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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/May 1890/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 37‎ | May 1890


Jacob Ennis—This able but retiring man was born in Essex County, N. J., in 1807. He came of sturdy Scotch-Irish stock on his father's side, and was of Dutch extraction (the Doremuses) on his mother's side. After graduating at Rutgers College, and when yet quite a young man, he connected himself with the Dutch Reformed Church, and was by that organization sent to the islands of Java and Sumatra as a missionary, where he remained four years. Here his powers of observation and his love for the study of nature had an early development. Returning to his native country, he soon engaged in educational work, and was elected Professor of Natural Sciences in the National Military College of Bristol, Pa. Afterward he became principal and proprietor of the Scientific and Classical Institute of Philadelphia, where he spent the best part of his life. He also occupied for some years the chair of Physical Sciences in the State Normal School at Shippenburg, Pa. In his career as an educator, he from the start laid great stress on the importance of the study of nature, and was indeed a bold and fearless innovator in this respect, anticipating by perhaps a quarter of a century the recognition that scientific studies have subsequently had in all the highest institutions of learning. His life was quiet, simple, dignified, but laborious. He was a member of the chief scientific bodies both in this country and abroad, and his contributions in the shape of addresses before learned societies, pamphlets, and articles in scientific periodicals were many and varied, always strikingly original, often profound, and sometimes prophetic. Among these contributions, chiefly on astronomical problems, was one entitled The Two Great Works to be done on our Sidereal Systems. In this publication two questions are asked—First: Which way round does the great ring of the milky way revolve? Second: In which direction must we look for the center of our sidereal systems, and how far is it distant? These two questions he attempted to answer himself in an unpublished work, upon which he expended all the time and thought that he could command during the latter days of his life. He considered this the most important and certainly the most original and far-reaching of his works on astronomy, and it will no doubt be published in due time. In his book on The Origin of the Stars, published over twenty years ago, some of the most transcendental problems of physical astronomy were attacked and solved with a keen analysis, an abundance of facts, and a wealth of illustration worthy of a master of the science. Prof. Ennis's intellectual scope and sympathies were not narrow or one-sided; he was familiar with the entire range of English and classical literature, and was an excellent linguist. His literary style was simple, direct, and lucid; he had a great dislike for "big words," and always succeeded in making his ideas clear by the use of plain and untechnical language even when handling the most abstruse problems. His habits and tastes were simple, his wants few, his disposition kindly and gentle, and the attitude of his mind was distinctly reverent. He was so quiet, modest, and unobtrusive that but few suspected the presence of a great thinker so near at home, and fewer still knew him personally. He died in Houston, Texas, January 12, 1890.


The Late Henry James Clark.—A biography and bibliography of Henry James Clark has been published by the Massachusetts Agricultural College, in which he was the first professor. He was born in 1826, began the study of botany under Asa Gray in 1850, and became a pupil and private assistant of Agassiz, who spoke of him in 1857 as "the most accurate observer in the country." He was in succession adjunct Professor of Zoölogy in Harvard University; Professor of Botany, Zoölogy, and Geology in the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania; Professor of Natural History in the University of Kentucky; and Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Veterinary Science in the Massachusetts Agricultural College; and he was a member, fellow, or correspondent of the principal American scientific societies, including the Academy of Sciences when its membership was limited to fifty. He assisted Agassiz in the preparation of parts of the Contributions to the Natural History of the United States; delivered lectures on histology and the Cambridge Museum of Comparative Zoölogy; and delivered a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute on Mind in Nature; or the Origin of Life, and the Mode of Development of Animals. He died on the first day of July, 1873, in the forty-eighth year of his age. The list of his scientific writings comprises twenty-seven titles, mos of which cover more than one article.


Educational Value of Manual Training.—The committee report of the National Council of Education on the Educational Value of Manual Training admits the reasonableness of substituting a system of manual training in special schools, in so far as it can be done, for the old system of apprenticeship, but insists that the training ought not to be begun before the completion of the pupil's twelfth year, nor before he has had the statutory instruction prescribed by the state in the intellectual branches of school work. It admits that manual training is an educative influence, and that, in so far as the schools teach the scientific principles that underlie the practical points of their work, they add intellectual education to physical education. The study of general scientific principles, according to Dr. William T. Harris's interpretation of the views of the report, would be educative in the first rank: they explain all machines and all natural phenomena in our present experience, and will explain those that we meet in the future. In the second rank are special applications of science in the form of theories of special machines, as, for example, of the steam-engine. These theories explain all machines made in accordance with them; they are very general, but not so general as the scientific theories of the forces involved. They are accordingly less educative. A third and least educative school exercise is the construction of a particular machine, when the theory is narrowed down to a special example. The laborer meets many new things in the work of constructing the machine, but unhappily they are not educative, because they are contingent, and do not assist in explaining or constructing the next machine. Examined in these three grades of educative value, the purely manual work of the school belongs to the lowest grade, and furnishes the obscurest knowledge of principles covered up by a mass of non-essential circumstances. The committee, however, lays stress on the importance of aesthetic culture through drawing. It is culture in taste that American workmen need, and not culture in skill, for our laborers are already ingenious and skillful and industrious. Drawing is the best means of acquiring familiarity with the conventional forms of beauty in ornament—forms that express the outlines of freedom and gracefulness, and charm all peoples, even those who have not the skill to produce them; and make markets for the articles that bear them.


Causes of Insanity.—The latest report of the British Commissioners of Lunacy gives tables showing the causes of insanity as verified by the medical officers of the institutions, in the cases of 136,478 patients who have been admitted into public and private asylums since 1887. The causes are classified as "moral" and "physical." As might be expected, "intemperance in drink" heads the list of single causes, with 18,290 cases. Of "moral causes," "domestic trouble," "adverse circumstances," and "mental anxiety and worry, and overwork," are collectively held responsible for 25,897 cases. Of other moral causes, "religious excitement" is credited with 3,769 cases, "love affairs" with 2,224, and "fright and nervous shock" with 1,953. Of physical causes, "sexual diseases" are credited with 3,447 cases, "overexertion" with 761, "sunstroke" with 1,686, "accident or injury" with 4,199, "diseases of women" with 11,315, "old age" with 5,773, "privation and starvation" with 2,607, "fevers" with 880, "puberty" with 582, and "other bodily diseases or disorders" with 14,719. Previous attacks had occurred in 22,703 cases. Hereditary influence was ascertained in 28,063, and congenital defect in 5,881. As between the sexes, 66,918 were of the male and 69,560 of the female sex.


Rights on Other Men's Lands.—A paper by Mr. Hyde Clarke, on "The Rights of Property in Trees" on the land of another, relates to a curious custom of primeval times which still survives in some lands. The author first met it as a land judge in Asia Minor in 1862, when he was called upon to grant compensation for olive-trees belonging to one or more persons on the lands of others, and for honey-trees or hoards of wild honey in state or communal forests. Papers read by the Rev. Dr. Codington gave information of the existence of a like system in Melanesia. It likewise prevails, according to Mr. Crocker, of the British North Borneo Company, in Borneo, in respect to the katapang, or honey-tree, and also in the case of caves containing edible bird's-nests. Sir Spencer St. John also observes that in Borneo the land nominally belongs to the state or tribe, but the ownership is not a private property in land in our sense of the word. He had observed that certain of the tapang, on which the bees construct their nests, often belonged to special families, and were not touched by their neighbors. Sir Thomas Wade has found a similar right in China, where, when hill farms or gardens are leased, the tenant will pay the proprietor a yearly rent. All fir-trees or bamboos on the ground before it is let belong to the proprietors, and the tenant is "not free to appropriate them. If there were no such trees on the ground when it was let, and such trees were subsequently planted by the tenant, they would be at his disposal. Separate property in trees is also traceable in India, particularly in Chota Nagpore, where Mr. J. F. Hewitt has frequently found that fruit trees growing on land are owned by persons other than the owners or cultivators of the soil. The mhowa-trees, which are exceedingly valuable, are frequently divided among the inhabitants of the villages near which they grow. This individual property in trees is not in Turkey confined to Asia Minor, but prevails as a general law in the empire. Miss Pauline Inby found it in Bosnia, and bought an interest of the kind in a certain estate. It seems also to have anciently existed in the British Islands, and is recognized in the Brehon records of Ireland. But there, and in most European countries, the vestiges of the separate rights have ceased to exist.


Soaping Geysers.—It ha3 been often observed that throwing soap into the geysers of the Yellowstone Park will produce or hasten an outburst. The phenomenon has been investigated by Prof. Arnold Hague, of the United States Geological Survey, who finds that two conditions are essential to the production of an eruption in this way: first, the surface caldron or reservoir should hold but a small amount of water, exposing only a limited area to the atmosphere; and, second, that the water should stand at or above the boiling-point of water for the altitude of the geyser basin above sea-level. The latter is the principal factor. Many of the geysers and hot springs present the singular phenomena of pools of water heated above the theoretical boiling-point, and, unless disturbed, frequently remain so for many days without exhibiting any signs of ebullition. Thermal waters in this condition may be made to boil by other artificial means that will disturb their equilibrium, as by casting sinter into them, and, in one instance at least, by a strong temporary gust of wind. If soap or lye is thrown into most of the small pools, a viscous fluid is formed; and viscosity is, in the opinion of the author, the principal cause in hastening geyser-action. It tends to cause the steam to be retained within the basin, and, when the temperature stands at or above the boiling-point, explosive liberation must follow. All alkaline solutions exhibit, by reason of this viscosity, a tendency to bump and boil irregularly. Viscosity in the hot springs must also tend to the formation of bubbles and foam when the steam rises to the surface, and this in turn aids to bring about the explosive action, followed by a relief of pressure, and thus to hasten the final and more powerful display. The practice of casting in soap is regarded as detrimental to the preservation of the geysers, and as a proper object of restriction.


The Nature of Poisoned Arrows.—The word poison, as applied to the poisoned arrows used in the Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz, the Banks Islands, and the New Hebrides, should be understood, according to the Rev. Dr. R. H. Codington, in a peculiar sense. The practice of administering poison in food was common among the natives, but it was doubtful whether what was used had much power of doing harm. The deadly effect was expected to follow from the incantations with which the poison was prepared. In the same way the deadly quality of the poisoned arrows was never thought by the natives to be due to poison in our sense of the word, though what was used might be, and was meant to be, injurious and active in inflaming the wound. It was the supernatural power that belonged to the human bone of which the arrow-head was made on which they chiefly relied, and with that the magical power of the incantations with which it was fastened to the shaft. The bone of any dead man will give efficacy in the native belief to the arrow, because any ghost may have power to work on the wounded man; but the bone of one who was powerful when alive is more valued. In Lepers' Island, a young man, out of affection for his dead brother, took up his bones and made them into arrows. He carried these about him, and did not speak of himself as "I," but as "we two"—his brother and himself—and he was much feared; all the supernatural power of the dead brother was with the living. Although it is the human bone that gives the deadly quality to the arrow, the bone must be prepared with certain incantations which add supernatural power. The poison is an addition to the power of the bone. The native did not much consider, if at all, the natural power to hurt, of either bone or poison. A dead man's bone made the wound, the power of the ghost was brought by incantation to the arrow, and therefore the wounded man would die. Euphorbia-juice is hot and inflaming; it is smeared on the bone with an incantation which calls in the power of a dead man's ghost; when the wound is given, the ghost will make it inflame. The cure of the wounded man is conducted on the same principle. If the arrow-head, or a part of it, can be recovered, it is kept in a damp place or on cool leaves; the inflammation of the wound is little, or subsides. Shells are kept rattling over the house where the man lives, to keep off the hostile ghost. In the same way the enemy who has inflicted the wound, and his friends, will drink hot and burning juices, and chew irritating leaves; pungent and bitter herbs will be burned to make an irritating smoke, and will be tied upon the bow that sent the arrow; the arrow-head, if recovered, will be put into the fire. The bow will be kept near the fire, and its string kept taut and occasionally pulled, to bring on tension of the nerves and the spasms of tetanus. Prof. Victor Horsley has suggested that the value of the human bone tipping the arrow was first made evident by the employment of a bone from a corpse recently dead, in the decomposing tissues of which the septiæemic virus would consequently be flourishing.


The Mesozoie Atlantic Coast Region.—In his address before the Geological Section of the American Association, Prof. Charles E. White, defining the Mesozoic formations of North America, said that the rocks of the Triassic age are found from Prince Edward Island to the Carolinas. They rest on formations, from the Archæan to the Carboniferous, inclusive. Very few invertebrate fossils have been found in the Trias of the Atlantic coast region, and these are of little value for indicating the age of the strata that contained them. Intermediate between the Triassic beds and the undisputed Cretaceous deposits of this region is a series of strata of littoral and estuary origin, to which the name Potomac formation has been applied. These deposits are only a few hundred feet thick, and, though frequently covered from sight, seem to be continuous from New Jersey to Mississippi. Invertebrate fossils are rare, but large collections of fossil plants have been found in the Potomac region. The best authorities recognize several of these fossils as Jurassic. Briefly, then, the Mesozoic of the Atlantic coast region consists of a probable representation of the Upper Trias of Europe, a possible one of the Upper Jura, a probable slight one of the Middle Cretaceous, and a practically certain representation of a large part of the Upper Cretaceous, with a hiatus between the latter and the Eocene. The speaker advocated a system of classification more suited to this country than the European one. The time has come when North American geologists can and ought to hold a commanding position in this matter.


Olives and their Oil.—The olive has been cultivated in the regions of the Mediterranean coasts from time immemorial. Olive-oil there takes the place of butter. Spain has about 3,000,000 acres in olives, Italy 2,250,000, and France about 330,000 acres. Forty-five varieties of the fruit are described. The tree occasionally grows to be sixty feet high, and twelve feet in circumference of trunk. The varieties differ in the nature of the wood, the foliage, and the quality and shape of the fruit. The fruit is mild, or sharp, or bitter; and the oils differ likewise; so that a pure olive-oil may be unfit for purposes of food, and only fit for greasing machinery and making soap. The green, unripe olives, having had the bitter taste extracted with salt, are preserved in vinegar with spices. The ripe olives are gathered in the fall, when they are as large as common plums. They are of dark-green color, and the pit, now become a hard stone, contains a savory kernel. The flesh is spongy, and its little cells are filled with the mild oil, which runs out at the least pressure. The finest oil is the virgin oil which is made by collecting the freshly gathered olives in little heaps, and letting them press the oil out by their own weight. It is clear, and has a delicate, nutty taste, with little or no odor. When the fruits cease to give the oil by themselves, they are pressed with small millstones, yielding an oil which is also clear and has a pleasant taste. The olives, still rich in oil, are next put in sacks, boiling water is poured over them, and they are pressed once more. The oil gained by this process is yellowish-green, and has a sharp taste and an unpleasant smell. At Marseilles the olive-oils are classed into manufacturing oils for burning, greasing machinery, and soap-making; refined oil; oil from the pulp or husks, and table or edible oil. The last is superfine, fine, half fine, and ordinary. The table oil is refined by allowing it to run through layers of thin sheets of wadding into tin perforated boxes. The wadding absorbs all the thick particles, and leaves the oil clear and tasteless. The olive crop is variable and uncertain, and is seldom profitable more than once in six or eight years.


Avogadro.—According to a sketch published by Prof. Hugo Schiff, of Florence, in the "Chemiker Zeitung," Amadeo Count Avogadro, son of the magistrate Filippo Vercellone, was born in Turin, August 9, 1776. He studied jurisprudence at the Turin University, became Doctor of Laws on March 16, 1796, and then held a position under the Government till 1806, when he began his scientific career. In physics he was self-taught, and obtained a subordinate position in the Collegio delle Provincie in Turin, which was then and still is a richly endowed department of the Turin University. On November 7, 1809, he became Professor of Physics at the Gymnasium in Vercelli. In 1820 he was elected Professor of Mathematical Physics at the Turin University. Later this chair of instruction was abolished, and Avogadro resumed the practice of law. He was, however, reinstated in his chair through the influence of Charles Albert, and remained at the university till 1850, when he retired on account of old age and ill health. He died at Turin, July 9, 1856, at the age of eighty years. Avogadro was but little known in Italy and unknown in foreign countries. He shared with Charles Gerhard, who died in the same year, August 19, 1856, the same fate. It was only after death that their great and important contributions to science found recognition.


Atmospheric Nitrogen as Food for Plants.—The results of experiments at the agricultural stations at Middletown and Mansfield, Conn., are in favor of the value of atmospheric nitrogen as a food for plants. The conclusions are deduced from them by Prof. Atwater that many, if not most, of the leguminous plants are able to and do acquire large quantities of nitrogen from the air during their period of growth; and that there is some connection, not yet defined, between root-tubercles and the acquisition of this aliment. The cereals with which experiments have been completed have not manifested the same power, and they do not have such tubercles as are formed on the roots of the legumes. The addition of soil infusions did not seem necessary for the production of root-tubercles. The size and vigor of the plants, and their gain of nitrogen from the air, seemed to be proportional to the abundance of root-tubercles in the experiment. Losses of nitrogen sometimes occurred, but always in cases where there were no root-tubercles. The ability of legumes to gather nitrogen from the air helps to explain the usefulness of certain members of the family as renovating crops, and enforces the importance of using them to restore fertility to exhausted soils. Conversely, the loss of nitrogen suffered by some other crops, such as oats, suggests a possible reason why they should appear to be "exhausting" crops.


Coffee in Brazil.—The cultivation of coffee has been greatly extended in Brazil during recent years, chiefly in the southern provinces. The planting is done on freshly cleared ground after a single crop of Indian corn has been raised from it, either by sowing the seed directly or often by transplanting from slips grown in nursery rows. During the earlier years corn, beans, and occasionally sugar-corn are grown between the rows. The coffee-plant usually begins to bear at the fourth year from the nursery, or the fifth or sixth year from the seed. The tree is supposed to reach its prime at ten years old, becomes practically sterile at twenty, and may by care be kept in bearing for forty years. The extremes of the flowering season are from August to January. The berry begins to form in November, and to ripen in April or May, when the harvesting begins. This is done by hand, and generally very carelessly. The berries are washed, dried, and put through various processes of cleaning for the market; what is called "washed" coffee is put through a different process, in which much of the treatment is given under water.


Object-Studies in Botany.—Prof. Bessey some time ago urged teachers of botany to give a more intelligent direction to the collections which their pupils will make during the season of study. The usual course is to gather a surplus of the showy flowers which are the most easily studied, and neglect the others, of which less is known. The teacher should take special pains to point out the features of interest in the funguses, etc., which the student may bring in. Let him direct attention to the pores, on the walls of which the spores are developed—to the closely interwoven threads of the body of the fungus. When a spotted strawberry leaf is brought in, let him tell something, if it be but little, about the cause of the spots; and let the pupil be taught to look for similar spots on other plants, and to study them. Do so with lichens, with pond-scums, with green slimes, with mosses, with liverworts—in fact, with whatever is brought in by the sharp-eyed young collector. "He must be a poor teacher indeed who can not suggest something to his pupil about a toadstool or a puff-ball. It is not necessary to know the species or even the genus to which a plant has been assigned in order to be able to make valuable suggestions to one's pupils."

Contributions to the Geology of Staten Island.—Dr. N. L. Britton has reported to the Natural Science Association of Staten Island concerning observations that lead him to consider that the serpentine and talcose rocks forming the main ridge of the island were derived from magnesian limestone and hornblende or tremolite strata. The rocks were doubtless originally deposited in a conformable sequence, but the serpentines were left on top in the folding of the strata. The hypothesis of a southwestward extension of the crystalline rocks across New Jersey has been confirmed in a well-boring at Perth Amboy. Considerable additions to the fossil flora have been obtained by Mr. Hallick from the ferruginous sandstone on the shore at Tottenville. The occurrence of copper, derived from the decomposition of pyrites, in the limonite ore beds at Todt Hill is mentioned. Several well-defined nearly driftless areas north and west of the terminal moraine illustrate an interesting feature of glaciation.