The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
In Our Study

by Julia Firth.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 91-95

II. Stones

We have a piece of Brazilian amethyst which looks like a dark paving-stone outside, but inside displays a cut and polished surface of great beauty; it is all glorious within, the polish revealing what is there. "Mere outside polish" does not seem to occur in stones; they have true character: ice has engraved them, successive deposits have formed them. These angles, these curves, this variety of colour--all have a history to tell to those who can read them aright. I cannot do so; I do not know the language. Perhaps Shakespeare did not; but his banished Duke found "sermons in stones"; and here, at least, is a text for us. Education, as Mr. Ruskin says, is a reavealer of differences; no amount of polishing will turn a flint into an agate. But agates may be obscured; let us see to it that we spare no pains with them.

Here is a specimen from Hungary: dozens of little amethyst crystals raise their points from a flat slab of quartz, and all are dusted over with minute yellowish-brown crystals of, I think, chalybite. The amethyst crystals are not all of the same height or size. There are little dells and nooks and corners; their positions may vary, but they are under strict rule as to shape. And here a dull-looking roundish stone, something like a small potatoe; but raise it and look into the hollow of it (it is called a geode) and you will see lovely little crystals of amethyst projecting from the cavity. Another specimen is a large crystal, six-sided, like other quartz crystals, which has attained its characteristic form and colour late in life, after a long struggle with shapelessness and dulness--possibly a case of neglected education and indomitable energy nevertheless.

Mr. Ruskin directs the student to get a crystal of wavellite, as a type of star-like formation; this radiating structure may also be seen in prehnite when the small spheres are broken across.

Natrolite (from natron, soda, and lithos, stone) is a beautiful thing. We have a specimen showing long, slender, white, lustrous, needle-like (acicular) crystals. As may be supposed, these are not hard, but soft, and one needs to be as good a packer as Nature herself to bring home such purchases intact from Freiburg, near Dresden. I can only wish others better success than mine. I have recollections which shadow my satisfaction as I look at our Natrolite. Beryl is very lovely. I have a small crystal of it from the Emerald Isle, and I rather covet a much larger one, the size of a fore-finger, possessed by a frend, who received it as a gift. But life has compensations. I had a charming gift of a rock crystal, perfectly clear, and perfectly pointed.

Visitors to the Manchester Exhibition, perhaps, remember in the "Old Manchester" a shop in which South African crocidolite in its various stages was shown, successive deposits forming layers of varying thickness. Miranda got a specimen for me which is one of the prettiest of our collection, and which is singular as suggesting wood, rather than stone.

Carbon is found in its purest state in the diamond, but it does not manifest itself in this fair and brilliant creature alone;  it has several dusky forms, indeed its poorer relations are black-graphite or plumbago, from which our "black-lead" pencils are made; jet, which supplies black ornaments : anthracite, from anthros, coal or fuel. Our firesides may possibly be as much in debt as our ball-rooms.

Rhodite (from Gr. rhodon, a rose) is maganese spar; we have a pretty red piece of it from Sweden. It is like a very agreeable foreigner, whom one likes, and of whose history one regrets to know nothing. I am really beginning to be ashamed of the very unscientific character of my remarks, and to think that this little paper should have been called "Our Playthings." I strongly advise my readers not only to collect pretty specimens, but to learn all that is to be known about them.

We have a realgur from Saxony, which occurs in crystals of "a beautiful aurora-red colour." It has to be kept from the light or it will fade, or even turn into a yellow powder, I am told. Of course we do not wish to try the instructive experiment.

Granite is pretty well represented in our collection. It is formed of three minerals--felspar, quartz, and mica--and we have a piece showing these components separately. When they are mixed, granular, and massive, the rock is called granite. When a certain stratification can be distiguished in it, it is gneiss. "Felspar, generally milk-white, and also reddish" (says Berlepsch, in his fine book on the Alps), "forms the principle mass, nearly half of the true granite, between which white (or more rarely yellow or greenish) crystalline glassy transparent grains of quartz are intermixed, and in which thin bright flakes of mica are imbedded. This normal composition changes much in different places. If the characteristic shining mica is wanting in the mass, and it is penetrated by black or dark-green horn-blende, it loses the name of granite, and it is called syenite. This variety is spread over all parts of the world, and recieved its name from Syene, in Upper Egypt, and is valued for its endurance as an excellent and easily polished building material. "The pyramids and obelisks are chiefly syenite." We have a specimen of Shap granite in which the felspar is reddish, and in small detatched lumps at almost equal distances, and pieces of Aberdeen granite of black and white only. We also have bits of a coarse kind of black and whait granite from East Prussia, portions of great boulders which are quite alien to the soil--"erratic blocks" from the ice of the Baltic. This reminds me of amber, also from the Baltic, a fossil resin used for many ornamental purposes. We have pieces of bright luminous yellow, others opaque, others dark-reddish orange.

Hematite, or kidney iron, is massive and heavy; it is very frequently found associated with quartz crystals. We have many pretty specimens, showing the bubble formation underneath, and clusters of clear six-sided crystals in varying numbers and positions. When the hematite itself is crystallized, it is called specular iron; we have the three together in many cases. We have a blende, which is an important ore of zinc, and galena, a crystallised form of lead; also heavy masses of grey lead from Cumberland, and bright pieces of copper from Cornwall and from Coniston. The hues of copper are so brilliant and varied that "peacock copper" is a name given to one kind which will be popular with young collectors. I hope no one will give them a collection, or they will lose the great pleasure of gathering stones and knowledge by degrees, with the associations of pleasant places or kindly persons. One of our pieces of lead with barytes, and another unusual formation of lime, are always connected in my mind with a brilliant day on Ulleswater, a talk with our boatman, who used to work in a mine near Keswick, and a hasty visit to his cottage to see and buy some of his specimens.

To return: we have many bits of native silver, three types of native gold, and pebbles of alluvial tin; these with the above-named give some idea of the metals with which we are familiar in other forms.

Rutile, which is a form of titanium, is seen in shining, red, acicular crystals in quartz, and is a very beautiful thing.

Mr. Ruskin says somewhere: "Never give away a mineral; each one is unlike every other." But that he acts with beautiful inconsistency I, for one, can gratefully testify. His munificence to various institutions is well known. He gave a case of rare and costly minerals to the Cork High School for Girls, and in his description of some of the specimens this occurs:

"6. Undulating jasper. I never thought to part with it, but it will be better at Cork;" and, "12. The last specimen I have of Sidmouth rock chert, becoming jasper by infusion of colour, reds and yellow oxides of iron; everywhere a beautiful enigma." And in the catalogue of specimens of native silica presented by him to the British Museum: "52. A larger slice from the centre of the same nodule (of lake-chalcedony), formerly one of the most valued pieces in my own collection."

We have advanced one step towards accuracy of knowledge by the possession of "Moh's Scale of Hardness of Minerals." It is a box with ten divisions, nine of which are furnished with stones, and one which is oblong and occupied by a file. No. 1 is Talc, which is so soft that it is very easily scratched or even rubbed into a powder; 2, Rock Salt, is a degree harder; 3, Calcite, harder still; and so on to 4, Fluor Spar; 5, Apatite; 6, Felspar; 7, Quartz; 8, Topaz; 9, Corundum, up to the Diamond (not in the collection), on which presumably the file would make no impression at all. Miranda is the happy possessor of a number of small uncut diamonds, while I do not possess one. Her own special collection is, of course, rendered vastly more valuable by this fact.

I have three of our prettiest specimens beside me as I write. They are kept under glass because they are too delicate to be exposed to the air. One is Realgar, before alluded to, in combination with Orpiment, which is golden, and some beautiful grey substance minutely crystallised. The second is sparkling rose colour and white Manganese Spar, with pink grottoes, and a pink passage going a long way back under a roof of white. To prosaic minds--and they are many--this specimen suggests the "pink rock" of a confectioner's shop or even, more irreverently, "goody." The third is a fascinating piece of pale silvery green Talc, intersected by rods of dark, lustrous, green Actinolite.

Such things are a joy for ever.

Proofread by LNL, July, 2023