Autobiography and Selected Essays

By Thomas Henry Huxley; Ada L. F. Snell | Go to book overview

ON CORAL AND CORAL REEFS

THE marine productions which are commonly known by the names of "Corals" and "Corallines," were thought by the ancients to be sea-weeds, which had the singular property of becoming hard and solid, when they were fished up from their native depths and came into contact with the air.

"Sic et curalium, quo primum contigit auras
Tempore durescit: mollis fuit herba sub undis
,"

says Ovid (Metam. xv); and it was not until the seven- teenth century that Boccone was emboldened, by personal experience of the facts, to declare that the holders of this belief were no better than "idiots," who had been misled by the softness of the outer coat of the living red coral to imagine that it was soft all through.

Messer Boccone's strong epithet is probably undeserved, as the notion he controverts, in all likelihood, arose merely from the misinterpretation of the strictly true statement which any coral fisherman would make to a curious inquirer; namely, that the outside coat of the red coral is quite soft when it is taken out of the sea. At any rate, he did good service by eliminating this much error from the current notions about coral. But the belief that corals are plants remained, not only in the popular, but in the scientific mind; and it received what appeared to be a striking confirmation from the researches of Marsigli in 1706. For this naturalist, having the opportunity of observing freshly-taken red coral, saw that its branches were beset with what

-115-

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Autobiography and Selected Essays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents ii
  • Preface iii
  • Introduction iv
  • Autobiography 1
  • On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge 15
  • A Liberal Education 35
  • On a Piece, of Chalk 44
  • Principal Subjects of Education 73
  • The Method of Scientific Investigation 85
  • On the Physical Basis of Life 95
  • On Coral and Coral Reefs 115
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