Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/May 1897/Scientific Literature

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Scientific Literature.


The first volume of the Story of the West Series dealt with a class that is becoming smaller and weaker, the second concerns one that is growing larger and stronger.[1] The miner, however, is changing his characteristics hardly less rapidly than the Indian, hence it is none too early to put his picturesque past on record. Mr. Shinn takes the development of the great Comstock Lode of Nevada as typical of all the various phases of mining, from the scratching of the prospector to the stupendous feats of the engineer—as typical also of the leap into bonanza and the sinking into borrasca. The Mormons made the first notable efforts to settle the region that is now Nevada, but the growth of the mineral interests soon took it out of their control. In describing the placer mining and the first quartz prospecting that preceded the discovery of the Comstock Lode, Mr. Shinn introduces some of the restless pioneers that gave the mining camps of the period their rough and picturesque character. After the great discovery was made in 1859, came the rush across the Sierras which brought other choice spirits who figure in the early times of Virginia City. There were the industrious and unfortunate Grosh brothers; the bombastic, scheming, and ineffective Comstock who gave his name to the great Lode; drunken "Old Virginia," who christened Virginia City with an accidentally broken bottle of whisky; the wily gamblers and their often hard-working but reckless victims; enterprising traders and energetic teamsters; while the nationalities represented included Irishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Canadians, Mexicans, Indians, and Jews. Mr. Shinn shows us the trails almost impassable with snow or mud along which a constant stream of pilgrims was toiling, the crowded public houses, the conglomeration of huts, tents, and dug-outs that made up a mining camp, and the abandoned pits and shafts which often entrapped straying animals and men. Passing from these primitive scenes, he shows us the various phases of the great industry which mining has become in our western country. He tells us how the crude methods of treating ores used by the early prospectors were succeeded by the arrastra, and this by the stamp mill; how some great mechanical problems were solved, such as timbering the wide Comstock Lode and bringing the water supply of Virgina City through a fourteen-mile flume and seven-mile siphon from Hobart Creek, and how the freighters, stage-drivers, and lumberers made money by letting the mines alone and devoting themselves to dependent industries. Mining litigation and stock speculation each have a chapter. We have an account of the days of the great bonanza, in which the operations of Mackay, Fair, Flood, O'Brien, and others are described. Perhaps the greatest engineering feat that figures in the story is the Sutro Tunnel—the "coyote hole." as contemptuous opposition termed it. In conclusion we are told what a present-day mine is like, both above and under ground, and what sort of men now make up its community. The volume is illustrated with many fittingly picturesque views.

Judging from the account of Mr. Loomis, there is much enjoyment to be had incidentally from a scientific expedition to a strange land.[2] Merely passing over unfamiliar ground and observing its natural features, its inhabitants in their everyday aspect, and its ordinary sequence of events has its interest. But when the traveler is engaged in operations that are enough out of the common to appear somewhat weird to the non-scientific native and arouse his active curiosity, traits are brought out that do not appear to the ordinary visitor. A more realizing sense of the physical, political, and industrial condition of a strange land, too, is obtained when one has to accomplish a definite piece of work with the means that it affords than, when one is concerned merely with passing through it. Personal equation is quite as much a factor in books of travel as in scientific observations. How much we prefer the writer who jots down the points that we take an interest in and answers the queries that arise in our minds as we follow his narrative! The reader with scientific tastes especially will enjoy Mr. Loomis's book. It describes the journey of the United States Scientific Expedition to West Africa in 1889-’90, the preparations for viewing the eclipse of the sun, and the return. After crossing the Atlantic, stops were made at the Azores, Cape Verd Islands, Sierra Leone, and on the Gold Coast before the destination of the expedition—Saint Paul de Loan da—was reached. On the return, Cape Town, the diamond mines of Kimberley, Saint Helena, Ascension, and Barbados were visited. The book gives abundant evidence that our author, in addition to his ability to record matters of exact observation, is not without a realizing sense of the beautiful and inspiring in Nature. The volume is handsomely printed, and is copiously illustrated with reproductions of photographs taken by members of the expedition.

Another careful study of a special field has been added to the Criminology Series.[3] The habitual criminal presents a much more serious problem than the occasional offender. Criminal habits, like most others, are formed in youth; hence any diminution that can be secured in the amount of juvenile crime will tend to reduce the most troublesome class of criminals. At present the author's study, of statistics and other pertinent facts indicates that juvenile crime is increasing in both Europe and America. Its distribution agrees substantially with that of adult crime. While the bulk of juvenile criminals are boys, Mr. Morrison finds that "female offenders are rather more likely to descend into the ranks of habitual criminals than male offenders." He accounts for this largely from the fact that "females are, as a rule, later in being subjected to reformative discipline than males, with the ultimate result that this discipline is less effective when at last it has to be resorted to. It is therefore," he continues, "no real kindness to female children, when they exhibit symptoms of habitual delinquency, to allow these symptoms to develop unheeded." As to the kinds of crime committed by children, our author finds that petty theft and vagabondage are by far the most prevalent, mental and physical immaturity making it impossible for the young to be serious offenders property. It appears that most juvenile criminals are undersized and sickly, and many have a feeble intellect, bluntness of feeling, or unstable will. The operation of heredity has fastened these defects upon them, as a rule, so that they must be regarded as belonging to a decadent class. Besides the production of such disabilities the influence of parents often operates to rear young criminals through the conditions and associations of the home. From this examination of the production of juvenile crime our author turns to consider measures of repression. He finds that the plan of suspended sentence is very promising, especially with first offenders. A fine which may be paid in installments, or, in other words, a sentence to compulsory labor without imprisonment, also commends itself to him, but he has little faith in the efficacy of corporal punishment, in spite of the recent advocacy of it. Ordinary imprisonment, which he discusses in considerable detail, he also finds unsuitable for the young. The corrective institutions that have become numerous of late years seem to him to go to the root of the difficulty, as they aim to correct the defective physical and moral condition of the juvenile delinquent, and thus aid him to keep from future lapses. Mr. Morrison urges more intelligent supervision of inmates after their discharge from such institutions, which could be combined with conditional release before the expiration of the term of commitment. The book can not fail to be of service to all who have to deal with vicious tendencies in the young.

It is a long step from the time when prehistoric man fashioned his rude weapons and battled with the rhinoceros and cave bear to the era of such a civilization as that of the Akkads, depicted for us by Mr. Anderson.[4] To these early Chaldeans Babylon and Assyria were indebted for their cuneiform characters and much of their culture. At Lippur, 3800 B.C., they possessed an extensive library. Some of their works on astronomy, being unearthed three thousand years later, proved sufficiently new to be studied by the Assyrians. In art they showed more skill than succeeding nations, and also made considerable progress in science, being acquainted with the sidereal year and reckoning the latitude of stars. They used the clepsydra, lever and pulley, lenses, and possibly telescopes, since tablets have been found apparently referring to the four moons of Jupiter.

It is almost incredible that the name and memory of a nation so extensive as to include all of Asia Minor and northern Syria, and powerful enough to be courted by Egypt in the time of the great Sesostris, could be blotted out of history for two thousand years. Yet this is tho care in regard to the empire of Khita, and the story of her greatness has to be interpreted anew for us from the walls of Thebes and Egyptian temples. The Hittite inscriptions which are found in Asia Minor are as yet a riddle to scholars.

Other of the ancient civilizations happily did not fall into such oblivion, and concerning the distinctive features of each of these—Babylonia, Egypt, Phœnicia, the Hebrews, the Arabs, and ancient Persia—the author discourses ably and graphically.

  1. The story of the Mine By Charles Howard Shinn. Illustrated. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 272, limo. Price, $1.50.
  2. An Eclipse Party in Africa. By Eben J. Loomis. Illustrated. Boston: Robert Bros. Pp. 218, 8vo. Price, $4.50.
  3. Juvenile Offenders. By W. Douglas Morrison. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 317, 12mo Price, $1.50.
  4. The Story of Extinct Civilizations of the East. By Robert E. Anderson. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 213. Price, 40 cents.