Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/August 1897/Correspondence


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: In Mr. Robert N. Reeves's interesting paper, Suicide and the Environment, Popular Science Monthly for June, 1897, there are several erroneous conclusions, which are, in my opinion, the direct result of false or incomplete statistics. Not long ago (in 1894) I had occasion to gather data from every civilized country in the world while preparing an article on suicide for the New York Medical Record; and, since Mr. Reeves expressly states that his conclusions are based on statistics (he does not introduce them, however, in his paper), I am forced to conclude that his data are false, for it is not probable—nay, it is impossible—that the gentlemen (the majority of them officials and in charge of mortuary statistics), both in the United States and abroad, from whom I, personally and through correspondence, derived my information in regard to the statistics of suicide, could have unanimously erred.

It is not my purpose to discuss all of the propositions in which 1 differ from Mr. Reeves; I will content myself with one. And you will please pardon me if, instead of introducing my tables In this letter, I refer you to them as they are to be found published in the New York Medical Record of August 17, 1895.

Mr. Reeves says, "The theory that we hold more strongly to life as we approach its natural conclusion is contradicted by statistics, which show that the last half of life exhibits a great increase in the rate of suicide." The conclusion here advanced is, according to my observations, wholly incorrect. According to Morselli, Quetelet, Mayr, and Wagner, the tendency to suicide is greatest at maturity, and decreases, after maturity, with increasing age. Of course, there is a great disparity between the number of the middle-aged and that of the aged; yet, when the proportion is properly arranged and the correct average found, it will be observed that the above conclusion holds good throughout the civilized world. In a list of a thousand suicides (I have forty-seven similar lists, gathered from all parts of the world, in which the groups of suicides range in number from two hundred to five thousand, and the periods of time embraced from five to twenty years) occurring in one locality during a period of nearly ten years, the greatest number is between the ages of thirty and forty years; after forty there is a marked decrease. I think that Morselli's average of greatest frequency for the entire world would be slightly above mine (forty-two years), probably forty-five years. This is about what I make it from his tables. According to my tables, there is an increase in the tendency to suicide from fourteen years up to and slightly beyond forty years, and then a corresponding decrease in this tendency as individuals grow older.

James Weir, Jr.
Owensboro, Ky., June 5, 1897.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Prof. Charles E. Pellew's articles on The History of Alcohol in your issues of June and July are very interesting and attract by the amusing illustrations.

Allow me to poiut out that the figures of alembics ascribed to an edition of the writings of Geber, the Arabian physician of the eighth century, are from the spurious works of this author. Berthelot has shown that the treatises ascribed to Geber, which were published in Latin, French, and German in the sixteenth century, are fraudulent, and that the genuine writings of the Arabian contain far less chemical knowledge than is usually attributed to him. Prof. Pellew is right in stating that the distillation of wine is first mentioned by Albucasis, a Spanish physician, who died in 1107. He might have added that the first definite recipe for preparing alcohol occurs in the Book of Fires, by Marcus Græcus, written in the thirteenth century; in this the volatile liquid is called aqua ardens.

Very truly yours,
H. Carrington Bolton.
University Club, New York,
July 4, 1897.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: I wish to call your attention to a paragraph under the head of a Biographical Sketch of William Williams Mather, published in your journal of August, 1896, on page 553, in which a citation is made from an article by Charles Whittlesey upon the personality of the first geologic survey of Ohio. This article I have never seen, but the statement in regard to my association with Prof. Mather is not warranted by the facts.

In the spring of 1838 I went to Chillicothe, and entered in the land office seventeen thousand five hundred acres of coal and iron lands in Jackson and Lawrence Counties. These lands were purchased for some gentlemen in Albany, Jersey City, and Philadelphia, and in which Prof. Mather, Mr. Briggs, and myself shared. These lands were known to be underlaid by coal and to be within the limit of the productive iron belt of that part of the country, being subsequently the great resource in the establishment of the city of Ironton. Subsequently, and after the suspension of the Ohio survey. Prof. Mather did purchase a tract of land upon which he established a furnace. In this venture Prof. Mitchell, the astronomer, of Cincinnati, was associated with Prof. Mather. I never had any interest in the project in any way, and when selling my lands to Mr. Campbell, of the association which founded Ironton, I refused to have any connection whatever with the business enterprise, preferring to part with my property for a moderate price rather than to be connected with any business operation.

Very truly yours, James Hall.