Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/January 1878/Editor's Table



THE University of Cambridge, with much éclat, recently conferred the degree of LL.D. upon Mr. Charles Darwin. This circumstance has elicited much diversity of comment on the part of the press. Some maintain that the conferring of this honor is to be construed as a virtual indorsement of the doctrines that are associated with the name of this eminent naturalist; and they regard the action of the university as a triumph of the advanced biological school over the clerical and conservative party by which the university has been hitherto dominated. Others maintain that the proceeding is susceptible of no such interpretation, but that the degree was awarded simply in recognition of the important services of Mr. Darwin in the general field of natural history, regardless of those peculiar doctrines which have become identified with his name. There is probably truth in both views sufficient to make out a case. It is not to be denied that Mr. Darwin has done a great deal of valuable original scientific work as an observer that has enriched biological science, quite independent of the hypothesis that he has contributed so much to elucidate. But, on the other hand, it is pretty certain that, notwithstanding the extent of these merits and claims, Cambridge would not have spontaneously honored a man who has come to be the representative of all that is most obnoxious in the inexorable advance of modern science, unless his friends had vigorously bestirred themselves to secure the result; and from this point of view the action of the institution may be fairly looked upon as a victory of liberal ideas over the traditional narrowness, prejudice, and intolerance, which rule in the great seats of English learning. For; if Cambridge meant merely to grant its honor to a distinguished man of science, the question arises, "Why has she not done it long before?" Mr. Darwin's labors were widely known and thoroughly appreciated by the highest scientific bodies. He began his career as a naturalist at the age of twenty-two by joining the expedition of the Beagle, which went on a four years' exploring tour around the world. While absent and at the age of twenty-five, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he contributed an elaborate volume narrating his discoveries in natural history and geology, which was issued upon his return, and separately republished in 1845. Other important works followed; in 1853 the Royal Society awarded to him the Royal Medal, and in 1859 he received the Wollaston Medal from the Geological Society. The matured results of all his natural history studies were embodied in a volume on "The Origin of Species," published in the same year. Aside from any question of the truth of the hypothesis there presented, or any question as to the exclusiveness of Mr. Darwin 's claims in originating it, there can be no doubt that this book has proved one of the most powerful provocatives of inquiry that have appeared in modern times. If, therefore, Cambridge had been animated with a true spirit of liberal scholarship, it is impossible to see why she did not accord the doctorial honor to Mr. Darwin fifteen or twenty years ago.

It would seem that the current notion that these great schools are influenced by just and generous ideals in the bestowment of their honorary degrees is very much of an illusion. They exhibit little alacrity in detecting merit, and signalizing talent in its early and decisive displays, when their recognition would be of some service to the recipient. They wait until they get more than they give by the transaction. When a man of intellectual power has fought his way to fame, and become indifferent to factitious honors, or when a man of force has w r on some notoriety that makes him conspicuous, so that everybody is watching and talking about him, the universities are then ready enough to avail themselves of the advantages that may arise from their association with his name. Cambridge was probably reluctant in this particular case, as its short-sighted authorities probably thought that they might lose more than they should gain by crowning Darwin with the doctorate; but, as remarked by the editor of Nature, the university seemed conscious of the honor Mr. Darwin was conferring upon it, and the enthusiasm of the performance will no doubt satisfy the authorities that they have done a good stroke of business, as coming generations will assuredly view the matter in a very different light from the way it has been viewed in the past.


The phenomena of sun-spots are now familiar: multitudes of people have seen them, and everybody has read about them. It is well known that the surface of the sun is not that uniform disk of light that it was formerly supposed to be, but abounds in gulfs, dark chasms, up-rushing streams of flaming gases, and lurid prominences, sometimes 100,000 miles high. But these striking effects are not uniform: the sea of solar fire, like our own oceans, is sometimes violently agitated and sometimes quiet. The spots are variable, being now many and enormous in size, and again few and small. This periodicity, moreover, is proved to be regular. Prof. Schwabe, of Dessau, discovered that, instead of being uniform in number and intensity from year to year, spots increase and decline at definite rates for a term of years. As a result of 9,000 observations, during which he discovered 4,700 groups, he traced three complete oscillations from maximum to minimum, which he estimated to take place in about ten years. Prof. Wolf, of Zurich, went into an exhaustive history of the subject, and, by collating a vast number of observations and records from 1750 to 1860, he verified Schwabe's general results, but showed that the period of oscillation is about eleven years. His data, scattered through a course of 140 years, comprehended observations in the seventeeth century made on 2,113 days; in the eighteenth century, on 5,490 days; and in the nineteenth century, on 14,860 days, or a total of 22,463 days. On this broad basis of observation, made with no reference to any hypothesis of variation, it is established that the solar energy changes in intensity by a regular law of rise and fall from a maximum to a minimum of effect; and that the maximum, or greatest activity, coincides with the period of violent perturbation when there is the greatest number of eruptions of heated matter from below, and the most conspicuous display of sun-spots and prominences; while at the minimum periods these manifestations are greatly reduced, or almost entirely wanting.

It is now an admitted fact of science that the earth is dependent upon the sun for the chief portion of the energy by which terrestrial effects are produced. With the exception of the ebb and flow of the tides, all the forms of earthly power are recognized as having, directly or indirectly, a solar origin. Wind-power, water-power, steam-power, the activities of organic growth, all animal energy, and the great phenomena of changes in the crust of the globe, due to the circulation of waters through atmospheric agency, are caused by the forces of solar radiation. But if the solar energy is variable, the question naturally arises, "Is that variation manifested in terrestrial effects, and, if so, in what manner, and to what extent?" The subject is vast and new, but the indomitable energy of modern scientific inquiry has rapidly accumulated evidence which answers the first question in the affirmative, and gives instructive replies to the others. The sun-spots, for thousands of years unknown, and for centuries after they were known regarded as mere matters of curious and idle speculation, are now linked indissolubly to the whole scheme of activity which we observe upon earth, and of which we are ourselves a part. Even the famines by which nations are periodically desolated seem to be connected with this intermittence of solar energy. The evidence upon the subject has been summed up in an able and impressive paper contributed by Messrs. Lockyer and Hunter to The Nineteenth Century, and which will be found in full in No. VIII. of The Popular Science Supplement. We can here do little more than indicate the remarkable connections that have been disclosed between the variations of solar activity and resulting terrestrial phenomena:

1. The first coincidence observed was in the field of terrestrial magnetism. "A freely-suspended magnet, although it points in one direction, is nevertheless, within small limits, always in motion. Certain of these motions depend, as is well known, upon the hour of the day; but the magnet is also liable to irregular, abrupt fluctuations, which cannot be connected with the diurnal oscillations. While Hofrath Schwabe was engaged in delineating the sun-spots, Sir Edward Sabine was conducting a series of observations with regard to these spasmodic affections of the needle, and he found that such fluctuations are most frequent in years of high sun-spot activity." Nearly a hundred years ago, Van Swinden had suggested a periodicity in these irregular magnetic movements. Gauss, Arago, Lamont, and Gautier, pursued the research, and established the existence of a cycle of magnetic variation having an eleven year period, the maxima and minima agreeing with the maxima and minima of sun-spot activity. Schiaparelli and Broun have confirmed these results, and the latter observer concludes that, while the sun-spot activity is not an exact measure of magnetic action, "each is a distinct result due to the same cause." This disturbance is so great that, in years of maximum sun-spots, the working of the telegraph has been powerfully interfered with.

2. Connected with these effects there have been observed corresponding disturbances of electrical activity. A magnetic storm never rages without various accompanying signs of electrical excitement. These are seen in auroral displays that in their varying intensities conform to the magnetic cycles. Prof. Loomis, of Yale College, after a critical study of the subject, "concluded that the auroras observed in Europe and America exhibit a true periodicity closely following the magnetic periods, but not perfectly identical with them;" and Mr. Charles V. Walker, telegraphic superintendent, holds as an established fact that "earth-currents, disturbed magnetometers, and aurora, are parts of the same phenomenon."

3. There is evidence of thermometric variations, or fluctuations of temperature, in periods coinciding with the sunspot cycles. The observations in this case are, however, much complicated and obscured by the agency of the atmosphere, which acts as a screen upon the earths surface, disturbing the radiations that would affect our thermometers. But a large number of observers, among whom are Baxendell, Blandford, Stewart, Roscoe, Piazzi Smyth, Stone, and Köppen, have accumulated numerous observations both in the temperate zones and in the tropics, showing that "the calorific intensity of the sun's rays is subject to periodical changes, the maxima and minima of which correspond respectively with those of sunspot frequency."

4. The wind-disturbances of the earth's atmosphere follow the same law; there being a coincidence between the frequency of cyclones and sun-spots. Observations on opposite sides of the world, and in the tropics where wind disturbances are most violent, lead to the conclusion, as stated by Mr. Meldrum, that "the whole question of cyclones is a question of solar activity; and that, if we write down in one column the number of cyclones in any given year, there will be a strict relation between them—many sun spots, many hurricanes; few sun-spots, few hurricanes."

5. Confirmatory evidence of this is found in the records of shipping-disasters. From the returns of marine casualties posted on Lloyd's loss-book it was found that they disclose "a cycle closely corresponding with the sun-spot period. The percentage of casualties on the registered vessels of the United Kingdom (Great Britain) was 1712 per cent, greater during the maximum two years in the common cycle than during the minimum two years."

6. It has been further shown by the observations of Baxendell, Meldrum, Rawson, Jelinck, Wex, Dawson, Hennessey, Broun, and Brockelsby, that there is a fluctuation in the fall of rain in which the same law may be traced; that is, "a connection between the variations of the sun-spot area and the annual rainfall; the rainfall rising above the mean when the sun-spot area is in excess, and falling below the mean when in periods of small sun-spots." The monsoons are the great sources of rain-supply at Madras, in India. The rainfall cycle has been traced out in that country, and the deficiency and excess of rain connected with the great solar periodicities. The writers whom we are following say, for example, that "the water-supply brought to Madras by the southern monsoon is 2612 per cent, greater in ordinary years than in the years of minimum sun-spots." And again, "there is a rain-cycle of eleven years at Madras which coincides with the cycle of sun-spots; the periods of maxima and minima in these two cycles disclosing a striking coincidence."

7. The variation in the rainfall of India involves the food-supply of that country, and is a question of famine and starvation. Observations on the variation of water-supply, in India, of course go no further back than the introduction of rain-gauges. Commencing the inquiry in the year 1810, Messrs. Lockyer and Hunter say: "The years of famine in Madras since that date have been 1811, 1824, 1833, 1864, 1866, and 1877. These famines were caused by deficient rainfall in the preceding years, namely, in 1810, 1823, 1832, 1853, 1865, and 1876. Now, five out of these six years of drought fell within the three years' group of minimum rainfall and sunspots (shown in the foregoing tables); the remaining drought (1853-'55) extended over a year immediately preceding the minimum group, and two years within that group; the famine itself resulting within the minimum group. Three of the six years of drought fell exactly in years of minimum sun-spots; one fell in the year preceding a year of minimum sun-spots; one fell in the second year preceding a year of minimum sun-spots; the remaining drought, 1853-'55, fell in the first, second, and third years preceding a year of minimum sun-spots. . . . No famine in Madras has been recorded from 1810 to 1877, caused by a drought lying entirely outside the minimum group of sunspots and rainfall."

We have here been able only to hint at the points made in the paper referred to. The case is strong, in fact much of it demonstrative, yet it is, of course, most incomplete. Though important practical conclusions have been reached, the investigation is in its crude, preliminary stage, where the truth is caught vaguely and by glimpses rather than seen clearly and by a steady gaze. Yet it is a magnificent research, with already-assured results and a splendid promise. We commend the subject to the consideration of those who hold that science, to be genuine, must have become exact, certain, and perfect.


We have taken the ground in this periodical, and we abide by it, that the most important of all subjects for general consideration, and especially for the American people, is the application of science to questions of society and government. When the Monthly started, we obtained from the foremost thinker of our times in this growing department of inquiry a series of papers, in popular form, designed to present the character and claims, difficulties, limits, and expectations, of a true social science, so as to fix public attention upon the subject, and prepare for the more systematic consideration of its principles. The result was those able articles on "The Study of Sociology," by Herbert Spencer, which appeared in our pages, and which, collected in a volume, have been subsequently translated into nearly all the languages of Europe. The subject is one of rapidly-increasing interest, to which this book has in no small measure contributed; and we have now the pleasure of announcing another arrangement with the same author, of equal significance and promise, in the popular exposition of social science.

Of Mr. Spencer's present unrivaled position as the elucidator of the laws of man's social progress there is no longer a question. He was the first to grasp the subject in its full breadth, the first to trace out the completeness of its dependence upon the sciences, and the first to carry his system of thought into practical execution. When he began to publish methodically upon this topic seventeen years ago, his project was regarded as a hopeless chimera; but the work has steadily gained upon public confidence, until its successive volumes have been all reproduced in the leading civilized countries. The interest in the subject is, indeed, now so strong and so general that Mr. Spencer has been urgently called upon to publish in future in such a manner as to bring his views more promptly and generally before the reading world. To this he has so far consented that we shall be able, jointly with the English and Continental periodicals, to represent for a considerable time the advancement of his sociological work.

The volume of "The Principles of Sociology," just published, deals with the primordial conditions of the subject, and with the genesis of those early ideas and feelings which give origin to primary social cohesions and groupings. The next volume is to treat of the evolution of the various forms of government by which society is ruled—Ceremonial, Political, Ecclesiastical. We shall publish next month the introductory essay on Ceremonial Government, its nature, extent, and relation to other forms of control. This will be followed by papers dealing with the various elements and divisions of the subject, such as "Trophies," "Mutilations," "Presents," "Obeisances," "Forms of Address," "Titles," "Badges and Costumes," "Further Class Distinctions," "Fashion," and the "Past and Future of Ceremony."

It need hardly be said that these articles will be in a high degree original and instructive, and will throw an important light upon the historic unfolding of one of the largest divisions of social regulation. They will be invaluable to all who care to understand the agencies by which human conduct is controlled, and the modifications which those agencies undergo in social development. We ask our readers to bear in mind that The Popular Science Monthly is the only magazine in the United States which tries to keep its patrons informed of the advances in this great field of thought; and we earnestly appeal to them to do their share in helping us, by forming clubs among their friends and in their neighborhoods that shall extend the circulation of the Monthly. We are trying to do a work of education which our colleges and our periodicals grossly neglect; and our power of accomplishment must depend upon the vigor and liberality with which we are sustained by those who appreciate the importance of the labor.