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The Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland

Nature volume 23, pages 150151 | Download Citation

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Abstract

THERE was a time, now almost beyond the memory even of the oldest inhabitant, when the stillness of our learned halls was unbroken by the wrangle of contending geologists, when the science of geology could not be said yet to exist, when those who occupied themselves with stones found a congenial atmosphere of solemnity in the quiet domain of crystallography, whence with the boldness of adventurers they made little excursions into the more open and dangerous waters of chemistry. Days of slumberous peace as they now seem to one who turns over the ponderous dusty pages in which their records are duly chronicled ! To the mineralogist of those days the interest and importance of rock-masses was measured by their richness or poorness in mineral specimens. Surrounded by his cases of minerals—the reward of years of patient toil and judicious expenditure, with what tender interest would he survey his treasures ! We knew him in old times, yea and loved him. Enthusiastically would he describe how he had contrived to secure that priceless unique crystal; how day after day he had searched the rocks in vain, till at last one lucky stroke of the hammer laid open that magnificent druse; how he had bought that matchless group from a sailor who used it to keep down the lid of his tobacco box. Kindly too he was, and all the more if you took interest in his favourite pursuit. Ask him to tell you the difference between two resembling minerals, and he would launch out with evident relish into his “external characters.” Lovingly would he handle the specimens, as if they were the children of his old age. Eagerly would he descant upon the difference between “lamellar distinct concretions”; how some were “indeterminate curved lamellar,” others were “fortifications-wise bent.” And then would follow the whole string of characters—“semi-hard,” “not particularly difficultly frangible,” “supernatant,” “pretty cold,” “not particularly heavy,” between “aurora-red” and “hyacinth-red,” or between “mountain-green” and “celandine-green.” Such jargon it seemed to youthful ears! One could not but admire indeed its methodical precision, but the questions ever forced themselves on one's mind—What is the living truth underlying it all? Were minerals really created merely as a basis for our old friend's systems of classification? Or can they not be made to yield up some intelligible record of their own history and of the planet of which they form a part?

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https://doi.org/10.1038/023150a0

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