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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/June 1896/General Notices

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 49‎ | June 1896

GENERAL NOTICES.

Paleontology is presented from a point of view somewhat different from the ordinary in a book which Prof. Williams, of Yale University, has just published.[1] The author says that while there are no end of books on evolution, and modern biologists seem content to assume that some theory of evolution is true, and although the sociologist, the moralist, and the theologian are basing their theories about man on the "working hypothesis" of the naturalist, as if "law and gospel," it seems to have escaped serious attention that we have open for study a genuine record of the actual evolution of organisms, extending from near the beginning of life up to the present time. The geologist does not ask what is the theory of evolution, but what are the facts of evolution. The book is intended simply as an introduction to an already broad field, which is rapidly widening. The history of organisms is first taken up and treated quite fully. The next two chapters consist of a history of the making of the geological time scale, and a general consideration of its divisions. The naming and the fossils of stratified rocks, the nature of fossils and their geographical distribution next occupy attention. What is a species? What is an organism? and What is the origin of species? are the elementary but important questions answered in the next three chapters. The principles of natural history, classification, and the types of construction in the animal kingdom, occupy Chapters XI and XII. Phylogenesis in classification, the acquirement of characters of generic or higher rank, what is evolved in evolution, the modification of generic characters, and the plasticity and permanency of characters in the history of organisms, bring us to the eighteenth chapter, which takes up the cephalopoda, to illustrate the rate of morphological differentiation in a genetic series. In Chapter XIX the ammonids are studied in a similar manner to illustrate the progressive modification of an extrinsic character. The last two chapters—one on the laws of evolution, as emphasized by a study of the geological history of organisms, and finally the philosophical conclusions regarding the causes determining the course of evolution, are in the nature of a general summary of the whole subject.

A valuable series of archæological investigations is chronicled in a tasteful 8vo entitled The Hill Caves of Yucatan[2] The author, who is Curator of the Museum of American and Prehistoric Archæology at the University of Pennsylvania, had had his eye, so to speak, on the Central American hill caves for several years. The expedition was at last made possible by the munificence of Mr. J. W. Cor with, of Chicago, its purpose being to search for new evidence of man's antiquity in the caves of Central America. The party landed at Progreso, and rapidly made their way into the interior. The coralline and porous Mesozoic limestone of that part of Yucatan had not been upheaved or faulted, and, save for the waves of the hill ridges, lay as it was deposited. The caves were found to open vertically down into the ground like wells, the shaft having evidently been formed by the natural weathering down of a level rock surface until a hole in the roof of the cave was produced. These caves, of which a number were examined, were found in some cases to contain rude inscriptions on the walls, in all cases a large number of broken potsherds, and in the excavations conducted in the layers of rubbish which made up the floor of the caverns, charcoal and ashes, mixed with potsherds of many makes and some bones, but no arrowheads, spear points, or even flakes of hornstone. Some human bones scattered in the rubbish indicated that the old inhabitants of Yucatan practiced cannibalism. Taken as a whole, the antiquities show us the ancient cave visitor as an agriculturist rather than a hunter, although he seems not to have possessed domestic animals. The author, in closing, says: "An earlier people visiting Yucatan under its present topographical conditions must needs have left traces in the caves; because the undisturbed earth beneath the culture layer discovered always failed to show trace of any deeper, older, or more primitive human visitor, the conclusion was that no such earlier people had seen the region while its stony hills, its torrid plain, and its damp caves were as they now are." The book, aside from its archæological value, is of interest as giving a picture of the geography and people of that portion of Yucatan. It is very well illustrated.

 

One of the most beneficent services rendered by modern science consists in supplying a basis of exact knowledge for those necessary arts that have been carried on by empiric methods for centuries. Among the most ancient of these arts is that of utilizing the milk of our flocks and herds, for which a scientific basis has only recently become available. It is the purpose of the book before us[3] to give the chemistry and bacteriology of the several processes of the dairy. The author first describes briefly the cow's udder and its process of secretion, and then passes to the composition of milk, giving the percentage composition of the milk of a number of animals, with a discussion of the variations observed, and a table of the legal standards in England and many of the United States. After setting forth some of the causes that influence the yield and quality of milk, he passes to the subject on which science has been able to give the most practical knowledge to the dairyman—bacteria. It is bacteria that cause milk to become ropy or viscous to turn blue, red, or yellow, to acquire a bitter taste, and to undergo fermentative curdling. Bacteria also are indispensable in the making of butter and cheese. Pure cultures of these organisms are used in dairies all over the north of Europe for ripening cream, and our author urges his fellow-countrymen not to be behind the foreigner in this matter. After discussing the essential features of the formation of butter and cheese, including the process of churning and the action of rennet, he gives the usual modes of testing milk, and closes with a chapter on milk as a food.

Convinced that throughout Europe there must have existed systems of picture writing such as survive among primitive races, Mr. Arthur J. Evans, the keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, has made extended explorations in Crete which have brought to light not only a large number of carvings of apparent pictographic character, but also many simpler markings which seem to show the existence of a system of linear writing more ancient than that of the Phœnicians. In a volume entitled Cretan Pictographs and Prœ-Phœnician Script (London: Quaritch; New York: Putnams) he has described a large number of these carvings, together with others from the sepulchral deposit near Phæstos, in the Peloponnese. The work is illustrated with one hundred and thirty-nine figures and several plates, including a reconstruction of a Mycenean ceiling decoration in colors.

A very practical and without doubt a unique book is the Laboratory Manual of Inorganic Preparations, of H. T. Vulté and George M. S. Neustadt (Peck, $2). It tells the student how to prepare a large number of the inorganic reagents used in the laboratory, the processes ranging in difficulty from the distilling of water and the preparing of oxygen and hydrogen gases to the preparation of hydrazine, carbon oxysulphide, and acid or alkaline normal solutions. The number of substances included is, apparently, over two hundred. In the recovery of substances that have been used in experiments and in the preparation of C. P. reagents from chemicals of commercial grade the authors are convinced that not only can much needless waste be prevented, but that much knowledge of value to the student can be acquired.

Of two recent numbers of The Journal of the College of Science of the Japanese Imperial University, one, being Volume VIII, Part II, contains five papers relating to biological subjects, accompanied by nine plates; and the other, Volume IX, Part I, comprises ten physical and chemical papers, with five plates.

In his monograph on The Physical Geography of Southern New England (American Book Co., 20 cents), Prof. William M. Davis presents evidence to show that the region in question is an old peneplain which has had a slanting uplift. In accordance with this theory, he accounts for the mountains that stand out from or rise above the New England upland and for the valleys that interrupt it. The paper contains many suggestions for the genuine scientific teaching of geography. The physiographic development of The Southern Appalachians is set forth in a similar essay by C. W. Hayes. Both publications are numbers of the first volume of National Geographic Monographs.

Under the title The Climatology and Physical Features of Maryland, the Maryland State Weather Service has issued its first biennial report, covering the years 1892 and 1893. The document includes sketches of the topography and geology of the State and general descriptions of its soils and climate. Monthly summaries of the weather and a summary of the weekly weather crop bulletins issued during these two years are included, while in tabular form the reports of observers are given. There are five maps, showing the annual and seasonal temperature and precipitation in Maryland and Delaware.

A quarto pamphlet of Observation Blanks in Physics, prepared by Prof. William C. A. Hammel, has been issued recently (American Book Co., 30 cents). These blanks contain directions for fifty-four simple experiments relating to air, liquids, and heat, with blank lines for observation, inference, name, date, instructor's indorsement, etc. There are also figures of the parts of the apparatus required, many of the articles being household utensils.

We have already called attention to the series of pamphlet guides to New England natural history which is being issued by Edward Knobel. The one now before us is devoted to The Night Moths of New England (Whidden, 50 cents), and gives the name, size, and colors of five hundred species with figures of nearly all of them. The species are arranged in seven groups, each with a brief key, and there are three pages of general description.

There is substantial evidence that science is not neglected on the Pacific coast in the eight-hundred-page volume of Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, which constitutes Part I of Volume V of this publication. Among the more extended monographs which it contains are a Review of the Reptiles of Lower California, by John Van Denburgh; California Water Birds, by Leverett M. Loomis; Neocene Stratigraphy of the Santa Cruz Mountains, by George H. Ashley; Fishes of Sinaloa, by David Starr Jordan; and Contributions to Western Botany, by Marcus E. Jones. Entomology, conchology, zoölogy, and paleontology are also represented. The volume is accompanied by a frontispiece and seventy-four other plates.

The fourteenth volume of Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences testifies to considerable activity during the year 1894-'95. This volume contains papers on geological subjects by Arthur Hollick, J. F. Kemp, G. F. Matthew, W. D. Matthew, and Heinrich Ries; on biological subjects by Gary N. Calkins, Harrison G. Dyar, and George S. Huntington; while chemistry is represented by Bohuslav Brauner, botany by N. L. Britton and T. H. Kearny, Jr., astronomy by Herman S. Davis and J. K. Rees, mineralogy by G. F. Kunz, and physics by R. A. Millikan. Forty-nine plates accompany these papers. A considerable number of papers that were read during the season either appear elsewhere or have not been published.

Again Wurtz's Elements of Modern Chemistry comes to us in a revised (the fifth American) edition (Lippincott, $1.80). Dr. Greene, the translator, has associated Dr. H. F, Keller with himself in this revision and enlargement, which is designed to bring the book thoroughly up to date. The volume now consists of 808 duodecimo pages, and contains 136 cuts.

Bulletin No. 119 of the U. S. Geological Survey is A Geological Reconnoissance in Northwest Wyoming, by George H. Eldridge (Geological Survey, 10 cents). It gives a sketch of the topography and general geology of the region, and points out the chief features of its economic geology. First among its useful minerals is a fair quality of coal; petroleum, building stone, brick clays, and a small quantity of gold are also found.

In a treatise entitled The Constitution and Functions of Gases, the Nature of Radiance, and the Law of Radiation, the author, Severinus J. Corrigan, gives a technical presentation of his theory of gases, the basal concept of which is that the atoms of which each molecule of gas is composed revolve about the center of the molecule. He holds that his theory enables him to demonstrate the existence of some heretofore unknown properties and functions of gases, to determine the probable nature and the properties of the luminiferous ether and the effective temperature of the sun, and to indicate the probable origin of all thermal, electric, and magnetic forces. (Printed by the Pioneer Press, St. Paul.)

A problem which is receiving increasing attention of late years, namely, what to read, is considered by W. M. Griswold in A Descriptive List of Books for the Young (the author, Cambridge, Mass.). Biography, Geography, History, Exploration, Natural History, Poetry and Fiction, Amusements and Occupations, and Literature are the chapter headings. "Natural Science" is disposed of in one page, seven works being recommended. Considering the broad field which this title is usually supposed to cover, the treatment seems a trifle inadequate. That branch of knowledge which has produced the steam engine, the electric light, the telephone, the phonograph, the printing press, modern astronomy, and chemistry, which is supplying material every day tending toward solutions of some of the still numerous unsolved problems of existence—in fact, which is the great motive force behind modern civilization—ought certainly to be represented by more than one page in a list that gives thirty-three pages to fiction.

Among the many desirable winter resorts which are readily accessible to the inhabitant of the eastern United States, there is perhaps none in which more natural beauty and historic interest are combined with an equable temperature than the Windward Islands. It was on one of them that Columbus first set foot in the New World, and since then they have had a most varied and unique history. In a little book of descriptive travel. Cruising among the Caribbees (Scribners, $1.50), Charles A. Stoddard, of the New York Observer, has given an attractive and interesting account of a winter visit to this curious little group. A general description of each island, both as regards topography, industries, and inhabitants, is given "in the rough." Various queer customs and superstitions and bits of myth and folklore are recounted, and the whole is woven in with anecdote and history in such a skillful way that a hero and heroine seem all that is lacking to make of it a good bit of fiction.

 

The so-called science of phrenology is set forth at considerable length in a book by Nelson Sizer, entitled How to Study Strangers (Fowler & Wells, New York). It is a curious hodgepodge of very doubtful inferences clothed in scientific language. The body of the work is made up of portraits and short biographical and descriptive sketches of notable persons, written from the phrenologist's standpoint.

  1. Geological Biology: An Introduction to the Geological History of Organisms. By H. Slater Williams. Now York: Henry Holt & Co. Pp. 392, 8vo. Price, $2.80.
  2. The Hill Caves of Yucatan. By Henry C. Mercer. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co. Pp. 183. Price, $2.
  3. Milk: its Nature and Composition. By C. M. Aikman. Pp. 180, 12mo. London: Adam & Charles Black. New York: Macmillan & Co. Price, $l.25.