Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/April 1880/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors.

IN the very able article under the above heading, by Mr. W. W. Billson, published in your February number, I notice the following: "The law of the Allemans, which, while undertaking to enforce compositions for stale offenses, conceded to injured parties the privilege of righting themselves on the spot, and in the first transport of passion, finds a counterpart in the .... distinction made in the Twelve Tables between manifest and non-manifest theft. Persons detected in the act of stealing, or with the booty in their possession, were liable to the punishment of death .... while, if detected under other circumstances, they were only obligated to refund double the value of the stolen property."

Then, after some comments, the author quotes from Sir Henry Maine: "It is curious to observe how completely the men of primitive times were persuaded that the impulses of the injured person were the proper measure of the vengeance he was entitled to exact, and how literally they imitated the probable rise and fall of his passions in fixing the scale of punishment" (pp. 442, 443).

It may not be inappropriate to point out that a survival of the same feeling that gave rise to the practices quoted above seems still to be in force. There appears to be something of this sort in the custom that will hold a man blameless if he shoot and kill the midnight robber who is merely trying to effect an entrance into his house, but will not hold him guiltless if he take the same sort of vengeance on the robber after he has once entered the house, stolen the goods, and escaped with them. Surely the "impulses" of the injured person are allowed to have an influence here; for he may inflict much more severe punishment, by his own hand, in the first heat of his anger, upon him who is only attempting a crime, than he may inflict through the courts, after his anger has cooled, upon the successful perpetrator of crime.

Charles J. Buell.
Rosendale, New York, January 19, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

Reading the article in the March number of "The Popular Science Monthly," on the effects of frost in southern Russia in the winter of 1876-'77, reminds me of an unusual phenomenon at Vienna during the same winter. There were eleven days of perfectly uniform weather, the thermometer standing just above freezing in the daytime, with a fog, and a very faint southerly wind. At night it fell to just below, with bright star-light.

The result was that everything—houses, trees, lamp-posts, fences, statues—was covered with a stiff white hoar-frost on the windward side, and on this side only, the fine acicular crystals growing to a length of five inches on the trees, and of three or four on the iron and stone work.

The mass of crystals was always thicker at the end farthest from its support. A twig half the diameter of a pencil carried a fringe an inch thick at the edge. The crystals were horizontal, and so light that the twigs did not bend perceptibly beneath the weight. On the first warm day they were gone.

Very truly yours,
W. S. Bigelow.
Boston, February 22, 1880.