William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

. (page 8 of 58)
Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 8 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



mercantile arrangements was anything but inconvenient, for it
allowed a ready attention to the wants of customers ; and where
there was at all times a perfect propriety of manners, there was
nothing either to conceal or be ashamed of.

' In this unobtrusive scene of industry, Hannah Muir* carried on
her trade for many years, and was the object of a universal degree
of respect, almost amounting to veneration ; she was so humble,
so pious, so charitable in speaking of others, setting forth an example
well worthy of imitation and of admiration. Her son grew up and
married, and shortly after this her mother died, so that Hannah felt
herself, for the first time in her life, alone. But hers was not a spirit
for repining ; she looked upon all the dispensations of her lot as
coming from a higher hand, and therefore to be submitted to not
only with complacency, but with cheerfulness. About this time, a
neighbouring parish applied to some of the inhabitants of the little
town in which Hannah resided, for the purpose of finding an asylum
for a poor half-witted female belonging to the parish : she was to
be allowed a small weekly aliment, and was to be taken as a sort
of boarder. Hannah made known her willingness to receive this
woman under her roof, not for the sake of the emolument, but from
a benevolent desire to save the creature from the ill-usage to which
she saw she would be subjected, unless she were properly looked
after ; for she had formerly been an object of persecution by the
youngsters of the district. Hannah's application was successful,
and Martha was established as an inmate of her humble dwelling.
But she soon learned that, although her prote'ge'e was harmless and
inoffensive in her nature, yet her habits were such as to render her
anything but a pleasant companion. She had no idea of making
herself in any way useful, nor could she perform for herself the
simplest offices. Hannah, by gentle and persuasive means, however,
in a wonderfully short time trained her to habits of cleanliness, and
employed her in going errands, and in performing numerous little
offices, until the poor imbecile became to her almost a companion
and assistant. It seemed, indeed, as if Providence had raised up
this otherwise helpless woman to comfort the latter years of her
benefactress ; for not long after Martha had begun to evince some
degree of intelligence, poor Hannah became almost bedridden with
her old complaint, " the pains," as she expressively called the rheu-
matism. For many years she was as helpless as a child, being lifted
only occasionally out of bed by her son, or his wife, who lived very
near to her, both of whom endeavoured, by every means in their
power, to alleviate, as far as possible, the sufferings of the excellent
woman. During all her illness, however, her mind was as active as
during her days of health, her temper as serene, and her disposition
as gentle and patient.

* In humble life in Scotland, married women continue to be called by their maiden name.


' The care and attendance upon her little shop now devolved upon
Martha, who acted as shopkeeper, cook, housemaid, and nurse.
The whole of the transactions, mercantile and domestic, as I have
said, being carried on in the same apartment, Hannah was enabled
to give things the benefit of her mental supervision ; and to one
accustomed to the bustle and heartlessness of town business, there
was something irresistibly amusing, and at the same time touching,
in their simple mode of conducting their business. The shop end of
the apartment contained a small counter, a press in which the goods
were stowed, a beam over the counter, from which were suspended
two pairs of scales. The window contained in three of the panes
glass bottles, filled respectively with barley-sugar, caraway comfits,
and peppermint drops ; in the other three panes there were three
varieties of biscuit, that in the centre being composed of ginger-
bread, the surface of which was rendered very attractive by means of
a sprinkling of small coloured caraways. Leaning against the wood-
work of the window, there were short tobacco-pipes upheld in a
slanting position, and on the sill there was a display of bread of
various kinds. The domestic arrangements were on the simplest
possible scale : a chair or two, a table, a chest, and two wooden
beds, comprised the whole of the furniture. There were also a few
books, all of a religious character ; and within the bed occupied by
Hannah there was a shelf where she deposited any little article
which she considered of more than ordinary value. Her cash was kept
here in two little cups, the one for silver, and the other for copper.

' For years this system of things went on, every year adding to the
sufferings of Hannah. Her fate in this respect may be said to be
that of thousands of persons in humble life, whose health is irre-
trievably impaired by the cold earthen floors on which they spend
their lives for, alas ! piety the most sincere is no protection against the
action of one of nature's most inflexible laws. Hannah's affliction
was from a deep-seated rheumatism throughout the frame ; all her
joints were frightfully swollen, and her hands contracted, yet no one
ever heard her complain. Her only anxiety was an intense desire
to preserve her credit with the few respectable dealers in town from
whom she had her small supplies of goods. As to her own bodily
sufferings, she afforded a beautiful instance of pious resignation,
and in her, Christianity shone out something superior to what it
usually appears even in the most favourable cases, for hers was of
a practical, not a theoretic or formal order of belief. In her periods
of greatest distress, she always spoke of the merciful way in which
she had been sustained under her bodily anguish, and gratefully
acknowledged that her chastening was for her good, and should be
looked upon as a source of true consolation and ultimate happi-
ness. This pious frame of mind sustained her to the end, and she
died in the blessed hope of realising in a better world the enjoy-
ments which in this were the constant theme of her contemplation.'



WITHIN a very few miles of Edinburgh, there lived an old
woman, known among her neighbours by the name of ' Auld
Susan.' She was the daughter of a small farmer in the north of
England, and in early life married a private soldier in a Scotch
regiment, which happened to be quartered in the neighbourhood
of her father's house. Having been on this account cast off and
disowned by her parents, she followed her husband for many
years during the early part of the last war, and in time became the
mother of four sons, all of whom, as they grew up, attached them-
selves to the same regiment. After a long course of faithful service,
Susan's husband was raised to the rank of sergeant ; and as she was
industrious and frugal, they contrived to make their situation more
comfortable than that of a soldier's family generally is. Susan,
however, had too much perilled upon the fortunes of war to continue
long free from misery. She accompanied her husband and sons
through the whole of the disastrous retreat of Sir John Moore.
When the withdrawing army was finally engaged by the French
at Coruua, she stood on a rising ground at no great distance from
the field of action, ready to take charge of any of her family who
might be obliged to retire disabled. While the fight was at the
hottest, a wounded officer was borne past her, and on inquiring of
the soldiers who carried him as to the fate of her husband and
children, she was told that all, except one of the latter, were ' down ;'
they had fallen in receiving a desperate charge of French cavalry.
At this moment, the tide of battle receded from the part of the
field which it had hitherto chiefly occupied, and Susan rushed eagerly
forward amidst the dead and dying, in the hope of finding her
husband and sons, or at least some of them, still alive. The first
sight which met her eyes was the prostrate body of the fourth son,
who within the last few minutes had also been brought down, and
was now, as she thought, on the point of expiring. Ere she could
examine into the condition of the wounded lad, a large party of
the enemy's cavalry swept across the field, in full retreat before
the British, and she had only time to throw herself over the body
of her son, in the desperate hope of protecting him from further
injury, when it swept over her like a whirlwind, leaving her with a
broken leg and arm, and many severe bruises. In this helpless state
she was found after the battle by a few survivors of the company
to which she had belonged, and conveyed on board the transports
along with the wrecks of the army. On inquiry, she found that
the fate of her husband and three eldest sons was too fatally certain ;


that of the youngest was less so; his body had not been found; but
there was little time for examination, and it seemed almost beyond
a doubt that he had also shared the fate of his father and brothers.

Upon her arrival in England, the poor woman was sent to the
hospital until her wounds were cured, but, after her recovery, was
turned out desolate and destitute upon the world. A representation
of her case to the War Office was unattended to ; nor would her
honest pride permit her to persist in importunity. The same inde-
pendence of spirit forbade her seeking the assistance of her relatives.
By means of a small subscription raised among her late husband's
comrades, she travelled on foot to the place of his birth near Edin-
burgh, and with what was left she was enabled to put a few articles of
furniture into a cottage which a worthy farmer rented to her for
an almost nominal sum. The same kind friend afterwards procured
her, although not without difficulty, a small weekly allowance a
mere pittance from the parish funds, with which, and by means
of knitting, spinning, rearing a few chickens, and the various other
humble expedients of helpless poverty (for she was disabled from field-
labour), she contrived to support existence in decency, if not in

Twelve years had passed away, and approaching age was gradually
rendering the lonely widow less and less able to obtain the scanty
means of sustenance, .when one summer afternoon, as she sat knit-
ting at the door of her cottage, a poor crippled object approached,
dressed in rags, and weak from disease and fatigue. From the
remnants of his tattered clothes, it was evident he had been a soldier,
and the widow's heart warmed towards him, as, resigning to him
her seat, she entered the cottage and brought him out a drink of
meal and water, being all that her humble store enabled her to offer
for his refreshment. The soldier looked wistfully at her as he took
the bowl the next moment it dropped from his hand. ' Mother ! '
he cried, and fell forward in the old woman's arms. It was her
youngest son James, whom she thought she had left a corpse on the
fatal field of Coruna. After mutually supposing each other to be
dead for the long space of twelve years, these unfortunate beings
were doomed to be re-united in this vale of sorrow, mutually helpless,
feeble, and destitute. But the love of a mother never dies; the
poor widow scrupled not to solicit those aids for her son which
she never would have asked for herself; and the assistance of some
compassionate friends procured her the means of restoring him to
health, although he never regained his full strength.

James's story, from the time of their last .parting, was a short
and sad one. He had recovered from the temporary trance into
which his wound had at first thrown him, had seen his mother's
mangled and apparently senseless body lying beside him, and' con-
cluding she was dead, had endeavoured to crawl out of the way
of further danger, but fell into the hands of a party of the enemy.


He remained a prisoner in France for upwards of two years, when,
an exchange having taken place, he was once more placed in the
British ranks, and sent with his regiment to North America. He
had served there during the whole war with, the United States,
and was subsequently transferred to a West India station, where
his wounds broke out afresh, and his health declined, in consequence
of the heat of the climate. Those acquainted with military matters
will understand, although the writer of these lines confesses his
inability exactly to describe, how a British soldier may be deprived
of the recompense to which his wounds and length of service legally
and justly entitle him. The poor man we speak of met this unworthy
fate. He had, at his earnest request, been transferred into a regiment
ordered for England (seeing certain death before him in the tropics),
which was disbanded the moment of their arrival, and he was
thrown utterly destitute, and left to beg or starve, after all his hard-
ships and meritorious services to his country. Being unable to
work, he was compelled to assume the mendicant's degraded habit,
and had begged his way down to his father's birthplace in Scotland,
in the hope of finding some of his relatives alive, and able to shelter
him, when he unexpectedly recognised his old mother in the manner


|EVER was the excitement connected with the discovery
of any other metal so intense and so wide-spread as that
relating to. GOLD. Let us trace some of the extraordi-
nary phases of this excitement, and then glance rapidly
at the chief commercial results of the discoveries. But
before doing so, it may be well to notice the form or forms in which
the metal exists in the natural state.

Gold occurs sparingly in many hard rocks, such as granite, gneiss,
mica-slate, chlorite-slate, clay-slate, &c., and sometimes even in
limestone and other such rocks. It occurs far more abundantly in
quartz, pure unmixed flint, or silex. In igneous or metamorphic rocks,
the quartz usually occurs in veins, or in large, irregular bunches
or lumps, with veins diverging from them. These veins are most
commonly only a few feet wide, and for the most part traverse the
rocks in a vertical or highly inclined position. Sometimes, however,
veins or irregular masses occur many yards across in every direc-
tion ; and sometimes, but very rarely, quartz is found in such abund-
ance as to make what even might be called hills of itself. The gold
is disseminated in this quartz, sometimes in such exceedingly minute


particles as to be invisible, not only to the naked eye, but even to
the eye aided by a powerful lens. More commonly, the gold is seen
as little yellow specks, flakes, or grains scattered through the quartz.
When the quartz has a crystalline structure, which it often has, little
nests of gold, likewise crystalline, may be seen imbedded between
the interlacing crystals of the quartz. Where the interstices in the
quartz are large, these are sometimes entirely filled up with gold ;
and not unfrequently irregular holes and crevices seem to have been
formed in the quartz by decomposition or rottenness, which have
sometimes been subsequently filled with gold. In such cases, the
gold often assumes irregular forms, such as melted lead will when
poured into water forms which have given people the idea of the
gold having been deposited in a state of fusion, a notion in all prob-
ability utterly unfounded. How the gold got into the quartz, is a.
point at present so uncertain, that no man of science would take
upon himself the responsibility of answering the question. The size
of the irregular lumps thus entangled in the quartz varies greatly,,
the largest hitherto known single lump in the world being an Aus-
tralian one of 2166 ounces weight. It is, however, usually found in
small flakes, grains, and dendritic strings, weighing only a few grains.
The last time the land of any country on the earth slowly
rose from beneath the sea, it must of course have been subject to-
the degrading and destructive power of the breakers, and of the
waves and tides and currents, and all that wearing action we now
see going on on our own shores daily and hourly before our eyes..
The consequence is, that portions of every rock, large or small, have
been broken off, washed and dashed about upon beaches, or under
shallow water, rolled into pebbles, pounded into sand, or ground
down into mud and clay. These pebbles, sand, mud, and clay, have
been transported by these moving waters often to great distances
from their parent site, the largest and heaviest being generally
removed the least distance, but the finer and lighter particles swept
sometimes tens, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the rock
they were first broken off. Such is the origin of all the mud, clay,
sand, gravel, and other loose and incoherent materials we so com-
monly find beneath the surface in all countries when we dig below
the soil, interposed between it and the main body of the solid rock*
below. Sometimes these accumulations are entirely wanting, even
over large spaces ; sometimes they are but a few inches thick, often
but a few feet ; but occasionally they occur in masses 100 or 150 feet
in thickness. They are disseminated with great irregularity, some-
times lying on the tops, or resting on the sides of hills of consider-
able elevation ; but most frequently we find them in the valleys and
in the lowest levels of a country, whither moving water would have,
of course, the greatest tendency to sweep them.

* By rock here, we mean any large regularly formed mass of earthy matter, whether it
be hard or soft.


Now, whenever the moving waters of the sea, by which these
drift-materials were thus formed and deposited, attacked rock con-
taining gold, it would of course break off lumps of it, just as of any
other rock, and equally wash, roll, and knock it about, and thus
break it up into smaller fragments, round it into pebbles, and grind
it into sand. In this way, much of the gold would be knocked out
of the rock, and much water-worn gold accumulated, or water-worn
fragments of gold and quartz together.

From this point of time, however, there is a remarkable difference
observable in the action of the water on the gold, and on rock which
contains no gold. All kinds of rock, or earth, or stone, at all events
all the common kinds, are pretty nearly of the same specific gravity
that is to say, of the same weight, bulk for bulk. Chalk, clay,
limestone, compact sandstone, granite, marble, basalt, have all
specific gravities varying from 2 to 3 that is to say, they are twice
or thrice the weight of their bulk of water. Pure gold, however, has
a specific gravity of 19, or is nineteen times as heavy as its bulk of
water ; and the most impure ore of gold that occurs in nature has
at least a specific gravity of 12 or 15. Gold, then, is about six or
seven times as heavy as quartz, or any other stone it is likely to be
associated with. The consequence of this is, that moving water has
at least seven times less power over it less power to move it along,
either suspended in the water or rolling along its bed.* When the
drift, therefore, was formed, vast quantities of stone might be
removed to great distances, while the gold was left behind, not far
from its native site. All the large lumps of gold will certainly be
but little removed, as also all the large lumps of quartz heavily
freighted with gold. Grains of gold and small lumps may be carried
further, while scale-gold and fine dust, especially if flat and thin,
may be carried to very considerable distances.


Let us now see into what wild paroxysms of excitement and
delight, alternating with periods of disappointment and misery, the
discovery of gold can lead vast masses of men. And let us begin
with California the auriferous region which was the first of the
modern discoveries. While yet its riches were unknown, this region
belonged to Mexico, and was known as Upper California, to distin-
guish it from the peninsula, called Lower California. This last still
belongs to Mexico ; but, in 1848, Upper California was ceded to the
United States, and in 1850 became the state of California.

Separated from the Pacific Ocean by a breadth of 150 miles, there
runs along this country the range of the Sierra Nevada, or Snowy

* We shall see this more clearly, perhaps, when we reflect, that stone suspended in
water loses one-third of its weight, but that gold suspended in water loses only one-
nineteenth of its weight.



Mountains. Westward of this range, we find ourselves with warm
skies overhead, green lands around, and forests, lakes, and plains,
valleys and hills blending their varied beauties in the landscape ;
busy towns and crowded sea-ports studding the shores, the blue
Pacific beyond, and deeply laden ships passing in and out of the
harbours. At the northern extremity, the Rio Sacramento takes its
rise among the Snowy Mountains, and pouring its fertilising waters
along a wide valley for 250 miles, forms a junction with the San
Joachin, which flows an equal distance from an opposite direction ;
and these two rivers, having thus irrigated an unbroken valley 500
miles in length, pour their- united streams to San Francisco, and
there roll into a harbour which, some writers say, would shelter the
united fleets of Europe.

Numerous rivers pour down from among the snowy peaks of the
Sierra Nevada into the Sacramento and San Joachin. Between
these and the sea lies a broken range of less elevated hills, which
cradle among their summits the sources of other streams that flow
directly towards the shore, and discharge their tribute into the sea,
at intervals along the whole coast. The region is therefore profusely
watered, and the richness of the soil in some of the interior valleys
is not surpassed by any in South America.

Possessed for ages by a sparse population of Indians, California
was made known to Europe by Hernan Cortez in 1530, and gradually
fell under the dominion of Spain. Three centuries later, the United
States annexed the northern hah of the country ; and then California
revived from a sluggish state into which it had sunk under Spanish
rule. Industry was again awake ; old villages were re-tenanted ;
new ones were built ; the wasted lands were covered with fresh
cultivation ; towns that had fallen to ruin, with grassy streets and
harbours wholly silent, became full of active life ; and indeed the
entire region presented the appearance of a country reviving from
a long and lethargic apathy to new energy and prosperity. The
means of reaching California by land were developed by degrees.
About 1810, James Pursley discovered a passage across the Rocky
Mountains from Platte River to Santa FC". This became a regular
caravan route about 1824. In 1845, Captain Fremont struck a
new path across the mountains, farther north, so as to reach the
Sacramento. The travelling arrangements were year by year
improved, until, in 1869, a railway was opened across the whole
breadth of the American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The discovery of gold in this region was mainly due to Captain
Sutter, an indefatigable man, who had formed a settlement high up
the Sacramento river. In September 1847, he erected a water-mill
in a spot more than a thousand feet above the level of the lower
valley. His friend, Mr Marshall, was engaged in superintending an
alteration in it, and Captain Sutter was sitting one afternoon in his
own room writing. Suddenly Marshall rushed in with such excitement


in his face, that his friend confesses to have cast an anxious eye
at his rifle. Hjs sudden appearance was sufficiently curious ; but
Sutter thought him mad when he cried out that he had made a
discovery which would pour into their coffers millions and millions
of dollars with little labour. ' I frankly own,' he says, ' that when
I heard this I thought something had touched Marshall's brain,
when suddenly all my misgivings were put an end to by his flinging
on the table a handful of scales of pure virgin gold. I was fairly
thunder-struck.' It was explained that, while widening the channel
that had been made too narrow to allow the mill-wheel to work
properly, a mass of sand and gravel was thrown up by the excavators.
Glittering in this Mr Marshall noticed what he thought to be an
opal a clear transparent stone common in California. This was
a scale of pure gold, and the first idea of the discoverer was, that

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 8 of 58)