Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/July 1899/Fragments of Science

Fragments of Science.

The Gypsies and their Folk Tales.—In the introduction to his collection of Gypsy Folk Tales Mr. Francis H. Groome describes the wide dispersion of the gypsy race as extending, in Europe, from Finland to Sicily, and from the shores of the Bosporus to the Atlantic seaboard; in Asia, from Siberia to India, and from Asia Minor (possibly) to China; in Africa, from Egypt and Algeria to Darfúr and Kordofan; and in America, from Pictou in Canada to Rio Janeiro. Believing that the gypsies, originating in India, left that region at an unknown date very long ago, he traces their migrations in the past and shows that a part of the race is still very migratory, passing, among other routes, between Scotland and North America, and between Spain and Louisiana. other migration not mentioned in his book is the annual oscillation between north and south of the North American gypsy colony, which is growing healthily. The author finds it at present quite impossible to fix the arrival of the gypsies in southeastern Europe at a thousand years before Christ or a thousand years after. If the Komodromoi of the Byzantine writers were gypsies, then these people must have been a recognized and familiar element of the Balkan population about as early as the latter date. Gypsies pass for a very cunning people, and such they are to outsiders, so that Romany or gypsy guile is a very common expression. Centuries of suspicion and repression have taught them to arm themselves proof against confidence in strangers; but to those who become acquainted with them, as Mr. Groome professes to have done and George Borrow did, they present a character of simplicity and frankness. There is, as a gypsy woman once said to a writer in The Athenæum, "somethin' in the mind of a Gorgio that shuts the Romany's mouth and opens his eyes and ears." Gypsies are active transmitters of folklore, and have rich funds of stories; and many believe that the folk-lore stories of Europe are traceable to Indian sources, whence they may have been transmitted to Europe. Mr. Groome suggests how some of these stories may have originated by telling of a gypsy girl he knew who dashed off "what was almost a folk tale impromptu." She had been to a picnic in a four-in-hand with "a lot of real tiptop gentry," and "Reia," she said to me afterward, "I'll tell you the comicallest thing as ever was. We'd pulled up to put the brake on, and there was a puro hotchiwitchi (old hedgehog) come and looked at us through the hedge, looked at me hard. I could see he'd his eye upon me. And home he'd go, that old hedgehog, to his wife, and 'Missus,' he'd say, 'what d'ye think? I seen a little gypsy gal just now in a coach and four horses,' and 'Dabla,' she'd say, 'bless us, every one now keeps a carriage.'"

Educational Work of an Experiment Station.—The survey of the year's work of Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station in its efforts to "help the farmer" by dealing with present-day problems includes mention of its investigations, related in bulletins published or to be published in reference to fruits, their insect and fungoid enemies, vegetables, flowers, sugar beets, potatoes, fertilizers, beans, the dairy, veterinary science, horticulture, and plant disease. Much of the work of the station can not be published, consisting as it does of correspondence, personal advice, attending meetings, making records, or the performance of special illustrative experiments at farmers' homes or in neighborhoods as object lessons. "It is a pity," the report says, "that every farmer in the State can not be personally touched at least once in his life by the methods and the inspiration of a good teacher." The itinerant schools which were held in the early days of the extension work are regarded as being most beneficial when the community has been awakened by simpler and more elementary means, while the larger part of the work can be done more economically than by them. Yet in particular places and cases they are of greatest value, and they are still held when suitable conditions prevail. Special dairy schools, largely of the nature of practical demonstrations, were held at various places. The report lays much stress on the importance of beginning the educational work with the children and upon the value of Nature study. More than sixteen thousand school children have requested and been supplied with information on the making of gardens.

Flies as Bearers of Disease.—In estimating the relative importance of flies and water supply in spreading disease. Dr. M. A. Veeder distinguishes between intestinal and malarial disorders. In the former the infection is a bacillus of some sort, the presence of which can be traced to contamination by excretions from a diseased bowel. In the latter the source of infection is peculiar to marshy or stagnant water, and independent of contamination from human sources. It is the author's belief that, with relatively unimportant exceptions, intestinal diseases are spread almost exclusively by flies and malarial diseases by water, and he supports it by citations from recent army experiences. Likewise, during the recent British campaign in Fashoda, which was most carefully planned and took place in a climate that is exceptionally dry and hygienic, there was no abatement of typhoid fever. In the case of an outbreak of malignant dysentery described by the author in a previous paper, taken at its height, not a new case occurred after measures were adopted that made conveyance by flies impossible, although there had been fresh ones every day for some time previously. Another more recent "lively epidemic" of typhoid mentioned by the author was ended in a day by measures directed against conveyance by water. "When flies are responsible, there are little neighborhood epidemics, extending in short leaps from house to house, without reference to water supply or anything else in common. But when water is at fault the disease follows its use wherever it may go.… Epidemics spread by flies tend to follow the direction of prevailing warm winds, as though the fly, wandering outdoors after contact with the source of infection, had drifted with the wind, but nothing of the sort is perceptible in the case of water-borne disease."

Pottery Making and Lead Poisoning.—The report of Professors Thorpe and Oliver on the subject of the employment of compounds of lead in the manufacture of pottery, especially in its relation to the health of the work people, has just been issued as an English blue book. It appears that of the total male workers in the year 1898, 4.9 per cent became "leaded," while of the female workers the proportion was 12.4 per cent. It is stated that in the last six months many successful attempts have been made by the manufacturers to substitute a leadless glaze, and there seems no doubt that glazes of sufficient brilliancy, covering power, and durability are now within the reach of the manufacturer. The exclusion of women from certain parts of the work, except where leadless glazes are used, is advocated, and also various expedients for preventing the absorption of the lead by the skin, such as rubber gloves or "dipping" tongs. Their general conclusions are as follows: "That by far the greater amount of earthenware of the class already specified can be glazed without the use of lead in any form. It has been demonstrated, without the slightest doubt, that the ware so made is in no respects inferior to that coated with lead glaze. There seems no reason, therefore, why in the manufacture of this class of goods the operatives should still continue to be exposed to the evils which the use of lead glaze entails. There are, however, certain branches of the pottery industry in which it would be more difficult to dispense with the use of lead compounds. But there is no reason why, in these cases, the lead so employed should not be in the form of a fritted double silicate. Such a compound, if properly made, is but slightly attacked by even strong hydrochloric, acetic, or lactic acid. There can be little doubt that, if lead must be used, the employment of such a compound silicate—if its use could be insured—would greatly diminish the evil of lead poisoning. The use of raw lead as an ingredient of glazing material, or as an ingredient of colors which have to be subsequently fired, should be absolutely prohibited. As it would be very difficult to insure that an innocuous lead glaze shall be employed, we are of opinion that young persons and women should be excluded from employment as dippers, dippers' assistants, ware cleaners after dippers, and glost placers in factories where lead glaze is used, and that the adult male clippers, dippers' assistants, ware cleaners, and glost placers should be subjected to systematic medical inspection. In the 1893 report the medical members of the committee expressed the opinion that 'many old factories are wholly, or in part, unfit in a sanitary point of view for occupation,' and they suggested that 'there should be some authority to close them, or whatever part of them is condemned, on the same principle as dwellings are declared uninhabitable.' We share this opinion and we concur in the suggestion. Certain of the factories we have inspected are in the last stages of dilapidation, and it appears to us to be well-nigh impossible to introduce into them such rearrangements or additions as are required by the amended special rules."

The Longevity of Animals.—The following interesting table, showing the periods of maturity and the full term of life of various animals, was prepared by E. D. Bell and appeared in Nature for March 23d. The table was made for the purpose of demonstrating a constant relation (in length) between these two periods of life, which the author expresses in the following formula, in which f. t. l. = full term of life, and p. m. the time required to arrive at maturity:

f. t. l. , or 10.5 X (p m.)


and which seems to be fairly well borne out by the table:

Animal. observations. f. t. 1. by
Authority. p. m. f. t. l.
Mos. Yr. Yrs. Years.
Dormouse Ainslie Holis 3 .25 4-5 4.167
Guinea-pig Flourens. 7 .583 6-7 7.33
Lop rabbit:
Buck R. O. Edwards, p. m. 9 .75 8 8.67
Doe R. O. Edwards, p. m. 8 .667 8 8.013
Cat St. G. Mivart. 1 12 10.5
Cat J. Jennings. 2 15 16.67
Goat Pegler. 1.25 12 12.18
Fox St. G. Mivart. 1.5 13-14 13.76
Cattle Ainslie Hollis 2 18 16.67
Large dogs Dalziel, p. m. 2 15-20 16.67
English thoroughbred horse Ainslie Hollis. 4.5 30 28.62
Hog James Long. 5 30 30.7
Hippopotamus Chamber’s Encyclopædia. 5 80 30.7
Lion St. G. Mivart. 6 30-40 34.67
English. horse-hunter. Blaine. 6.25 35 35.63
Arab horse Ainslie Holis 8 40 42.00
Camel Flourens. 8 40 42.00
Man Buffon, f. t. l. 25 90-100 89.77
Elephant Darwin. 30 100 101.4
Elephant C. F. Holder and Indian hunters, 35 120 112.35

The Manufacture of Firecrackers in China.—There were exported from China during the year ending June 30, 1897, 26,705,733 pounds of firecrackers, all from the province of Kwantung. The exports, however, represent only a small portion of the number manufactured, as the use of the cracker is universal all over China. They are used at weddings, births, funerals, at festivals, religious and civil, and in fact on all occasions out of the ordinary routine. The United States consul general at Shanghai gives the following, account of the industry: There are no large factories; the crackers are made in small houses and in the shops where they are sold. In making them only the cheapest kind of straw paper is used for the body of the cracker. A little finer paper is used for the wrapper. A piece of straw paper, nine by thirty inches, will make twenty-one crackers an inch and a half long and a quarter inch in diameter. The powder is also of the cheapest grade, and is made in the locality where used. It costs about six cents per pound. For the fuse a paper (called "leather" in Shanghai) is used, which is imported from Japan, and is made from the inner lining of the bamboo. In other places a fine rice paper is used, generally stiffened slightly with buckwheat-flour paste, which the Chinese say adds to its inflammability. A strip of this paper one third of an inch wide by fourteen inches (a Chinese foot) long is laid on a table, and a very little powder put down the middle of it with a hollow bamboo stick. A quick twist of the paper makes the fuse ready for use. The straw paper is first rolled by hand around an iron rod, which varies in size according to the size of cracker to be made. To complete the rolling a rude machine is used. This consists of two uprights supporting an axis from which is suspended, by two arms, a heavy piece of wood, slightly convex on the lower side. There is just room between this swinging block and top of the table to place the cracker. As each layer of paper is put on by hand, the cracker is placed on the table and the suspended weight is drawn over the roll, thus tightening it until no more can be passed under the weight. For the smallest "whip" crackers, the workman uses for compression, instead of this machine, a heavy piece of wood fitted with a handle like that of a carpenter's plane. In filling crackers, two hundred to three hundred are tightly tied together in a bunch; red clay is spread over the end of the bunch, and forced into the end of each cracker with a punch. While the clay is being treated a little water is sprayed on it, which makes it pack closer. The powder is poured in at the other end of the cracker. With the aid of an awl the edge of the paper is turned in at the upper end of the cracker, and the fuse is inserted through this. The long ends of the fuses are braided together in such a way that the crackers lie in two parallel rows. The braid is doubled on itself, and a large, quick-firing fuse inserted, and the whole is bound with a fine thread. The bundle is wrapped in paper and in this shape is sent to the seacoast. A variety of cracker which is very popular in China is the "twice-sounding" cracker; it has two chambers, separated by a plug of clay, through which runs a connecting fuse. There is also a fuse extending from the powder in the lower chamber through the side of the cracker. When the cracker is to be fired, it is set on end and fire applied to the fuse. The powder exploding in the chamber throws the cracker high in the air, where the second charge is exploded by fire from the fuse extending through the plug between the two chambers. In the manufacture of these the clay is first packed in with a punch to form the separating plug. The lower chamber is then loaded with powder and closed by turning over the paper at the end. The upper chamber is loaded and closed with clay. A hole is punched in the side of the lower chamber with an awl, and the fuse inserted through this opening.

An Enchanted Ravine.—During his archæological researches in the Uloa Valley, Honduras (Memoirs of Peabody Museum), Mr. George Byron Gordon made an excursion to the wonderful enchanted ravine, Quchrada Encantada, which was famous through all the country for its weather wisdom. It was situated in a deep valley, and, Mr. Gordon says, "sends forth a loud melodious sound which may be heard many miles away, and is regarded by the people of the region as an infallible sign of rain. In fact, it is a regular weather bureau, with this peculiarity, that it is always reliable; for the sound is so modulated as to indicate by its pitch whether the coming storm is to be heavy or light. The amount of promised rain is in exact proportion to the volume of the sound, and thus it proclaims to the accustomed ear with unerring precision the approach of a passing shower or heralds the terrific thunderstorm of the tropics; and this is no fiction, but a fact, which any one may demonstrate for himself by going and listening to it." Tradition says the ravine was the abode of a golden dragon, and that in former times "it was lined with golden pebbles and the sands at its margin were grains of gold, and it was the custom of the golden dragon to rise occasionally to the margin of the pool and receive the offerings that were made to him by the people. If they wanted rain, they would bring their offerings and lay them on the golden sand behind the pool or cast them on the water; then, while all the people chanted a prayer, the dragon would rise from the cave where he dwelt in the depths of the pool, and take the good things that were offered him, and there was never a drought or a famine in the land. Then, when the Spaniards came and the people were driven from their homes, the golden pebbles and grains of gold disappeared, and the golden dragon, retiring into the uttermost corner of his watery cavern, withdrew forever from the upper world. There he still lives, and, as formerly, controls the clouds and the winds that bring the rain. The spirits of the Indians, too, still hold their meetings of an occasional evening by their accustomed pool, now lost in the solitude of the forest, and it is the sound of their chanting that makes the voice of the ravine." The pool is formed by a cataract tumbling down the side of the mountain and making a final fall of fifty feet, and the sound of the tumbling of the waters forms the basis of the pretty legend.

The Work of the Field Columbian Museum.—Making only a selection from the numerous items of general interest in the Annual Report of the Director of the Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, for 1897-'98, we find mentioned the fall and spring courses of nine lectures each, as having been more largely attended than ever before, hundreds of persons having been turned away from some of them, and in one case nearly a thousand. The library contains 9,003 books and 9,630 pamphlets, and has had some valuable additions, particularly in the department of Americana. The additions to the collections include specimens from Egypt, Italy (ancient Etruscan and renaissance Venetian), Portuguese South Africa, Pacific islands, and Alaska, the department representing which now numbers more than ten thousand objects. Valuable contributions have been received from the expedition of the curator of the anthropological (physical) department to Arizona. The herbarium of the late Mr. M. S. Bebb, added to the botanical department, represents much of the flora of the Western States, and "about all" that of Illinois. Numerous other botanical collections and additions to the geological and zoological departments are mentioned. Field work was prosecuted by Mr. G. A. Dorsey among the Hopi Indians in Arizona, C. F. Millspaugh in the collection of North American forest trees, and O. C. Farrington in the Tertiary geology of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Other excursions were made among the zinc-lead deposits of southeast Missouri, to the Olympian Mountins of the Northwest, to "a point beyond which nothing unless provided with wings could go," etc., all resulting in collections of one kind or another. The museum was visited by 3,963 more persons than in the year before.

A Year at Harvard Observatory.—The director of Harvard College Observatory reports the addition to the resources of the institution of twenty thousand dollars bequeathed by Charlotte Maria Haven, and twenty-five thousand dollars by Eliza Appleton Haven, without further restriction in the application of the income than that it shall be for direct purposes connected with astronomical science. In these bequests the legators fulfilled the wishes of their brother, Horace Appleton Haven, as expressed half a century ago. By the peculiar organization of the force of the observatory, with a single director to oversee all and a large force of assistants, each having a special work and many of them skillful only in that, an increased amount of work can be done for a given expenditure, and great advantages for co-operation are secured, but too much depends upon a single person—the director. In the examination of the spectra of stars photographed in the Draper, Bruce, and Bache telescopes by Mrs. Fleming, twelve new variable stars were discovered by means of their bright hydrogen lines, and the spectra of a considerable number of other stars were determined. Valuable results, obtained by other examiners, are mentioned. An instrument has been constructed by which prismatic spectra can be converted into normal spectra or any other desired change of scale can be effected. By photographs obtained of stars in the vicinity of the north pole material is believed to be furnished for an accurate determination of the constants of aberration, nutation, and precession. Sixteen circulars were issued during 1897-98. When fifty of these circulars have been issued, a title-page and index are to be published for binding.

Putting Life in the School.—The discussion of the hygiene of instruction, said Dr. G. W. Fitz, in addresses which are published in the American Physical Education Review, brings us at once face to face with one of the gravest problems of our educational system—the depressing effect of school routine. In the search for a remedy "the school programme has been pronounced poor, and efforts have been made to enrich it. The work has been pronounced abstract and object lessons have been introduced; uninteresting and bright colors, varied shapes, pictures innumerable, have been rushed upon the child until he has been bewildered by the multiplicity of detail, and further exhausted by the demand for more discriminating attention. The fundamental difficulty has been that too much has been required of the child in the beginning, and the attempt at enrichment and greater variety has but increased the burden." Children begin learning to read before they have acquired experience and ideas to match the text; and "experience has shown over and over again that the child who begins to read at eight or even ten years of age is in no wise handicapped in his later intellectual progress. He has the inestimable advantage of intense interest, roused by his growing ability to unlock the secrets of books and papers after the fashion of his elders." Writing is taught before the child has acquired the art of fine co-ordination, and the effort demanded in the use of the pen "leads to a degree of nervous exhaustion unapproached by any other school work." In arithmetic the children "are unable to grasp the numerical relations involved, and the drill, which makes it a pure exercise of memory, is necessary. Much of the aversion to arithmetical problems found later is undoubtedly due to this disheartening primary work. Here again the child who begins arithmetic at eight or ten years of age finds himself able to take it up quickly and has the liking for it that easy mastery always gives." Nature work, on the other hand, "offers wonderfully interesting and valuable material for awakening the intellectual activities of childhood, and while its material for study and description is unlimited, its demand upon the child may be perfectly adapted to his power of observation. We must remember that physical activity is the supreme factor in the development of the child." This means spontaneous play under favorable conditions, not "that nervously exhausting and deadening drill known as the Swedish gymnastics, which … adds fatigue to fatigue, by taking the initiative away from the child and forcing him to pay constant attention to the orders of the teacher." As to discipline, "the child is self-disciplined when he is held to his work by the reflex attention of interest. This can always be secured when the work is adapted to his grasp, when he has the sense of power which comes with easy conquest, when he is not exhausted by the imposition of a sequence logical to the adult mind but meaningless to him, when his attention is not dulled by a demand for attention continued beyond a physiological limit."

Beautifying' the Home Grounds.—The Horticultural Division of the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station has been making efforts during the past few years, under the auspices of the agricultural extension work, to improve the surroundings of rural houses, a part of which consists in the publication of bulletins giving hints as to how improved conditions and simple adornments may be obtained without great expense. One of these indicates as one of the means of making the home attractive and "keeping the boy on the farm" the brightening of the place with flowers. Assuming that the main planting of any place should be of trees and shrubs, the flowers are then used as decorations. They may be thrown in freely about the borders of the place, but not in beds in the center of the lawn. They show off better when seen against a background, which may be foliage, a building, a rock, or a fence. "Where to plant flowers is really more important than what to plant. In front of bushes, in the corner by the steps, against the foundation of the residence or outhouse, along a fence or walk—these are places for flowers. A single petunia plant against a background of foliage is worth a dozen similar plants in the center of the lawn.… The open-centered yard may be a picture; the promiscuously planted yard may be a nursery or a forest. A little color scattered in here and there puts a finish to the picture. A dash of color gives spirit and character to the brook or pond, to the ledge of rocks, to the old stump, or to the pile of rubbish." The flower garden, if there is one, should be at one side of the residence or at the rear, "for it is not allowable to spoil a good lawn even with flowers."