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ing productions of the deep. It was formerly regarded by the ancients as a class of plants, and described as such by botanists ; nor was this idea, however remote from truth, exploded, till so late a period as the eighteenth century, when the discoveries of Peyssonel, respecting the nature of Coral, and those of Trembley on the Hydra, or Polype, about fourteen years since, contributed to demonstrate, that Corals, in common with other Zoophytes, do not appertain to the vegetable, but animal kingdom; or are, at least, the fabrication and genuine habitations of the Sea-Polype.
Among the various observers of this curious order, few, if any, have pursued their investigations with greater discrimination and success, than Professor Pallas, our own countryman Ellis, and his friend Dr. Solander. Nor, indeed, can we hesitate to confess, that our knowledge of the Gorgonia tribe has been enlarged only in a very inconsiderable degree, by any subsequent writers on this subject. The latest observations tend principally to confirm the accuracy
of those writers, who had before assured us that Coral is merely the habitation of various kinds of insects, each of which resides in a distinct cell; that these are generally dormant during winter; and that, like the blossoms of plants, they push forth buds, and expand in the summer season. The stems and branches of the Gorgoniæ, which are most commonly of a somewhat horny and flexible nature, may be considered as the true skeletons of the nests of the Sea-Polypi, being covered with a fleshy or pulpy substance, the interior surface of which, is porous. These pores are the mouths or openings of the cells, in which the Polypes are lodged ; and it is the number, disposition, and varied structure of these, in addition to the general aspect of the plant-like nest of habitations, that constitute the most material difference, by which the various species are distinguished. The figure of the animal, when it can be ascertained, forms the secondary, or least important character. It may, lastly, be observed, that Corals differ exceedingly in size, some of the finest branches being three feet in height, while others, in deep bogs, or in marine situations no less favourable to their growth and increase, attain to the gigantic height of ten or twelve feet; and that from their number, as well as magnitude, their elegantly branched appearance, interwoven structure, and brilliant tints, they form a conspicuous portion of those vast sub-marine groves of Coral, which are seen by navigators in the hottest regions of the globe.
Among the numerous species which naturalists assign to this interesting genus, the Antipathes, or Black Coral of the shops, and the Nobilis, or Red, are best known.
Antipathes of different kinds were used in ancient
times for sceptres and divining rods, as we learn from the observations of Salmasius, addressed to Solinus ; wherein he says, that Antipathes denote something proper to resist incantations, and that they were adopted for that purpose by several Indian nations.
Divination, by means of rods, was one of the fifteen modes of exploring futurity, in common use among idolatrous nations.
They are each mentioned with strong reprobation in the Scriptures ; and are strictly forbidden, as among the abominations of the heathen.
If a Coral branch is exposed to the action of diluted nitric acid for nearly four weeks, it will appear to consist of strong and closely arranged fibres, forming concentric coats, of a pale brown opaque substance, drawn in nearly a parallel direction from one end of the branch to another. The acid in which the Coral has been steeped, then becomes of a pale yellow colour, which changes to orange when ammonia is added ; at the same time so large a quantity of phosphate of lime is precipitated, as to make the colour thick and viscid.
The pieces employed in the above experiment, if boiled in a lixivium of caustic potash, form a darkcoloured animal soap.
The bone of the Red Coral, constitutes that beautiful and much esteemed production, the true or red coral of the jewellers. This Coral is found in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Red Sea, and appears to be nowhere more abundant than in the seas about Marseilles, Corsica, Sicily, the coasts of Africa, and in the vicinity of Barbary; the Coral fisheries being carried on with great spirit in those parts, and proving very lucrative. It equals the most compact marble, in hardness and durability; and these material qualities, in addition to its beautiful texture and colour, have contributed to render it valuable in the estimation of the world, from the earliest
ages. Thus in the book of Job, “No mention shall be made of corals, or of pearls; for the price of wisdom is above rubies."
This elegant production is common to the British shores; but the finest specimens are brought from the warmer regions of the globe. A large fishery also subsists in the straits of Messina, where we had lately an opportunity of not only seeing the method employed by the Sicilian fishermen in bringing up the Coral, but also La Fata Morgana, that beautiful æriel phenomenon, which the credulous natives imagine to be produced by fairies, or invisible beings :
“ That in the colours of the rainbow live,
Or play in the plighted clouds.”
It was during a beautiful July morning; the winds were hushed, the surface of the bay remarkably smooth, and the tide at its full height. The sun had
just surmounted the hills behind Reggio, and formed an angle of forty-five degrees on the noble expanse of water which extends before the city. Suddenly the sea that washes the Sicilian shores, presented the aspect of a range of dark mountains, while that on the Calabrian coast appeared like a clear polished mirror, which reflected and multiplied every object existing or moving at Reggio, with the addition of a range of more than a thousand giant pilasters, equal in altitude, distance, and degree of light and shade. In a moment they lost half their height, and bent into arcades, like those of a Roman aqueduct. long cornice was then formed on the top, and above it rose innumerable castles, which presently divided into towers, and shortly afterwards into magnificent colonnades. * To these succeeded a sweep of windows; then came pines and cypresses, and innumerable shrubs and trees : in shadier places,
“ Pan or Sylvanus never slept; nor nymph
Nor Faunus haunted.” This glorious vision continued in full beauty till the sun was considerably advanced in the heavens; it then vanished in the twinkling of an eye; and instead of pilasters, groves, and colonnades, nothing was to be seen but the mountains of Reggio, Messina, and a beautiful expanse of water, reflecting its culti
* For a further description of La Fata Morgana, consult Travels in the Two Sicilies, by Henry Swinburne, Esq.