Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/December 1895/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.

Man has ever been curious about the origins of things. In the childhood of the race he wondered where the wind came from and the water in the streams, how the sun and moon were made, what caused the thunder and the lightning, and how the first plants, the first animals, and the first human beings came to be. Later the origin of arts and customs, the rise of tribes and peoples, the production of material substances, and a host of similar problems engrossed his attention. Two ways of answering these questions have been relied upon by him at different times. The first was by speculation, and produced beautiful myths, fantastic cosmogonies, quaint folklore, or pseudo-sciences, according as the genius of one people differed from that of another. The second way depends upon research, and has reached its highest development in the investigations of modern science. Its inquiry into the past has given us a wealth of archæological lore such as is embodied in two volumes now before us. In one of these Prof. Mason[1] has set forth the results of a study of industry among primitive peoples, revealing the manner in which the tools, devices, and processes used in the arts must have originated. The arrow and spear heads, knives, hammers, and axes of primitive man are the precursors of a host of striking and cutting implements. Several kinds of drills have been found in use by savage tribes. The screw, the pulley, and the wheel and axle are known to savages only in a rudimentary way, but the lever and the wedge are largely used by them. Modes of kindling and caring for fire make an interesting chapter, a notable feature in which is the evolution of the bellows. The use of stone is commonly thought of as characterizing primitive arts, and this idea is embodied in the name "Stone age." This is a misconception, for, as Prof. Mason points out, where one tool of stone was used there were many constructed of the more easily worked materials, wood, bone, shell, horn, and hide. We do not find them in ancient graves and mounds, simply because their materials are much more perishable than stone. Hence, while stone-working furnished wide scope for invention in primitive times, the working of wood did no less. The potter's art originated early, and the forms of primitive pottery are an ever-pleasing surprise to the archaeologist and the technographer. The same is true of the textile industry. In producing implements of war and the chase invention made important advances in primitive times, and material is not lacking to show how facilities for travel and transportation, both by land and sea, arose. Coming to the end of the volume, we are impelled to query why the author made his index so scanty, and why he divided it in the inconvenient German fashion.

The other of the two hooks referred to above is concerned with the art of writing.[2] The important aid which this art gives to man's progress by preserving the experience of each generation to guide all that follow makes it well worthy of separate treatment. The art of transmitting intelligence proceeds from objects serving as reminders through picture writing to phonetic writing with an alphabet. The author has presented this course of development especially as it is shown among the native races of North America, from the Innuit in the north to the Mayas and ancient Mexicans in the south, among whom all stages are represented. Illustrations are frequently drawn also from the Egyptian and other Oriental peoples. It is easy to see how objects can be represented by pictures, and savage races have shown themselves very clever in representing action by the same means. Thus in many of the Ojibwa records going, or running, is represented by drawing either the sole of the foot or the lower j)art of the legs. In the Mexican codices a distinction between running and walking is denoted by placing the legs in the correct position in each case. The sign for eating or food among several peoples consists of a human figure with the hand placed to the mouth. Lines proceeding from the mouth of either a human or animal figure denote the use of the voice. Adding the figure of the heart within the outline of the human body makes the voice lines mean singing. Similarly wavy lines from the ears denote hearing. To distinguish an object used as a proper name, a human figure or the head alone is placed below it with a line from the mouth to the name object. Such signs gradually become conventionalized and reduced to simpler forms. When the name or sound suggested by one object comes to be joined with another such sound to denote a word having only a phonetic relation to the names of these two objects, then the ideograms become phonograms. Further progress in this direction converts the phonograms into alphabetic characters. At the discovery of America the writing of the Mexicans and Mayas was rapidly approaching the syllabic stage. The only phonetic alphabet actually devised by aboriginal Americans is that of the Cherokee, Sequoya, but this uses the forms of the Roman letters variously modified, and hence is not an independent creation. Dr. Hoffman's volume contains four plates and over a hundred smaller figures, and is adequately indexed.

The world is beginning to realize that "Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war," and in consequence its appetite for butchery seems to be abating. A set of books called the Century Science Series, that has been undertaken under the able editorship of Sir Henry E. Roscoe, will contribute to this result by showing that the laboratory and the explorer's camp have their heroes as well as the battlefield. Sir Henry contributes the opening volume to the series, taking as his subject his eminent British predecessor in the field of chemistry, John Dalton[3] Dalton's great contribution to chemistry is the atomic theory, and it may be fairly ranked as the comer stone of the science. He also established important laws concerning the behavior of gases and made valuable meteorological researches. In depicting the scientist, Sir Henry does not let us lose sight of the man. He shows us Dalton as the Cumbrian Quaker lad, with his northern dialect and mild though unpolished manners; then as the young schoolmaster and the tutor, careful of his scanty resources and no less so of his time; afterward as the plain and unpretending man of science, ever ready for a pipe and a chat with the friends of old times, but with no faculty for being agreeable to persons who did not interest him. Having, when a young man, bought a pair of silk stockings as a present for his mother, supposing them to be of orthodox drab, he was greatly astonished to hear them pronounced "Varra fine stuff, but uncommon scarlety." It was in this way that his eyes were opened to the defect of his vision, and he at once proceeded to make the first scientific study of color-blindness. Dalton had the frame of a northern yeoman, high but not extraordinary mental powers, and—perseverance. To this last quality rather than to genius he ascribed whatever of value he accomplished, and in this respect he seems to have judged correctly.

Is the story of the Herschels[4] especially dramatic, or is it Miss Gierke's talent as a narrator that makes her contribution to the Century Series a remarkably fascinating volume? William Herschel's laying down the baton of a musical director to become an astronomer is dramatic enough, and so is his sister's dutiful abandonment of a career as a vocalist to serve as his assistant. William had been trained in music by his father, who was bandmaster in a Hanoverian regiment; he had proved a bright boy at school, and when he went to England at nineteen years of age was a young man of pleasant address, "who spoke English perfectly, played like a virtuoso, and possessed a curious stock of varied knowledge." Miss Clerke has made a continuous story of his life, intertwining the thread of his musical and that of his scientific vocation, where these are contemporaneous, with that of his personal history, A chapter devoted to Caroline tells of her early years as a family drudge and her quarter century of retirement after her brother's death, supplying also some additional details of her co-operation in his labors. The sketch of Sir John Herschel is given in much the same style as that of his father. While mainly occupied with his observations in the southern hemisphere and other astronomical labors, it tells also of his work in physics and mathematics, and his writings—not omitting his verse. The volume contains a portrait of each of its subjects.

To those who imagine that the name J. von Liebig[5] stands merely for a manufacturer of meat extracts, who may still be conducting his works somewhere in Germany, Mr, Shenstone has a message. He wishes them to know who Liebig was, what he did, and why all chemists and all those who are versed in the history of science admire and esteem him so greatly. To this end our author has taken especial pains to set forth Liebig's applications of chemistry to the arts, even at the expense, as he concedes, of doing "something less than justice" to the great German's labors in pure science. Liebig was the son of a color-maker, who was able to give him a university education, but this was of little benefit to him in becoming a chemist. His private studies, supplemented by admission to Gay-Lussac's private laboratory, prepared him for his profession. Mr. Shenstone enumerates four great departures in which Liebig took the lead. First, he devised the process now followed in analyzing organic compounds, and with this as an implement he determined the composition and discovered cheaper and safer ways of making many substances important to science and industry. Second, he showed that plants derive their nourishment not so much from the humus as from the inorganic salts in the soil and the carbon dioxide of the air, and went on to formulate rules for the making and application of fertilizers and for the practical conduct of other agricultural operations. His third great work was closely connected with this. It related to physiological chemistry, taking up the office of the food of animals in producing tissue, maintaining the animal heat, etc. Liebig's fourth great departure was introducing the laboratory method of teaching chemistry. This alone would have won him high fame. Mr. Shenstone does not dwell upon Liebig's private life, but gives an insight into his combative but generous character when telling of his collaboration with Wöhler and with Dumas, also in the chapter on his later years. Accounts of the work of Faraday, Maxwell, Lyell, Davy, Pasteur, Darwin, and Helmholtz are announced as in preparation, and if they are executed as acceptably as the earlier volumes, this series will be a notably attractive and instructive one.

The multiplication of untechnical, familiar books about flowers, whether of the garden, field, or forest, is a good sign. It.shows that more and more people are growing interested in the subject, and that those who have not had opportunity to take a course in botany, or whose time, or eyes, or patience are not sufficient to enable them to plod through the mass of minute details involved in the technical identifications of the manuals, want to know what they are and what their relationships. Mr. Matthews, author of Familiar Flowers of Field and Garden[6] enjoys a point of observation farther north than do most of the others who have given us books of this kind, wanting from Campton, N, H., on the edge of the Franconia Mountains. There he has a garden in which most of the western and southwestern wild flowers are cultivated, while the wild flowers of New England grow in the fields and woods around. With these he spends much time; and in this book he attempts to introduce them to the reader by name and familiar description and picture, and to supplement the introduction by a little friendly gossip based on personal experience. These flowers are treated according to the seasons and months in which they appear; while the illustrations—simple portraits, generally reduced as befits the size of the page—are from drawings made on the spot. The author seems to hesitate when he differs from Dr. Asa Gray, but he need not. If he has seen the Atamasco lily in bloom in May, while Gray had not the opportunity so to see it; if he finds a certain aster, supposed to be peculiar to southern New England, common in New Hampshire; if he finds colors and shadings which Gray knew not, or has a clearer vision of their distinctions; or if he knows other facts or has seen other qualities in flowers which Gray did not, he is able to add to knowledge, it is his duty to tell of it, and he deserves thanks. An alphabetical index at the end of the book gives the names, colors, and localities of familiar flowers of the United States, with a floral calendar.

  1. The Origins of Invention. By Otis T. Mason, Curator of the Department of Ethnology in the United States National Museum. Pp. 419, crown 8vo. London: Walter Scott, Ltd., 3s. 6d. New York: Imported by Charles Scribner's Sons. Price, $1.25.
  2. The Beginnings of Writing. By Walter James Hoffman, M.D. Anthropological Series. Pp. 209, 12mo. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Price, $1.75.
  3. * John Dalton and the Rise of Modern Chemistry. By Sir Henry E. Roscoe. Pp. 216, 12mo. New York: Macmillan & Co. Price, $1.25. London: Cassell & Co. Price, 3s. 6d.
  4. t The Herschels and Modern Astronomy. By Agnes M. Clerke. Pp. 224, 12mo. New York: Macmillan & Co. Price, $1.25. London: Cassell & Co. Price, 3s. 6d.
  5. Justus von Liebig: his Life and Work. By W. A. Shenstone. Pp. 219, 12mo. New York: Macmillan & Co. Price, $1.25. London: Cassell & Co. Price, 3s. 6d.
  6. Familiar Flowers of Field and Garden, described and illustrated by F. Schuyler Mathews. Pp 308, 12mo. New York: D. Appleton & Ca Price, $1.75. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.