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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/September 1876/Literary Notices

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 9‎ | September 1876

LITERARY NOTICES.

The American Cyclopædia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge. Edited by George Ripley and Charles A. Dana. 16 vols., 13,314 pages. Price (cloth), $80.

This Cyclopædia, the first edition of which was completed in 1863, having proved its adaptation to the general wants by a very extensive sale, has now undergone complete revision, and, while preserving its well-known character, comes forth essentially a new work. Considerable portions of the original remain intact, where nothing has occurred to impair the accuracy of the statements; yet such are the activity of research and the vigilance of criticism in all departments of knowledge that but few subjects remain unaffected, and a large number of articles have required to be added or amplified, corrected or retrenched, so as to make the work thoroughly trustworthy, and to bring its multitudinous contents into proper symmetry and proportions. The changes in the new edition are marked. It has been freely illustrated throughout wherever engravings could help the text, and the scientific and political articles have been all rewritten, while the utmost pains have been taken to bring the endless details up to the latest standard of accuracy. Of course, the work is not free from imperfections, because knowledge itself is imperfect; but whatever could be done by the ability and experience of the editors, by their extensive corps of able contributors, and by the liberal expenditure of the publishers, to make the Cyclopædia worthy of public confidence, has certainly been accomplished. We say this without hesitation, and know something of that which we affirm. The office of the staff of editors of the "American Cyclopædia" adjoins our own, and for the past four years we have watched their proceedings with a lively interest and no little admiration. Having the advantage of a thorough apprenticeship in the preparation of the first edition, the editors were enabled to organize the work of revision in the completest manner from the start, and it has been carried on with unrelaxed assiduity, with a disciplined cooperation—an effectiveness of method and a conscientious caution that have brought the whole talent of the force into a focus, as it were, upon each page in its preparation for the press.

But in judging the merit of a cyclopædia we have to look further than this. Such a work may be a monument of careful labor, which is still misdirected. The question remains, What is its purpose, and how is its design fulfilled? There are cyclopædias upon all subjects, commerce, chemistry, agriculture, technology, fine art, engineering, and various other branches of knowledge; and they have special values, of course, for the cultivators of those branches, though very little value for general use. It is folly to expatiate upon the accuracy and fullness of a cyclopædia of antiquities, for example, to one who cares nothing about the subject. To a politician a cyclopædia of the physical sciences, however faithfully executed, would be but rubbish with which he would hardly cumber the shelves of his library. A cyclopædia is therefore to be judged primarily by its adaptation to the class for which it was prepared. The "American Cyclopædia," as a comprehensive and popular dictionary of general knowledge, appeals, not especially to this class or to that, but to intelligent people everywhere who desire a work of reference on all topics of current and general interest. More than any other work that has yet appeared, the "American Cyclopædia" is adapted to the daily uses and wants of American families. Its matter is chosen, harmonized, proportioned, illustrated, and put into literary form, we might almost say, with reference to their needs; and certainly, as a means of education in the family, its value is hardly to be over-estimated. It is a library of itself, in which the best information upon many thousands of subjects has been condensed so as to be quickly found at any moment when it is wanted. As books multiply until they become burdensome, and the pressure upon the time forbids their being read, we are more and more driven to the summaries of human knowledge, in which the husks of interminable talk are stripped away, and we are furnished with essential facts and compendious results. Hence the recent and growing popularity of encyclopedic literature. No agency of intellectual cultivation can be introduced into the family so direct and efficient in its quickening, enlarging influence upon the minds of the younger members of the family circle as a comprehensive, carefully-digested cyclopædia, convenient in form, for ready, habitual reference. It answers questions, solves difficulties, corrects errors, imparts varied and valuable information, and kindles the desire for mental cultivation. We say it does this; it does it in many instances, and would do it in many more if its importance were better understood. It must not be forgotten that a cyclopædia in a family, like a piano, must be used to be good for anything. It should be ready of access; and, instead of keeping it away in the library, or locking it up in a stately bookcase, it should be placed in a separate and open case in the room most commonly occupied by the family, and where the volumes can be reached by the very smallest amount of effort. By adopting this plan, a bright family will soon find the Cyclopædia among the first of daily necessities, and a source of constant pleasure and instruction. The publishers have anticipated this want of separate cases for their work, and supply them when desired; but any cabinet-maker will manufacture them at a trifling cost.

Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews pertaining to Darwinism. By Asa Gray. New York: D. Appleton & Co. Pp. 390. Price, $2.

The appearance of this volume will take many people by surprise. Although Prof. Gray is widely known in the world of science for his botanical researches, and in the world of education by his valuable textbooks, but few are aware that he is a pronounced and unflinching Darwinian, or that he has been an able and vigorous defender of the doctrines that pass under this name, ever since they were first promulgated. He has written much upon this subject in various periodicals, but, caring only to let the arguments go for what they are worth, he has modestly withheld his name from the articles, the effect being that his position upon the question has not been a matter of notoriety. His contributions to the discussion are varied and valuable, and, as collected in the present volume, they will be seen, to establish a new and unexpected claim upon the thinking world, which we are sure will be extensively felt and cordially acknowledged.

The history of what may be called the Darwinian discussion, in some of its aspects, is most curious and instructive. We complacently point back to those narrow and prejudiced times, from which we have happily escaped, when novel scientific opinions were rejected on the most frivolous and puerile grounds, urged by those who knew nothing whatever about them. But have we really much improved on those old practices, and do we even yet recognize that plain rule of common-sense, to leave the discussion of serious and difficult scientific questions to those who are competent to deal with them? Our times are eminent for just the contrary procedure. With all our vaunted liberalization, we dare not leave scientific questions to scientific men. In the history of the scientific controversies of the last three centuries there is no instance that will compare with this of "Darwinism," when the community has been so bewildered and misled by irrelevant and childish discussion on the part of grossly incompetent writers. The press has teemed with essays and books by men who were not only unfamiliar with the problems involved, and utterly ignorant of the sciences upon which their solution depends, but who had no intelligent conception even of the issues to be settled. Clergymen, lawyers, metaphysicians, littérateurs, having no acquaintance with natural history, and knowing nothing of the requirements, difficulties, and perplexities of scientific investigation, have rushed into the debate with a confidence and pretension contrasting strongly with the spirit of those who have given their lives to the study. Here comes another of these impudent and worthless performances, "A Critical Examination of some of the Principal Arguments for and against Darwinism," by James Maclaren, M. A., barrister-at-law; and what are the claims of this writer to attention? Why, he has written a book on the "History of the Currency;" and, with the mental equipment which such a work and his professional education imply, he assumes to deal with the greatest problem that has ever presented itself to the mind of man, a problem which belongs purely to science, and is engrossing the severest scrutiny of the most thoroughly disciplined scientific minds of the age.

Dr. Gray's book offers a refreshing contrast to this shallow strain of Darwinian literature. It comes of a direct, first-hand, and thoroughly familiar knowledge of the elements and objects which enter into the inquiry, and outweighs whole libraries of such productions as we have here referred to. The author says, in his preface: "If these papers are useful at all, it will be as showing how these new views of our day are regarded by a practical naturalist, versed in one department only (viz., botany), most interested in their bearings upon its special problems, one accustomed to direct and close dealing with the tacts in hand, and disposed to rise from them only to the consideration of those general questions upon which they throw, or from which they receive, illustration." It is this characteristic which gives its eminent value to Dr. Gray's volume. On such a grave question, what we want to know is the intelligent opinion of men capable of forming an independent judgment, and a statement of the evidence on which they base their conclusions. The promulgation of Darwin's theory, in 1859, found Prof. Gray a trained student of the biological problems presented by the vegetable kingdom. With an extensive and accurate knowledge of plants, and a philosophical turn of thought which could not evade the question how the vast diversities of the plant world have been brought about, he had a solid preparation for judging of the claims of the "Origin of Species." Convinced of the total insufficiency of all previous theories upon the subject, he saw at once that Mr. Darwin's view was a great step forward in the pathway of science, resolving difficulties before insuperable, and promising to be of immense service in organizing existing knowledge, and in opening avenues of future investigation. The next year after the issue of the "Origin of Species," he published an elaborate article in the American Journal of Science, reviewing and interpreting it, and contrasting its doctrines with those advocated by Prof. Agassiz. This is the opening paper of the present volume, and was followed by a series of essays which appeared in various magazines, taking up many aspects of the subject, answering objections, elucidating obscurities, criticising adverse works, and contributing important additions to the general theory. These papers, as now printed together, not only illustrate the history of the controversy, and the progress of the discussion, but they form, perhaps, the fullest and most trustworthy exposition and illustration of what is to be properly understood by "Darwinism" that is to be found in our language. Of course, the work is not a systematic treatise upon the subject, but it covers the chief points that are of paramount interest, both to naturalists and to general readers.

But there is another feature of Dr. Gray's volume which will commend it, in even a higher degree, to large portions of the public. It gives earnest and prominent attention to the religious aspects of the question. Though a thorough-going Darwinian, Dr. Gray will not consent to hold his scientific opinions at the expense of his religious faith. Satisfied that the great principle of "Natural Selection" is a powerful working law of Nature, and holding to cardinal theological beliefs, he maintains that the conflict between them is not necessary, and that an enlightened interpretation of religious doctrine must bring it into harmony with the advanced scientific conclusions. Nor is it a mere semblance of faith that is to be harmonized with science by frittering away its essential character. Dr. Gray is out and out orthodox, and eminently sound in his theology. In his preface he says:

"Then as to the natural theological questions which (owing to circumstances needless now to be recalled or explained) are here throughout brought into what most naturalists, and some other readers, may deem undue prominence, there are many who may be interested to know how these increasingly prevalent views and their tendencies are regarded by one who is scientifically, and in his own fashion, a Darwinian, philosophically a convinced theist, and religiously an acceptor of the 'creed commonly called the Nicene,' as the exponent of the Christian faith."

This portion of Dr. Gray's work is very able, and we think all candid religious readers will find it conclusive. To all those timid souls who are worried about the progress of science, and the danger that it will subvert the foundations of their faith, and who perplex themselves with the question whether a Darwinian can be a Christian, we recommend the dispassionate perusal of this volume. The subject is touched upon in various aspects in the different papers; but the last article, which is newly contributed to the volume, grapples with the gravest difficulty of the case, and is an elaborate discussion of "Evolutionary Teleology," or the doctrine of purpose and design in Nature as affected by the principle of "Natural Selection." Dr. Gray maintains with great force that, instead of being subverted by Darwinism, the doctrine of design is simply enlarged and seen to operate with a wider scope, and to stand upon a more comprehensive basis. He is by no means oblivious of the difficulties with which teleology is encompassed, and recognizes that it was the subject of powerful philosophical assault before Darwinism arose. But he sees also that the obstacles to the acceptance of the principle were due to the old ante-Darwinian views of the "Origin of Species." We can do no justice to this closely-reasoned essay by quotation from it, as it requires to be fully and carefully read to get a clear view of the author's position. A brief passage or two may, however, help to indicate it. Speaking of the contradiction involved in the old teleological interpretation of the origin of the organs and parts of living creatures, he says:

"The error, as we suppose, lies in the combination of the principle of design with the hypothesis of the immutability and isolated creation of species. The latter hypothesis, in its nature improbable, has, on scientific grounds, become so far improbable that few, even of the anti-Darwinian naturalists, now hold to it; and, whatever may once have been its religious claims, it is at present a hindrance rather than a help to any just and consistent teleology.
"By the adoption of the Darwinian hypothesis, or something like it, which we incline to favor, many of the difficulties are obviated, and others diminished. In the comprehensive and far-reaching teleology which may take the place of the former narrow conceptions, organs and even faculties, useless to the individual, find their explanation and reason of being. Either they have done service in the past or they may do service in the future. They may have been essentially useful in one way in a past species, and, though now functionless, they may be turned to useful account in some very different way hereafter. In botany several cases come to our mind which suggest such interpretation."

And again:

"Darwinian teleology has the special advantage of accounting for the imperfections and failures as well as for successes. It not only accounts for them, but turns them to practical account. It explains the seeming waste as being part and parcel of a great economical process. Without the competing multitude, no strangle for life; and, without this, no natural selection and survival of the fittest, no continuous adaptation to changing surroundings, no diversification and improvement, leading from lower up to higher and nobler forms. So the most puzzling things of all to the old-school ideologists are the principia of the Darwinian. In this system the forms and species, in all their variety, are not mere ends in themselves, but the whole a series of means and ends, in the contemplation of which we may obtain higher and more comprehensive, and perhaps worthier, as well as more consistent, views of design in Nature than heretofore. At least, it would appear that in Darwinian evolution we may have a theory that accords with if it does not explain the principal facts, and a teleology that is free from the common objections.
"But is it a teleology, or rather—to use the new-fangled term—a dysteleology? That depends upon how it is held. Darwinian evolution (whatever may be said of other kinds) is neither theistical nor non-theistical. Its relations to the question of design belong to the natural theologian, or, in the larger sense, to the philosopher. So long as the world lasts it will probably be open to any one to hold consistently, in the last resort, either of the two hypotheses, that of a divine mind or that of no divine mind. There is no way that we know of by which the alternative may be excluded. Viewed philosophically, the question only is, Which is the better supported hypothesis of the two?
"We have only to say that the Darwinian system, as we understand it, coincides well with the theistic view of Nature. It not only acknowledges purpose (in the Contemporary Reviewer's sense), but builds upon it; and if purpose in this sense does not of itself imply design, it is certainly compatible with it, and suggestive of it. Difficult as it may be to conceive and impossible to demonstrate design in a whole of which the series of parts appear to be contingent, the alternative may be yet more difficult and less satisfactory. If all Nature is of a piece—as modern physical philosophy insists—then it seems clear that design must in some way, and in some sense, pervade the system, or be wholly absent from it. Of the alternatives, the predication of design—special, general, or universal, as the case may be—is most natural to the mind; while the exclusion of it throughout, because some utilities may happen, many adaptations may be contingent results, and no organic maladaptations could continue, runs counter to such analogies as we have to guide us, and leads to a conclusion which few men ever rested in."

It may be added that Dr. Gray's volume is eminently readable, and, though dealing with "solid" subjects, is far from "heavy." The author has a great deal more humor about him than the student of his botanical manuals would be led to suspect. But the readers of "Darwiniana" will find that he is not only capable of fun, but has given it a pretty free vent in these pages. He seems half inclined to apologize for this, saying in his preface:

"If it be objected that some of these pages are written in a lightness of vein not quite congruous with the gravity of the subject and the
seriousness of its issues, the excuse must be that they were written with perfect freedom, most of them as anonymous contributions to popular journals, and that an a liniment may not be the less sound or an exposition less effective for being playful."

No apology, however, is needed, and it would be well if scientific writers having the capacity of humor would imitate the example of Dr. Gray in giving it freer expression in works designed for popular reading.

Transcendentalism in New England: A History. By Octavius Brooks Frothingham. G. P. Putnam's Sons. Pp. 395. Price, $2.50.

The general purpose of the author in the preparation of this volume is thus happily stated by himself: "While we are gathering up for exhibition before other nations the results of a century of American life, with a purpose to show the issues thus far of our experiment in free institutions, it is fitting that some report should be made of the influences that have shaped the national mind, and determined in any important degree or respect its intellectual and moral character. A well-considered account of these influences would be of very great value to the student of history, the statesman, and philosopher, not merely as throwing light on our own social problem, but as illustrating the general law of human progress. This book is offered as a modest contribution to that knowledge."

The modern philosophic movement known as "transcendentalism," and the beginnings of which Mr. Frothingham traces to Germany, France, and England, has had a marked development in this country, and he has done a much-needed service to the students of the drifts and currents of modern thought by working out this historical delineation of it. No man was better prepared to do this useful work than Mr. Frothingham. By his wide, scholarly preparation, by his personal acquaintance with the leading characters who have had a share in it, by his sympathy with its influence, his observation of its results, and his attitude of an independant critic, he was qualified to deal with it on its various sides, and he has accordingly given us a book in a high degree readable and entertaining, instructive and valuable. Its merits as a study in philosophy are only equaled by the skill and attractiveness of its personal sketches of the men and women who have been prominent as representatives of transcendental thought. And, although Mr. Frothingham's reputation in the theological world will be regarded by many as dubious, yet his treatment of the historic bearings of transcendentalism upon religion is most suggestive, and may be read with profit by all interested in this class of questions.

The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay. By G Otto Trevelyan. Harper & Brothers. Vol. I., pp. 416; Vol. II., pp. 406. Price, $5.

This biography has made a decided and unexpected impression upon the public mind; it is, in fact, a sort of revelation. Of Macaulay's outer life as essayist, historian, orator, and politician, everything was known, his career having been a conspicuous one. But as to his private life little was known except that he was supposed to be haughty and cold, and an everlasting talker, who harangued the company at dinner until everybody was tired of him. Very little was understood of his kindly and loving nature, and his tender and heroic devotion to his father's family from youth to age, as so admirably narrated in these volumes. We have not in a long time been so enchained by a biographical work as by this of Mr. Trevelyan. We have not space to give any analysis of it, or to make extracts from its pages, but it is proper that we should refer to one feature in Macaulay's education which the reviews thus far seen quite fail to notice. Macaulay went to the University of Cambridge and took early and powerfully to the purely literary aspects of culture. The sciences and mathematics he despised, and hated, and ridiculed. But mathematics is the great thing at Cambridge. Macaulay might have neglected and abused the physical sciences to almost any extent, but if he had paid a decent respect to mathematics all would have been well. As it was, he incurred the disapprobation of the authorities, and failed to reach the position he sought, and to which he was unquestionably entitled by the brilliancy of his scholarship. It was exactly in the field where he was strongest that the examiners plucked him. They admitted that his translations from the Latin and Greek were faithfully rendered, but objected to his ungraceful, bald, and inornate English. The biographer adds: "The real cause was beyond all doubt his utter neglect of the special study of the place: a liberty which Cambridge seldom allows to be taken with impunity even by her most favored sons." Universities are very human, after all.

It is, however, noteworthy and very significant that Macaulay changed his views in regard to some of these matters in maturer life. Mr. Trevelyan says, "He used to profess deep and lasting regret for his early repugnance to scientific subjects." And well may he have done so, for the sciences in which he was deficient had not only a direct bearing upon his work as a statesman and an historian, but they were rising every decade into increasing prominence in the world of philosophic thought. Had Macaulay given to some of the modern sciences even a fraction of that untiring attention and insatiate interest which he devoted to almost every form of literary rubbish, it might have made a wide difference in the conservation of his fame.

The Logic of Chance. By J. Venn, M. A. New York: Macmillan. Pp. 500. Price, $3.75.

In a work with the above title one is prepared to find most of the illustration and demonstration mathematical. This, however, is not the case with the present treatise, for the understanding of which no knowledge of mathematics is required beyond the simple rules of arithmetic. The author's object is, to show what are the foundations and province of the theory of probability, with especial reference to its logical bearings and its application to moral and social science—a matter of strictly philosophical inquiry, though the problems which are met with in the application of the rules of probability often require a profound acquaintance with mathematics. In the first part of his work the author lays down what he calls the "physical foundations of the science of probability." According to him, in those classes of things with which probability is concerned, the fundamental conception which we have to bear in mind is that of a series. The individual members of a series seem to be governed by no law; but when we consider the result of a long succession we find a marked distinction: a kind of order begins gradually to emerge, and at last assumes a distinct aspect. In the second chapter the author has an able critique on certain fundamental postulates of Quetelet's system.

Part II. treats of the logical superstructure erected upon these physical foundations, and we have chapters entitled "Gradations of Belief," "The Rules of Inference in Probability," "The Rule of Succession," "Induction," "Causation and Design," "Material and Formal Logic," "Modality," "Method of Least Squares," and "Fallacies." The third part is devoted to considering various applications of the theory of probability. The principle of life and property insurance is explained; also the laws governing games of chance. Finally, there are chapters on the "Application of Probability to Testimony," "Credibility of Extraordinary Stories," and "Statistics as applied to Human Actions."

Geological and Geographical Survey of Colorado and Adjacent Territory. 1874. By F. V. Hayden. Pp. 515, with Maps and Plates. Washington: Government Printing-Office.

The great amount of work performed by a United States Survey Expedition, during a field season, and the permanent value of such reports as that before us, will be understood from a brief statement of the method in which such surveys are conducted: 1. Such observations are made as will supply the data for a geological map, showing the distribution and extent of the formations which compose the surface of the region. A number of sections are examined, to ascertain how these formations lie upon one another, and to determine their relative ages and general paleontological relations. The extent and mode of occurrence of all economical products, as minerals, springs, etc., are noted, collections of rocks, fossils and the like, being made as far as possible. 2. The materials are collected for a map or representation of the surface features of the country, its streams, plains, mountains, cañons, etc., and this with all the accuracy that it is possible to give on a map of four miles to an inch, and in 200-foot contour-lines. Further, the general quality and distribution of timber, bottom, agricultural and unavailable lauds are made the subject of investigation, while botanical, natural-history, and other specimens, are collected. The greater part of the volume treats of the geology, mineralogy, and mining industry of the region surveyed. Then there are separate reports on the Tertiary flora of the North American Lignitic, on ancient ruins in Southwestern Colorado, and on topography and geography.

Village Communities in the East and West. By Sir Henry Sumner Maine. New York: Holt & Co. Pp. 425. Price, $3.50.

The six lectures which give to this volume its leading title were first published in 1871, and have now reached a third edition. Their object is to trace the resemblances existing between the early stages of Western civilization and the existing status in many parts of India. Other scholars have shown the relations between modern European languages and the Sanskrit; the author's task is to point out the relations between the civil institutions of the East and West. Besides the lectures on village communities, the present volume contains sundry other papers, viz., one on the effects of observation of India on modern European thought, three addresses to the University of Calcutta, an essay on the theory of evidence, also one on Roman law and legal education.

Commencing with the July number, the Penn Monthly will hereafter be published for the Penn Monthly Association, by Jos. H. Coates & Co., Philadelphia. The editorship and ownership remain unchanged.

 

PUBLICATIONS RECEIVED.

Practical Botany. By A. Koehler, M. D. New York: Holt & Co. Pp. 410, with Plates. Price, $3.00.

Report of the Milwaukee School Commissioners (1875). Pp. 307.

Hay-Fever. By G. M. Beard, M. D. New York: Harpers. Pp. 266. Price, $2.00.

Theory of Medical Science. By W. R. Dunham, M. D. Boston: James Campbell. Pp. 150. Price, $1.25.

Giannetto. By Lady Margaret Magendie. New York: Holt. Pp. 180. Price, $1.25.

Archivos do Museu National do Rio de Janeiro. Quarterly. Pp. 30. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Industrial.

Smithsonian Collection, viz., Specific Heats, Specific Gravities, Expansion by Heat. By F. W. Clarke, S. B.

Geographical Variation among North American Mammals. By J. A. Allen. Pp. 40. From Report of Hayden's Survey.

Thought: Its Struggles and Failures. By L. S. Benson. New York: Serial Science Society. Pp. 32. Price, 15 cents.

Centennial Poem. By Mrs. A. W. Duchow. Sonora, California: Tuolumne Independent print.

Mountain Surveying: A Nebula Photometer; Comparison of Prismatic and Diffraction Spectra. By Prof. E. C. Pickering. From American Journal of Science and "Proceedings of the American Academy."

Determination of Baryum. By P. Schweitzer, Ph. D. Jefferson City: Regan & Carter. Pp. 36.

Report on Dermatology. By L. P. Yandell, Jr., M. D. Indianapolis: Journal print. Pp. 7.

Centres of Ancient Civilization in Central America. By Dr. C. H. Berendt. New York: D. Taylor, printer. Pp. 14.

Geometrical Chemistry. By H. Wurtz. New York: J. F. Trow & Son, printers. Pp. 73.

Journal of the American Society of Civil Engineers. May. Pp. 70.

Transactions of the Kansas Horticultural Society (1875). Topeka: Martin, printer. Pp. 267.

Some Disputed Points in Physiological Optics. By H. Hartshorne. Pp. 12.