Wednesday, March 12, 2008

a glorious sight for the lover of such things

140 years ago this month the essay "Jewels of the Deep: Pearls" by Schele de Vere was published in Putnam's Monthly Magazine. the essay is anecdotal, poetic, and informative describing (beautifully) how the pearl came to be the iconic jewel of the deep. Maxmilian Schele de Vere was a professor of modern languages at UVA in the 1840's and became among the first Americans to adopt the comparative linguistic methods.

Putnam's Monthly was an American monthly periodical on science, art, and politics. it started in 1853 and merged with The Atlantic in 1870. i highly recommend you poke around the Putnam's Monthly archive...there is some great writing in there. here is a little pearl of a literary piece about pearls. couldn't resist the pun-age.


The chief place among all precious things belongs to the pearl

A DUSKY fisherman in the far off seas of India once found a pearl in an oyster. He had heard of such costly gems, and sold it to an Arab for a gold coin which maintained him for a whole year in luxury and idleness. The Arab exchanged it for powder and shot furnished him by a Russian merchant on board a trading vessel, who even yet did not recognize the dirty, dust covered little ball as a precious jewel. He brought it home as a present for his children on the banks of the Keva, where a brother merchant saw it and bought it for a trifle. The pearl had at last found one who could appreciate its priceless value. The great man for it was a merchant of the first class, the owner of a great fortune rejoiced at the silent fraud by which he had obtained the one pearl of great price, without selling all and buying it fairly, and cherished it as the pride of his heart. Visitors came from all parts of the world to see the wonder. He received them, in his merchants costume, in a palace plain without but resplendent inside, with all that human art can do to embellish a dwelling, and led them silently throng room after room, filled with rare collections and dazzling by the splendor of their ornaments. At last he opened with his own key the carved folding doors of an inner room, which surprised the visitor by its apparent simplicity. The floor, to be sure, was inlaid with malachite and costly marble, the ceiling carved in rare woods, and the walls hung with silk tapestry; but there was no furniture, no gilding, nothing but a round table of dark Egyptian marble in the centre. Under it stood a strong box of apparently wonderful ingenuity, for even the cautious owner had to go through various readings of alphabets, and to unlock one door after another, before he reached an inner cavity, in which a plain square box of Russia leather was standing alone. With an air akin to reverence, the happy merchant would take the box and press it for a moment to his bosom, then, devoutly crossing himself and murmuring an invocation to some saint, he would draw a tiny gold key, which he wore next to his person, from his bosom, unlock the casket, and hold up to the light, that fell from a large grated window above, his precious pet.

It was a glorious sight for the lover of such things. A pearl as large as a small egg, of unsurpassed beauty and marvellous lustre. The sphere was per feet, the play of colors, as he would let it reluctantly roll from his hands over his long white fingers down on the dark table, was only equalled by the flaming opal, and yet there was a soft, subdued light about the lifeless thing which endowed it with an almost irresistible charm. It was not only the pleasure it's perfect form and matchless beauty gave to the eye, nor the overwhelming thought of the fact that the little ball was worth any thing an emperor or a millionaire might choose to give for it there was a magic in its playful ever hanging sheen as it rolled to and fro a contagion in the rapt fervor with which the grim old merchant watched its every flash and flare, which left few hearts cold as they saw the marvel of St. Petersburg. For such it was, and the Emperor himself who loved pearls dearly, had in vain offered rank and titles and honors for the priceless gem.A few years afterwards a conspiracy was discovered, and several great men were arrested. Among the suspected....(continue reading)

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