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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/May 1892/Correspondence

CORRESPONDENCE.
 

SURVIVAL OF ANCESTRAL TRAITS.

Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: Being greatly interested in the subject treated by Dr. Louis Robinson in the March Popular Science Monthly, and having had some opportunity to study infant life, I would like to call attention to some observations which I have made in that line and which may interest others.

The toes of the new-born babe are proportionately longer and more flexible than are those of the adult, and instinctively close around the finger or any object not cold enough to repel them which may be placed under them, thus approaching somewhat the type of a probable tree-climbing ancestor.

Still earlier ancestry is strikingly suggested by the nails of the young infant. The long, tapered, and curved finger-nails, so commonly considered refined, at this age exhibit a degree of elegance leaving nothing to be desired. Should the transformation in this feature after birth proceed at the same rate that it now does, but in the inverse direction, the results might startle those who pursue nail culture as a fine art. It is not uncommon to see the growth of nail beyond the new babe's finger so long and so sharply curved that the lateral edges almost meet, showing a decided resemblance to a claw. This is most particularly the case with the little finger, which maintains the same degree of difference from the others as may be observed on the hand of the adult. I have never seen an exception in persons of any age but that the nail of the little finger—the least used of all the fingers—most nearly approaches (probably retains through neglect) the proportions of a claw. The third finger (not counting the thumb) commonly shows an intermediate degree of form and service.

As the consciousness of the outside world and of their relations to it dawns upon the youngsters, there is something in their manner akin to alertness. I have often seen babies four or five months old, while making animated efforts toward the acquaintance of some simple object, such as a drawer-knob, spindle of a bedstead, or the like, suddenly turn from it with a frightened look as if some slight sound or sensation which they had associated with it had transformed it into an enemy. Another baby propensity which can not be accounted for in its individual training is the disposition, on being startled (not greatly agitated), to press the body against the nurse, drop the face against her, and for an instant remain perfectly quiet, not breathing apparently, the quiet being followed by a deep-drawn breath.

When we need not go back of the age of man to find these instincts operating as important preservative factors, it is not unreasonable to read therein relationship to the lower orders in which they operate yet more prominently, as illustrated by the case of the calf and colt in Dr. Robinson's article.

Fear is the first and for some time the only emotion whose workings I perceive in the infant mind. Anger comes next.

There are some indications that the sense of smell is at birth more strongly developed than are the senses which come to be vastly more important to the man e. g., a certain odorous remedy which had been constantly used on the inflamed breast of a mother was found to be a sure reminder to the babe (then under five weeks old) that it was dinner-time. A drop of it placed on the babe's upper lip would immediately start her to reaching and nestling for her food. I have never tried but the one case.

What in ancestral habit or condition (or is there anything now in animal life analogous to it?) will account for the position of the infant thumb, which is so peculiar to this age and so persistent, the thumb being much bent at the first joint and lying close to the palm of the hand? Apparently it is the last of the five fingers to yield to the will of the babe in grasping things, acting rather as an obstruction than a help for six, seven, or eight months.

L. H. C.
Minneapolis, Minn., March 5, 1892.
 

 
SAVAGE SUPERSTITIONS.

Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In the November issue of the Monthly (vol. xl, page 103) some facts are cited as proving that "the savage is convinced that an injury done to the image is inflicted upon the original." This reminds me of an observation I read some years ago in Biard's Viaje al Brasil (La Vuelta al Mundo, 1863, page 212). This traveler relates that some of his Indian models would run away as soon as he tried to make their portraits. It was discovered that an Indian servant of his had told them that in the land of the white men there were many individuals without a head, and that the traveler was charged with collecting as many heads as he could, so that the imprudent Indian who would serve him as a model would after some time find that his head abandoned him and went to place itself upon the shoulders of the white man for whom it was destined.

Respectfully yours,
A. Ruiz Cadalso.
Havana, Cuba, March 1, 1892.