Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/August 1873/Literary Notices


Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects. By H. Helmholtz Professor of Physics in the University of Berlin. Translated by E. Atkinson, Ph.D., F.C.S., Professor of Experimental Science, Hoff College. With an Introduction by Prof. Tyndall. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1873.

This is, in several respects, the most important scientific publication of the season, its interest being due not alone to its valuable contents, but quite as much to the form in which they have been put by their illustrious author. When the present Monthly was started, surprise was expressed in various quarters at the broad scope of its discussions, which it was said went far beyond the legitimate meaning of our title. Science being considered as a kind of tough and forbidding knowledge belonging to laboratories, observatories, and apothecaries' shops, popular science was regarded as the same kind of knowledge loosely stated in common language. At the outset we rejected this view as narrow and false, holding that science, instead of pertaining to certain things, consists in a method of knowing, which applies to all things that can be known, and that popular science must be equally comprehensive. Science itself being progressive, its great army of workers is constantly engaged in extending and correcting it by numberless processes of original investigation, while it is the office of popular science to bring its conclusions, applications, and results, into the sphere of common thought. Learned men long neglected the duty they owed to the public to clothe the result of their labors in authorized and acceptable forms for general use, and the consequence was that this work was done by incompetent hands, and degenerated into mere amusement and recreation; but, with the progress of liberal opinion, the diffusion of education, and increasing respect for the rights and welfare of the people, eminent men of science have turned their attention seriously to the task of embodying their ideas in popular form.

In his introduction to the present volume, Prof. Tyndall remarks: "One evening during my residence in Berlin, my friend Dr. Du Bois-Reymond put a pamphlet in my hands, remarking that it was the 'production of the first head in Europe since the death of Jacobi,' and that 'it ought to be translated into English.'" That "first head in Europe" was on the shoulders of Helmholtz, and the pamphlet was his celebrated essay on the "Interaction of the Natural Forces," which has been extensively circulated in this country, and is one of the most elegant and popular expositions of the doctrine of the "Conservation of Force" that has appeared in any language. The first complete work of Prof. Helmholtz in English is the volume now issued, consisting of popular lectures on scientific subjects. Speaking of these lectures in his preface, the author says: "If I may claim that they have any leading thought, it would be that I have endeavored to illustrate the essence and the import of natural laws and their relation to the mental activity of man. This seems to me the chief interest and the chief need in lectures before a public whose education has been mainly literary." It is gratifying to note that this statement of the chief aim of popular science entirely coincides with the view presented in the prospectus of The Popular Science Monthly. It is not the illiterate that are to be addressed, but the classes that have received such cultivation as the prevailing educational system affords, while the development and illustration of natural laws in their bearing upon the higher nature and elements of man is the ultimate and most important end to be attained.

Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand Helmholtz was born at Potsdam in 1821. He studied medicine, and was at first military physician and afterward assistant at the Astronomical Museum at Berlin in 1848. From 1849 to 1852 he was Professor of Physiology in the University of Königsberg. He became Professor of Physiology at the University of Bonn in 1855, and in 1858 accepted the physiological chair in the University of Heidelberg. He is now reestablished in Berlin as professor in the university of that city. Prof. Helmholtz has attained a recognized preëminence in three great departments of knowledge—physiology, physics, and mathematics. He began with the study of physiology, but, finding that to be dependent upon physics, he proceeded to master the physical field. But here, finding again that physics depends upon mathematics, he pushed on to the conquest of this department of science. His great works are on "Physiological Optics" and "The Physiology of Audition," and, by his thorough acquaintance with physics and mathematics, he has greatly enriched and extended our knowledge of the science of these higher senses. Prof. Helmholtz's intellect is characterized by great breadth and synthetic grasp, which leads him to take large views, and treat the subjects he enters upon with comprehensiveness. The opening and closing papers of the present volume—the first, "On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in General," and the last, "On the Aim and Progress of Physical Science"—are admirable examples of this broad judicial treatment of the subjects discussed. His statement of the reactions of science and philosophy in Germany, and the influence of the German universities upon contemporary thought, in the first paper, is especially admirable. The volume also contains very able articles upon his special subjects of investigation—one "On the Physiological Causes of Harmony in Music," and another elaborate paper, in three parts, "On the Recent Progress of the Theory of Vision." There is also a very interesting lecture "On Goethe's Scientific Researches," and an elaborate discussion of glacial phenomena. Two papers are also given "On the Interaction and Conservation of Forces," a subject which Prof. Helmholtz has pursued independently, and which in these expositions is presented in its fundamental principles. Numerous illustrations enhance the instructiveness of the volume, which, though compactly written, is still remarkably clear in its explanations. Prof. Helmboltz is an eminent master of the art of statement, but, as his thoughts appear in a foreign language, the force and finish of the original composition are not to be looked for. Yet the several translations of this volume by Professors Eve, Ellis, Atkinson, Tyndall, and Drs. Flight and Pye-Smith, have been made with great care, so that the work is as attractive and readable in style as it is solid and instructive in its thought. We commend this book to all who are interested in the higher scientific problems of the age, as treated by one of its master-minds.

The Mineral Springs of the United States and Canada, with Analyses and Notes of the Prominent Spas of Europe, and a List of Sea-side Resorts. By George E. Walton, M. D. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

The author of this work seems at first to have been sorely perplexed as to whether there are or are not any medicinal virtues in mineral waters. The public is inclined to be credulous in regard to their remedial uses, and the medical profession is inclined to be skeptical about them. In point of fact, great numbers of people with divers ailments seek the mineral fountains of various localities, and use them very much at hap-hazard. At the same time he says that, while the American profession is inclined to be incredulous as to the medical services of these springs, eminent European physicians, such as Trousseau and Niemeyer, assign an important place to mineral waters in the treatment of many chronic diseases. In this unsatisfactory state of opinion, Dr. Walton entered systematically upon the inquiry as to the remedial uses of the mineral waters of the United States and Canada, and in the volume now printed he has endeavored to arrange all the known facts concerning them in such a manner that they shall be readily accessible, and serve to guide the reader in selecting such as shall be best adapted to his own wants: "For this purpose he has consulted the best European authors, their conclusions being drawn from hundreds of years of laborious investigation of the spas of Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy. It has been interesting, in the course of this study, to note how closely the conclusions drawn by them, concerning the action of different classes of waters, agree with the observations made at springs in this country independent of any knowledge of foreign research. The portion relating to the springs of the United States is the result of a selection of credible evidence regarding them gained by correspondence and personal observation."

After some preliminary chapters on the nature, classification, and chemical constituents of mineral waters and their relations to various organs and diseases, Dr. Walton considers the springs of the country under the heads of "Saline Waters," "Sulphur Waters," "Chalybeate Waters," "Purgative Waters," "Calcic Waters," and "Thermal Waters," and the resources of the whole country are then given in respect to mineral waters having these various properties. Of all the localities in the United States or Canada, Saratoga is the most eminent for the extent and variety of its fountains. Dr. Walton gives the analysis of 15 of its springs, tabulating no less than 23 of their constituents held in solution; and of their general character he remarks:

"The principal constituents of these waters are chloride of sodium, the alkaline carbonates, and carbonic-acid gas, hence they may be termed alkaline-saline waters, of which the famed Seltzer Spring of Nassau is a typical example. In point of merit, the Saratoga waters equal, if they do not surpass, any of the kind in the world. The large amount of carbonic acid which they contain, and the favorable combination of ingredients, render them very easy of digestion, and, to most persons, exceedingly pleasant to the taste. Many wonder why it is that during the hot months of the year such numbers crowd to Saratoga, thinking it only a whim of fashion; but, aside from social attractions or amusements, there is a positive value in the water, and pleasure in drinking it, which will always attract multitudes to its fountains. These waters are especially adapted to cases of dyspepsia; those depending on high living and an engorged condition of the abdominal viscera are peculiarly subject to their beneficial influence. In jaundice, depending on catarrh of the biliary ducts, they are curative, and they would undoubtedly prove beneficial in cases of gall-stones with a tendency to their continual formation and passage. In engorgement of the liver, and all conditions of abdominal plethora, they are a valuable remedy."

Of these waters which "equal, if they do not surpass, any thing of the kind in the world," some have been long tried, and others are new discoveries. The celebrated Congress Spring has had a world-wide reputation from early in the century as one of the most valuable of mineral waters. The Hathorn Spring has only been known since 1868, but it furnishes an excellent water, which is coming rapidly into favor. Dr. Walton says: "In taste and general character, it resembles the Congress water, but is stronger." These waters "bottle well," that is, undergo no change by precipitation, and are thus available for transportation to multitudes who cannot visit the springs.

The Geyser Spring, which also yields a strong and excellent water, has lately attracted much attention. Our author says of it:

"This spring is one of the curiosities of Saratoga. It was discovered in February, 1870. During a dull season, the owners of a bolt-factory, in which it is located, concluded to bore for mineral water. They chose the cellar of the factory in which to operate. Having sunk a tube to the depth of 154 feet, the water burst forth in such a volume as to entirely inundate the premises. On attaching a tube of smaller calibre, the water was projected to the height of 22 feet, and continues spouting forth in an intermittent stream. It is highly charged with carbonic-acid gas, so much so that, when drawn from a faucet into a glass, it foams up like soda-water. It is also exceedingly rich in saline constituents."

Spencer's Descriptive Sociology.—Messrs. Williams & Norgate have just issued the prospectus of a unique and most elaborate work by Mr. Herbert Spencer, consisting to a large extent of the tabulated material which he has accumulated for his "Principles of Sociology." In preparation for the latter work, requiring as bases of induction large accumulations of data, fitly arranged for comparison, Mr. Herbert Spencer, some five years ago, commenced the collection and organization of facts presented by societies of different types, past and present. Though this classified compilation of materials was entered upon slowly to facilitate his own work, yet, after having brought the mode of classification to a satisfactory form, and after having had some of the tables filled up, the results appeared likely to be of such value that Mr. Spencer decided to have the undertaking executed with a view to publication: the facts collected and arranged for easy reference and convenient study of their relations, being so presented, apart from hypotheses, as to aid all students of Social Science in testing such conclusions as they have drawn and in drawing others. The work consists of three large divisions. Each comprises a set of tables exhibiting the facts as abstracted and classified, and a mass of quotations and abridged extracts, otherwise classified, on which the statements contained in the tables are based. The condensed statements, arranged after a uniform manner, give at one view, in each table or succession of tables, the phenomena of all orders which each society presents—constitute an account of its morphology, its physiology, and (if a society having a known history) its development. On the other hand, the collected extracts, serving as authorities for the statements in the tables, are (or, rather, will be, when the work is complete) classified primarily according to the kinds of phenomena to which they refer, and secondarily according to the societies exhibiting these phenomena; so that each kind of phenomenon, as it is displayed in all societies, may be separately studied with convenience. The three divisions, each thus constituted, comprehend three groups of societies: 1. Uncivilized Societies; 2. Civilized Societies—Extinct or Decayed; 3. Civilized Societies—Recent or still Flourishing. Several sample tables have been sent us, and as a specimen of the classifactory headings under which the immense array of facts are grouped, we shall give those belonging to Table IX. of Division I. ("Uncivilized Races"), the Sandwich-Islanders, one of the Malayo-Polynesian Races. First are given their Inorganic Environment (Climate, Surface); Organic Environment (Vegetal, Animal); Sociological Environment (adjacent tribes), Physical, Emotional, and Intellectual Characters. Then follow the tables, divided into Structural and Functional, each of which is subdivided into Operative and Regulative. The Structural Operative is again subdivided into Operative and Regulative; the Structural Regulative is subdivided into Political (Civil [Domestic (Marital, Filial), Public], Military), Ecclesiastical, and Ceremonial (Mutilations, Funeral Rites, Laws of Intercourse, Habits, and Customs). Under Functional, the Regulative is subdivided into Sentiments (Æsthetic, Moral), Ideas (Superstitions, Knowledge), and Language; the Operative into Processes (Distribution, Exchange, Production, Arts, Rearing, etc.), and Products (Land - Works, Habitations, etc., Food, Clothing, Implements, Weapons, Æsthetic Products). Under each final subdivision ample details are given. The value of such a work to all students of sociology, and of mankind generally, will be inestimable.—Nature.

Introduction to Chemical Physics, designed fob the Use of Academies, High-Schools, and Colleges. By T. R. Pynchon, M. A., Professor of Chemistry and the Natural Sciences in Trinity College, Hartford. New York: D. Van Nostrand.

The principle of subdivision of labor, upon which our civilization rests, is nowhere more marked than in education. As knowledge extends, and greater thoroughness of study is demanded, science inevitably becomes specialized. A few years ago, two or three introductory chapters on the physics of the subject were prefixed to the treatises on chemistry: now an independent volume is required for the purpose. Miller's "Chemical Physics" is part of his encyclopaedic work upon chemical science; but Prof. Pynchon's book is a complete treatise upon the subject, independently presented. The author considers the intimate bearings of heat, light, and electricity, upon the production of chemical phenomena, and his exposition is so full that it not only meets the wants of the higher educational institutions, but will prove equally useful as a guide for manufacturers and practical men. We are glad to see that this work is well appreciated abroad. The London Mining Journal, in a very commendatory review, epitomizes its contents as follows: "The history of chemistry is briefly sketched, and reference is made to the fundamental principles of the science, to the apparatus used, to the constitution of some of the most important chemical compounds, to the chemical agents—heat, light, and electricity—and why they are called imponderables, and to other similar elementary matters, a knowledge of which is required for the more profitable study of the succeeding chapters. The chapter on the first chemical agent—heat—is as complete a treatise on the subject as is found in the best college text-books devoted to the subject, and, although concise, the style is by no means uninteresting; the diffusion of heat-expansion, liquefaction, ebullition, evaporation, specific heat, sources of heat, nature of heat, are each treated of, the explanations being rendered particularly clear by the admirable illustrations by which they are accompanied. Light and electricity are dealt with in an equally complete and satisfactory manner, ample details being given with regard to the nature of light, its sources, reflection, refraction, the solar spectrum, spectrum analysis, the effect of light, and the relations of light and heat; while in the chapter upon electricity there are very full sections upon statistical and galvanic electricity, electro-magnetism, magneto-, thermo-, and animal electricity, and the relations which the several chemical agents bear to each other."

Fifth Annual Report on the Noxious, Beneficial and other Insects of the State of Missouri. By Charles V. Riley, State Entomologist. 1873.

That abundance of correct information about the habits of noxious insects should be diffused among farmers is a thing of capital importance. Many insect-pests, which in former times ravaged the fields and orchards with impunity, are now easily held in check, or exterminated, owing to the enlarged knowledge derived from the researches of scientific entomologists. For instance, after it is once known that the parent Hessian fly makes its first appearance in the latitude of Missouri, about the beginning of September, and usually disappears before the end of that month, the prudent farmer will preserve his grain from the attacks of that destroyer by deferring his planting till October. In like manner, the army worm may be defeated by burning up her eggs with the grass-stalks in which they are deposited. Or we may enlist in our service the natural enemies of the various insect-pests, such as birds, toads, snakes. But their greatest foes are "those of their own household," predaceous or cannibal and parasitic insects. The study of the habits of these insect allies and insect enemies of the husbandman is the occupation of the practical entomologist. The importance of entomological research is now more generally recognized than it was a few years ago, when Dr. Asa Fitch, of New York, was the only State entomologist in the Union. New York, it is true, no longer employs an entomologist, having very unwisely abolished the office two years ago. Other States, however, have instituted the office, and their example is likely to be imitated throughout the Union. The States at present employing entomologists are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, and Missouri, and Mr. Townsend Glover is attached to the National Department of Agriculture, in the same capacity.

Mr. Riley's very able report is in itself perfectly satisfactory evidence of the value of such studies.

We are pleased to see incorporated with the report a succinct treatise on entomology, intended to give the intelligent farmer an easy introduction to the science.

Eighteenth Annual Report of the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Public Schools, for the Year ending August 1, 1872. With Appendix; pp. 319.

This report contains a good deal of important matter that has a more than local value. Besides many instructive details relating to the management of the St. Louis schools, their accomplished superintendent, Mr. W. T. Harris, gives us his views on grading and classification in a system of schools, on the course of study for the public school best suited to modern requirements, and on the important subject of school discipline. On the practice of whipping in schools, he quotes from Superintendent Monteith, as follows: "The indiscriminate use of the whip in school is a practice which is to be condemned as barbarous, cruel, and wicked. It is a wonder that society is so indulgent toward that which, if applied to animals instead of children, would not be tolerated for a moment. I regret to say it, but it is true, that a 'society for the prevention of cruelty to children' could find work for humane hands in many Missouri schools. The case is aggravated when we consider, further, that about two-thirds of the whippings which school-children receive are inflicted for offences for which they are in no way responsible. The crimes they commit, upon which pedagogical vengeance is wreaked, when stripped of the color given to them by unmeaning and senseless rules, are simply the crimes of being a boy and being a girl. They are too often crimes which are incited by bad air, cold feet and shoulders, overwork, and long confinement. They are crimes which the parents of these same children are accustomed to excuse in themselves, when they sit in church, by the dulness or length of the sermon, or other circumstances that offend against Nature, and which they sometimes soothe with fennel or hartshorn, or by changing of position, and not seldom with sleep. When children know they are not really deserving of punishment, the effect of whipping is to deaden the moral sensibilities, diminish self-respect, and render young natures rude, reckless, and desperate."

The report proper closes with a summarized statement of the more important features of the St. Louis school system, which, both for the intelligent care with which it is directed, and the excellent results attained, is worthy of the consideration of educators generally.

Report on a Topographical Survey of the Adirondack Wilderness of New York. By Verplanck Colvin. Albany, 1873. The Argus Company, Printers.

This is an important contribution to the geography of the State of New York. All the maps of the Adirondack region hitherto published abound in inaccuracies, which are here, for the first time, authoritatively corrected. Even so prominent a landmark as Mount Marcy, the highest mountain of the State, is, in the usual maps, located miles distant from its true place. When a map of the Wilderness is constructed on the data of Mr. Colvin's survey, it will indicate a multitude of great streams, lakes, and mountain elevations, quite ignored by the map-makers. With regard to the future of the Wilderness, Mr. Colvin thinks that the whole water-shed of the Hudson, within the limits of the Adirondack region, should be preserved in its present condition, as a forest farm, and as a source of water-supply for the cities and great towns on the Hudson, from Troy to New York and Brooklyn.