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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/411

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PEARLS AND MOTHER-OF-PEARL.

strings of enormous pearls, and of "fine pearls" no less than sixty bushels!—accumulated during campaigns in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Shah Jehan, greatest of Mogul sovereigns after Timour, collected the wealth of India about him at Delhi, including the world-famous diamond known ever since as the Great Mogul. His was the famous peacock throne, the spread tails of the peacocks formed of precious stones to emulate the colors of the living bird, the whole valued at nearly thirty-five million dollars. Its canopy was fringed with pearls. His, too, was the Taj Mahal, the most marvelous tomb ever built, on which twenty thousand men worked for more than twenty years. And this Shah Jehan loved to wear round his neck priceless strings of immense pearls.

The Greeks and Romans rivaled the Orientals in their appreciation of pearls. When Alexander and his eighty companions wedded their beautiful Persian brides at the most famous marriage feast of history, the pearls of the Persian Gulf were the favorite jewels—as they are with brides in this closing decade of the nineteenth century. The Romans sent caravans on yearlong journeys to Ceylon for pearls. And there is evidence that Julius Cæsar really invaded Britain for the sake of expected plunder in pearls. That he was not disappointed is shown by the record that on his return he dedicated to the Venus Genetrix a breastplate of the British gems.

The ancients seem to have had no conception of the real origin of pearls. Even in the days of the Romans they had not advanced beyond the early myths of creation by Vishnu, of angels' tears dropped out of heaven into the gaping mouths of mussels, or the diverse theory that they were as mystically congealed from dewdrops, which with equal mystery, after their ethereal descent, dropped through fathoms of water without commingling—unless, indeed, the shellfish were supposed to come to the surface to receive them. Pliny gravely asserts that "pearls are great or small, better or worse, according to the quantity and quality of the dew they have received. For, if the dew were pure and clear that went into them, then are the pearls fair and orient. Cloudy weather spoils their color, lightning stops their growth, and thunder makes the shellfish eject hollow husks or bubbles" in place of pearls.

Ceylon and the Persian Gulf, which were the chief sources of fine pearls back before the dawn of the Christian era, have retained their supremacy through twenty centuries, though profitable pearling grounds are now worked in Eastern waters off New Guinea and the northern Australian coasts, in the Sulu Archipelago, off Japan, and among the Polynesian islands. In minor quantity, and perhaps quality, pearls are gathered from Western