Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/October 1891/Popular Miscellany


The American Microscopical Society.—The American Microscopical Society was the first of the scientific organizations to meet this year at Washington. Dr. John S. Billings made an address of welcome, and spoke at some length of the microscopic work that was done at Washington in the scientific offices of the Government, by the local society, in the Army Medical Museum, and particularly of that of the late Dr. J. J. Woodward. The use of the microscope in Government work was further discussed by Dr. J. Melvin Lamb. Most of the papers read were technical, but one by President Frank L. James, on the Microscope in the Investigation of Scorches and Burns on Textile Fabrics, relating how the instrument had been applied to establish the innocence of a man charged with murder, was of general interest. A committee was appointed to consider the feasibility of inducing American manufacturers to make their instruments of the same standard. A proposed new constitution was considered, and the society decided that it would call itself in future the American Microscopical Society instead of the American Society of Microscopists.

Value of Economic Entomology.—The study of insects was exalted in the address of Mr. James Fletcher as President of the Association of Economic Entomologists, who asserted that there is no branch of natural science or practical agriculture to which entomology is second in importance. The amounts lost and the value of the produce which might be saved every year in our staple crops alone by following the advice of the competent entomologist are so enormous, and of late years have been so often proved, that before long the value of these studies must certainly be more generally recognized. The chief hindrance is ignorance on the part of growers and consumers of agricultural products, which is being rapidly dissipated by the work of the agricultural experiment stations. Estimating the value of the agricultural crops of the country at about $380,0:0,000, an average of about ten per cent, or $38,000,000, was now lost—given up to insects without a struggle.

The Farmers' Crisis.—Nothing will be gained for us, either from an economic or political point of view, said Prof. E. J. James in his address before the Economic Section of the American Association, by belittling or deriding the views of Western farmers on the money question, on the tariff, or on railroad policy, taxation, and other topics. The American farmer has a grievance—a real and true grievance—one that will not become less by pooh-poohing it, but one that must be carefully studied by students of economics and statistics to ascertain, if possible, how far it is justified and whether it can be remedied, and, if so, by what means. As a matter of fact, the wealth of the United States is flowing away from its farms into its factories and railroads; from the country into the city; from the rural into the urban districts. The policy of our railroad companies has borne hard upon the individual farmer and upon the farmers as a class. It has altered all the conditions of agriculture in many sections of the country, and in nearly all of them in such a way as needlessly to burden and embarrass the farmer. Our system of taxation rests most heavily upon him; and there is no doubt that the financial policy of the country, including the whole system of monetary transactions built up by the combination of governmental and private initiatives, discriminates directly and keenly against the farmer and farming class, by discriminating in favor of other classes. Nor can it be said that the tariff policy of the country has been managed as much to the farmer's interest as to that of other classes. The way to improvement lies, in the first place, in the direction of altering these adverse influences. This policy, however, is merely palliative, and does not go to the root of the matter. The forces which are crowding the American farmer to the wall are worldwide. He is at a disadvantage because he is trying to compete with farmers of a low grade of civilization and intelligence in the production of crops in which intelligence and civilization count for comparatively little; and this competition is destined to become more formidable. The American farmer must seek new crops where intelligence and skill count for more than mere fertility of soil or juxtaposition to market, and where, having once established himself, he may bid defiance to the ignorance and inefficiency of foreign peasant, ryot, or boor. This calls for a broad and liberal policy toward agriculture in all its relations.

The Natural History of Analogy.—The subject of Prof. Jastrow's address in the Anthropological Section of the American Association was The Natural History of Analogy. Although this form of argument is used with great caution to-day, it was a predominant form among primitive people. Abundant instances of it were found in almost all savage customs and beliefs. In magical rites, in interpretations of omens and dreams, in medicinal practices, and social and tribal customs, striking instances of this kind of argument abounded. The Zulu who chews a bit of wood to soften the heart of the man he wants to buy an ox from, the fetich determining by whether a stick stands or falls whether a war shall be kept up or allowed to stop, the medicine-man who performs incantations over some personal belonging of his victim, or by the use of out-of-the-way drugs—were all instanced as the results of a feeling of analogy. Similar traits exist in children. An abundant field of illustration may be found in the popular superstitions, folk lore, and customs that have survived from a lower to a higher culture. The modern dream-book, household medicinal practices, charms, astrology, the doctrine of sympathies, furnish illustrations in point.

Derivation of the American University.—In his address on the Evolution of the University Prof. George E. Howard, of the University of Nebraska, traces the derivation of the American university through Oxford and Cambridge from the studium generale of Paris. The English college is regarded as "the direct prototype of the first American schools. The three most important foundations of the colonial period, which eventually became the models, directly or indirectly, of nearly all our higher institutions of learning, were in aim and organization reproductions of Cambridge or Oxford Colleges, with such modifications as new environments, religious ideas, and isolated position rendered necessary. Unfortunately, the principal defects of the English system were perpetuated. Thus the English universities were state institutions placed in subordination to a church establishment. Harvard, Yale, and William and Mary were in character practically the same. Each was chartered by the state—by the Colonial Assembly or the British Government—for religious purposes." Harvard escaped ecclesiastical trammels most easily, because in 1638, the theocracy being at its meridian, it was inconceivable that the clergy should not control the college, and they were not imposed so strictly as on the other institutions. American institutions also inherited from the mother-country a narrow conception of the sphere to be assigned to higher education—that scholastic spirit which has prevented our schools from entering into their proper relation to society. "Hence it is that the college professor, even yet, is too often the last man whom the people think of consulting on practical questions." Higher education is, however, undergoing a revolution which is briefly described as a tendency toward bringing the schools into closer relation with the social organism. This appears in several ways. The student, while devoting himself mainly to the duties of his academic life, remains a member of the social body. In our best institutions the relations of the student to his teacher are becoming such as are favorable to the development of manliness and independence of judgment. While the classics and other branches of the old curriculum have been retained, and, subjected to the comparative method, are made vastly more productive than ever before for culture and general social good, a multitude of new subjects have been introduced. Instruction preparatory to nearly every new industry and profession is provided. Attention is given to questions that concern the state and the community at large. Administration, finance, constitutional history, constitutional law, comparative politics, railroad problems, corporations, forestry, veterinary science, charities, statistics, social problems—a crowd of topics, many of which a few years ago were unheard of in the schools—are now in many places subjected to methodical treatment. It is in the absolute necessity in the present crisis of the nation of providing the means of instruction in these branches that we find a strong argument in favor of the public support of higher education. The subjects mentioned, which enter into matters of daily and general interest, can be successfully treated only by specialists, and they must be trained in the schools.

The Colorado Cañon.—As described by Dr. D. Hart Merriam in one of the publications of the Department of Agriculture: "The Grand Cañon of the Colorado at the point visited is about fifteen miles wide at the top and six thousand feet deep. It is intersected by gulches and side-cañons of gigantic dimensions. It has ledges, terraces, and mesas, barren crags and grassy slopes, lofty mountains and deep valleys, cool hillsides chad in forests of balsam firs, and hot bottoms filled with subtropical thickets. It has arid stretches of sand bearing a scattered growth of cactus and yucca, and marshes and springs that never become dry and are hidden by the verdure of a multitude of plants requiring a moisture-laden atmosphere for their existence. Its animal life is as sharply varied and as strongly contrasted. In descending from the plateau level to the bottom of the cañon a succession of temperature zones is encountered equivalent to those stretching from the coniferous forests of northern Canada to the cactus plains of Mexico. These zones result from the combined effect of altitude and slope exposure, the effects of the latter being here manifested in an unusual degree. . . . The complex and interacting effects of radiation and refraction, of aridity and humidity, of marked differences of temperature at places of equal altitude on opposite sides of the cañon, of every possible angle of slope exposure, of exposure to and protection from wind and storms, produce a diversity of climatic conditions the effect of which on the vegetable and animal life in the cañon has been to bring into close proximity species characteristic of widely separated regions, and to crowd the several life zones into narrow parallel bands along the sides of the cañon—bands which expand and contract in conforming to the ever-changing surface."

The Sound of the Aurora.—"As to the aurora making an audible sound," says Mr. William Ogilvie in his The Upper Yukon and the Mackenzie, "although I often listened when there was a very brilliant display, and despite the profound stillness which is favorable to hearing the sound, if any sound occurs, I can not say that I ever even fancied that I heard anything. I have often met people who said they could hear a slight rustling sound whenever the aurora made a sudden rush. One man, a member of my party in 1882, was so positive of this that on the 18th of November, when there was an unusually brilliant and extensive display, I took him beyond all noise of the camp, blindfolded him, and told him to let me know when he heard anything, while I watched the play of the streamers. At nearly every brilliant rush of the auroral light he exclaimed, 'Don't you hear it?' All the time I was unconscious of any sensation of sound."

Agricultural Experiment in Wyoming.—In order that the possibilities of agriculture in all parts and altitudes of Wyoming may be fairly tested, the Trustees of the State Experiment Station have established experiment farms in various portions of the State. The west-central portion and the altitude of 5,500 feet above sea-level is represented by the Lander experiment farm of 137 acres under irrigation in Fremont County; the Laramie plains and the altitude of 7,000 feet is represented by the Wyoming University experiment farm of 610 acres in Albany County, irrigated from the Pioneer Canal; the North Platte Valley and the altitude of 6,000 feet, by the Saratoga experiment farm of 40 acres, also under irrigation, in Carbon County; the northern part of the State and the altitude of 4,000 feet, by the Sheridan farm of 50 acres, under irrigation, in Sheridan County; northeastern Wyoming, with the greatest rainfall and the altitude of 4.500 feet, by the Sundanee farm of 49 acres, to be carried on without irrigation, in Crook County; and southeastern Wyoming, the Sybille Valley, and the altitude of 5,000 feet, by the Wheatland farm, under irrigation, in Laramie County. This distribution gives a good representation of the agricultural and grazing lands of the State; but other experiment farms will be established as the station funds permit. Researches are now in progress as to the capacity of gypsum to absorb and retain moisture. Special experiments have been instituted with varieties of grass and forage plants to be grown without irrigation.

Strychnine and Snake-bite.—The treatment of snake-bite with injections of strychnine illustrates the antagonistic action of poisons upon one another. Dr. Mueller, of Yackandandah, Victoria, in a case in his practice, used a solution of nitrate of strychnine in water with a little glycerin, hypodermically injected, with a frequency which was determined by the symptoms. When all symptoms had disappeared, the first independent action of the strychnine was shown by slight muscular spasms. The injections must be discontinued then, unless the snake-poison reasserts itself. In some cases a grain or more of strychnine was used within a few hours. The two poisons are thoroughly antagonistic, and no hesitation need be felt in pushing the use of the drug to quantities that would be fatal in the absence of snake-poison.

Irrigation in Egypt.—According to a note contributed to Nature by Sir Colin Moncrieff, the problem of perennial irrigation in Egypt has been satisfactorily solved, and that without the aid of the corvée, or forced labor. The subject of irrigation is treated under two broad subdivisions—the irrigation effected by the Nile flood, when there is rich, muddy water in abundance for a land three times as large as Egypt, and when every one considers it his absolute right to have his fields flooded without the expense or trouble of raising the water artificially; and the irrigation effected by the Nile at its lowest, in May and June, when it is only by the strictest economy that an area not exceeding one fourth of the whole of Egypt can be irrigated. It has now been made possible to raise the water in the river and divert it into the canals by the completion of a barrage or dam at the apex of the Delta. Such a dam was built several years ago, but soon after it was finished it cracked in an alarming way, and was not used. It cost originally about £2,000,000, and has now been put in a condition to fulfill the purpose for which it was intended, for the sum of about £460,000. This result is contrasted with the estimate of M. Linant, a former Government engineer, in 1872, that it would probably cost more to repair the existing barrage than to build a new one, and proposed pumping instead, at a cost of £465,000 per annum. Drainage for carrying off the superfluous water, which was not provided for in the French plans, is amply effected under the new system.

Bahama Fairy Tales.—The fairy tales of the negroes of the Bahamas, as described by Mr. Charles L. Edwards in a paper on that subject, are strongly localized, and built into a folk lore that is at once peculiar and interesting. The negro children are for the most part the medium of perpetuating them, but the conventional negro dialect is considerably modified by an intermixture of cockney and of correct English pronunciations. The same tale narrated by different persons, and by the same person at different times, will vary in the pronunciation of some of the words, and in unimportant details of the plot. The tales are divided by the narrators into "old stories" and "fairy stories," of which the former include the folk lore proper. The fairy stories have generally suffered modification in their transition into Bahama lore, and in some cases it is very difficult to detect the original. The "old stories" have to do mainly with animals, while the characters in the fairy tales are generally human beings. The "Brer" of Uncle Remus, or the "Buh" of Charles C. Jones, is among the Bahama negroes contracted to B', which, connected with the name of the animal, personifies it. The habit of mixing together the parts of several tales in order to make one, as is seen in some of the fairy stories, gives us an odd and generally more or less obscure resultant tale. Prof. Crane, in his review of Uncle Remus (Popular Science Monthly, vol. xviii, p. 824), gives a number of parallel stories from the folk lore of other races, especially comparing the tales of the Southern negroes with those of the natives of South America, which illustrates the negro origin of the Indian tales, and points out their wide diffusion.

The First Ship that tacked.—The British sixteenth-century war-ship Great Harry, a supposed model of which was shown at the Naval Exhibition at Chelsea, possessed a great historical interest, because she was the first war-ship to sail on the wind. Naval architecture, says Nature, "as a science, was not founded until it was discovered that ships could be, otherwise than by the aid of oars, taken to the quarter from which the wind was blowing. It must have seemed a great feat in those days—little less than necromancy. Fortunately for the timid intellects of our ancestors, the revelation broke upon them gently, for the rounded hulls, high topsides, and curiously rigged craft could not have sailed more than a point or two to windward. Still, it was the Great Harry, or one of her contemporaries, by means of which this new feature in seamanship was inaugurated—a feature by which the middle period in the world's history of naval warfare was created, and which enabled the sailors of those times to make a distinct advance upon the lessons taught them by their ancestors in the art of shipcraft."

The Kibanga Calendar.—According to the Algerian missionary, Father Vyncke, the negroes of Kibanga, on the western shore of the Tanganyika Lake, although the sun passes twice a year perpendicularly over their heads, take no account of its march, and have no idea of the solar year. But the moon plays an important part in their lives. They celebrate its reappearance with drumbeatings, gunshots, and cries of joy. The new moon is celebrated with general dancing by most of the African tribes; and to keep the run of its age they have a bundle of twenty-eight or thirty sticks, from which they take one every day. The stars are consulted for the determination of the seasons, and to know when it is time for work in the fields, fishing, etc. The rising of the Pleiades marks seed-sowing time and is celebrated by feasts in honor of the dead, and the constellation is given a name, Kiti, significant of the fact. The milky way is designated by a name signifying the line between the dry and the rainy seasons, because when it rises at sunset the rainy season begins. The rising of Orion's belt determines the beginning of an important fishery. When another star, not named by Father Vyncke, reaches the zenith, the women begin to pound manioc. Aldebaran is the Northern, and Sirius the Southern Jewel. The Centaur, the Southern Cross, and the Ship, with the star Canopus, all invisible in the North, are called by the natives "paths" and "tens," because they are on the road to the south pole and are composed of many stars.

Ancient Mining on Lake Superior.—A paper by T. H. Lewis shows that the Lake Superior copper regions afford abundant evidences that an active mining industry was carried on there by the prehistoric aborigines. By inquiry among old miners, managers, explorers, and prospectors, the author ascertained that the ancient pits extended along the whole copper range from the extremity of Keeweenaw Point to and beyond the northwestern end of Gogebie Lake, a distance of fully one hundred and twenty miles. They are found also on the ranges to the north and to the south, as well as on the central range. Ancient pits are found, too, along the copper range in northern Wisconsin, and in the region northwest of Lake Superior, in Minnesota, and on the Canadian side of the international boundary line. The copper implements met with within the limits of Wisconsin, the author remarks, probably exceed in number those found in all the other States combined. They seem to be most numerous in the effigy-mound region, and have been found in the effigies themselves. Outside of Wisconsin copper implements have been discovered in nearly all the other States east of the Rocky Mountains, but they have been most frequently found in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and Illinois. There are also effigy mounds in all these States, except possibly Michigan.

The Phonograph in Indian Folk Lore.—Dr. J. Walter Fewkes recently related to the American Folk-lore Society experiments which he had made with the phonograph in recording the songs, legends, and folk lore of the Passamaquoddy Indians. He claimed extraordinary accuracy for this method, in that it is rid of the liability of the translator to incorporate his own interpretations with those embodied in the stories recorded by him. Besides fragments of legends, stories, ancient songs, counting-out rhymes, and conversations got from the older men of the tribe at Calais, Maine, he obtained from the lips of Noel Josephs, who sang it when the ceremony was last performed, an old song—with archaic words and very ancient music—used in the "snake-dance." lie also took records of war-songs, a curious "tradesong," and the song sung by the chief on the evening of the first day of the celebration of his election. These songs have been set to music from the records taken on the wax cylinders of the phonograph, and the words have been written out by the same means. Forty cylinders were filled with these records, some of which are stories yet unpublished. The results of the experiment are represented as showing that the phonograph is an important help to the study of Indian folk lore, both in preserving the tales and in the study of the composition of the music and the language.

Fresh-water Sponges in Florida.—Freshwater sponges of the genus Mezenia, described by Edward Potts, were found in Florida on the stems of grass and roots of mangrove trees on the meadows near the head of a creek. The meadow is about twelve inches higher than the creek, and is subject to floods of fresh water during the rainy season, and occasional submergence in salt water. Notwithstanding the exposure to salt water and subsequent desiccation of weeks or possibly of months, the gemmules of these sponges preserved their vitality and germinated freely when placed in water. Differences were observed between the roughened gemmules of the sponges growing on the mangrove roots and the smooth ones of those growing on the grass stems. The specimens, in another package, of the same genus and of Spongilla were found adhering to the barnacles on the rocky bottom of a rapidly flowing creek; the barnacles having been brought up by the backing up of the salt water, and then become accustomed to live in fresh water. The Spongillas in certain features of detail resemble some lacustrine forms found on the Catskill Mountains and at sites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Philosophy of Spectacle-frames.—The importance of a proper construction and adaptation of spectacle-frames is enforced by Dr. Charles Hermon Thomas in a paper on that subject. The results of the most accurate refractive measurements may be vitiated by a faulty position of the correcting glasses; and new sources of eye-strain may be created by the very means adopted to remove an existing fault. The optical center of a lens is generally that part of the glass which we wish to bring before the pupil, as that part of the lens and the area immediately surrounding it are freest from aberrations of all sorts—distort the least. Occasionally, however, it may be desirable to displace that point by a definite amount; in any case, we should insist on having the optician carry out our directions as regards the manner of mounting and the position of the glass with the same exactness that he employs in making it of the proper strength. The purpose of the spectacle-frame is to hold a pair of glasses before the eyes in a definite position and with the least possible annoyance to the wearer. The plans for the construction of spectacle-bridges devised by the author in 1878 provided for a wide range of adaptability to individual faces. The material of the frames should usually be gold of good quality, and of a weight as light as is consistent with strength and steadiness. Steel rusts too readily and is not well adapted to the adjustments frequently required. The lenses should be as large as the face of the wearer permits, so that the eyes may be well covered in their ordinary lateral movements. The reflections from the edges of frameless glasses which annoy many may be avoided by slightly dulling the polish on the lower edge. The glasses should be worn as close to the eyes as possible without touching the lashes. Occasionally, when the lashes are especially long, with feathery or uneven ends, they should be neatly trimmed with the scissors, which is best practiced when the eyes are closed. It is also to be borne in mind that the subject has an artistic aspect, and that by giving proper consideration to this phase much may be done to remove the prejudice which frequently attaches to the wearing of glasses.

The Niagara Reservation.—The Commissioners of the State Reservation at Niagara, in their report for 1890, insist on the importance of making adequate provision for permanent improvements at Niagara, and especially of the restoration of the territory of the reservation to a state of natural simplicity and beauty. The work of restoration has for several years presented itself as that which should principally engage the attention of the board. Its applications to the Legislature for appropriations do not, however, seem to have been appreciated. But, in 1889, the grant of $15,000 for "repairs of roads, bridges, and betterments," enabled them to make a beginning, and they created a breakwater for the protection of the shore of Goat Island against erosion. Besides this $15,000 the appropriations for the maintenance and improvement of the reservation have in all not exceeded $75,000 since 1883; in return the commissioners have paid into the treasury, from the "earnings" of the reservation, $24,395, leaving $50,604 as what the reservation actually cost the State for maintenance during seven years. "To educated tourists, whether native or foreign," the commissioners say, "the disinclination of this great and prosperous State to provide means for the restoration of the scenery of the Falls of Niagara must appear somewhat surprising if not inexplicable. The fame of no other natural phenomenon in the world equals that of New York's great cataract." The popular approval of the State's acquisition of the falls has been exhibited so often and in so many ways that it can not be mistaken; and public condemnation, also often shown, of propositions to mar the falls for the sake of money-making schemes, has been significant, and gratifying to all who are interested in Niagara.

Firing Porcelain with Petroleum.—The porcelain manufacturers of Limoges, France, have been seeking for many years means of cheapening the cost of firing their wares, the expense for fuel there being two or three times greater than in England and Bohemia. Wages were reduced and new processes were tried without securing the object aimed at, till at last petroleum and residuum oils were tried, when results were gained far better than had been anticipated. The heat was found absolutely pure. No gases or smoke discolored the china, which came from the kiln whiter and in better condition than when it is fired by the heat of wood. In the muffles there was a decided advantage. The delicate colors, which show at once the presence of the slightest quantities of gas, were perfect. Consul Griffin thinks that this new discovery promises to revolutionize the whole porcelain industry. It is estimated that, by employing these oils, there will be a reduction of some fifteen or twenty per cent in the cost of making china.