Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/August 1882/Entertaining Varieties


—— Says "Blackwood's Magazine": "The man who first suggested an electric telegraph, in a letter to the 'Scots Magazine' in the year 1745, Charles Marshall, was looked on as having dealings with the Evil One, and had to leave his native country and go to America. When Ronalds, about the year 1817, laid his plans for an electric telegraph before the English Government, they would not even take the trouble to investigate the matter. An under secretary, in the usual official style, wrote him that he was 'directed by his Majesty's Secretary of State, etc., to inform Mr. Ronalds that a telegraph is of no use in time of peace, and that in time of war the semaphore then in use was quite sufficient for the purpose.'" And as late as 1879 one of the "most able and experienced electricians of the day" was in a state of mind to say before a select committee that he did not think the telephone would be much used in England; that he fancied the descriptions they got of its use in America were a little exaggerated; "but there are conditions in America which necessitate the use of instruments of this kind more than here. Here we have a superabundance of messengers, errand-boys, and things of that kind. In America they are wanted."

—— Tanner, in his narrative of a captivity among the North American Indians, says that, when a certain chief named Picheto was one night much alarmed by a furious storm, he got and offered some tobacco to the thunder, entreating it to stop.

—— Prisons as Clinics.—Dr. Maudsley remarks: "Another promising but strangely neglected field of inquiry is a study of criminals. The time will come, ought to have come now, when prisons shall be used for the systematic investigation of the antecedents, and for the clinical study of the varieties of the criminal nature, just as asylums are used for the clinical study of diseased minds, hospitals for the study of diseased bodies. It may not be doubted whether half the books that have been written on moral philosophy would be worth one good book, by an earnest and industrious inquirer, who should undertake the scientific study of the inmates of a single prison."

—— Max Müller says, in his sketch of Kant, that for the last twenty years of his life he always had guests at dinner—two to five—that he demanded punctuality, that the guests proceeded to the dining-room talking of no subject more profound than the weather, that politics (and we may add science, natural history, etc.) was a frequent subject of conversation, but anything of the nature of metaphysics was rigorously excluded. Though of a very slender constitution, all his life through Kant had managed to keep himself in health by persistent adherence to certain maxims of diet and regimen. One of these was that the germs of disease might often be avoided if the breathing were systematically carried on by the nose; and for that reason Kant always in his later years walked alone with mouth closed. He was also careful to avoid perspiration. He walked after dinner alone, and then attended to business or read newspapers and miscellaneous books. As the darkness began to fall, he would take his seat at the stove, and, with his eye fixed on the tower of Lobenicht church, would ponder on the problems which exercised his mind. One evening, however, as he looked, a change had occurred—the church-tower was no longer visible. His neighbor's poplars had grown so fast that at last, without his being aware, they had hid the turret behind them. Kant, deprived of the material support which had steadied his speculations, was completely thrown out. Fortunately, his neighbors were generous the tops of the poplars were cut, and Kant could reflect at his ease again.

—— The manuscript of Mill's "Logic" was first sent to the publisher Murray, who, after keeping it so long as to occasion a year's delay in its publication, declined it. It was next offered to Parker, who accepted it, and sent the opinion of his referee, in the writer's own hand, withholding the name. "He forgot," said Mill, "that I had been an editor, and knew the handwriting of nearly every literary man of the day." The referee was Dr. W. Cooke Taylor, who afterward was one of the reviewers of the book.

—— Carriage-Fares in New York and London.—A writer in the "Tribune," describing the carriage system of large cities, says: "Briefly put, the legal rates for cabs and carriages in New York are fifty cents a mile and fifty cents a half-hour, with no fare less than one dollar. In London the cab rate is twenty-five cents for any distance under two miles, and thirteen cents for each additional mile; just one fourth the rate in New York." Who would live under monarchical extravagance, when they can have republican simplicity at four times the price?

—— Infinitesimal Scale of Molecular Systems.—Life is a stream of attributes that flows along from generation to generation, each kind being, as it were, a special channel for special characters. But the everlasting wonder is, how all the characteristics of a species can be embodied in a germ so as to be reproduced by growth; and still more amazing is it how the nicer shades of organic modification are also transmitted by the germ so as to become hereditary. In some way the systems of organic molecules must be capable of taking and retaining an infinite number of inconceivably delicate impressions; for with the myriad forms of life there must be formed myriads of molecular modifications of germ structure. Dr. Flint says that the head of a human spermatozoön is  1/5000 of an inch long,  1/8000 of an inch broad, and  1/25000 of an inch thickness; and Professor Du Bois-Reymond says if this head is assumed to be as large as the Great Eastern, and packed throughout with machinery as fine as the finest ladies' watch, even this would fail to represent the fineness of the system of molecular machinery that actually fills the head of the real spermatozoön.

—— According to Mr. Lockyer, the Egyptians are stated to have recorded 373 solar and 832 lunar eclipses; and he says this statement is probably true as the proportions are exact, and there should be the above number of each in from twelve hundred to thirteen hundred years.

—— The "Saturday Review" notices, as an instance of the reduction to absurdity of the conjectural method, the efforts of M. de Gubernatis to interpret the multiform stories of the cat and allusions to the cat in folk-lore, as parts of the great system of solar myths. With M. de Gubernatis, the cat with white ears in a fairy tale is the "morning twilight," or "the moon which chases the mice of night." A chattering cat appears in a Russian fairy story, and is killed in the territory of a hostile sultan. M. de Gubernatis explains that the sultan is "the wintry night," but leaves us in the dark as to what the chattering cat is. A cat is metamorphosed in a tale by Madame d'Aulnay into a woman who wears a dress of thin white gauze, set off with rose-colored taffeta, the gauze and rose-colored taffeta being inventions of the author's fancy which she has added to the original story. M. de Gubernatis does not see them in this light, but regards them as something highly mythical, and as signifying that the white cat was the moon, and became the dawn. So in Æsop's fable of the cat-woman, that the bride went to bed must mean that "the evening aurora sinks into night." "The Italians describe an empty house by saying, 'There was not even a cat there.' But do they mean that the house is deserted, even by the home-loving, domestic puss? Nothing so commonplace. The proverb is derived from the sun entering the night, where he finds nothing, or 'only the cat moon.' Black cats are not black cats, but they are the moonless night. 'The cat in the bag of the proverb has probably a diabolical allusion!' When a German invalid sees two cats fight, he thinks it a bad omen. Why? Because, in M. de Gubernatis's opinion, the cats 'represent, perhaps, night and twilight.' It seems to be held that men take no interest in anything except so far as it may be considered a symbol of night or light. When montes parturiunt, and nascitur ridiculus mus (the mountains labor and a ridiculous mouse is born), the reference is not to the immensity of the labor and the minute results. Oh, no; 'from the mountain came forth the mice of night, the shadows of the night, to which the cat moon and cat twilight give chase.' . . . 'When the cat's away the mice will play.' What does this mean? It means that 'the shadows of night dance when the moon is absent,' which is precisely what they do not do. No moon, no shadows, still less any shadow-dance. The most ordinary truths of experience are not only set aside, but reversed, by the method of M. de Gubernatis, a method from which not even poor puss has escaped."

—— Baron von Nordenskiöld, in his "Voyage of the Vega," gives a pleasant account of the domestic life of the Chukches, the tribe that inhabits the northeasternmost part of Asia. "Within the family," he says, "the most remarkable unanimity prevails, so that we never heard a hard word exchanged, either between man and wife, parents and children, or between the married pair who own the tent and the unmarried who occasionally live in it. The power of the woman appears to be very great. In making the more important bargains, even about weapons and hunting implements, she is as a rule consulted, and her advice is taken. A number of things which form women's tools she can barter away on her own responsibility, or in any other way employ as she pleases. When the man has by barter procured a piece of cloth, tobacco, sugar, or such like, he generally hands it over to his wife to keep. The children are neither chastised nor scolded; they are, however, the best behaved I have ever seen. Their behavior in the tent is equal to that of the best brought-up European in the parlor. They are not, perhaps, so wild as ours, but are addicted to games which closely resemble those common among us in the country. Playthings are also in use, for instance dolls, bows, windmills with two sails, etc. If the parents get any delicacy they always give each of their children a bit, and there is never any quarrel as to the size of each child's portion. If a piece of sugar is given to one of the children in a crowd, it goes from mouth to mouth round the whole company. In the same way the child offers its father and mother a taste of the bit of sugar or piece of bread it has got. Even in childhood the Chukches are exceedingly patient. A girl who fell down from the ship's stair, head foremost, and thus got so violent a blow that she was almost deprived of hearing, scarcely uttered a cry. A boy, three or four years of age, much rolled up in furs, who fell down into a ditch cut in the ice on the ship's deck, and in consequence of his inconvenient dress could not get up, lay quietly still until he was observed and helped by one of the crew."