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When Sir Henry de la Beche wrote his
account of the geology of Cornwall and Devon,
about sixteen years ago, he spoke of serpentine
rather as a substance which ought to be
employed for decorative purposes, than as one
actually so employed. He said that much of
the serpentine of the Lizard, though hitherto
most strangely neglected, was extremely
beautiful, particularly where veins of red
traverse the olive-green ground, mixed with
lighter tints. He named Landewednack,
Cadgwith, Kennack Cove, and Goosehilly
Downs, as four spots in the Lizard district
whence beautiful specimens might be obtained.
One of the varieties has an olive-green base,
striped with greenish-blue steatite veins;
another, very hard, has a reddish base studded
with crystals of the mineral called diallage,
which, when cut through and polished give
forth a beautiful metallic-green glitter,
heightened still further by the reddish tint
of the mass in which it is imbedded. An
opinion prevailed at the time when Sir
Henry de la Beche wrote his book, that
blocks of serpentine of fair size could not be
obtained at the Lizardan opinion which he
did not hesitate to oppose, and which has
since been found to be wholly incorrect.

The Exhibition of eighteen hundred and
fifty-one afforded the means of settling the
question. It contained specimens of serpentine
so beautiful, and made into such elegantly-
formed obelisks, fonts, chimney-pieces, vases,
and small ornaments, that the material soon
worked its way into public favour.
Penzance was the town which took hold of the
manufacture, some of the inhabitants having
purchased the right of quarrying for serpentine
over parts of the Lizard district. The
work is generally pursued in summer, and of
the stone obtained, about one-fourth is fine in
quality, while the rest is inferior. The
blocks, though generally small, have
sometimes been obtained seven feet in length, and
four or five tons in weight. The best blocks
are worth from five to ten guineas per ton,
according to their weightthe larger the
size, as in the case of diamonds, the more
rapidly does the ratio of value increase.
Chemically, the serpentine and the steatite
differ little from each other, both being a
kind of silicate of magnesia; and as they are
quarried in juxtaposition, specimens of both
kinds are selected for use, according to the
beauty of their appearance; but the serpentine
being in general much harder and more
richly coloured than the steatite, is appropriated
to the larger and more important articles,
the steatite being limited in its decorative
uses to smaller productions.

It has been found, since serpentine came
into favour, that the brackets of two
old monuments in Westminster Abbey are
of this stone, as also the panel-bordering
of the monument erected to the memory
of Addison by the Marquis of Halifax.
The brackets of one of the chimney-pieces
at Hampton Court Palace are also carved out
of the same variegated stone. The present
condition of these few specimens shows how
durable it is.

Serpentine-working has risen now to all
the pretensions of steam power. Whoever
has occasion to travel towards Penzance, and
to wind round the beautiful coast of Mount's
Bay, towards the Logan Stone, will meet
with a large building, which is the establishment
of the Penzance Serpentine Company
like a place intended to become important by
and by, although it is in its young days yet.
A steam-engine works saws and cutters of
soft iron; these saws and cutters, moistened
with sand and water, sever the blocks into
slabs, cylinders, or pieces of any required
shape; then, by patience and careful attention,
the stone is turned, or carved, or
rendered plane and flat, as the case may be, after
which, it is ground, and rubbed, and polished
until it presents a beautiful glossy surface,
variegated as it is glossy, and durable as it is
variegated. One reason why marble so soon
becomes discoloured in our climate, is, that its
chemical composition renders it liable to
absorb grease and acids, whereas serpentine
seems to be capable of sternly resisting such

The steatites of the Lizard contain a larger
proportion of silica than the serpentines; but
are much softer. They are, therefore, better
adapted for being made into smaller
ornamental objects; not only for that reason, but
because the colours are richer and more

Taking these Cornish stones as types of
classesgranite of the rough and useful, and
serpentine steatites of the smooth and
ornamentalthey may give us some notion
of the worth of the Cornish quarries.

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