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

POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Malaria and the Eucalyptus.—The experiment of preventing malaria by plantations of eucalyptus-trees at Tre Fontaine, near Rome, has failed. While the eucalyptus-trees thrive, the malaria continues. Fevers prevailed there in 1880, and even during the season, exceptionally healthy at Rome, of 1882, and under circumstances which made the epidemic seem largely local. A government commission has been appointed to examine into the matter, on the application of Professor Tommasi-Crudelli, who suggests that, until the inquiry is completed, conjectures as to the cause of the visitation be abstained from. The facts are, however, he says, practically instructive, "proving as they do once more to what risks of mistake we expose ourselves if we hold a priori that the methods which have resulted in a permanent improvement of one malarious locality can be usefully applied to all. The condition of permanent improvement is that of so modifying the physical conditions and the chemical composition of the soil as to render it incapable of producing the malarial ferment. If all malarious soils were similarly situated and had the same chemical composition, we should be certain of obtaining a permanent improvement in them by the adoption of a system of cultivation by which this result has been brought about in any one of them; but, unfortunately, malaria is produced in soils whose situation and chemical composition are most various, so that the system by which some have been improved may fail entirely when applied to others. So with the plantations of eucalyptus, they succeed in one place and not in others. We know nothing precisely about the nature of the cultivation which should be adopted in order to produce in a given species of malarious soil a final modification of its physical conditions and chemical composition which shall render it incapable of producing the poisonous ferment. At present we are feeling our way, with the result that often we obtain useful results by means of high cultivation, and as often not." Dr. Tommasi-Crudelli recommends arsenious acid and the alkaline arseniates as the most efficient protective agents against malaria.

 

Changes at Niagara Falls.—A reference to the earliest published accurate account of Niagara Falls—that of Kalra, the Swedish traveler, in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for January, 1751—shows that changes are going on there more rapidly and on a grander scale than has been estimated. Kalm describes a fall of one hundred and thirty-seven feet, with "a series of smaller falls, one under another," for two and a half leagues below. Much of this series has now disappeared, and the main fall has been raised to one hundred and sixty feet. He describes the horseshoe as only slightly concave, and adds: "Above the fall, in the middle of the river, is an island, lying also south-southeast and north-northwest, or parallel with the sides of the river; its length is about seven or eight French arpents (an arpent being one hundred and twenty feet). The lower end of this island is just at the perpendicular edge of the fall. . . . The breadth of the island at its lower end is two thirds of an arpent (eighty feet) or thereabout." This can not be Goat Island, which is ten times as large, but must refer to Luna Island, which, if the description is correct, has been greatly reduced since it was written. Goat Island appears not to have been touched by the falls at that time.

 

Social Life in Masai Land.—Mr. Joseph Thomson states that the most remarkable distinctions characterize the various epochs in the life-history of the Masai people of East Africa. The boys and girls up to a certain age live with their parents, and feed upon meat, grain, and curdled milk. At the age of twelve with the girls and between twelve and fourteen years with the boys, they are sent from the married men's kraal to one in which there are only young unmarried men and women. There they live in a very indescribable manner till they are married. At this stage the men are warriors, and their sole occupation is "cattle lifting" abroad and amusing themselves at home; the young women attend to the cattle, build the huts, and perform other necessary household duties. Both sexes are on the strictest diet. Absolutely nothing but meat and milk passes their lips. Spirits and beer, tobacco, and vegetable food, are alike eschewed. So peculiar, indeed, are they in their notions, that they will not even eat the meat of any wild animal. Moreover, the meat and milk are never taken together. For several days the one is their sole diet, to be followed by the other after partaking of a powerful purgative. On killing a bullock, they drink the blood raw, which doubtless supplies them with the necessary salts. In eating meat they always retire to the forest in small parties accompanied by a young woman. So pleasant does the Masai warrior find this life that he seldom marries till he has passed his prime, and begins to find his strength decline. The great war-spear and heavy buffalo-hide shield, the sword and the knob-kerry, are then laid aside. For a month he dons the dress of an unmarried woman, and thereafter becomes a staid and respectable member of Masai society. He goes no more to war, but devotes himself to the rearing of a brood of young warriors. His diet changes with his mode of life, and he may indulge in vegetable food, drink beer or spirits, and smoke or chew tobacco. At death, the body is simply thrown out to the hyenas and vultures.

 

Underground Wires and Atmospheric Electricity.—M. Blavier remarks, in a note to the French Academy of Sciences, that while it is only in exceptional cases that the influence of storms is observed on underground telegraphic lines, there are nevertheless sometimes produced, in offices connected by underground wires, electric discharges which fuse the fine wires of the lightning guards. These accidents are much less frequent and less severe than in the cases where the wires are aërial, and they do not seem to be of such a nature as to interfere with the transmission of dispatches. They correspond always to storms which occur in the country, at some distance from towns where the underground wires are protected by the net of water and gas pipes below which they are placed. If the wire is buried only at a slight depth in a badly conductive soil, the coating, under the influence of storm-clouds, takes a more or less considerable electric charge, even when the internal wire remains in a neutral condition. At the moment when the lightning flashes, this charge is suddenly liberated, at least in part, and escapes into the earth, following the metallic coating in two opposite directions.

 

Coal-Dust and Mine-Explosions.—We have already given an account of the experiments of the Prussian Fire-Damp Commission at Neunkirchen, with reference to explosions in coal-mines, and of the conclusion of Mr. W. Galloway, from the observation of some of them, that the explosions are chiefly or very largely promoted by coal dust. A French commission has reported upon this subject that they consider it established that "coal-dust in the absence of fire-damp does not constitute an element of danger," although it may play an important part in aggravating the consequences of an explosion. Mr. Galloway is now able to cite, in support of his view of the importance of the agency of coal-dust, the expression of Herr Hilt, in the official preliminary report of the Prussian commission, who, speaking of the dust from Pluto mine, in Westphalia, says that "there can be no doubt that with this kind of dust the flame could be lengthened out to any desired extent, provided the gallery and the layer of dust on its floor were made equally long;" also the statement that "the dust of New Iserlohn behaves in the same way." Mr. Galloway further cites a table of dusts of different degrees of fineness, published in the same report, to show that the explosive property of coal-dust increases with its fineness. He believes that the French commission were not accurate or thoroughgoing enough in their experiments. We mention also, as bearing on this subject, and going to confirm Mr. Galloway's views, that the Clifton Hall colliery, near Manchester, England, where a fatal explosion occurred in June last, was at the time dry and dusty, and very free from fire-damp.

 

Mutilations of the Teeth.—The practice of filing the teeth is still in vogue among the Mohammedan Malays. The individual may choose, according to his fancy, among three fashions: that of simply rubbing away the front surface of the tooth; that of filing away the sides so as to leave the front of the tooth standing out in a triangular relief; and a sharpening of the tooth—for all of which styles considerable variety in patterns exists. As all the Mohammedan islanders set much store on having their teeth properly "improved," the tooth-filer is an important personage among them. His outfit includes a hammer, a bracing-stone or anvil, chisels, files, and saws. The person to be operated upon prepares his teeth for the purpose by chewing raw rice and turmeric, and, prostrating himself on the ground, lays his head, blindfolded, upon the operating-bench. The operator demonstratively repeats an unintelligible incantation phrase, and, wedging the subject's mouth open, performs his work. The filing done, the teeth are blackened, and the pain is quieted with cocoanut-water in which an iron, inserted red-hot, has been standing for several days. For some time after the operation, the patient must avoid eating things unpleasant to sore teeth. As a recompense, he has come into full credit in society, and may marry. The legendary origin of the custom is a miraculous escape Mohammed is said to have once had from the pursuit of a redoubtable antagonist. After having eluded his pursuer by being overshadowed by a swarm of bees, he was nearly overtaken again, and hid in a dry well. Some of the pursuing party thought he might be in the well, and threw stones into it. He was looking up at the time, and the stones knocked out four of his upper teeth. The fashion of filing down the teeth is, however, probably older than Mohammedanism. M. E. T. Hamy has made a study of the perforations of the teeth by the aborigines of Central America and Yucatan which are mentioned by various authors. Mota Padilla says the Indians cut their teeth down to sharp points and bored holes in them, which they filled with a black cement. A statuette dug up at Téjar has the upper front teeth thus bored with cylindrical holes; and a fragment of an upper jaw dug up at Campeachy, during the French occupation, shows the real teeth marked with precisely similar perforations. The holes appear to have been filled afterward with bluish-green stones. The operation of boring these holes can hardly have been practiced on living persons, and the evidence indicates that it was done after death. No similar mutilations are known to be practiced now anywhere.

 

Increase of Temperature in Tunnels.—Professor G. A. Koch, of Vienna, has been prompted, by the experience of the workmen in the St. Gothard Tunnel, to make researches into the phenomenon of increase of temperature which is observed in excavating under mountains. Dr. F. M. Stapff, geologist of the St. Gothard Railway, had already published a paper covering the questions of the highest temperature at which it is possible for men to work in subterranean galleries, and the depth under the mountain-mass at which this temperature is reached. Assuming that work begins to be dangerous at the temperature of the blood, 98° Fahr., and that the limits of the vital endurance in animals lie between the temperature at which albumen thickens (60° C, or 140° Fahr.) and that at which it coagulates (75° C, or 167° Fahr.), he deduced that in an extremely dry atmosphere men may keep at work at 50° C. (122° Fahr.), while labor would be impossible at such a temperature in an atmosphere saturated with moisture. The answer to the other question is difficult, because the conditions vary. Descending into the earth from a level surface, the temperature increases at the rate of about 1° C, or 1·8° Fahr., for every thirty-three metres in depth; but the rates fluctuate greatly when the surface is a mountain and the excavation is horizontal, and are governed not only by the height of the overlying mountain above the crown of the tunnel, but also by what is the shortest distance between any point of the tunnel and the nearest point on the surface of the mountain. In the Mont Cenis Tunnel the highest temperature in the stone (29·05° C, or 85° Fahr.) was reached at a depth of 1,607 metres and a distance of 6,448 metres from the southern portal, indicating an increase of about a centigrade degree for every fifty metres. Other observations give rates ranging from 1° C. in twenty-four to 1° in fifty-one metres, and an average of 1° in 37·75 metres, the variations being governed by local influences as well as by the form of the surface. The operation of local influences was very plainly observed in the St. Gothard Tunnel, where abundant evidence was gathered that the temperature curves are greatly distorted under mountain-peaks. The average rate of increase in the St. Gothard Tunnel, according to Dr. Stapff, was 1° C. to 48·4 metres; but this rate was considerably exceeded under the valleys and the plain surfaces, while it was greater than the increase observed under the crests of the mountains. The temperature of the spring-water must evidently conform to the general law of increase. Dr. Stapff observed that the tunnel-water is cooler than the stone when the temperature is less than 24° or 25° C, but warmer than the stone at above 25°; and a prediction which he based on this observation, that springs of a decidedly unpleasant temperature would be met at a certain point in the excavation, was fulfilled to the letter. The fact is an important one, in view of the impossibility of working in a moist and hot atmosphere. The temperature of the air in tunnels is also affected by similar laws, and some very curious facts bearing on this point were noticed in the St. Gothard Tunnel. To the natural increase of temperature in the advance of the excavation must be added the additional heating from the men and animals at work, and from the lights and the explosions, which considerably increased the difficulties in some parts of the excavation. All these things must be taken account of in forming the plans of tunnels and estimating their cost; for the expense of labor must be increased in such places, in proportion as it becomes more difficult and dangerous. If these principles are correctly worked out, we have to draw the conclusion that not all the projected great tunnels are practicable. Dr. Stapff calculates that the Simplon Tunnel, as projected by Favre and Clo, will develop temperatures of 46·9° C. in the stone, 45·85° in the air, and 54·3° in the water, which will be unendurable unless the air is perfectly dry. A shorter tunnel, projected by Clo, Varetz, and Jacquemin, will be more feasible. A projected tunnel under Mont Blanc will probably have to be made in an extreme temperature of 51° C, and this will be impossible. It follows from these observations that while we may generally be able to overcome the difficulties imposed in tunnel-making by length and geological structure, we are not always competent to contend against those imposed by temperature.

 

Interesting Finds in Pompeii.—In entering Pompeii, says a recent visitor, writing in "Chambers's Journal," "we descend a sloping path to the silent city, which stands between two enormous embankments of ashes, like a very deep railway-cutting, and enter by the great gateway, with arches and pillars in perfect preservation. Through a small arch at the side, intended for foot passengers, we pass into the deserted streets; from the high, narrow footway we see the tracks of wheels on the paved street below; and the great stepping-stones are still there, as in the days of old. Everywhere stand the remains of sculptured fountains—at the street corners, in every house, in every square. A number of converging streets lead into the Forum. Here are the perfect remains of beautiful temples with their marble columns and sculptured altars, on which the inscriptions may still be read. On some are delicate carvings representing sacrifice, in high-relief, with every detail clear and sharp as when first chiseled. We go through the street of the soap-makers and visit the large soap-works, where the huge iron caldrons are still left. Another street is full of wine-shops, with the large red jars still inserted in the marble counters. Then we pass the city bake-houses, where ovens were found full of charred bread, which is now in the Naples Museum, the baker's name stamped upon each loaf. Close by are the splendid public baths, with every appliance for hot, cold, and vapor baths, the pipes and cisterns still remaining. Near the entrance-gate is a small museum containing the skeletons found in the city—a mother and daughter clasped in each other's arms; a sentinel found at his post; a man evidently knocked down by the cloud of ashes; and several others. Some of them have been injured in the process of excavation. When a skeleton is found, hot plaster-of Paris is immediately poured into it, so that while preserving the skeleton intact, it gives also, by filling up the impression or mold of the body that had lain there, the form and features of the living man. A large collection of surgical instruments greatly interested a celebrated physician who was one of our party, and who expressed unbounded surprise at the very slight difference between these relics of the infancy of medical science and the instruments in use at the present day. Some large cases of dentists' tools caught our eye also. . . . A great number of paint-boxes are displayed, which still contain the same bright, soft colors that we see on the walls of Pompeii; and case after case of jewels, some found in the house, others evidently dropped in hurried flight from the burning city, or fallen from the necks and arms of the skeletons."

 

Life on Coral Islands.—The Chagos Archipelago, the southernmost island of which, Diego Garcia, has been made a coaling-station for steamers, may be taken as typical examples of coral islands. Diego Garcia is nearly in the longitude of Bombay, and 7 south of the equator. It is an island of the "atoll" type, fully thirty miles in circumference—"a lake with a shore and nothing else." The shore, in some places a few feet, in others a few yards, but never so much as a quarter of a mile wide, is entirely covered with trees, which are chiefly cocoanut trees, with various kinds of tree-ferns, and a few flowering shrubs. The archipelago consists of several groups, among which are the Six Islands, which lie in a ring, and are linked together by coral reefs that approach the surface of the sea, but do not rise above it. South of these is the Pitt Bank, a very dangerous atoll, that nowhere rises above high-water mark, and near it some thirty islands, and at least an equal number of banks, and rocks, and shoals, and reefs, all of the same coral formation. There is often a difficulty in distinguishing one atoll from another. A ring of coral surrounds a lagoon, the entrance to which is on the northwest side. Where the coral is a foot or two above the tide, a thick, green robe of clematis covers the white rock, and tall palms flourish overhead. Outside, the sea is in most cases at least two hundred fathoms deep, and inside it varies from three fathoms in some atolls to an almost unfathomable depth in others. Diego Garcia is situated in one of the hottest places in the world, where fierce sunshine alternates daily with heavy showers, and the temperature is between 80° and 90° all the year round. For scenery, there are the three million palms and the varying blue of the inland sea. The island furnishes, in the names of its several points, suggestions for a romance like that of "Paul and Virginia." "But all such tales fail, in leaving out the realities. There is nothing about fleas in any of them; nothing, or very little, about centipeds. The misery of life on a coral island can hardly be exaggerated. . . . It rains every day. The mosquitoes are unequaled for size and ferocity. The only food is an occasional fresh fish, with tinned meat and vegetables from England. The monotony of existence is only broken by the visit of an occasional ship, or by a gale, which unroofs the house. To the lonely inhabitants it is nothing that beautiful shells and branching coral are to be found on the beach; that strange, bright birds come across the ocean to build their nests in the cocoanut trees, or that the sea over the reef is an ethereal blue such as no one can imagine who has not seen it."

 

Restoration of Life.—Dr. Richardson has started the question whether life may not be restored after actual death, and relates some facts that point to the answer as being in the affirmative. By combining artificial circulation with artificial respiration, a dog was restored to life an hour and five minutes after having been killed by an overdose of chloroform, when the heart had become perfectly still and cold, and was passing into rigidity. Animals that have been killed by suffocation and partially dissected were brought to such a state of muscular irritability that the experiment was stopped for fear that they would return to conscious sentient life. Frogs poisoned by nitrate of amyl were restored after nine days of apparent death, in one case after signs of putrefactive change had commenced. The action of peroxide of hydrogen in reanimating the blood and restoring heat in a really dead body is quite startling. From these observations, Mr. W. Mattieu Williams thinks the conclusion is justified that "a drowned or suffocated man is not hopelessly dead so long as the bodily organs remain uninjured by violence or disease, and the blood remains sufficiently liquid to be set in motion artificially and supplied with a little oxygen to start the chemical movements of life."

 

Peat-Smoke as an Antiseptic.—Dr. Morgan, of Manchester, England, has remarked upon the healthy condition of the Highland crofters, who live in "bothies" the atmosphere of which is impregnated with peat-smoke, and are yet not troubled by disease, being particularly free from consumption and other lung infections. Their rooms are warmed by a peat-fire kept constantly burning in the middle of the floor; and, there being no means of escape for the smoke except a hole in the corner of the roof, the atmosphere is often pungent enough to make the eyes and nostrils smart. Yet the inhabitants are well and vigorous, and are liable to lung-diseases only when they go to live in houses with chimneys. The explanation of the phenomenon is not hard to find. Peat-smoke is heavily charged with antiseptics—with tar, creosote, tannin, and various volatile oils and resins—and the salutary influence of these more than makes up for the adulteration of the air.

 

Blondes and Brunettes.—Reports have been published of the "complexion-censuses" of the school-children of Germany, Belgium, Cisleithan Austria, and Switzerland. They show that more than one half of those enumerated are of mixed type. The distribution of the pure types—blondes and brunettes—is very different in different countries. The blondes predominate in Belgium, and still more in Germany, while the brunettes predominate in Austria, and in Switzerland with greater disparity. The predominance of fair complexions in Germany is greatest in the north, and grows less and less in going to the south. This appears to show the incorrectness of the theory of the French anthropologists that we must seek the real Germans in South Germany, and that North Germans are a dark race, a mixture of Finns and Slavs. The deep-brown color of the south and middle Germans, as well as of the Swiss, is traced by Herr Virchow to the Romans, Rhætians, and Illyrians, and especially to the remnants of the Celtic or pre-Celtic inhabitants, which have now become mixed with the Germans.

 

Contraction of Plant-Tissnes by Cold.—Mr. Thomas Meehan has reported some observations which contradict the prevalent idea that the sap in vegetable tissues expands in freezing, and is capable of bursting the organs. Of a number of vigorous trees measured at temperatures of 40° and at 10° above zero, none showed any sign of expansion, but one, a large maple, appeared to have contracted a half-inch. In hardy succulents, including several plants of the cactus family, live-forevers, and stone-crops, a marked contraction was observed; and opuntias showed no traces of congelation at 10, and were as easily cut with a penknife as at a normal temperature. Plants which contract so much as to shrivel in the cold expand again after a few days of temperature above the freezing-point. Expansion under freezing, however, was evident in dead wood soaked with water; and the bursting of trees, which has been noticed, may result from the freezing of liquid in the less vital parts of their trunks. Assuming, from the facts brought forward, that the liquid in plants which are known to endure frost without injury does not congeal, a question arises as to what power they owe their successful resistance. It is probably a vital power, for the sap of plants, after it is drawn from the tree, congeals easily.

 

Celtic Superstitions.—Many primitive superstitions of great interest to the anthropologist still linger among the Celtic populations of the British Islands. "The Celt," says a writer who has made much study of his character, "has turned everything to supernatural uses; and every object of Nature, even the unreasoning dream of sleep, is a mirror which flashes back death upon him." Yet these people have nearly lost the fear of death, and it is a common salutation to wish one a decorous and peaceful departure. The ancient Gaels and Cymri believed in intercourse with fairies, whom they called by any other name than their own; hence, the designation of "the men of peace," "the hunters in green," "the good people," etc. Their aversion to naming these beings was greater on Friday than at any other time, for on that day their powers were greatly increased. To wear their favorite color, green, was an unpardonable insult. Rites of a complex nature were gone through to protect the unbaptized infant and its mother from their clutches. Stories were often current of persons who had been detained by fairies for many years. The urisks were a sort of intermediary race between spirits and mortals; if kindly treated, they might render service to the family to which they had joined themselves. Witches were consulted and believed in in Wales so lately as 1826. The Cymri also had their giant, the good Foulkes Ty Du, who was always helping them; but, when evil was about to overtake them, the Tybiath, or presentiment, foreboded it. The Highlanders put great faith in messages from the unseen; and a hundred little incidents, which others would let pass unheeded, are for them fraught with the most solemn meaning. The cock which crows at midnight conveys the intelligence of a death in the neighborhood. Itching of the nose or ringing in the ears bears the same message. If the Highlander's cattle die, the evil-eye has gazed upon them. The boat that drifts empty out to sea has been pushed from its moorings by the fairies.

 

A Chinese View of Epilepsy.—In China, it is said, when a man is seized with an epileptic fit, those about him rush away for a few blades of grass, which they put into his mouth. They believe that during an attack of this kind the spirit leaves the body, and, there being a vacancy within, it is immediately occupied by the spirit of an animal, generally a sheep or a pig, and the sound in the person's throat, as he begins to revive, is taken for the bleating of the one or the grunting of the other. Under these circumstances, they attempt to propitiate the animal by putting grass into the man's mouth, possibly under the impression that they can entice the animal's spirit in the man to remain till his own returns; and on no consideration will they remove him till the fit is over, for, if they did, they believe his own spirit would not be able to find him again, and he would die.