Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/August 1898/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Mr. H. C. Porter's translation of Strasburger's Text-Book of Botany[1] was undertaken with the consent of both authors and publishers from the second revised German edition. The translator has aimed to adhere closely to the German original, making neither alterations nor omissions; to avoid any unnecessary introduction of new terms, adopting as far as consistent with the German the existing terminology, and conforming as far as possible to the usage of previous translations in rendering technical words of a purely German signification. For such departures as he may make from these rules he offers satisfactory explanations. The names of the authors, all of the University of Bonn, and their high reputation in their several fields of botanical study, attest the quality of the book, and this testimony is fortified by the fact that it was necessary to issue a second edition within a year after its first appearance. In the introduction the subjects of the imperceptible difference in the fundamentals between animal and vsgetable life, of evolution, of the distinction between living organs and lifeless bodies manifested by the quality of irritability in the former, and of spontaneous generation disproved by the researches of Schwann and Pasteur, are touched upon. Botany is divided into a general and a special part. In the general part the structure (morphology) and function (physiology) of plants are considered; in the special part the particular structure and functions of the special orders of plants are discussed. In the former part morphology and physiology are treated separately, in the latter part conjointly. The morphology is treated as external, involving the development of form in the plant kingdom, relations of symmetry, branch systems, the shoot, the root, and the ontogeny of plants; and internal, embracing the histology and anatomy In the special part the theory of evolution is credited with having first afforded a true basis for a natural system of classification, expressive of relationship and family. The system of Alexander Braun, as modified and further perfected by Eichler and others, is followed. This book would ordinarily be characterized as a technical as distinguished from a popular scientific work, for it embodies the fruits of deep research by masters of the science. But it appears to be, for a technical work, remarkably easy reading. This is because of the simple forms of expression preferred by the authors and the translator, and of the pains taken to explain the hard words which are by no means wanting. The publishers promise shortly an edition of the work in two volumes, which will be sold separately, the first volume to contain Strasburger's Morphology and Noll's Physiology, or the general part, and the second the special part, or Schenk's Cryptogams and Schimper's Phanerogams.

Mr. William E. D. Scott seeks in his Bird Studies[2] to place before students and others who wish to acquire knowledge on birds a means to that end—in other words, to invite them to a more intimate acquaintance with them. To this work he brings, in the shape of original notes based on field work, the fruits of his own studies during the past thirty years; and has further consulted, to insure accuracy, the standard works on North American birds; and be believes that all the kinds of birds of the land known to occur in the cases dealt with down to November 1, 1897, are included in his treatise. We say birds of the land, because the water birds are not included, being reserved for another volume. The area covered—called eastern North America—is that part of the continent east of the Mississippi River, Lake Winnipeg, and the western borders of Hudson Bay, with Greenland and the islands which naturally associate themselves with the mainland of the region. In the descriptions the birds are not grouped by the usual systematic classifications, but as one would be most likely to meet them and according to the places they frequent. "It is believed that a knowledge of the birds nearest to us is the best point of departure, and is less liable to lead to mental confusion than if all the members of a given systematic group—as, for instance, all the thrushes or all the sparrows of the entire region—were to be introduced or placed before the student in a body." Certain kinds have come to associate themselves more, on the whole, with the regions round the house than with any other locality. Others are in the same way characteristic of the woodland, the field and meadow, bush, and swamp. After these the birds along the highway, "in the woods," "across the fields," "in marsh and swamp," and "by stream and pond" are described; and, finally, a systematic table of the land birds of eastern North America is given. The letterpress descriptions are models of what such articles should be when directed to untechnical readers—brief, comprehensive, direct,-and definite. The one hundred and sixty-eight illustrations are of various degrees of satisfactoriness. The pictures of live birds and nests and of bush surroundings are lifelike and true, but show the difficulty of managing outdoor light when the bird, and not the artist, selects the moment for taking the picture. The pictures of dead birds are mostly excellent photographs, but liable to objection in other respects; they do not show the bird as it is in life, and are useless for purposes of identification; they are not agreeable to look at, and, at a time when the most strenuous efforts are hardly sufficient to prevent destruction of the birds and secure their preservation, they are a bad example. The book would have been better if they had been left out of it.

Our impression as we take up Mr. Goldwin Smith's Guesses at the Riddle of Existence[3] is a strong one of the pity it is that we can not enjoy the reading of the books of the Bible free from the traditions with which they have been surrounded, and the glosses and scholasticism and false interpretations that have been put upon them. Here is a man, candid and one of the strongest-minded thinkers of the time, religiously and devoutly inclined, expressing his anxiety about subjects that need not have troubled him at all if he had been permitted to read his Bible without thinking of things that really belong outside of it, but are taught us all in childhood as gospel truth. The spirit in which his pages are penned, he says, "is not that of agnosticism, if agnosticism imports despair of spiritual truth, but that of free and hopeful inquiry, the way for which it is necessary to clear by removing the wreck of that upon which we can found our faith no more. To resign untenable arguments for a belief is not to resign the belief, while a belief bound up with untenable arguments will share their fate." Three of the five essays in the book have appeared in periodicals; the others are new in print in their present shape. In the first, which gives its name to the book, the works of Drummond, Kidd, and Balfour relating to man, his origin and destiny, are reviewed. In the second, The Church and the Old Testament, the authenticity of the Old Testament is questioned. The other essays relate to the doctrine of another life, the miraculous element in Christianity, and morality and theism. While theologians have done harm with their hard-and-fast interpretations "essential to salvation," evidence that is added to and never contradicted with every new season's explorations in the Orient shows that the critics whom Mr. Smith seems inclined to follow have egregiously erred in the ground and method of their attacks on the authenticity of the books of the Old Testament. These explorations show that those books reflect the very life and spirit of the times to which they relate, and must have been contemporary with them or compiled from contemporary documents, giving in the cosmogonies, etc., the earliest traditions of mankind, and in the historical statements references to facts concerning which other evidence has been or is likely to be at any time found.

  1. A Text-Book of Botany. By Dr. E. Strasburger, Dr. Fritz Noll, Dr. H. Schenk, and Dr. A. F. W. Schimper. Translated from the German by H. C. Porter. With 594 Illustrations, in part colored. New York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 632. Price, $1.50.
  2. Bird Studies. An Account of the Land Birds of Eastern North America. With Illustrations from Original Photographs. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 363. Price, $5.
  3. Guesses at the Riddle of Existence, and other Essays on Kindred Subjects. By Goldwin Smith. New York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 244. Price, $1.25.