Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/January 1894/Correspondence



Editor Popular Science Monthly:

THE criticism made by Mr. E. S. Moser, in his article in the November Monthly, is undoubtedly sound from the writer's point of view, which is that of physical science. And yet there are many persons—for one, the writer of this letter—who, while recognizing the untenableness from the scientific standpoint of the positions taken in Prof. Lusk's article, yet as to the main idea accept it as true. When Mr. Moser asks, What is the spirit? he well knows that no answer can be given in the terms of science. Nevertheless, the one who is put to silence by the question may have certitude of the reality of man's spiritual nature.

It seems to the writer that the plain issue which is raised in this ever-recurring discussion of the natural versus the spiritual is whether man possesses faculties higher than the rational faculties, by which he can have conviction of truth that can not be reached by deductive reasoning. That there is no inherent absurdity in this idea is evident on the principle of evolution. In the history of the animal kingdom there was a time when sentiency was the highest form of mentality manifested by animals. From animals of this grade were evolved others of a higher grade, possessing not only sentiency but also rationality. Why should there not be a further evolution, giving rise to another set of faculties, higher than the rational faculties? Through the exercise of these higher faculties man may have certitude of truth which the rational faculties alone are incapable of attaining.

May we not say that the faculties which are exercised in the acts of prayer and praise to a Supreme Being are such higher faculties? In the ideal human mind—one in which all the normal faculties have proportionate development—would there not be such higher faculties? Who has not experienced moments when it seemed natural to pray to God, and others when it seemed natural to praise him? And by the exercise of these higher faculties is there not attained a certitude of truths which belong to a higher realm than the truths about material Nature?

Let any one who thinks he must give a negative answer to these questions before making a final decision go back in thought to that stage in the evolution of his animal ancestors when first a rational nature was being added to the powers of sentiency. How long may not the animals of that stage have hesitated to be guided by the dawning light of reason? how long doubtful of the truths which the exercise of their newly received faculties revealed to them?

James H. Stoller.
Union College, Schenectady, N. Y.,
October 29, 1893.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: The article in The Popular Science Monthly for November—Birds' Judgments of Men—was one that was full of interest for me by reason of the matter contained in the article itself, and also because it recalled some of my own experiences with our little feathered friends.

Situated, like the house of M. Cunisset-Carnot, on the outskirts of the city, the one in which I spent the summer at the time in question was surrounded by trees of various kinds. Here the robin, bluebird, finch, oriole, and the sparrow, among others, came and built their nests season after season without fear or molestation.

Without doubt the kindness that was uniformly shown them and the care with which all avoided disturbing their nests prepared the way for the more familiar intercourse I succeeded in holding afterward with these cheery little tenants of our woods and fields.

One of the first methods I adopted for this purpose was to place a number of shelves in the trees, keeping them always supplied with foods, taking care as well that it should be done under their observation. This was easily performed, as they soon learned to note any movements on my part with this object in view.

My first advances were made toward the English sparrow, that Anglo-Saxon of our smaller birds. Always on the lookout to discover and recognize anything that may be of profit to himself, he is also the first to take advantage of it, to the exclusion of his less fearless companions. I taught them to know my whistle, to come at my call, and to eat the crumbs I dropped from my hand. Then I succeeded in having them take their food from the palm of my outstretched hand. At last, whatever doubt I might have felt as to their confidence in my good intentions was wholly dissipated by seeing them bring their young to me. These showed no signs of fear. On the contrary, they appeared to be as unconcerned about me as the parent birds that were feeding them at my feet.

They were always on the alert for their breakfast, flying from different quarters to my windows when I pushed back the blinds at rising. If for any cause they remained closed beyond the usual hour, the presence of my little feathered pensioners was made quite evident by the hail-like pattering of their feet upon the tinned roof just below, where they hopped impatiently to and fro waiting for their matutinal repast.

The English sparrow, by reason of his domestic habits and acquired capability of adapting himself to the manifold and varying circumstances of our city and country life, has become one of the most knowing and observing of all our birds. But once a change in my clothing puzzled them. They knew my call, but the different color of my new garments seemed to have changed my personality. They would fly to me at my call, flutter about my head, hover over the food in my hand, and then, perching near by, would proceed to look me over and over with the most perplexed and serious air to fathom the mystery. After a while I established my identity and our old confidence was renewed. Indeed, it had become so complete that I now felt myself under a species of obligation never to disappoint them in their expectation of food, as they were on the watch for me whenever I appeared.

With the other birds my success was not so complete. But this was only what was to be expected. My attention had been mostly directed to the sparrow; the summer was drawing to a close, and they were seeking more congenial haunts. All, however, had become more familiar, for they seemed to have recognized my good will, and so much so that I feel assured that with the proper patience and favorable surroundings we can enter into very close and cordial relations with many of these little joyous minstrels whose beauty, song, and winged grace have brightened some hours in most of our lives.

Referring again to the English sparrow, it may be interesting to observe that I have seen him follow the robin about and snatch from his bill the worms as he pulled them out of the ground. Why the latter did not resent such audacious robbery I can not fancy, unless he knew that "discretion was the better part of valor"—that any attempt upon his part to chastise such a questionable messmate might bring down upon himself a mob of his companions.

His influence is already perceived in our streets, from which the once familiar pigeon is disappearing, as are many of our songsters from the field and garden, due also to his omnipresence. There is very little, if any, poetry or song in his life. His chief purpose seems to be "to possess the land," and to bring up as large a family as possible. Yet, while many have learned to regard him as a "wretched interloper," we can not but admire his hardihood, his intelligence, and his plastic instinct, by means of which he fits himself, like his human prototype, to the environments of the many regions he has invaded, and where, if the signs be true, he has come to stay and to exclude from their native haunts his more attractive and gracious rivals.

P. F. Schofield.
New York, November 18, 1893.