Popular Science Monthly/Volume 21/May 1882/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors.

CERTAIN facts connected with the life and history of Dr. Priestley came to my knowledge and recollection about the time of the centennial gathering at Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Had it occurred to me sooner, I should have deemed it of sufficient interest to those present, and to the general public, to have communicated these facts; and, even now, it seems desirable to make this record.

When Dr. Priestley's house was attacked by the mob, and he was driven from his home, he fled for his life, and took refuge with my maternal grandfather, Samuel Vaughan, either at his London house (in Mark Lane, or Mincing Lane), or at his country-house in Hackney. For a long time previous to this date he was very intimate in my grandfather's family, where he was received always as a loved and welcome guest. At the time referred to he remained an inmate of the family for a month or more. My mother, who was born in London, in 1766, was living with her parents at the time of the riot. A strong attachment had grown up between her and Dr. Priestley. She looked upon him as a second father; and I well remember, as a boy, the great pleasure with which she dwelt upon the memory of their friendship. While concealed in my grandfather's house Dr. Priestley wrote his celebrated "Appeal." It was dictated by him to my mother, she acting as his amanuensis. The "Appeal" was printed from her manuscript. As a memorial of this event, Dr. Priestley presented to my mother a brooch, made for the purpose. It is a miniature likeness of himself, cut in shell, on a blue background, and mounted in an oval gold frame, with a scroll across it near the bottom, on which is the word "Appeal." This brooch is now in my possession. I held it in my hand at the time of the celebration, regretting that so interesting a relic could not be viewed by those present. Forty years or more have elapsed since my mother's narration of these events, and, as the present account rests entirely upon the memory of my late sister and myself, it is possibly incorrect in some details. The main points, however, may be relied upon, and as proof may be taken the existence of the brooch, bearing on its scroll the word "Appeal."

T. B. Merrick.
Germantown, Philadelphia,
February 24, 1882.


Messrs. Editors.

In the March number of "The Popular Science Monthly" there is an article from the London "Lancet" entitled "Quackery within the Profession," which, though short, is certainly vigorous. The following quotations are pertinent:

"There can not possibly be a 'system' or 'cure' in medicine. There are no rule-of-thumb methods, and no mysteries in true science. If we do not know what a remedy is, and how it acts, we have no right, as honest men, to employ it. The time has passed for the working of cures by charms, and the recourse to nostrums. We pander to the credulity of the unskilled community when we show ourselves credulous. . . . From the highest places in society to the lowest ranks of the people, there is just now a grievous readiness to 'believe in' quacks and quackery. . . . There is no system, or cure, or charm, or nostrum, known to the profession."

These words are strong enough, and arc properly found within the pages of a magazine devoted to popularizing science—that is, popularizing it in the sense of giving the unprofessional reader the latest teachings of science without the rigorous processes of induction leading to such results.

The aim being, therefore, such a high and laudable one, is it not somewhat inconsistent, to say the least, to find in the same March number advertisements of the following notoriously quack medicines and remedies?—

St. Jacob's Oil, Græffenberg's Vegetable Pills, Voltaic Belts, Parker's Ginger Tonic, Kidney-wort, Mrs. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, "a positive cure for consumption," and two whole pages devoted, the one to Warner's Safe Kidney and Liver Cure, and the other to Compound Oxygen?

Such advertisements undoubtedly pay well; but should not a prosperous magazine like "The Popular Science Monthly" with such lofty pretensions, be above lending itself, even indirectly, to countenancing quackery, or doing anything to increase that "grievous readiness to believe in quacks and quackery" which the writer in the London "Lancet" so much deplores?

Respectfully yours,
Charles E. L. B. Davis
Captain of Engineers.
Buffalo. New York, February 22, 1882.

Captain Davis writes to the editors of the "Monthly," complaining that they do not also edit the advertisements. We must draw the line somewhere, and we stop at the one hundred and forty-fourth page. We do not think it would be easy to edit the advertisements. If the rule should be, not to publish lies, it would abolish the department, for they are by no means confined to quack medicines. St. Jacob's may he about his "oil," and Aunty Pinkham about her "compound"; but there is this mitigation in such cases, that everybody knows it. The worst difficulty begins with those advertisements in which truth and falsehood are mixed, for

"A lie that is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies."

Our correspondent had better address himself to the managers of the advertising department, and convince them that they should not work down to the low standard of the religious and secular press. Meantime we agree not to sandwich advertisements through the text of the "Monthly," as is the custom with some journals. Editors.


Messrs. Editors.

I have read with great interest the articles you have recently published, explaining improved methods of teaching various branches of science in public schools.

At the opening of this school last September, we found ourselves with a class of a dozen boys and girls from fourteen to eighteen years of age, who were ready to begin the study of natural philosophy. I suppose we might have provided those boys and girls with copies of some one of the many text-books which profess to carry students over the entire subject in "fourteen weeks," or some other incredibly short time; we might have set those students to committing and reciting that text, but we didn't.

After some experimental work with improvised apparatus in illustration of the properties of matter, the students provided themselves with copies of Tyndall's "Lessons in Electricity." We chose that branch of physics rather than any other, because the school owned a set of Tyndall's apparatus especially designed to accompany the "Lessons." The class then began a systematic course of experiment, following, in a general way, the order of their book, but making also many other experiments. The students took turns in conducting the work, and all were enthusiastic. Nothing was taken without proof, and, the better to assure myself of the thoroughness of the work, I had them write up from memory weekly reports of the experiments performed. Of course, our work was slow, but I think it was sure, a real scientific spirit manifesting itself in every member of the class. We have now reached a part of the work where a more powerful electrical machine is necessary, and of course we shall get it. I think it is a mistake to begin with the machine. It is too complicated to be easily understood at first, and the result is a lack of clear ideas. The simple experiments recommended by Professor Tyndall are excellent. They lead the student along so gradually and so surely that when he reaches the explanation of the electrical machine, or the Leyden-jar, he finds very little difficulty.

We have in the school other scientific work than that described above; but this is the one subject where we have the best chance to cultivate accuracy and an interest in scientific methods.

Yours, respectfully,
Charles J. Buell,
Principal of Boonville Academy.
Boonville, New York,February 18, 1882.


Messrs. Editors.

I notice much discussion concerning the effects of earth-worms upon plants in pots, in regard to their eating the roots of plants, and also the injury their acid excretions may do the plants. Having kept house-plants for many years and in all sorts of vessels, from unglazed earthen pots to glazed delf, and in iron and in tin vessels also, and having had good success without drainage at all, even by having a hole in the vessel, and also having had the earth-worms under consideration, before Mr. Darwin was heard from on the subject, I feel that I may add an item of interest about them. The complaints that I have seen come from florists. Florists, like all other specialists, have notions, and I believe this about earth-worms hurting plants is one. I have found women who, when their house-plants did not thrive, laid it to earth-worms. I do not agree with them nor with the florists, as I do not believe, from nearly twenty years' handling of house-plants, that earth-worms injure pot-plants. I have used all sorts of soil, from good garden to leaf-mold, and have always used well-rotted manure, in which earth-worms abound, to mix with the soil, and, if I can, have had good air, plenty of light, correct temperature, and have watered properly. I have never failed to have a plant thrive, even if the pot was full of worms, and was tin, delf, iron, or unglazed pottery, and I have grown and had bloom all of the ordinary house-plants, and some that were not common in house-culture.

I have noticed that the worms will, if there is a hole in a pot, and the pot is not often disturbed, crawl out at the hole and lie under the pot, if there is room, and the bottoms of most pots will allow this, and this they will do in all sorts of pots. Plants frequently become diseased from over-watering, its lack, or from other causes, and too often the worm has to take blame for what he is entirely innocent of.

Yours, respectfully,
Ada H. Kepley.
Effingham, Illinois, February 20, 1882.