Popular Science Monthly/Volume 24/March 1884/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors:

"With shall decide when doctors disagree?" Not long since was put forth the theory that the "bite" of the mosquito is a genuine antidote for malaria, and one of the arguments used to sustain the assertion was that Nature provides remedies alongside all forms of disease, and that, wherever malaria abounded, mosquitoes did much more abound, and were busily engaged, to the best of their ability, in injecting a tonic under the skin of poor ague-stricken humanity, which would effectually cure the disease if the humane work of the winged surgeons was not interfered with; and now comes Professor King, in the September number of your journal, with the startling claim that the mosquito is the very cause of malarial diseases!—and the problem, Shall we encourage or kill the insect? is still unsolved.

Having had some experience with these much-denounced insects in the woods and by the inland lakes in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and on and beside the lagoons of Southern Florida and even in the hotel sleeping-rooms in many parts of the land, I feel compelled to differ with Professor King in some of his alleged "facts," and I fear some of my statements will at least throw a doubt over the supposed "established facts" of the professor.

The professor argues that a locality abounds in mosquitoes, and that malaria is found to prevail in the same locality, and therefore it is quite probable that the malarial diseases there are produced by the mosquitoes.

Suppose we assume that it is quite as probable that the condition of heat, moisture, soiL, and vegetation, merely makes the locality a spot favorable to the generation of both mosquitoes and malaria, without any connecting relation one with the other. Suppose, again, we find localities where the mosquito, during a part of the year, is, by the power of numbers and fierceness of attack, almost king of the woods, and yet there is no malaria to be feared or found.

I have been in several localities on Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon, on the south-east coast of Florida, where I would not like to have 1 been on the outside of my netting, under the little shelter-cabin of our sail-boat, but I have never seen more numerous and, in localities, more voracious mosquitoes than in our northern forests in Michigan. The efforts on the part of these insects to produce malarial disease, in some form, if

this is their mission, were never more persistent than there. I have from the best authority the fact that it is no very uncommon thing for hardy woodsmen, in the spring months, to be driven from their work in the forest by the mosquitoes and black flies; but the general rule is, in the milder attacks, for the choppers to become so accustomed to the mosquitoes, day and night, as to pay little attention to them, they "let 'em bite," only disturbing them when, by an unusual attack, they overstep the reasonable demands for blood. Many of these men have come under my personal observation during a residence of from two to six weeks each year for seven years at our summer resort on Grand Lake, three miles back from Lake Huron. As I knew them to be working day after day in the low cedar lands, often in wet swamps, and drinking the swamp water where they could find a pool under some old moss-bed, and often sleeping in rude log or board shanties in the same locality, I have often asked them if they did not get the ague, or "chills" and fever. The answer was always, "Never." I have seen many little children, from the babe up, with naked legs, feet, arms, and no head-covering but the hair, absolutely covered more with mosquito-bites than garments, all through the season, but I have never known a case of malarial disease in any form among them. In view of these observations, I must conclude the case is hardly made out that mosquitoes produce malarial diseases, although in many localities the two are co-existent.

The professor says it is a fact of common observation that mosquitoes are more numerous in the late summer months. I am not sure of other localities, but in Upper Michigan, at our resort, and all through Northern Michigan, the fact is exactly the reverse. We usually require nettings during July. About the 1st of August the mosquitoes begin to disappear, and we can sleep without nettings; but, during May, June, and July, if they created malarial diseases, there would be lively shakes among the settlers, where malarial diseases are now unknown, or of extremely rare occurrence.

I do not know but the sea-coast mosquito is a more wicked fellow, but our North Michigan mosquitoes, I believe, are engaged in better work than creating malaria. In fact, I am not sure but that the "bites" of mosquitoes, in the cases of our northern cedar-cutters, and their freedom from disease in great exposure furnish the "antidote" for the malarial tendency of the swamp air and swamp water, and furnish an argument for the antidote theory rather than otherwise.

We can hardly accord to Professor King the soundness of his argument, that because miasma and mosquitoes prevail at night, therefore the mosquito is the author of miasma. Does the mosquito produce the miasma in the air, or create the disease by his "bite"? Suppose we say bats fly only at night, and dew falls only at night, therefore the bats create the dew?

The night air may be congenial to both malaria and mosquitoes, as it may be to both bats and dew, without any further relationship. If Professor King will spend a week or a month in May or June in our northern cedar-lands, I will warrant him more mosquito-bites to the square inch of exposed person than there are pounds of atmospheric pressure on the same surface, and I will also guarantee him safety from all malarial disease.

F. R. Stebbins.
Adeian, Michigan, October 8, 1883.


Messrs. Editors:

In your editorial comments on the classical question, you refer to Germany as favorable to the old education on account of royalty and the Bismarckian régime; you also quote from "Science" a condemnation of German scientific writers. Allow me, in the briefest manner, to set you right on these two points. Whatever you may think of Bismarck, you should, in the present discussion, at least state that Bismarck does not favor Greek, but thinks it is only studied for a make-believe of mental superiority; also that he has emphatically stated that the state must take its civil officers wherever they can be found, efficiency being the only test, not the approval, etc., of the university; and, thirdly, you should bear in mind that Bismarck is no favorite with the Berlin University, the latter being much more of your opinion as to the "régime" now existing in Prussia than of an opinion favorable to Bismarck.

While I share your views as to the aristocratic tendencies that take shelter under the Latin-Greek education, I yet believe that respect for royalty in Germany is fostered mainly by the common school, while the universities are decidedly democratic in their influence.

As regards the lack of clearness and order formerly so common in German scientific writers, I beg to call your attention to the many excellent scientific writers that Germany can now point to, when a comparison with other countries is instituted. I believe a somewhat careful investigation would startle those who accept the common dogma that German scientific writers are obscure and deficient in order. Schleiden, the botanist, Carl Vogt, Du Bois-Reymond, Virchow, Haeckel, are only a few of the best-known German scientists who excel in order and clearness, and in the graces of style. No modern literature has scientific works superior in order, clearness, and style, to those of George Forster and Jacob Moleschott, and yet the former excelled, and the latter still excels, in scientific work. In a country like Germany, where so many write, bad writing is apt to be more readily noticed. As for the absence of important generalizations by German scientists, I think this subject should be treated separately. Kepler's grand generalizations were written in Latin; Leibnitz published many of his in French; there are other authors distinguished for important generalizations, who, if they can not compare with Darwin, yet occupy a high rank—for instance, Dr. J. R. Mayer, who first formulated the great law of heat-equivalents, and hence of the conservation of force.

I should be glad to find that your sense of justice is strong enough to make the corrections your statements and the extract require.

C. A. E.
Iowa City, December 26, 1883.

Our sense of justice is perhaps not very strong, but it is put to no strain by publishing the foregoing. We referred to the "Bismarckian régime" only as a name for the present phase of the administration of the German Government, and our argument could not depend upon any man's personal views, because it rested upon the broad declaration of the university authorities that the ascendency of the classics must be maintained for church and state reasons. It is interesting to know that Bismarck regards Greek as a humbug, but he would probably be the last man to deny that shams may have their political uses.

The quotation from "Science" was made, not because we approved or considered pertinent all that it said, but because it testified decisively to the neglected condition of the native speech on the part of a people long given over to the worship of classical ideals. Our correspondent recognizes "the lack of clearness and order formerly so common in German scientific writers." He, however, enumerates several recent writers that are not open to this charge. But are not those exceptions to a general practice? and would it not have been somewhat more to the point to inform us whether or not these writers were assiduous cultivators of the classics?—Ed.