Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/May 1884/Correspondence



Messrs. Editors:

I AM one of your devoted readers, enjoy nearly all your articles, swallow nearly all of your latest theories, and try experiments suggested by the valuable chapters upon "Chemistry of Cookery."

Yesterday being the first pause in the deluge which we have endured for three weeks, I took advantage of the fair weather to make some calls, donned my better gown, and, alas! my best shoes, and paid twelve debts to society.

Returning at night, foot-sore and weary, I subsided into a wrapper, a pair of slippers, and an easy-chair, to enjoy a pleasant hour with the newly-arrived "Popular Science" for March, 1884.

In turning over the leaves, which happily are always cut, my aching feet caused me to read with eagerness the chapter on "Fashion and Deformity in the Feet," hoping to find some practical help for a life-long distress, the only consolation for which has heretofore been that I have not four feet to shoe, and the only hope for the future that I may one day become, with the addition of hands, like a cherub on a tombstone, a head and two wings.

I think no Chinese woman ever suffered much more from her poor little cramped toes than has your correspondent; so naturally I enjoyed Lord Palmerston's suggestion as to the treatment of shoemakers, shivered over all the interesting plates showing different fine specimens of deformed feet, rejoicing that my own pedal extremities were not so distorted, and read on with increasing hope that the person who understood the trouble so well would give a remedy.

Imagine my disappointment and chagrin after following the writer through all these charming and harrowing details to find this, and this only, at the end of the chapter: "We may hope for some not far-distant time when our demand will be for a normal, healthy foot, in a natural and comfortable covering, and not for a crippled and distorted, withered, ugly 'club,' bound in an instrument of torture"!

Now, this is exactly what I have hoped and striven for all my life, but how is a nineteenth-century woman to obtain the boon?

I have tried one shoemaker after another with like result. Each new one daintily lifts my old boot, pours contempt upon the shoemaker who made it, points out all its defects, and tells how much better he will do for me. I, with renewed hope, also denounce the old boot and the last shoemaker, and tell the new disciple of Crispin how much better work I expect from him. Measurements are taken; the new boots come home; I put them on and hobble round in agony. The shoemaker looks puzzled; alters the buttons; adds a lift to the outside of the heel; pockets my money, and after that answers my appeals with "They will be all right after you have 'broken them in.'"

I suppose it is all the fault of my feet that the shoes never do get broken in. The shoemaker is all right, the boots all that ought to be desired; but, in the first place, my feet are not rights and lefts, though they look like ordinary feet, and all my shoes must be "broken in" by wearing the left one on the right foot, and vice versa. Then, too, the skin is sensitive, and blisters easily; so I am doomed to hear fine concerts with two thoughts on my toes, trying to curl them into a more tolerable corner of my last "easy" shoes. The most eloquent sermon is heard with my toes twingeing quite as often as my conscience, while the supreme consciousness of being well dressed in company is undermined by the stronger consciousness of being altogether too well shod, and the most rapturous enjoyment of art or nature hindered by a very intrusive demand of the lower nature.

And now, in addition to the woes I know, comes the horrible fear of those I have just learned are possible. If, in addition to two little toes now not altogether like those of the Venus de Medici, two or three corns and numerous blisters, my agonies are likely to culminate in such fearful extremities as are depicted from Figs. 5 to 10 in your late paper, and my poor feet are liable to be pictorially presented to the happier mortals of the future in some twentieth-century "Popular Science Monthly," to illustrate the barbarous customs of our own age, what shall I do?

It is so easy to say a woman should be independent of fashion, and consult health and comfort alone! How can one be independent of the shoemaker, unless she uses Indian moccasins, makes her own shoes, or goes barefooted?

Now, in common hu(wo)manity, after conjuring up these dreadful warnings and haunting pictures to terrify my already inflamed imagination, do tell us where and how to get comfortable coverings for our feet, and secure the everlasting gratitude of

A Suffering Woman.
Providence, R.I., February 23, 1884.


Messrs. Editors:

There is recorded in one of the popular encyclopædias the instance of a Welsh family in which each alternate child was an albino. This is, without doubt, remarkable; but there is now living, in a rural village on the banks of the Hudson, the remnants of quite as interesting a family, composed of both colored and white negroes. The wonder is, that some one curious in research has not long since found them out, made them a study, and perhaps woven them into history.

Accustomed to see the members of this family daily, in my early life, they yet never ceased to be a new source of interest and astonishment; and, desiring to see them again, and to learn a few additional facts in regard to their history, I recently made a special journey to our native town—theirs and mine—expressly to meet them and talk with them once more.

The colored progenitors are still living, and are now probably between sixty and seventy years of age. Thirteen living children have been born to them, of whom five have been pure albinos, and eight just as pure representatives of the African type. The first birth was black, after which they regularly alternated, white and black, as far as the tenth, after which all were black.

According to the authorities upon this subject, albinos are usually males, yet four out of the five in this family have been females. The texture of the skin with this class is generally coarse and rough, but with these it has always seemed to me to be fine and delicate. The mental ability of albinos, as a class, ranks low, but it is not true in this instance—in fact, during my recent visit to them I was much impressed with their practical sense and quite correct use of language. In music the whole family, black and white, has evidenced native ability that is almost genius. A piano is one of the few household gods, and they have all been accustomed to play and sing from earliest childhood, without instruction, but very acceptably. Years ago, when the family was large, their clear, pure, though untrained voices awakened long echoes through the village streets, and even the most critical gossips found no fault with the melodious strains.

But three of the thirteen children are now living—one colored and two white daughters. The colored daughter has been married several years, and is the mother of a large family, none of whom, I am informed, bear abnormal traces. Both white daughters married colored husbands (their associations are, in fact, entirely with the colored people), and one is now a widow. She has been the mother of two black children, both of whom are dead. The other daughter has been married but a few months.

As children, playing harmoniously and affectionately together, the spectacle was very curious; I hardly know whether to term it one of pleasure or pain, but the abnormal and incongruous must, perhaps, always be productive of more or less painful emotions, even if there be no physical or mental suffering apparent in the object.

Those of the family that have died, whether black or white, faded young and with slight provocation; but the three now remaining appear healthy and strong.

As children, the albinos struggled with the sunlight, always placing both hands closely around the eyes, thus excluding every possible ray; but I observed, while with them recently, that they were far less sensitive to the light than formerly, and they so acknowledged. Because of their sensitive sight, Linnæus called this class of people nocturnals.

My purpose in this letter has merely been to call attention to this family, which has impressed me all my life as one of great interest. If any of my readers should desire further information, I shall very willingly, through the medium of this magazine, give names and address, or any facts in my own knowledge which have not been recorded in this communication.

J. S. H.
Albany, New York,, March 20, 1884.


Messrs. Editors:

In the January number of "The Popular Science Monthly" is a letter from A. G. Boardman, of Macon, Georgia, in which he describes the painful and mischievous results which follow when a "minute fly," called a "black gnat," flies into the eye and is killed by its secretions. He connects these consequences with the carrying of infection-germs by insects.

The true explanation of the intense pain and subsequent inflammation is, I believe, much simpler. Formic acid is a powerful irritant. It was originally obtained by pounding ants in a mortar, and distilling their remains. It is now produced much more easily, and has been shown to be secreted not only by ants but by other insects, and this secretion is apparently exaggerated when the insect is attacked or irritated. It is probably a means of defense. This being the case, such a fly, during its death-struggles amid the secretions of the eye, would emit a maximum amount of this irritant.

Cantharadin is another active irritant principle, emitted not only by the Spanish fly, from which it is named, but also by many other insects. Its irritant properties resemble those of formic acid, but are still more powerful; so much so, that 1100 of a grain applied to the outer skin of the body will produce a blister. On so sensitive a surface as that of the eye a very small fraction of this fraction would do serious mischief.

W. Mattieu Williams.
Stonebridge Park, Willesden
Middlesex, England.


Messrs. Editors

Dr. Oswald's article on "Enteric Disorders" (in your issue of December, 1883) recommends the grape-diet. Although the use of the grape is thus frequently extolled in general terms, I find that every individual has his own opinion as to how the fruit should be used. A doctor of standing has assured me that grape-skins were as indigestible as hard-boiled white of egg, and fit to be swallowed by no one. Again, I have heard it said that, when the system is in need of an astringent, the tannin in grape-skins answers that want; while the acid of the pulp and the mechanical irritation of the seeds act as mild laxatives. The inference was, that a healthy stomach should receive the whole fruit and keep its normal balance; as, however, the skin and seeds might be too irritating for a delicate stomach, the balance might still be kept by taking in pulp alone; further, that skin and pulp, or seeds and pulp, should be swallowed according as the system needed an astringent or a laxative diet. Others still would have the seeds as well as the skins rejected, under all circumstances. The same difference of opinion exists as to whether the skins of apples, raw and baked, as well as of plums, pears, and tough-skinned fruits in general, should be taken into a healthy stomach.

As Dr. Oswald has emphasized the dietetic value of the grape, it would be a satisfaction to know what, in detail, is his view of its proper use.

Respectfully yours,
Sarah U. C. Bolton.
Greenville, Plumas County, Cal.,
February 25, 1884.