposes of maturity, and are in effect dependent upon the necessity of modifying instincts. The higher an animal may be in the scale of life, the author assumes, the more varied become its relations to surrounding things and the less suited to varying circumstances becomes a mechanical and rigid instinct. If, however, there is a period of youth during which inherited instincts may be used merely as a vehicle for redundant energy, an opportunity is afforded for modification and alteration of the rigid system. The instinct of a creature with practically no period of youth, as with insects, must be complete and ready for use. The mammal or bird, however, passes through a period of youth "during which it has no immediate duties to perform and is cared for by its parents. In this time it plays with its instincts, learns to fly or to run and jump, to recognize its kind, to distinguish between the palatable and unpalatable, to make and understand call notes or cries of alarm; in a thousand ways to suit each occasion with its action and deserve a place in the hierarchy of intelligent beings." The games and sports earliest to appear in animals and most universal are classed by Prof. Groos as those of experiment and curiosity. "Young creatures play with everything that attracts their attention. They try their teeth or their claws on every available object. They taste and smell, rush and tumble about, collect in heaps or scatter everything they are able to reach, and, indeed, make attempts on the unattainable. The greater the intelligence of the adult animal the more surprisingly the young animal treats its surroundings in the spirit of an empirical philosopher. A young monkey observed by a sister of the late Prof. Romanes discovered for itself that the handle of a hearth brush was screwed into a socket. It succeeded in unscrewing the handle with ease, and after long experiments discovered that only one end twisted in a particular direction would fit into the socket. Another young monkey, chained just beyond the reach of a fire, found out how to tear strips from a newspaper and roll them up into tapers sufficiently long to reach the flames. By some such fertile employment of curiosity the professor thinks that the ancestors of man may have gained their mastery over fire." Skill in flying is attained by considerable practice, and "in mammals the exercises of the young bear a definite relation to adult habit. Mountain-living creatures, like kids and chamois, continually practice standing jumps, springing vertically into the air. . . . Gazelles, on the other hand, which have to jump watercourses and gullies on the Veldt, confine their youthful enthusiasm to practice of the running jump. Similarly the play of tiger cubs with balls or with the tail of their mother, and the wrestling and mimic combats of other carnivorous young, all exhibit an instinctive bias by which the restless zeal of youth is disciplined for the real purposes of maturity."

 

Seals and their Pups.—A fur seal has none of the altruistic instincts of some other animals, for it will never feed any pup but her own. Not a very affectionate mother at best, she yet unerringly knows her nursling's voice, and he in turn learns to find her. When they meet and recognize each other at meal time, it is easy to see that they belong together. Her duty done, however, she lets it shift for itself till the next feeding time. She instantly knows any little hungry intruder that is stealing up to her to get a meal on the sly. She cuffs and bites, until the starveling, intimidated, slinks away to die. These orphaned younglings are the fruit of the indiscriminate "pelagic" sealing. Their mother being killed, and they unable to obtain another nurse, they perish by the thousands. A United States report estimates the number for 1896 at 20,331.

 

The Last Resting Place of Pasteur.—On December 26, 1896, the remains of Pasteur were borne to their final resting place, a crypt at the Pasteur Institute. On the stone is inscribed a sentence from his reception speech at the Academy: "Heureux celui qui porte en soi un dieu, un idéal de beauté, et qui lui obéit—idéal de l'art, idéal de la science, idéal de la patrie, idéal des vertus de l'évangile" ("Happy he who bears within him a god, an ideal of beauty, and follows it—an ideal of art, an ideal of science, an ideal of patriotism, an ideal of the Christian virtues"). Many men of science and thinkers of note, both French and foreign, were present, and deputations and wreaths were sent by scientific societies. A service at Notre Dame, where the remains had been reposing for the last fifteen months, was followed by the ceremonies at the crypt. M. J. B. Pasteur said to the council of the institute, in behalf of the family, "I intrust to you this tomb which we have raised to our father in this institute which he loved so dearly." Addresses were delivered by M. Rambaud, Minister of Education, and M. Baudin, President of the Municipality, and an address by M. Legouvé was read by M. Gaston Boissier.

 

Bachelor Seals.—The young male seals, commonly called "bachelors," are very much like the females in size and color. During the breeding season they are not permitted by the bulls to enter the rookeries, hence they herd together separately on the so-called "hauling grounds." Unlike their seniors, who in the "harems" are busy founding families, these young bachelors have no fixed place of abode, but range at will over a large area of ground, usually sand beaches near the rookeries. Known also as "killable" seals, they are driven from their haunts and killed with clubs at about three years of age, the time when their fur is at its best. Small four-year-olds and large two-year-olds, being about the same size as the bachelors, are also hunted. Among these herds may sometimes be found bulls from four to six years old, who, being too cowardly to assert themselves in the harems, are forced to keep company with these youngsters. Another mode of hunting them is called "pelagic sealing," which means killing them in the open sea with firearms, or with the spear and club. In order to digest their food, they lie sleeping on the surface of the water, and the hunter finds it easy enough to steal up in his boat and spear the defenseless animal. This is really wholesale slaughter, for the hunter indiscriminately kills whatever lies in his way, even the nursing mothers, thus leaving the pups to die of starvation.

 

Nationality and Scenery.—In the introduction to an article in the Deutsche Rundschau descriptive of the German landscape, Herr Friedrich Ratzel shows by a few well-directed allusions how the intrinsic character of the scenery of a region, even in its apparently most natural features, is affected by the nationality that occupies it, and reflects the character of that nationality. The allusions are local, but the principle they illustrate is general. A country with such a history as Germany's can have no purely natural landscape. The people and their land are the resultant of a long material development. When the Romans knew Germany—a barbarian region with few inhabitants—the works of man were less in evidence, and Nature prevailed. The effects of cultivation have worked in two principal directions: First, the woods are cleared up, the water is confined within limits, the habitations of men are multiplied and enlarged and made more durable, and new plants and animals are brought in. Then uncontemplated changes step in, which proceed of themselves from the works of cultivation. With the drying of the soil the climate is modified. The introduction of new plants and animals imposes new features upon the conditions of life. Where before only stretches of heath, moor, and swamp formed natural openings in the predominant forest, extensive woodless regions arise through the labors of man, from which the shade-loving plants and animals that were protected by the forest gloom disappear, and other inhabitants are at home in the cultivated fields. The variations in the particular shaping of these changes are more especially marked where the boundaries run through mountain regions. In the Saxon Erzgebirge the forests have lost all their wildness, and plantations of firs and oaks grow in regular order, all nearly of a height, with no trees towering into prominence, and the mountain has the trimmed and symmetrical appearance of a nursery. The brooks are tamed, dammed, and made to earn their right to be as the servants of the mills. Passing over the mountains and going down the Bohemian side, we are in the woods again, with the valleys free and irregular, and the brooks running according to their own will. The contrast is seen again, but less marked, in going up from Bohemia and down into Bavaria. Within Germany itself the garden-tilled plots near the industrial centers and the little rectangular holdings of the southwestern and middle districts, each distinctly marked off from its neighbor, and making the whole look like a party-colored board, impress one very differently from the immense fields devoted to single crops and the commodious barns of the north. Other differences may be seen on the upper Rhine, where the inhabitants of both sides were originally the same people, but have been subjected to different influences in the course of their history. The French have made their marks all over the Alsatian territory and in the towns of quite another character from the native German aspects of the Baden side.

 

A Survival of Torture.—Although the practice of torture to extract evidence was formally abolished in 1789, the spirit of the Inquisition has not yet died out in the continental countries of Europe. This is shown now and again in criminal cases. But not the convicts only are treated with the utmost severity. The mere suspicion of crime is enough to make a man's life miserable. He practically loses all civil rights, and finds himself at the mercy of an interrogating magistrate with full power to extract a confession, by moral suasion if possible, by more forcible means if need be. Subjected to a prolonged and tortuous system of cross-questioning, the accused often completely break down mentally and confess at random whatever has been suggested to them, much in the manner of the trials for witchcraft in our own Puritan New England. A case creating quite a sensation in Paris some thirty years ago was that of a woman who under this fire of interrogation admitted having killed her newborn infant, two months even before the birth of the child. If the culprits are suspected of obstinacy in answering, all sorts of expedients are used to make them more compliant, such as making their diet unpalatable, or altogether withholding food and water, and penning up in close, dark quarters.

 

Prof. Cannizzaro's Jubilee.—The seventieth birthday of Prof. Stanislas Cannizzaro was celebrated on November 21, 1896, amid a concourse of the most distinguished scientists and other men of note of Rome. He was presented with a gold medal and a bust of himself in bronze, and received innumerable letters, telegrams, addresses, and pergamenas from the leading scientific societies of the world. Prof. Semeraro, Rector Magnificus of the Roman University, said in his address: "His greatest glory lies in the fact that most of the professors now teaching in Italian universities have been his pupils. The pressure of business as vice-president of the Senate and member of the Superior Council of Public Instruction, and many others, never were pretexts to him for overlooking the modest duty of a teacher." Hon. Galimberti, presenting him with the Grand Cordon of the Crown of Italy, said: "Your name is worthy of being joined with those of Galileo, Torricelli, Volta, and Galvani. To Emanuel Kant, who, in his absolute sentence, considered chemistry as a union of empirical knowledge, you replied half a century ago, pronouncing among the confusion of doctrines immovable ideas and true laws that render chemistry an exact science, for it lies now on mathematical truth." Cannizzaro replied in an interesting speech. Referring to the combination of the functions of teacher and investigator, he said: "Had I not been a teacher, my publications would not have appeared, and I should have continued to disseminate science of new carbon compounds. I bring here Lord Kelvin's example, who, in his last jubilee, spoke of the utility he had found by the continued conferences with his pupils."

 

Some Antipathies of Animals.—A number of very curious featuries in the antipathies of animals are pointed out in an article on the subject in the London Spectator. There are permanent hereditary antipathies, like those of cats against dogs, and purely instinctive, inexplicable antipathies, which are naturally the least common, but of which there are marked and definite examples. Of such is the disgust which the camel excites in horses. These animals "have been associated for centuries in the common service of man, and early training makes the horse acquiesce in the proximity of the creature which disgusts him. Otherwise, it is far more difficult to accustom horses to work with camels than with elephants, precisely because the repugnance is a natural antipathy and not a reasoned fear." They get used to the sight of an elephant, but the smell of a camel disgusts and frightens them. English horses that have never seen a camel refuse to approach ground where they have stood. For this reason a traveling menagerie was recently refused permission to encamp on a village green, although the people would have been glad to see the show, but because the presence of the camels would interfere with the customary use of the place for a market, by engendering difficulties when the next attempt should be made to drive horses upon it. Yet, at a performance of two bears in London, one of the horses of a four-in-hand almost touched one of them, without himself or any of the team showing any nervousness over the matter. The hatred of cattle for dogs is supposed to have been inherited from the days when their calves were constantly killed by wolves or wild dogs. But "why the horse not only does not share this antipathy, but, on the contrary, loves a dog, it is difficult to explain." The dislike of the cat family for dogs likewise probably dates from the time when the wild dogs hunted and destroyed their whelps. "There is much probability in this conjecture, for it is the dog, and not the wolf, which the tiger so intensely dislikes, and it is only the packs of wild dogs, not wolves, which would venture to kill a cub. Leopards, which naturally live in branches of trees, simply look on dogs as a favorite article of food; and the puma of the pampas, which inhabits a country where the wild dog is unknown, is also a great dog-killer. The dogs, on their part, seem quite aware of the difference of view on the part of the various cats; they will mob a tiger and hunt all tiger-cats. But they all seem to fear the leopard, and by nature to fear the puma, though in North America they can be trained to hunt it. It was recently noticed that a large dog, which found its way to a point opposite the outdoor cages of the lion-house at the Zoo, crept underneath a seat as soon as the puma caught sight of it, and exhibited signs of the utmost nervousness and fear." The antipathies of most animals find a climax "in the common and intense horror of the poisonous snake."