Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/October 1887/Notes


Pertinently to an expression of doubt by Mr. David A. Wells in one of his articles on Mexico, as to the Aztecs having knowledge or making use of metal tools, Mr. W. W. Blake, in the "American Antiquarian," mentions as being on exhibition in the Archæological Rooms of the National Museum of Mexico, idols, beads, and engraved clasps of gold; lip-ornaments and other articles of silver; numerous tools, weapons, and ornaments of copper; and "chopping-knives" of copper, which are supposed to have been used as money.

Nine tenths of wild animals in confinement are said by a medical writer to be subject to heart-disease; but all animals have their peculiarities. Elephants are subject to many diseases, the most common and fatal of which is rheumatism. Monkeys and baboons generally die from bronchial affections and heart-disease, and suffer much from typhoid fever. Animals of the feline race are most subject to dysentery and heart-disease; and their prey, deer, antelopes, etc., are most liable to the same afflictions. Animals of the canine tribe are the healthiest, but too many wolves must not be kept together, or they will eat one another.

Dr. R. W. Shufeldt believes that the veterinary staff of our army needs improvement, and has suggested a plan for its reorganization, with a corps of officers carefully chosen. Thus properly organized, it could form an invaluable nucleus on which to build in time of war; in time of peace could do service to science by making comparative studies in diseases and injuries among all the domesticated animals; could more fully develop the morphology and physiology of our mammalian fauna—a work in which there is need for immediate action before some of the types shall become extinct.

In a paper on "Indicative Plants," Dr. R. W. Raymond considers a connection which is reported to exist between certain plants and the metallic contents of the soil on which they grow. Among the instances cited are the zinc violet (Viola calaminaria), of the Calamine Hills of Rhenish Prussia and Belgium; the lead-plant (Amorpha canescens), believed by American miners to grow only in localities containing galena; and the silver-plant (Eriogonum ovalifolium), which is regarded as a sign of silver-ores. The theories on this subject, if there be any, still lack the essential elements of verification.

General Prjevalsky is to be presented by the Imperial Scientific Society of St. Petersburg with a gold medal which has been specially struck in his honor by order of the emperor. It bears on the obverse the initials of the recipient, and on the reverse the inscription, "To the first student of the natural history of Central Asia."

Indian botanists report upon a plant which has the singular property of destroying the taste of sweetness. It is an asclepiad, and is called Gymnema sylvestre. After chewing a few of the leaves for a short time, if sugar be taken, the palate is found to have become insensible to all of its peculiar qualities, and it will have no more taste than sand. General Ellis has found that the Gymnema has also the property of abolishing the power of enjoying a cigar. It also destroys the bitter taste of quinine; but it does not affect pungent and saline things, astringents, and acids. The peculiar property of the leaves is dissolved out by alcohol, and appears to reside in an acid which is called gymnemic acid.

The Swedish count, M. Björnstjerna, suggested more than forty years ago, in a book on "The Theogony of the Hindoos," that, as both poles must have been cooled to a suitable temperature at the same time, the earth might have been peopled from the north pole with its white races, and from the south pole with its colored races.

Observations made at the late South Kensington Aquarium upon the effect of temperature on fish, show that the dogfish, mullet, conger, skate, flounder, bass, cod, trout, catfish, pike, and carp are extremely hardy, and can exist in a temperature ranging from 34° to 71°. The gurnard, wrasse, bull-head, sole, bream, crayfish, blennie, perch, dace, tench, minnow, chub, roach, and gudgeon are sensitive to extremes of temperature. Dr. Orme Masson, of the University of Melbourne, takes a hopeful view of the prospects of chemistry in Australia. The university expects soon to have well-equipped laboratories for the practical instruction of classes of medical students and for the accommodation of specialists.

The military doctors account for the prevalence of diseases of the heart in the French army as arising from the fatiguing duties imposed on recruits, at an age when, generally, the development of the body is not in harmony with that of the heart, but either in advance of it or behind it. In the latter case, there is hypertrophy of growth; in the former, insufficiency.

Mr. Goschen, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, recently assured a deputation of local university colleges that the subject of further developing technical and scientific education would receive the most serious attention of the Government.

Mr. T. P. White, in a communication to the Chemical Society, gives a decidedly negative answer to the question whether the acids of canned fruits may not form poisonous salts with the tin. He reports, as the result of his experiments, that "tin is entirely devoid of danger when taken internally in any form that might arise from being in contact with fruits or vegetables." He believes that the cases of accidental poisoning attributed to tin were due to solder or other impurities—arsenic, copper, or lead. Professor W. Mattieu Williams says that there need be no lead in the solder—that it is only put in for cheapness' sake, and that tin makes a superior solder to any alloy. Therefore, all danger may be obviated by prohibiting the use of any other solder than pure tin.

Professor Chevreul, on the 31st of August, which was his one hundred and second birthday, in perfect health, attended a meeting of the Agricultural Society and made a pleasant speech, thanking his colleagues for a bouquet which they had presented to him.

The President has appointed Professor G. Brown Goode to succeed Professor Baird, deceased, as United States Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries.


Alvan Clark, the famous telescope-maker, died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 19th, in the eighty-fourth year of his age. He was born in 1804, was taught in the public schools only; having a taste for painting and engraving, he became a calico-engraver at Lowell and elsewhere; then worked as a portrait-painter for twenty years; took up the making of telescope-lenses in 1846, and, without any other instruction than his own shop afforded, rose to unquestioned pre-eminence in that profession. He was the maker of some of the largest telescopes in the world, including the McCormick telescope at Chicago, the great instruments at Princeton and Washington, the telescope at Pulkowa, Russia, and the Lick telescope, of California.

Spencer F. Baird, head of the Smithsonian Institution and of the United States Fish Commission, died at Wood's Holl, Massachusetts, August 19th, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. He began making a collection of birds when fourteen years old, and contributed papers to the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences while still a youth; was graduated from Dickinson College when seventeen; studied medicine, but did not go into practice; became Professor of Natural History in Dickinson College in 1845; projected a work with Agassiz, which was not completed, on the fresh-water fishes of the United States; was elected Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1850; was promoted to the head of that institution on the death of Professor Henry; and was appointed Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries in 1871. A list of his works and published contributions in 1882 contained more than one thousand titles.

M. Alfred Terquem, Professor of Physics at Lille, died in Paris, July 17th, in the fifty-seventh year of his age. He was a son of the eminent geologist, Terquem, also deceased.

August Friedrich Pott, who is associated by Professor Max Müller, with Bopp and Grimm, as "the triumvirs who founded the science of comparative philology," died at Halle on the 5th of July, in his eighty-fifth year. He was connected with the University of Halle during his entire active life, and was the author of "Etymologische Forschungen" and of works on the gypsies, on personal names, and on numerals, of essays on mythology, African languages, and general grammar, and of other books and papers.

Sir Walter Elliot, of the Indian Civil Service, who died recently in the eighty-fifth year of his age, was distinguished for his archæological and numismatic researches, and also for his contributions to zoölogy, a large number of which appear in the names of other naturalists, to whom he communicated them. His "Catalogue of the Species of Mammalia found in the Southern Mahratta Country" was a list of the wild animals of the country, many of which were discovered by him. The habits of the larger animals were described from personal observation.