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Dorian Gray's Gems

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) is a book by Oscar Wilde. He wrote quite a few short stories, but Dorian Gray is a full length novel. It is an intriguing book, about a beautiful young man, with a portrait of himself. He never grows old, but his picture does. Since he can enjoy himself without showing the effects on his face and body, he becomes more and more decadent, until finally... No I won't spoil the ending for you! The style is florid, and the book sometimes wanders off the storyline, but it's a great book. This passage is one of the wanderings! It occurs after Dorian Gray has discovered about his portrait, but before he really becomes corrupt. It is full of the names of gemstones. If you don't recognise a name, click on the link (if there is one).
Pearl
Pearl
Peridot
Peridot
Ruby
Ruby
Spinel
Spinel
Sapphire
Sapphire
Emerald
Emerald
Zircon
Jacinth
Diamond
Diamond
Cornelian
Cornelian
Sard
Sard
Silver
Silver



On one occasion he took up the study of jewels, and appeared at a costume ball as Anne de Joyeuse, Admiral of France, in a dress covered with five hundred and sixty pearls. This taste enthralled him for years, and, indeed, may be said never to have left him. He would often spend a whole day settling and resettling in their cases the various stones that he had collected, such as the olive-green chrysoberyl that turns red by lamplight, the cymophane with its wirelike line of silver, the pistachio-coloured peridot, rose-pink and wine-yellow topazes, carbuncles of fiery scarlet with tremulous, four-rayed stars, flame-red cinnamon-stones, orange and violet spinels, and amethysts with their alternate layers of ruby and sapphire. He loved the red gold of the sunstone, and the moonstone's pearly whiteness, and the broken rainbow of the milky opal. He procured from Amsterdam three emeralds of extraordinary size and richness of colour, and had a turquoise de la vieille roche that was the envy of all the connoisseurs.

He discovered wonderful stories, also, about jewels. In Alphonso's Clericalis Disciplina a serpent was mentioned with eyes of real jacinth, and in the romantic history of Alexander, the Conqueror of Emathia was said to have found in the vale of Jordan snakes "with collars of real emeralds growing on their backs." There was a gem in the brain of the dragon, Philostratus told us, and "by the exhibition of golden letters and a scarlet robe" the monster could be thrown into a magical sleep and slain. According to the great alchemist, Pierre de Boniface, the diamond rendered a man invisible, and the agate of India made him eloquent. The cornelian appeased anger, and the hyacinth provoked sleep, and the amethyst drove away the fumes of wine. The garnet cast out demons, and the hydropicus deprived the moon of her colour. The selenite waxed and waned with the moon, and the meloceus, that discovers thieves, could be affected only by the blood of kids. Leonardus Camillus had seen a white stone taken from the brain of a newly killed toad, that was a certain antidote against poison. The bezoar, that was found in the heart of the Arabian deer, was a charm that could cure the plague. In the nests of Arabian birds was the aspilates, that, according to Democritus, kept the wearer from any danger by fire.

The King of Ceilan rode through his city with a large ruby in his hand, as the ceremony of his coronation. The gates of the palace of John the Priest were "made of sardius, with the horn of the horned snake inwrought, so that no man might bring poison within." Over the gable were "two golden apples, in which were two carbuncles," so that the gold might shine by day and the carbuncles by night. In Lodge's strange romance A Margarite of America, it was stated that in the chamber of the queen one could behold "all the chaste ladies of the world, inchased out of silver, looking through fair mirrours of chrysolites, carbuncles, sapphires, and greene emeraults." Marco Polo had seen the inhabitants of Zipangu place rose-coloured pearls in the mouths of the dead. A sea-monster had been enamoured of the pearl that the diver brought to King Perozes, and had slain the thief, and mourned for seven moons over its loss. When the Huns lured the king into the great pit, he flung it away-- Procopius tells the story--nor was it ever found again, though the Emperor Anastasius offered five hundred-weight of gold pieces for it. The King of Malabar had shown to a certain Venetian a rosary of three hundred and four pearls, one for every god that he worshipped.

When the Duke de Valentinois, son of Alexander VI, visited Louis XII of France, his horse was loaded with gold leaves, according to Brantome, and his cap had double rows of rubies that threw out a great light. Charles of England had ridden in stirrups hung with four hundred and twenty-one diamonds. Richard II had a coat, valued at thirty thousand marks, which was covered with balas rubies. Hall described Henry VIII, on his way to the Tower previous to his coronation, as wearing "a jacket of raised gold, the placard embroidered with diamonds and other rich stones, and a great bauderike about his neck of large balasses." The favourites of James I wore ear-rings of emeralds set in gold filigrane. Edward II gave to Piers Gaveston a suit of red-gold armour studded with jacinths, a collar of gold roses set with turquoise-stones, and a skull-cap parseme with pearls. Henry II wore jewelled gloves reaching to the elbow, and had a hawk-glove sewn with twelve rubies and fifty-two great orients. The ducal hat of Charles the Rash, the last Duke of Burgundy of his race, was hung with pear-shaped pearls and studded with sapphires.

How exquisite life had once been! How gorgeous in its pomp and decoration! Even to read of the luxury of the dead was wonderful.



Oscar Wilde certainly loved gemstones! Carbuncles are usually considered to be garnets, but can be any red stone, and I think he is talking of ruby in the first reference, since there are star rubies. Hyancinths and jacinths are the same thing (which I'm not sure he realised). Nowadays, they are zircons, but previously they would be any blue stone, possibly sapphires. The first references to amethyst is a little puzzling. Did Oscar Wilde really think that the purple of amethyst (a silicate) was made up of layers of ruby and sapphire (corundum)? Amethyst can be striped in purple and white, but these are all silicate.

A bezoar is a stony concretion found in the stomachs (NOT the hearts) of goats, antelopes, llamas, etc. It was supposed to be an antidote to any poison. Apparently it doesn't look very impressive!

I don't know what hydropicus, aspilates or meloceus are. Hydropicus means "thirsty, or charged with water". Opals have water molecules in them, and if they lose their water, they fade. But perhaps it means a stone that will absorb water. Aspilates may be a mythical stone. Some birds swallow stones to help grind up their food. Meloceus "discovers thieves" and "could be affected only by the blood of kids". Pliny says that diamonds can be dissolved by goats' blood.

To a certain extent, Oscar Wilde got carried away by the names of the stones and their stories. Sard and agate sound wonderful, but any rock shop will sell you plenty by the handful. But that touch of "settling and resettling" the stones rings very true. There's a lot more to collecting minerals than just chemical formulas and physical properties. I notice that while he has collected stories about diamonds, he doesn't have them in his collection. Perhaps he thought they were vulgar!
Chrysoberyl
Chrysoberyl
Topaz
Topaz
Garnet
Garnet
Amethyst
Amethyst
Sunstone
Sunstone
Moonstone
Moonstone
Turquoise
Turquoise
Agate
Agate
Selenite
Selenite
Gold
Gold
Olivene
Chrysolite