Open main menu

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/January 1889/Correspondence

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 34‎ | January 1889



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

MR. McGEE, in his article on "Paleolithic Man in America," in the November issue, falls into an unfortunate error in stating that I had found twenty-five thousand specimens of true paleolithic implements in the gravel. The number found is about four hundred, and this represents twelve years of most laborious search for them. Happily, it is enough to establish the fact that paleolithic man existed at the time so graphically described in McGee's article.

The error is explained, I am sure, by the author having in mind the number of catalogued specimens of the Abbott collection at the Peabody Museum at Cambridge, Mass. This collection is not of glacial man only, but of his immediate successor—the Eskimo?—and of the Delaware Indians.

Charles C. Abbott.
Trenton, N.J., November 27, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Having read, with interest, Mr. Smiley's article on "Altruism" in your November number, I venture to point out what seem, in my view, to be his errors and mistaken reasonings:

At the outset, while ignoring the fact that an intelligent and reasonable self-sacrifice lies at the very basis of the Christian system, he virtually confounds it with the extreme self-abnegation of Buddhism. There is a fundamental difference between the two. The latter system involves the utter renunciation of individuality by an absorption in Nirvana. This is the total annihilation of personal identity, the abnegation of all self-hood. For this end Buddhism demands painful and extreme penance and the denial to all good. It aims primarily, for others, at the removal of this life's lower evils, its physical woes and material necessities, and for its devotee it works mainly, if not chiefly, toward his own personal deliverance from such ills, toward a virtual non-existence.

The Christian system is just the reverse of this. Pre-eminently it recognizes and maintains the individuality of every man, disintegrating him from the great mass of humanity, and making him, separately and personally, accountable to a great Creator and a Supreme Judge. While aiming, subordinately, at the counteraction of this life's lesser evils, it strikes at the greater and gigantic forms of moral ill, lifting humanity up to a higher spiritual plane of blessedness. Thus, by means of self-discipline and wise sacrifice, it promotes human good, recognizing all men as of one great brotherhood.

Mr. Smiley then takes isolated passages of the Bible, out of their proper connection, unmodified and unbalanced by others, thus giving to them a one-sided and pessimistic meaning. Particularly does he misapprehend the intent of Christ in his command to "take no thought for the morrow," making it to enjoin, as he says, "an utter disregard of self" and a putting away of provident foresight, such as characterizes every thoughtless beggar and lazy tramp!

Now, every tyro in Greek knows that the word (μεριμνᾐσητε) translated "take no thought" does not refer merely to mental action, but rather to emotional concern, that which is accompanied by pain and trouble, so that Christ only interdicts that overweening anxiety and distressing thoughtfulness which many indulge, and which not only is opposed to a simple faith in divine providence, but emasculates the heart and unfits one for effort even toward his own good. Thus the Teacher virtually enjoins a rightful egoism.

Paul did not construe Christ's command as does Mr. Smiley, for he enjoined a proper foresight in saying that "if any provide not for his own" (the Greek being τᾣν ίὃἰων) for his own private, personal, and particular interests, "and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." What stronger egoistic teaching than this could any one wish? This self-providence Paul implies in his command to the Roman Christians that they should be "not slothful in business," which is in accord with Solomon's precept, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard." Thus, Mr. Smiley has not had regard to the comparative teachings of the Bible, as well as to the true signification of its original terms.

He affirms further that Christ's declaration of a simple fact, that "the poor we have always with us," was very unfortunately said. Now, not even assuming any divine quality for Christ, but simply admitting him to be a man of profound wisdom and far-seeing philosophy, how could his statement, contrary thereto, have been unfortunate? Mr. Smiley, however, puts this phrase about the ever-presence of the poor as approving and commending their condition, while indeed it simply states an inevitable and incontrovertible fact, growing more and more so, in each successive age, not because Christian self-denial and altruistic charity have produced this result, but because increasing and crowding populations and social vices, especially in the world's great cities, with multiplied luxuries, present temptations to self-indulgence and idleness, ultimating in poverty.

If, as Mr. Smiley asserts, the benevolent methods of relieving the poor have not diminished their number, it is evidently due not to such altruism but to these antagonistic causes. Can he prove that such benevolence has not legitimately tended, in any measure whatever, toward the checking of such evils as lead to poverty, and to the forestalling of such corruptions as ruined the republics of Greece and Rome as well as other great nationalities? Just here Mr. Smiley does not recognize the clear logical distinction between a mere occasion and an efficient cause—between an incidental result and a legitimate effect. Pro-slavery men, both at the North and the South, failed to make this distinction when they declared that the anti-slavery men brought on the rebellion, and that therefore they were the culpable cause of it. No! Slavery itself was the cause—the abolitionist was only the occasion. The one worked for evil, the other for good: if evil came through the latter, it was but incidental, not legitimate. Every system, however excellent in itself—not being perfect, of necessity—implies or involves occasional ills. Is Mr. Smiley logical in making the incidental results of altruism, as evil, its necessary and legitimate effects? Is it a causal force to human ills? Granting, indeed, that some among the poor have abused gifts and become idlers, has this been the universal fact? Has charity always made beggars and tramps, or are such only sporadic and exceptional cases, while, to a large extent, social benefits and industrial results have come from individual and organized benevolences? Does not Mr. Smiley reason illogically and with a pessimistic spirit, taking only a few isolated and unfavorable facts and the worse aspects of the case from which to draw a general deduction?

While, indeed, his argument rightly prevails against a heedless and indiscriminate benevolence, it does not appertain to careful and systematic giving. All properly organized institutions and all thoughtful schemes of benefit to the poor take into consideration and aim at the improved industrial condition and moral advancement of their beneficiaries. Such organizations are designed and formed to operate for the very end of rendering beggary dishonorable and unprofitable, and for inspiring the poor with industrial self-respect. They say to the charitable man, "Do not give promiscuously, but through the medium of those agencies which have regard to the elevation as well as the relief of the poor."

If, as Mr. Smiley assumes, the improvidence and demoralization of the poor are the legitimate effects of charity working as an efficient cause, then, of course, it is a curse. But this is not the case. Rather the primary causes are the ignorance, the illiteracy, the prodigality, and the lack of moral training among the poor, as well as bad legislation and tempting surroundings. To charge all this upon a self-denying charity is logically wide of the mark.

The first argument which Mr. Smiley offers against orphan asylums is that "moral corruption, brought in a little by each child, leavens the whole lump." Here he assumes that each child necessarily brings in more or less corruption, and therefore he presumes that no orphan has any inherent purity, which is a virtual admission of a native depravity such as he would, perhaps, be far from positively asserting. As a general rule, children are received into orphan asylums before they are old enough to carry corruption into them. If this argument of Mr. Smiley has any real force, it must equally prevail against all schools, private or public, against families and neighborhoods in which children of different ranks and characters come into close personal contact with each other, and are more or less good or evil. Would Mr. Smiley isolate these children and segregate such communities? Does he not know that in all these orphan asylums moral and Christian teaching is often more clear, pronounced, and effective for the good of the child than may be found in many a school or household? Is it not most likely that, where one or two children may prove corrupt, the moral tone of the many, under right training, would tend to counteract and correct the evil of the few?

In his second argument against these asylums Mr. Smiley assumes that only incompetent teachers are employed in them, and, as if in proof of this, he asks, "Who ever knew a scholar reared in an orphan asylum?" Well! who ever heard of one reared in a State-prison, a factory, or a coal-mine? Who ever expected orphan asylums to turn out scholars? Was this the design of their establishment? But, in answer to this charge of Mr. Smiley, it may be truthfully said that not all, and indeed very few teachers in such institutions are incompetent. They stand, generally, on a par with those of our public schools, some of them being men and women of education and refinement, who, from pure love of children and their moral good, devote themselves, in some cases gratuitously, to such benevolent work. Mr. Smiley can scarcely have studied the histories and statistics of orphan asylums, or he would not have charged upon them bad food, poor training, and rejection from good families, in respect to all which it may be shown unquestionably that he is sadly mistaken. Neither would he have ignored the fact that the children of drunken fathers and mothers are not usually taken into orphan asylums, or, if they ever are, then they are saved from the horror and ruin of a drunkard's home, in which every true philanthropist should rejoice.

As to "foundling asylums," Mr. Smiley is still more severe, asserting that every one "in America should be instantly disorganized"! On what ground? Because, he says, "they encourage crime"! But does the vile man or trail girl, committing evil, pause beforehand to deliberate how the possible fruit of the crime is to be taken care of? No! any such consequence is not thought of; if it were, that would be a restraint upon immoral tendencies. But Mr. Smiley can be shown some "foundling asylums" where poor but virtuous women have found homes for their true children, when they have not been able to provide for these, or have been out at labor in families and factories, especially when their husbands have been sick, feeble, or vicious, and therefore could not provide for their legitimate children. Would Mr. Smiley deny to such women so great a privilege?

As to the encouragement of immoral girls, I can point Mr. Smiley to one "foundling asylum," at least, in Chicago, originated by Dr. George Shipman, a homœopathic physician, who assured me that only about one in a hundred women, coming with their babes, could be regarded as essentially criminal. They were either unfortunate wives or deceived girls, who, having received at the asylum proper instruction, were taken into respectable families as domestics. Rarely did one such fall, especially as the restraint was put upon them that a second lapse would forbid their return. Would Mr. Smiley disorganize such an institution? Would he break up Mr. Muller's great establishment in Bristol, or that of Dr. Cullis in Boston, wherein many have been housed, fed, comforted, and rightly trained, fitted for death or for usefulness in life, and from which so many rescued victims of poverty and distress have gone forth into the world to find success and honor?

If Mr. Smiley had consulted the records of education societies, he would have found, what any one of its secretaries, I know, would have told him, that scores and even hundreds of thorough female teachers and distinguished pulpit orators have been the happy and successful beneficiaries of such societies. Their statistics plainly show this. The one sporadic case to which he refers is an individual and marked exception to the general rule and does not justify a broad deduction as to the evil of those organizations. "One swallow does not make a summer," neither does one snow-flake make a winter.

In pressing "egoism" to the exclusion of "altruism," or to its disparagement, Mr. Smiley would feed that natural selfishness which is common, more or less, to all men, and which, unrestrained, tends to such extremes as bring vast misery to mankind. He thus antagonizes that law of love which is the rhythmic force in the moral world. A great Teacher said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself"—no more, no less. He here brings altruism into juxtaposition with egoism. They are counterparts and correlatives, each essential to the other. As in the solar system the centripetal and centrifugal forces keep its orbs apart and in space with equilibrium, so these two forces of egoism and altruism balance each other, and promote the harmony of society. As in physical science both the positive and negative poles of the battery are needed for the generation of magnetism or electricity, so these two moral poles must be coincidently present and work together to the production of moral magnetism for human benefit. As in logic, induction and deduction, according to Sir William Hamilton, are not antagonisms, but, if not identical, are certainly counterparts, the one reciprocally leading to and involving the other—so are egoism and altruism; they are associative and co-operative. Common love binds them together; common interests, as with all human associations, bring them into unity of thought and action for the greatest mutual good. Once, Wendell Phillips, speaking of capital and labor, said, "They are twins—Siamese twins—bound together by a living ligament, to cut which would be to kill both." They are interdependent, vitally united. So with egoism and altruism. They need each other for true existence and right action. Egoism alone runs to selfism; altruism alone to fanaticism. Together, they are mutually compensative—apart, destructive. Of the two in union, the words of Shakespeare's Portia may be predicated: "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." That union fulfills Christ's words: "Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For, with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again." In these words, egoism and altruism are pronounced correlative and compensative. Does not the patriot feel rewarded fully when dying for his country? Does not the martyr, though suffering physically, rejoice thus to maintain truth? Does not the benefactor, like a Slater or a Hand, giving his millions for the education of an ignorant and despised race, feel assured of due return? If the arguments of Mr. Smiley were carried out practically to their ultimate and logical results, then all such patriots, martyrs, and benefactors must be relegated to the realms of folly or forgetfulness. Then the egoistic Alexanders and Napoleons must have exaltations above all Howards, Wilberforces, Garrisons, and Caroline Frys.

May it not be suggested that Mr. Smiley has taken rather a one-sided, prejudiced, and pessimistic view of his subject? Has he not failed to take note of abundant and palpable facts controverting his positions? What if the altruism he condemns be banished from society? What then would the world do without the multitude of noble, self-sacrificing men and women whose love of humanity has led them into the deep, dark slums of our great cities for the rescue of the perishing; who have suffered themselves to be socially ostracized by teaching the black children of the South; who have dared the Mormon monster in his den, to extirpate the curse of polygamy; who have dwelt in Indian wigwams to civilize the savage; who, for medical science or society, have breathed the infections of small-pox or yellow fever; or who, like Livingstone and Stanley, have penetrated the wildernesses of Africa for the suppression of the slave-trade? Shall it be said to all such: "Renounce your altruism and rest in your egoism; self-sacrifice is not wisdom, beneficence is not profit"? Shall it be said to all founders of hospitals, as well as asylums, of colleges like Harvard, Yale, Cornell, and Johns Hopkins, with their scholarships, "Ye are the monuments of altruistic error"? Shall it be said to benevolent and moneyed men, who can not personally work for humanity: "Hoard your money; waste it not on charities"? Is their benevolence to be smothered by the smoke of eleemosynary institutions which the egoistic torch would consume?

Truthfully yours,
C. H. A. Bulkley
Howard University, Washington, D. C.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In your November number there appears an article, by Prof. N. S. Shaler, entitled "Habits of the Great Southern Tortoise," which is based upon premises so manifestly erroneous that it is difficult to understand how the professor could have been led to adopt them; and, therefore, in the interest of science, I take the liberty of pointing out to him, through you, the error which he has made. Having lived in Florida for several years, and having during that time closely observed the habits of the land-tortoise, or so-called "gopher," to which the professor refers, I know whereof I speak. The professor is entirely mistaken in supposing that the little mounds of sand which he describes are made or pushed up by the tortoise, or "gopher." They are the result of the industry of quite a different animal, viz., a species of burrowing, pouched rat, known in eastern Florida as the "salamander."

The land-tortoise, or gopher, never burrows into the earth beyond a distance of ten or fifteen feet, where he goes merely for concealment, not for food. He never obstructs the outlet of his burrow, but keeps it open, so that he may readily return to the surface of the soil to seek grass and other vegetable matter, upon which alone he subsists. It is true that he hibernates during the winter months. I have caught hundreds of "gophers," and have shot or caught in traps dozens of the "salamanders," and I am prepared to substantiate what I have here stated in the most indubitable manner. It is manifestly a physical impossibility for the tortoise to burrow its way thousands of feet horizontally under the ground, as the professor supposes.

I can easily imagine the amusement which Prof. Shaler's article would afford residents of Florida, should it reach their eye. Such inexcusable errors in scientific papers are not calculated to bring honor to science or to the scientist.

Very respectfully,
C. C. Byrne, M. D.
Washington, D. C., November 1, 1888.

[In a former paper, referred to at the beginning of the article on the "Southern Tortoise," Prof. Shaler mentioned the disturbance of the soil due to burrowing rodents. The second article was devoted wholly to the work of the tortoise, but does not seem to us to conflict with the statement that other animals produce effects of this sort in Florida, even exceeding in some localities those produced by the tortoise.—Editor.]



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

On page 123 of your November number Dr. A. S. Hudson relates incidents to show that animals may be able to count. In 1868 an Omaha printer, named Bolster, owned a terrier bitch that could count. On being told by her owner to climb a certain number of steps and lie down, she obeyed, never making a mistake, although the task given was varied so as to test her ability. She gave evidence of equal intelligence in other directions, and there is no doubt that she could actually count up to fifteen.

Yours, etc.,
J. D. Calhoun.
Omaha, October 24, 1888.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In an interesting article on "Writing-Machines for the Blind," published in "The Popular Science Monthly" for September, I was surprised to see no mention made of the type-writer as having been utilized for that purpose; and, as the author seemed thoroughly acquainted with his subject, he would doubtless have noticed the fact had it ever been used.

From the readiness with which the blind learn to manipulate the keys of the piano, it is to be presumed they would have no difficulty in managing those of the type-writer—a process which could be still further facilitated for them by having the letters on the keys raised. The printing type could be beset with sharp points, so as to prick out the letters on the sheet instead of printing them with ink, and, by using paper of the proper thickness, a distinct raised lettering would thus be made, which the blind could decipher by feeling.

It is true, the printing would be reversed, but in spite of this the type-writer for the blind would have advantages which, it seems to me, no other instrument of the kind yet invented possesses.

E. F. Andrews.
Macon, Ga., November 1, 1888.

[Ordinary type-writers are used by hundreds of blind operators for writing to seeing persons. A blind person, having once learned the arrangement of the keys, has little difficulty in operating the instrument. This is one of the uses proposed for it by the inventor of the earliest form of typewriter, Charles Thurber, in 1843, and one of his machines is now in existence which had originally raised letters on the keys to facilitate such use. In order that the printing shall be legible to the blind, of course some mode of pricking or embossing the paper would have to be employed, and the reversing of the print, to which our correspondent alludes, could easily be obviated by reversing the type.—Editor.]



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

In Prof. Cope's "Relation of the Sexes to Government," in the October number of the "Monthly," he makes intellectual inferiority, physical inability, and the social position of woman the practical objections to granting her the "privilege" of suffrage, and favors its restriction rather than an extension.

But even if men are on the whole superior to women, the difference is not so great but that, if the same restrictive process were applied to women and men, a considerable minority of the women would fulfill the conditions which a not very large majority of the men could fulfill. Although any system of suffrage can only be an approximation to what might be best, it is a poor approximation indeed that will shut out a huge minority of one sex because the majority of that sex fail to fulfill the qualifications for suffrage. That is majority-rule with a vengeance.

It is declared that "woman suffrage becomes government by women alone on every occasion where a measure is carried by the aid of woman's votes." Then government by a successful party, whose candidate is elected by a majority of one thousand in a "deciding State," becomes government by five hundred and one men; and government everywhere becomes government by the smallest possible majority of the majority by which a party elects its candidate. What becomes of popular government? It is further declared that, if women vote with their husbands, suffrage becomes a farce. It is a very plain social fact that men who associate much come to think alike, especially on subjects that are much thought upon. Like teacher, like student; like father, like son. Politics runs in families almost as much as features do. If all who acquire their political leanings from their constant associates shall not vote, a very large majority of the sons of the country must be disfranchised, and in a generation there will be no voters at all. And if the women of the land, by exercising suffrage, run the danger of becoming the mothers of a "generation of moral barbarians," are the fathers of the race so entirely different in quality from the mothers that the transmission of a very large amount of barbarism might not be prevented by a wholesale restriction of the suffrage?

Physical inability to execute the laws when they are made, and to defend them in a military capacity, is made a principal objection to the granting of suffrage to women. "This consideration alone, it appears to me, puts the propriety of female suffrage out of the question." But only a small proportion of men are willing to be executors of the law, as policemen and sheriffs; and, as for the judicial positions, an even smaller proportion is fitted to fill them. Restriction of the suffrage would be a good thing; let it be applied under the principle of immunity from military service, and who would be disfranchised? War demands able-bodied men; only men that are perfectly regular in form and sound in health can be soldiers. If immunity from service is to form the boundary-line of suffrage, all the rest, a vast number, would be shut out. This excluded list would include perhaps the best class of voters the nation has—the older men—because they are exempt from military duty. But I am sure the professor himself would be unwilling to begin restriction under the principle he has enunciated, and reduce the elders of the nation to the condition of Gulliver's Luggnaggian struldbrugs.

Frank Cramer.
Appleton, Wis., October 10, 1888.