Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/March 1878/Literary Notices


Pessimism: A History and a Criticism. By James Sully, M.A. London: C. Keegan Paul & Co., 1877. Pp. 470.

Mr. Sully, who is already well known for his investigations of æsthetic feeling from the psychological point of view, here undertakes to give us an account of the modern pessimistic philosophy which has spread so widely of late years in Germany, and also thoroughly to criticise its basis, its procedure, and its results. He begins with an analysis of the two antithetical frames of thought among the unphilosophic public which he aptly designates as "unreasoned optimism and pessimism." By the first of these terms Mr. Sully understands that joyous and vigorous view of life which belongs to moments of exaltation, or to the constitutionally happy; by the opposite expression he means the gloomy standpoint which we all naturally assume in periods of grief or depression. Passing on from these primitive and unsystematic beliefs, each the transitory expression of a fleeting emotional tone, our author traces the growth of a more deliberately pessimistic creed through the literature of Hebrew and classical antiquity, the middle ages, and the modern world. Next, he attacks the various forms of "reasoned optimism and pessimism," the conscious attempts to appraise the worth of the universe as absolutely good or bad. The origin of evil is shown to be the main problem which the optimistic Israelitish religion set itself to solve; while the pessimistic tendencies of Aryan thought in India, reaching its furthest development in Buddhism, are well pointed out. Through Greece and Rome, Mr. Sully proceeds to the optimistic philosophers of the last century, who endeavored, by metaphysical subtilty, to argue the existence of evil out of the universe. Of this school, Leibnitz, Shaftesbury, and Pope, may be taken as the leaders. The French éclaircissement brought a new idea to the front, that of human perfectibility, personified in Condorcet and Godwin. It was hoped that, after all, evil might not be inherent in the nature of things, but might prove a mere excrescence, due to the social errors of mankind. This creed found its most eloquent exponent in the poet Shelley; and, extravagant as were its first enthusiastic developments, Mr. Sully justly traces to its influence the modern belief in progress as an actual fact, present and prospective. In the social amelioration promised by the apostles of evolution, and especially by Mr. Herbert Spencer, our author rightly sees "the one vital type of optimism in our age." The kernel of the work is reached when we come to the survey of Schopenhauer's philosophy, and the account of his disciple, Hartmann, whose system is very fully analyzed. Their deliberate conviction, arrived at by an ostentatiously logical and stringent method, consists in the belief that "life is a uselessly interrupting episode in the blissful repose of the non-existent." With the careful exposition of their teaching, the historical portion of Mr. Sully's volume closes. The larger and critical division consists of a systematic dialectic against the whole argument of German pessimism, as represented by these its greatest lights. Into this part of his work, which is lengthy, and closely reasoned, we can only briefly follow him. Mr. Sully begins by clearly setting forth the problem in dispute. He then attacks the superstructure of Hartmann from its metaphysical basis, which he shows to be verbal, illusory, and self-contradictory. Its scientific basis is next examined from the physical and the psychological standpoints; and from both it is found to be wanting. Finally, the author sums up his own view in three somewhat lengthy chapters, which exhibit him as holding a middle course between the two extremes. While he rejects the untenable theory of the absolute optimists, he cannot agree that any groundwork for pessimism as a reasoned principle exists in the facts under consideration. His own platform is summed up in the single expression meliorism, suggested to him by George Eliot. In this creed he finds an incitement to practical effort which falls in with the natural longings of humanity and the teachings of modern evolutionism, but which is wanting either to the satisfied theological optimist or to the blankly-despondent German pessimist. In the hopes of our common humanity we have a refuge alike from the selfish acquiescence of the pietist and the petty troubles of individual existence.

As a whole, the work exhibits all Mr. Sully's characteristics in their fullest form. It is rather long-winded, a trifle dull, and somewhat apt to stray from the plain paths of common-sense into the hazy realm of metaphysics and casuistical subtilty. But, on the other hand, it is full of varied and accurate learning, judicial impartiality, and studied moderation. Great pains have been taken to bring it up to date in every respect, some works being actually noticed or quoted which must have appeared while the volume was passing through the press. And as an exhaustive account of all that has been written or thought upon its subject at all periods, ancient or modern, it may be thoroughly recommended alike to the psychological student and to the general reader.

The Ancient Life-History of the Earth. A Comprehensive Outline of the Principles and Leading Facts of Palæontological Science. By H. Alleyne Nicholson, M. D., D. Sc, Professor of Natural History in the University of St. Andrew's. D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 407. Price, $2.00.

The subject of this book is one of growing scientific interest. Only within the present century has it been revealed that the earth has been laden with life for untold ages, until its crust has become a vast tomb, and even thick and extensive rock-strata are made up of the skeletons of creatures of extreme minuteness. The present life of the globe is but the last term in an almost infinite series of generations, that have so varied in form and character, as we go back in time, that they serve to mark off the geological epochs.

A group of absorbing questions now clusters around this great fact of the ancient life-history of the earth, and there is much concern among multitudes of thoughtful people to acquire some clear and correct ideas upon the subject. Fierce controversies have sprung up in relation to it, which are liable so to vitiate the statements of conflicting parties, that many are at a loss to know what representations they can trust, and how to get at the unquestioned facts. To all persons in this state of mind, Dr. Nicholson's work will be especially welcome, as it is a clear, succinct, and dispassionate account of the present state of palæontological knowledge, or of its descriptive parts independent of the contested theories to which it has given rise. His book is, moreover, compendious in form, and moderate in cost, to a degree that is quite unusual in a work so profusely and elegantly illustrated. Its preparation has involved great and careful labor, and the artists have done it excellent justice in the skill and fidelity of their pictorial representations. We know of no other volume that will so well meet the wants of a large class of readers at the present time. An excellent feature of the book is its copious bibliography or literature of reference appended to the leading chapters. In the appendix there is a tabular view of the chief divisions of the animal kingdom, followed by an ample glossary of technical terms, and a very full index.

An American Girl, and her Four Years in a Boys' College. By Sola. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 269. Price, $1.50.

This book records the experiences of a young lady who got a craze to go to college, and when a certain collegiate institution took off the embargo upon feminine opportunity, and admitted girls to the regular course of study, she argued her mother into consent, and entered the establishment. She has adventures, mishaps, exploits, and a lively time generally, both in doors and out. The book is written with considerable spirit, and conveys a very good idea of college life, in its feminine aspect. The writer is somewhat critical of many things, but believes profoundly in women going to men's colleges. In the sequel, she gets married to one of the students, the circumstances of love-making, while in college, being duly presented; but what possible or conceivable bearing the course of study pursued had upon the prospective life of the woman, who passed from the valedictory platform to the hymeneal altar, appeareth not in this book of "An American Girl."

Money. By Francis A. Walker. New York: Henry Holt & Co. Pp. 550. Price, $4.

It is no disparagement to a book of this kind to state that it covers no new ground: efforts after originality in the treatment of subjects of this class are seldom successful or profitable. It is high, but in this case well-deserved, praise to be able to say that it is impartial in its statements, judicial in its conclusions, and full, clear, and exact, in its explanations—the presentation, as a whole, of the much-vexed question of money being popular and comprehensible.

The book will be a valuable one, because, among other reasons, the author has allowed himself space in which to classify his subject fully, and to elaborate details in a way to bring out likenesses and differences that the casual reader is likely to overlook.

There are three general divisions: Part I., "Metallic Money," under which head the function and distribution of money, the production of the precious metals, their coinage and circulation, are considered. Chapters XII., "The Concurrent Circulation of Two Metals," and XIII., "The Battle of the Standards," are of great present interest. They constitute a full and exceedingly fair presentation of the opposed views of the bi-metalists and the mono-metalists. The author emphasizes the fact, often lost sight of, that the question is one into which political considerations enter so largely, that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to settle it on strictly economic principles. Indeed, throughout the book the important influence of legislation, habit, sentiment, and other the like factors, upon economic affairs is more fully recognized than is usual in such treatises. Part II. is devoted to "Inconvertible Paper Money." Its theory is stated and historically illustrated. The chief danger of its use is seldom better stated than in the following paragraph: "The danger of over-issue is one which never ceases to threaten an inconvertible paper-money. The path winds even along the verge of a precipice. Vigilance must never be relaxed. The prudence and self-restraint of years count for nothing, or count for but little, against any new onset of popular passion, or in the face of a sudden exigency of the Government. From this danger a people receiving into circulation an inconvertible paper-money can never escape. A single weak or reckless administration, one day of commercial panic, a mere rumor of invasion, may hurl trade and production down the abyss."

This and Part III., on "Convertible Paper-Money," are able discussions, and timely, for we fear they are over-sanguine who think that the day of our danger from paper inflation is past.

Mr. Walker discards altogether the word currency, for reasons which he gives fully, and which are not without force. He also substitutes the term "common denominator of exchange" for "measure of value," in defining one of the functions of money—a change which we indorse without reservation. There is a copious index, and the book is in all respects well gotten up.

Money and Legal Tender in the United States. By H. R. Linderman, Director of the Mint. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 173. Price, $1.25.

There is given to the public in this little book a brief but comprehensive history of American coinage, by a man thoroughly conversant with his subject, and competent to point out clearly the lessons' to be drawn from our experience.

The various laws regulating the coinage and the workings of the mint are given. The terms used in treating of bullion, coinage, and money, are defined. A short chapter states what constitutes a legal tender.

Accounts are given of the paper-currency since 1863, of fractional notes, coin-certificates, funding operations, etc.

Beginning with page 100 is a discussion of the proposition to remonetize silver. It is a straightforward, common-sense statement of the question, stripped of illusions and technicalities, that we should be glad to see widely circulated.

In the appendix are conveniently tabulated useful statistics concerning the production of silver, its use, movements, and prices, the ratio between it and gold, the coinage of the United States mints, etc.

It would be hard to find a book better adapted to clear away the fogs, which just now beset the subject of currencies and standards, than this volume of Dr. Linderman's, if the public could only be induced to read it.

An Epitome of the Positive Philosophy and Religion explanatory of the Society of Humanity in the City of New York, together with the Constitution and Regulations of that Society; to which is added an important letter of Harriet Martineau in regard to her Religious Convictions. Second edition. Pp. 59. Published by the Society of Humanity, 141 Eighth Street, New York.

This pamphlet will interest many as an exposition, in brief, of the religious basis of positivism. A society has been formed in New York devoted to these ideas, and this is its platform or confession of faith, various points of which are elucidated, and numerous authorities quoted, who have expressed sentiments in sympathy with the ideas here presented. It is an earnest and well-written document, evidently by a thorough-going adherent of the system, and is by no means strictly confined to the considerations of religious questions. It contains some new schemes or charts, presenting classifications and methodical arrangements of scientific and philosophical ideas that are filled out with a symmetrical completeness which seems to leave no room for improvement. The blank squares are all filled up so that the system looks finished, and there seems to be a perfect correspondence between the geometrical spacings of the map and the divisions of human knowledge. These tabular arrangements are, however, undoubtedly not designed to be final, but to be open to future revision, and they are of a very suggestive nature. Into the theological questions raised by this brochure we cannot now enter, but may note the manifest humility of the new sect, as there is not a name to be found of anybody connected with it, or of the authorship or publication of the manifesto, or of any human personality, representative of the "society." This is somewhat remarkable, as the propagandists of the new faith of Positivism 'are somewhat notorious for their free handling of personalities with whom they differ; and it seems still more surprising when we remember that the religious polity of positivism is so full of the apotheosis of individuals, and has such a copious calendar of saints, and makes men the objects of its worship.

Gerrit Smith: A Biography. By Octatius Brooks Frothingham. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 381.

Whether this work is to be regarded as a success will depend upon the ideal formed of what a true biography ought to be. If we accept the Boswellian standard, which makes biographical excellence to consist in the copiousness of gossip, trivial particulars, and idle tattle about its subject, Mr. Frothingham's volume must be pronounced a failure. Such details are usually not only worthless, if true, but, originating in a spirit of adulation, they are generally so partial and false as to be of little use for any serious purpose. Moreover, the cast of mind that can produce such books is pretty certain to be wanting in the insight, the analytic capacity, and the critical judgment, necessary to form a true estimate of character.

Mr. Frothingham's book has not been made on this model. Though strictly a biography, that is, the description of a life, and though freely delineating those circumstances, incidents, peculiarities, sayings, and habitual actions, which mark and define the personality he is dealing with, yet all such details are made subordinate to the purpose of so unfolding and representing the nature of the man that readers may form their own judgment respecting his greatness. Thus regarded, the book is able, eminently successful, and worthy of its subject. Gerrit Smith was a most admirable man, a noble hearted philanthropist, who put his great fortune at the service of society, and devoted his life to the skillful management of his immense wealth, that he might dispense it for beneficent ends. He was a radical and thorough-going reformer, taking deep interest in all projects of moral amelioration, such as peace, temperance, antislavery, and other philanthropic schemes, for which he worked with vigor, and which he aided liberally with his means. He was also from youth an uncompromising democrat, living plainly, carrying out his theories of practical equality, and never betrayed into the aristocratic ostentation which he might have indulged on an imposing scale. The radicalism of his nature, moreover, asserted itself strongly in his religious experience. Beginning as a devoted Christian of the orthodox stamp, he held steadily to the practical observances of a pious life, but gradually freed himself from the trammels of theology, and, at length, emerged as a liberal Christian of the extremest sort. Christianity was with him a purely practical affair, a carrying out of the principles of human brotherhood, and the extending of sympathy and help to all who needed them. Doctrinal matters were therefore held lightly, and he told somebody late in life that he had not yet made up his mind whether he had a soul or not. In a variety of respects his character and position were unique, and his career altogether forms a study of special interest to those concerned with the philosophy of charities and benevolence.

Transcendentalism, with Preludes on Current Events. By Joseph Cook. J. R. Osgood & Co. Pp. 305. Price, $1.50.

This book emanates from the same mind that wrote the "Biology," and is, probably, of similar quality. Osgood well knows the length of his customers' ears, and puts in the "applause" all the same.


Cerebral Hyperæmia. By W. A. Hammond. M.D. New York: Putnam’s Sons. Pp. 108. $1.

The Nabob. By A. Dandet. Boston: Estes & Lauriat. Pp. 456. $1.50.

Foundations. By J. Gandard. New York: Van Nostrand. Pp. 104. 50 cents.

Democracy in Europe. By Sir T. E. May. New York: W. J. Widdleton. 2 vols., pp. 495 and 568. $5.

Comparative Psychology. By J. Bascom. New York: Putnam's Sons. Pp. 296. $1.50.

State Regulation of Vice. By A. M. Powell. New York: Wood & Holbrook. Pp. 127. $1.

Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Vol. VIII., Part III. (New Series).

Bulletin of the Minnesota Academy of Natural Sciences. Minneapolis: Young & Winn print. Pp. 126. 50 cents.

Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-minded Children. West Chester, Pa.; Hickman print. Pp. 35.

Proceedings of the Association of Medical Officers of Institutions for Idiots. Philadelphia: Lippincott & Co. Pp. 35.

The Young Scientist. Monthly. Pp. 12. 50 cents per year.

Magazine of American History. January. 1878. New York: Barnes & Co. Pp. 64. With steel-plate Portrait.

Report of the New Jersey Commissioners of Fisheries. Trenton: Naar, Day & Naar print. Pp. 63.

Report of Trustees of West Pennsylvania Institution for Deaf and Dumb. Pittsburg: Stevenson, Foster & Co. print. Pp. 32.

Is the Human Eye changing its Form? By Dr. E. G. Loring. New York: The Author. Pp. 25.

The Steppes of Southern Russia. By Th. Belt. Pp. 20.

A New Type of Steam-Engine. By R. H. Thurston. From Journal of the Franklin Institute. Philadelphia: Kildare print. Pp. 35.

Medical Education in the United States. By N. S. Davis, M.D. Washington: Government Printing-Office. Pp. 60.

Reports of Curators of Wesleyan University Museum. Middletown, Conn.: Pelton & King print. Pp. 30.

Pneumono-Dynamics. By G. M. Garland, M. D. New York: Hurd & Houghton. Pp. 155.

Bulletin of the American Geographical Society, No. 4. New York: The Society. Pp. 105.

Public Health. By G. P. Conn, M. D. Concord, N.H.: Republican Press Association print. Pp. 17.

Convergent Strabismus. By S. Theobald, M.D. Baltimore: Foster print. Pp. 10.

Pseudocyesis and Pregnancy. By J. W. Underhill, M.D. New York: Wood & Co. Pp. 18.

Reports of Examinations of the New York Insurance and Banking Departments. New York: Green print. Pp. 30.

Dietetics of Infants. By T. Moore, M. D. Philadelphia: Sherman & Co. print. Pp. 14.

Report of Director of Harvard College Observatory. By Prof. E. C. Pickering. Cambridge: Wilson & Son print. Pp. 36.

New Double Stars. By S. W. Burnham. From "Notices of Royal Astronomical Society." Pp. 3.

Album Leaves. By G. Houghton. Boston: Estes & Lauriat. Pp. 34. 35 cents.

Notes on Matters of Physical Astronomy. By L. Trouvelot. From "Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences."