Treasures of the Deep
Treasures of the Deep
By James Carter Beard
A reprint from Harper's New Monthly Magazine
No. CCCXLV.—February, 1879.—Vol. LVIII.
"In good sooth,
If this the manner giveth not content,
Then may the matter, like the famous cup
Wherein old Egypt's queen resolved a pearl,
The ransom of a kingdom at a draught,
Contain some stuff of value."—Old Play.
INDIA seems to have been the original source from which pearls were obtained, and its people seem also to have possessed a more accurate knowledge of their nature than the rest of the ancient world. In the old Indian fable in which the elements are commanded to contribute their choicest treasures to form a gift-offering worthy of the last and greatest æon or incarnation of the deity, the air or firmament brings the rainbow, the earth furnishes the ruby, the fire a meteor, and the sea otters a pearl. The rainbow forms a halo around the god, the ruby blazes on his sacred forehead, the meteor serves him for a lamp or cresset, but the pearl is worn upon his heart. "Forsomuch," proceeds the ancient and forgotten poet in his beautiful symbolism, "as the pearl is a product of life, which life from an inward trouble and sorrow and from a fault produces purity and perfection, it is preferred, for in nothing does God so much delight Himself as in the tenderness and lustre of virtue born of trouble and repentance."
There is, indeed, in "the tenderness and lustre" of the pearl, and the fact that it is "a product of life," a suggestiveness and character which render it available to sacred writers of all religions.
There is but one pearl, a gem worthy of the name, the true Oriental pearl, which possesses the peculiar diaphanous lustre technically called "water," though many shells produce so-called pearls, some of them of considerable value. The shell which produces the translucent pearl is thick, and of an imperfect oval or nearly circular shape, as seen in the accompanying illustration with its adherent pearl. It is sometimes quite large, from eight to ten inches in diameter, though commonly about four. The outside of the shell is rough and variegated in structure. A glimpse of it sufficient to give an idea of this may be had, as it lies partly beneath the others in the foreground. The body of the oyster is unfit for food—an illustration of the universality of the law of compensation—but the shell itself, in addition to "bearing its royal gift of pearls," furnishes the valuable nacre, or mother-of-pearl, so largely used in the arts. The history of this gem has already been so fully and ably treated in this Magazine, to which we respectfully refer the reader, that we pass on to the pinna, or wing-shell, which is seen in the illustration overlapping the Meleagrina margaritifera, or pearl-oyster shell, that produces beautiful pink accretions of nacre, and which happen now to be very fashionable as gems. One most remarkable circumstance connected with this shell is that it actually produces silk, from which gloves and other articles of a fine texture, silken lustre, and handsome brown color are manufactured. This fabric is woven from the thick rope of silky fibres, called the byssus, or beard, by which the shell is moored to the bottom of the sea when it is found.
The shell containing on one valve a collection of strange-looking little figures, and on the other a string of pearls, the original of which is at the British Museum, is a species of mussel found in Chinese waters. This fact explains at once the existence and growth of pearls. In the one case small metal images are carefully inserted between the mantle and shells of full-grown mussels taken one by one from their natural beds; these foreign substances, imbedded in the soft muscular substance of the living animal, become in time completely incrusted with a thin coating of nacre, and appear as though they were the natural products of the shell, which by this living miracle in producing his images is supposed to attest the existence of the god. To furnish the other valve, which the reader will perceive contains a chaplet of pearls, the ingenious Mongolians have recourse to a variety of methods. One is by taking a portion of the shell itself, shaped into a spherical globule, and inserting it at a spot where the shell has been carefully scraped away. The failure of some experiments of this sort in the common fresh-water mussel of our own waters is probably owing to the fact that the shell was left unscraped, and buttons of mother-of-pearl merely placed upon the animal in the open shell.
A year generally suffices to cover these nuclei with a thin but perfect envelope of nacre, but each year, by adding a new coat, renders the pearl more perfect.
Another method is by piercing the shell with bits of silver wire, by which means adherent pearls are formed. Not only, however, are the processes of nature followed and natural pearls produced by artificial means, but pearls are now manufactured on a large scale without the aid of any shellfish whatever. About two hundred and twenty-two years ago Moïse M. Jaquin, a citizen of Paris, a bead-manufacturer, one of those inventive geniuses who are not above taking a hint or suggestion from the most casual circumstance, happened to be walking in the garden of his country-house near Paris, when his attention was attracted by a remarkable silvery lustre on a basin of water. We can imagine M. Jaquin at once all interest and attention at what almost any other man would pass, and which undoubtedly thousands on thousands had passed, without giving the matter a thought. "Ah, ciel!" murmurs the Frenchman, "if I could but give my beads such a lustre! Pray what has produced this effect upon the basin of water?"
The old servant, who has regarded the sudden interest displayed in such a trifle, we can well imagine, with some contempt as well as surprise, answers his master, speaking for the whole world: "Master, it is but the fish; some ablettes happened to be crushed in the water; it is nothing." Nothing! yes, nothing to the stupid servant, nothing to the rest of the world; but to a practical inventive genius like that of M. Jaquin it is a discovery, it is a fortune, it is an opening up of a new branch of commerce that feeds, clothes, and supports whole communities, and keeps them busy. M. Jaquin saw that the lustrous sheen he so much admired was indeed produced by the countless scales of the little fish called the bleak—Leuciscus alburnus. He at once began experimenting. The scales he dried and reduced to powder, and this he used as an enamel, with which small beads of wax alabaster were coated externally. Those, though beautiful, were unsatisfactory, and he soon began to use hollow glass beads. He now took the scales of the fish, thoroughly washed and rubbed them successively several times. The different portions of water used in these washings he suffered to settle. The water being carefully drawn off by siphons, our pearl-maker found a lustrous matter of the consistency of oil remaining at the bottom. This substance is called by the French "essence d'Orient," or essence of pearl. Our pearl-maker, after sundry ineffectual attempts to preserve it from soon becoming putrid, at last succeeded by keeping it in volatile alkali. The further process of pearl-making consists in blowing this essence of pearl, combined with melted isinglass, into hollow beads made of a peculiar kind of fine glass of a bluish tint. These having received an even and perfect incrustation on their inner surfaces, are filled with a mucilage of fine gum-arabic, and having been perforated with a needle and threaded on a string, are ready for sale. For one ounce of the lustrous material used in coating the inside of the shells, no less than a thousand fish are required. Fortunately this kind of fish is very abundant, or there might have been some probability that the bleak, becoming extinct as a fish, would only continue to exist in the form of artificial pearls.
The remaining shell in the illustration is a representation of our common river mussel, from which from time to time really valuable pearls are taken. A friend of mine found a beautiful pink-coral-colored gem in one of these shells on the banks of the Tennessee River.
In the world under the waters are lovely flowers of every hue, instinct with life and passion, which brighten with pleasure and pale with pain, which wave about on long stems in the shifting currents, as earthly flowers do to the varying zephyrs, or sit in conscious beauty thick clustered on a rough-ribbed branch of coral, or, breaking from their parent stems by a strange metabasis unknown to the vegetable analogues, become wanderers and vagabonds for the rest of their lives. Among these submarine flowers none show a rarer beauty or greater brilliancy than the coral polyps. The tenderest and most subtle grays, the most suggestive and softest carnations, and royal purple, robe these little polypidoms—"daughters of the sea"*—creatures that were, until a hundred and fifty years ago, universally believed to be marine flowers and trees.
*Κοράλλιον, from κóρη, a daughter, and αλóς, the sea. Latinized, the word becomes curalium, and hence our word coral.
Strange flowers and trees, stalks and branches covered with bark, from which proceed buds that open into flowers, and bear seeds that reproduce the coral; but the stalks, instead of being herbaceous or woody like those of vegetables, are horny or calcareous; the buds and flowers, endowed with animal life and intelligence, are sensitive and perceptive beings; the petals, opening out into rosettes, are so many arms, feelers, or tentacles that move about in search of food, which seizing upon, they convey to their common axis or centre, where is placed the mouth, and devour. This animated corolla opens and shuts alternately, and on the slightest hint of danger withdraws itself into itself, until nothing but an inconspicuous little gray knob can be seen where but an instant before all was life, color, and motion.
Much has been said in praise of these little creatures in respect to their unceasing industry, and coral reefs are actually spoken of as having been built by coral insects for habitations, as hives are constructed by bees, or houses by masons. The fact is that no more inactive creature exists than the mature coral polyp, rooted as it is to one spot for the whole period of its existence, and only living to eat and reproduce its kind. I say "mature coral polyp," for naturalists tell us that the larvæ, which resemble whitish semitransparent worms, swim in all directions with the greatest activity, always swimming with their thicker extremity in advance, carrying their mouths in the rear, so that they butt against any thing that happens to be in their way. The fact that the thicker extremity becomes in time the base of the polyp, and that it has a tendency to adhere to any object it encounters, soon transforms the free-swimming larva into a fixed polyp, which in turn deposits coral and sends out new colonies.
Thus is reversed the transformation of insects, which is first the motionless chrysalis and then the butterfly, while with the coral first comes the free-swimming larva and afterward the immovable polyp.
The red and pink coral of commerce is found principally off the coasts of France and Italy, where, within the rocky recesses of the sea-bottom, grow purple forests of this most valuable of all the corals. Unlike its homologues on the land, the coral loves to grow downward from the roof of some shelving rock or marine cave.
Among the curious coral formations few are more interesting than the "musical coral," or "sea-organ," so called because of the great number of stony pipes, most usually straight and slightly radiating, a representation of which, crowned with its delicate flower polyps, is given in the lower part of the engraving above, in which an attempt is made to render the texture as well as the general effect of these beautiful anthozoa. A specimen of the Dendrophyllia ramea, one of the madrepores, is also shown at the right as a very large stem with short ascending branches, tipped each with its many-tentacled polyp. In the upper portion is also seen the fan gorgon (sea-fan), Gorgonia flabellum, a beautiful representative form of sclerobasic, or stony-rooted coral, the branches having a bony axis, as may be detected by the smell in burning, and uniting in an elegant network, the color indicating the species. Belonging to the same great family, but living separately, and possessing, even in the adult state, the power of changing their locality, are the soft-bodied polyps, the sea-anemones. Adhering to a rock by a fleshy disk that adapts itself to all inequalities, it spreads its tentacles like the petals of the flower from which it is named, and awaits its prey. "Its stomach is simply a sack suspended in the cavity of its body, into which it opens at the lower extremity by a large aperture. Between the stomach and the body walls are spaces opening into the numerous hollow tentacles, which by muscular contraction are filled out into their proper shape and size with seawater."
Like the coral polyps, the anemone, while retaining animal instincts and perception, repeats many of the processes of vegetable life. If a part is destroyed or damaged, it is reproduced. If an individual is torn in pieces, each fragment becomes a perfect animal. At times buds appear at the edge of the base. These buds in time become embryos, which, detached from the parent stem, grow into perfect anemones. Another mode of reproduction is equally curious. In this case the eggs are formed inside of the arms or tentacles, discharged from thence, when hatched, into the stomach, and ejected from the mouth.
These beautiful animated flowers of the sea are of every shade and hue: white, with a pearly translucency like the petals of a lily, gray, pink like a baby's fingers, red (appropriately named "blood stars"), purple, with a plum-like bloom, fawn, golden yellow, orange, lilac, azure, and green. "One beautiful species has violet tentacles pointed with white; another, red tentacles speckled with gray; this one spreads out its green arms edged with a circle of dead white, while that opens a milk-white top circled with a border of pink. Nor," says M. Moquin Tandon, in Le Monde de la Mer, from which we quote, "are the stem, the disk, and the tentacles invariably of the same color; and it is because of this these living corollas possess such a variety of hues. Behold an anemone with a golden body, a disk of a plum-color, surrounded by tentacles of white; a second has a red centre, with tentacles of gray: in a third the centre is green and the tentacles yellow. So Nature diversifies her countless creations, and upon the same theme plays endless variations."
The anemone just beneath the shrimp in the illustration above is the Actinoloba dianathus, displaying its furry plume of tentacles fringed and cut like the petals of a pink. It has a variety of colors—orange, cream-color, pink, olive, red, or silvery white. It can at its own caprice assume widely different forms, and, fortunately for owners of aquaria, is very hardy. Its English name is the plumose anemone. On the left, serpent-crowned with its Medusa-like crest, is the snake-locked anemone. Though it has not the brilliant colors of the preceding species, it is a remarkably pretty anemone, with its crown of tentacles waving "like a thin blue cloud" upon the summit of its elongated stem. The object furthest to the right is the same anemone closed. That immediately beneath the snake-locked anemone is called the beadlet, because of the deep blue turquois-like protuberances placed around the disk: Actinia menembryanthemum. "It is extremely variable in color, ranging through all the changes from scarlet to crimson, from crimson to orange, from orange to yellow, from yellow to green. Even the same individual," says J. G. Wood, "is subject to change of color, being evidently influenced by various external conditions, such as light, food, and the purity of water in which it is placed." The gem pimplet, Bunades gemmacea, a very showy species, is seen placed lowest in the illustration. Its thick tentacles are marked with white oval spots, and there are six white bands on the body. It is remarkable for the resemblance it bears, when closed, as seen in the darker object at the right of the illustration, to an echinus, or sea-urchin, stripped of its spines.
In the same great class as the anemones, but higher in the order of creation, is one of the most exquisitely beautiful of marine objects, the celebrated argonaut, or paper nautilus, so called because of the extreme thinness of the shell, its former name being given it in allusion to its fabled sailing powers, in relation to which that Darwin of the ancients, Aristotle, says: "The nautilus polyp is of the nature of animals which pass for extraordinary, for it can float on the sea; it raises itself from the bottom of the water, the shell being reversed and empty, but when it reaches the surface it re-adjusts it. It has between the arms a species of tissue similar to that which unites the toes of webfooted birds; when there is a little wind, it employs this tissue as a sort of sail."
Indeed, until a comparatively recent period, all accounts of the animal represented it as using its delicate shell for a boat, its tentacles as oars, and its expanded mantle as a sail. The truth, however, is strange enough, without having recourse to fiction. One of the most extraordinary circumstances connected with the animal is the fact that it is not united to the shell it secretes, and can be entirely separated from it, as if one should evolve a boat or a house from his own substance, which would grow with his growth, and heal when injured, and yet which he could quit and leave behind him when he chose.
The dilated extremities of two of the arms, as seen in the cut above, cover up the shell on the exterior, and have secreted its substance, and by their broad expansion moulded it into shape; they clasp the shell firmly, and serve to retain the animal within it. The figure lowest in the illustration represents the nautilus withdrawn within its shell. The large expanded membranes at the extremities of the arms cover the greater part of the shell, while their supports, set with suckers resembling those of the cuttle-fish, are bent over the remainder of the animal. The large eye is seen peeping with a wide-awake expression over the edge of the shell, the bases of the arms are arched over and beyond it, and clusters of eggs are seen sheltered under the arch of the expanded arms.
When the nautilus is taking a leisurely stroll, she walks upon her head. I say "she," for it is only the females which secrete shells, the males being very insignificant, worm-like creatures. Withdrawing her body as far as possible into her shell, madame turns herself in such a manner as to rest upon her head, and, using her arms to walk upon, creeps slowly along, sometimes taking a strong hold with her cup-like suckers on some projecting rock, and swinging herself from one projection to another. At other times, desiring a swifter mode of progression, she assumes the appearance and attitude shown in the middle figure, extends her six arms in parallel straight lines to offer the slightest possible resistance to the water, grasps the shell tightly and firmly with the velated or sail-like arms, and squirts herself along backward like a flash of light by violently ejecting water from the tube which can be seen projecting beneath her outstretched bundle of arms.
It is impossible to realize without seeing the beauty of this dainty creature. "It appeared," writes Mr. Rang, describing one of these polyps which had been captured alive, "a mass of silver, with a cloud of spots of a most beautiful rose-color, and a fine dotting of the same, which heightened its beauty. A long semicircular band of ultramarine blue, which melted away insensibly, was very decidedly marked at one of its extremities: that is the keel." Thus it appears more like a fairy in a boat of unearthly and enchanting beauty as it floats upon a summer sea than the unattractive form which its preserved corpse exhibits in alcohol.
There are none of our readers, we venture to say, who have not admired the gorgeous richness or the tender delicacy of the colors, and the strange eccentricity or exquisite grace of the forms of sea-shells. All elegant curves, all gradations of spirals, all manner of spines and protuberances, all varieties of radiating lines, seem exhausted in their formation.
What can surpass the shell called Venus's comb, seen in the centre of the upper part of the engraving above, in the Japanese-like combination of elegance and grotesqueness in its formation? It may be said that the law of its being is that every part should develop into thorns or spines. Every part of its surface not occupied by spines is covered with tubercles, which are nothing else than spines in a state of arrested development, and even the markings in its mouth take the form of spines. On the left of the illustration, with its projecting beak crossing that of the last-named shell, is a species of the same genus. In this shell another law of development obtains, decreeing that knobs or rounded nodules shall take the place of spines, and certainly a more tuberculated object it would be hard to imagine. On the lower part of the illustration that extends along the left side of the page is the spindle shell, carrying its spire into the upper half of the illustration. The shell is pearly white, and ornamented with the most delicate imaginable spiral grooves, following the form of the shell in parallel lines, and crossed by subtle undulations running longitudinally from one extremity of the shell to the other. The end of its beak or spire just crosses the Nilotic top, which in turn rests upon the turret shell. Upon the shore, at the bottom of the illustration, rests a remarkable group of shells. The one to the left, the Spondylus regius, is probably the rarest shell in the sea. At one time there were to be found but three imperfect specimens in the museums of Europe. It is related that a learned professor in Paris once sold all his own personal possessions, and even his wife's jewelry and silver spoons, to purchase one of these rare specimens, but was so overwhelmed by his indignant helpmate's reproaches on returning home with the shell in his coat-tail pocket that, completely losing his presence of mind, he incontinently sat down upon it and broke it in pieces. The verdict of many a good housewife would probably be, "And served him right." However, we are told the shell was not so very badly broken, after all, and they kissed and made up. "The moral to which perhaps is," using the words of the duchess in Alice behind the Looking-Glass, "things don't turn out so badly, after all, if you will only use plenty of patience and plaster." The large shell at the right is called a spider shell, Pteroceras chiragra, though certainly its resemblance to that class of the animal kingdom might be stronger. The shell immediately beneath it is one of the so-called cowries, Cypræa undata. The beautiful and thoroughly artistic markings upon this genus of shells are almost infinitely varied.
The large shell to the left, just above the spindle shell, is very noticeable for the bold and almost unique character of its ornamentation—a series of cuneiform spots on a rich dark polished ground; it is a sea-cone, or, as the Latin hath it, Conus nobilis. Many a hint might our decorators of ceramics carry away from a study of the genus to which this species belongs. The shell just behind the Venus's comb is called the weaver's shuttle, Ovalum valva, and behind this is a very curious little shell. It has no popular name; its Latin one is Ianthana communis. The iantha inhabit the deep sea. Travellers have sailed for many days through wandering tribes of these mollusks, which were buoyed up by a vesiculous foam-like mass of small eggs, and but for the power they possess of withdrawing and contracting themselves inside their shells, and thus decreasing their volume and increasing their weight so as to sink beneath the surface, they would be the sport of every gale.
I can not pass from this subject without presenting my acknowledgments to the accomplished artists who engraved these shells and the cut of the nautilus. Seldom has box-wood been made to show more perfectly the texture and character of the object represented.
So strange are some of the forms of marine life that an account of them, unsupported by the most undeniable evidence, would be incredible. A being, for instance, like the so-called sea-pen, represented in the lower part of the illustration above, seems to have no more object or significance than the pen flourish of the writing-master, which pen flourish it so much resembles. It can not swim; it has not even any means by which it can fasten itself to any one spot; it is at the mercy of the waves and currents. Yet it is very beautiful, and as it is phosphorescent, it presents a magnificent sight in the darkness. It is allied to the sea-rushes, which, like the sea-pen, are not single organizations, but consist of a community of polyps like the coral-trees. They are found in the Mediterranean. Those with long stems bearing at their summits clusters of blossom-like zoophytes are called umbellularia, the others virgularia. Inhabitants of less frigid seas resemble plants with petiolate leaves of a brilliant yellow color covered with white semi-transparent flowers, which, of course, are the polyps.
The truest animal plants, however, are, without doubt, the crinoids, or stone-lilies. With them the external resemblance is almost perfect to the minutest particulars. They resemble a flower borne upon a stem, terminating in an organ called a calyx, which is, properly speaking, the body of the animal. Branches issue from the main stem, which at its base bears a sort of spreading root planted amid the rocks, and capable of growing by itself and nourishing the stem. These can be seen in the upper corner of the illustration containing a representation of the coral. Floating upon the sun-lit sea, gorgeous in azure-blue, emerald-green, rose-pink and crimson, may be sometimes seen the small fleets called Portuguese men-of-war. At a distance they appear like veritable miniature vessels, with canvas spread to favorable gales, bound for an unknown port, and perhaps navigated by Lilliputian crews. As a specimen is examined more closely, however, this resemblance vanishes, and the examiner finds instead a pear-shaped, elegantly crested air-sac, floating lightly on the surface of the water, and giving off from its under surface numerous long and complicated appendages, which stretch out behind the floating community—for it is a compound animal—sometimes to the length of thirty feet. Woe be to the unlucky bather who encounters these envenomed filaments, for their touch deranges the whole nervous system, and causes exquisite pain. Scarcely can it be called a treasure of the deep, except in respect to its exceeding beauty, which, to be sure, like that of a work of art, though beauty be its only excellence, fully entitles it to claim that appellation.
Much more tangible is the value attached to the sponges, to fill whose office and place in our domestic economy no invention of man, however ingenious or elaborate, has ever sufficed. Equally indispensable to the toilet of beauty, the laboratory of the scientist, or the operating-room of the surgeon, few articles of natural production subserve so many and such various uses. Our finest sponges come from the shores of Greece and Syria. The Syrian sponge is flaxen in color and of a cup-like form, voluted, and pierced with innumerable small orifices, very firm and close of texture, and yet both soft and elastic. This sponge is particularly valued for toilet purposes, and its price is high.
Scarcely to be distinguished from the Syrian, but weightier and somewhat coarser in texture, is the fine sponge of the Grecian Archipelago. There is also a fine hard sponge, still cheaper, of a second grade, obtained from these waters. The white sponge of Syria, miscalled Venetian, is esteemed for its lightness, the regularity of its form, and its solidity.
Other sorts of sponges occur in profusion, and space fails even in enumerating them. The sponges of our own waters, although far inferior in quality to these, form a valuable article of commerce, being extensively used by hostlers, and in packing steam-chests, etc. Pens or receptacles are built near the shores of the Florida Keys, to which the sponge-fishers resort to unload their cargoes of sponges and turtles, which are afterward carried to the main-land in lighters. Sponge-fishers obtain their sponges either by diving or by harpooning the sponges in shallow waters, as is represented in the illustration. Those obtained by diving are the most valuable.
Turtle-fishing is also carried on to a considerable extent in the vicinity of the Gulf of Mexico. The turtles most sought for are the ordinary queen turtle and the hawk's-bill turtle, the carapace of which supplies the tortoise-shell of commerce. The scales of the back are individually so large they overlap each other about one-third of their length. The removal of these plates is not necessarily attended by the death of the animal; but insensible and cold-blooded as the creatures proverbially are, it seems rather a cruel process, the poor reptile being exposed to a strong heat, which loosens the plates so that they can be readily removed.
The plates when first removed are dirty, crumpled, opaque, and brittle—quite useless for the purposes of manufacture. Their valuable qualities are developed by a liberal use of hot water and steam. Under this treatment they become soft, pliable, and capable of becoming amalgamated together by pressure, so that masses of any size or thickness can be readily formed.
"In the neighborhood of Cuba," writes M. Moquin Tandon, "a most peculiar method of securing the turtle is pursued. They train, or at least take advantage of, the instinct of a fish—a species of remora. This fish is called by the Spanish revé (reversed), because its back is usually taken for its belly. It has an oval plate attached to its head, whose surface is traversed by parallel ridges; by this plate it can firmly adhere to any solid body it may choose. The boats which go in quest of turtle carry each a tub containing some of these revés. When the sleeping reptiles are seen, they are cautiously approached, and as soon as they are judged to be near enough, a revé is thrown into the sea. Upon perceiving the turtle, its instinct induces it to swim toward the creature, and fix itself firmly upon it by its sucking disk. Sooner would the revé allow itself to be pulled to pieces than quit its hold. A ring is attached to the tail of the fish, to which a cord, made of the fibre of the bark of the palm-tree, is fastened. As soon as the revé is firmly attached to the turtle the fishermen haul in the line, bringing the fish and the turtle. By a peculiar manipulation the revé which can not be pulled off, is induced to let go his hold, and is returned to his tub, ready for the next hunt."
Perhaps the most complete metamorphosis of the character and associations connected with any substance in nature is found in the delicate toilet perfume, ambergris, which naturalists tell us is nothing else than the result of a fit of indigestion on the part of the sperm-whale, being, in fact, a kind of intestinal calculus, or portion of the food of the whale imperfectly digested. Foxes have a great partiality for ambergris, and congregate on the seacoast in search of it. They eat it, and return it in exactly the same state as it was swallowed, in respect to perfume, though changed in color. This is the white ambergris so highly valued. Thus, after passing through the digestive organs of two animals, it retains its delicate and subtle perfume, which rivals that of the fairest flowers, and also retains its value for the toilet.
This substance, however, is, I hardly need write, by far the least valuable contributed by the cetacea to the human race. Not to enlarge on the other products—such as the oil obtained from the blubber, which, unfortunately for the animals that produce it, is so great a treasure as to nearly lead to their extinction, or the baleen, or whalebone, which from generation to generation has contributed to form and fashion the female half of civilized society—ivory may be specified as a treasure of the deep more in accordance and keeping with the scope of the present article. This is furnished by the narwhal, or sea-unicorn, and so highly was it once valued that a few shavings were sold for high prices, and a whole beak, or horn, was considered well-nigh inestimable. The ivory of the narwhal is still very highly valued. In common with that furnished by the tusks of the walrus, it has the valuable property of retaining its beautiful snowy whiteness, which, unlike the elephant's ivory, it does not lose with age; it is also solid, very hard, and capable of receiving a high polish. Walrus ivory is of a beautiful texture, and is much valued, sharing in almost an equal degree all the good qualities of the ivory of the narwhal.
I have attempted in the scope of this article only to direct the reader's attention to the strange and beautiful forms of life that inhabit the world of waters, the great deep, which, though it seems to shut off so much of the earth from the use and habitation of man, is as necessary to his comfort, and very existence, as the dry land.