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

Fragments of Science.

International Language Study.—An interesting and comparatively new scheme for the study of foreign languages is described by E. H. Magill, ex-president of Swarthmore College, in a recent issue of The Kindergarten Magazine. "How these foreign languages can best be taught in our schools and colleges is a question which has received much attention at the hands of experienced educators of this generation." Some have contended that no attempt should be made to teach the student to converse or write in the foreign language, but that he should simply learn enough of grammatical form to enable him, when he has obtained a vocabulary, to read the written language easily. In fact, this opinion has been very generally held by educators. The method of instruction about to be described, however, seems in a fair way to change this feeling into one favoring a' more perfect mastery of the language. "It is now about two years since M. Mieille, a professor in the Lycée of Tarbes, Hautes Pyrénées, while in England, devised a method of international correspondence between students and teachers in France and England, which has been warmly received by educators and students in those two countries, and several thousands on either side of the channel are now entered upon the lists and mutually rendering each other great aid in becoming familiar with their respective languages. . . . The method of procedure may be simply described thus: Let those schools, colleges, or individuals who wish to begin this system send the names, ages, and addresses of those who wish to correspond to the following well known firms in Paris: For young students, send to MM. Armand Colin et Cie., No. 5 rue de Mezières, Paris, and for older students, teachers, or other mature persons, address Libraire Hachette, 79 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. These firms will give prompt attention to such requests, assigning to each person whose name, etc., is sent, a suitable correspondent; and these French correspondents write the first letter, in French, to their American friends, who on receiving the letters promptly reply in English. After these first letters the next letter from France is written in English, and the second letter from America is written in French. The correspondence thus commenced is continued as begun, alternating the two languages; also all letters received which are written in the language of the receiver are returned carefully corrected to the writer. Thus, if letters are filed, at the end of the year each student has model letters in the foreign tongue, and his own corrected letters for careful study. In Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, about thirty students are enrolled as correspondents. The letters as received are read aloud in class, sometimes translated, sometimes in French, and are made most interesting topics for the lesson of the day. No one who has not tried the system can fully realize the new life and spirit that are thus infused into the class. Instead of being a dry and dull grammatical lesson, with little direct practical bearing upon daily life, the language is seen at once to have a life and meaning before little expected by the student."

 

The Liquefaction of Hydrogen.—At a recent meeting of the Royal Society, Professor Dewar read a paper describing the method by which on Tuesday, May 10th, he had succeeded in liquefying hydrogen, the last of the so-called "permanent gases." The apparatus used was a year in building, many slight but important details going to make up the final successful machine. The hydrogen was cooled to —205° C. and then allowed to escape continuously under a pressure of one hundred and eighty atmospheres from the nozzle of a coil of pipe at the rate of ten to fifteen cubic feet a minute, into a vacuum vessel doubly silvered, which was itself surrounded with a space kept below  —200° C. With these arrangements liquid hydrogen began to drop from this vessel into a second vacuum space, doubly isolated by being inclosed in a third, and in five minutes twenty cubic centimetres of liquid hydrogen were collected. The yield of liquid was about one per cent of the gas. The liquid was clear and colorless and showed no absorption spectrum. When a long piece of glass tubing sealed at one end and open to the air at the other was immersed in the liquid hydrogen, solid air immediately appeared in it; and when a specimen of purified helium in a sealed tube was immersed, a distinct fluid was seen to collect in it. It would seem from this that there is little difference between the boiling points of helium and hydrogen. Professor Dewar pointed out that all known gases had now been condensed into liquids which could be manipulated at their boiling points under atmospheric pressure in suitably arranged vacuum vessels, though even so great a man as Clerk Maxwell had doubts as to the possibility of ever liquefying hydrogen. With liquid hydrogen as the cooling agent a temperature could be reached within 20° or 30° of the zero of absolute temperature, and its use would open up an entirely new field of scientific inquiry. M. Moissan read a similar paper before the Academy of Science in Paris early in May. It is also claimed that Professor Olszewski had previously determined the boiling point and critical temperature of hydrogen.

 

Grasses in Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado.—Prof. L. H. Pammel, in his Notes on the Grasses and Forage Plants of Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado, remarks on the different aspects the forage question in central Iowa presents now from what it did fifteen years ago. At that time considerable areas of unbroken sod still remained. Now the wild prairies have ceased to be a factor in the production of hay. They have given way to cultivated fields and pastures, and the few small unbroken areas occurring here and there are chiefly confined to the small drainage basins between the hills where moisture interferes with proper cultivation. The standard and other cultivated grasses that have been introduced have been tried with varying success; the native species vary in quantity and quality in different parts of the State. Several native leguminous plants have more or less value for fodder. The pastures suffer deterioration from overstocking and the growth of weeds. The grasses can not endure the close grazing and extensive trampling to which they are subjected, and die out, and weedy annuals plant themselves in their places, or the native ragweeds and verbenas spread and occupy the soil. All of these have become so plentiful that farmers note their more frequent occurrence than in former years. In Nebraska the grasses do not grow so luxuriantly season after season as in Iowa, but the climate is more favorable for winter grazing, and there are many valuable species of native forage plants. In the semiarid regions of northeastern Colorado, the areas that were at one time cultivated have been allowed to revert to grasses, and the region has become famous as a stock country and is seemingly prosperous. In the country north of this, though the rainfall is limited, there are thousands of acres of fine meadow and grazing lands covered with a dense growth of grama grass. A large number of native grasses occur along irrigating ditches and streams, and many of them are highly nutritious. In the mountain regions, the foothills and higher mountain slopes produce a large number of valuable grasses, increasing in variety and richness with the ascent. Cattle are raised for beef, and dairying is carried on at the lower altitudes.

 

Our Native Gems.—From Mr. G. F. Kunz's report on the production of precious stones in the United States during 1896 we learn that true rubies have been found in the Corvee Valley, Macon County, N. C, in a manner of occurrence new to science, along with some very beautiful almandine garnets, corundum, gold, and other minerals of value. The best ruby crystal so far obtained weighs about six and a half carats. The sapphires in Montana have already been mentioned in The Monthly. Many fine crystals of beryl of gem value were found in Topsham, Maine, one twelve inches long and two inches in diameter. Other beryls were found at Hampden, Md., and Bakersville, N. C. A topaz was found in Idaho, about one hundred miles north of Boise, and other topazes at Thomas Mountain and Simpson Springs, Utah. Tourmalines continue to be found at Paris, Maine, Haddam, Conn., and Waynesville, N. C. Olivine chrysolite and peridot are reported from Webster, N. C.; several varieties of garnet in Tulare County, Cal.; quartz crystals with fluid inclusions in Herkimer County, N. Y.; thousands of pounds of crystals of quartz in three counties of Arkansas, and other quartz near Cheyenne Pass, Wyoming, Whitehaven, Pa., at Autauga, Ala., and in Tulare County, Cal.; and quartz of different varieties at localities in North Carolina, Idaho, the Black Hills, New Mexico, and Washington; rutilated amethyst crystals in the Black Hills, and Goochland County and Livingston, Va.; chrysoprase at Visalia, Cal.; agate in Wyoming and at Soldier's Delight, Md.; opal at Bare Hills, Md., and Clover Creek, Idaho; wardite, a new "semi-precious" stone, in Utah; Smithsonite, a golden-yellow carbonate of zinc, locally known as "yellow fat," in beautiful mammilar masses in the Morning Star Mine, Yellville, Ark. Besides these are the fossilized woods, which have become generally known. Mr. Kunz's report for 1895 mentions also moss agate at two localities in Wyoming and two iu California; labradorite at Toronto, Ont., and Mont Shavano, Cal.; rhoderosite in Colorado and Utah; realgar at the Golden Gate Mine, Utah; and the largest black tourmaline known, monazite, and xenotine on Manhattan Island.

 

The Growth and Decay of Nations.—The following paragraphs are taken from an article in a recent Contemporary Review, by Thomas Hodgkin, D. C. L.: "It is a question which has been often discussed, and to which men's minds have often turned of late, whether states and nations have, like individual men, their necessary periods of infancy, childhood, adolescence, and old age, to be followed, in the one case as in the other, by death, which is the end of all. The analogy between the state and the man at once suggests itself; but analogy is not in itself proof: on the contrary, it is sometimes one of our most misleading guides. That many great and strong empires have faded and vanished away is obvious.

"'Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?'

"But are we therefore forced to conclude that all states must die? Is it incumbent on the wise statesman to look forward to his country's death and to make provision for that event, as it is incumbent on each one of us individually to 'consider our latter end,' and so to order our affairs that those who come after us shall not have occasion to curse either our improvidence or our over caution? I suggest the question without presuming fully to answer it. Only I may hint that it does seem as if, for some reason or other, there were a greater tenacity of life among the nations of modern Europe than there was in most of the nations of antiquity; and that I do not see why, for practical purposes and for its influence upon conduct, we need look forward to an inevitable death of our country any more than to that death of the physical universe which, as philosophers tell us, is probable, perhaps inevitable, in some incalculably distant future age. But if death is not the inevitable doom of a state, it is quite certain that states are liable to something which we may without any strained analogy call disease. Looking back over the pages of history we can easily recall instances of states which have had their energies wasted by fierce attacks of fever; states which have suffered from raving madness; states which have overtasked their powers by undertaking labors beyond their strength and have died of overwork; states which have dropped noiselessly out of the ranks, the victims of senile decay. Since, then, there is such a thing as national disease, and since it threatens primarily the happiness and eventually the life of the state, a serious student of history will be ever on the alert to discover the symptoms of disease in the past life of nations, and to trace the manner of its working, in order that he may combat its first manifestations in his own country. In fact, I think we may say that this work, the study of political health and disease, is emphatically the business and the raison d'être of all history."

 

Adam Smith and Astronomy.—Mr. W. T. Lynn calls attention in a recent issue of The Observatory to the fact, not generally known, that Adam Smith, famous through his Wealth of Nations, was something of an amateur astronomer. He wrote a history in his younger days of astronomy up to the time of Newton. It was published in 1795, five years after the author's death. In view of the care which this author took to destroy all his manuscripts which he did not deem worthy of publication, his opinion of this brochure is of interest. The following paragraph occurs in a letter of his to Hume, dated at Edinburgh, April 16, 1773: "As I have left the care of all my literary papers to you, I must tell you that, except those which I carry along with me, there are none worth the publication but a fragment of a great work which contains a history of the astronomical systems that were successively in fashion down to the time of Descartes. Whether that might be published as a fragment of an intended juvenile work, I leave entirely to your judgment, though I begin to suspect myself that there is more refinement than solidity in some parts of it." The full title is The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical Enquiries, illustrated by the History of Astronomy."

 

The New York State Library.—The New York State Library, according to its last annual report, grew in 1897 from 198,700 volumes to 207,934 volumes in the State Library proper, with 33,739 volumes in the traveling and extension libraries, making with the 108,111 duplicates a total of 349,784 volumes. The policy is fairly started of building up one of the strongest education libraries; and the State has the best general law library in the country. Any registered physician in the State may borrow from the medical library without expense except for transportation. The use of the library in the evening has increased fivefold during the past five years. Scholars from a distance are more and more coming to Albany to make investigation; and lawyers and public men after other business is transacted often find the evening use of the library advantageous. Books are more and more sent from the shelf to institutions and scholars in all parts of the State, a thirtyfold gain having been realized in this function since 1889. Besides distribution to clubs and individuals, 19,750 volumes of State publications were sent out through the library last year to permanent depositaries. The preparation of syllabuses as guides to study for university-extension lectures, clubs, and individual students is growing in importance and promises to become one of the recognized departments of the library work. The library school, which is claimed to be the first of its kind in the world, continues to grow in strength and reputation; and it has been necessary to increase its facilities. Its usefulness has been generally recognized by librarians—in other countries as well as this.

 

Advantages of Large Telescopic Glasses.—The principal advantages of a large telescopic object glass—forty inches aperture in the special case as compared with a smaller one, ten inches—are summarized by Prof. George E. Hale as consisting of, first, its power of giving much brighter star images and thus of rendering visible faint stars that can not be seen with the smaller telescope; second, in the fact that it gives at its focus an image of the object enlarged in proportion to its greater diameter; and third, in its capacity of rendering visible as separate objects the components of very close double stars or minute markings upon the surface of a planet or satellite. The large glass has its disadvantages too, among the chief of which is that it requires better atmospheric conditions to bring out its best qualities. The discoveries of the fifth satellite of Jupiter and the two satellites of Mars were made with large telescopes, and could hardly have been made with smaller ones. Much fine detail on the moon which the author has never been able to see with the twelve-inch telescope is "clearly and beautifully visible" with the forty-inch. Micrometrical measures are effected with much more ease and certainty with the large telescope. "It is particularly in astrophysical research that a great telescope is advantageous. It is necessary in spectroscopic observation to have as much light as can be gathered into a single point, and for this a large glass is essential. It follows from these facts that great telescopes really have a mission to perform. While, on the one hand, they are not endowed with the almost miraculous gifts which imaginative persons would place to their credit, they do possess properties which render them much superior to smaller instruments and well worth all the expenditure which their construction has involved. In answering the question, 'Do large telescopes pay?' it is simply a matter of determining whether the work which can not be done without the aid of large telescopes is really worth doing."

 

New Features In School.—The report of the Superintendent of Schools of Springfield, Mass., tells of a new departure in the reading classes by substituting literary reading for the school readers of the old sort. "Ten years ago all the fourth and fifth readers were taken out of the schools, and literature and reading matter bearing directly on geography and history were introduced in their place. Since then all the third readers and nearly all the second and first readers have been displaced by reading matter which is intrinsically interesting to children. In point of quality, pupils in going through the grammar schools now read more good literature than pupils in any of the courses in the high school read a few years ago. Much of this literature is read in connection with the study of history." The superintendent expresses his belief that the time has come when no new schoolhouses shall be erected in the city without some provision for personal cleanliness in the way of facilities for bathing. This he regards as necessary for the health of the school, on account of the number of pupils who come from tenement houses and unsanitary quarters with skins in such a condition as to contaminate the air of the schoolroom. A school bath was first established in Göttingen, Germany, in 1883; and the example of that place has now been followed in about forty German, Swiss, and Scandinavian cities, where warm shower baths have been introduced into the common schools. At Charlottenburg, Prussia, the entire equipment of a bath accommodating fifty or sixty children an hour cost only three hundred and fifty-seven dollars. The study of music has been made elective in the Springfield school; and a department has been established in the high school, with the aim not of teaching the children to play or sing, but to appreciate the best classical music. The system of savings, auxiliary to the savings banks, established in the schools, works well, and the savings have materially increased. The teachers are supplied with stamps, which are sold to the children, and entries to their credit are made for the amounts. When the sum reaches a dollar, the child is urged to deposit it in one of the city savings banks, or he can draw it out for the purchase of necessaries.

 

Working of the Elective System in Colleges.—The results of the discussions concerning the elective system of study courses, as presented by Prof. A. P. Bingham in the Educational Review, have been its adoption into the common thought and the quiet extension of its range into our higher schools. "That can hardly be called a reputable college which has not admitted it in some measure. . . . In some cases the system has been adopted sparingly and timidly, as if under stress of competition. More often it has been received heartily up to a certain limit." The method of its application has, however, been very diversified, resulting in a great variety of schemes, a considerable number of which are reviewed and analyzed by the author. "No two colleges agree as to what studies are 'essential for all who are candidates for a liberal degree.' As to the working of the elective plan, the author believes that its risks are overestimated." No candid observer of college life can deny that free choice has promoted vital scholarship and hastened the growth of manly judgment in college students. It has revolutionized college teaching by sealing the doom of the lazy instructor. It has steadily extended its conquests, and is pushing its way into more colleges and over wider areas of the college course. That it should stand without important checks few would contend, but that the college student does not often abuse the elective privilege is, in the belief of the author, capable of proof. And a contribution to this proof is made from the records of the author's own college, Colgate University. Professor Bingham regards his study, as a whole, as indicating the sobriety, earnestness, and intelligence of the college man, and has no question that, "for the average man, sound habits of steady endeavor grow best in fields of choice."