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Margarita, Pearl

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MARGARITA.
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pinnae of the deep water produces the most lustrous and clear, and largest pearl ; that which swims near the surface is spoilt by the rays of the sun, and gives those of bad colour and smaller size. Those that fish for pearls run a danger when they thrust their hands straight into the gaping shell, for then it shuts to, and often snaps off their fingers : and some are killed immediately. But all who put in the hand transversely, easily pull away the shells from the rocks."
These same authorities Pliny seems to have followed in his account of the formation of the pearl : merely adding that the impregnation was produced by the dews of heaven falling into the open shells at the breeding time ; an essential point evidently omitted by Atheneeus from his abstract of the passage in Isidorus. The quality of the pearl varied according to that of the dew imbibed, being lustrous if that was pure ; dull, if it were foul. Cloudy weather spoilt the colour, lightning stopped the growth, but thunder made the shell-fish miscarry, and eject hollow husks called physemata (bubbles). Pie adds that Taprobane (Ceylon) was then, as until lately, the seat of the most productive fishery. Pliny remarks their formation by numerous concentric layers (multipliée constant ente), and hence properly concludes them to be mere callosities formed in the body of the fish. In fact the pearl is a mere concretion of the matter forming the shell that accumulates upon some foreign body accidentally introduced into the shell (usually a grain of sand), for the purpose of pre­venting the irritation its roughness would otherwise occasion to the tender inmate.
Those of hemispherical form were called Tympania (tambour­ines) : the shells to which some were firmly attached were pre­served in this condition to serve for perfume-holders. There was a story that the shoals of pearl-oysters had a king dis­tinguished by his age and size, exactly as bees have a queen, wonderfully expert in keeping his subjects out of harm's way ; but if the divers once succeeded in capturing him, the rest straying about blindly fell an easy prey. Though defended by a body-guard of sharks, and dwelling amongst the rocks of the abyss, they cannot, says Pliny, be preserved from ladies' ears.
The shells when caught were thrown into vessels filled with
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King. Natural History of Precious Stones.