Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/May 1888/Popular Miscellany


The Meaning of Easter Eggs.—Larousse's "Dictionnaire Universel" says: "The use of Easter eggs is general among all the people of the different Christian communities. It appears to have been a symbolic tradition of the Christian Church, which has been explained in different ways. Some see in it a remembrance of the red egg which, according to Ælius Lampidius, a hen belonging to the parents of Alexander Severus laid on the day of his birth. Others trace it to the martyrdom which was inflicted upon Christians by the ova ignita.

Among pagans, the egg had a mystic sense, relating to the origin of beings and of the whole world; and it is perhaps the case that this tradition was preserved, along with many others, in the new religion. The most probable interpretation, however, is that the Christian adepts saw in the egg, in view of the phenomenon of its hatching, a symbol of the resurrection of Christ; and hence the custom of carrying eggs to the temple on Easter-day to be blessed by the priest, which were afterward distributed to the family and friends. But it may be that there is in this nothing more than a joyful manifestation on the occasion of having again eggs of which the laity had been deprived during the whole of Lent."

The Audubon Monument.—We are glad to observe that the Audubon Monument Committee are moving as rapidly as the public will support them in their noble object of erecting a worthy monument to our first great naturalist. The enterprise is under the immediate care of our ornithological and scientific societies, in whose behalf the committees are acting; but contributions are desired and solicited from the general public. Audubon gave luster to the American name when it was in low esteem in science; and his service in literature was hardly less conspicuous. He was, moreover, a man of the people, who taught them and is still teaching them; and it is eminently proper that the people should unite in giving him the proposed testimonial of their grateful remembrance. The monument will be the first erected in America by popular contributions in honor of a scientific man; it is expected to cost ten thousand dollars, and it is intended to stand in Trinity Cemetery, overlooking the Hudson, and not far from the Audubon mansion. All gifts will be publicly acknowledged. They may be sent to William Dutcher, No. 51 Liberty Street, New York. A committee of the Linnæan Society, consisting of L. S. Foster, C. S. Allen, M. D., and Jonathan Dwight, Jr., are co-operating in this enterprise, to whom gifts may also be sent, 11 West Twenty-ninth Street, New York.

British North Borneo.—The portion of Borneo ceded to the British North Borneo Company is of about the same size with Scotland, mountainous on the western side, and having large slopes and flats on the eastern side. Among the mountains is the Kina Balu, more than 13,900 feet high. Several rivers rise near the west coast, and, following a very long and winding course, fall into the sea on the east. The junction of several of these forms the Kina Batangau, a noble stream navigable by large steamers for 150 miles. On one of the tributaries of this river, the Quarmote, are the Alexander Falls, said to be a grand cataract, but never yet seen by any European. The rivers on the east coast run through an uninhabited virgin forest. On the west there is a fair population. From the healthfulness .of its climate, the equableness and moderate heat of its temperature, the absence of physical disturbances, and the prodigious natural wealth with which it abounds. North Borneo promises to support a very large population. Ferocious wild animals are absent, while large game appears to be plenty. Valuable timber exists in great quantities, and is accessible; and, after the wood has been cleared off, the ground will be available for cultivation.

Philosophy of Combinations of Capital and Labor.—In an address before the Christian Conference which was held in Washington last December, ex-Mayor Low, of Brooklyn, held that the combinations of capital and labor, as represented by the corporation and the trades-union, arc not necessarily antagonistic to one another, but are really different manifestations of the same force—the force which emphasizes the interdependence of society as against the individualizing forces of popular government. If the working on one side has resulted in wrong, it is equally the case on the other side; but the corporation is liable to the imputation that it is without sympathies and without a conscience. The workman is under the disadvantage that in the present minute division of labor his occupation has become almost wholly mechanical, and in case of the loss of his single function he has no resource. This belittling of the workmen's life has doubtless aggravated their sense of antagonism to capital. The same influences which have reduced the workingman in his daily scope have widened indescribably the privilege and opportunity of capital. Has capital appreciated as it should the responsibility and the duty which come with the privilege?

Mother-of-Pearl in the Red Sea.—The mother-of-pearl fisheries of the Red Sea extend the whole length of that water. About three hundred boats are employed by the Arab tribes who are engaged in the work—open, undecked boats, of from eight to twenty tons burden, carrying a large lateen sail, manned by crews of from five to twelve men, and each provided with a number of small canoes. There are two fishing seasons during the year, one of four and one of eight months, during nearly the whole of which the boats keep the sea. Fatal accidents are said to be unknown among the divers, and they are remarkable for their strength and good health. They dive between the ages of ten and forty years, and the practice is said to have no ill effects. Operations are conducted only in calm weather, when the shell can be discovered by the eye at a depth varying between seven and fifteen fathoms. Of late years, empty petroleum tins, with the ends knocked out and a sheet of glass inserted in one end, have been used to assist the eye. The glazed end of the tin is submerged under the sea, when a much clearer and deeper vision is obtained. During the last ten years the find is said to have diminished, owing to the dearth of shells, from ten to twenty per cent in quantity. Shells brought to Jeddah for sale are disposed of at public auction in heaps of about half a hundred-weight each. As preliminary inspection is not allowed, the bidding is purely speculative. The bulk of the shells are now sent to Trieste, a small number to London, and a few to Havre; and some of the finest and largest shells are purchased for exportation to Bethlehem, where they are engraved and sold to pilgrims.

Games of the Greek Islanders.—Some of the games of the Greek islanders are described by Mr. J. Theodore Bent, in an article on "Greek Peasant Life," as wild, some as amusing, and some as distinctly traced to antiquity, "as probably all could if we had ample records to go upon." At Easter-time the maidens of many islands have the game of swing. They hang a rope from one wall of the narrow village street to the other. On this they put some clothes to form a seat, and two maidens seated side by side, facing in opposite directions, swing, and as they swing sing local ditties, plaintive for the most part, and in a high, shrill voice. The young men try to pass by, and are called upon for a toll of a copper apiece, a song, and a swing. They generally sing such words as these: "The gold is swung, the silver is swung, and swung, too, is my love with the golden hair." To which the maiden replies, "Who is it that swings me, that I may gild him with my favor, that I may work for him a fez all covered with pearls?" Having paid his copper, the youth is allowed to pass, and another comes by and does likewise. These games at Volathia, in Karpathos, take place on the Sundays in Lent, when the young men who are home from their work on this day can be present. "We are strongly reminded of the game of swing which the maidens of Athens played in remembrance of the death of Erigone, who hung herself from a tree, when they sang plaintive ditties in honor of her name and garlanded themselves with flowers, whereas now they sing solemn ditties about the passion and resurrection of our Lord. Among the games played by the boys of Samos, I saw one which bore a curious resemblance to single-wicket cricket. They call it 'ball,' σφαῖρος. There are five players on each side. One side is in; the other fields. The one who is in defends his wicket, a stone erected on the grass, with his hand. When he hits the ball he does not run, but counts one when the ball is sent beyond a certain boundary-line they have. If the ball hits the stone, he is out. In the mountain villages of Samos may still be traced in various forms the ancient game of δακτύλον επάλλαξις, which we can see depicted on a vase for us in the Munich Museum. It exists still in Italy under the name of morra, but in its simplest form it has survived in Samos. We saw two little boys playing together. One leaned against a wall, head downward; the other placed his two fists one above the other on his playfellow's back. 'Which hand is uppermost?' he cried. The other guessed. 'No, it isn't,' was generally the reply, accompanied by a pretty smart smack. A more elaborate form of this game is when two boys, leap-frog fashion, stoop down, the foremost against the wall, and the hinder-most helping him. A third boy leaps on the back of the one nearest to him, extends a certain number of fingers, and cries, 'How many fingers in the air?' The front boy has to guess, and if wrong receives a smack from the rider. Not only among boys is this a popular game, but πόσα, 'How many?' is a favorite game at village-feasts. Six men were playing it when I saw it, three on each side. The three on one side were called the beasts of burden, that is to say, they turned their backs to the other three, who jumped upon them. Having done this, one of the riders put one hand over the eyes of his 'beast of burden' and held the other in the air, and as he did so extended some fingers and closed others, and cried, πόσα, 'How many?' If the beast of burden is stupid in guessing the right number of fingers extended, he receives sundry boxes on the ears and general rough treatment from his rider amid the laughs and jeers of the bystanders. When all three beasts of burden have guessed aright, they change places with their riders, who have to guess in their turn."

Preparation for the End of the World.—Some of the people of Birmingham, England, conceived recently that the end of the world was at hand, and adopted various queer means to mitigate the effects of the dreaded event. Old women went to their Bibles, and younger women to bed. Three women, failing to get the protection they sought from a policeman, clubbed their pennies to buy a Bible. Other persons, thinking that the world was to be set on fire by the collision of two stars, believed that it would be safest to avoid the streets. A story is told of an old nurse, on another occasion, who, imagining that a very heavy and dark thunder-storm meant the end of the world, went up-stairs and put on her best cap. In another thunder-storm, conveying a similar suggestion, a panic-stricken sufferer lamented that the parson was not at home. On the morning after a storm on the island of Sark, which nearly blew the house over, the old housekeeper addressed her master: "Eh! Mr. B——, did you hear the wind? Eh! I thought the day of judgment had come." "And what did you do?" the master asked. "Eh! Mr. B——, I got up and made myself a little cup o' tea."

Some Principles of Chemistry-Teaching.—A paper by Lillie J. Martin, of the High-School, Indianapolis, on "Chemistry in the High -School," contains some good thoughts on the subject of teaching the science. While historical study, rightly carried on, does not preclude work that gives the kind of discipline that science should give, and itself has many advantages, "the great danger is that the distinctive aims of science-study will be lost sight of in the historical study," as is alleged to be done in too many text-books. At the bottom of the author's system of teaching lies the principle that the peculiar discipline of chemistry-study comes through the proper use of the laboratory. In practice, she divides the time about equally between getting the facts, or laboratory-work, and considering the facts, or class-room work. Simple apparatus, made or adapted by the pupil, is pronounced the best; and her own description of the apparatus recommended shows how the most common things, some of them costing nothing, may be made to serve. Four kinds of experimental work are declared to be too much neglected in high-schools: work that teaches pupils the use of their senses; work that acquaints them with the underlying laws of the science; work that throws them on themselves, or independent qualitative analysis; and work that teaches scientific exactness, or quantitative work. Encouragement of pupils to do original work and write about it when they have done it is insisted upon. Many experiences have taught the author that even the best text-books should be preceded by work which would throw the pupils upon the use of their senses in learning their lessons. In her own teaching of laboratory-work, in order to save time, experiments to be done on a certain day are indicated the day before, and are learned by the pupil; and general directions as to the particular way of doing each experiment are given at the beginning of the experiment-hour. By a little encouragement pupils will do a good deal of extra experimental work, and much of this can be done at home, with great gain in independence and originality. The ability to write what is laid down in the text-book is not a sufficient test for promotion in chemistry. The "literary test" in examinations makes pupils feel that chemical information is the thing to strive for; and, to counteract this tendency, the author suggests, in a question, that high-school laboratories should be opened for a practical test during examination, to make pupils understand that a knowledge of chemistry means the ability to deal with Nature.

The Origin of "Manners."—Otto Goldmeister, in writing on the usages of politeness, treats the subject as a universal one, the adequate treatment of which would have to include all people, of all times and places, and of every degree of barbarism and civilization. An institution thus coextensive with mankind can not have originated in convention or the caprice of some small social groups, or have been the product of any particular period of time. The presumption is therefore justified that the social code of manners has some kind of a bearing on the development and welfare of the race, and that it contributes to some end that can not be so easily reached in any other way. The essence of courtesy consists in our using the outer signs of esteem toward a person whom we do not know or may inwardly despise, in order to place ourselves in a position in which we may deal with him for the time being without inconvenience. In doing this, we regard the other person simply as a fellow-member of the human race, and say to him by implication: "The good elements of the race command my respect. I will presume that you belong to them, but I have at present no occasion to inquire whether that is so or not. I will act upon this presumption till the contrary is shown. Deal with me on the same principle." We must look for the origin of the outer manifestations of courtesy to the signals of peace manifest among savage tribes and rude men. As manners become ameliorated, what in the beginning meant "Your life is safe," comes to mean "You are welcome." Some of the manifestations may be traced directly back to gestures, or to attitudes showing the person using them to be unarmed. He stoops as if to drop his weapons; he holds up his empty hands; he crosses his arms upon his breast; he kneels, or he touches the ground with his forehead. From these come the "present arms" of the military service; from the taking off of the helmet came the opening of the visor of the old knights and the raising or touching the hat of the modern salutation; and possibly from the raising of the empty hands, the "shake-hands" gesture of the present time. The idea that we pay honor to another by standing in his presence is doubtless a survival from times when more scanty provision was made for seats than now, and the best place was given to the preferred person.

A Remarkable Specimen of Rock-Crystal.—Mr. George F. Kimz exhibited to the American Association some remarkably large specimens of rock-crystal from Ashe County, North Carolina. His attention was first called to the locality by receiving from there a fifty-one-pound fragment which was said to have been broken from a mass weighing three hundred pounds, by a mountain-girl twelve years old. Other specimens from farms in the same neighborhood were a remarkably clear twenty-pound half-distorted crystal, one weighing one hundred and eighty-eight pounds, and another—twenty-nine inches long, eighteen inches wide, and thirteen inches thick, showing one pyramidal termination perfect, and another partly so—weighing two hundred and eighty-five pounds. These localities are on a spur of the Phoenix Mountain, about fifty miles from Abingdon and forty miles from Marion, Virginia. The crystals were all found in disintegrated crystalline rocks, consisting principally of coarse feldspathic granite, which have all decomposed to a greater depth than their position. Most of them are obtained by digging where one crystal has been found, or by driving a plow till some hard object is struck. Several dozen have been found weighing from twenty to thirty pounds each. Some of these crystals afford larger masses of clear rock-crystal than have ever before been found in the United States, and suggest the use of that substance for such objects of luxury as crystal balls, clock-cases, mirrors, etc., of which examples may be seen in the Austrian Treasury at Vienna.

Origin of River-Swamps.—Prof. N. S. Shaler has observed, in studying the freshwater swamps of New England, that those rivers which flow southwardly run in clear beds, through valleys that are free from swamps; while the valleys of all the rivers flowing to the north are swampy. The former rivers flow freely, the latter are sluggish. He believes that this condition may be accounted for as the result of successive movements or changes of level which took place during the Glacial period, or at and after its close, the succession having probably been as follows: 1. The subsidence of the land-surface under the weight of the ice to a depth below the level of the sea; 2. With the retreat of the ice, a re-elevation, in a sudden manner, to a height above the level of the sea; and, 3. With the disappearance of the ice from the continent, a readjustment of its position and a consequent lowering of the southern portion of the glaciated area. It is not likely that in the readjusted condition of the continent all parts are equally elevated or equally lowered. The present levels of the several divisions of the continental area would probably be determined by complicated equations of thrusts, and it is probable that in this way we may explain the fact that certain of the lesser valleys of New England show little effect from the tilting movement which in immediately contiguous areas has had a great influence in the flow of the streams. The author observes that the facts upon which his conclusion is founded throw much light upon the pre-glacial attitude of the continent. These river-valleys retain the general form which they had before the last glacial ice began to act upon them, and they pursue their present courses because their flow is mainly determined by the existence of the pre-glacial river-valleys in which they lie. It is clear that these valleys could not have been excavated by streams of their present slope; it seems, therefore, necessary to assume that the descent of the northward-flowing rivers must have been more rapid in the pre-glacial times than it is at present, or, in other words, that this part of the continent was at that time relatively less elevated in its northern parts than it is now.

Products of the Cowles Electric Furnace.—In the American Association, Professor C. F. Mayberry gave some additional information to that which he had previously communicated concerning the aluminum products from the Cowles electrical furnace. The efficacy of charcoal in promoting an intense heat (see "Monthly" for November, 1888) had been increased by coating it with lime; and the quantity of the product was augmented by modifying the direction in which the electrodes were introduced. Some erroneous statements by foreign electricians were referred to. Among them was a remark by Dr. Martins that they did not need to be informed by Americans concerning aluminum or its alloys. No direct answer was made to this, but the tenor of the facts cited by Professor Mayberry was to the effect that that was a subject on which they had still room to be informed.

Chinese Grass-Cloth.—The fabric known as Chinese grass-cloth is made from the fiber of nettles (Bochmeria nivea and other species) which are cultivated in China, and grow in India and Ceylon. They are perennial, herbaceous plants, having broad oval leaves with a white down on the under sides, and are stingless. The fiber is worked with much skill in China, but no important manufacture of it has been developed in India. The Indian Government some time ago offered a reward for an economical method of preparing the fiber, and the want has been partly filled by two French inventions, by one of which the stems of the nettles are decorticated and freed from glutinous matter by steam-treatment, and by the other the fibers are converted into a tow ready for spinning. The cloth manufactured from this fiber is glossy, has a peculiar transparency, and is of beautiful texture; and, as belting for machinery, has double the strength of leather belting.