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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 20/January 1882/Entertaining Varieties



—— The moral responsibility of some animals seems less doubtful than that of "intermittent lunatics." If it should become the duty of a public attorney of the future to prosecute a homicidal monkey, the following case (quoted in Brehm's "Thierleben") would furnish an ugly precedent against the counsel for the defense: A few years ago Dr. Schomburg, the Superintendent of the Botanic Garden of Adelaide, Australia, took charge of a select corps of monkeys and kangaroos, a "happy family," he might have called them, if it had not been for the depravity of an old babuina, or female Bhunder baboon. If she had not been the only representative of her species, he would have tried to get rid of her, for her only object in life seemed to be to make herself as disagreeable as possible. Solitary confinement made her wildly obstreperous, but in the family cage she kept the marsupials in a delirium of terror, and in the evening when her younger relatives ventured to enter the sleeping-box she seemed to consider herself divinely ordained to remove them by force. But one day she attacked her own keeper, and without any apparent provocation lacerated his wrist in a shocking way. Schomburg at once ordered her to be shot. The next morning the assistant keeper approached her cage with a shot-gun, which had often been used to shoot the rats that infested the menagerie-building. The other monkeys seemed to expect another razzia, but the Bhunder knew better. The moment she saw the gun she made a dash into the sleeping-cage, and when the keeper tried to open the door she yelled as if she hoped to get off on a plea of insanity. Meaning to try her, the keeper waited till breakfast-time, but the babuina did not show herself. She kept out of sight a full hour, till the mess-boy brought an extra lunch of sliced pumpkins, when she made a rush for the bucket in hopes of securing a portable piece. In that moment the keeper bolted the door of her sleeping-cage, and went back for his shot-gun. As soon as the babuina caught sight of him she flew toward her place of refuge, and, finding the door locked, made a mad attempt to squeeze herself through the interspaces of the front railing. But the bars proved inflexible, and, after another desperate pull at the sleeping-cage door, the babuina flung herself into a corner, closed her eyes, and was apparently dead with fear before the buckshot struck her.

—— Everybody has heard of the Talmud (which means a study), a venerable work of Hebrew lore, traditions, and commentaries, in twelve folio volumes. There have been many editions of it, and many books about it by renowned scholars. According to the "Encyclopedia Britannica," this is the way the Talmud puts the legendary trimmings on to the history of Adam: "He was made as a man-woman out of dust collected from every part of the earth, his head reached to heaven, and the splendor of his face surpassed the sun. The very angels feared him, and all creatures hastened to pay him devotion. The Lord, in order to display his power before the angels, caused a deep sleep to fall upon him, took away something from all his members, and, when he awoke, commanded the parts that had been removed to be dispersed over the globe, that the whole earth might be inhabited by his seed. Thus Adam lost his size but not his completeness, his first wife was Lilith, mother of the demons. But she flew away through the air; and then the Lord created Eve from his rib, brought her to Adam in the most beautiful dress, and angels descending from heaven played on heavenly instruments; sun, moon, and stars dancing. He blessed the pair and gave them a feast upon a table of precious stones. Angels prepared the most costly viands. But Adam's glory was envied by the angels, and the seraph Sammael succeeded in seducing him. The pair were driven out of paradise into the place of darkness, and wandered through the earth."

—— Jérôme de Guise, the "champion lady-killer" of the eighteenth century, left among his trophies eight billets-doux, framed like pictures, and displaying eight different signatures under as many different petitions for immediate—elopement. Yet the triumphs of that charmer are far eclipsed by the record of Abdallah-ben-Abdol, the father of the Prophet Mohammed. On the eve of his nuptials, says the chronicle of Abulfeda, not less than two hundred virgins attested the poignancy of their chagrin by committing suicide.

—— Anaxagoras, the Rhodian, held that Earthquakes are nothing but a sort of cosmic flatulence winds which have strayed into caverns, where they can not find an outlet. Aristotle ascribes them to vapors generated by the infiltration of water through the fissures of a rocky sea-bottom; and Pliny, to the pressure of air confined in deep caves, and reacting against the collapse of superincumbent rock-strata. But the most ingenious explanation is offered by St. Thomas of Aquinas. Earthquakes, he suggests, may be caused by the struggles of defunct misbelievers trying (by a simultaneous stampede, perhaps) to escape from the pit of torment.

—— An Accomplished Vandal.—Some of the "truculent and turbaned Turks" of the fifteenth century were very far from being barbarians. Mohammed II, the destroyer of Constantinople, spoke fluently five Asiatic and two classic languages, had mastered the Arabian system of astronomy, the philosophy of Aristotle, and the theogony of the Sufist mystics, and achieved distinction as a poet and a national historian.

—— A Vegetable Monument.—The oldest tree on earth is probably the cypress of Santa Maria del Tule, in the Mexican State of Oaxaca. It is still growing, and, when Humboldt saw it, in 1851, it measured 42 feet in diameter, 146 in circumference, and 282 feet between the extremities of two opposite branches.

—— And so Mr. Darwin has given us a new philosophy of angle-worms. We had supposed that this "humble creature" was created chiefly for the use of country-boys as bait when they go a-fishing, and so were always to be conveniently found in the garden; but our indefatigable naturalist says that this despised earth-worm is nothing less than an ameliorator on the surface of the globe—a forerunner and coadjutor of the agriculturist in promoting the conditions of life. This is another revolution of ideas that is making our age so uncomfortable. "Worms of the dust" seems to be, after all, not so bad a thing. The sluggard is bidden to go to the ant and learn wisdom; but, while he is about it, he can profitably call also upon the worm. We give some poetry from "Punch" on this subject, and also "Punch's" portrait of the great Darwinian in his last rôle. He has not the elated expression of a triumphant discoverer. It was said of Agassiz that when he had found some new and long-sought marking or feature in a fish he waxed hilarious, and would dance about the room, but Mr. Darwin appears thoughtfully sad. Having accomplished the descent of man and the ascent of the worm, perhaps he is puzzling himself as to what next.

PSM V20 D414 The worm turns.jpg


I've despised you, old Worm, for I think you'll admit
That you never were beautiful even in youth;
I've impaled you on hooks, and not felt it a bit;
But all's changed now that Darwin has told us the truth
Of your diligent life, and endowed you with fame—
You begin to inspire me with kindly regard:
I have friends of my own, clever Worm, I could name,
Who have ne'er in their lives been at work half so hard.

It appears that we owe you our acres of soil,
That the garden could never exist without you,
That from ages gone by you were patient in toil,
Till a Darwin revealed all the good that you do.
Now you've turned with a vengeance, and all must confess
Your behavior should make poor humanity squirm,
For there's many a man on this planet, I guess,
Who is not half so useful as you, Mister Worm!

—— "What is the correct pronunciation of the name of the German poet Goethe!" It is impossible to reproduce the sound of this name accurately through English letters. A partial approximation may be made, however. Try Gay-teh, and you will not be so very wrong.—Sun.

So Bagehot is Bah'-jote; and Quatrefages, Kah'-tre-fahj.

—— There seems to be more sentiment than science in objecting to the study of insects on account of the pain occasioned by their capture and preservation. Shakespeare says, "The poor beetle that we tread upon, in corporeal sufferance feels a pang as great as when a giant dies"—which shows that he did not understand the anatomy of insects. "Minute dissections and the closest anatomical examinations have proved that, though insects are possessed of nerves, they have no well-defined organs representing the brain, the seat of concentrated feeling, where all the nervous connections meet. They have, instead, a chain of ganglia or bundles of nerve-substance, from each of which nerves branch out to contiguous parts, so that the sensations are not all carried to one grand central focus of acute sensibility as with us; but form as it were separate systems, any one of which might be destroyed without disturbing the sensation of the others." It is well known that large moths, found asleep in the day-time, may be pinned to the trunks of trees without suffering pain enough to awaken them, and, only at the approach of twilight, do they seek to free themselves from what they doubtless consider an inconvenient situation. It is related that Mr. Haworth, the well-known English entomologist, being in a garden with a friend who firmly believed in the acute susceptibility of insects, struck down a large dragon-fly, and, in so doing, accidentally severed its long abdomen from the rest of its body. The mutilated insect, after this misfortune, felt so little inconvenience or loss of appetite that it greedily devoured two small flies. Mr. Haworth then contrived to form a false abdomen, to create such a balance to the rest of the body as would enable it to fly; after which, it devoured another fly, and on being set at liberty, flew away with the greatest glee, as if it had received no injury. But all dispute upon this point should be ended by the entomologist's simple expedient of dipping his pin in prussic acid before piercing the insect, so that the effect is instantaneous.

—— Sir Charles Bell, upon looking over a biographical sketch of himself made the following marginal comment on that part of it which spoke of his education: "Nonsense! I received no education but from my mother; neither reading, writing, ciphering, nor anything else. My education was the example set by my brothers. There was, in all the members of my family, a reliance on self—a true independence; and, by imitation, I obtained it. People prate about education, and put out of sight example, which is all in all."

A teacher in London, on being asked what moral education or training he gave to his scholars—what he did, for instance, when he detected a child in a lie his answer was this: "I consider all moral education to be a humbug. Nature teaches children to lie. If one of my boys lies, I set him to write some such copy as this: 'Lying is a base and infamous offense'; I make him write a quire of paper over with this copy, and he knows very well that, if he does not bring it to me in a good condition, he will get a flogging."

—— Xanthus, the historian, says that a man killed by a dragon will be restored to life by an herb which he calls balin. Democritus asserted and Theophrastus believed that there was an herb at the touch of which the wedge the woodman had driven into a tree would leap out again.

—— The cautious and conservative old French savant Quatrefages says the more he reflects, the more he is convinced that man and animals think and reason in virtue of a faculty that is common to both, and which is only far more developed in the former than in the latter. He is very certain that when a cat is trying to catch sparrows on level ground, and creeps along the hollows, availing herself of every tuft of grass, however small, she knows what she is about just as well as the hunter who glides in a crouching attitude from one bush to another. He illustrates dog capacity as follows: "I once had a mastiff of pure breed, and which had attained its full size, remaining, however, very young in character. "We were very good friends, and often played together. As soon as ever I assumed an attitude of defense before him, he would leap upon me with every appearance of fury, seizing in his mouth the arm which I had used as a shield. He might have marked my arm deeply at the first onset, but he never pressed it in a manner that could inflict the slightest pain. I often seized him by his lower jaw with my hand, but he never used his teeth so as to bite me; and yet, the next moment, the same teeth would indent a piece of wood I tried to tear away from them. This animal evidently knew what it was doing when it feigned the passion precisely opposite to that which it really felt; When, even in the excitement of play, it retained sufficient mastery over its movements to avoid hurting me. In reality it played a part in a comedy, and we can not act without being conscious of it."

—— Sydney Smith exhorts against over-caution. He says: "A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage. Every day sends to their graves men who have remained obscure because of timidity. The fact is that, in order to do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand shivering on the brink and thinking of the cold and danger; but jump in and scramble through as well as we can. It will not do to be perpetually calculating risks, and adjusting nice chances. It did all very well before the flood, when a man could consult his friends upon an intended publication for a hundred and fifty years, and then live to see its success for six or seven centuries afterward. But at present, a man waits, and doubts, and hesitates, and consults his father, brother, cousin, friends, till one fine day he finds that he is sixty-five years of age. There is so little time for our squeamishness that it is no bad rule to preach up the necessity of a little violence done to the feelings and of efforts made in defiance of strict and sober calculation."

—— The stories of Jonah and Methuselah are—but we should not complain; the faith of an orthodox Brahman is subjected to still severer tests. The sacred authority of the Sama-Veda vouches for the fact that Prince Yudirishi lived 2,300 and his rival Alerka 4,650 years. That is, however, a mere trifle, for a successor of the last-named potentate lived just 66,000 years; and the reader has hardly recovered his breath, when the next chapter informs him that King Yakoyesha lived 2,260,000 years and five months.—("Asiatic Researches," vol. ix, p. 305; compare Buckle's "History of Civilization," vol. i, p. 52.)

—— Truly Heroic Cures have somehow gone out of fashion. Dr. Hunt, writing in "Lippincott's Magazine," says that Paracelsus cured a leper by keeping him sixty hours in a bath of hot mud (Schrodt's "Analekten," vol. i, p. 106); and when medicine failed to relieve the chronic headaches of Count Philip, of Nassau, his surgeon trepanned his cranium twenty-seven times, and made him sign a certificate to that effect.