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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/November 1893/Popular Miscellany

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 44‎ | November 1893

POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Spencer's Education in English Training Colleges.—For several years Herbert Spencer's book on Education has been a text-book in the schools of England and Wales which correspond to normal schools in America, and has been very highly appreciated. Mr. J. G. Fitch, the widely known educator, who is one of H. B. M.'s chief inspectors on the training colleges for schoolmistresses, says of this work: "In my conferences with the staff of teachers I have occasionally heard that the work of Mr. Spencer was regarded as incomplete and unsatisfying, that it left out of view some important factors in moral training, and that in particular it exalted scientific instruction at the expense of the 'humanities.' But, withal, it is generally acknowledged to be one of the most stimulating and suggestive treatises on education in the language; and those of the lecturers who have made the book a theme for comment, and occasionally for adverse criticism, speak in the strongest terms of the value of that intellectual discipline which is to be had in discussing both its shortcomings and its many merits." That its alleged imperfections were not deemed very serious even by their discoverers is shown by the fact that, although Locke's Thoughts on Education was permitted as an alternative, Spencer's book was chosen, in 1891, by all but the two Catholic colleges and one other out of twenty-six. Mr. Wilde, one of the inspectors of colleges for schoolmasters, reports that the students "had in all the colleges given to me invariably taken this book." Mr. Byrne, another inspector, speaking of the general influence of the book, says: "Mr. Spencer's little work on education is doing an incalculable amount of good to the elementary teachers of the rising generations. The obligation now imposed on them to study it is bearing fruit by awakening in them an interest in the proper ends and methods of education and instruction which they had never possessed before. That their occupation is an art, and does not consist in obedience to a number of arbitrarily devised rules, is something to have learned."

 

Pennsylvania Folk Lore.—Dr. D. G.Brinton's account of the folk lore of his early home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, has little that is peculiar, but in most of its traits recalls familiar English customs. The usual superstitions about the moon were in vogue, and there was a mysterious buried treasure of blood money with a legend attached. Some mythical animals were believed in; among them a descendant of the were wolf of the middle ages—a big black dog with fiery eyes, which never appeared except at night, and was an object of terror to those who heard him. He was supposed to haunt a certain valley which people avoided. Another animal of this class was the hoop snake, which was said to form itself into a ring with its tail in its mouth, and to revolve like a wheel, faster than a horse could trot. Dragon flies, as "snake servants," were supposed to warn snakes of approaching danger, and as "snake-feeders," to seek out food and notify the snakes where it could be found. Cats were uncanny; many animals could predict the weather; and "conjuring" was held responsible for many ills, while charms were cherished as competent to remove them. Ghosts were familiar in popular belief, and were in many cases associated with spots connected with scenes of the Revolution. The author was himself somewhat of a ghost-seer in his early days—a faculty which he regrets having lost as he advanced in years. Having such evidence of his own, he was quite prepared to accept without question the statements of others on such points. The later influx of Irish laborers has introduced a mass of folk lore and superstitious notions that did not exist in the region in the author's boyhood. For instance, he never heard that Friday was an unlucky day, or that the number thirteen at dinner was ominous, or that one should stroke himself to avoid the influence of a bad sign.

 

Animal Life in the Death-Valley Region.—A pointed illustration of the effect of change of environment on the life of a region is given in Dr. A. K. Fisher's report of the birds observed in the course of the examination of the Death-Valley region, California, undertaken by Prof. C. Hart Merriam, under the direction of the Department of Agriculture. while the bird life of any region is affected by various agencies, such as the results of the destruction of forests, the drying of springs and watercourses, etc., in the high Sierra the sheep industry is doing more than any other cause to make that region uninhabitable. During the summer the sheep destroy all the smaller plants and shrubs to such an extent that they do not grow again till the following spring. The author has walked for miles along the hillsides where sheep had recently grazed without seeing any plants except the larger woody shrubs. That this destruction is a potent cause of the scarcity of ground-inhabiting birds is evident by contrast to any one visiting the national parks, where no sheep are allowed to graze, and where vegetation is consequently uninjured and many species of birds abound. Yet two hundred and ninety species and subspecies of birds were found in this region, and are reported upon. The collection of reptiles and batrachians made by Mr. Leonhard Stejneger is particularly noteworthy as being the first attempt in this country on a similar scale to gather the material of this class according to a national plan and with a definite purpose in view. The result is a fine series of nine hundred specimens, unique in its completeness with respect to geographic localities within the area explored by the expedition, a tract of almost a hundred thousand square miles, comprising a number of nearly parallel desert valleys separated by intervening narrow mountain ranges. The effort to collect every species in all the characteristic localities has resulted in the accumulation of a material by which it has been possible in many instances to follow the geographic variation in its several directions. Thereby the author has been enabled to settle many vexed questions, and to point out various nice distinctions where some of his colleagues had failed, chiefly from lack of suitable material. According to Prof. Merriam's own observations, most of the desert shrubs are social plants and are distributed in well-marked belts or zones, the vertical limits of which are fixed by the temperature during the period of growth and reproduction. The boundaries of the several belts conform largely to the contours of altitude, with such flexures as variations in base level and slope exposure impose.

 

Conventionalism and Originality.—Having discussed the tendency of conventional and original minds to come into collision on social matters, the London Spectator finds the occasions for collision less in the case of purely intellectual questions, for the conventionals would take so little interest in matters requiring real thought that they would dismiss them unconsidered. But to those capable of appreciating such subjects, how refreshing in their distinctiveness of character are the workings of the original mind, both in ideas and in expression! For there is a touch of genius, or what the French call feu sacré, kindling its thoughts. "Life can never be an altogether dull thing in the company of the original man, for his inventive mind will so combine its various elements as to produce a new and unexpected result. He will see things from some point of view disregarded before; like what we have seen, yet somehow quite different—fresh and unexpected as the thoughts of a child. For, in truth, we shall find there is a close kinship between his mind and that of a thoughtful child. Both continually surprise and delight us, because, through ignorance in the one case and disregard in the other, of the ordinary points of view, they simply and naturally take their own. And in both cases there is the probability that they will strike the truth, because, unblinded by convention or prejudice, they aim straight at the heart of a question. We see, both with children and with poor people, that education, however useful as a refiner of the raw material of originality, is no necessity of its existence. For what rare and racy originality do we often find in the sayings of the poor and uneducated! Their conversation may be often richer in this golden ore than that of those who are called their betters; for having heard less of other men's views, their shrewd, observant minds are driven to take their own. . . . Yet, on the other hand, who that delights in certain gifted authors would deny that mental cultivation gives an added grace to originality?"

 

The Alaskan Climate.—The climate of southeastern Alaska, says Prof. J. J. Stevenson, in the Scottish Geographical Magazine, is a source of constant surprise to visitors from the Atlantic slope. On the same parallels with bleak and dismal Labrador and Cape York on Hudson Bay, where the summer heat penetrates only a few feet below the surface, trees grow three thousand feet above the sea at Wrangel, and up to the mountain tops at Juneau. The rainfall is great, and the variation in temperature is not; the mercury rarely falls below ten degrees above zero at Sitka, and as seldom rises above seventy-five degrees. Of course, the extremes are much greater on the mainland beyond the mountains, where the summer heat and winter cold are much more intense than immediately on the coast. Alaska has not been an unprofitable investment for the United States. The purchase money has been repaid, or nearly so, by royalties on seal-fishing. But the agricultural capabilities are limited indeed. There is little land fitted for tillage; and the moist summer with its low temperature is unfavorable for the ripening of grain. Gardens, however, are successful at Sitka and Wrangel, and the commoner vegetables are raised without difficulty. Berries of many kinds grow luxuriantly. The remarkable contrast between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America is due to the influence of the Kuro-Siwo, or great Japanese current, which is similar to that of the Gulf Stream on the west coast of Europe. There are many points of resemblance between the two streams. The Japanese current is divided by a cold current, and fogs are produced by the contact, as they are when the Gulf Stream meets the Labrador current in the North Atlantic. The Kamchatka or northerly branch flows into Bering Sea and passes through Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean, first striking the coast of northern Alaska; the mild climate of that coast is due to it, and possibly its influence on the ocean temperature has much to do with the presence of fur seals in Bering Sea. The main body of the stream crosses the ocean and reaches the American coast not far from the strait of San Juan de Fuca, whence it flows southward to join the great northern equatorial current off Lower California. In spite of the superfluity of rainy and cloudy weather, southeastern Alaska is said to be by no means an uninviting place. In summer the twilight almost meets the dawn, but winter restores the daylight to the general average, for at Sitka lamps are extinguished at nine in the morning, to be relighted at three in the afternoon.

 

Characteristics of the Tropical Forest.—To the naturalist, says the London Spectator, the most marked feature of the great tropical forest south of the equator is the inequality in the balance of Nature between vegetable and animal life. From the forests of Brazil to the forests of the Congo, through the wooded heights of northern Madagascar, to the tangled jungles of the Asiatic Archipelago and the impenetrable woods of New Guinea, the boundless profusion of vegetable growth is unmatched by any similar abundance in animal forms. A few brilliant birds of strange shape and matchless plumage, such as the toucans of Guinea and the Amazon, or the birds of paradise in the Moluccas or the Papuan Archipelago, haunt the loftiest trees, and from time to time fall victims to the blowpipe or arrow of the natives, who hardly dare to penetrate that foodless region, even for such rich spoils, until incantation and sacrifice have propitiated the offended spirits of the woods; but, except the sloth and the giant ant-eater, there is hardly to be found in the tropical regions of the New World a quadruped which can excite the curiosity of the naturalist or form food even for the wildest of mankind. In the corresponding tracts of Africa and the Asiatic Archipelago the rare four-footed animals that live in the solitary forests are for the most part creatures of the night, and do not leave their hiding places till the tropical darkness has fallen on the forest, when they seek their food, not on the surface of the ground, but, imitating the birds, ascend to the upper surface of the ocean of trees, and at the first approach of dawn seek refuge from the hateful day in the dark recesses of some aged and hollow trunk. There is nothing like the loris or the lemur in the fauna of temperate Europe. We may rather compare them to a race of arboreal moles, the condition of whose life is darkness and invisibility. But, unlike the moles, the smaller members of these rarely seen tribes are among the most beautiful and interesting creatures of the tropics, though the extreme difficulty of capturing creatures whose whole life is spent on the loftiest forest trees is further increased by the reluctance of the natives to enter the deserted and pathless forests. The beautiful lemurs, most of which are found in Madagascar, are further believed by the Malagasi to embody the spirits of their ancestors; and the weird and plaintive cries with which they fill the groves at night, uttered by creatures whose bodies, as they cling to the branches, are invisible, and whose delicate movements are noiseless, may well have left a doubt on the minds of the first discoverers of the island as to whether these were not in truth the cries and wailings of true lemures, the unquiet ghosts of the departed.

 

Indian Basket Colors.—No chemist, says the Lewiston (Maine) Journal, has ever produced brighter colors than are made by the Maine Indian basket makers. For the greater part of the material, ash logs are taken, though maple is cut for rims and handles. In the salt marshes sweet grass is found, which when dry gives out a fragrant odor. Alder is steeped for pale red, white-birch bark for bright red, cedar boughs for green, and sumac for yellow. Black comes from white-maple bark. A light solution of maple, however, shows purple instead of black. Lazy Indians buy logwood for black, redwood for red, and fustic for yellow. A family of four basket makers in Oldtown cleared one thousand dollars last year, in addition to the household expenses. In the same house where the baskets were made are a four-hundred-dollar piano, a Brussels carpet, lace curtains, plush furniture, a picture of a priest and one of the Virgin Mary, a Catholic epitome, a set of Cooper's novels a stuffed owl, and a peacock, also stuffed. Two canary birds sang in a cage hanging in the room, and on a mat a tired foxhound snored.

 

Ancient Beginnings of Chemistry.—In a paper presenting evidences of careful study, Prof. H. Carrington Bolton has shown how the beginnings of chemistry were in the very earliest times, when already many arts were practiced involving chemical operations, such as working in metals, purification of natural salts for pharmacy, etc., dyeing of cloths and the preparation of pigments, brewing of fermented liquors, and others. Hence we find that long before chemistry became a science, even before it became inoculated with the virus of alchemy, furnaces and apparatus of earthenware, metal, and glass, adapted to special work, were in common use. The Egyptians attained great skill in industrial arts at a remote period, and have left records of a most enduring character, pictures cut in their granite tombs and temples. There we see the processes of gold washing and smelting; the use of blowpipes and double bellows for intensifying heat, various forms of furnaces, and crucibles having a shape quite similar to those of to-day. Some of these crucibles preserved in the Berlin Museum date from the fifteenth century b. c. The earliest chemical laboratories of which we have any knowledge are those connected with the Egyptian temples. Each temple had its library and its laboratory, commonly situated in a definite part of the huge structure. In these laboratories the priests prepared the incense, oils, and other substances used in the temple services, and on the granite walls were carved the recipes and processes. These are still to be seen by the archæologist. The Israelites carried with them from Egypt to the promised land knowledge of the technical and artistic skill of their contemporaries, and the Holy Bible contains frequent allusions to industrial arts. Cupellation is plainly described by Jeremiah; metallurgical operations are mentioned in Job, Ezekiel, and other books, and bellows by Jeremiah. Geber, the Arabian physician and chemist of the eighth century, wrote very plainly of chemical processes, describing minutely solution, filtration, crystallization, fusion, sublimation, distillation, cupellation, and various kinds of furnaces and apparatus employed in these operations. He describes in detail the aludel (or sublimatory of glass), the necessary apparatus for filtration, and the water-bath. The last piece (bain-marie in French) is said to have been invented by an alchemist named Mary, who is identified with Miriam, the sister of Moses. Perhaps the earliest drawings of strictly chemical apparatus are those in the so-called manuscript of St. Mark, which is a Greek papyrus on the "sacred art" preserved in Venice and recently edited by Berthelot.

 

Adaptability of the South to Cotton Manufacturing.—The feasibility of establishing profitable cotton manufactures in the Southern States was recently discussed in the Manufacturers' Record of Baltimore by D. A. Tompkins, of the Atherton Mills, Charlotte, N. C., and Henry G. Kittredge, editor of the Boston Journal of Commerce. Mr. Tompkins believes that the conditions at the South are more favorable to the manufacture of cotton than those of any other part of the world because no freight charges or only trifling ones have to be incurred; the profits of dealers in cotton are eliminated; labor and living are cheaper than in other parts of the United States; the cost of bagging and ties is almost entirely saved, because they can be sold back to the farmers; and the loss of cotton in transportation to other points is saved. Mr. Kittredge does not regard these advantages as of permanent consequence, or as such as can not be offset by things unfavorable; and he mentions as an opposing condition of great magnitude the enervating effect of the Southern climate. He points to the region within the limits of the Appalachian Mountain system, where the climate partakes to a greater or less degree of the characteristics of that of the Northern States, as the most propitious region for the establishment of the cotton manufacture of the South. The Record expresses the belief that the delightful and salubrious climate of the Piedmont region of the Carolinas lacks nothing needful for successful manufacturing operations.

 

German Schools.—According to a summary of the German school system by Principal Ernest Richard, of the Hoboken Academy, the people's school (Volksschule) comprises a course of eight years in the common branches, with natural history, geography, history, and religion, from which everything that belongs properly to the competency of special schools is carefully kept out. The spirit of these schools, however, changes, according to the relative strength of liberal or reactionary tendencies in the spirit of the times. In many States a compulsory course in the Fortbildungsschule, or continuation school, has been introduced, to attend which employers are obliged to give all their employed below a certain age leave of absence. The course in these schools is generally an enlargement of the subjects taught in the people's schools, with a view to the future occupation of the pupils. In the city they try to give instruction most useful for the prospective mechanic, while in agricultural districts the future needs of the farmer are of leading influence in shaping the course of study. Girls are trained in domestic economy and prepared for their future position of wives and mothers. Special trade schools, or industrial or commercial schools, adapted to the special occupations of the place, are also open to the boy who has completed his people's school course. From these elementary schools, with a variety of other schools which one may attend, the pupil passes to the secondary schools—the Ober-Realschule the Realgymnasium, and the Gymnasium; or the schools of science and modern languages; of these with Latin added; and the humanistic school. These schools are in nine grades, which all have Latin names, from Prima superior (the highest) to Sexta (the lowest). At the close of the complete secondary course the Abiturienten Examen takes place, an examination of maturity for work in the university and the highest technical schools of university rank. The university is considered the soul, the life-giving element of education. Its proper province, even more than preparation for a profession, is, as Prof. Virchow has shown in his rectoral address published in the August Monthly, the search for truth for the sake of truth, the production of new knowledge, the providing of material for the progress of civilization in all its branches. No matter what the political constitution of the State may be, it is free; and the professor's right to teach what in his conviction is the truth is not limited.

 

Accuracy of American School Books.—The results of an offer recently sent out by the manufacturers of an article of popular use of a prize for the detection of errors in school books are very creditable to the accuracy and thoroughness of American textbooks. The conditions of the offer required that the book be in the English language and actually used in some school, and the error one susceptible of proof, and taught in lectures or lessons, and not merely a typographical mistake, or an error inadvertently made in spelling or grammar; it should not be one that had already been corrected in later editions; it should not be a disputed question of history or opinion; and should be usually recognized by the publisher of the book on submission to him as an error. Two hundred and thirty-five answers were received to the offer, representing one hundred and sixty-eight alleged errors. The greatest number of errors—thirty-eight—were alleged to appear in geographies; next wei'e histories, twenty-one; arithmetics, nineteen; grammars, sixteen; natural history, twelve; readers, ten; chemistries, eight; languages, etymology, civil government, seven each; geometries, four; geologies and miscellaneous criticisms, two each; definitions, zoölogies, books on English, anatomies, astronomies, botanies, drawing-books, trigonometries, and political economies, one each. Only one misstatement was found in Webster's Dictionary, and only two in Prof. Fiske's Civil Government in the United States. Another offer, on slightly modified terms, has been sent out by the same house, which will doubtless lead to a still more thorough examination of the books. From the present outlook, whatever may be the shortcomings of our school books, they do not lie to any great extent in outright misstatements of fact.

 

Expenses at Harvard.—The cost of living while at school is a very important item to most college students. Since Prof. Palmer, of Harvard University, showed how it was possible for a student to live there on four hundred and fifty dollars a year, or a little less, many changes have taken place in college life and its surroundings, and aids to economizing have been introduced that did not exist then. In the Foxcroft Club, with its bill of prices ranging from two slices of bread or two cookies for a cent, to ten cents for roast meats, many have been able to board for as little as two dollars a week. The Twenty-one Club has been an active force in lowering the average of student expenses; the Furniture Loan Club, which began in 1890, has been another. The list of rooms in private houses, published at the opening of each college year, has aided, by directing students to the cheapest rentals; and an employment bureau, established in 1887-'88, helps students who may wish to earn their way or a part of it. In order to ascertain the present conditions as to expense. Secretary Frank Bolles recently requested a number of Harvard men to prepare, each in his own way, a statement of his necessary expenditures during the time of his residence at the university, selecting men known to be very poor, earnest, and scholarly, eager to secure remunerative work, and likely to be methodical and accurate in money matters. He publishes, in a pamphlet entitled Students' Expenses, the replies received from forty of them. These replies show that "students of the most intelligent kind are able to meet the expenses of an academic year by a sum appreciably smaller than the four hundred and fifty dollars which was the normal minimum in 1887." As a rule, the letters have a cheerful tone, showing that the student who lives economically "is not necessarily dreary," though he may have less of pleasure and ease than many of his associates. While some of the men have been forced to devote too much time to making money to attain the very highest grade of academic scholarship, few of them have records below the average; and the number of those having conspicuously high records is greater than that of those having poor grades. Several of them have taken active part in athletic supports, and have found time to enjoy themselves in other ways.

 

The First Climbing of an Alp.—According to Mr. Edwin Swift Balch's interesting paper on Mountain Exploration, the first real Alpine ascent took place in the same year as the landing of Columbus, when Chamberlain Julien de Beaupré, by order of King Charles VIII of France, and with the help of ropes and ladders, climbed Mont Aiguille, "a long narrow wedge, six thousand and eighty feet high, flat at the top, where there are grass and trees." The contemporary account reads that "on June 26, 1492, François de Bosco, almoner to the Seigneur Julien de Beaupré, in company with other hardy adventurers, ascended the Mont Eguille, or Mount Inaccessible, and the day following, having said mass on the said mountain, ate, drank, and reposed thereon. The Seigneur Julien de Beaupré changed the name of the mountain from Eguille, or Montagne Inaccessible, to Eguille Fort, causing it to be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity by a certain Sébastian de Carect, one of the royal chaplains, and afterward chanting the Te Deum, Salve Regina, and many other anthems." They saw numerous chamois on the summit, where they spent six days, and found the descent still more horrible than the ascent.

 

The Zoölogical Garden of Philadelphia.—The Directors of the Zoölogical Society of Philadelphia say in their report for the last year that they have been confined in the administration of the affairs of the society to its legitimate purposes, by the provisions of its charter and their sense of a proper conduct of the trust confided to them. Their constant object has been to place the garden purely as a zoological garden in the front rank of such institutions. In this they feel that they have succeeded in a greater measure than is perhaps commonly recognized by the people of the city. The public services rendered by such an institution are comprised in the very definition of education, in its broad modern sense, and need demonstration in this day quite as little as do its other functions in the direction of recreation; yet it is doubtful if the general public perceive as yet the full educational value of an institution that attracts at the same moment, into the same path, two such different elements of human intelligence as the capacity for observation and the love of enjoyment. The last year's season of the garden was less profitable than usual, partly on account of the severity of both the summer and the winter, and partly also, the directors fear, because it has become the victim of that sort of popular apathy to which such institutions are exposed which eschew sensational methods and are not all the time offering novelties. It is to be hoped that the intelligent people of Philadelphia will not permit so worthy an institution to suffer on account of its determination to maintain its high standard.

 

Ancient Mexican and Hopi Dances.—Certain resemblances, fancied or real, between ceremonials which, according to Spanish historians, were observed by Central American aborigines at the time of the conquest, and those which are at present performed in the least modified of the pueblos of the Southwest, afford a series of interesting facts, which, if they do not point to the kinship of those peoples, may throw light on the study of the comparative ceremoniology of the American race. An example of such resemblance is found by Mr. J. Walter Fewkes in a ceremony described by Padre Sahagun as practiced by the ancient Mexicans, which is comparable in many respects with the Hopi snake dance. In his published study of the subject, Mr. Fewkes gives the Nahuatl text cited by Sahagun, a German translation of it by Dr. Seler, an English translation of that, and a Spanish version with a Mexican plate or tablet illustrating the text. There are many differences between the described ceremony and the Hopi dance, but a striking resemblance appears in the carrying of the snake in the mouths of the participants. The resemblance leads one to look for likeness in symbolism, especially as appertaining to the mythological snake, between the two peoples. A close likeness in this symbolism has not been found among the Nahua people, while with the Mayas there is a remarkable case of similarity or identical symbolism apparently connecting the plumed snake of Yucatan with that of the Hopi towns. From the speculative side there seems probable an intimate resemblance between some of the ceremonials, the symbolism, and the mythological systems of the Indians of Tusayan and those of the more civilized stocks of Central America. In the author's opinion, we are not yet justified in offering any but a theoretical explanation of the origin of the Hopi ceremonial and mythological systems, but their intimate relations with those of the neighboring pueblos indicates a close kinship. The facts recorded in his study look as if the Hopi practice a ceremonial system of worship with strong affinities to the Nahuatl and Mayas. He has not yet seen enough evidence to convince him that the Hopi derived their cult or ceremonials from the Zuñians or from any other single people. It is probably composite.