Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/December 1897/General Notices


To the American Lectures on the History of Religions, given under the direction of an association representing a number of co-operating institutions and local boards, Dr. Daniel G. Brinton has contributed a course on Religions of Primitive Peoples[1] which were delivered during the winter of 1896-'97 at Boston, Brooklyn, Ithaca, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, and Providence. By primitive peoples are meant those of the earliest stage of culture of which trusty information exists, while religion, hardly susceptible of a limited definition, is regarded as in some form or other universal in the human race. The study, of which these lectures present the fruits, undertaken without bias or partisanship, but looking upon all religions alike "as more or less enlightened expressions of mental traits common to all mankind in every known age," is pursued by the historic, the comparative, and the psychologic methods. Laying down his postulates in the first lecture, Dr. Brinton discusses in the five succeeding lectures The Origin and Contents of Primitive Religions, Primitive Religious Expression—in the Word, in the Object, and in the Rite—and The Lines of Development in Primitive Religions. All the religions are regarded as unconsciously directing and impelling the mind toward the abstract stage, when the idea stands by itself as the recognized guide of conscious effort; when infinity or perfection is no longer conceived in relation to a being or personality, but is still the loftiest motive and the deepest source of spiritual joy—a goal that may be still far away but is ultimately to be reached.

When we stroll along the road we see many things in plant and animal life to awaken curiosity and interest; but as we are generally intent upon other matters and do not usually know precisely what they are and how they are related to one another, we pass them with little notice and straightway forget about them. Mr. F. Schuyler Mathews has undertaken, in his Familiar Features of the Roadside,[2] to awaken a more genuine and lasting interest in these objects and to furnish information that will help us to identify and distinguish them, and to become, as it were, more personally acquainted with them. "It might be possible," he says, "to find a wider field for the study of Nature than the highway, but in many respects certainly not a better one, for if we keep on traveling we will have eventually seen and heard about everything that is worth seeing and hearing in the wide world." This may be strongly expressed, but there is certainly vastly more than we suspect to be found by sharp eyes and keenly tuned ears on the mountain tops and the seashore, and in the bogs, forests, meadows, pastures, glens, hills, lakes, rivers, and brooks by which the road will lead us if we follow it far enough. The author describes such of these things as he has observed and as came to his mind, and arranges and classifies them according to the seasons and their associations. Thus he tells of the flowers we may find early and late and the families to which they belong, the singers of the meadow and woodland and with musical and unmusical voices, not letting the birds monopolize attention at the expense of the frogs and squirrels; and of the colors on mountain, meadow, and woodland, and of the colors of autumn. In the first chapter, telling of a spring walk, all the flowers we are likely to meet are described, and more kinds of singing amphibians are differentiated than one without special information would suppose existed. The illustrations are fitting and excellent, and the bird notes and other intonations are written in music.

The main purpose of this volume[3] is to present the results of recent archæological investigations in Tennessee, and more especially the district in which the so-called mound builders' remains are found. The original volume was published several years ago, and its complete sale, combined with the recent interesting and important discoveries, have led the author to the preparation of this revised and somewhat extended edition. The subject is presented in a series of historical and ethnological studies, the material being found principally in the cists or box-shaped graves built of stone slabs which have been so extensively exhumed of recent years in Tennessee. In accordance with a common custom among savages at a certain stage of development, these prehistoric people placed vessels containing provisions and various utensils in the graves for the use of the deceased on his journey to the spirit land. The remains, thus sealed up and protected from the waste of time, are now exhumed in a very perfect state of preservation. They tell the story of ancient domestic life in the Cumberland and Tennessee Valleys with remarkable exactness, and hence are of great ethnologic interest. Mr. Thruston describes them with much detail. There are about three hundred and sixty fairly good illustrations.

When Mr. Ward's book[4] first appeared in 1883, you might probably have made the rounds of the colleges without ever hearing the word sociology, and if you did it was only some grammarian growling about the liberties which ignorance was forever taking with etymology. But now, on the contrary, the word and its congeners are almost as omnipresent as the barrel organ. At the forefront in bringing about this popularization of sociology has been Mr. Ward's book itself. It is now an important and largely patronized department in nearly every college and university in the country, has numerous periodicals devoted entirely to its treatment, and has even made a place for itself in the daily papers. The subject is of interest to every one, and is of such a nature that a little careful study amply repays the student both in new knowledge and as mental training. This increase of general interest in sociology has made a new edition of Mr. Ward's book necessary. As the work was given a long and appreciative review in these pages in June, 1883, we shall simply refer readers to that issue for further information.

The Student's Manual of Physics[5] has been adapted by the author, Mr. Leroy C. Cooley, for use in the combined method of teaching by oral instruction, text-book study, and laboratory work. It contains much less material than other elementary text books for purely illustrative work, and much more of that which is necessary for systematic and successful quantitative study. Throughout the book a laboratory course accompanies the text, the experiments being described at the close of the numbered sections and set in different type. By cross references and a systematic notation attention is directed to the facts and principles that have been already studied and are involved in the study of the subject in hand. The author insists as an important feature on the pains he has taken to preserve continuity in the discussions and a smooth flow in the transitions from one subject to another, also on his attempt to impart clear-cut conceptions of physical quantities and avoid ambiguities. The explanations are clear and lucid, and the manner of the book is modern.

The Natural Elementary Geography of Mr. Jacques W. Redway[6] represents the latest methods in the study and teaching of the science, and is composed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee of Fifteen. The central idea of the treatment pursued in it is man, his history, customs, industries, and geographical relations; and the different countries are described according as they relate to man. In the beginning the pupil is started from home and is taken eastward to the Atlantic and then westward to the Pacific, while the characteristic features of the country he passes over and the settlements are insisted upon and made plain. He is then taken across the ocean and to other countries, and they are described nearly in the order of the closeness of their relations with us. For the United States the old arbitrary divisions based on location are subordinated to divisions according to elevation, climate, and industries. In Europe the divisions are according to racial lines. The maps are physical and political, so adjusted as to scale as to give correct ideas of the comparative areas of countries. The illustrations are all intended to instruct and are excellent.

This little work,[7] one of a series entitled Home-Reading Books, is rather difficult to place. It is in the first place as fascinating as a fairy tale, and in the second so instructive as to be repellent to the mind of the average youth. It is an attempt to interest the child in a class of life which abounds in every pond and stream—namely, the protozoa. Each of these apparently characterless little masses of protoplasm, with far less intelligence than the average clam, assumes under the treatment of Miss Bayliss a personality almost as distinct as that of our human neighbors. In Chapter I, which is devoted to rhizopods, the leading member is the amœba, introduced as the "slowest thing on earth." The whiplashers are visited in the second chapter. Then come the ciliata, succeeded by an amusing chapter on protozoan philosophy. There are eleven chapters, the last of which, The Greatest Joke of All, might have been appropriately labeled As Others See Us, being an examination under the microscope of the human youth conducted by the various creatures which the previous chapters have thus studied. The book is well printed and illustrated, and, while there are some lapses into technical phraseology, the text is in the main readily comprehensible by a child of ten or twelve.

A work by Dr. C. Christiansen, of Copenhagen, on the Elements of Theoretical Physics, has been translated by Prof. W. F. Magie, of Princeton (Macmillan, $3.25). Although with ill-judged modesty labeled "Elements," it is an advanced text-book presenting the mathematical side of the subject exclusively and using the calculus throughout. The translator deems it valuable because it presents the fundamental principle of theoretical physics, and develops them so far as to bring the reader in touch with much of the new work that is being done in the subject. While not in every respect exhaustive, he regards it as stimulating and informing, and as furnishing a view of the whole field that will facilitate the reader's progress in special parts of it. He says further that there has been a need of such a book in which the various branches of the subject are developed in connection with one another and in a consistent notation.

The lectures delivered at the Princeton sesquitennial celebration by Prof. A. A. W. Hubrecht on The Descent of the Primates have reached us in book form (Scribner's, $1). While the subject is a highly technical one, and the treatment is necessarily such as to place the argument beyond the reach of any one but a specialist, the investigation has so important a bearing on the evolutional origin of the human race that it has been deemed worthy of permanent form. The contention is, briefly, that the usual way of looking upon the three subdivisions—the duckbills, the marsupials, and the placental mammals—as a real and historical sequence is not in accordance with their true relationships. This is not, as the author says, a new idea, but was originated some years ago by Huxley. The author has derived his material chiefly from a study of the embryology of the tarsius, a curious and rare form hitherto ranked with the lemuroids.

The Mechanical Arts Simplified, by D. B. Dixon (Laird & Lee, Chicago), is one of those so-called handbooks of useful information. It seems to contain a great deal of accurate information, in the shape of tables and formulæ, for the mechanic and the mechanical engineer, but it is largely a compilation of unrelated and isolated facts which have little practical value for the average mechanic, and which are of slight value, at best, in such a book, because of the difficulty of finding them. For instance, on page 258 we have first a table giving the weights of thirteen metals, followed by some tables on flour and corn mills extending through page 259; page 260 discusses the miner's inch and the flow of water through vertical rectangular openings, and page 261 gives us, among other things, a table of mortality statistics based on American experience, the date when the first steamboat plied the Hudson, when the first sawmaker's anvil was brought to America, when kerosene was first used for lighting purposes, when the first lucifer match was made, and the date of the appearance of the first newspaper advertisement.

A list of Reagents and Reactions known by the Names of their Authors, based on the collection of A. Schneider, has been issued by the Pharmaceutical Review Publishing Company, of Milwaukee. It is of interest chiefly to pharmacists and analysts (price, 50 cents).

A little volume on Les Insectes nuisibles, by A. Acloque, that has recently come to us is devoted to giving the habits and mode of development of noxious insects, and the best known means of combating these creatures. The book contains sixty-seven cuts. (F. Alcan, Paris, paper, 60 centimes; cloth, 1 fr.)

In English Local Government of To-day (Vol. IX, No. 1, Columbia Studies in Economics) M. R. Maltbie gives us a careful economic discussion of the relations between central and local government. The purposes of the inquiry are thus set forth in the introduction: "First, to show the growth and historical development of the English system of central and administrative control; second, to outline its present legal and practical status; and, third, to ascertain the actual results obtained through it." The author arrives at the conclusion that local self-government, pure and simple, has been proved inefficient, and that it is possible to establish a system of central administrative control which does not destroy local autonomy, but which secures efficient administration while not encroaching upon those ideas and principles for which Anglican institutions have so long been prized.

Papers and notes on The Genesis and Matrix of the Diamond (Longmans, Green & Co.), by Prof. H. C. Lewis, is a technical account of the geological formation in which the Kimberley and adjacent diamonds occur. The basis of the work was two lectures, delivered before the British Association in 1886 and 1887. They have been deemed of enough importance to deserve permanency, and, under the editorship of Prof. T. G. Bonney, have been combined with some isolated notes on the occurrence of diamonds elsewhere into the present volume. There are thirty-five illustrations.

In Sex Worship (published by the author, Clifford Howard) we have an attempt to treat this rather difficult topic in a popular way. Up to this time, as the author says, the subject has been confined to a small class of scholars and investigators, whose works are difficult to obtain, both because of their rarity and costliness. The present volume has no value to the scholar because of its superficiality, and is, we think, little suited to general circulation because of its subject.

No. 6 of the Field Columbian Museum Zoölogical Series is a List of Mammals from Somali Land, obtained by the museum's East African expedition. There are about fifty pages of text and twenty-five full-page plates. The material has been arranged by the curator of the museum, D. G. Elliot. The expedition was a much-needed one, and because of the rapid disappearance of the large wild game in Africa and the information and specimens obtained will in a very few years be the only means of studying many of these animals.

  1. Religions of Primitive Peoples. By Daniel G. Brinton. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 264. Price, $1.50.
  2. Familiar Features of the Roadside: The Flowers, Shrub, Birds, and Insects. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 209. Price, $1.75.
  3. The Antiquities of Tennessee and the Adjacent States. By Gates P. Thruston. Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company. Pp. 369. Illustrated. Second edition.
  4. Dynamic Sociology, or Applied Social Science, as Based upon Statical Sociology and the Less Complex Sciences. By Lester F. Ward, A.M. In two volumes; second edition. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 706 and 690. Price, $5.
  5. Physics: The Student's Manual for the Study Room and Laboratory. By Leroy C. Cooley, Ph.D. American Book Company. Pp 448.
  6. Natural Elementary Geography. By Jacques W. Redway. American Book Company. Pp. 144. Price, 60 cents.
  7. In Brook and Bayou, or Life in Still Waters. By Clara Kern Bayliss. Illustrated. New York: D. Appleton and Company. Pp. 175. Price, 60 cents.