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

Scientific Literature.

The author of Bird-life[1] will not be offended if we begin our description of his book by a mention of the illustrations, for he has himself expressed his high appreciation of Mr. Thompson's remarkably spirited and accurate portraits. There are seventy-five full-page plates representing birds described in the text, with natural surroundings and in characteristic poses. Twenty-five smaller figures are scattered through the preliminary chapters. Mr. Chapman begins by pointing out the position of the birds with respect to the other classes of the animal kingdom. The different forms of the chief external organs in different birds he shows to be adapted each to a special habit, thus affording confirmation of the doctrine of evolution. He represents the interest of man in birds as threefold—scientific, economic, and æsthetic—and presents definite evidence as to the value of the small birds in destroying insects and the seeds of weeds, and of hawks and owls in keeping down field mice and other vermin. Some of the scientific aspects of the coloration of birds are pointed out in another chapter, and the migrating and nesting habits are similarly treated. Coming to the subject for which the book will be most in request, Mr. Chapman insists on definite observation of a bird as the first requisite to its identification. Having noted down the form, color, and markings of the bird, and such added facts as to its voice and actions as may be obtained, the amateur should be able, by means of the author's field key of eight pages and the detailed descriptions that follow, to identify the specimen without difficulty. The descriptions are attractively written, and embrace over one hundred of the commoner birds of eastern North America. "There are results to be derived from the study of birds," Mr. Chapman remarks, "that add to our pleasure in field and wood, and give fresh interest to walks that before were eventless; that quicken both ear and eye, making us hear and see where before we were deaf and blind. . . . I would enter a special plea," he continues, "for the study of birds in the schools; for the more general introduction of ornithology in natural history courses. Frogs and crayfish serve an excellent purpose, but we may not encounter either of them after leaving the laboratory, whereas birds not only offer excellent opportunities for study but are always about us, and even a slight familiarity with them will be of value long after school days are over."

The character of history is undergoing a most gratifying elevation. Formerly its chief function was to chronicle battles, assassinations, and slaughters, but it is coming more and more to depict the social, political, economic, and intellectual progress of man, to which wars are deplorable interruptions. In describing that movement of thought whose culmination is the greatest intellectual event of the nineteenth century, Mr. Clodd[2] is writing the highest kind of history. No theory of the first rank has ever sprung complete from the brain of one man, hence it is not strange that conceptions leading up to the doctrine of evolution were formed in the minds of philosophers who lived in the intellectual day that preceded the dark ages. Following Prof. Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy in his survey of the thought of this time, Mr. Clodd takes the belief of Thales that each thing is formed by a change from something pre-existent as the earliest recorded germ of the evolutionary theory, and points out developments of this idea in the writings of other philosophers down to Lucretius. After Lucretius came the period denoted by our author as the Arrest of Inquiry, extending from A.D. 50 to A.D. 1600. Toward the end of this period Columbus, Copernicus, Vesalius, Brahe, and Bruno appeared as forerunners of the renascence of science. From 1600 to about 1830 the work contributing most conspicuously to scientific progress was done by Linnæus, Buffon, Cuvier, and Lamarck. Buffon taught the nonfixity of species and Lamarck worked out a general theory of descent. At and after their time lived two or three men who are remembered not for any constructive work that they did in science, but for being "anticipators of Darwin," because they stated, without proofs, an outline of the evolutionary doctrine earlier than 1858.

But it is modern evolution in which Mr. Clodd's readers will be most interested, and he does well to devote full half of his volume to the work of Spencer, Darwin, and Wallace, and their exponent Huxley. Beginning with Darwin, the author tells the chief events of his life, giving the dates when his notable statements as to organic evolution were made and describing the reception that they met with. Each of the others is treated in a similar way, and, in the case of Spencer, dates are given which prove that he had formulated the general doctrine of which Darwinism is a part before the views of Darwin and Wallace were made public. In describing the work of these men and giving a general view of their relations to each other—both intellectual and personal—Mr, Clodd has performed a valuable service. He seems to be solicitous—perhaps more so than becomes one of a victorious party—to refer to the obstacles that theologians have vainly thrown in the path of the evolutionists, and to point out the positive statements in the Bible which modern knowledge no longer permits to be accepted literally. His chapter on the Arrest of Inquiry is, for the most part, an effort to show that the Christian religion was "an arresting force in man's intellectual development—the chief barrier to the development of Greek ideas." We can not accept this view. Christianity is no more the cause of the dark ages than it is of the enlightenment that has followed them. Both are stages in the evolution of mankind in which Christianity has degenerated and has achieved a new birth side by side with science and philosophy and art. He takes unnecessary pains also to state the religious views, or the lack of them, of the men whose work he describes. This will seem to many a blemish on an otherwise instructive and attractively written book. Excellent portraits of Darwin, Wallace, Spencer, and Huxley add to the value of the volume.

  1. Bird-life. A Guide to the Study of Our Common Birds. By Frank M. Chapman. With Drawings by Ernest S. Thompson. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 269, 12mo. Price, $1.75.
  2. Pioneers of Evolution, from Thales to Huxley. By Edward Clodd. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 274, 12 mo. Price, $1.20