Popular Science Monthly/Volume 36/January 1890/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

DEAR SIR: The article in your November issue, by Joel Benton, on "The Decadence of Farming," greatly interested me, as it must every lover of our country, and it suggested several questions which I believe should be considered, that we may get at the facts.

The reasoning is that, because farming has decayed at the same time that a protective tariff has prevailed, which has enhanced, as it is claimed, the cost of what the farmer has had to buy, therefore the tariff is responsible for this decay. Saying nothing of the claim that the tariff does in the long time enhance the price of what the farmer has to buy, let us ask how free trade has helped the farmers in Great Britain. Is it not a fact that during these same years farming has decayed there fully as much as in our own country? The wonder is how, with produce so low, the Irish farmers can pay their rent, and many can not, and the land-owners' profits have almost disappeared. A Yorkshireman recently told the writer that he knew of many large farms the owners of which would be glad to give a lease for a term of years for no rent, if the land could be kept up. Now, by parity of reasoning, may we not say that, seeing farming has decayed in Great Britain, at the same time that free trade has prevailed, which has brought down the price of what the farmer has to buy, therefore free trade has caused the decay of farming? Is it any better in free-trade Holland, from which the farm laborers are coming to the writer's own community, because the best farm laborer there can get but forty cents a day, whereas here he gets at once more than double? Do not these facts suggest the question whether there are not other causes besides tariff or free trade which may account for this manifest decay of farming?

Has not the wonderful cheapening of transportation brought cheaper and, for a time, more fertile soils into competition with the dearer and worn-out soil of our older States? Cereals and meat and wool can be raised so cheaply on these new lands that the Western farmer, with the low cost of transportation added, can undersell the farmers of the older States. The same is true in the case of Great Britain. And this power to undersell is increased by the use of machinery in farming, which use can be so much greater and more effectual on the large farms of the new States than in the older States. A bushel of wheat or corn can be raised with a small part of the labor cost in

Kansas or Dakota as compared with New York. The result is, that in the older States the farmer is compelled to look for his profits to raising the products that will not bear transportation, either because they are perishable, as milk, or because they are too bulky, as hay. He must depend upon the near-by market, and supply it with what the farmers of the West can not send it.

Does not this suggest another thought? We must look for relief, not in the direction of urging more to engage in farming, but by finding, if possible, other employments for men which are more profitable; and this, many of us still believe, can be done better with a wisely adjusted protective tariff than with free trade, which would tend to crowd still more the already overfull ranks of the farmers.

John R. Thurston.
Whitinsville. Mass., October 30, 1889.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: I have been accustomed to read with a high degree of pleasure the contributions of Mr. Grant Allen which I have seen from time to time in your pages. Reading in your December number his "Plain Words on the Woman Question," copied from the "Fortnightly Review," I rubbed my eyes once or twice over the following words, which seem, after a second or third perusal, much too plain:

"Whether we have wives or not—and that is a minor point about which I, for one, am supremely unprejudiced—we must at least have mothers."

Calving must go on, no doubt, if the race of horned cattle is to be kept up, and it is not important that calves should know their own fathers, or have an acknowledged parentage on the male side. It is quite otherwise with human beings, and I submit that no teacher of biology can afford to be without a bias in favor of wives, looking strictly at human progress, which is the great desideratum of the article in which this extraordinary passage occurs.

Possibly the words quoted may have a biological meaning somewhat different from the obvious meaning. If so, Mr. Grant Allen should be cautioned, when writing for the laity, to use the kind of language which they understand. If the obvious meaning is the real meaning, I have only to say to him, "Never more be officer of mine."

H. W.
New York, November 30, 1889.

Mr. Allen, we are sure, is the very last man who would deliberately say anything calculated to encourage immoral tendencies. There is, however, in this particular controversy, much excuse for the plain speaking to which our correspondent takes exception. The real woman question, which, as Mr. Allen points out, is whether woman shall unsex herself or not, has long been obscured by a sort of sentimental glamour which is daily exerting the worst kind of influence in society; and when the scientific man takes up the subject, it becomes his duty, if he would be true to the spirit of his craft, to set forth in the strongest light the essential facts of the case. All through his article it is the biological question involved which Mr. Allen keeps to the front, and in the passage complained of he, as we read him, is simply emphasizing the supreme importance of this aspect of the subject.—Editor.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

I have read with great interest an article in the November number of "The Popular Science Monthly" entitled "Conditions affecting the Reproductive Power of Animals," and, while I fully agree with the facts as stated, it seems to me that the manner in which it is written savors overmuch of the "carpenter theory of creation."

I do not deny that "the activity of the reproductive function is in proportion to the unfavorableness of the embryonic environment"; but is not this a fact rather than a law? It is true that the power of producing young in immense numbers is the conditio sine qua non among lower orders of animals, but should we not look deeper for the reason of this power? Are there any laws in nature which exist simply because they are good?

Among the lower orders of animals the weight of each offspring is much less in proportion to that of the parent than among the higher. The organization of the lower orders being much simpler than the higher, the offspring can be brought to perfection in a much shorter time. Therefore, each individual offspring of the lower orders is produced with much less expenditure, on the part of the parent, of both matter and vitality. Were these the only differences, they would be sufficient to account for a vast difference in reproductive power.

This reproductive power is fostered by natural selection. Among those species whose young are exposed to so many chances of destruction, those varieties which possess the greatest reproductive power are more likely to survive in the struggle for existence, and will transmit to their offspring their more vigorous reproductive power. To say that the reproductive power of an animal can be affected directly by anything which may happen to the offspring after birth reminds us of the belief current among children that, if a lost tooth be swallowed by a dog, a dog's tooth will grow in its place.

We know that the existence of a species in any given state depends upon certain conditions. While the study of that species may teach us much concerning those conditions, it is necessary for us to take a wider and deeper view before we can discover the causes which led to them; and we should ever keep in mind the fact that while the species owes its existence, in any given state, to those conditions, the conditions were not necessarily created by Nature for the sake of preserving the species in that particular state. Nature helps those, and only those, who help themselves.

Charles A. Peple.
Richmond, Va., November 4, 1889.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Dear Sir: My attention has been called to a slip occurring in my article in the April issue of the "Monthly." In the sentence (in the foot-note, page 727) reading ". .. Add to this the confession of an exposed medium, Mr. D. D. Home," etc., the exposed medium is not D. D. Home, but one cited by him as exposed. The only hint I have as to the origin of the printed version is from my fragmentary notes for the paper, in which the words stand thus: "Add to this the confession of an exposed medium (D. D. Home, 'Lights and Shadows of Spiritualism,' etc.)." I remember deciding to omit all mention of names wherever possible, and must have crossed off part of the parentheses instead of all. I am very sorry that so slight an error should have ended in throwing blame where it did not belong, and especially so as my point was simply that a medium was exposed in the manner indicated, it being entirely immaterial who the medium might be.

I must further apologize for the lateness of my writing, on the plea of a six months' absence abroad, and the consequent accumulation of duties awaiting me on my return.

Yours truly
Joseph Jastrow.
Madison, Wis., Oct 31, 1889.