Popular Science Monthly/Volume 49/May 1896/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Dr. A. F. Chamberlain has chosen for a folklore study a field made doubly attractive by the newly aroused interest in the psychology of the child.[1] Truly he has garnered an abundant harvest. It would be difficult to think of any activity or relation of children that is not represented in the thirty-three chapters in which he has arranged his material. From the cry that it utters and the more or less ceremonial care that it receives on its entrance into the world up to its admission to the society of adults, each phase of childish thought or action and of parental care has its wealth of customs and sayings. Thus Dr. Chamberlain tells us, on the authority of Boas, that Songish and Nootka Indian mothers press and rub certain parts of the newborn infant's body in order to give it the shape that they deem beautiful. Many are the modes of expressing affection for children among different peoples, but it seems strange to find under this head the custom of burying a live infant with the mother who has died in giving it birth, for the practice often has an element of vindictiveness. There is a considerable mythology connected with childhood, including lore about guardian spirits and bogeys, also the myths made to answer children's questions as to where the latest addition to the family came from. The folklore connecting children with plants and with animals is an especially delightful branch of the subject. The firstborn child becomes a social factor among some peoples the moment it sees the light, for its birth changes the status of its parents in the community. Its rights of heritage, etc., and the marriage that is contracted for it in its early years among some peoples—even in England in the sixteenth century—are other features of its social importance. At school and in the societies, secret or open, which they form among themselves, including the street gangs of large cities, children reveal the traits that are brought out only by close association with one's equals. The efforts of the child in learning and making language, and as an actor, inventor, poet, musician, and judge, afford an instructive insight into his mind, while his elevation to the position of oracle, weather-maker, healer, priest, hero, and deity shows us the adult mind of many primitive peoples. This volume is not absolutely restricted to lore in which the child is the central figure; thus three of the early chapters are devoted to motherhood and fatherhood, while legends about the origin of certain peoples and the admission of women to the priesthood among others have no obvious connection with childhood. The author gives us a bibliography of five hundred and forty-nine titles, and, with few exceptions, his lore and legends are referred to this list by volume and page. One of the evils attending the great benefits that have been derived by Americans from the study of German authorities is the practice of dividing indexes that is beginning to creep into American books. In this respect Dr. Chamberlain out-Germans the Germans. His collection of child-lore proverbs (which is a feature of the book worthy of special mention) has two indexes—one of the peoples, the other of the authors, from which they are drawn; his bibliography, which follows these, is divided into three classes, each arranged in a separate alphabet by authors, and each followed by an independent subject index; then comes the general index to the volume, the entries of which are divided into three classes, each arranged in its own alphabet. Obviously the user must spend more time in getting at the right subdivision of such lists than in finding his reference. But in spite of this systematic confusion at the end there is not a dry page in the book nor one without scientific value.

The art of depicting the successive positions passed through by animals and other bodies in motion, which aroused much public interest a few years ago, has not been allowed to stand still since that time. Great advances in processes and execution have been made and more difficult problems have been solved, so that the results which M. Marey is now able to present to the public are remarkable for their range and definiteness.[2] The camera used by him for chronophotography, as he calls this art, has for its chief peculiarity two circular diaphragms behind the object glass which revolve in opposite directions. There are openings in these disks, and when two of them come opposite the lens there is a momentary exposure of the photographic plate. With suitable accessories, including a specially constructed tank, the same apparatus is used for photographing the movements of aquatic creatures and the motion of waves. When it is desired to take a large number of images per second the apparatus must be modified so as to use a moving film instead of a fixed plate, and for photographing free birds and some other objects whose motion can not be controlled, the photographic gun is employed with the film. In the volume before us the author describes the results he has obtained with these forms of apparatus in recording the movements of man, the horse, birds, fish, starfish, jellyfish, reptiles, the crawling and flying of insects, the squirm of the eel, and the pollywog's wiggle. The methods that have been devised for meeting special difficulties are remarkably ingenious. Thus, when the movements of a running man are to be pictured at such short intervals that the successive images would be partly superposed and hence give a confused picture, the subject is dressed in black with white marks on the head, arm, and leg. The result, which consists of images of these marks only, suggests the march of a file of skeletons at the double quick, and can be very readily studied. After the same manner the trajectory of an insect's wing is sometimes made visible by gilding its tip, or that of a crow's wing by affixing a bit of white paper to the end of one of the feathers. Chronophotography has also been applied to experimental physiology, and M. Marey gives us a series of pictures representing the movements of the heart of a tortoise under artificial circulation. Moreover, movements visible only under the microscope can be pictured by this process, but only a beginning has been made in the latter field. The volume appears in the familiar form of the International Series, and is illustrated with over two hundred figures.

One who would know the birds of Britain can hardly do better than allow himself to be introduced to them by Mr. Hudson[3] This author writes for the general reader and the amateur rather than the ornithologist; hence he gives the coloring and size of each species in from three to six lines, and follows this with a popular description of its feeding and nesting, habits, song, etc. He describes all the species that reside permanently, or for a portion of each year, within the limits of the British Islands, and takes pains to distinguish from these the occasional visitors and the stragglers, to which he gives only brief mention. In his descriptions, especially of song, he frequently quotes John Burroughs, with whom he generally finds himself in agreement. But though the book is untechnical, let no one suppose that it is unscientific. The species are grouped by orders, and follow the arrangement of the British Ornithologists' Union. There is also a chapter on the structure and classification of birds, by Frank E. Beddard. The illustrations of the volume deserve especial mention. There are, first, eight colored plates, from original drawings by A. Thorburn, representing the golden eagle, bearded titmouse, goldfinch, bittern, common teal, ptarmigan, dotterel, and roseate tern; there are also eight plates and one hundred figures in black and white from original drawings, by G. E. Lodge, and three illustrations from photographs from Nature by R. B. Lodge. The execution of both illustrations and letterpress is excellent. It is perhaps too much to expect immaculate diction as well as scientific accuracy and a pleasing style in the same writer, but it does seem that a second thought would have prevented Mr. Hudson from saying, "The food of the cuckoo is exclusively insectivorous."

  1. The Child and Childhood in Folk-thought. By Alexander Francis Chamberlain. Pp. 464, 8vo. London and New York: Macmillan & Co. Price, $3.
  2. Movement. By E. J. Marey. International Scientific Scries, No. 73. Pp. 323, 12mo. London: William Heineman. Price, 7s. 6d. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Price, $1.75.
  3. British Birds. By W. H. Hudson. Pp. 363, crown 8vo. London and New York: Longmans Green & Co. Price, 12s. M., $3.50.