Popular Science Monthly/Volume 18/January 1881/Popular Miscellany


The Maxim Electric Light.—Some new electric-light apparatus has been in use in this city during the past month, which carries the solution of the problem of reducing this light to a form in which it will be available for the purpose of general lighting, further than any previous devices. It consists of a new incandescent lamp, in which the main feature is the means of compensating for the waste of the carbon strip, and an appliance by which the strength of the current is automatically varied in accordance with a varying number of lamps in circuit. The lamp is in appearance much like that of Mr. Edison's, the carbon strip being, however, bent into the form of a letter M, or of a Maltese cross, instead of a simple bow. The carbon, which is made from paper or wood, is not placed in a vacuum, but in a rarefied atmosphere of gasoline, the idea involved being that, as the strip wears away under the action of the current, it will be continually renewed by the free carbon of the dissociated hydrocarbon vapor. This deposited carbon forms a hard, compact layer which seems to greatly increase the durability of the strip, and also the amount of light which it will yield under a given current. None, it is stated, have broken, even when forced much beyond the incandescence they are intended to bear, and, owing to the compensating action of the gasoline, it is anticipated that the lamps will be permanent. The platinum wires supporting the carbon strip are not fused into the glass of the bulb, as has been the case in previous incandescent lamps, but are surrounded by a slightly elastic cement, which it is averred preserves a good joint. The light given by the lamp is but slightly yellow, is quite pleasing to the eye, and is fairly steady. It has, however, a perceptible vibration, different from the irregular flicker of gas, but more painful, and which it seems impossible to eliminate, as it is due to the necessary variations of the engine-speed. As to cost, the inventor, Mr. H. S. Maxim, claims that he is able to produce ten lights of twenty candles each per horse-power. Professor Henry Morton, of the Stevens Institute, in a paper read before the American Academy of Science, at its recent meeting, stated that, experimenting with one of these lamps, he found that, when it was giving a light of forty candles, the expenditure for power was at the rate of 240 candles per horse-power. A twelve-candle light was at the rate of 136 candles, and, at 49 candles, was at the rate of 426 candles for the same power; while, when the lamp was forced to 98 candles, the expenditure was at the rate of 607 candles per horse-power. He also bore testimony to the value of the gasoline vapor in building up the carbon strip. It is doubtful, however, if the gasoline will prove in practice as free from disadvantage as expected. It will probably deposit in the form of a film on the glass, that may in time so obscure the light that a new lamp will be necessary. Such a deposit seems to have already taken place in some of the lamps at present on exhibition. The regulating device is quite simple in construction and certain in action. Its general mode of operation is as follows: The field magnets of the machine supplying the currents to the lamps are excited by another machine. The current furnished by this latter is varied in accordance with the number of lamps in circuit, by shifting its commutator brushes to and from the position in which they take off a maximum and minimum current. This shifting of the brushes is done by means of simple mechanism, actuated by an electromagnet placed in the lamp-circuit, and therefore subject to the same conditions as the lights. Numerous trials have shown that this regulator is entirely reliable, and the adjustment of the current is so delicate that no observable difference has been detected in the light of a lamp whether one or sixty were in circuit.

The German Anthropological Society.—The eleventh meeting of the German Anthropological Society was held at Berlin, August 5th to 12th. The greater proportion of the papers read during the sessions related to relics discovered in Germany and the neighboring countries, most of which were newly found, or newly reported upon. Among the subjects of these papers were prehistoric earthworks and fortifications in Schleswig-Holstein; a Frankish burial-ground near Worms, in which burials in rows and in several courses of bodies were notable features, and where dogs and horses were found buried with the men, together with vessels of clay and glass of extraordinary size and beauty, and a unique bronze cup adorned with Christian emblems; the Frankish castle of Schlosseck in the Isenach Valley near Dürkheim, hitherto wholly unknown; a report by Professor Virchow upon the results of statistical researches into the color of the skin, hair, and eyes, illustrated by maps and tables; prehistoric charts of Germany by Professor O. Fraas; the German Runes, by Dr. Henning, of the University of Berlin. Dr. A. Bastian, who had returned from a journey of more than two years, undertaken for the study of facts relating to anthropology, spoke of the immensity of the task of perfecting the science, which he realized more completely than ever. The present generation has to lay the foundation of the study and leave the task of building it up to posterity. We enjoy many advantages from intercourse with primitive people which those who will come after us may not possess; and we have much to do in gathering and preserving facts which are passing away with every year, day, hour even, lest through carelessness or neglect they shall disappear utterly. Every gap thus permitted will be painfully regretted in the future, when a detailed review shall be undertaken of the diversity of variations in which the human race has exhibited itself on the earth. The speaker insisted upon the necessity of ethnologists traveling among these primitive peoples, and spoke particularly of his observations in Polynesian mythology. The Polynesian circle of thought, he said, is, after the Buddhist, the most extensive on the earth. A surprising homogeneity prevails throughout the length and breadth of the Pacific Ocean, and still more widely if we consider Oceania in its full sense, with the inclusion of Polynesia and Melanesia. It may be said that this unity prevails over about one hundred and forty degrees of longitude and seventy degrees of latitude, or over one fourth of the globe. We can not ignore so interesting a phenomenon. A direct relation exists between the mythologies of all peoples and their religious notions, and the same is the case in Polynesia. Accounts of the mythologies of the primitive tribes generally afford senseless caricatures so long as we are not acquainted with the religious notions around which they play. The knowledge of these beliefs is not easily gained, for the priests hide their doctrines under symbols which only the initiated can understand. It requires a long residence in the country and a winning of the confidence of the priests to such a degree as to induce them to communicate the traditions that have been handed down to them in secrecy. In all the Polynesian literature that we possess there is nothing that goes to the heart of their religion beyond a few disconnected fragments which have been taken down by a half dozen writers; and the cry is already going up that it is too late; that the holders of the uncontaminated traditions are passing away and carrying with them to the grave the knowledge they might impart. Professor Bastian stated that he had been able by a combination of favorable circumstances to gather a few of these documents, out of which he hoped to be able to effect a partial reconstruction of the Polynesian religious system.

Studies of Young Apes.—H. Schneider gives, in "Kosmos," an account of his observations of the habits and the development of the faculties of a young Javanese ape, which he had bought for purposes of study. The animal, when taken home, won at once the affection of Herr Schneider's wife, to whom he had anticipated it would be unwelcome. When awakened from its sleep in the woman's lap, it acted almost precisely as children do in similar circumstances—stretched its limbs, yawned with a very perceptible sound while its eyes were closed, rubbed its eyes, and scratched itself; then suddenly bounded up and went into its cage. It was not long before Chega—so it was named—began to show her dexterity. While playing in the room one day, she sprang upon the table, and before her master could prevent it, took up a half-filled cup of coffee from before him, ran to the sofa, and, standing upon its back, quietly drank the coffee, having finished which, she jumped down without having spilled a drop of the liquid. Her behavior was generally that of a spoiled child. When pleasantly spoken to, she was agreeable and playful; but if anything was denied her, or taken away from her, she would cry out, strike with her hands and feet, and go straight to the object and get it if she could. She would sit on her master's arm as he was playing at cards, and turn over the cards; or she would search in his pockets, looking most often for his watch, which she was very fond of getting. When she saw an effort made to catch her, she would mind no call, but would hide in the farthest corner. If capture was imminent, she would make a rueful face, with clinched teeth and parted lips, and utter a smacking sound. The danger over, a friendly word would restore her amiability at once. She would clasp her master's neck, put on a comical expression, and throw kisses at him. When spoken of by her master to a third person, even if she seemed to be in a deep sleep, she would look up with signs of pleasure and utter a whimper of acknowledgment. When she had to be whipped, she would give up at once when caught, though never to any one but her master; but if his wife was in the room, she would run to her for protection, sounding a note of triumph while the master was looking out that she did not bite him in getting away from him. She was always betrayed by her guilty consciousness when she had done anything wrong, even if no one had observed her; and if detected, would act as a child acts under the shame of guilt. She was not greedy in eating except when denied something; then she would seize it with both hands, and stuff her cheeks so full that it would take a considerable time to eat what she had put away. At her regular meals she ate slowly. If a cup of milk was placed in the cage so that the shadow of one of the bars of the cage was thrown over it, she would look at the shadow, grasp after it, and then look astonished to find that she had not got hold of it, and would not drink until she had examined the cup from every side. In eating, she rejected the thinnest shells, the strings of beans, and the skins of nuts. She was induced to take medicine by pretending that she must not have it. If her master wished to give her rhubarb, he would play with a piece of the drug while Chega looked on wistfully; then seem to snatch it away so that she should not get it, and let it drop, as if accidentally, out of his hand, when in an instant it would be seized or swallowed; or, if not already swallowed, would be if an effort was pretended to take it away. Chega was fond of her master's Spitz dog, and had many frolics with him. Once they were chasing each other between the sofa and the table, when the ape got into a position between the two where the dog could not follow her, but staid upon the table looking at her. In an instant she took hold of the table-cloth with both hands and brought it down, with the dog in it, upon the floor. While the astonished dog was trying to release himself from the folds of the cloth, Chega ran to the window-sill and clapped her hands in evident pleasure over the success of her trick. Chega slept with her master for three years, lying with one of her arms around his neck, while her other hand was in his. To prevent her getting away in the night, her master fixed a cord to her neck, so that she should wake him when she moved. She soon learned the secret of the cord and how to unhitch it, and would unhook the neck-band, take out a pin, lay the whole carefully aside, and spring up to go, when she would be stopped. Chega seemed to have dreams, as men and children often do, of falling from a height, and would draw up her limbs with the convulsive motion that all are aware of. Herr Schneider believes that his pet exhibited in a wonderful degree the faculties of reflection and comparison. Dr. Julius Falkenstein has given, in his account of the German Loango Expedition, a narrative of the early life-history of the gorilla Mpungu, which was obtained and brought home by the expedition, and was afterward exhibited in the Berlin Aquarium. While in Africa, the young animal was kept as free as possible from other than natural influences, so that its habits might be studied as accurately as was practicable. Mpungu gave a contradiction to the reports of the fierce and untamable character of the gorilla, for he soon became accustomed to the persons around him, showing a real dependence upon them and confidence in them, and was allowed to run about with no more care than a child. He gave no evidence of evil or malicious propensities, but had a will of his own, and distinct tones of voice in which to express his feelings. The representations of Du Chaillu concerning the gorilla's beating his breast were confirmed by this animal. The action indicated an excess of physical good feeling, and was never observed while the animal was in Europe, because he never enjoyed good health there. Pleasure in bodily vigor was also frequently exhibited in reelings and tumblings like those of a drunken man. When anything was given to the young gorilla in a cup or glass, he would take it up carefully with both hands, bring it to his mouth, and, having drunk, set it down as carefully; and he was never known to break a dish. Yet he was never taught how to use dishes. He took in eating only as much food at a time as he could hold between his thumb and two fingers, and would observe the removal of the mass of food with indifference; but, if not helped, he would glance at the dishes around him with an impatient murmur, and try to attract the attention of the waiters with a cough or by touching them. If he drank out of a vessel which he could not lift, he would bend down to it without touching it with his hands or disturbing it. He was particularly neat, seemed annoyed if anything fell upon him or stuck to him, and would pick it off carefully, or would hold up his hands and let some person pick it off; he was free from odors, and was very fond of playing and splashing around in the water. His most prominent individual peculiarities were good humor and cunning. If punished, he never resented it, but would lock his feet together and look up with an expression that disarmed all ill feeling. When he wanted anything, he could make his wish known as expressively and persuasively as any child. If it was not granted he would not give it up, but would wait for his chance with every evidence that he had a plan in his head. Thus, if he wanted to go out, and was refused, he would seem to submit and lie down in assumed indifference not far from the door, raising his head occasionally to see if his opportunity had come, and would gradually draw nearer to the door, keeping careful watch all the time, and at last would go out so quickly that no one could stop him. Whenever he intended to steal sugar or fruit from the cupboard, he would keep looking in the opposite direction till he was not observed, and then would go directly to the cupboard, open the door, and, having shut it behind him, would take out carefully whatever he wanted and eat it as quickly as possible. If detected, he would run away, and his whole demeanor would indicate that he knew he was doing what was forbidden. He took great pleasure in drumming on hollow things, and seldom let an opportunity pass of doing so. Unaccustomed noises were annoying to him. Thunder, the pattering of the rain on the awnings of the ship, the sound of the trumpet and the pipe, gave him so much pain that it was an act of mercy to get him out of hearing of them as quickly as possible. Mpungu declined after he was taken to Europe, and died in a little more than two years after he was caught.

The Stone-Grains in Fruit.—Henry Polonié considers, in "Kosmos," the nature of the gritty particles in pears and other fruits of the apple family. Each of these bodies consists of several cells which may be called stone-cells, and which have walls of considerable strength, traversed by canals. The stone-cells are widely distributed through the vegetable kingdom, and form an essential part of the framework of many plants. In these cases they perform mechanical functions, as they do also in grapes or stone fruits, where they form strong walls protecting the seed. The mechanical office does not, however, appear in the pear, for the stone-grains are scattered irregularly in the pulp of the fruit. M. Polonié suggests that they may be the rudimentary remains of a stone casing to the seeds of some ancestor of our present cultivated and wild pears. It is in favor of this theory that the stony pear-grains are not evenly distributed through the whole fruit, but are thickest in a zone surrounding the seeds, and where we should expect to find the shell of the stone if the pear was a proper stone-fruit. By bringing together the different varieties of cultivated and wild or wood pears, we might arrange a series of fruits in regular gradation, from a luscious pear with hardly any stony grains down to a tough wood-pear, in which these grains would be so close as ta touch each other all around. If the latter pear is dried, the stony surrounding becomes so hard that it is difficult to cut through it. M. Polonié has found this to be the case with certain wild pears which he has observed. This theory is also supported by the analogy of certain genera related to the pear whose fruits inclose stones, as the medlar, which has fine stony seeds; certain species of thorn, in which the seeds are merged into one kernel surrounded by a stony envelope, and some exotic genera, as the East Indian stranæsia, in which all the seeds are surrounded by a common stony envelope. The quince has also gritty particles, which are distributed similarly with those of the pear; and a quince from the shores of the Caspian Sea, which is preserved in the herbarium at Berlin, has its stone-grains thickly grouped in a hard mass surrounding the seeds, like the wood-pears mentioned by M. Polonié.

Craniology of the Africans.—M. de Quatrefages recently explained to the French Academy of Sciences the results of the researches of M. Hamy on the craniology of the African races. Far from all the negroes of Africa being dolichocephalous (or long-skulled), there exist on the continent diverse populations, forming two distinct groups, which pass in succession from the sub-brachycephalic (moderately short-skulled) to the mesocephalic (medium-skulled) and to the sub-dolichocephalic, and finally to the true dolichocephalic type. In other words, the relation of the transverse diameter to the antero-posterior diameter of the skull goes on progressively diminishing. M. Hamy has also studied the race of the dwarf negroes, and finds that their skulls are quite as much arched as those of the other human races. Their stature nearly approaches that of the Mincopies of the Andaman Islands, but it is superior to that of the Bushmen, whose height often falls to one metre (three feet three inches), sometimes to 1·14 metre (three feet eight and a half inches). This race probably approaches the true brachycephalic type. M. Hamy joins in a single race the Noubas, the Fourahs, the Gallas, the Nyam-Nyams, etc., and attaches to the same group, which is generally Eastern, the Haoussas who live west of Lake Tchad, although a population craniologically distinct is situated between them.

Rats and Lead Pipes.—One of the best foreign authorities on sanitary engineering, Dr. William Eassie, has an interesting letter in a late number of the "Sanitary Record" on the destruction of lead pipes and flashings by rats, mice, and even timber-worms. He relates several cases, either seen by himself or brought to his attention by others, in which lead waste-pipes were perforated with veritable rat-holes, thus admitting not only sewer-gas but the rats themselves into the house. Fig. 1 is reproduced from Dr. Eassie's letter, and represents a piece of two-inch lead pipe a quarter of an inch thick, which wag once a part of the waste-pipe of a sink in a house in London.

Fig. 1.

This pipe terminated in an old brick drain infested with rats. "The rats obtained ingress to the house by way of this pipe, that is certain; and on taking up the floor some hundreds of these animals were destroyed and many missing articles recovered. The marks of their teeth are very plainly exhibited, as may be seen by a glance at the woodcut, which does not exaggerate them in any way." Fig. 2 represents a piece of lead flashing obtained by Dr. Eassie from the roof of an infirmary in the north of England. The woodwork below had been first destroyed by wood-borers, and the light, shaded marks in the cut show

Fig. 2.

where the acid of the destroyed wood had partially eaten away the lead. The white holes are actual perforations to the open air. Other instances of a like character are given, and all go to show that lead, where so exposed, is not a safe plumbing material.

A Musical Valley.—In an essay on "The Singing Valley of Thronecken," Herr H. Reulaux has described an enduring sound like the ringing of bells, which he heard while engaged in a deer-hunt in an elevated wooded valley in the Rhine Province. He had before heard sounds in the valley, resembling those which might come from a church in some town hidden in its recesses; but there was no such town in the neighborhood. On the occasion which he especially describes, he took his place as one of the hunters in a wood of large beech-trees lying against the slope of the mountain, and was treated all the time he stood there to a succession of peals as of bells, coming one upon another, swelling up and dying away, and sounding together in many varieties of modulation, and in all the different stages of progress. At times the impression of the music was so strong as to hold him almost breathless; then a new wave would sweep up, beginning like the soft breathing of an organ-pipe, rising to the swell of a harp, and closing with the overtone of the octave, as if it were drawn out by some master of the violin. V/hen the hunter returned to the same place toward evening, he heard the same sounds. One other of the hunters remarked them, but the rest were absorbed in their sport. A forester blew the tone of C on his horn, and it was repeated in the bell peals. The tones evidently originated in the mouth of the valley and died away in its upper part. They were produced by the passage of the wind through the valley, and modified by its configuration, the character of the rocks, and, probably, by the wood.

Animals or Plants?—In the course of a lecture on "Plants that prey upon Animals, and Animals that fertilize Plants," delivered at Leeds recently, by the Rev. W. H. Dallinger, the lecturer explained that there were animals—definitely proved to be such, and with which every zoölogist was familiar—that were so lowly in their being that they possessed no definite form. They revealed to the most refined scrutiny no organization. They moved, but without muscle; they crept, but without limbs; they felt, but without discoverable nerves; they devoured without mouths; they digested without stomachs; and they had all the properties of life, but were without trace of organized structure. It was their habit to associate with even these lowly creatures, because they were animals, a measure, at least, of consciousness and volition. But, on the other hand, there were plants of the highest and most compact structure in which delicacy of organization, refinement of mechanical contrivances, and adaptation of means to ends, were combined; and yet, because they were vegetables, they were accustomed to assume that they were without consciousness, and devoid of will. But what were the facts? Zoölogy at the present day was in the highest sense a science. Its facts had a precision and value unrivaled, and from these they were bound to say that the old landmarks were utterly incompetent. The animal and vegetable kingdoms could not be separated, and the two marched on in one organic whole. To the popular mind he had no doubt this would appear arrogant. To common observation the distinction between the plant and the animal was believed to be sufficiently clear. Between an ox and an oak-tree there was an unmistakable difference. A cabbage and a swallow were not very easily confounded. This was quite true; but if the entire of what was known as the animal world were laid against the whole of what was known as the vegetable kingdom, it would be seen that there were no features belonging to the one which were not in some sense shared by the other. There were vegetables controlled by movements which in animals would be called instincts. They could intoxicate a plant as they could intoxicate a man or beast; they could paralyze it with pain or chloroform, and could kill it with an electric spark. There were some plants which depended for existence on the animals they entrapped, and to this end they were endowed with a susceptibility more delicate than that of the human body, while they could distinguish between food which would nourish them and substances which would not. It was not too much to say that the extinction of insects would lead to the extermination of the most beautiful plants existing on the globe; while the extinction of these beautiful plants would, in like manner, be the ruin of the majority of insects.—English Mechanic.

Efficacy of Sanitary Improvement.—Two reports have recently been published in Great Britain which illustrate what has been accomplished in lessening the prevalence of disease and prolonging human life by measures of sanitary improvement. The improvement trustees of Glasgow have given out a statement showing that the average death-rate per one thousand persons has been reduced nearly eleven per cent, in twelve years, under the operation of the sanitary measures instituted by them, which included the demolition of unwholesome dwellings, and the provision of ample hospital space for smallpox and fever cases, and for the control and limitation of epidemic disease. They also cite from the report of the Registrar-General figures showing that a similar improvement in sanitary condition has been wrought in other towns: in Edinburgh of fourteen, in Dundee of twelve, in Aberdeen (where the death-rate was already very low) of three and one-half per cent. The figures given of a number of English towns show a less striking rate of improvement. Dividing the twelve years into two groups of six years each, it is found that, in twelve leading towns, 61,000 fewer deaths occurred in the second six years (1873-'78) than would have occurred under the higher death-rates of 1867-'72. The sanitary officer of Manchester has reported to the bishop of the diocese that, under the operation of the measures which have been adopted in that city, "typhus and typhoid fever, though not absolutely extinguished, are of comparatively rare occurrence, and nearly all other infectious diseases have been largely reduced in amount, while the general health has been improved."

An Antarctic Expedition.—The Italian Geographical Society has projected an Antarctic exploring expedition, to be under the command of Lieutenant Beve, an Italian officer who was with Nordenskjöld during his last expedition. Very little is definitely known concerning the Antarctic regions, and they offer numerous problems to be solved. They have been touched upon, but can hardly be said to have been explored, by several navigators since Captain Cook crossed the Antarctic Circle in 1774-'75, including Lieutenant Wilkes with the American Expedition, but the results of the observations made upon them do not agree. Even the Challenger Expedition, in 1873, added but little to our knowledge of them. It is still not fully settled whether the region be only an immense mass of water or whether it contains another continent. Lieutenant Wilkes believed that he had established the existence of a continent, but Sir James Ross a year later sailed over two of the positions assigned by him to the continent, while he found the extensive Victoria Land with mountains 14,000 feet high and an active volcano. The great ice-sheet, which certainly covers the land, needs to be studied and compared with the ice-sheet of Greenland. Lieutenant Beve and his companions hope to winter in the Antarctic region, and to be more successful in studying its character than their predecessors have been.