Page images

conciliate their brides and be in the fashion. The revulsion made the ring what we now have, a plain gold circlet ; though, by a compromise, the engagement-ring may be as costly as fancy dictates or means permit.

The materials of which wedding-rings bave been composed are as diverse as the nations which have used the ring. The British Museum bas rings of bone and of hard wood, found in the Swiss lakes ; on one of the bone rings is traced a heart, giving antiquaries reason to believe that the ring was a pledge of affection, if not a wedding-ring. The same museum has rings from all parts of the earth-of bone, ivory, copper, brass, lead, tin, iron, silver, gold, and some of a composite of several of these metals. One ivory ring, from an Egyptian tomb, bears two clasped hands; an iron ring, having the design of a band closing over a heart, once graced the hand of a Roman matron ; while the inscriptions on many others make it certain that they were weddingrings.

The use of many different materials in the construction of these wedding-rings does not indicate capricious changes of fashion, for it should be remembered that museums and collections of antiquities comprise specimens of many ages and of widely-separated lands, but there is no doubt that fashion has sometimes had an influence in determining the style and material of the ring. For instance : during the latter part of the sixteenth century a fashion for some time prevailed in France of making the wedding-ring consist of several links fastened together in such a way as to seem but one. Sometimes there were three, two links having graven hands and the third a heart, the union of the three in the proper position clasping the hands over the heart. During the palmy days of astrology, there was quite a fashion in Germany of wedding-rings engraved with astronomical and astrological characters, the horoscopes of both the contracting parties being sometimes indicated in the setting of the ring. That being also the golden age of the quack doctor, wedding rings were often made with a cavity to contain medical preparations or charms to preserve or restore bealth or avert evil. After the Crusades had set Europe in a flame, a practice became common in France, Germany, and England, of wearing rings the setting of which was a tiny fragment of wood from the true cross, and many of these rings are still preserved in the cabinets and museums of Europe. Ass-hoof rings were, in the seventeenth century, very popular among the Spanish peasants as a cure for epilepsy; and such a ring, made, it was said, from the boof of the ass which carried Christ into Jerusalem, was used in a wedding in a country church near Madrid in 1881 !

But when the ring was not plain, precious stones of some kind constituted the settings; and when the selection of the stone was in question, the dominance of fashion was absolute. In the fourteenth century, a fanciful Italian writer on the mystic arts set forth the virtues of the various gems, indicating also the month in which it was proper to wear particular stones in order to secure the best result. The idea took, and for some time it was the fashion in several Italian cities to have the precious stone of the ring determined by the month in which the bride was born. If in January, the stone was a garnet, believed to have the power of winning the wearer friends wherever she went. If in February, her ring was set with an amethyst, which not only promoted in her the quality of sincerity, but protected her from poison and from slanderous tongues. The blood-stone was for March, making her wise, and enabling her with patience to bear domestic cares ; the diamond for April, keeping her heart innocent and pure so long as she wore the gem. An emerald for May made her a happy wife; while an agate, for June, gave her health and protection from fairies and ghosts. If born in July, the stone was a ruby, which tended to keep her free from jealousy of her husband; while in August, the sardonyx made her bappy in the maternal relation. In September, a sapphire was the proper stone, it preventing quarrels between the wedded pair; in October, a carbuncle was chosen, to promote her love of home. The November-born bride wore a topaz, it having the gift of making her truthful and obedient to her husband; while in December the turquoise insured her faithfulness. Among the German country-folk, the last-named stone is to the present day used as a setting for the betrothal-ring, and, so long as it retains its color, is believed to indicate the constancy of the wearer.

From Italy this fanciful notion spread to France, and French bridegrooms would sometimes insure themselves against a bad matrimonial bargain, and, as far as they could, guarantee to their brides a variety of good qualities, by presenting twelve rings, one for each month, with occasionally one or two extra as special charms. However, this extravagance in the number of rings used at weddings is not a solitary instance, for the use of several rings at the marriage ceremony has often been known. Four rings placed on her hand at her marriage could not keep Mary Stuart faithful to Darnley; and the annals of European courts record many instances similar, both as to the rings and to the result. The Greek Church uses two rings, one of gold, the other of silver ; while in some districts of Spain and Portugal, three rings are placed, one at a time, on the fingers of the bride, as the words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," are pronounced.

Fashion has also determined, not only the style of the weddingring, but the finger on which it is to be worn; and so capriciously has custom varied, that the symbol of matrimony has traveled from the thumb to the fourth finger, where it now reposes. In the time of Elizabeth, it was customary, both in England and on the Continent, for ladies to wear rings on the thumb, and several of her rings now shown in the British Museum, from their size, must have been thumbrings. That the practice of wearing thumb-rings extended to the case of married ladies and their wedding rings, is amply attested, not only by allusions in contemporary literature, but by the portraits of matrons of that age, a great many, where the hands are shown, displaying the wedding-ring on the left thumb. In the time of Charles II, the ring seems to have found lodgment on the forefinger, sometimes on the middle finger, occasionally on the third finger also, and, by the time George I came to the throne, the third finger was recognized as the proper place for it, not universally, however, for William Jones in his treatise on rings, declares that even then the thumb was the favorite place for the wedding-ring, and gives instances of the ring being made of large size, and, although placed on the third finger at the ceremony, immediately afterward removed to the thumb.

An English work on etiquette, published in 1732, says it is for the bride to choose on which finger the wedding-ring shall be placed. It further states that some prefer the thumb, since it is the strongest and most important member of the band; others, the index-finger, because at its base lies the mount of Jupiter, indicating the noble aspirations ; others, the middle finger, because it is the longest of the four; and others, again, the fourth finger, because a “vein proceeds from it to the heart.”

The “British Apollo,” however, decides the proper place of the ring to be the fourth finger, not because it is nearer the heat than the others, but because on it the ring is less liable to injury. The same authority prefers the left hand to the right. The right hand is the emblem of authority, the left of submission, and the position of the ring on the left hand of the bride indicates ber subjection to her husband. A curious exception to the rule placing the ring on the left hand is, however, seen in the usage of the Greek Church, which puts the rings on the right band.

As the symbol of matrimony, it is not strange that many of the superstitious fancies which have arisen in connection with the wedding should cluster about the ring. Dreaming on a bit of weddingcake is common among American young ladies ; but they should be informed that, for the dreaming to be properly done, the piece of cake thus brought into service should be passed through the weddingring, for so it is done in Yorkshire, Wales, and Brittany, in which localities the custom has been observed from time immemoria). The Russian peasantry not only invest the cake with wonderful qualities by touching it with the two rings used in the ceremony, but deem that water in which the rings have been dipped has certain curious beneficial properties.

In many country districts of Great Britain it is believed that a marriage is not binding on either party unless a ring is used; hence, curtain-rings, the church-key, and other substitutes, including a ring cut from a finger of the bride's glove, have been mentioned as devices to meet an emergency, when a ring of the proper kind could not be procured in time. In parts of Ireland, however, there is a current belief that a ring of gold must be used, and jewelers in the country towns not infrequently hire gold rings to peasants, to be returned after the ceremony.

Blessing the ring gives it no small share of sanctity, and old missals contain explicit directions as to the manner in which this ceremony must be carried out. In the church-service as performed in the villages of England, the ring is frequently placed in the missal, the practice being, no doubt, a relic of the blessing once thought indispensable. The German peasant-women continue to wear the wedding-ring of the first husband, even after a second marriage, and a recent book of German travels mentions a peasant wearing, at one time, the weddingrings of four “late lamenteds.” An instance is known of a woman of German birth, who, after the death of her husband in a Western State, had the misfortune to lose her ring. She at once bought another, had it blessed, and wore it instead of the former, deeming it unlucky to be without a wedding-ring. Among the same class of people, stealing a wedding-ring is thought to bring evil on the thief, while breaking the emblem of marriage is a sure sign of speedy death to one or both of the contracting parties.





which are so highly prized in the great American bivalve, and which are so attractive in specimens on the half-shell or in the stew as to lead the average man to pay a considerable extra price for extra size, are not entirely natural ; and even those who do know that the majority of the oysters in the market are artificially swollen by introducing water into the tissues are not all aware that the process by which this is done is closely analogous to that by which the food in our own bodies is conveyed through the walls of the stomach and other parts of the digestive apparatus and poured into the blood and lymph to do its work of nourishment.

Physiologists are, I believe, agreed that the passage of the digested food through the walls of the alimentary canal in man and other animals is, in large part, due to osmose or dialysis, and that the operation of this physical law is a very common one in the animal body. But the quantitative study of the chemical changes involved is generally rendered difficult or impossible by the very fact of their taking place in living animals where the application of chemical analysis is impossible. An opportunity is, however, offered by the oyster, which, since it lives in water and bas a body so constituted as to readily permit the inflow and outflow of water and solutions of salts, may be easily used for experiments. The results of the experiments have a practical as well as scientific interest, since they confirm the common explanation of the increase in bulk of oysters by “floating,” and show that it is essentially a process of watering in which the bulk is increased without any corresponding increase, but rather, if anything, a loss of nutritive material.*

It is a common practice of oyster-dealers, instead of selling the oysters in the condition in which they are taken from the beds in salt water, to first place them for a time-forty-eight hours, more or lessin fresh or brackish water, in order, as the oyster-men say, to “fatten” them, the operation being called “floating” or “laying out.” By this process the body of the oyster acquires such a plumpness and rotundity, and its bulk and weight are so increased, as to materially increase its selling value.

The belief is common among oyster-men that this “ fattening” is due to an actual gain of flesh and fat, and that the nutritive value of the oyster is increased by the process. A moment's consideration of the chemistry and physiology of the subject will make it clear, not only that such an increase of tissue-substance in so short a time and with such scanty food-supply is out of the question, but that the increase of volume and weight of the bodies of the oysters is just what would be expected from the osmose which would naturally take place between the contents of the bodies of the oysters as taken from salt water and the fresh or brackish water in which they are floated.

If we fill a bladder with salt water, and then put it into fresh water, the salt water will gradually work its way out through the pores of the bladder, and, at the same time, the fresher water will enter the bladder; and, further, the fresh water will go in much more rapidly than the salt water goes out. The result will be that the amount of water in the bladder will be increased. The bladder will swell by taking up more water than it loses, while at the same time it loses a portion of the salt.

It does this in obedience to a physical law, to which the terms osmose and dialysis are applied. In accordance with this law, if a membranous sac holding salts in solution is immersed in a more dilute solution, or in pure water, the more concentrated solution will pass out, and at the same time the water, or more dilute solution, will pass in, and more rapidly. The escape of the concentrated and entrance of the dilute solution will be, in general, the more rapid the greater the difference in concentration and the higher the temperature of the two solutions. After the osmose bas proceeded for a time, the two solutions will become equally diluted. When this equilibrium between

* The following statements are adapted from a paper prescnted to the last meeting of the American Fisheries Association.

« PreviousContinue »