Popular Science Monthly/Volume 54/January 1899/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


Prof. Dean C. Worcester, of the University of Michigan, spent eleven months, beginning in September, 1887, in the Philippine Islands in connection with the second scientific expedition of Dr. J. B. Steere. He went there again, with an expedition of which he was chief, in July, 1890, and spent two years and eight months. His object in both expeditions was the study of birds. In the course of them he visited twenty-two islands. The first expedition was unofficial and was regarded suspiciously by the authorities of the islands; the second was armed with a special permission from the Spanish Minister of the Colonies and enjoyed every advantage. The scientific results of both were reported to the United States National Museum, and the collections were deposited in its cabinet. The general results, the story of the adventures of the members of the expedition, with their observations on the geographical features of the islands, their peoples, and the social conditions prevailing there, are given in a popular style in the volume before us.[1] The account is preceded by a short sketch of the history of the islands, as an aid to the better comprehension of their present condition and the reasons for it. Of the natives, who form the bulk of the 8,000,000 of the population of the islands, there are more than eighty distinct tribes, each with its own peculiarities, scattered over hundreds of islands. The more important of these islands may be reached by lines of mail and merchant steamers, which afford tolerably frequent communication between them. The difficulties begin when one attempts to make his way into the interior of the large and less explored of them, or desires to reach ports at which vessels do not call. Roads are scarce and to a large extent impracticable, while enemies and dangers are many, and such boats as one can find off the regular routes are precarious. As to climate, if one is well, able to live as he pleases, and most scrupulously observes all sanitary rules, keeping the most healthy spots, he may escape disease; but if he steps a little aside at any point he is in danger. It is very doubtful, in the author's judgment, if many successive generations of European or American children could be reared there. Evidences of the action of earthquakes and volcanoes are seen almost everywhere, and elevation and subsidence are going on with great rapidity at the present time. Hence it is not safe to build substantial houses in Manila. The soil is astonishingly fertile: fruits—in about fifty varieties—are the chief luxury; the value of the forest products is enormous; the mineral wealth is great, but has never been developed. Professor Worcester speaks of five millions of civilized natives of the Philippines. They belong for the most part to three tribes: the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, and Visayans. Without drawing fine distinctions between these, they are regarded as showing sufficient homogeneity to be treated as a class. They have their bad qualities and their good, which are reviewed with an apparent inclination on the part of the author to like them, and the conclusion that, having learned something of their power, they will now be likely to take a hand in shaping their own future. There are also barbarians, of whom the Moros of Sulu are a type—bloodthirsty and faithless, and as careless of human life as one would be of weeds in a field; and savages of all degrees, down to the lowest. The government is various, according to the particular governor and the people he has to deal with, but all of the Spanish or Moro type. The clergy are the dominant class; and of these the friars or brethren of the orders exert an evil influence, while the Jesuits are believed to be a distinctive power for good. Much can be said in favor of the insurgents' demand that the friars be expelled from the colony and their places taken by secular clergymen not belonging to any order. Professor Worcester has made a very lively, interesting, and instructive book, which, is marred, however, by occasional evidences that, while begun with serious purpose, it has been hurried to meet a passing demand, and by the too frequent intrusion of trivialities and slang.

We are often surprised at manifestations of individuality and intelligence in domestic animals and pets, and are accustomed to attribute extraordinary qualities to the beasts in which we perceive them; as if each animal could not have its peculiar traits and talents as well as each man. We hardly imagine that there are any special differences in wild animals, and that idiosyncrasies of character and diversities of gifts and powers of adaptation may run through the whole animal kingdom. A closer acquaintance with Nature would teach us better. Certain stories and myths of savages show that they had a fair appreciation of the individual peculiarities of animals, and farmers' boys, who live in natural surroundings, know something of these things. The subject is now presented to us in a fairly clear light by Mr. Ernest Seton Thompson, as illustrated in the careers of a number of typical specimens of animals and birds whose characters and acts, as they came under his observation, are related in Wild Animals I have Known[2] The stories, he avers, are true; the animals in the book are all real characters. They lived the lives he has depicted, and showed the stamp of heroism and personality more strongly by far than it has been in the power of his pen to tell. Among them was Lobo, the wolf, of the Corrumpaw Cattle Range, New Mexico, the leader of a gang, who exhibited some of the qualities of an able general, and was a beast of influence, powerful, vigilant, crafty, and the terror of the settlement; and who was only trapped when grief for the loss of a female companion deprived him of the wit by which he had escaped all previous efforts to take him. Silverspot, the crow, was the leader of a large band. He had his calls, which the other crows obeyed, and was always to be seen at the head of his company in their incursions into the fields, and guiding them in their journeys northward and southward. Raggylug, the rabbit, is acknowledged to be a composite, embodying in one the ways of several rabbits, their nesting habits and ways of concealment and devices to baffle pursuers. Bingo, the dog, had associates as well as enemies among the wolves, and different characters by day and by night. In a similar way to these, the traits of the fox, the pacing mustang, other dogs than Bingo, and the partridge are portrayed. In all the stories the real personality of the individual and his view of life are the author's theme, rather than the ways of the race in general, as viewed by a casual and hostile human eye. The moral is suggested by the lives and emphasized by Mr. Thompson, that "we and the beasts are kin. Man has nothing that the animals have not at least a vestige of; the animals have nothing that man does not at least in some degree share. Since, then, the animals are creatures with wants and feelings differing only in degree from our own, they surely have their rights." It would be hard to speak too well of the graphic expressiveness of the illustrations.

  1. The Philippine Islands and their People. A Record of Personal Observation and Experiences, with a Short Summary of the More Important Facts in the History of the Archipelago. By Dean C Worcester. New York: The Macmillan Company. Pp. 529. Price, $4.
  2. Wild Animals I have Known, and 300 Drawings. By Ernest Seton Thompson. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Pp. 358. Price, $3.