This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
In point of richness and gorgeousness of color, flowers are unrivalled. If we may be allowed the simile, the ethereal phenomenon of color in them gains as much by a union with earthly substance, as the spiritual nature of man is rendered more rich and beautiful by the action of the sensuous emotions. But if we would see color in its native purity and brilliance, even flowers must be put aside as too gross and earthy in their structure. We must turn to gems, and fire, and light itself, Throw a few grains of chemical stuff into a bright-burning fire, and see how the flame shoots aloft in a wavy pyramid of purest emerald, - or change the substance, and lo! undulating spires of loveliest ruby or amethyst, - burning with so celestial a brilliance and transparency as if freed from every tinge of earthy matter, and re-shining with the splendor of its native skies. Or take the living light itself, and refract it through prisms of crystal, and see how the dissevered tremors of the ray reapper on the screen in a band of many-hued light - red, blue, orange, green, yellow, and violet, blending into each other by most delicate gradations, and all glowing with a richness which no mortal pencil can copy.
Substitute for this crystal prism, one of diamond, - suppose the Koh-i-noor, that "mountain of light," used as a refractor of the sunbeams - as a breaker-up of the symmetry of the solar ray, - and then imagine how brilliant would be the spectral colors thus produced. The lustre of the diamond, the topaz, the ruby, the emerald, the amethyst, is well known; but how comes that lustre which so distinguishes them from other substances? It is because they, of all earthly substances, are the most ethereal in their structure, and hence vibrate and sparkle most readily in unison with the solar rays. Take a diamond out of the sunlight into a dark room, and you will see it still lustrous for a few moments, because its particles are still vibrating. All substances - air, water, wood, and rock - consist of identically the same atoms, only variously arranged, each possessing different qualities according to the closeness and form in which the particles of their molecules arrange themselves. Thus, carbon,f when in its amorphous state, is charcoal; when crystalised in prisms, it becomes black and opaque graphite; and when crystalised in octahedrons, it is etherealised into the limpid and transparent diamond.
Gems, in truth, are of all earthly substances the most similar in atomic structure to the ether - to that pure and subtle fluid pervading all space, which gives birth to the lightning, and whose vibrations are heat and light They are formed in the veins of the rock by the slow and continuous action of electric currents, which, in the lapse of ages, gradually alter the arrangement of the ultimate atoms of the rock, crystalizing them in forms congenial to their own ethereal structure. Science can imitate in some degree this rarest and most beautiful of nature's processes. "There is strong presumptive evidence," says Mrs. Somerville, "of the influence of the electric and magnetic currents on the formation and direction of the mountain masses and mineral veins; but their slow persevering action on the ultimate atoms of matter has been placed beyond a doubt by the formation of rubies and other gems, as well as other mineral substances, by voltaic electricity." What flowers are to the vegetable world, gems are to the mineral.
Both of them are embodiments of the beautiful; but the latter are of a purer substance, and, if slower of growth, only the more imperishable.
* From Blaokwood's Magazine.
† We do not think that the truth of the Atomic Theory admits of argument. It Is irrefragably demonstrated by the pure light of reason, and it has now been all but demonstrated according to the Baconian system of experiment Already some of our most positive and practical inquirers confess themselves within an ace of accepting the doctrine. Professor Faraday says: "The philosopher ends by asking himself these questions, - in what does chemical identity consist? - whether the so-called chemical elements may not be, after all, mere allotropic conditions of purer universal essence?- whether, to renew the speculations of the alchemist, metals may be only so many matali us of each other, by the power of science naturally convertible? There was a time when this fundamental doctrine of the alchemists was opposed to known (fancied ?) analogies; it is now no longer opposed to them, but only some stages beyond their present development." - Lectures, p. 100-4.
A science of color must be based upon a correct theory of light We believe the foundations of such a theory already exist The carefully-conducted though much contested experiments of Von Reichenbach tend to show that all polarised bodies - such as magnets, crystals, and the like - give off a subtle light of their own, which becomes visible in a dark room to persons of a sensitive nervous organisation. We certainly know that the earth radiates a light of its own, as exhibited in the beautiful coruscations of the aurora-borealis and the zodiacal light; - the explanation of this phenomenon being, that our planet is a large magnet, through which, as in all polarised bodies, there is a constant passage to and fro of electrical currents, which ray off in light from the poles. It will ere long be discovered that every planet is luminous, although its light may be overpowered by that of some larger orb - even as a taper's light is unnoticed in the full blaze of the sunlight ;* and one of the most fundamental canons in optics will be, that every body radiates more or less of light when its particles are in a state of electrical vibration.
The sun and its planets being in opposite states of polarity, a constant magnetic efflux is flowing from each to the other, - this efflux occasions a thrill, or vibrating motion, in the ether which fills the interstellar spaces, - and the result of this vibratory motion on the eye is light; just as a spark, or continuous stream of light, is the concomitant of a similar flux from an electric machine.