Of sundry popular Tenets concerning Mineral, and vegetable bodies, generally held for truth: which examined, prove either false, or dubious.


Of Crystal.

HEREOF the common Opinion hath been, and still remaineth amongst us, that Crystal is nothing else but Ice or Snow concreted, and by duration of time, congealed beyond liquation. Of which assertion, if prescription of time, and numerosity of Assertors, were a sufficient demonstration, we might sit down herein, as an unquestionable truth; nor should there need ulterior disquisition. For few Opinions there are which have found so many friends, or been so popularly received, through all Professions and Ages. Pliny is positive in this Opinion: Crystallus fit gelu vehementius concreto: the same is followed by Seneca, Elegantly described by Claudian, not denied by Scaliger, some way affirmed by Albertus, Brasavolus, and directly by many others. The venerable Fathers of the Church have also assented hereto; As Basil in his Hexameron, Isidore in his Etymologies, and not only Austin a Latine Father, but Gregory the Great, and Jerome upon occasion of that term expressed in the first of Ezekiel.[1]

All which notwithstanding, upon a strict enquiry, we find the matter controvertible, and with much more reason denied then is as yet affirmed. For though many have passed it over with easie affirmatives, yet are there also many Authors that deny it, and the exactest Mineralogists have rejected it. Diodorus in his eleventh Book denieth it, (if Crystal be there taken in its proper acception, as Rhodiginus hath used it, and not for a Diamond, as Salmatius hath expounded it) for in that place he affirmeth; Crystallum esse lapidem ex aqua pura concretum, non tamen frigore sed divini caloris vi. Solinus who transcribed Pliny, and therefore in almost all subscribed unto him, hath in this point dissented from him. Putant quidam glaciem coire, & in Crystallum corporari, sed frustra. Mathiolus in his Comment upon Dioscorides, hath with confidence rejected it. The same hath been performed by Agricola de natura fossilium; by Cardan, Bœtius de Boot, Cæsius Bernardus, Sennertus, and many more.[2]

Now besides Authority against it, there may be many reasons deduced from their several differences which seem to overthrow it. And first, a difference is probable in their concretion. For if Crystal be a stone (as in the number thereof it is confessedly received,) it is not immediately concreted by the efficacy of cold, but rather by a Mineral spirit, and lapidifical principles of its own, and therefore while it lay in solutis principiis, and remained in a fluid Body, it was a subject very unapt for proper conglaciation; for Mineral spirits do generally resist and scarce submit thereto. So we observe that many waters and springs will never freeze, and many parts in Rivers and Lakes, where there are Mineral eruptions, will still persist without congelations, as we also observe in Aqua fortis, or any Mineral solution, either of Vitriol, Alum, Salt-petre, Ammoniac, or Tartar, which although to some degree exhaled, and placed in cold Conservatories, will Crystallize and shoot into white and glacious bodies; yet is not this a congelation primarily effected by cold, but an intrinsecal induration from themselves; and a retreat into their proper solidities, which were absorbed by the liquor, and lost in a full imbibition thereof before. And so also when wood and many other bodies do putrifie, either by the Sea, other waters, or earths abounding in such spirits; we do not usually ascribe their induration to cold, but rather unto salinous spirits, concretive juices, and causes circumjacent, which do assimilate all bodies not indisposed for their impressions.

But Ice is water congealed by the frigidity of the air, whereby it acquireth no new form, but rather a consistence or determination of its diffluency, and amitteth not its essence, but condition of fluidity. Neither doth there any thing properly conglaciate but water, or watery humidity; for the determination of quick-silver is properly fixation, that of milk coagulation, and that of oyl and unctious bodies, only incrassation; And therefore Aristotle makes a trial of the fertility of humane seed, from the experiment of congelation; for that (saith he) which is not watery and improlifical will not conglaciate; which perhaps must not be taken strictly, but in the germ and spirited particles: for Eggs I observe will freeze, in the albuginous part thereof. And upon this ground Paracelsus in his Archidoxis, extracteth the magistery of wine; after four moneths digestion in horse-dung, exposing it unto the extremity of cold; whereby the aqueous parts will freeze, but the Spirit retire and be found congealed in the Center.

But whether this congelation be simply made by cold, or also by co-operation of any nitrous coagulum, or spirit of Salt the principle of concretion; whereby we observe that Ice may be made with Salt and Snow by the fire side; as is also observable from Ice made by Saltpetre and water, duly mixed and strongly agitated at any time of the year, were a very considerable enquiry. For thereby we might clear the generation of Snow, Hail, and hoary Frosts, the piercing qualities of some winds, the coldness of Caverns, and some Cells. We might more sensibly conceive how Salt-petre fixeth the flying spirits of Minerals in Chymical Preparations, and how by this congealing quality it becomes an useful medicine in Fevers.

Again, The difference of their concretion is collectible from their dissolution; which being many ways performable in Ices, is few ways effected in Crystal. Now the causes of liquation are contrary to those of concretion; and as the Atoms and indivisible parcels are united, so are they in an opposite way disjoyned. That which is concreted by exsiccation or expression of humidity, will be resolved by humectation, as Earth, Dirt, and Clay; that which is coagulated by a fiery siccity, will suffer colliquation from an aqueous humidity, as Salt and Sugar, which are easily dissoluble in water, but not without difficulty in oyl, and well rectified spirits of Wine. That which is concreted by cold, will dissolve by a moist heat, if it consist of watery parts, as Gums, Arabick, Tragacanth, Ammoniac and others; in an airy heat or oyl, as all resinous bodies, Turpentine, Pitch, and Frankincense; in both, as gummy resinous bodies, Mastick, Camphire and Storax; in neither, as neutrals and bodies anomalous hereto, as Bdellium,[3] Myrrhe, and others. Some by a violent dry heat, as Metals; which although corrodible by waters, yet will they not suffer a liquation from the powerfullest heat, communicable unto that element. Some will dissolve by this heat although their ingredients be earthy, as Glass, whose materials are fine Sand, and the ashes of Chali or Fearn; and so will Salt run with fire, although it be concreted by heat. And this way may be effected a liquation in Crystal, but not without some difficulty; that is, calcination or reducing it by Art into a subtle powder; by which way and a vitreous commixture, Glasses are sometime made hereof, and it becomes the chiefest ground for artificial and factitious gemms. But the same way of solution is common also unto many Stones; and not onely Beryls and Cornelians, but Flints and Pebbles, are subject unto fusion, and will run like Glass in fire.

But Ice will dissolve in any way of heat, for it will dissolve with fire, it will colliquate in water, or warm oyl; nor doth it only submit unto an actual heat, but not endure the potential calidity of many waters. For it will presently dissolve in cold Aqua fortis, sp. of Vitriol, Salt, or Tartar, nor will it long continue its fixation in spirits of Wine, as may be observed in Ice injected therein.

Again, The concretion of Ice will not endure a dry attrition without liquation; for if it be rubbed long with a cloth, it melteth. But Crystal will calefie unto electricity, that is, a power to attract straws or light bodies, and convert the needle freely placed. Which is a declarement of very different parts, wherein we shall not inlarge, as having discoursed concerning such bodies in the Chap. of Electricks.[4]

They are differenced by supernatation or floating upon water; for Crystal will sink in water, as carrying in its own bulk a greater ponderosity then the space in any water it doth occupy; and will therefore only swim in molten Metal and Quicksilver. But Ice will swim in water of what thinness soever; and though it sink in oyl, will float in spirits of Wine or Aqua vitæ.[5] And therefore it may swim in water, not only as being water it self, and in its proper place, but perhaps as weighing somewhat less then the water it possesseth. And therefore as it will not sink unto the bottom, so will it neither float above like lighter bodies, but being near in weight, lie superficially or almost horizontally unto it. And therefore also an Ice or congelation of Salt or Sugar, although it descend not unto the bottom, yet will it abate, and decline below the surface in thin water, but very sensibly in spirits of Wine. For Ice although it seemeth as transparent and compact as Crystal, yet is it short in either; for its atoms are not concreted into continuity, which doth diminish its translucency; it is also full of spumes and bubbles, which may abate its gravity. And therefore waters frozen in Pans, and open Glasses, after their dissolution do commonly leave a froth and spume upon them, which are caused by the airy parts diffused in the congealable mixture which uniting themselves and finding no passage at the surface, do elevate the mass, and make the liquor take up a greater place then before: as may be observed in Glasses filled with water, which being frozen, will seem to swell above the brim. So that if in this condensation any one affirmeth there is also some rarefaction, experience may assert it.

They are distinguished in substance of parts and the accidents thereof, that is, in colour and figure; for Ice is a similary body, and homogeneous concretion, whose material is properly water, and but accidentally exceeding the simplicity of that element. But the body of Crystal is mixed; its ingredients many, and sensibly containeth those principles into which mixt bodies are reduced. For beside the spirit and mercurial principle it containeth a sulphur or inflamable part, and that in no small quantity; for besides its Electrick attraction, which is made by a sulphureous effluvium, it will strike fire upon percussion like many other stones, and upon collision with Steel actively send forth its sparks, not much inferiourly unto a flint. Now such bodies as strike fire have sulphureous or ignitible parts within them, and those strike best, which abound most in them. For these scintillations are not the accension of the air, upon the collision of two hard bodies, but rather the inflamable effluencies or vitrified sparks discharged from the bodies collided. For Diamonds, Marbles, Heliotropes and Agaths, though hard bodies, will not readily strike fire with a Steel, much less with one another:[6] Nor a Flint so readily with a Steel, if they both be very wet, for then the sparks are sometimes quenched in their eruption.

It containeth also a salt, and that in some plenty, which may occasion its fragility, as is also observable in Coral. This by the Art of Chymistry is separable, unto the operations whereof it is liable, with other concretions, as calcination, reverberation, sublimation, distillation: And in the preparation of Crystal, Paracelsus hath made a rule for that of Gemms.7 Briefly, it consisteth of parts so far from an Icie dissolution, that powerful menstruums are made for its emollition; whereby it may receive the tincture of Minerals, and so resemble Gemms, as Boetius hath declared in the distillation of Urine, spirits of Wine, and Turpentine; and is not only triturable, and reducible into powder, by contrition, but will subsist in a violent fire, and endure a vitrification. Whereby are testified its earthly and fixed parts. For vitrification is the last work of fire, and a fusion of the Salt and Earth, which are the fixed elements of the composition, wherein the fusible Salt draws the Earth and infusible part into one continuum, and therefore ashes will not run from whence the Salt is drawn, as bone ashes prepared for the Test of Metals. Common fusion in Metals is also made by a violent heat, acting upon the volatile and fixed, the dry and humid parts of those bodies; which notwithstanding are so united, that upon attenuation from heat, the humid parts will not fly away, but draw the fixed ones into fluor with them. Ordinary liquation in wax and oily bodies is made by a gentler heat, where the oyl and salt, the fixed and fluid principles will not easily separate. All which, whether by vitrification, fusion or liquation, being forced into fluent consistencies, do naturally regress into their former solidities. Whereas the melting of Ice is a simple resolution, or return from solid to fluid parts, wherein it naturally resteth.

As for colour, although Crystal in his pellucid body seems to have none at all, yet in its reduction into powder, it hath a vail and shadow of blew; and in its courser pieces, is of a sadder hue then the powder of Venice glass; and this complexion it will maintain although it long endure the fire. Which notwithstanding needs not move us unto wonder; for vitrified and pellucid bodies, are of a clearer complexion in their continuities, then in their powders and Atomical divisions. So Stibium or glass of Antimony, appears somewhat red in glass, but in its powder yellow; so painted glass of a sanguine red will not ascend in powder above a murrey.

As for the figure of Crystal (which is very strange, and forced Pliny to despair of resolution) it is for the most part hexagonal or six cornered; being built upon a confused matter, from whence as it were from a root angular figures arise, even as in the Amethyst and Basaltes. Which regular figuration hath made some opinion, it hath not its determination from circumscription, or as conforming unto contiguities, but rather from a seminal root, and formative principle of its own, even as we observe in several other concretions. So the stones which are sometime found in the gall of a man, are most triangular and pyramidal, although the figure of that part seems not to cooperate thereto. So the Asteria or lapis stellaris, hath on it the figure of a Star, so Lapis Judaicus8 hath circular lines in length all down its body, and equidistant, as though they had been turned by Art.[9] So that we call a Fayrie stone,10 and is often found in gravel pits amongst us, being of an hemispherical figure, hath five double lines arising from the center of its basis, which if no accretion distract them, do commonly concur, and meet in the pole thereof. The figures are regular in many other stones, as in the Belemnites, Lapis Anguinus, Cornu Ammonis, and many more; as by those which have not the experience hereof may be observed in their figures expressed by Mineralogists. But Ice receiveth its figure according unto the surface wherein it concreteth, or the circumambiency which conformeth it. So it is plain upon the surface of water, but round in Hayl (which is also a glaciation,) and figured in its guttulous descent from the air, and so growing greater or lesser according unto the accretion or pluvious aggelation about the mother and fundamental Atomes thereof; which seems to be some feathery particle of Snow; although Snow it self be sexangular, or at least of a starry and many-pointed figure.

They are also differenced in the places of their generation; for though Crystal be found in cold countries, and where Ice remaineth long, and the air exceedeth in cold, yet is it also found in regions, where Ice is seldom seen or soon dissolved; as Pliny and Agricola relate of Cyprus, Caramania and an Island in the Red sea; It hath been also found in the veins of Minerals, sometimes agglutinated unto lead, sometimes in Rocks, opacous stones, and the marble face of Octavius Duke of Parma.11 It hath also constant veins; as beside others, that of mount Salvino about the Territory of Bergamo; from whence if part be taken, in no long tract of time out of the same place, as from its mineral matrix, others are observed to arise. Which made the learned Cerautus to conclude, Fideant hi an sit glacies, an vero corpus fossile.12 It is also found in the veins of Minerals, in rocks, and sometime in common earth. But as for Ice, it will not readily concrete but in the approachment of the air, as we have made trial in glasses of water, covered an inch with oyl, which will not easily freeze in hard frosts of our climate. For water commonly concreteth first in its surface, and so conglaciates downward; and so will it do although it be exposed in the coldest metal of lead, which well accordeth with that expression of Job, The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.13 But whether water which hath been boiled or heated, doth sooner receive this congelation, as commonly is delivered, we rest in the experiment of Cabeus, who hath rejected the same in his excellent discourse of Meteors.

They have contrary qualities elemental, and uses medicinal; for Ice is cold and moist, of the quality of water; but Crystal is cold and dry, according to the condition of the earth. The use of Ice is condemned by most Physicians, that of crystal commended by many. For although Dioscorides and Galen have left no mention thereof, yet hath Mathiolus, Agricola, and many commended it in dysenteries and fluxes; all for the increase of milk, most Chymists for the Stone, and some, as Brassavolus and Boetius, as an antidote against poyson. Which occult and specifical operations are not expectable from Ice; for being but water congealed, it can never make good such qualities; nor will it reasonably admit of secret proprieties, which are the affections of forms, and compositions at distance from their elements.

Having thus declared what Crystal is not, it may afford some satisfaction to manifest what it is. To deliver therefore what with the judgement of approved Authors, and best reason consisteth, It is a Mineral body in the difference of stones, and reduced by some unto that subdivision, which comprehendeth gemms, transparent and resembling Glass or Ice, made of a lentous percolation of earth, drawn from the most pure and limpid juice thereof, owing unto the coldness of the earth some concurrence or coadjuvancy, but not immediate determination and efficiency, which are wrought by the hand of its concretive spirit, the seeds of petrification and Gorgon within it self. As sensible Philosophers conceive of the generation of Diamonds, Iris, Berils. Not making them of frozen icecles, or from meer aqueous and glaciable substances, condensing them by frosts into solidities, vainly to be expected even from Polary congelations: but from thin and finest earths, so well contempered and resolved, that transparency is not hindred; and containing lapidifical spirits, able to make good their solidities against the opposition and activity of outward contraries, and so leave a sensible difference between the bonds of glaciation, which in the mountains of Ice about the Northern Seas, are easily dissolved by ordinary heat of the Sun, and between the finer legatures of petrification, whereby not only the harder concretions of Diamonds and Saphirs, but the softer veins of Crystal remain indissolvable in scorching Territories, and the Negro land of Congor.

And therefore I fear we commonly consider subterranities, not in contemplations sufficiently respective unto the Creation. For though Moses have left no mention of Minerals, nor made any other description then sutes unto the apparent and visible Creation, yet is there unquestionably, a very large Classis of Creatures in the Earth, far above the condition of the elementarity. And although not in a distinct and indisputable way of vivency, or answering in all points the properties or affections of Plants, yet in inferiour and descending constitutions, they do like these contain specifical distinctions, and are determined by seminalities, that is, created and defined seeds committed unto the Earth from the beginning. Wherein although they attain not the indubitable requisites of Animation, yet have they a near affinity thereto. And though we want a proper name and expressive appellation, yet are they not to be closed up in the general name of concretions; or lightly passed over as only Elementary and Subterraneous mixtions.

The principle and most gemmary affection is its Tralucency: as for irradiancy or sparking which is found in many gemms, it is not discoverable in this, for it cometh short of their compactness and durity; and therefore requireth not the Emery, as the Saphir, Granate, and Topaz, but will receive impression from Steel, in a manner like the Turchois. As for its diaphanity or perspicuity, it enjoyeth that most eminently; and the reason thereof is its continuity; as having its earthy and salinous parts so exactly resolved, that its body is left imporous and not discreted by atomical terminations. For, that continuity of parts is the cause of perspicuity, it is made perspicuous by two ways of experiment. That is, either in effecting transparency in those bodies which were not so before, or at least far short of the additional degree: So Snow becomes transparent upon liquation, so Horns and Bodies resolvable into continued parts or gelly. The like is observable in oyled paper, wherein the interstitial divisions being continuated by the accession of oyl, it becometh more transparent, and admits the visible rayes with less umbrosity. Or else the same is effected by rendering those bodies opaceous, which were before pellucid and perspicuous.

So Glass which was before diaphanous, being by powder reduced into multiplicity of superficies, becomes an opacous body, and will not transmit the light. So it is in Crystal powdered, and so it is also before; for if it be made hot in a crucible, and presently projected upon water, it will grow dim, and abate its diaphanity; for the water entering the body, begets a division of parts, and a termination of Atoms united before unto continuity.

The ground of this Opinion might be, first the conclusions of some men from experience; for as much as Crystal is found sometimes in rocks, and in some places not much unlike the stirrious[14] or stillicidious dependencies of Ice. Which notwithstanding may happen either in places which have been forsaken or left bare by the earth, or may be petrifications, or Mineral indurations, like other gemms, proceeding from percolations of the earth disposed unto such concretions.

The second and most common ground is from the name Crystallus, whereby in Greek both Ice and Crystal are expressed; which many not duly considering, have from their community of name, conceived a community of nature; and what was ascribed unto the one, not unfitly appliable unto the other. But this is a fallacy of Æquivocation, from a society in name inferring an Identity in nature. By this fallacy was he deceived that drank Aqua fortis for strong water: By this are they deluded, who conceive sperma Coeti which is found about the head, to be the spawn of the Whale: Or take sanguis draconis (which is the gumme of a tree,) to be the blood of a Dragon. By the same Logick we may infer, the Crystalline humour of the eye, or rather the Crystalline heaven above, to be of the substance of Crystal here below; Or that God sendeth down Crystal, because it is delivered in the vulgar translation, Psal. 147,[15] Mittit Crystallum suum sicut Buccellas. Which translation although it literally express the Septuagint; yet is there no more meant thereby, then what our translation in plain English expresseth; that is, he casteth forth his Ice like morsels, or what Tremellius and Junius as clearly deliver, Dejicit gelu suum sicut frusta, coram frigore ejus quis consistet? which proper and latine expressions, had they been observed in ancient translations, elder Expositors had not been misguided by the Synonymy: nor had they afforded occasion unto Austin, the Gloss, Lyranus, and many others, to have taken up the common conceit, and spoke of this Text conformably unto the opinion rejected.


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [Pliny, N.H. xxxvii.ix(23). Seneca, Quæst. Nat. 3.25.12. Claudian, Carmina Minora, 33-39, "De crystallo cui aqua inerat". Isidore, XVI.13]

2 [Ross, in Arcana Microcosmi II.18, argues "The cold of some waters metamorphose sticks, leaves, and trees, pieces of leather, nutshells, and such like stuff into stones; why then may not cold convert ice into a higher degree of hardness, and prepare it for reception of a new form, which gives it the essence and name of crystal." Browne answers this in the next paragraph, using it, in fact, as an argument against the theory.]

3 [Gum resin from any of several trees of the family Amyridaceae, resembling an inferior myrrh]

4 [Book II, Chap. IV.]

5 [Ross: "It's no wonder to see a stone sink and ice swim; for crystal when it was ice, swimmed, being now a stone, sinks; as being a body more compact, hard, solid, and ponderous; so a stick will swim, but when it is converted to a stone, it sinks. The argument therefore is good thus; crystal sinks, ice swims; therefore crystal is not ice; but it will not follow, therefore, crystal was not ice."]

6 [This depends on exactly what is meant by "readily": properly shaped, all of these materials will strike fire.]

7 Paracelsus de Præparationibus.

8 In Stone-pits and Chalk-mines.

9 [It is the fossilized spine of a sea-urchin.]

10 Which seemeth to be Echinites decima Aldrovandi, Musæi Metallici, lib. 4. Rather Echinometrites, as best resembling the Echinometra found commonly on our Sea-shore. [It's not clear that this note, or notes, is by Browne and not by the glossist. Perhaps it is by both.]

11 Wherein the Sculptor found a piece of pure Crystal.

12 Mus. Calceolar.

13 Chap. 38

14 [Or more correctly stirious, as in the 1646 edition; "resembling an icicle". "Stillicidious": formed by or shaped like falling drops of water (the word stillicidium is still in occasional medical use).]

15 [All editions read Psal. 47. 147:17: mittit cristallum suum sicut buccellas ante faciem frigoris eius quis sustinebit ]

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