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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/151

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

wonderful properties. Distilled spirits came into use in London in 1450, and had to be prohibited in 1494. Michael Savonarola produced a treatise on making the water-of life in the fifteenth century, which became a standard authority on the subject, and was followed by the work of Matthioli de Sienna. These books gave the start to brandy making in Italy, whence the trade extended to France. About 1520 the Irish usquebaugh began to acquire reputation in Eng. land. Before 1601, "brand-wine" had begun to be distilled in the Low Countries from apples, pears, and malt; and in that year an ordinance was passed at Tournay forbidding the sale of the liquor except by apothecaries, partly "because of the dearness of corn, and partly because of the drunkenness which this cheap brand-wine caused, to the great prejudice not alone of homes and lives, but to the extreme danger of the souls of its drinkers, many of whom had died without confession." The art of extracting alcohol from other substances, was gradually discovered, and liquors of various names came into use. The trade grew great, and the present century has seen a new development of it in the general application of the art of "doctoring" liquors, or adulterating.

 

Are there Catastrophes?—Read Mr. J. H. Kerry-Nichols's account of one only of the many things that took place in New Zealand on a June day only about a year ago: "The most remarkable feature in the same line of volcanic action was the extraordinary convulsion which had changed the whole conformation of the country around Rotomahana, and had transformed the hot, green lake with its marvelous terraces into a roaring crater, from which rose a column of steam nearly a mile and a quarter in diameter, that ascended in the form of a cumulus cloud to a height of thirteen thousand feet, and nearly a mile in width. Thus in the brief space of four hours this delightful fairy-land was transformed into a condition suggestive of a scene in Dante's 'Inferno.' The spot where the white terrace formerly stood had been occupied by a crater, forming a kind of horseshoe bay, and from this a column of steam rose and mingled with the general mass. The site of the Pink Terrace, once on the western shore of the lake, now stood a quarter of a mile from the margin of the present crater, in the midst of a mass of boiling mud black and brown in color, with seething pools of steaming water or liquid mud, which was sometimes cast up into fumaroles, ejecting steam and vomiting forth stones and mud, with a noise like the roar of innumerable steam-engines."

 

Persian Astrologers.—The monajem, or astrologer, is a power in Persia. lie is recognized as a man of science, a member of a learned profession. The chief astrologer is a high court official, from whose ruling there is no appeal, for his decisions are based upon knowledge that is communicated directly from the stars. Thus, if he decrees that the Asylum of the Universe must not start on a hunting expedition on Thursday, but that half an hour after midnight on Saturday will be the fortunate hour, he is able to give irrefragable reasons for his conclusions by showing that Saturn is in the ascendant in the one case, while on Saturday night, at the precise time mentioned, there will be a happy conjunction of Venus. If another astrologer is consulted, he will give the same story. Every hour in the day, and every day in the year, is thus worked out as fortunate, indifferent, or unlucky in the astrologer's Books of Fate. Besides these calendars, they have as their stock in trade a plumb-line, a level, a celestial sphere, and an astrolabe. The astrolabes are in the form of a gigantic watch, and are often beautifully made. Every large town contains at least two astrologers, and they are very far from being poor. A Persian may find an astrologer very useful, especially if he be an officer, and desire to evade some responsibility. Thus, suppose a provincial governor is ordered to the capital, and that he does not want to go, what more powerful reason for delay in starting than to reply that he is waiting for a fortunate hour, and what easier than to induce the astrologer to fail to find one? In the mean time, the officer has time to administer the necessary bribes at court, and the storm blows over. Istikhara, tossing up, or the drawing of the lot, is done with a rosary. A bead is grasped at hap-hazard, "Good," "Bad,"