Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/August 1888/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: Last October an article appeared in your "Monthly" entitled "Strange Medicines," by Miss C. F. Gordon Gumming. To her very interesting list I would like to add a strange remedy, or method of cure, which has come to my knowledge since reading the above-mentioned article. To this day, in some parts of Indiana, there is practiced what is called "measuring" for "flesh-decay" As far as my information goes, this remedy is only applied to infants. By "flesh-decay" is meant the pining or wasting away sometimes noticed in babies—who, for no very apparent reason, become fretful, thin, and puling. In such cases, in regions where the superstition I am trying to describe prevails, instead of calling in a regular physician, some old or middle-aged woman is sent for to "measure" the sick child. The process is performed thus: The baby is undressed and laid flat on a bed, as flat and straight as possible; then any common cotton string is taken in the hands of the performer, and carefully and accurately, from the crown of its head to the soles of its feet, the string is stretched over the body, to ascertain its exact length. This length is cut off and given the parents of the child, who are told to bury it in the earth in some obscure corner; and the belief is that when that string begins to decay, the child will begin to recover. My informant, who recently came to this State from Indiana, has seen this done, and knows of its being done many times. I can not find out how the supposed gift to cure thus comes to be credited to certain persons. As far as the observation of my informant went, in cases where the "measuring" process was used to cure "flesh-decay," the sick child, when it did begin to improve, began to do so much sooner than the buried cotton string would have in all probability begun to decay. That babies sometimes took a decided turn for the better after the "measuring" process can, it seems to me, be accounted for in this way: Sick people, and especially children, are, by the most eminent physicians and experienced nurses, recognized to be very susceptible to the feelings of those around them: i. e., if those around are very anxious and discouraged about their condition, it has a depressing influence on the invalid; whereas an atmosphere of cheerfulness and hope helps them to recover. In the above case, the parents and relatives of the sick baby who has been "measured," having perfect faith in the efficacy of the cure, would, after the performance, surround the little sufferer with an atmosphere more favorable to its recovery. Besides this, as near as I could find out, the persons used to wield this cotton-string cure were tat, motherly old dames, whose manipulations of the sick child while smoothing it out on the bed to get it straight, would be likely to have a soothing, revivifying effect. But I am here entering on that mystic theme, the relations of mind to matter, which I feel far too unlearned to discuss.Yours truly,

Mrs. A. J. Towner.
Santa Ana, Cal., April 17, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Mathematics and astronomy have been somewhat successfully studied in China during two or three thousand years; but geography, geology, botany, zoölogy, human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and physics have been unknown in native literature. Many dreary volumes have been written, by Chinese authors, upon plants, animals, and ethnology, with curious myths, fables, and superstitions set forth as facts. In spite of the vast bulk of its pseudo-scientific literature, no true science can be said to have existed in China until it was introduced from the West, by the Jesuit missionaries, in the fifteenth century. Since that time, and especially during the last few decades, many books of European origin have been translated into Chinese, and a goodly number of volumes of a scientific and technical character have been prepared by Protestant and Catholic missionaries, and by foreigners in the service of the Chinese Government. The number of such books became considerable, but no organized system for their sale or distribution throughout the empire had existed until, in 1885, Mr. John Fryer, of the Kiangnan Arsenal in Shanghai, established, as an experimental and philanthropic undertaking, a Chinese "Scientific Book Depot," for the purpose of facilitating the spread of all useful literature in the native language. Elementary books on the various sciences studied in Western nations were offered for sale, with works on mechanics, engineering, surgery, therapeutics, and translations of Wheaton's "International Law" and Loomis's "Differential Calculus." The catalogue contained over two hundred scientific and educational treatises, translated or compiled and published in Chinese, under foreign management, with a selection of about two hundred and fifty sound and instructive works of native origin. The price of the books ranged between two cents and sixteen dollars, the average being ten cents. During the first year the expenses of the "Scientific Book Depot" were covered by the profits on the sale of four thousand five hundred dollars' worth of books, maps, and charts. During the second year branch depots were opened at Tientsin, Hangchow, and Swatow, and the total sales for the year amounted to six thousand dollars. During the third year depots were added at Pekin, Hankow, Foochow, and Amoy, and the sales of books largely increased, so that about seventeen thousand dollars' worth of books had been sold by the end of 1887, and some of them had found their way to the most distant parts of China, and also to Corea and Japan. At least a hundred and fifty thousand volumes of this scientific and educational literature had been disposed of, in addition to considerable numbers of maps and charts. The demand for Western learning has been greatly augmented during the last year by a remarkable change in the scheme of the competitive examinations whereby successful candidates for literary degrees obtain honors and offices. In the past, only a knowledge of the native classics, with skill in the use of the native hieroglyphics, has been required of the scholar. Now, geography and natural philosophy have been added to the subjects for examination, and this action of the Government has turned the attention of students throughout the empire in a new direction. The indications are that China is to follow Japan in the path of progress in Western science and philosophy, though it may be with the slow step that accords with the magnitude of the nation.

Adele M. Field.
Swatow, China, February, 1888.