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We have seen that there are kinds of narrative composition that partake more or less of the nature of description. Here we have a species of descriptive composition that borders on narration. Here action and time are again conspicuous elements, only it is action producing a complex, material result. If we deal primarily with the actors, or makers, our composition seems to be essentially narrative; if we deal primarily with the things acted upon, or made, then it is essentially descriptive. But it is of little use to endeavor always to keep the terms distinct. These considerations will merely help to fix the fundamental distinction. The laws of discourse and the characteristics of style are not limited to this or that kind of composition. Clearness, Force, and Beauty, have as much place in one kind as in another. One, as another, may be interesting or dull, sublime or ridiculous, humorous or pathetic.
To tell how an article is made will often necessitate describing its various parts, but this in turn will probably make it unnecessary to describe the article as a finished whole ; that will have been done well enough already. Indeed it is a very common resource in describing an object to tell how portions of it were constructed, and if you look over the descriptions you have written you will probably find instances of this.
Models of this kind of writing will be of little service. If you know how to make the article yourself you have only to seek the best words and simplest formulas by which to give a clear explanation of the process to another. Clearness is the one thing to be sought, and the test of excellence will be the ability of the reader to make such an article from your description alone.
However it is often desirable to describe certain unusual processes, or the construction of unfamiliar objects, not with any intention of enabling another to imitate the process, but simply for the purpose of affording instruction or entertainment and gratifying an almost universal curiosity to hear about that which is strange. The following is an example of such a description.
INDIAN BREAD MAKING.
Along toward sunset of a hot summer afternoon I sauntered down to the Indians' huts and watched two squaws on the bank of the river making acorn bread. They had set up some large willow boughs to protect them from the sun, and these formed an effective background for the ragged, dirty forms of the old squaws. By asking many questions I finally obtained from them the process of Indian bread making.
It takes two days, one to gather the acorns, a second to grind them and bake the meal. After the grinding, the flour is washed with sand and water in a water-tight basket, such as Indians always use, and is then allowed to stand until the sand has settled to the bottom. Next, the top is poured off into another basket and into this are thrust intensely hot stones, which cause the mixture to bubble and boil as though a fire were cooking it. After it has been boiled down to a thick paste it is set in the river to cool, and when cool enough to handle it is rolled into small loaves and again put into the river to harden.
The bread, as I saw it, was of a pinkish color and looked sufficiently tempting. I was repeatedly urged to taste it, but when I glanced at the squaws' hands I felt constrained to decline.
- THE MINERAL KINGDOM.
Gems and Precious Stones.
No doubt some knowledge of geology or mineralogy would contribute much toward giving an intrinsic value to descriptions of this class. But intrinsic value is not just now the one thing needful. We are writing English — writing it because we hope some day to write it well, very well, and because we know that every sentence we write, upon whatsoever subject, makes the next subject easier and better. We want practice too in the various fields of composition, scientific as well as literary.
Now if you have no special knowledge in this line, the attempt to write in it will subserve another end — it will help to give you that knowledge. It will spur you on and compel you to learn. But learn for yourself and by yourself; do your own investigating. Not only will this be vastly more profitable from every point of view, but it will be incomparably more interesting : you will find genuine pleasure in observing and recording; writing will be transformed from a drudgery to a delight.
The whole secret is this : Go to books, if you like, for your names, for your terminology it is well for
us to observe uniformity in this respect — but go to nature for your facts. Write what you see, and it may even be that you will write something of intrinsic worth, for not everything has yet been seen. Write what
you see for yourself: thus only will your work be interesting, thus only will it bear the impress of sincerity and conviction, and come to have authority among men.
The following outline is extracted from Bauerman's Descriptive Mineralogy and will suggest a method of procedure for the description of other minerals. Of course in writing an essay, this abbreviated catalogue style must not be used. Let every sentence be complete in itself and let them all be connected as smoothly as possible.
Form and Structure. — Crystals cubic; with brilliant faces; faces pitted ; faces striated or curved ; transparent, translucent. Lustre, adamantine. Colorless, or in tints of gray, yellow, brown, pink, or blue, the latter being the rarest. Refractive. Strong chromatic dispersion, causing a brilliant play of colors when faceted. Becomes positively electric by friction; often phosphorescent after exposure to sunlight.
Composition. — Carbon, with minute traces of foreign substances. Infusible.
Occurrence and Distribution. Found in Brazil, the Ural, India, Australia, Borneo, and South Africa ; the first and last localities, especially the latter, being the most productive at present. In South Africa the productive localities are the gravels of the Vaal and Orange rivers, and more particularly dykes or pipes of decomposing igneous rocks penetrating schists. These have now been worked several hundred feet below the surface without getting to undecomposed rock. The diamonds are found irregularly interspersed through it, and may be an original constituent, but
the general opinion of local investigators is that they have been derived from older rocks below.
The largest known diamond is said to be in Borneo, and to weight 367 carats or 1284 Troy grains. The Pitt, a cut brilliant, is of 136 carats. The Koh-i-Noor in the original oriental shape was 186, but has been reduced to a brilliant of 124 carats. Many large crystals have been discovered of late years in South Africa.
Use. — The chief use of diamond is for ornamental purposes, the crystals being reduced by cutting or grinding with diamond dust upon a lapidary's wheel to a double pyramidal form, unsymmetrical to the base, being pointed at one end, and with a large flat surface at the other, as in hemimorphic crystals. The pyramid is cut with the largest number of faces possible, to obtain a maximum of total reflecting surfaces; the stone is mounted with the flat surface uppermost. These are known as brilliants, and can only be obtained from well-shaped crystals. Those of less regular form are cut as roses, in which the surface is covered with triangular facets, and the thinnest twins or flat cleavage pieces are made into tables, having only a narrow band of facets on the sides. Diamonds that, from want of lustre or defects, cannot be cut, are called Bort. For glass-cutting the apex of an octahedral crystal is required, so as to have a solid point, a cleavage fragment or other splinter being only useful for writing or scratching.
Subjects : A Fifty Foot Vertical Section A Visit to the Stone Quarry. of Our Soil.
Washington County Fossils. Coal Deposits.
Systems of Crystallization. Petrifaction.
Stalactites and Stalagmites. How Stones Grow.