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CHAP. 1. (1.)—THE FIRST USE OF PRECIOUS STONES.

THAT nothing may be wanting to the work which I have undertaken, it still remains for me to speak of precious stones: a subject in which the majestic might of Nature presents itself to us, contracted within a very limited space, though, in the opinion of many, nowhere displayed in a more admirable form. So great is the value that men attach to the multiplied varieties of these gems, their numerous colours, their constituent parts, and their singular beauty, that, in the case of some of them, it is looked upon as no less than sacrilege to engrave them, for signets even, the very purpose for which, in reality, they were made. Others, again, are regarded as beyond all price, and could not be valued at any known amount of human wealth; so much so that, in the case of many, it is quite sufficient to have some single gem or other before the eyes, there to behold the supreme and absolute perfection of Nature's work.

We have already1 stated, to some extent, when speaking on the subject of gold and rings, how the use of precious stones first originated, and from what beginnings this admiration of them has now increased to such an universal passion. According to fabulous lore, the first use of them was suggested by the rocks of Caucasus, in consequence of an unhappy interpretation which was given to the story of the chains of Prometheus: for we are told by tradition, that he enclosed a fragment of this stone in iron, and wore it upon his finger;2 such being the first ring and the first jewel known.

1 In B. xxxiii. c. 4.

2 This being imposed as a punishment on him, in remembrance of his sacrilegious crimes, when released by Jupiter from the rock. Prometheus and Vulcan, as Ajasson remarks, are personifications of fire, employed for artistic purposes.

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