Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/557

This page has been validated.



historic foundation, this education will at the same time embrace the elements of modern civilization in due measure. By itself giving free play, within certain limits, to realism, it will be all the better enabled to resist its encroachments. By yielding a little of its own, it will insure the safety of all the rest; and thus perhaps it will defend—if it is not already too late—the nation's treasure which has been intrusted to it, German idealism.


ONE day, not long ago, the jewelers of Paris were in a high state of excitement, and justly so, for the news had reached them from the Academy of Sciences that two chemists, MM. E. Frémy and Feil, had discovered a process for the manufacture by the pound of certain kinds of precious stones ranking in value next to the diamond, and frequently commanding still larger prices than the latter—namely, the ruby, the sapphire, and the most precious of all, the Oriental emerald. At first the Parisian jewelers consoled themselves with the thought that the genuine stones would always be preferred to the artificial ones, but the excitement increased when it became known that MM. Frémy and Feil did not propose to imitate precious stones, but that their productions would be perfectly equal to the natural ones, and that a watch would run on their artificial rubies as well as on natural ones, because both of them were equally hard. Now the dealers in precious stones asserted that it was sinful to imitate Nature's work in that manner, and that the Government ought to prohibit it. On the other hand, a few enthusiastic feuilletonistes proclaimed that the discovery in question foreshadowed a still more important one—that of making gold and diamonds; that the dreams of the alchemists were about to be realized, and that poverty and wretchedness would be no more.

Of the prospect of poverty and wretchedness coming to an end we say nothing here. As for the transformation of lead and other base metals into gold and silver, we have to declare that this branch of alchemy is something altogether different from the manufacture of precious stones. Most of our modern chemists hold metals to be simple, immutable elements, which have always been what they are now, and which may change their form, but never their peculiar nature. Not so with precious stones, most of which, and especially those that are most highly prized, are of very lowly origin indeed. In the eyes of the chemist the ruby, the sapphire, the topaz, etc., are simply modifications of one substance (alumina), which, as clay, forms the greater portion of the earth's

  1. Translated from the Gartenlaube.