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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/740

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and shows his teeth. When properly treated, the otter is easily converted into an affectionate and playful pet. He is a trifle larger than a cat, having a very similar head, only flatter, which is provided with a fine set of teeth, and he can use them with terrible force for his size. On his lip he has a lot of strong bristles. His eyes are small and have a watchful look about them; the neck is almost as thick as his chest; his body is long and round; the legs are very short, strong, and flexible; the toes webbed for a great part of their length, and the claws on them sharp. The tail is thick at the root, and tapers off to a point. It is very powerful, and is, in fact, his swimming machine. In color he is dark brown, as a rule, with the sides of his head and throat brownish gray. On land the otter moves with a peculiar loping gait. When he comes up out of the water, there is first a little swell on the surface, then his head appears, and if everything is quiet he silently crawls up on a log or bank. When startled, he makes one gliding plunge, and the water closes over him with scarcely a ripple.

 

The Value of Human Variation.—Mr. Francis Galton, addressing the Anthropological Institute recently, said that anthropologists ought to give more consideration to variety than they have hitherto bestowed upon it. They commonly devote their inquiries to the mean values of different groups, while the variety of the individuals who constitute those groups is too often passed over with contented neglect. An average man is morally and intellectually a very uninteresting being. The class to which he belongs is bulky, and no doubt serves to keep social life in motion. It also affords, by its inertia, a regulator that, like the fly-wheel to the steam-engine, resists sudden and irregular changes. But the average man is of no direct help toward evolution, which appears to our dim vision to be the primary purpose, so to speak, of all living existence. Evolution is an unresting progression; the nature of the average individual is essentially unprogressive. His children tend to resemble him exactly, whereas the children of exceptional persons tend to regress toward mediocrity. The Hebrew race, whose average worth is not especially notable, is mainly of interest on account of its variability, which in ancient and modern times seems to have been extraordinarily great. It has been able to supply men, time after time, who have towered high above their fellows, and left enduring marks on the history of the world. In a mob of mediocrities, the general standard of thought and morals must be mediocre, and, what is worse, contentedly so. The lack of living men to afford lofty examples and to educate the virtue of reverence would leave an irremediable blank. All men would find themselves at nearly the same dead average level, each as meanly endowed as his neighbor. These remarks apply with obvious modifications to variety in the physical faculties. Peculiar gifts, moreover, afford an especial justification for division of labor, each man doing that which he can do best.

 

The Interdependence of Life.—The doctrine of the dependence of life on external conditions, says General R. Strachey, includes life itself as an important concurrent agency in the general results observed. Thus, in order to supply the food and other requirements of animals, the presence of vegetables or other animals is necessary. To some animals, as well as to some plants, the shelter of forests or particular forms of plants is essential. Parasites need for their sustenance living plants and animals. The fertilization and hence the propagation of plants is a development of life not deviating in any particular direction from that which follows the hereditary principle. It rather appears that the existing face of nature is the result of a succession of incidents, unimportant in themselves, which by some very slight alteration of local circumstances might have been turned in a different direction. For instance, a difference in the constitution or sequence of the substrata at some locality might have determined the elevation of mountains where a hollow filled by the sea was actually formed, or the converse, whereby the climatal and other conditions of a particular area would have been changed, and a different impulse there given to the development of life. All that we see or know to have existed upon the earth has been controlled to its most minute details by