The Ethics of the Dust, by John Ruskin

Lecture IV.

The Crystal Orders.

A working Lecture, in the large Schoolroom; with experimental Interludes The great bell has rung unexpectedly.

Kathleen (entering disconsolate, though first at the summons). Oh dear, oh dear, what a day! Was ever anything so provoking! just when we wanted to crystallise ourselves; — and I’m sure it’s going to rain all day long.

L. So am I, Kate. The sky has quite an Irish way with it But I don’t see why Irish girls should also look so dismal. Fancy that you don’t want to crystallise yourselves: you didn’t, the day before yesterday, and you were not unhappy when it rained then.

Florrie. Ah! but we do want to-day; and the rain’s so tiresome.

L. That is to say, children, that because you are all the richer by the expectation of playing at a new game, you choose to make yourselves unhappier than when you had nothing to look forward to, but the old ones.

Isabel. But then, to have to wait — wait — wait; and before we’ve tried it; — and perhaps it will rain to-morrow, too!

L. It may also rain the day after to-morrow. We can make ourselves uncomfortable to any extent with perhapses, Isabel. You may stick perhapses into your little minds, like pins, till you are as uncomfortable as the Lilliputians made Gulliver with their arrows, when he would not lie quiet.

Isabel. But what are we to do to-day?

L. To be quiet, for one thing, like Gulliver when he saw there was nothing better to be done. And to practise patience. I can tell you children, that requires nearly as much practising as music; and we are continually losing our lessons when the master comes. Now, to-day, here’s a nice little adagio lesson for us, if we play it properly.

Isabel. But I don’t like that sort of lesson. I can’t play it properly.

L. Can you play a Mozart sonata yet, Isabel? The more need to practise. All one’s life is a music, if one touches the notes rightly, and in time. But there must be no hurry.

Kathleen. I’m sure there’s no music in stopping in on a rainy day.

L. There’s no music in a ‘rest,’ Katie, that I know of: but there’s the making of music in it. And people are always missing that part of the life-melody; and scrambling on without counting — not that it’s easy to count; but nothing on which so much depends ever is easy. People are always talking of perseverance, and courage, and fortitude; but patience is the finest and worthiest part of fortitude, — and the rarest, too. I know twenty persevering girls for one patient one: but it is only that twenty-first who can do her work, out and out, or enjoy it. For patience lies at the root of all pleasures, as well as of all powers. Hope herself ceases to be happiness, when Impatience companions her.

(Isabel and Lily sit down on the floor, and fold their hands. The others follow their example.)

Good children! but that’s not quite the way of it, neither. Folded hands are not necessarily resigned ones. The Patience who really smiles at grief usually stands, or walks, or even runs: she seldom sits; though she may sometimes have to do it, for many a day, poor thing, by monuments; or like Chaucer’s, ‘with facë pale, upon a hill of sand.’ But we are not reduced to that to-day. Suppose we use this calamitous forenoon to choose the shapes we are to crystallise into? we know nothing about them yet.

(The pictures of resignation rise from the floor, not in the patientest manner. General applause.)

Mary (with one or two others). The very thing we wanted to ask you about!

Lily. We looked at the books about crystals, but they are so dreadful.

L. Well, Lily, we must go through a little dreadfulness, that’s a fact: no road to any good knowledge is wholly among the lilies and the grass; there is rough climbing to be done always. But the crystal-books are a little too dreadful, most of them, I admit; and we shall have to be content with very little of their help. You know, as you cannot stand on each other’s heads, you can only make yourselves into the sections of crystals, — the figures they show when they are cut through; and we will choose some that will be quite easy. You shall make diamonds of yourselves ——

Isabel. Oh, no, no! we won’t be diamonds, please.

L. Yes, you shall, Isabel; they are very pretty things, if the jewellers, and the kings and queens, would only let them alone. You shall make diamonds of yourselves, and rubies of yourselves, and emeralds; and Irish diamonds; two of those — with Lily in the middle of one, which will be very orderly, of course; and Kathleen in the middle of the other, for which we will hope the best; — and you shall make Derbyshire spar of yourselves, and Iceland spar, and gold, and silver, and — Quicksilver there’s enough of in you, without any making.

Mary. Now, you know, the children will be getting quite wild: we must really get pencils and paper, and begin properly.

L. Wait a minute, Miss Mary; I think as we’ve the school room clear to-day, I’ll try to give you some notion of the three great orders or ranks of crystals, into which all the others seem more or less to fall. We shall only want one figure a day, in the playground; and that can be drawn in a minute: but the general ideas had better be fastened first. I must show you a great many minerals; so let me have three tables wheeled into the three windows, that we may keep our specimens separate; — we will keep the three orders of crystals on separate tables.

(First Interlude, of pushing and pulling, and spreading of baize covers. Violet, not particularly minding what she is about, gets herself jammed into a corner, and bid to stand out of the way; on which she devotes herself to meditation.)

Violet (after interval of meditation). How strange it is that everything seems to divide into threes!

L. Everything doesn’t divide into threes. Ivy won’t, though shamrock will; and daisies won’t, though lilies will.

Violet. But all the nicest things seem to divide into threes.

L. Violets won’t.

Violet. No; I should think not, indeed! But I mean the great things.

L. I’ve always heard the globe had four quarters.

Isabel. Well; but you know you said it hadn’t any quarters at all. So mayn’t it really be divided into three?

L. If it were divided into no more than three, on the outside of it, Isabel, it would be a fine world to live in; and if it were divided into three in the inside of it, it would soon be no world to live in at all.

Dora. We shall never get to the crystals, at this rate. (Aside to Mary.) He will get off into political economy before we know where we are. (Aloud.) But the crystals are divided into three, then?

L. No; but there are three general notions by which we may best get hold of them. Then between these notions there are other notions.

Lily (alarmed). A great many? And shall we have to learn them all?

L. More than a great many — a quite infinite many. So you cannot learn them all.

Lily (greatly relieved). Then may we only learn the three?

L. Certainly; unless, when you have got those three notions, you want to have some more notions; — which would not surprise me. But we’ll try for the three, first. Katie, you broke your coral necklace this morning?

Kathleen. Oh! who told you? It was in jumping. I’m so sorry!

L. I’m very glad. Can you fetch me the beads of it?

Kathleen. I’ve lost some; here are the rest in my pocket, if I can only get them out.

L. You mean to get them out some day, I suppose; so try now. I want them.

(Kathleen empties her pocket on the floor. The beads disperse. The School disperses also. Second Interlude — hunting piece.)

L. (after waiting patiently for a quarter of an hour, to Isabel, who comes up from under the table with her hair all about her ears, and the last findable beads in her hand). Mice are useful little things sometimes. Now, mousie, I want all those beads crystallised. How many ways are there of putting them in order?

Isabel. Well, first one would string them, I suppose?

L. Yes, that’s the first way. You cannot string ultimate atoms; but you can put them in a row, and then they fasten themselves together, somehow, into a long rod or needle. We will call these ‘Needle-crystals.’ What would be the next way?

Isabel. I suppose, as we are to get together in the playground, when it stops raining, in different shapes?

L. Yes; put the beads together, then, in the simplest form you can, to begin with. Put them into a square, and pack them close.

Isabel (after careful endeavour). I can’t get them closer.

L. That will do. Now you may see, beforehand, that if you try to throw yourselves into square in this confused way, you will never know your places; so you had better consider every square as made of rods, put side by side. Take four beads of equal size, first, Isabel; put them into a little square. That, you may consider as made up of two rods of two beads each. Then you can make a square a size larger, out of three rods of three. Then the next square may be a size larger. How many rods, Lily?

Lily. Four rods of four beads each, I suppose.

L. Yes, and then five rods of five, and so on. But now, look here; make another square of four beads again. You see they leave a little opening in the centre.

Isabel (pushing two opposite ones closer together). Now they don’t.

L. No; but now it isn’t a square; and by pushing the two together you have pushed the two others farther apart.

Isabel. And yet, somehow, they all seem closer than they were!

L. Yes; for before, each of them only touched two of the others, but now each of the two in the middle touches the other three. Take away one of the outsiders, Isabel; now you have three in a triangle — the smallest triangle you can make out of the beads. Now put a rod of three beads on at one side. So, you have a triangle of six beads; but just the shape of the first one. Next a rod of four on the side of that; and you have a triangle of ten beads: then a rod of five on the side of that; and you have a triangle of fifteen. Thus you have a square with five beads on the side, and a triangle with five beads on the side; equal-sided, therefore, like the square. So, however few or many you may be, you may soon learn how to crystallise quickly into these two figures, which are the foundation of form in the commonest, and therefore actually the most important, as well as in the rarest, and therefore, by our esteem, the most important, minerals of the world. Look at this in my hand.

Violet. Why, it is leaf-gold!

L. Yes; but beaten by no man’s hammer; or rather, not beaten at all, but woven. Besides, feel the weight of it. There is gold enough there to gild the walls and ceiling, if it were beaten thin.

Violet. How beautiful! And it glitters like a leaf covered with frost.

L. You only think it so beautiful because you know it is gold. It is not prettier, in reality, than a bit of brass: for it is Transylvanian gold; and they say there is a foolish gnome in the mines there, who is always wanting to live in the moon, and so alloys all the gold with a little silver. I don’t know how that may be: but the silver always is in the gold; and if he does it, it’s very provoking of him, for no gold is woven so fine anywhere else.

Mary (who has been looking through her magnifying glass). But this is not woven. This is all made of little triangles.

L. Say ‘patched,’ then, if you must be so particular. But if you fancy all those triangles, small as they are (and many of them are infinitely small), made up again of rods, and those of grains, as we built our great triangle of the beads, what word will you take for the manufacture?

May. There’s no word — it is beyond words.

L. Yes; and that would matter little, were it not beyond thoughts too. But, at all events, this yellow leaf of dead gold, shed, not from the ruined woodlands, but the ruined rocks, will help you to remember the second kind of crystals, Leaf-crystals, or Foliated crystals; though I show you the form in gold first only to make a strong impression on you, for gold is not generally, or characteristically, crystallised in leaves; the real type of foliated crystals is this thing, Mica; which if you once feel well, and break well, you will always know again; and you will often have occasion to know it, for you will find it everywhere, nearly, in hill countries.

Kathleen. If we break it well! May we break it?

L. To powder, if you like.

(Surrenders plate of brown mica to public investigation. Third Interlude. It sustains severely philosophical treatment at all hands.)

Florrie. (to whom the last fragments have descended) Always leaves, and leaves, and nothing but leaves, or white dust!

L. That dust itself is nothing but finer leaves.

(Shows them to Florrie through magnifying glass.)

Isabel. (peeping over Florrie’s shoulder). But then this bit under the glass looks like that bit out of the glass! If we could break this bit under the glass, what would it be like?

L. It would be all leaves still.

Isabel. And then if we broke those again?

L. All less leaves still.

Isabel (impatient). And if we broke them again, and again, and again, and again, and again?

L. Well, I suppose you would come to a limit, if you could only see it. Notice that the little flakes already differ somewhat from the large ones: because I can bend them up and down, and they stay bent; while the large flake, though it bent easily a little way, sprang back when you let it go, and broke, when you tried to bend it far. And a large mass would not bend at all.

Mary. Would that leaf gold separate into finer leaves, in the same way?

L. No; and therefore, as I told you, it is not a characteristic specimen of a foliated crystallisation. The little triangles are portions of solid crystals, and so they are in this, which looks like a black mica; but you see it is made up of triangles like the gold, and stands, almost accurately, as an intermediate link, in crystals, between mica and gold. Yet this is the commonest, as gold the rarest, of metals.

Mary. Is it iron? I never saw iron so bright.

L. It is rust of iron, finely crystallised: from its resemblance to mica, it is often called micaceous iron.

Kathleen. May we break this, too?

L. No, for I could not easily get such another crystal; besides, it would not break like the mica; it is much harder. But take the glass again, and look at the fineness of the jagged edges of the triangles where they lap over each other. The gold has the same: but you see them better here, terrace above terrace, countless, and in successive angles, like superb fortified bastions.

May. But all foliated crystals are not made of triangles?

L. Far from it: mica is occasionally so, but usually of hexagons; and here is a foliated crystal made of squares, which will show you that the leaves of the rock-land have their summer green, as well as their autumnal gold.

Florrie. Oh! oh! oh! (jumps for joy).

L. Did you never see a bit of green leaf before, Florrie?

Florrie. Yes, but never so bright as that, and not in a stone.

L. If you will look at the leaves of the trees in sunshine after a shower, you will find they are much brighter than that; and surely they are none the worse for being on stalks instead of in stones?

Florrie. Yes, but then there are so many of them, one never looks, I suppose.

L. Now you have it, Florrie.

Violet (sighing). There are so many beautiful things we never see!

L. You need not sigh for that, Violet; but I will tell you what we should all sigh for, — that there are so many ugly things we never see.

Violet. But we don’t want to see ugly things!

L. You had better say, ‘We don’t want to suffer them.’ You ought to be glad in thinking how much more beauty God has made, than human eyes can ever see; but not glad in thinking how much more evil man has made, than his own soul can ever conceive, much more than his hands can ever heal.

Violet. I don’t understand; — how is that like the leaves?

L. The same law holds in our neglect of multiplied pain, as in our neglect of multiplied beauty. Florrie jumps for joy at sight of half an inch of a green leaf in a brown stone; and takes more notice of it than of all the green in the wood: and you, or I, or any of us, would be unhappy if any single human creature beside us were in sharp pain; but we can read, at breakfast, day after day, of men being killed, and of women and children dying of hunger, faster than the leaves strew the brooks in Vallombrosa; — and then go out to play croquet, as if nothing had happened.

May. But we do not see the people being killed or dying.

L. You did not see your brother, when you got the telegram the other day, saying he was ill, May; but you cried for him and played no croquet. But we cannot talk of these things now; and what is more, you must let me talk straight on, for a little while; and ask no questions till I’ve done: for we branch (‘exfoliate,’ I should say, mineralogically) always into something else, — though that’s my fault more than yours; but I must go straight on now. You have got a distinct notion, I hope, of leaf-crystals; and you see the sort of look they have: you can easily remember that ‘folium’ is Latin for a leaf, and that the separate flakes of mica, or any other such stones, are called ‘folia;’ but, because mica is the most characteristic of these stones, other things that are like it in structure are called ‘micas;’ thus we have Uran-mica, which is the green leaf I showed you; and Copper-mica, which is another like it, made chiefly of copper; and this foliated iron is called ‘micaceous iron.’ You have then these two great orders, Needle-crystals, made (probably) of grains in rows; and Leaf-crystals, made (probably) of needles interwoven; now, lastly, there are crystals of a third order, in heaps, or knots, or masses, which may be made, either of leaves laid one upon another, or of needles bound like Roman fasces; and mica itself, when it is well crystallised, puts itself into such masses, as if to show us how others are made. Here is a brown six-sided crystal, quite as beautifully chiselled at the sides as any castle tower; but you see it is entirely built of folia of mica, one laid above another, which break away the moment I touch the edge with my knife. Now, here is another hexagonal tower, of just the same size and colour, which I want you to compare with the mica carefully; but as I cannot wait for you to do it just now, I must tell you quickly what main differences to look for. First, you will feel it is far heavier than the mica. Then, though its surface looks quite micaceous in the folia of it, when you try them with the knife, you will find you cannot break them away ——

Kathleen. May I try?

L. Yes, you mistrusting Katie. Here’s my strong knife for you. (Experimental pause. Kathleen, doing her best.) You’ll have that knife shutting on your finger presently, Kate; and I don’t know a girl who would like less to have her hand tied up for a week.

Kathleen (who also does not like to be beaten — giving up the knife despondently). What can the nasty hard thing be?

L. It is nothing but indurated clay, Kate: very hard set certainly, yet not so hard as it might be. If it were thoroughly well crystallised, you would see none of those micaceous fractures; and the stone would be quite red and clear, all through.

Kathleen. Oh, cannot you show us one?

L. Egypt can, if you ask her; she has a beautiful one in the clasp of her favourite bracelet.

Kathleen. Why, that’s a ruby!

L. Well, so is that thing you’ve been scratching at.

Kathleen. My goodness!

(Takes up the stone again, very delicately; and drops it. General consternation.)

L. Never mind, Katie; you might drop it from the top of the house, and do it no harm. But though you really are a very good girl, and as good-natured as anybody can possibly be, remember, you have your faults, like other people; and, if I were you, the next time I wanted to assert anything energetically, I would assert it by ‘my badness,’ not ‘my goodness.’

Kathleen. Ah, now, it’s too bad of you!

L. Well, then, I’ll invoke, on occasion, my ‘too-badness.’ But you may as well pick up the ruby, now you have dropped it; and look carefully at the beautiful hexagonal lines which gleam on its surface; and here is a pretty white sapphire (essentially the same stone as the ruby), in which you will see the same lovely structure, like the threads of the finest white cobweb. I do not know what is the exact method of a ruby’s construction; but you see by these lines, what fine construction there is, even in this hardest of stones (after the diamond), which usually appears as a massive lump or knot. There is therefore no real mineralogical distinction between needle crystals and knotted crystals, but, practically, crystallised masses throw themselves into one of the three groups we have been examining to-day; and appear either as Needles, as Folia, or as Knots; when they are in needles (or fibres), they make the stones or rocks formed out of them ’fibrous;’ when they are in folia, they make them ’foliated;’ when they are in knots (or grains), ’granular.’ Fibrous rocks are comparatively rare, in mass; but fibrous minerals are innumerable; and it is often a question which really no one but a young lady could possibly settle, whether one should call the fibres composing them ‘threads’ or ‘needles.’ Here is amianthus, for instance, which is quite as fine and soft as any cotton thread you ever sewed with; and here is sulphide of bismuth, with sharper points and brighter lustre than your finest needles have; and fastened in white webs of quartz more delicate than your finest lace; and here is sulphide of antimony, which looks like mere purple wool, but it is all of purple needle crystals; and here is red oxide of copper (you must not breathe on it as you look, or you may blow some of the films of it off the stone), which is simply a woven tissue of scarlet silk. However, these finer thread forms are comparatively rare, while the bolder and needle-like crystals occur constantly; so that, I believe, ‘Needle-crystal’ is the best word (the grand one is ‘Acicular crystal,’ but Sibyl will tell you it is all the same, only less easily understood; and therefore more scientific). Then the Leaf-crystals, as I said, form an immense mass of foliated rocks; and the Granular crystals, which are of many kinds, form essentially granular, or granitic and porphyritic rocks; and it is always a point of more interest to me (and I think will ultimately be to you), to consider the causes which force a given mineral to take any one of these three general forms, than what the peculiar geometrical limitations are, belonging to its own crystals.1 It is more interesting to me, for instance, to try and find out why the red oxide of copper, usually crystallising in cubes or octahedrons, makes itself exquisitely, out of its cubes, into this red silk in one particular Cornish mine, than what are the absolutely necessary angles of the octahedron, which is its common form. At all events, that mathematical part of crystallography is quite beyond girls’ strength; but these questions of the various tempers and manners of crystals are not only comprehensible by you, but full of the most curious teaching for you. For in the fulfilment, to the best of their power, of their adopted form under given circumstances, there are conditions entirely resembling those of human virtue; and indeed expressible under no term so proper as that of the Virtue, or Courage of crystals:— which, if you are not afraid of the crystals making you ashamed of yourselves, we will try to get some notion of, to-morrow. But it will be a bye-lecture, and more about yourselves than the minerals, Don’t come unless you like.

Mary. I’m sure the crystals will make us ashamed of ourselves; but we’ll come, for all that.

L. Meantime, look well and quietly over these needle, or thread crystals, and those on the other two tables, with magnifying glasses, and see what thoughts will come into your little heads about them. For the best thoughts are generally those which come without being forced, one does not know how. And so I hope you will get through your wet day patiently.

1 ‘Geometrical limitations.’

It is difficult, without a tedious accuracy, or without full illustration, to express the complete relations of crystalline structure, which dispose minerals to take, at different times, fibrous, massive, or foliated forms; and I am afraid this chapter will be generally skipped by the reader: yet the arrangement itself will be found useful, if kept broadly in mind; and the transitions of state are of the highest interest, if the subject is entered upon with any earnestness. It would have been vain to add to the scheme of this little volume any account of the geometrical forms of crystals: an available one, though still far too difficult and too copious, has been arranged by the Rev. Mr. Mitchell, for Orr’s ‘Circle of the Sciences’; and, I believe, the ‘nets’ of crystals, which are therein given to be cut out with scissors and put prettily together, will be found more conquerable by young ladies than by other students. They should also, when an opportunity occurs, be shown, at any public library, the diagram of the crystallisation of quartz referred to poles, at p. 8 of Cloizaux’s ‘Manuel de Minéralogie’: that they may know what work is; and what the subject is.

With a view to more careful examination of the nascent states of silica, I have made no allusion in this volume to the influence of mere segregation, as connected with the crystalline power. It has only been recently, during the study of the breccias alluded to in page 113, that I have fully seen the extent to which this singular force often modifies rocks in which at first its influence might hardly have been suspected; many apparent conglomerates being in reality formed chiefly by segregation, combined with mysterious brokenly-zoned structures, like those of some malachites. I hope some day to know more of these and several other mineral phenomena (especially of those connected with the relative sizes of crystals), which otherwise I should have endeavoured to describe in this volume.

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