Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/August 1880/Correspondence


Messrs. Editors.

AS the habits and value of the English sparrow are now being investigated in various parts of the country, I submit the results of my own observations made during the last three or four years, or since the bird became abundant in this locality. The charge frequently made, that the English sparrow drives our native birds from their accustomed haunts, does not apply to this vicinity. The sparrows are very numerous, are noisy and sometimes aggressive in their habits, but appear to quarrel much more among themselves than with other species of birds. I have not noticed any superior combative power which would enable them to do that which they are charged with doing. They are with us during the year—about our grounds and dwellings in great numbers. They are companions of the song-sparrow, snow-bird, woodpecker, chickadee, creeper, nuthatch, etc. There is no conflict or dispute among them. During the inclement weather of winter I feed the birds frequently, sometimes daily, and have watched their movements with great interest. I have not seen a dispute in their efforts to obtain the coveted food. The woodpeckers and chickadees gathered the bits of meat, the fringilla the seeds, which I scattered.

Nor have I noticed any considerable controversy at the nesting-season. Bluebirds are the first to arrive, and sometimes find their former nesting-places occupied by sparrows, but no disturbance occurs, the blue-birds finding other places for their nests. I have several times noticed, however, that the bluebirds are masters of the situation when a struggle takes place for an empty box. At this writing, bluebirds, sparrows, orioles, and many other species have their nests on my grounds, and equally so on the grounds of others in our neighborhood. I have no doubt there are fifty birds'-nests within a short distance of my dwelling. Robins, blackbirds, cat-birds, orioles, warblers, finches, and fly-catchers of many kinds are all about us, very much more numerous than they were in our boyhood.

All birds of species which love the shade of the woodlands are of course undisturbed by sparrows, which seek open spaces near dwellings, not the forests. Nor will it be claimed that larger birds, such as the robin, suffer from the presence of the sparrows. With us the barn-swallow is among the most peaceful and unobtrusive of birds, and yet it does not seem to be in any great fear of the sparrows, as the following incident will show: A pair of swallows commenced building a nest under a shed on my premises, but a sparrow was soon seen sitting on the side of the half-finished structure. Directly the swallows commenced building another nest within a few feet of the first, and no further disturbance took place. The nest was finished and occupied by the swallows. Sparrows have not driven our native birds away, neither have they given cause for any serious complaint on account of destroying our grain, as they seem to have done in some other places. I think, in this particular, it would be well for people to observe carefully for themselves. In winter, indeed, at all seasons, sparrows delight to feed on half-digested grains thrown from stables, or scattered elsewhere, but in spring and summer I have seen them carrying animal food to their broods. This they do persistently and in large quantities, the supply consisting largely of insects, larva?, worms, etc. I have seen them catch insects on the wing as do the fly-catchers.

I have not observed that they eat berries, grapes, or other small fruits, but have seen them picking the soft grains of sweet-corn. If their food were scanty or unsuitable, it is probable that they would feed more freely on the valuable grains. The birds which do most damage to farmers in this vicinity are blackbirds, robins, cat-birds, and a few other species, which feed on cherries, blackberries, grapes, and similar fruits. When the fruits are ripe, the trees and bushes swarm with these birds, but we hear of no prejudice against them on that account, while the sparrows are freely condemned for like offenses.

Respectfully, John D. Hicks.
Old Westbury, Long Island,
5th Mo. 18th, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

The author of the article in "The Popular Science Monthly" of the present month, with the caption "The Classics that educate us," it is probable has not seen President Eliot's interpretation of the passage quoted from the address made at Smith College in 1879. The friends of the higher education looked upon it as an extraordinary statement, and in one of our journals the following criticism appeared: "Will President Eliot offer the public some fuller explanation of his meaning? What training to the powers of observation is given by the study of the mother-tongue? What training to the art-faculties? What to the knowledge of abstract truths? What to the faculties which deal with abstract truths? What to the power of reasoning? Does President Eliot mean that an acquaintance with the mother-tongue trains every faculty which is trained by mathematics, science, metaphysics, and æsthetics—or does he mean that the training of these faculties is not essential to a good education—that education may be partial and yet adequate?"

The statement, President Eliot afterward remarked, "can easily be misunderstood," and was misunderstood, and is still used to prove something that he did not design it should be used to prove. There can be no dispute as to the correctness of the remark that "an accurate and refined use of the mother-tongue is an essential part of the education of a lady or gentleman." No one would consider an education complete without this part of it. A violation of the rules of grammar in speaking or writing the mother-tongue would at once show an imperfect education.

The Rev. Lyman Abbott published Mr. Eliot's explanation. In an article in the "Christian Union" Mr. Abbott remarked: "Our readers may remember an editorial paragraph calling attention to a reported utterance of President Eliot, of Harvard College, on the subject of education. We, at the same time, addressed him a private note, to which we have received the following reply":

"Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass.,
July 26, 1879.

"Mr dear Sir: Your obliging note of July 3d arrived just after I had left Cambridge for a yacht-cruise on the Maine coast. Hence the long delay of this reply.

"I do not feel inclined, in these blessed vacation-days, to write even the shortest article—not even to justify a statement of mine which, it seems, can easily be misunderstood. I did not say that a study of the mother-tongue supplied a complete mental training; but only that no one was a gentleman or a lady who had not a refined and accurate use of the mother-tongue. That attainment I find essential to my conception of a gentleman or a lady. A gentleman or a lady will have other mental acquisitions; but these will not be essential, as that is. To illustrate: salt is an indispensable article of diet; one may, further, eat bread, or beef, or oatmeal, but salt one must have, whatever the other articles consumed may be.

Moreover, neither bread, nor beef, nor oatmeal, is indispensable in the same sense.

"But, as you suggest, the remark quoted and questioned in your paper was incidental; and I am quite willing that it should go for what it was momentarily worth.

"Very truly yours,
"Charles W. Eliot.
"Rev. Lyman Abbott."

We can accept President Eliot's explanation that, as salt is necessary in all our food, so the mother-tongue should appear in its refined and accurate use in all our studies—rather than suppose an incidental remark should be used against the study of the classics. It would be singular, indeed, if the president of a great university should be placed in opposition to the study of subjects which are assigned so large a place in its curriculum as the ancient languages; rather would it be supposed that he would say with Dr. Seelye, of Smith College: "The relation, however, of the classics and mathematics to intellectual growth, if correctly apprehended, rests on unalterable facts in the history of man and the constitution of nature. They are to be studied, not because the college demands them, but because they are an essential condition to the broadest mental culture. Unless they are early taught, the chances are they will never be acquired. Those who wish to pursue a higher education will find themselves embarrassed every step forward without them."

It is evident that the remark of President Eliot was thrown off parenthetically in the address before the young ladies of Smith College, and was never intended to be used as it has been by writers and speakers on the subject of classical studies since the day it was uttered.

We think it is due to classical study and its friends that this explanation should be made in your widely-read "Monthly."

"Yours, truly.
Traill Green.
Easton, Pennsylvania, June 9, 1880.


Messrs. Editors.

From two to five o'clock on the morning of March 28, 1880, we had a storm of wind and rain in this part of Indiana. After daylight a remarkable deposit of brown or slate-colored dust was found to have fallen on porticoes, flat roofs, etc. It was also observed, in places, on the earth's surface. The phenomenon was noticed by our citizens generally, and it was spoken of in some of our papers. Professors Wylie and Newkirk, as well as myself, collected quantities of the dust. Some freshly painted buildings retained the marks of the shower for several weeks. The deposit was noticed at places more than fifty miles distant. Mr. J. W. Hollingswortb, of Paoli, Orange County, Indiana, informed me that the fall there was very abundant. I intended at the time to write some account of the remarkable shower, but being then busy I neglected it. My attention was recalled to the matter by an account in "Nature" (April 15th), of a similar shower about the same date, on the opposite hemisphere. Dr. Thomas C. Van Nuys, Professor of Chemistry in the State University, has kindly furnished me the following partial analysis:

Silica, SiO2, 64∙95 per cent.; ferric oxide, Fe2O3, 5∙39 per cent.; alumina, Al2O3, 10∙20 per cent.; calcium oxide, CaO, 1·53 per cent.

Yours very truly,
Daniel Kirkwood.
Bloomington, Indiana, June 24, 1880.