Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/June 1897/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Those interested to learn of their paleolithic and neolithic ancestors will find an interesting account of their conditioning in Prehistoric Man and Beast.[1] Although embodying the results of recent geologic and archæologic research, the book is not at all technical, but adapted to the popular reader. If he knows anything of scientific theory, he may be aroused by the epithets applied to the cherished hypotheses of some writers. The great ice sheet is called "a myth," the polar ice cap "a monstrous fiction," and the astronomical theory of an ice age receives no milder treatment in the chapter devoted to the discussion of the subject. But, having dealt as an iconoclast with these favored cults, the author writes of the lore of fairyland in an opposite fashion. Fairies are not legendary beings, but real folk, whom scientific people "may no longer dare to despise." The small, tricky natives of an island off the Schleswig coast were called Pucks, and even mermen and mermaids had their prototypes in a Finnish people who dressed in sealskins and were taken by the Shetlanders to be half human.

The record of primeval man is not found in documents produced by impressionable minds, but is registered in the river gravels, cliff caverns. kitchen middens, and long barrows. In these ancient dwelling places the weapons, utensils, ornaments, burial and hearth stones testify unerringly as to his mode of life. The degree of skill attained in his handiwork serves as a basis to differentiate the earlier races from those of later times. Men of the older stone age fashioned their weapons and tools in the rudest manner from rocks, merely chipping the edges. In the succeeding period, the neolithic, they had learned how to finish them by grinding; while in the bronze and iron ages they discovered the use of metals. It is somewhat remarkable that while it is a disputed point as to whether paleolithic man possessed a bow, it should be a well-attested fact that his wife used bone needles and knew how to sew.

These authentic sources of knowledge concerning our early ancestors are not the only data to be studied. Primitive races exist whose habits indicate what prehistoric man may have been like, and the author pleads, "It is sincerely to be hoped they will not be improved off the face of the earth before we have learned all that they can teach us about the past."

Nothing definite is known concerning the place of man's first appearance on the earth, but probably the northern hemisphere of the Old World can claim the honor. This may have occurred fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, but the allowance of eighty thousand odd years is deemed an unwarrantable waste of time. The volume contains ten full-page illustrations based upon such details as the researches have furnished. Primeval man, however, is reconstructed without a skull as a model for his features. This feat must have tested the creative power of the artist, but we are assured that even this has been done acceptably to the archaeologists, and we can not demur if it does not coincide with our ideal.

About one fifth of Macleod's History of Economics is really history.[2] The rest is exposition of basal principles. Macleod declares that economics should and can be as exact as physical science, and he is putting forth vigorous efforts toward making it so. He says that most of the modern economists' work up to this time has been destructive, but that constructive labors are now urgently demanded and that the ground has been fully cleared for them. His present work opens with an essay on the method of investigation proper to economics. He gives much credit to Bacon for enunciating the principle that physical inductive science must precede and guide moral inductive science and protests against Mill's declaration that induction should not be taken as the method of political economy. Having placed economics among the inductive sciences, our author proceeds to lay down some general principles of reasoning which this position makes fitting for it. "The fundamental concepts and axioms of every science," he says, "must be perfectly general," and "no general concept and no general axiom must contain any term involving more than one fundamental idea." The clarifying of fundamental concepts, in fact, is the chief object of this treatise. The historical portion comes next. He rejects the insular idea that political economy began with Adam Smith, and gives to the French Economists the credit for establishing it as a science, although certain of its principles had been fixed from time to time before them. He states the doctrines of the Economists regarding exchanges, money, wealth, productive labor, and other economic concepts, giving also the opinions held by the Roman and Greek jurists as to what things are wealth. He then discusses the views of Adam Smith, pointing out what he regards as Smith's chief merits and chief defects. In a similar manner the economic doctrines held by Ricardo, Whately, Say, Mill, Bastiat, Perry, and Jevons are critically examined. He also describes his own contributions to the science. In pursuance of his conviction that a great part of the confusion and false teaching in economics is due to lack of clear definitions, he devotes the remaining three fourths of the volume to setting forth the legal and scientific bases of the chief concepts of the science. Among these concepts are acceptilation, accommodation paper, banking, capital, currency, cost of production, credit, debt, exchange, Gresham's law, money, negative quantities in economics, rent, value, and wealth. Each is discussed with considerable fullness, particular attention being given to the early history of the ideas. Macleod is a vigorous and positive writer, and a study of his pages can not fail to substitute exactness for many hazy economic teachings.

With modesty and excellent taste Mrs. Rogers has presented to the public, not a fulsome eulogy, but a view of her husband's life as shown in his letters, supplemented only by the necessary biographical facts and a paragraph here and there to explain and connect the matter from his own pen.[3] Many of the biographical facts she allows the late Dr. Ruschenberger to tell in extracts from his Memorial of the Brothers Rogers. The son of a physician and professor of science, to whose chair in William and Mary College he succeeded at the age of twenty-four, William B. Rogers was early introduced into the field of scientific education, in which he did masterly work up to the last hour of his life. There was not much money available for the support of science in the United States during the thirties, and the teaching and research of Prof. Rogers were carried on with very limited resources. His means, moreover, were frequently drawn upon for the benefit of his brothers, who were struggling in the same field with rather less material success than his. In 1835, at the age of thirty-one, Prof. Rogers was appointed State Geologist of Virginia, and in the same year was called to the chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Virginia, which he retained until 1853. The geological survey was allowed by the State Legislature to continue for seven years, and furnished the occasion for undertaking what was Prof. Rogers's most extensive contribution to natural science. The letters exchanged between William and his brothers reveal something of the turbulence of hot blooded students and the paralyzing influence of narrow-minded authority with which many science professors had to contend half a century ago. All the important discoveries and controversies that mark the history of geology in this century are discussed or at least remarked upon in these letters. In the diction of many of the epistles, and especially in that of extracts from several addresses that are inserted in the volumes, we find all the evidence that can be given without his living voice as to the powers of oratory with which Prof. Rogers has been credited. We are especially impressed with the testimony of these volumes to the ability of their subject as an educational organizer. This is shown especially in his Plan for a Polytechnic School in Boston, and his labors in furtherance of the scheme, which resulted in the establishment of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His grasp of modern educational conditions is shown also in documents which he presented to the Legislatures of Virginia and Massachusetts in behalf of the institutions with which he was successively connected. Ability of the same sort appears in the part that he took in organizing the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association for the Promotion of Social Science, and the National Academy of Sciences. His death in 1882 closed a career of marked influence upon the advancement of science in America.

  1. Prehistoric Man and Beast. By Rev. H. N. Hutchinson, F. G. S. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 298, 8vo. Price, $3.00.
  2. The History of Economics. By Henry Dunning Macleod. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 690, 8vo. Price, $4.50 net.
  3. Life and letters of William Barton Rogers. Edited by his Wife with the assistance of William T. Sedgwick. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Two vols., 12mo. Price, $4.