Popular Science Monthly/Volume 51/September 1897/General Notices


No attempt to solve fundamental questions is indulged by the author of this book.[1] His efforts are devoted to exposing the fallacies of those who become ingulfed in biological theory. He examines their methods critically, and generally disapproves of them. There is inner confusion in the science of biology on account of its form, which embraces numbers of independent systems, each with a core of facts. There is outer confusion, because of its ambiguity of terms. The structure of to-day is the function of tomorrow. The favorite inquiries—Are acquired characters inherited? or, Is variation purposive?—are misleading. He asks what quality is not inherited, or not acquired; or, find anything organic not purposive. For the discussion he defines biology not as an encyclopædia of facts about organisms, but as including the systems of explanation of the forms, functions, and origins of animals and plants. He finds twenty good theories of the development of the individual, not any one better or worse than the rest. All bioogical systems are considered as involving three postulates—the independence of qualities, the doctrine of agents, and theories of the use and adaptation of structure. Under the first head we are confronted with the fact that groups of qualities are inherited together. The theories, however, ignore what they call the correlation of qualities and escape by means of terminology; two qualities invariably combined are one. So, in regard to the cell theory. The fact that every thing living is a cell, or a colony of cells, is usually so stated as to evade the problem of the individual. "Functionless parts" and "latent qualities" are also biological bewilderment, and "a mathematical, chemical, or physiological formula for the character of a species is an attractive but vain dream." According to the second postulate, the qualities of the organism are related to one another through an agent. This may be "a material vehicle of hereditary qualities," or a "quasi-psychical principle." The epigenetic theory avoids both of these suppositions, and is deemed by the author the critical point of view. He gives an outline of the theories of the preformationists, or "biologists of hypothesis" as he terms them—De Vries, Spencer, Weismann, Naegali, and Brooks—and pronounces Mr. Spencer's, in two respects, the most serious and credible of all. Yet this contains a self-contradiction on the point of identity and fails to give us individuality. The third postulate supports the adaptation and transformation of species and cruder forms for the doctrine of design. "As ridiculously inapt for science, as that grass grows for cows to feed upon." Theories of organic evolution arose from an effort to combat this philosophy. Everything organic exists by reason of its significance to the organism, but it does not do so through the Darwinian or other apparatus. As to the struggle for existence, the author judges that the view of this conflict is, "as regards Nature, quite gratuitous, and, as regards science, quite abstract." Biologists, however, do not monopolize the conception of a struggle. "Ideas are represented mobbing round the trapdoor under the stage." Motives, faculties, tendencies, movements, all wrestle together. "In all these cases the struggle is not what happens, or what we see, it is the result of the struggle. We have to do with a hypothetical process which we do not observe, and the nature of our judgment is that we mistake ideal abstraction for physiological analysis. The concluding chapter is upon the unity of the organism. The beginning and end of our labor is to find an expression for character. What is it, as distinguished from the characteristics? No answer to this problem is suggested, except by the biological theories which have been dissected. The author did not aim to construct, but to show what errors are developed through the needs of speculative systems. The book is thus mainly an addition to the voluminous literature of biology, and it serves well as a corrective to an overdose of theoretical abstractions.

A pamphlet of about sixty pages, presenting a new hypothesis concerning the structure and rotation of the earth, modestly published by Carl Freiherr Loeffelhoz von Colberg at Munich in 1886, has passed through a second edition, and now appears thoroughly revised and enlarged as the exposition of an elaborate theory.[2] The theory is that the crust of the earth, through the natural difference in the action of the sun's attraction and centrifugal motion upon the two parts, has a motion of its own, different from that of the fluid nucleus beneath it, causing it to slip over it to a greater or less extent, and giving rise to a variety of phenomena which have been observed, but not hitherto explained. In this way the author would account for the shiftings of the pole which geologists have had to suppose; for the changes of climate of which evidence is given by the fossils, particularly by the subtropical fossils in the arctic regions, and—probably—for the nutations in latitude which are now under investigation. He assumes that it is a strong evidence in favor of his theory that it contradicts no natural laws or phenomena so far established, but is entirely in harmony with most geological and biological and many astronomical observations.

Although the author states that this work[3] must not be considered as a petrology, he devotes nearly half of it to describing the several varieties of igneous, aqueous, æolian, and metamorphic rocks, telling how they occur, and what are their constituents. Both the macroscopic and microscopic structure of these rocks are shown in photo engravings from specimens, and their chemical constitution appears in the results of many analyses. The especial purpose of the work is to set forth the processes and results of the natural decomposition of rocks exposed to the atmosphere. After describing the chemical action of water and the air, the mechanical action of water and ice, and the effects produced by plants and animals. Prof. Merrill proceeds to discuss the weathering of typical rocks in special cases—for instance, a granite in the District of Columbia, syenite in Arkansas, diabase in Massachusetts and Venezuela, basalt in Bohemia and France, diorite in Virginia, etc. Various physical conditions that affect the weathering process are next discussed, such as position, exposure, surface contours, structure of rock masses, etc., and there is also a chapter on the rate of weathering as influenced by such conditions and by climate, topography, etc. The remaining hundred pages of the work are devoted to a description of the regolith or body of soils that mantles the solid crust of the globe. The author points out the various kinds of deposits of unconsolidated material that make up the regolith, and tells something of their chemical, mineral, physical, and other characteristics. The volume contains a total of twenty-five plates and forty-two smaller figures, and the mechanical execution of both illustrations and letterpress is excellent.

The secret of Darwin's strength, according to Prof. Poulton,[4] lay in the perfect balance between his powers of imagination and those of accurate observation. His hereditary endowment unquestionably fitted him to become a typical scientific discoverer, whether or not this nice adjustment of the creative and critical faculties would have produced equally well a poet or a historian, as it is claimed here. It is a noteworthy example, however, of the immeasurable stimulation of thought that both Darwin and Wallace should ascribe to a reading of Malthus's Essay on Population the discovery of the principle of natural selection. Wallace constructed almost the whole of the theory in two hours, and in three evenings finished his paper on the subject. Darwin devoted four years of study to the hypothesis before writing it out fully, two years more to the collection of further data and enlargement, and after fourteen years of deliberation gave the theory to the public in the Origin of Species. The effect of this doctrine upon Lyell, Gray, Hooker, and other scientific men, the misunderstanding and opposition it incurred, the position of Huxley in regard to it, and his noble championship of the fundamental truth of evolution, are topics of especial interest discussed by the author. Brief accounts of other works of Darwin, some letters not heretofore published, and an index are also included in the volume, which, for the most part, was first given during 1894 and 1895 in the form of lectures in Oxford University Museum.

A most valuable and scholarly contribution to Egyptology is Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, by Alfred Wiedemann. Written by a professor in the University of Bonn, the subject is handled with German thoroughness and accuracy. He does not theorize on the religion, maintaining that to be fruitless in our present limited state of knowledge of the subject; he investigates the data found in the records and inscriptions concerning the beliefs of a people whose whole life was dominated by religion. The writer's aim "is a modest one; avoiding any attempt to interpret or to systematize, he has endeavored to set before the reader the principal deities, myths, religious ideas, and doctrines as they are to be found in the texts, more especially dwelling on such as have Important bearings on the history of religion." The worship of the sun occupying an important place in the Egyptian ritual, the sun god Ra is discussed at some length, together with the solar myths, and the subordinate deities entering into them. There are chapters devoted to the other deities, both domestic and of foreign origin, the worship of animals and plants, Osiris and his cycle, and the Osirian doctrine of immortality, magic, sorcery, and amulets. The author has admirably succeeded in getting order out of the complications of the Egyptian pantheon in which the many deities of the numerous provinces entered, each province claiming superiority for its own deity. Many passages have been translated from the Book of the Dead, hymns and sepulchral texts, and numerous illustrations from the monuments accompany them.[5]

The author of I Diseredati[6] believes that outer material influences, instead of being the single predominant factor in social phenomena, as is commonly believed, are only one of several concomitant elements of which the social fact is the resultant. He seeks to present in their exact proportions the importance of the material element in social development, and the influence exercised by it upon the institution of property. The error pointed out is supposed to be accompanied by grave consequences in legislation and practical life. In the former, civic capitalism has been created, and the doctrine has been inculcated that the state should provide for everything, depriving the individual of his initiative and responsibility. The institution of wages is condemned as disorganizing to the family, demoralizing to the workman, and making his future uncertain; and by the institution of rents and the system of day's work, the peasant is made as proletary, as separate from his family, and as destitute of a morrow as the workman in the shop. Thus pushed out of society, such individuals demand a new social order. Society dismayed contrives laws to meet the demands of the workmen for relief, and thus assists in establishing the collectivism which the socialists invoke. Socialism is consequently an evolution or degeneration of capitalism. This evolution is right if it conforms itself to the laws of being, wrong if it does not take account of them. The author's purpose is to show how the necessary, evident, and near evolution of capitalism may take just forms, which, not depriving any, will give their rights to all, particularly to the disinherited; creating a new judicial and social order upon the existing physical order, but unknown to it.

The New York State Library has just issued its seventh annual Comparative Summary and Index of State Legislation, covering the laws passed in 1896. Each act is briefly described or summarized and classified under its proper subject head, with a full alphabetic index to the entries. Perhaps the most important legislation of the year was that enacted by the people directly through their votes upon the numerous constitutional amendments submitted to them. The bulletin records the amendments defeated as well as those adopted, a special table arranged by States being inserted for convenient reference. It is of interest to note that of fifty-seven separate constitutional amendments voted on only twenty-four were adopted. It is proposed that the eighth bulletin shall consolidate into a single series with the legislation of 1897 the summaries for the preceding seven years.

A History of Ancient Greek Literature, by Gilbert Murray (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1897, $1.50), forms the initial volume of the Literatures of the World Series. Edited by Edmund Gosse, who writes the general introduction, the aim of the series is to present "a succession of attractive volumes, dealing with the history of literature in a single country," not from the point of view of the specialist treating certain epochs, but giving a survey of the general evolution of thought expressed in artistic form. The object being primarily to give a biography of the intellectual life of a race, "an effort will be made to recall the history of Literature from the company of sciences which have somewhat unduly borne her down—from philology in particular, and from political history. . . . Literature will be interpreted as the most perfect utterance of the ripest thought by the finest minds, and to the classics of each country rather than to its oddities, and rather than to its obsolete features, will particular attention be directed." Homer stands, then, at the head of Greek literature, as being the oldest classic extant in the language. Much attention is given to the historians, and the drama, of course, is extensively treated, as are also the song-writers, whereas less space is accorded to philosophic and political writings. The author has in every case endeavored to get at the personality of the Greek writers and to set down their work as the result of the strenuous life of the people. The chapter on the later literature, Alexandrian and Roman, showing the rich fruitage of its declining years, in poetry up to the sixth century a. d., and in prose to the fall of Byzantium, proves that Greek literature by no means died with the loss of Greek independence, as is commonly assumed.

Dr. George A. Williams has prepared a revised and enlarged edition of his Topics and References in American History. The topics begin with the prehistoric period and come down to the election of 1896. Each has one or more references to standard works or to leading magazines, and lists of questions are inserted from time to time. In choosing his references the author has recognized the recent demand that students of history shall go "back to the sources." (Bardeen, $1.)

In a pamphlet on The Energy of Living Protoplasm, Prof. Oscar Loew, of the Imperial University, Japan, seeks to define that elusive mystery, the source of vital activity. Starting from the observation that the chemical properties of dead and living cells are totally different, and that certain substances, toxic to living protoplasm, have no effect whatever on eommon proteids, he has made a study of the formation of albumin in plant cells, and finds there is a labile or active albumin in living matter chemically unlike the ordinary albumin stored in seeds and eggs. This exists as a reserve material in plants and undergoes chemical change by the same influences causing death to protoplasm. By many experiments it is shown that the chemical activity of cells is akin to the phenomena of catalysis. The conclusion is reached that there is an oscillation of atoms, or peculiar mode of motion, existing in labile proteids which is the source of vital activity; this being in its turn "but one of the vicissitudes of solar energy." (Keegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., London.)

The Bureau of Navigation of the United States Navy Department has issued a chart of twelve colored plates showing a Classification of Clouds for the Weather Observers of the Hydrographic Office. It is for sale at 40 cents.

  1. Problems of Biology. By George Sandemann. New York: The Macmillan Company. London: Swan, Sonnenschein & Co. Pp. 213. Price, $2.
  2. Die Drehungen der Erdkruste in geologischen Zeiträumen (Revolutions of the Earth's Crust in Geological Ages). A new geologico-astronomical theory. By Carl Freiherr Loeffelholz von Colberg. Munich: J. A. Finsterlin's Succeesors.
  3. A Treatise on Rocks, Rock-Weathering, and Soils. By George P. Merrill. New York: The Macmillan Co. Pp. 411, 8vo. Price, $4.
  4. Charles Darwin and the Theory of Natural Selection. By Edward B. Poulton, F. R. S. New York: The Macmillan Co. Pp. 824. Price, $1.25.
  5. The American supply of the work is imported by G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1897.
  6. I Diseredati e i loro Diritti (The Disinherited and their Rights). By Pietro Pellegrini. Borgo a Mozzano, Italy.