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There is nothing new under the sun. Imagine not, therefore, dear ladies, that your most cherished ornaments have the least novelty about them—even if you can produce the newest fashioned necklace, bracelet, clasp, chain, or locket. From the beginning of the world women have always fixed their affections on these trifles: and you, also, in valuing them so highly, only follow the track made by thousands of the daughters of Eve who have gone before you. For instance, in the patriarchal tent, gold and gems were well known. Abraham's servant presented Rebecca with ear-rings and bracelets; Judith prepared for her fatal visit to Holofernes by taking off her sackcloth and adorning herself with jewels. The prophet, also, reproving the daughters of Israel with their vanity and love of finery, says: "In that day the Lord shall take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments, their networks, their crescent-shaped jewels, their chains, their bracelets, their spangled ornaments, and the pearls that overhang their brows."
All the surrounding nations of Israel supplied the prophet Isaiah with examples of this pageantry. The Egyptian tombs disclose to light jewels as remarkable for cunning workmanship as for intrinsic value: the golden scarab, necklaces, rings, and bracelets, engraved, chiselled, orenamelledinathousand different ways. Cleopatra's famous pearl, and its fate, are remembered by every one. The women of Nineveh, Media, and Persia, lavished gold and pearls upon their garments. The Grecian women, according to Homer, were well acquainted with our golden girdles, rich clasps, crescent-shaped ear-rings, and bracelets, adorned with precious stones. All these figure in the toilet of PeneVol. Lxiv.—11
lope. Amongst the Grecian jewels the ring of Polycrates is the most celebrated. Omazis, King of Egypt, having heard Polycrates described as the most fortunate of men, sent him this caution: "Your prosperities fill me with alarm; for the jealous gods suffer not that any mortal should enjoy unchanging felicity. Endeavor to bring upon yourself some loss, or misfortune, to counterbalance the dangerous favors of the gods 1"
The tyrant of Samos, struck by this advice, threw into the sea a ring on which he set great value. Some historians declare it to have been an emerald, adorned, by a skilful engraver, with a lyre surrounded with bees. Pliny asserts that it was one entire sardonyx. The ring in question, having been swallowed by a fish, made its appearance three days after on the king's dinner table 1
The ladies of Athens sometimes wore a golden grasshopper in their hair; and stones, cunningly carved, formed an important part of their costume. They served to clasp the tunic upon the shoulder, the mantle on the bosom, to confine the folds of the veil, and to fasten the sandal.
The Romans wore jewels even during the republic. The ring among them was a sign of nobility. It is well known that, after the battle of Cannas, three bushels were filled with the rings of the knights. As for the Roman ladies, their love for jewels amounted to infatuation. The riches of the world, the spoils of vanquished nations, flowed through their hands in every variety of decoration. Diamonds sparkled in their black hair; their robes were brilliant with the starry gleam of jewels; their purple mantles were adorned with golden palm-leaves, and
sometimes also with precious stones: rings glittered on their fingers, bracelets of gold and pearls encircled their arms, and they wore chains and necklaces with pendents. These latter were sometimes formed of coins or medallions.
Loliia Paulina, the reputed wife of Caligula, is said by Pliny to have appeared at a simple family repast, adorned with pearls and emeralds worth forty millions of sesterces. Her head, breast, ai ms, and fingers were loaded with the spoils of the provinces. Precious stones were sometimes chiselled into the form of a cup and used at table.
The Roman matrons borrowed from the women of Gaul their blond tresses; from the eastern women their mitres of gold tissue and jewels. And the men themselves, when the empire was declining, gave themselves up to these frivolities, lleliogabalus appeared in public with an embroidered team, and a flowing robe adorned with jewels. Incredible sums were given for engraved stones, mounted as seals or rings; and the iron circlets of the Roman knights were replaced by rings set with the most costly gems. There were rings for summer and rings for winter. The women had balls made of amber to rub between their hands, as it was imagined that the friction had an invigorating effect. A few of the patrician families, remained faithful, nevertheless, to the ancient customs, and wore no other than ornaments of iron.
The barbarians had a strong appreciation for this splendor which made such eloquent appeals to the eyes. The movable huts, and tents of skins, belonging to the soldiers of Genseric and Attila, were filled with treasures. The Goths had obtained possession of no less than a hundred basins filled with gold, pearls, and diamonds— a plate of gold weighing five hundred pounds, and it table formed of one single emerald, surrounded with three rows of pearls, and supported by massive golden feet inlaid with jewels.
Charlemagne succeeded in recovering some of these innumerable treasures; for, having vanquished the Saxons and Huns, he discovered the secret caves where these grandchildren of the barbarians (former conquerors of the world) had collected the spoils of their forefathers.
Eginhard relates that the soldiers of Charlemagne entered by torchlight into the citadel of Panonia, and there found heaps of gold and silver. Armor enriched with rubies, sceptres, and ancient crowns, the heritage of a hundred nations, celebrated in former times. The chief part of this wealth was bestowed upon the churches and abbeys of France, since plundered
at the time of the Revolution. The jewels from the tombs of martyrs, the wealthy spoils of the consuls, passing through many hands, are at length melted and absorbed in commerce.
Our Gallic neighbors also adorned themselves with jewelry. Necklaces and bracelets were worn by the men: they ornamented their helmets with branches of coral. The women fastened their hair with curiously-fashioned pins; and in their ancient burying-places specimens of these rough ornaments were found. The early queens of Gaul crowned their long flowing hair with a circlet of fluted gold, or a crown composed of gems and pearls. But if the material of these ornaments was precious, the workmanship was not only simple, but clumsy —as may be proved by the real and the carved bees found at Tournay in the tomb of ChiL deric.
In vain did the kings enact sumptuary laws against the increase of luxury, and the rage for jewels. Nobleman and peasant alike vied In transgressing them. The women wore golden chains, jewelled crosses, rings, and purses. The men adorned even their arms with precious stones; they wore around the neck heavy chains of gold, from which sometimes a precious reliquary depended. The byzantine jewels were much sought after, adorned with enamel and frosted silver, curiously engraved.
The Crusades served to increase this love of finery, by disclosing to the Europeans the riches of the Orient. At that time, as occasionally in ours, linen was extremely scarce, though jewels abounded; and if a grand lady adorned her coronet with rubies and sapphires, the peasant's wife also had her carcanet of gold, her cross, and amulet. Louis, king and saint, presented Queen Margaret with a ring, bearing an engraven cross surrounded with lilies and daisies (Marguerite), with this inscription: "Hon c*t atmel pourrions trouver amour?"
The inventory of the rings and jewels of Charles V. proves that this king possessed forty fine rubies, nine sapphires, twenty emeralds, and one turquoise, all mounted in rings ; specimens of workmanship in amber, chaplets of pearls and sapphires, talismans or stones engraved with Hebrew characters, endowed by the credulity of the age with supernatural virtues; also twenty golden crowns garnished with diamonds and rubies, ten caps of gold adorned with pearls and the balass ruby, and fourteen girdles with jewelled clasps belonging to the queen; without counting comfit-boxes, cups, and larger vessels, where jewels glittered upon the massive silver and gold.