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CHAP. 1. (1.)—METALS.

WE are now about to speak of metals, of actual wealth,1 the standard of comparative value, objects for which we diligently search, within the earth, in numerous ways. In one place, for instance, we undermine it for the purpose of obtaining riches, to supply the exigencies of life, searching for either gold or silver, electrum2 or copper.3 In another place, to satisfy the requirements of luxury, our researches extend to gems and pigments, with which to adorn our fingers4 and the walls of our houses: while in a third place, we gratify our rash propensities by a search for iron, which, amid wars and carnage, is deemed more acceptable even than gold. We trace out all the veins of the earth, and yet, living upon it, undermined as it is beneath our feet, are astonished that it should occasionally cleave asunder or tremble: as though, forsooth, these signs could be any other than expressions of the indignation felt by our sacred parent! We penetrate into her entrails, and seek for treasures in the abodes even of the Manes,5 as though each spot we tread upon were not sufficiently bounteous and fertile for us!

And yet, amid all this, we are far from making remedies the object of our researches: and how few in thus delving into the earth have in view the promotion of medicinal knowledge! For it is upon her surface, in fact, that she has presented us with these substances, equally with the cereals, bounteous and ever ready, as she is, in supplying us with all things for our benefit! It is what is concealed from our view, what is sunk far beneath her surface, objects, in fact, of no rapid formation,6 that urge us to our ruin, that send us to the very depths of hell. As the mind ranges in vague speculation, let us only consider, proceeding through all ages, as these operations are, when will be the end of thus exhausting the earth, and to what point will avarice finally penetrate! How innocent, how happy, how truly delightful even would life be, if we were to desire nothing but what is to be found upon the face of the earth; in a word, nothing but what is provided ready to our hands!

1 "Ipsæ opes." The metals were looked upon by the ancients as the only true riches. It is in this sense that Ovid says, Metam. B. i.: "Effodiuntur opes, irritamenta malorum." Pliny applies the term "pretia rerum" to metals, as forming the unit of value.

2 Electrum is described in c. 23, as gold mixed with a certain quantity of silver. The word "electrum" is also used to signify amber, as in B. iii. c. 30.—B.

3 "Æs;" by "æs" is here probably meant copper, as the author is speaking of what is dug out of the earth; it is more fully described in the first two Chapters of the next Book. According to the analysis of Klaproth, the œs of the ancients, when employed in works of art, cutting instruments, statues, vases, &c., was the "bronze" of the moderns, a mixture of copper and tin, in which the proportion of tin varied, from a little more than 2 to 1.14 per cent. according as the object was to procure a flexible or a hard substance. Agricola speaks of "æs" as synonymous with "cuprum," and Pliny will be found several times in the present Book, speaking of "æs Cyprium," meaning probably the finest kind of copper, and that without alloy.—B.

4 Pliny has already referred to this topic in B. ii. c. 63.—B.

5 Or shades below.

6 "Illa quæ non nascuntur repente."

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