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122
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

A CURIOUS CASE OF ALBINISM.

Messrs. Editors:

There is recorded in one of the popular encyclopædias the instance of a Welsh family in which each alternate child was an albino. This is, without doubt, remarkable; but there is now living, in a rural village on the banks of the Hudson, the remnants of quite as interesting a family, composed of both colored and white negroes. The wonder is, that some one curious in research has not long since found them out, made them a study, and perhaps woven them into history.

Accustomed to see the members of this family daily, in my early life, they yet never ceased to be a new source of interest and astonishment; and, desiring to see them again, and to learn a few additional facts in regard to their history, I recently made a special journey to our native town—theirs and mine—expressly to meet them and talk with them once more.

The colored progenitors are still living, and are now probably between sixty and seventy years of age. Thirteen living children have been born to them, of whom five have been pure albinos, and eight just as pure representatives of the African type. The first birth was black, after which they regularly alternated, white and black, as far as the tenth, after which all were black.

According to the authorities upon this subject, albinos are usually males, yet four out of the five in this family have been females. The texture of the skin with this class is generally coarse and rough, but with these it has always seemed to me to be fine and delicate. The mental ability of albinos, as a class, ranks low, but it is not true in this instance—in fact, during my recent visit to them I was much impressed with their practical sense and quite correct use of language. In music the whole family, black and white, has evidenced native ability that is almost genius. A piano is one of the few household gods, and they have all been accustomed to play and sing from earliest childhood, without instruction, but very acceptably. Years ago, when the family was large, their clear, pure, though untrained voices awakened long echoes through the village streets, and even the most critical gossips found no fault with the melodious strains.

But three of the thirteen children are now living—one colored and two white daughters. The colored daughter has been married several years, and is the mother of a large family, none of whom, I am informed, bear abnormal traces. Both white daughters married colored husbands (their associations are, in fact, entirely with the colored people), and one is now a widow. She has been the mother of two black children, both of whom are dead. The other daughter has been married but a few months.

As children, playing harmoniously and affectionately together, the spectacle was very curious; I hardly know whether to term it one of pleasure or pain, but the abnormal and incongruous must, perhaps, always be productive of more or less painful emotions, even if there be no physical or mental suffering apparent in the object.

Those of the family that have died, whether black or white, faded young and with slight provocation; but the three now remaining appear healthy and strong.

As children, the albinos struggled with the sunlight, always placing both hands closely around the eyes, thus excluding every possible ray; but I observed, while with them recently, that they were far less sensitive to the light than formerly, and they so acknowledged. Because of their sensitive sight, Linnæus called this class of people nocturnals.

My purpose in this letter has merely been to call attention to this family, which has impressed me all my life as one of great interest. If any of my readers should desire further information, I shall very willingly, through the medium of this magazine, give names and address, or any facts in my own knowledge which have not been recorded in this communication.

J. S. H.
Albany, New York,, March 20, 1884.
 

 

INSECTS AND DISEASE.

Messrs. Editors:

In the January number of "The Popular Science Monthly" is a letter from A. G. Boardman, of Macon, Georgia, in which he describes the painful and mischievous results which follow when a "minute fly," called a "black gnat," flies into the eye and is killed by its secretions. He connects these consequences with the carrying of infection-germs by insects.

The true explanation of the intense pain and subsequent inflammation is, I believe, much simpler. Formic acid is a powerful irritant. It was originally obtained by pounding ants in a mortar, and distilling their remains. It is now produced much more easily, and has been shown to be secreted not only by ants but by other insects, and this secretion is apparently exaggerated when the insect is attacked or irritated. It is probably a means of defense. This being the case, such a fly, during its death-struggles amid the secretions of the eye, would emit a maximum amount of this irritant.

Cantharadin is another active irritant principle, emitted not only by the Spanish fly, from which it is named, but also by many other insects. Its irritant properties resemble those of formic acid, but are still more powerful; so much so, that 1100 of a grain applied to the outer skin of the body