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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/May 1898/Fragments of Science

Fragments of Science.

Folklore of the Yew Tree.—Various reasons are cited by Dr. John Lowe, in his book on yew trees, as having been given to account for the planting of yews in churchyards. The yew is said to be sacred, the Druids having sacrificed in groves of them, and the character of the tree having been preserved when Christianity superseded Druidism. Evelyn thought that the trees were planted there so as to have them handy to furnish branches for processions, and other authors believed they furnished a substitute for the sacred palm. The yew is, in fact, still called palm by rustics in East Kent. One writer affirms that the evergreen was considered typical of the immortality of the soul. The supposition that the tree was planted to afford shelter to the buildings is contradicted by the fact that the yews are seldom large enough or near enough to the church to protect it. Dr. Lowe believes that these churchyard trees were planted in order to insure a continual supply of bow staves for the English bowmen. A general plantation of yew trees for the use of archers was directed in the reign of Richard III, and in the reign of Elizabeth they were ordered planted in churchyards to insure their cultivation and protect cattle from their leaves. Foreign as well as English yew was used for bows, and the rate of prices fixed by an act of Elizabeth indicates that the foreign was preferred. The best bows, it is said, were made of Spanish yew. The yew tree has poisonous properties which affect both men and animals when they eat too copiously of it, and a drug of considerable value is extracted from it. English schoolboys are said to be fond of taking the small red fruit of the yew into their mouths, chewing it, and then spitting it out, while they are careful not to swallow any. The berries when thus used go by the name of "spitagobs."

 

Predeterminate Selection.—Telesis is the name given by Lester F. Ward to that principle or that faculty of mind which pursues some definite end. It is further explained as the law of mind, in contradistinction to the process or principle according to which evolution in general takes place, and which the author calls the law of Nature; not that telesis is not also a natural law; but it is utterly unlike the other law, came forward at a late stage in the history of cosmic evolution, and seems to have inaugurated a new order of things. In dealing with the animal world the law of Nature is replaced by that of reason in destroying the tendencies of the wild state and substituting complete submission to man's will, or domestication. By a process of artificial selection, which supplants that of natural selection, those qualities which are most useful to man are rendered more and more prominent until most domesticated animals undergo profound physical modifications in the direction of utility. These modifications are not always also in the line of natural evolution, but, so far as the particular qualities selected are concerned, they usually are so, and in many cases careful breeding improves the whole animal, so that man becomes a powerful ally of evolution itself. This is not disproved by the fact that such improved races usually revert more or less to their original condition when human influence is withdrawn; but the fact establishes another law of biology; viz., that natural selection does not secure the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence. It merely fixes the exact position which each species is capable of holding in the general competition. This is far below what it might attain if competition were removed. Exactly what man does is to remove this competition, and the immense progress that every species makes is shown in the improvement of the stock under man's intelligent care. Substantially the same results have attended the operation of the telic power on the vegetable kingdom. The display of individual telesis on inanimate objects and natural forces has been the mainspring of human progress; and the definition of civilization is reached that it is the utilization of the materials and forces of Nature.

 

Decorative Art of the Northwestern Indians.—The decorative art of the Indians of the North Pacific coast—the subjects of which are almost exclusively animals—is characterized by Mr. Franz Boas as differing from other arts in that it is less conventionalized and geometrical, and the parts of the body may still be recognized as such, although liberties have been taken with their size and arrangement. The objects decorated are always of practical use, and the carvings are subordinated to them and limited by their shape. Carving is done mostly in wood, but also in stone and horn, and is usually in the round, in bas-relief, or, although more rarely, in high relief. In consequence of the adaptation of the form to the decorative field, the native artist can not attempt an artistic representation of the object, but is compelled to indicate only its main characteristics. In consequence of the distortion of the animal body due to its adaptation to various surfaces, the animal meant would be hardly recognizable if the artist did not emphasize what he considers its characteristic features, and these in many cases become its symbol. Yet, while the symbolism develops a tendency to suppress parts of the animal, we find in the efforts of the artist to adapt the form of the creature to the decorative field a desire to preserve, as far as is feasible, its whole figure; and with the exception of a few profiles, we do not find a single instance that can be interpreted as an endeavor to give a perspective and therefore realistic view of the animal. The representations are combinations of symbols of the various parts of the body, arranged in such a way that if possible the whole animal is brought into view. A tendency is manifest to exaggerate the symbols at the expense, of other parts of the subject.

 

The Chinese Oil Tree.—We find the following interesting information in the Consular Reports, vol. liv. No. 203: The wood-oil tree (Aleurites cordata) belongs to a family very common in China, known as the Tung. It is mentioned in some of the oldest books of the Chinese, where it is praised for its beautiful flowers and for the peculiar value of its wood in the manufacture of lutes. The leaves, bark, and flowers of certain varieties are used in medicine. The variety from which the oil is obtained is known as the ying tzu tung, so called from the shape of its fruit—ying means a jar. Oil is said to be derived from other varieties, but it is the ying tzu tung which is especially cultivated for this purpose. It is found chiefly in Hunan, Hupeh, and Szochuen. It attains a height of from ten to twenty-five feet. It has large, beautiful leaves, small pink-white flowers, and a green fruit somewhat like an apple. The seeds are large and poisonous, and it is from them that the oil is expressed. The fruit is gathered in August and September. The machinery used for extracting the oil is very rude, consisting of wooden presses with wedges. The oil is usually of a light color, somewhat resembling linseed oil, and emits a nauseous odor. The principal place of export is Hankow, whence in 1895 there were shipped, chiefly to Chinese ports, 38,714,112 pounds, the value of which amounted to $1,162,524.80. The oil is used in the manufacture of paint and varnish, waterproof paper, and umbrellas, and in western China, it appears, for lighting also. The greater part, however, is consumed in calking, for which purpose it is everywhere used in China. In applying it to the bottom of boats it is put on hot, but for parts not commonly submerged it is used cold. The upper part of a Chinese boat is oiled once or twice a month. Soot from the burned oil and nut is also extensively used in making ink.

 

On the Summit of Mauna Loa.—Dr. H. B. Guppy recently published an interesting account of a three weeks' sojourn on the summit of Mauna Loa. Many curious observations were made. The air was at first highly electrified. A red blanket used by Dr. Guppy crackled under his hands at night, and he could trace letters on the surface in phosphorescent lines with his finger nails. The effects of these meteorological conditions soon showed themselves in the cessation of the action of the skin, in severe headaches and sore throat, in a tendency to palpitation and dyspnœa, and in sleeplessness, general lassitude, and loss of appetite. These symptoms were attributed to the extreme dryness of the air; for, when a short spell of damp weather intervened, most of the unpleasant symptoms disappeared. Another interesting phenomenon was observed every morning and evening. For about twenty minutes after sunrise and before sunset the shadow of the mountain was thrown back against the sky of the opposite horizon. The average range of daily temperature was found to be about twice as great as at the coast. In order to familiarize himself with the crater. Dr. Guppy adopted the method of making a rough plan with a pocket prismatic compass. In some places the lava crust was thin and fragile, and there was always the chance of a sudden fall into a subterranean cavern. His descent into the crater was made on the northwest side. During dry, clear weather smoke is only evident at two places in the crater: one near the center, and the other in the southwest corner from the base of a yellowish cliff, where there are apparently extensive deposits of sulphur. When, however, the sky is clouded, and especially when the air is moist, white vapor may be seen arising from the greater part of the surface of the crater. The explanation seems to be that this vapor is escaping all the time, but is only visible when the air contains a large quantity of moisture. A very large amount of vapor is discharged from the borders of a small crater lying near Pohaku Hanalei, and this is the smoke sometimes observed from the Kona coast. It is probable that the next eruption will occur on this, the south-southwest, slope of the mountain. Strange to say, a considerable amount of insect life was observed. Butterflies, moths, gnats, bees, and house flies were quite numerous, and in noticeably larger numbers when the wind was southerly. No doubt, they had all been brought up to this absolutely sterile region by air currents.

 

The American Association, 1898.—The officers of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the local committees are preparing to make the meeting for 1808 of the association, to be held in Boston, August 22d to 27th, which will be its fiftieth anniversary, or jubilee meeting, worthy of the occasion and of the honorable record the association has made for itself. It is realized that the anniversary gives promise of being the most important scientific gathering ever held in the United States. Many foreign men of science have been invited to take part, and many foreign educational and scientific institutions are expected to send delegates, whereby the meeting will be given an international character. Additional interest will be afforded by the meetings of affiliated societies to take place in connection with it. The officers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and of the Boston Society of Natural History have offered the use of their halls and rooms—constituting three closely adjoining buildings. The corporation of Harvard University will make the association its guest for a day in Cambridge; the Essex Institute has arranged for a day in Salem; and there will be an excursion in the harbor, and after the meeting, trips to the White Mountains and Cape Cod. It is hoped that one of the results of the anniversary meeting will be an increase of the research fund of the association, which in twenty years has grown to only six thousand dollars. All members whose names have dropped from the roll are requested to renew their membership, either by paying back assessments and having their names replaced on the roll under their old date of election, or by re-election.

 

Nature Study for Farmers.—The Agricultural Extension work instituted by the College of Agriculture of Cornell University, in compliance with a law of the State of New York, has so far borne the shape of an attempt to discover the best method of teaching the people agriculture. The results to the present time indicate as the most efficient means of elevating the ideals and practice of the rural communities the establishment of Nature study or object-lesson study combined with field walks and incidental instruction in the principles of farm practice in the rural schools; correspondence instruction in connection with reading courses; itinerant or local experiment and investigation, made chiefly as object lessons to farmers, and not for the purpose, primarily, of discovering scientific facts; the publication of reading bulletins which shall inspire a quickened appreciation of rural life; the dispatch of special agents as lecturers or teachers, or as investigators of special local difficulties, or as itinerant instructors in the normal schools and before the training classes of the teachers institutes; and the itinerant agricultural school. The farmers are found, as a whole, the report says, willing and anxious for education; but "it is astonishing, as one thinks of it, how scant and poor has been the teaching which has even a remote relation to the tilling of the soil; and many of our rural books seem not to have been born of any real sympathy with the farmer or any proper appreciation of his environments" In the belief that the fundamental difficulty with our agriculture is that no attempt is made to instruct the children in matters that will awaken an interest in country life, the experiment was tried of visiting the rural and village schools and talking to the children about any object that presented itself at the time. The children imbibed the information with notable readiness and showed a keen interest in it, while the teacher took an almost universal interest in this kind of work; so that the conviction resulted that the greatest good that can be rendered to the agricultural communities is to awaken an interest in Nature study on the part of teachers and children. The best way to reach these persons appears to be by short and sharp observations upon plants, insects, and other objects, and not by means of definite lectures of stated lengths.

 

Hand Spinning.—Domestic spinning, except in its modern revival, is treated by Mr. T. Blashill, of the British Archæological Association, as a lost art. Although it went out in England some fifty or sixty years ago, and in the United States a little later, it has become as completely forgotten by the world as if it had been for centuries unknown. Spindle whorls have been discovered from time to time in deep excavations; implements used in spinning may be seen in the most ancient Egyptian sculptures; and spindles with the whorl attached are found in Egyptian excavations; so that we have means of acquainting ourselves with the conditions of the art in all ages. In hand spinning with spindle and distaff there has been no progress through all these ages, and the most ancient specimens extant might be used by women who in remote countries practice hand spinning to-day. The great wool wheel was in use as early as the fourteenth century and lingered on in Wales down to recent times. The ordinary spinning wheel was known as early as the middle of the sixteenth century, and was at first turned by hand and afterward by the treadle. The earliest spinning wheel extant in England is believed to be in the British Museum, and is of the fourteenth century. In former times the art of spinning was a necessary accomplishment for women and girls, and perhaps its use was rendered more popular by the idea that it promoted grace in the female form. In the year 1721 an aged lady left considerable property to endow a school for spinning. The art was practiced in England in the drawing rooms and servants' halls of country houses as late as 1830. Rabbit wool is spun at Aix in Savoy at the present time. Statements were made, after the reading of Mr. Blashill's paper, that the spinning wheel is still used in Sutherland; that "home-spun" is made in the Isle of Lewis; and that the Bedouins in spinning use their fingers and no distaff.

 

Child Training.—The child and the man he is destined to become, said M. Berthelot in his address on Science the Educator, are not passive beings, receivers into which we can arbitrarily pour a certain sum of teaching and science, distributed more or less harmoniously—matters which they will find later in special schools and their whole life. Far from it. We should seek to develop in the child, along with memory and alertness in answering the questions of the examiner, aptitude for work and personal activity; to excite curiosity and the initiative in the young man, and to provoke in his mind suitable elaboration, a kind of digestion of the information hastily accumulated. In this way only can we make individual faculties and latent capacities really available. Plato teaches us to study the dispositions of our children and adapt our instruction to them so that it shall seem less like work and more like play. Hence in our first essay in instruction we should try to draw out the tastes and aptitudes, in order to discern what they are and put them to profitable use. We can reach this essential result only by giving the child leisure enough to develop them m the special direction it prefers. But the child must have to do the work. Now the tendency of our systems of secondary education is to do away with this leisure of work and of personal tastes. During the years of youth, perhaps the most fruitful for mental evolution, we are eager to push the child into intellectual molds. Instead of its first object being science and letters in themselves, or the seeking for scientific truth and literary beauty, which woo the child by their intrinsic attraction, reserving till afterward the more special determination of its inclination toward some particular end, our teaching is first and almost exclusively directed with reference to the examination. The highest motives of the mind are thus suppressed or diverted from infancy. Baccalaureates and the competitions of the special schools spoil the late and most precious years of youth, those in which the individual initiatives and vocations ought to appear.

 

Bounties and the Extermination of Noxious Animals.—We are informed by Mr. T. S. Palmer, of the Department of Agriculture, in a paper on the extermination of noxious animals by bounties, that "more than a score of animals in the United States are considered sufficiently injurious to require radical measures for their extermination. Wolves, coyotes, panthers, bears, and lynxes are very destructive, but perhaps do not cause greater loss than ground squirrels, pocket gophers, rabbits, and woodchucks. A few birds also, such as blackbirds, crows, English sparrows, hawks, and owls, are sometimes included in the category of noxious species" Remarking that the most plausible and persistent demands for protection from the depredations of wild animals have come from owners of sheep and cattle, and many of the laws offering bounties have been enacted ostensibly to encourage sheep-raising, Mr. Palmer notices the curious fact that while, no doubt, this industry has many claims for protection, "the most urgent demands for bounties in the West have come, not from the farmers or owners of small flocks, but from cattle and sheep men whose immense herds and flocks are pastured on Government lands, and who claim that the cost of protecting their herds and flocks should be borne by the county or State" In some regions the losses on account of wolves and coyotes are so serious as to threaten the success of the sheep industry. The author further shows that while bounty legislation has existed in the United States for two centuries and a half, has called for an enormous expenditure, and has been thoroughly tested in most of the States and Territories, bounties have not resulted in the extermination of a single species, and have failed even in the island of Bermuda, which has an area of less than twenty square miles. The larger animals are gradually becoming rare, but it is through the growth of settlement rather than by the operation of bounties; and Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota have tried to rid their lands of pocket gophers and ground squirrels by offering bounties, "but the effect of the law was far more evident on the county treasuries than on the animals."

 

Ancient Monuments of Ceylon.—An inkling to the character and extent of the ancient cities and architectural monuments buried in the forests of that island is given in Mr. H. W. Cave's book on The Ruined Cities of Ceylon, but yet the author has to confess that he has only touched "the merest fringe of the great subject" The works of which they are examples were comparable with other massive works of antiquity, and such as we could not imagine the modern Ceylonese capable of constructing, and that the ancestors of these people should have been competent to execute them is hard to conceive. They are, however, like other Buddhist art, rather monotonous, repeating the same motives. A single exception to this rule is the crag of Sigiri, where King Kasyapa secured himself as in an impregnable fortress after he had by his crimes made his life among the people unpleasant and dangerous. He carried a spiral stairway around the precipitous sides of the rock to the summit, surrounded it with a strong rampart, collected his wealth and treasure there, and built a palace and offices. There he lived in great luxury. The rock rises abruptly from the plain, and has an artificial lake on its west side. Traces of massive stone walls inclosing about fifty acres are visible around its base; within these terraces, defenses, and the foundations of buildings are marked. Parts of the spiral galleries of ascent are well preserved. On the top of the rock ruins have been found that belong to two periods at least. Only small parts of the ruins of the huge cities of Anadhurapa and Polanaruwa have been recovered from the jungle, and "other remains of a glorious past are scattered here and there all over the island." The "moonstones" are a peculiar feature of Singhalese architecture, and constitute the doorstep to the principal entrance of a building. They are floridly ornamented, and look very much like a door mat laid at the foot of a staircase. The carving of one specimen described by Mr. Cave, not less than sixteen hundred years old, "is as sharp and well defined as if it were just from the sculptor's chisel." Works on a similar scale to those of Ceylon abound in Burma, Java, and Cambodia, and are all attributed to the early Buddhist ancestors of the present common people. Their dynasty ended in Ceylon in the thirteenth century, when Tamil invaders took the capital and laid the whole country waste.

 

Ancestral Survivals in Domesticated Animals.—Dr. Louis Robinson, in a book he has recently published concerning that subject, goes back to their wild ancestry for the origin of nearly all the traits we observe in domesticated animals, giving only a minor place to human selection and human training. Thus, as the Academy says in a review of his book, he suggests that the dog could never have been taught what man has taught him had he been originally a solitary hunter; he was a member of a pack which co-operated for common purposes; which subordinated some individuals to others; which had division of labor and specialized functions. By virtue of this fact, when man took the dog into his company for a partner, the dog continued to fill his accustomed place in the new community. His loyalty to his master and his readiness to defend him when attacked are an echo of his loyalty to his four-footed comrades. His work as pointer or setter is the result of the habit of hunting in company. To dogs man is a very superior dog, a capable leader in the pack to which both belong. The shying of horses is explained by the fact that horses descend from ancestors accustomed to roam over close-cropped pastures, where any tuft of long grass might conceal a snake or other venomous animal. Hence timidity about such objects—transferred now to pieces of loose paper or cabbage leaves in the road—was really in the beginning a preservative trait. The donkey, whose progenitors were mountain beasts living among desert rocks, does not shy. Pigs fatten easily, because their ancestors had to eat mast in autumn against the w inter fast; and when frost lasted long, the fattest wild boar would alone survive to carry on the species. Cows give us milk and wait to be milked, because the ancestral cow left her calf in hiding, and went far afield for pasture. Her chewing the cud depends upon her habit in early days of eating hastily when exposed to the attacks of wild beasts, and then digesting at leisure in her lair with comparative safety.

 

Abatement of Smoke.—The best method of abating the smoke nuisance has undergone a full discussion at the instance of the Franklin Institute, several meetings having been devoted to the subject, and communications having been invited and received from engineers and scientific men in different parts of the country, and the subject has been treated practically from a scientific point of view. The participants in the discussion seem all to have agreed that the abolition of smoke is practicable and not difficult; and most of them prescribe for the accomplishment of it the simple remedy of securing a perfect combustion of the fuel. This can be effected, according to Professor Thurston, of Cornell, and the others, through care and skill in stoking and by the use of properly constructed furnaces, without any costly apparatus. "Secure maximum temperature of furnace, producing the whole heat of combustion, as nearly as practicable, before commencing to take off heat for application to steam-making." This, according to Prof. L. M. Haupt, can be largely effected by intelligent firing, whereby a large amount of oxygen is admitted over the incandescent material instead of being forced through it. Experiences were related with patent devices, which with a bad fireman produced no better results than the plain fire box with a brick arch and a good fireman; and with the steam jet, which promoted quicker and more thorough mixture of the gases and air, and was good; but no device found better favor than the judicious, even distribution of the right proportion of added fuel over a hot fire. Finally, resolutions were adopted declaring the continuous and frequent emission of dense black smoke unnecessary, and advising that it be not permitted within the city limits. Accounts of special antismoke devices were avoided in this discussion, which related to general principles only; but inventors were given opportunity to describe and illustrate their apparatus at two subsequent meetings of the institute held in the fall of 1897.