In these latter, says again Chamisso, upon the fixed piece of wood they place another piece of the same kind, about the length of the palm, and press it obliquely at an angle of about 30 degrees. The extremity that touches the fixed piece is blunt, and the other extremity is held with the two hands, the two thumbs downward, in order to allow of a surer pressure. The piece is given an alternating motion, and in such a way that it shall always remain in the same plane inclined at an angle of 30 degrees, and form, through friction, a small groove from six to eight centimeters in length. When the dust thus produced begins to carbonize, the pressure and velocity are increased. Wood of a homogeneous texture, neither too hard nor too soft, is the best for the purpose.

The Malays operate as follows: A dry bamboo rod, about a foot in length, is split longitudinally, and the pith which lines the inside is scraped off, pressed, and made into a small ball which is afterward placed in the center of the cavity of one of the halves of the tube. This latter half is then fixed to the ground in such a way that the cavity and ball face downward. The operator next fashions the other half of the tube into a straight cutting instrument like a knife-blade, which he applies transversely to the fixed half and gives an alternating motion so as to produce a sort of sawing. After a certain length of time, a groove, and finally a hole, is produced. The cutting edge of the instrument is then so hot that it sets on fire the ball with which it has come in contact.



Some peoples, the Fuegians especially, procure fire by striking together two flints. In the Aleutian Islands these latter, having been previously covered with sulphur, are struck against each other over a small saucer of dry moss dusted with sulphur. The Eskimos employ for this purpose pieces of quartz and iron pyrites.

In the Sandwich Islands recourse is had to a process that necessitates much skill. There is arranged in a large dry leaf, rolled into the shape of a funnel, a certain number of flints along with some easily combustible twigs. On attaching the leaf to the end of a rod, and revolving the latter rapidly, it is said that fire is produced.

Processes that are based upon the clashing of two flint stones must be much more inconvenient of application than we would be led to suppose. We are, in fact, accustomed to see the flint and steel used, but here the spark is a bit of iron raised to red heat through a mechanical action that has violently detached it from the mass under the form of a small sliver. In the case of two flint stones, the light that is perceived is of an entirely different nature, for it is a phosphorescence which is produced, even by a very slight friction, not only between two pieces of silex, but also between two pieces of quartz, porcelain, or sugar; and that the heat developed is but slight is proved by the fact that the phenomenon may occur under water. Of course, fragments of stones may be raised to a red heat through percussion; but this does not often occur, so for this reason the Fuegians keep up with the greatest care the fires that they have lighted, and it is this very peculiarity that has given their country a characteristic aspect and caused it to be named Terra del Fuego (land of fire). When they change their residence they always carry with them a few lighted embers which rest in their canoes upon a bed of pebbles or ashes.

The same thing occurs, moreover, among the Australians and Tasmanians, who employ, as we have just seen, the rotary process. There are women among these peoples whose special mission it is to carry day and night lighted torches or cones made of a substance that burns slowly like punk. When, through accident, the fire happens to get extinguished in a tribe, these people often prefer to undertake a long voyage in order to obtain another light from a neighboring tribe rather than have recourse to a direct production of it.

We can understand from what is still taking place in these distant countries why the worship of fire should have existed among our ancestors, and why sacerdotal associations, such as the Brahmins of India, the Guebers of Persia, the Vestals of Rome, the priests of Baal in Chaldea and Phenicia should have been specially instituted for producing and preserving it.

Plutarch narrates (Numa, chap. ii.) that when the sacred fire happened to go out, there was employed for relighting it a brass mirror that had the form of a cone generated by the hypothenuse of an isosceles rectangular triangle revolving around one of the sides of the right angle.

The Production Of Fire 392 14d


In a poem upon stones attributed to Orpheus, it is said that the sacred fire was also lighted by a bit of crystal which concentrated the rays of the sun upon the material to be inflamed. This process must have been the one that was most usually employed before fire became common. In fact, a plano-convex crystal lens has been found among the ruins of Nineveh. Aristophanes, in the Clouds, puts on the stage a coarse personage named Strepsiades, who points out to Socrates how he must manage so as not to pay his debts:

"Streps.--Hast thou seen among druggists that beautiful transparent stone that they employ for lighting a fire?

"Socr.--Thou meanest glass.


"Socr.--Well! what wouldst thou do with it?

"Streps.--When the registrar shall have made out his summons against me, I will take the glass, and, placing myself thus in the sun, will cause his writing to melt."

As well known, writing was then traced on waxen tablets. Servius (in aen., xii., 200) affirms that men of ancient times, instead of lighting fire upon the altar themselves, in their sacrifices, caused it to descend from heaven. He adds, according to Pliny, Titus Livius, and several old Latin historians, that Numa, who was initiated into all the wisdom of Etruria, practiced this art with success, but that Tullius Hostilius, having desired to repeat the evocation, guided only by the books of Numa, did not accomplish all the formalities prescribed by the rite and was struck dead by lightning.

Is it not curious that twenty-four centuries afterward, in 1753, the physicist Reichman was killed by lightning in trying to repeat Franklin's experiment? This coincidence, however, is not the only one. Pliny (ii., 53) recounts that lightning was evoked by King Porsenna at the time when a monster named Volta, who was ravaging the country, was directing himself toward the capital, Volsinies.

If we return to the Vedas, who had the habit of personifying all phenomena, we shall find that the fire Agni was the son of the carpenter who had manufactured the instrument by which it was produced, and of Maya (magic). He took the name of Akta (anointed, [Greek: christos]) when, nourished by libations of butter, he had acquired his full development. The Persians attributed likewise to Zoroaster the power of causing fire to descend from heaven through magic. Saint Clement of Alexandria (Recog., lib. iv.) and Gregory of Tours (Hist. de Fr., i., 5) speak of this. However this may be, the marvelous art was lost at an early date, for it was at such a date that priests began to have recourse to tricks that were more or less ingenious for lighting their sacred fireplaces in an apparently supernatural manner.--A. De Rochas, in La Nature.