Popular Science Monthly/Volume 75/September 1909/The Progress of Science

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THE PROGRESS OF SCIENCE

TENNYSON AND THE SCIENCE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

The hundred years which began with the births of Darwin, Tennyson and Gladstone, and closes with the deaths of Meredith and Swinburne, has been a notable period in English history. Its two chief movements—the growth of science and the growth of democracy—are adequately represented by Darwin and Gladstone. Tennyson was the most widely read and perhaps the greatest poet of the period. The scientific man may be permitted to moralize over the world-wide extension and permanence of Darwin's contribution as compared with Tennyson's. Fifty years ago Darwin's name was almost unknown, whereas Tennyson's was a household word in England. A little later a man was not thought to have made himself ridiculous by saying that he sided with God against Darwin and the devil. Now Tennyson's reputation is being defended; no one would think of defending Darwin. The University of Cambridge lavishes its academic ceremonial on the man of science rather than on the poet. Tennyson wrote:

The man of science himself is fonder of glory, and vain,
An eye well practised In nature, a spirit bounded and poor.

But Darwin's personality and character are comparable with his services to science.

We may place the science of the nineteenth century before its poetry and Darwin before Tennyson; but to do so it is not needful to depreciate the poetry or the poet laureate. Indeed a scientific journal may well call attention to the fact that Tennyson was largely influenced by the science of his period and permitted it to become part of his poetry. Poetry based on the classical tradition can not make a wide or deep appeal to a world in I which it is no longer living; the future of poetry depends on the possibility of its adjusting itself to science and modern life, and Tennyson should receive honor for his efforts to this end.

The well-known verses of "In Memoriam" were printed nine years before the "Origin of Species." The geology may have have come from Lyell, but it was twenty years before Lyell would have been willing to accept the last verse of the stanza:

The solid earth whereon we tread

In tracts of fluent heat began. And grew to seeming random forms, The seeming prey of cyclic storms, Till at the last arose the man.

The doctrine of evolution is frequently used, as in "Maud," where the first verse is scarcely less significant than the second in the couplet:

As nine months go to the shaping an infant ripe for his birth,
So many a million of ages have gone to the making of man.

There will also be found in Tennyson an adequate conception of physical science and an attempt to put even its practical achievements into poetical form. Thus the age is told to

Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the sun.

and we even hear of

The nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue.

Scientific knowledge is assumed or taught continually in the pages of Tennyson from the first lines of the "Lady of Shalott," which reawakened the spirit of English poetry—

On either side the river He
Long fields of barley and of rye. . .

Willows whiten, aspens quiver
Little breezes dusk and shiver.

to his last poem with

 
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the kindly sphere

That once had rolled you round and round the sun.

Medievalism and modern life, classical reference and scientific simile are curiously commingled in Tennyson's poems. As one turns back to them "the tender grace of a day that is dead" does not fully return. They are not like science universal; but for their own epoch they were not only great poems, but also rendered a not insignificant service in the diffusion of the scientific spirit.

 

THE REMINISCENCES OF SIR FRANCIS GALTON

The greatness of the Victorian era is now represented among the living by men of science—Hooker, Wallace, Avebury, Lister, Huggins, Galton—all past eighty years of age. Sir Francis Galton—the "sir" is a tardy recognition on the king's recent birthday—now in his eighty-eighth year has done well to prepare the reminiscences which have been published under the title "Memories of my Life." He is typical of the great period in which he has lived and to the preeminence of which he has contributed his share. Like his cousin, Charles Darwin, he has had no profession, but with sufficient private means he has devoted his life to the advancement of science. There are certain marked resemblances in intellect and character between the two kinsmen—scientific curiosity reaching from obscure details to broad theories, patience combined with daring, royal simplicity and directness—which might be used to illustrate the theories of heredity in which both have been interested. Galton, like Darwin, studied medicine and like him was a student at Cambridge; but, unlike Darwin, he has lived in London and has taken an active part in the social and scientific activities of the time. He has been in intimate personal relations with the scientific and other leaders and a helpful friend to many at the beginning of their scientific work. The writer of the present note is one of a large company that owes him an unpayable debt for personal kindness and intellectual stimulation.

Galton—the Sir Francis does not come naturally—gives rather full details, as is becoming, of his parentage and early life. On both sides he was of quaker stock. He traces to inheritance his taste for science, for poetry and for statistics, and his endurance of physical fatigue. His formal schooling was not profitable. He says (it was before going to Cambridge): "In the spring of 1840 a passion for travel seized me as if I had been a migratory bird." He made a somewhat adventurous trip to the near east, and his travels were continued more seriously on completing his studies. He made two trips of exploration in Africa, in the second conducting an expedition of some 1,700 miles through unknown regions in the southwest. For this he was awarded one of the gold medals of the Royal Geographical Society in 1854, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society two years later.

In 1853 Galton married a daughter of the dean of Peterborough, the father of a gifted family, and thenceforth residing in London carried out the investigations and published the long series of important memoirs and volumes, the contents of which are all too briefly reviewed in the reminiscences. First appeared works on travel, then serious attention was given to meteorology and the Kew Observatory. In 1865 were published two papers on "Heredity Talent and Character"; and these were followed by the studies on variation and individual differences which are largely summarized in "Human Faculty." The work on anthropometry, on association and on imagery opened up new fields for psychology; the composite portraits and the study of finger prints are known to all. Nearly every one of the 183 publications contains a new idea or an ingenious application. The work on heredity and its application to eugenics, beginning before the publication of the volume on "Hereditary Genius" in 1869 and continuing to the present time, is of vast importance. Numerous articles on these subjects by Galton himself and by others who have received their inspiration from him have been published in this journal, and it is of course out of the question to give a summary in a brief note. There are no other problems so important as those to which Galton has given the name eugenics, and there is no one else who has done so much toward making straight the way for their solution.

 

THE EUGENICS LABORATORY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

Among Sir Francis Galton's unnumbered services to science has been the establishment of a laboratory for the study of national eugenics at the University of London. In cooperation with the biometric laboratory and the department of applied mathematics, also under the direction of Professor Karl Pearson, it is leading the way in a movement likely to become dominant in the course of the present century. National eugenics is officially described as "the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally." It is further stated that it is intended that the laboratory shall serve as a storehouse of statistical material bearing on the mental and physical conditions in man, and the relation of these conditions to inheritance and environment, as a center for* the publication or other lorm of distribution of information concerning national eugenics, and as a school for training and assisting students in special problems in eugenics.

The general scope of the work which has been undertaken may be gathered from an enumeration of the publications for which the laboratories of the University of London are responsible. Biometrica is a journal for the statistical study of the biological sciences published about four times a year.and now in the seventh volume. It is a storehouse of materials and methods, dominated naturally by the interests of the editor. In some ways it is an advantage and in some ways a drawback that Professor Pearson is a mathematician. The need of applying mathematical methods to variation and heredity should be emphasized and stress on the method has permitted the treatment and unification of varied material. But it is also true that so long as there are but few biologists who are mathematicians, there is danger that certain methods may become prematurely crystallized and these special methods may be regarded as an end rather than as a tool. In addition to Biometrica there has been established this year a Treasury of Human Inheritance, devoted to family histories, including diseases, physical traits and mental qualities. Then there are two series of memoirs, one entitled Biometric Series, the other Studies in National Deterioration, published at the expense of the Drapers' Company. The first of these contains chiefly Professor Pearson's more recent mathematical contributions to the theory of evolution, while the second includes so far three studies, one on the relation of fertility in men to social status and two on inheritance and infection in tuberculosis. Lastly, there is a lecture series, of which but one has been issued, and a memoir series from the eugenics laboratory. The memoirs include a study of the inheritance of ability from the Oxford class lists and of the relation between success in examinations and in after life; inheritance of insanity, the resemblance of first cousins and the inheritance of vision.

 

THE INHERITANCE OF VISION

The recently issued monograph from the Eugenics Laboratory on the inheritance of vision, which is by Miss Amy Barrington and Professor Karl Pearson, is of special interest, as it is one of the first attempts to determine the relative influence of heredity and environment, and announces the unexpected conclusion that there is no definite evidence that schools have a deleterious effect on the eyesight of children. Other results are that keenness of vision is an inherited character, that there is some relation between intelligence and good eyesight, but none between this and poverty or shiftless parentage.

The authors have not obtained data of their own, but work over results that have already been published. For heredity they discuss the work of Steiger, which has the drawback that the material is not a random selection from the population, but starts with abnormal cases. Allowing for this, they conclude that heredity is as strong in the case of astigmatism as for other physical traits, such as height or eye color.

For environment the authors depend largely on a study of 1,400 school children made by the Edinburgh Charity Organization Society. These children show a high degree of fraternal resemblance. The conditions of eyesight are reproduced in the accompanying diagram. It appears that emmetropia—which the authors regard as synonymous with normal vision, though there are good grounds for regarding the hypermetropic eye as normal—actually increases, from the age of six to ten, while astigmatism decreases. There is no appreciable change in myopia. Myopia, or near-sightedness, does increase from the age of ten to fourteen, though only to 6.5 per cent, of the children.

These figures do not agree with those of Cohen, Erismann, Risley and other investigators. Cohen, for example, found the percentage of myopics to be: in village schools 1.4 per cent., in elementary schools 6.7 per cent, in intermediate schools 10.3 per cent., in the gymnasium 26.2 per cent, and in the university 59.5 per cent. The fact is that the Edinburgh children, being from the poorest classes, probably did not greatly strain their eyes with reading and school work. The authors say: "The persistent use by the Germans

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The Distribution of Eyesight among Edinburgh Children.

 
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Dr. Ernest Fox Nichols
President of Dartmouth College, lately Professor of Physics in Columbia University.
 

of non-hygienic characters for their type. . . renders all comparisons of English and German conditions unprofitable." One might suppose, on the contrary, that this comparison would indicate that progressive myopia is due to environment rather than to heredity. Cohen indeed found that of 1,000 nearsighted children only 2.7 per cent, had a near-sighted father or mother.

Professor Pearson may be correct in urging that "the first thing is good stock, and the second thing is good stock, and the third thing is good stock," but it does not appear that this conclusion can be deduced from what is known in regard to defective eyesight. There is danger that an attitude such as Professor Pearson's may lead to neglect of those factors of the environment which we can improve. When he says: "Pay attention to breeding, and the environmental element will not upset your projects," he rather neglects to emphasize the fact that paying attention to breeding does not under what Galton calls "the existing conditions of law and sentiment" give us much chance to improve the racial stock in man. We can not breed a race immune to myopia, but we can refrain from producing a generation of myopic school children.

 

SCIENTIFIC ITEMS

We regret to record the death of Dr. R. E. C. Stearns, of Los Angeles, known for his work on the Mollusca; of John Morse Ordway, until recently professor of metallurgy at Tulane University; of Mr. Lefferts Buck, a leading New York engineer; of Dr. T. W. Bridge, professor of zoology at Birmingham, and of Dr. V. R. Matteucci, director of the Observatory on Mt. Vesuvius.

Professor R. C. Allen, of the University of Michigan, has been appointed state geologist of Michigan, to succeed Dr. A. C. Lane, who has become professor of geology in Tufts College.—Dr. C. Gordon Hewitt, lecturer in economic zoology in the University of Manchester, has been appointed entomologist to the Dominion of Canada in succession to the late Dr. James Fletcher.

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker celebrated his ninety-second birthday on June 30. His scientific career began seventy years ago, when he went out as surgeon and naturalist with Sir James Ross's Antarctic expedition.—Dr. C. Lloyd Morgan, Fit.S., known for his contributions to comparative psychology, has resigned the office of vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol.

The French Association for the Advancement of Science will meet this year at Lille on August 2-7, under the presidency of Professor Landouzy, dean of the faculty of medicine in the University of Paris. The gold medal of the association, which was instituted last year, is to be awarded to Professor H. Poincaré who will deliver a lecture during the course oi the meeting.

The heirs of the late Herr Heinrich Lanz, head of the Mannheim engineering firm, have given a million Marks for the establishment of an academy of science at Heidelberg.—M. Henry Deutsch has given 500,000 francs, and promises in addition an annual grant of 15,000 francs, towards the creation of an aerotechnical institute in the University of Paris. M. Basil Zakaroff has given 700,000 francs for the foundation of a chair of aviation in the faculty of sciences of the university.