Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/June 1885/Popular Miscellany


Schools of Fifty Years ago and of To-Day.—The Rev. Edward Everett Hale, in a recent article on "Half-Time Schools," asserted, among other things, that, on the whole, schools and school-teachers were better fifty years ago, when they turned out an occasional Daniel Webster, than they are now; that all schools are "revolting" to pupils; that the average boy, who has many weeks of vacation per year, is likely to learn the value of time, the necessity of punctuality, and the need of subordination, and to acquire modesty and self-control, order and method, quite as well as he does at school; that the old idea of school, as a place for study in reading, writing, and arithmetic, is the correct one, and all else is to be taught and learned somewhere else; and that such practical affairs as a knowledge of things, tools, and the processes of handicrafts, can not be successfully taught at school, but are learned more quickly and better at home or at work. Professor Woodward, of Washington University, St. Louis, has answered some of Mr. Hale's points. He quotes, from an article of his own, the evidence that the boys in his manual training-school enjoy their school hours with real zest, and remarks on what schools of to-day should teach, as contrasted with the schools of Daniel Webster's day: "When Daniel Webster was a boy, there was not a railroad, nor a telephone, not even a telegraph nor a steam-boat, in the land. Our present methods of supplying cities with food, with fuel, with shelter, with clothing, were unknown. There was not an armored ship, nor a breech-loading gun, nor a dynamo, in the world, and one half of the present occupations of men did not exist. Are our schools to be conducted in blissful ignorance of all this?" He adds: "I do not say that schools should teach trades, any more than that they should teach banking, or piano-playing, or telegraphy. They should only teach principles, and methods, and the use of tools and appliances applicable to a majority of the occupations of American civilization; these they should teach for three reasons: 1. Opening the way to an intelligent choice of occupation; 2. Insuring success in the chosen occupation; and, 3. Raising the intellectual and moral standards of manual occupations. It is scarcely necessary to add that three hours per day given to manual training (drawing and tool-work) leave abundant opportunity for literary and scientific training, or that the intellectual development of pupils thus broadly exercised is both wholesome and rapid."


The Medico-Legal Society.—Mr. Clark Bell, in his address on retiring from the presidency of the Medico-Legal Society, points to the high character of the membership of the body as entitling it to that respect and confidence which arc now awarded it by students of medical jurisprudence throughout the civilized world. It has three hundred and ninety-four members. Its library has largely increased, by the gift of books from members and honorary and corresponding members, and is now said to be the best single collection of works on medical jurispruprudence in this county outside of that embraced in the library of the Surgeon-General's office in Washington. Its list of honorary and corresponding members embraces gentlemen of the highest distinction and eminence in the science of medical jurisprudence, in America and Europe. The constitution of the society has been enlarged so as to admit to active membership persons throughout the United States and Canada. The "Medico-Legal Journal" has a circulation of two thousand copies. The address, after reviewing the progress of the science in Great Britain, France, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia, Austria, and Hungary, mentions the organization of the Society of Medical Jurisprudence in Philadelphia, and refers to the progress of the work of the Massachusetts Medico-Legal Society. Mr. Bell is succeeded in the presidency of the society by Professor R. O. Doremus.


Cardinal Pitri on Scientific Studies.—Cardinal Pitri, a prelate enjoying high dignities at the papal court, has appeared as a contributor to the Roman scientific journal "Cosmos" of an article, advising the clergy to cultivate science. "It is a good thing," he says, "for those who have in theology the key to all the sciences, not to neglect any of them. We, too, ought to have our specialists who understand and help us to understand the views of men of learning, and are prepared to meet them on their own ground. While they cherish the science of the sanctuary, the clergy should also be familiar with secular knowledge." Not only this, but "ecclesiastics and members of religious orders, especially those addicted to tradition, should be found among the men of bold speculation and research; for tradition is no less necessary for science than for faith." The cardinal recommends those studies, although they at first sight look dry, as sure to afford "a pure and healthy delight, which grows into enthusiasm in proportion as they are perseveringly cultivated." It must be remembered, he adds, that such studies only tend further to establish "those fundamental verities whence flows more or less directly the explanation of whatever can be explained." For the material universe is "a sealed book" to those who acknowledge no Divine Creator and Upholder of the wonderful forces which surround us on every side. But it behooves the young clergy to be careful against coming to too hasty conclusions in their endeavors to harmonize theology and science. "It is neither prudent nor safe to adopt scientific hypotheses too quickly into the domain of theology and hermeneutics." The observation is enforced by incidents in his own experience, that we have had "modern theologians retreating from explanation to explanation, embarrassed between the periods of the anterior creation": and, while the texts that have given occasion to controversy are "equally inspired with the rest of Scripture," it is "dangerous to apply them unreservedly to each passing system"; and is much more prudent "not to be in a hurry to make a theological thesis of a learned hypothesis and commit one's self to it, when no such obligation is imposed on us by the constant teaching or defined dogmas of the Church."


The Soil-Ferment.—It was determined by experiment, a few years ago, that the capacity of earth to purify sewage from organic matters by oxidation could be suspended by treating the earth with chloroform, but that in time the soil would regain its oxidizing quality. The conclusion was reached from this observation, that the oxidation of organic matters in sewage depends, in part at least, on the presence of small living organisms whose activity could be suspended by dosing them with chloroform. This conclusion has been confirmed by subsequent observations, and it is believed now that the oxidizing property of the soil is promoted by the presence of a micrococcus, which acts most efficiently at a temperature about that of the blood, but more feebly at higher or lower temperatures, while its efficiency ceases entirely at near the freezing-point and above 130° Fahr. It appears to be, in dry soils, most abundant in the upper six inches, and to cease to act at depths below eighteen inches. It has been further determined by these experiments that nitrogenous solutions to be acted upon by the ferment must be alkaline, while acid solutions are not affected. Ordinary house sewage is slightly alkaline and readily acted upon, but this susceptibility is destroyed when acid-manufacturers' wastes are admitted to be mixed with it, or with the soil.


Evolution of Warlike and of Peaceful Races.—The "Pall Mall Gazette" finds in the doctrines of hereditability and modifiability reasons for supposing that the present Continental organizations of military life may ultimately result, by the weeding out of the warlike, in the development of a more peaceful and industrious race of men. The cloister-life of the middle ages tended to the increase of the warriors by drawing gentle spirits and those skilled in the handicrafts to the convents, and leaving it to the knights and their retinues to do the marrying and the bringing up of posterity. Now the military establishments of the European empires are working in the opposite direction. They tend to draw the brave and the turbulent from married life, and to leave the raising of families to the industrious and those who shun the field of battle. The effect of the system on the population of France after the Napoleonic wars was visible, and has been much remarked upon. Hence it is probable that the warlike nations are destined to decline, and peaceful ones, like Great Britain and the United States, to prevail, and thus will come to pass the prediction in the Sermon on the Mount, that the meek shall inherit the earth.


The Mole a Friend to Man.—A writer in "Land and Water" pleads for the mole as a much-abused animal which really does more good than harm, fulfilling its mission "of ventilating the soil with many-branched tunnels, and of converting insects, worms, etc., into fertile mold. . . . The ingenuity which the mole exhibits in the formation of his covered ways might stimulate—perhaps has done so—agriculturists to improve their drainage systems; the comminuted earth and other material which he leaves behind him might also instigate them to produce the same results on a scale commensurate with their requirements. . . . We cease to be surprised at the work executed by the mole when we examine its structure. The fore-paws, short and very sturdy, are moved by immense muscles, and are supported by a clavicle of great strength; the broad palms arc turned outward, the better to form scoops for throwing earth, gravel, soil, etc., behind while the animal is burrowing. The 'fingers' are small, so much so, in fact, as easily to be overlooked, but each is terminated by a nail, long, flat, sharp-edged, and very strong, eminently calculated as a tool for cutting through the soil. The snout, which we have noticed as furnished with a terminal bone, assists in these operations, and the neck is supplied with muscles of extraordinary vigor." But the hinder part of the animal is undeveloped and feeble, and it is said that the creature can progress more swiftly in the ground than on it. Its sense of hearing is very acute, but it has no external ears, and its eyes are barely visible. Its hair is very fine and stands straight out, so that, whichever way the animal goes, it is not "against the grain." The nest or home in which the mole resides, and in which the young are produced, is worthy of notice. A high arched roof is made by the removal of a quantity of earth; here and there pillars—portions of the solid soil—are allowed to remain as supports. The earth, of which the nest is composed, is pressed and beaten, and with it are mingled grass-stalks and roots to give it a greater consistency, and by this means to make it sufficiently compact to throw off heavy rams. Within the dome is erected a small mound, littered with soft grass and leaves. This is the bed, and from its elevated position is secure from whatever drainage may casually make its way below. From this mound lead off, in various directions, the passages excavated by the animals, and these often extend as far as thirty or forty feet from the central hall." The small mounds dotted over the scene of the animal's labors are merely the soil thrown up while in search of worms, etc., and have nothing in them specially worthy of examination. The mole usually seeks to be near the water, or to have access to it.


Obesity.—Obesity, says the "Lancet," may be promoted or relieved, to a limited extent, by the selection of diet and regimen, but it is fundamentally dependent on some inherent state of being or habit of life. For its safe and effectual treatment, provided the case be not of so long standing as to be beyond all remedy, this state must first be understood and regulated. Whatever interferes with oxidation, or with the due metamorphosis of digested food within the tissues, is apt to lead to its storage in the form of fat. It is, therefore, necessary for health that consumption should be limited as nearly as may be to what is necessary for sustenance, and that discharge of waste and tissue demand should be at the same time encouraged by moderate bodily exercise. The limitation of food should. however, be in its quantity rather than in its kind, for, if the requisition of mixed food for the health of the whole body be rudely interfered with, some other function may suffer and become deranged. "While, therefore, we are ready to admit that stout persons should be content with a less rich diet than the spare-bodied, we are careful to preserve its essentially mixed character, to limit its consumption in quantity, and to rely for disposal of the products of digestion mainly on regular and methodical physical exertion. There should be no difficulty about this latter, seeing that it may be taken in different forms suited to various ages and constitutional types."


Comparative Value of Disinfectants.—Dr. W. J. Miller, of Dundee, has contributed to "The Practitioner" the results of studies he has made on the efficiency of various disinfectants, in which he used vaccine as the experimental infectious matter! His preference is decidedly expressed in favor of sulphur. Chlorine was found to be a reliable disinfectant, the practical application of which was, however, attended with considerable inconvenience. Potassic permanganate was declared not certain in its effects. It possesses considerable disinfecting power, but is not as certain as it is reputed; but, as a deodorant, when it can entirely cover the offensive matter, it is of great value in the sick-room. Hydrochloric acid, though not generally in use as a disinfectant, is of very certain efficacy. In acetic acid, we have "a ready, safe, efficient and cheap disinfectant." Sanitas failed to verify the claims that had been set up in its favor. Perchloride of mercury is pronounced decidedly inferior in agency to several other disinfectants; but, as it has been seen that the virtue of infective inflammation is destroyed by considerably weaker dilutions of a disinfectant than vaccine, and in view of the weight of authority by which it has been introduced, the author will not presume to throw doubt on its value in obstetrical and surgical practice. The results with chromic acid, creosote, and eucalyptus oil do not appear to have been definite. Cupralum, in concentrated solution, immediately destroyed vaccine, and ferralum and terebene appeared to have the same power.

Seven days' exposure to air saturated with the vapor of camphor, killed vaccine, while four days failed to do so. Chloralum is uncertain. Boracic acid had little effect on lymph, and salicylic acid in saturated solution was little more satisfactory. Davaine found iodine the most certain disinfectant for malignant pustules. Dr. Miller regards vaccine as one of the most suitable viruses with which to make the experiments, for it exhibits stronger powers of resistance against the action of disinfectants than almost any other contagium. Several general conclusions are drawn from the experiments. Thus, while it is very doubtful whether any efficient disinfection of a sick-room can be practiced while it is occupied, still atmospheric disinfection may be useful to weaken the contagium and impair its power of reproduction. Sulphur is the most efficient and convenient substance to employ for this purpose. The skin of the patient, particularly the scarlet-fever patient, should be sponged several times a day with diluted acetic acid, preferably with the aromatic. For the final disinfection of the sick-room nothing equals sulphur. Clothing is disinfected by being exposed, with the fumes of sulphur, to a temperature of about 250°, for three hours in a specially constructed chamber; excreta of patients, by mixture with hydrochloric acid diluted to 1 to 20. For hand disinfection, carbolic solution 1 in 20, acetic acid, and sulphurous acid, are almost certainly thoroughly effective.


The Value of Recess.—The subject of "recess or no recess in schools" was reported upon at the meeting of the National Council of Education in Madison, Wis., last July, and was remanded to the committee for further investigation, and to be reported upon again, at the next meeting of the Council, in July of this year. The committee, seeking facts of experience, has sent out a circular of questions which it desires answered by all persons connected with schools or interested in them. Among these questions, reaching to the merits of the case, are: What effect has the no-recess plan upon the management of your schools, especially in the matter of the pupils' habits or conduct? Does or does not the no-recess plan affect the duties and privileges of the pupils in such a way as to develop or aggravate in any of them nervous irritation? Does or does not the no-recess plan affect the pelvic organs? Does it or does it not affect the eye-sight? Does it or does it not affect the nasal passages and lungs? How do the physical exercises substituted by the no-recess plan for those of the recess affect relatively the rapidity of the pulse of the pupils, when it is compared to the rapidity developed in the exercises of the out-door recess? Answers may be sent to J. H. Hoose, State Normal School, Cortland, N. Y.


Pacific Coast Panthers.—A correspondent, "Forked Deer," in "Forest and Stream," communicates some notes on the habits of the panther as he has observed them in the Pacific coast region. He expresses surprise that the settlers should have given this animal a different name—California or mountain lion—from the Eastern animal, for the "two panthers are so nearly alike that no one would dream, upon comparing them, of regarding them as distinct species." Yet "the panther of the West coast never indulges, for his own entertainment, in those fierce, cat-like screams with which his Eastern brother occasionally makes night hideous." The correspondent has a growing skepticism in regard to panthers ever willingly attacking a man. "I have known them," he says, "on several occasions to follow persons a short distance, and I have seen wolves do the same thing, especially when I have been packing in freshly-killed meat, but I do not believe that in either case they meditated an attack. In one instance, in the Cascades, near the Hood, I knew a panther to jump at a man as he lay at night in his blankets, but as soon as the man partly arose and shouted for assistance the animal bounded into the brush and disappeared. In talking it over, we all came to the conclusion that the panther had seen the man move under his blankets, and had mistaken him for some less formidable antagonist, and that when the deception was revealed to him he threw up the job at once. . . . That the panther will run from the smallest yelping cur that can be induced to follow his trail is true, but I am satisfied that instinct. . . warns them of the hunter behind the dog, and that it is the latter only which they fear. Panthers ascend the immense trees near the mouth of the Columbia, which are frequently three hundred feet high, and sixty, eighty, or even a hundred feet to the first limb, precisely as a cat would climb them, and when wounded will sometimes go to the very top. Although they may in some places spend the day lying upon the limb of a tree, they are believed to prefer rocky ledges and caverns, where they are accessible, for that purpose."


Cremation of Household and City Refuse.—The ultimate of sanitation, Mr. J. M. Keating, of Memphis, Term., argued in his address before the American Public Health Association, last fall, must be by fire. In support of his thesis, he proved by the citation of dozens of instances in the condition of European and American cities, towns, rivers, water-sheets, public institutions, and private houses, that when the people do not complain of polluted water, as they have to do in most cities, they do of sewer-gas; that when resting seemingly secure in an approximately good system of sewerage, they have to complain of the means for and methods of sewage disposal; that by the London method, so exhaustively expensive, the Thames is still nothing better than a wide-open sewer; that the Paris method is only partial, and too expensive, and altogether impossible for large cities; that by the New York method the docks are filled with excreta, and the entrance to the harbor is threatened by bars formed of the street and house wastes, carried out to sea at great expense by barges; that rivers are being destroyed by sewage which kills the fish and make what was once a source of health a permanent nuisance; that as privies and cess-pools are condemned because they saturate the soil, sewers are to be condemned, in some instances, for the same reason, and because they throw off and fill dwellings with sewer-gas, and docks and harbors and rivers with death-dealing sewage; and that all present plans of sewage disposal are defective because they are not final, because they merely contemplate the removal and not the destruction of what is conceded to be the prime factor in promoting and perpetuating, if it is not the original cause of, much of the disease that afflicts country and city alike. "The next step in the line of progress is cremation, and it has already been taken by thousands of households, . . . who cremate all of their household wastes and kitchen garbage, greatly to their comfort and relief. The kitchen-stove is found to be a convenient furnace, and into this everything but excreta is dumped, to be utterly consumed, and thus put beyond the process of fermentation and slow decay." The method of cremation is to be carried out in London on a large scale, in an establishment which has been erected for the purpose by Mr. George Shaw. Its introduction into all cities would relieve them of a multitude of evils, and bring no new ones in.


Early Mention of Maple Sugar.Messrs. Editors: Professor H. W. Wiley, chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture, has recently published analyses of maple-sugars and sirups ("Chemical News," February 20, 1885), and says he is surprised to find almost no data concerning the composition of maple-sugars in chemical literature.

I can confirm this observation as to the paucity of information, having had occasion to institute a search for such literature.

I have found an early mention of maple-sugar, which seems to me to be of great interest, and append the extract to this note. The references to sugar from maize and from water-melons are curious, and I should like to inquire of your readers whether experiments on manufacturing sugar from water-melons have been made in more recent times. If so, with what success?

Very truly yours,
H. Carrington Bolton.
Hartford, Connecticut, March 14, 1885.
Extract from Hon. Robert Boyle's "Usefulness of Experimental Natural Philosophy," Oxford, 1663, Essay iv, p. 112.

"Since the writing of these last Lines, being visited by an ancient Virtuoso, Governor to a considerable Colony in Northern America, and inquiring of him among other particularities touching his Country, something in relation to the thoughts I had about the making of several kindes of Suger, he assur'd me, upon his own experience, that there is in some parts of New England, a kinde of Tree, so like our Wallnut-trees, I that it is there so called, whose Juice that I weeps out of its Incisions, & c, if it be permitted slowly to exhale away the superfluous moisture, doth congeal into a sweet and saccharine substance; and the like was confirmed to me, upon his own knowledge, by the Agent of the great and populous Colony of the Masathusets.

"And very lately demanding of a very eminent and skilful Planter, why, living in a part of America, too cold to bare Sugar-Canes, he did not try to make Sugar of that very sweet Liquor, which the Stalks of Maize, by many called Indian Wheat, affords, when their Juice is expressed; he promised me he would make tryal of it: Adding, That he should do it very hopefully, because that though he had never been solicitous to bring this Juice into a saccharine form, yet having several times, for tryal sake, boild it up to Syrup, and employed it to sweeten Tarts, and other things, the Guests could not perceive that they were otherwise sweetened than with Sugar, and he farther added, That both he and others, had, in New England made such a Syrrup with the Juice of Water-melons."