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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

by Julia Firth.
(Written for Girls )
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 469-471


On Stones.

Our study is not a large room, but it contains many things of real worth. First, I should like to tell you about our stones. When I was a girl I am sorry to say that I was unobservant of, and uninterested in, the wonders of the mineralogical world. Later in life I read Professor Ruskin's "Ethics of the Dust," in which he gives to girls some elementary instruction about crystals, with charming digressions on many things. Also his ethical teaching of "crystal virtues," "clearness of purpose, quiet and ceaseless energy," "unconquerable purity of vital power," is something quite delightful and stimulating.

I felt, in reading this book with young friends, how incomplete my effort was without a single illustrating specimen, so I began a small collection. I read that "garnets and mica are natural friends," that sometimes you find both at their best, the mica white and pure, the garnets clear and red, and again, wicked garnets with wicked mica, looking "like dull red stains on the crumbling stone." I read of needle-crystals and of leaf-crystals, of a poor crystal that never succeeded either as to shape or colour, and was capped by one that was successful in both.

I have now on my shelves excellent specimens of all these, and my little girl is very fond of showing them. She is not a very little girl; she is fourteen, but she has been known to rub a stone for half an hour or so on a slate step, then to continue the process with coarse emery, then with fine emery, and finally to persuade herself and try to persuade others that it really was polished! Also to explore the coal-hole for the study of strata, and to embrace the housemaid for finding her a piece of very shining coal fit to be placed beside our obsidian, graphite, and jet! Also to beseech me to pack a great lump of brown coal and bring it home in our not very large trunk from Dresden! So you see there may possibly be objections to giving instruction in mineralogy.

When I was at Chamounix many years ago I might easily have procured valuable stones in their natural state, instead of buying little boxed and trays cut out of them. If you begin a collection you will have a new interest in your country walks and in your travels, and you will be surprised by the rapid growth in your store. You can, of course, be as learned as you like--and girls seem to me very learned nowadays--but it is not necessary to know a great deal in order to enjoy these pretty and generally imperishable treasures.

Crystals of quartz are lovely things, whether shaped like the lip-piece of a flageolet, as those of the Dauphine, or with six fairly equal sides which meet in a point to form the pyramid at the end of a prism. So also are crystals of gypsum, in the shape of an irregular diamond, and the cube-shaped crystals of fluor, which are either green, yellow, violet, or white.

I think most girls would heartily admire uncut gems. I can assure them the rubies, sapphires, and jaspers of our collection, though they may not be of first-rate jeweller's quality, have give much pleasure to young and old. The simplest people and the most uncultured as regards books have seen through our collection, and been as much impressed as some highly cultivated friends who have gone carefully and intelligently from shelf to shelf.

We have several polished agates which are beautiful things, and they have the advantage of not being injured by dust. One is orbed, and is called by some an eye agate; some have lines which turn at sharp angles, and are fort or mural agates; and a fine moss agate has orange stains in it, like the moss in wet places on our Westmoreland fells.

In my first collection I procured a little opal embedded in a grey stone. It is white except in one place, which gives out a flame-coloured sparkle. Years afterwards I received a valuable gift of a much larger piece of opal on a little carved Swiss box as pedestal that it may catch the light. We call it the "Professor's opal;" it has sparkles of vivid green and masses of a pale lovely blue which I can find no word to describe, unless it be the word "opalescent."

A facetious friend says I ought to give a lecture on minerals, and I say that there would be two sensational excitements in it. One would be the picking off the plates of mica which are visibly foliated and elastic in one our our specimens; and the other would be the pulling out of rock cotton from an asbestiform variety of serpentine, and holding it in a lighted candle to show that flame does not consume it. My daughter--I will call her Miranda--would also request people to taste the rock-salt, or to strike fire with the flints!

By-the-by, have you ever seen a chalk quarry and observed how the flints are arranged in rows, dark against the light, at intervals of perhaps two feet? We examined one at Dieppe, and no doubt similar ones are to be found on the south coast of England. Miranda and I walked along the very rough shore at the foot of the cliffs on the look-out for anything new. She was greatly delighted to find chalcedony in the hollows of many of the rounded flints; it is either white or red, and looks waxy, like dropped candle-grease. Miranda carried in huge loads each day, and was much disappointed because I had to leave more than half of them at our hotel.

Labrador felspar is a wonderfully beautiful stone. We have one specimen polished, which in a certain light shows orange and blue, and a small uncut piece, the colour of a peacock's neck. We have heliotrope or bloodstone from India, a dark bluish-green stone with minute spots of red; a pale green Amazon stone from Colorado, and well crystallised sulphur from Sicily.

I will reserve something I should like to tell you about various forms of amethyst for another paper.


Typed by Blossom Barden, Feb 2013