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The Story of a Tinder-box


Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London & Bungay.

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge







Table of Contents


Table of Contents

These lectures were delivered with the assistance merely of a few notes, the author in preparing them for the press adhering as nearly as possible to the shorthand writer’s manuscript. They must be read as intentionally untechnical holiday lectures intended for juveniles. But as the print cannot convey the experiments or the demonstrations, the reader is begged to make the necessary allowance.

The author desires to take this opportunity of expressing his thanks to Messrs. Bryant and May; to Messrs. Woodhouse and Rawson, electrical engineers; to Mr. Woolf, the lead-pencil manufacturer; and to Mr. Gardiner, for numerous specimens with which the lectures were illustrated.


Table of Contents


Table of Contents

My Young Friends,—Some months ago the Directors of this Institution honoured me with a request that I should deliver a course of Christmas Juvenile Lectures. I must admit I did my best to shirk the task, feeling that the duty would be better intrusted to one who had fewer demands upon his time. It was under the genial influence of a bright summer’s afternoon, when one thought Christmas-tide such a long way off that it might never come, that I consented to undertake this course of lectures. No sooner had I done so than I was pressed to name a subject. Now it is a very difficult thing to choose a subject, and especially a subject for a course of juvenile lectures; and I will take you thus much into my confidence by telling you that I selected the subject upon which I am to speak to you, long before I had a notion what I could make of it, or indeed whether I could make anything at all of it. I mention these details to ask you and our elders who honour us—you and me—with their company at these lectures, for some little indulgence, if at times the story I have to tell proves somewhat commonplace, something you may have heard before, a tale oft told. My sole desire is that these lectures should be true juvenile lectures.

Well, you all know what this is? [Holding up a box of matches.] It is a box of matches. And you know, moreover, what it is used for, and how to use it. I will take out one of the matches, rub it on the box, and «strike a light.» You say that experiment is commonplace enough. Be it so. At any rate, I want you to recollect that phrase—»strike a light.» It will occur again in our course of lectures. But, you must know, there was a time when people wanted fire, but had no matches wherewith to procure it. How did they obtain fire? The necessity for, and therefore the art of producing, fire is, I should suppose, as old as the world itself. Although it may be true that our very earliest ancestors relied for necessary food chiefly on an uncooked vegetable diet, nevertheless it is certain that very early in the history of the world people discovered that cooked meat (the venison that our souls love) was a thing not altogether to be despised. Certainly by the time of Tubal Cain, an early worker in metals, not only the methods of producing fire, but also the uses to which fire could be applied, must have been well understood. Imagine the astonishment of our ancestors when they first saw fire! Possibly, the first sight of this wonderful «element» vouchsafed to mortals was a burning mountain, or something of that kind. One is scarcely astonished that there should have been in those early times a number of people who were professed fire-worshippers. No wonder, I say, that fire should have been regarded with intense reverence. It constituted an essential part of early sacrificial worship. Some of my young friends, too, may remember how in ancient Rome there was a special order (called the order of the Vestal Virgins), whose duty it was to preserve the sacred fire, which if once extinguished, it was thought would bring ruin and destruction upon their city.

Fig. 1.

How did our ancestors, think you, obtain fire in those early times? I suggested a burning mountain as a source of fire. You remember, too, perhaps reading about Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven, bringing it to earth in a copper rod, which combined act of theft and scientific experiment made the gods very angry, because they were afraid mortals might learn as many wonderful things as they knew themselves. History seems to show that the energetic rubbing together of dry sticks was one of the earliest methods adopted by our ancestors for producing fire. I find, for instance, described and pictured by an early author some such plan as the following:—A thick piece of wood was placed upon the ground. Into a hole bored in this piece of wood a cone of wood was fitted. By placing a boy or man on the top of the cone, and whirling him round, sufficient friction resulted where the two pieces of wood rubbed one against the other to produce fire. Our artist has modernized the picture to give you an idea of the operation (Fig. 1). Now instead of repeating that experiment exactly, I will try to obtain fire by the friction of wood with wood. I take this piece of boxwood, and having cut it to a point, rub it briskly on another piece of wood (Fig. 2). If I employ sufficient energy, I have no doubt I may make it hot enough to fire tinder. Yes! I have done so, as you see. (I will at once apologize for the smoke. Unfortunately we cannot generally have fire without smoke.) Every boy knows that experiment in another form. A boy takes a brass button, and after giving it a good rub on his desk, applies it to the cheek of some inoffensive boy at his side, much to the astonishment of his quiet neighbour. Well, I am going to see whether I can produce fire with a brass button. I have mounted my button, as you see, for certain reasons on a cork, and I will endeavour by rubbing the button on a piece of pinewood to make it sufficiently hot to fire tinder. Already I have done so.

Fig. 2.

Talking about friction as a means of producing heat, I should like to mention that at the last Paris Exhibition I saw water made to boil, and coffee prepared from it, by the heat resulting from the friction of two copper plates within the liquid.

That then is the earliest history I can give you of the production of fire, and at once from that history I come to the reign of the tinder-box. The tinder-box constitutes one of the very earliest methods, no doubt, of obtaining fire. I have searched for some history of the tinder-box, and all I can say for certain is that it was in use long before the age of printing. I have here several rare old tinder-boxes. I intend showing you in the course of these lectures every detail of their construction and use. I have no doubt this very old tinder-box that you see here (Fig. 3 A) was once upon a time kept on the mantel-piece of the kitchen well polished and bright, and I do not doubt but that it has lit hundreds and thousands of fires, and, what is more, has very often been spoken to very disrespectfully when the servant wanted to light the fire, and her master was waiting for his breakfast. I will project a picture of it on the screen, so that you may all see it. There it is. It is a beautiful piece of apparatus. There is the tinder, the steel (Fig. 3 b), the flint (c), and the matches (d) complete.

Fig. 3.

It was with this instrument, long before the invention of matches, that our grandfathers obtained light. I want to show you how the trick was managed. First of all it was necessary to have good tinder. To obtain this, they took a piece of linen and simply charred or burnt it, as you see I am doing now (Fig. 4). (Cambric, I am told, makes the best tinder for match-lighting, and the ladies, in the kindness of their hearts, formerly made a point of saving their old cambric handkerchiefs for this purpose.) The servants prepared the tinder over-night, for reasons I shall explain to you directly. Having made the tinder, they shut it down in the box with the lid (Fig. 3 A) to prevent contact with air. You see I have the tinder now safely secured in my tinder-box. Here is a piece of common flint, and here is the steel. Here too are the matches, and I am fortunate in having some of the old matches made many years ago, prepared as you see with a little sulphur upon their tips. Well, having got all these etceteras, box, tinder, flint and steel, we set to work in this way:—Taking the steel in one hand, and the flint in the other, I must give the steel a blow, or rather a succession of blows with the flint (Fig. 3 B). Notice what beautiful sparks I obtain! I want one of these sparks, if I can persuade it to do so, to fall on my tinder. There! it has done so, and my tinder has caught fire. I blow my fired tinder a little to make it burn better, and now I apply a sulphur match to the red-hot tinder. See, I have succeeded in getting my match in flame. I will now set light to one of these old-fashioned candles—a rushlight—with which our ancestors were satisfied before the days of gas and electric lighting. This was their light, and this was the way they lighted it. No wonder (perhaps you say) that they went to bed early.

Fig. 4.

I should like to draw your attention to one other form of tinder-box, because I do not suppose you have ever seen these kind of things before. I have here two specimens of the pistol form of tinder-box (Fig. 5). Here is the flint, the tinder being contained in this little box. It is the same sort of tinder as we made just now. The tinder was fired with flint and steel in the same way as the old-fashioned flint pistols fired the gunpowder. And you see this pistol tinder-box is so constructed as to serve as a candlestick as well as a tinder-box. I have fired, as you perceive, my charred linen with this curious tinder-box, and thus I get my sulphur match alight once more!

Fig. 5.

It was in the year 1669 that Brandt, an alchemist and a merchant—a very distinguished scientific man—discovered the remarkable substance I have here, which we call phosphorus. Brandt was an alchemist. I do not know whether you know what an alchemist is. An alchemist was an old-fashioned chemist. These alchemists had three prominent ideas before them. The first thing they sought for was to discover a something—a powder they thought it ought to be—that would change the commoner or baser metals (such as iron) into gold. The second idea was to discover «a universal solvent,» that is, a liquid which would dissolve everything, and they hoped out of this liquid to be able to crystallize gems. And then, having obtained gold and gems, the third thing they desired was «a vital elixir» to prolong their lives indefinitely to enjoy the gold and gems they had manufactured. These were the modest aims of alchemy. Well now—although you may say such notions sound very foolish—let me tell you that great practical discoveries had their origin in the very out-of-the-way researches of the alchemists. Depend upon this, that an object of lofty pursuit, though that object be one of practically impossible attainment, is not unworthy the ambition of the scientific man. Though we cannot scale the summit of the volcanic cone, we may notwithstanding reach a point where we can examine the lava its fires have melted. We may do a great deal even in our attempt to grasp the impossible. It was so with Brandt. He was searching for a something that would change the baser metals into gold, and, in the search, he discovered phosphorus. The chief thing that struck Brandt about phosphorus was its property of shining in the dark without having previously been exposed to light. A great many substances were known to science even at that time that shone in the dark after they had been exposed to light. But it was not until Brandt, in the year 1669, discovered phosphorus that a substance luminous in the dark, without having been previously exposed to light, had been observed. I should like, in passing, to show you how beautifully these phosphorescent powders shine after having been exposed to a powerful light. See how magnificently brilliant they are! These, or something like them, were known before the time of Brandt.

Shortly after phosphorus had been discovered, people came to the conclusion that it might be employed for the purpose of procuring artificial light. But I want you to note, that although phosphorus was discovered in 1669 (and the general properties of phosphorus seem to have been studied and were well understood within five years of its discovery), it was not until the year 1833 that phosphorus matches became a commercial success, so that until the year 1833, our old friend the tinder-box held its ground. I will try and give you as nearly as I can a complete list of the various attempts made with the purpose of procuring fire between the years 1669 and 1833.

The first invention was what were called «phosphoric tapers.» From the accounts given (although it is not easy to understand the description), phosphoric tapers seem to have been sulphur matches with a little piece of phosphorus enclosed in glass fixed on the top of the match, the idea being that you had only to break the glass and expose the phosphorus to air for it to catch fire immediately and ignite the sulphur. If this was the notion (although I am not sure), it is not easy to understand how the phosphoric tapers were worked. The second invention for the purpose of utilizing phosphorus for getting fire was by scraping with a match a little phosphorus from a bottle coated with a phosphorus composition, and firing it by friction. The fact is, phosphorus may be easily ignited by slight friction. If I wrap a small piece of phosphorus in paper, as I am doing now, and rub the paper on the table, you see I readily fire my phosphorus.

The Tinder box

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25 декабря 2020 г. 01:10

3.5 Это детская сказка.

Изначально он убил старуху. А потом собаки выполняли его желания. Это просто ужас, не понимаю чему может научить эта сказка.

Собаки конечно прикольные, но мне кажется что своим детям я эту книгу точно не дам читать

9 марта 2020 г. 11:45

4 Что мешает счастливому браку?

Ох, боюсь я , что большинство читателей только считают, что они эту сказку Андерсена знают, а на самом деле они знают переделанный сюжет, который был использован в замечательном советском художественном фильме «Эта старая, старая сказка», в котором в роли солдата снялся неотразимый Олег Даль, а в роли принцессы очаровательная Марина Неёлова.

Наши, советские сценаристы очень любили советских же детей, поэтому создали чудесный и добрый фильм. Но те, кто читал оригинал, знают насколько далёк киношный вариант от настоящего андерсеновского. В сказке всё гораздо жестче, солдат здесь не весёлый добряк, вызывающий симпатию и сочувствие, а самый настоящий монстр и психопат. И, надо признать, вариант Андерсена ближе к истине, потому что солдатами в Европе XVII-XVIII веков, когда, скорее всего,…

25 июля 2020 г. 12:49

В этой книге рассказывается о солдате, который станет королём. Но сделает он это совсем не правильно. Мне это в сказке и не понравилось. Сначала он нарушил свое слово и зарубил колдунью, затем похитил принцессу, а в конце устроил побоище. Главная мысль в том, что деньги не главное в жизни. Пока у солдата были деньги, то он хорошо жил и со многими дружил. Но когда деньги закончились, то все от него отвернулись. А вот если бы он сам заработал бы эти деньги, то ценил бы их больше.

Книга прочитана вместе с игрой Собери их всех!

18 ноября 2019 г. 12:42

Цю казку я придваб саме на українській мові тому що в неї дуже гарні ілюстрації Владислава Єрко, та напрочуд гарне оформлення від АБАГАЛАМАГА. Книжка, як то кажуть – вещь! Навряд хтось, коли-будь намалює краще за Єрко цю казку, тому як тільки я її побачив в магазині то відразу купив, бо то було кохання з першого погляду. Сама історії дужу розповсюджена, казка про бравого вояку який повернув долю у свій бік і хвацьке взяв від долі все що тільки міг, навіть став королем. Ось тільки як він ним став то вже зовсім інша історія. В таких казках мене завжди дивувала поведінка головних героїв. По-перше це його не вдячність коли він відтяв бабусі голову, замість того щоб подякувати за те що зробила заможнім. По друге це те як він обійшовся с королівською свитою та самим королем, викликав…

31 мая 2017 г. 12:52

0.5 Чему учит эта сказка

Мы привыкли, что сказка прежде всего должна быть поучительной. Колобок и Красная шапочка учат не доверять незнакомцам и слушаться родителей, а Курочка Ряба и Репка тому, что и малыш может быть сильным. Помнила, что в детстве мне Огниво не нравилось, и вот сейчас перечитала. Поняла, что детские впечатления меня не обманули. Главный герой — Солдат — обманул ведьму, которая хотела щедро отплатить ему за помощь, убил ее и украл волшебное огниво. Затем истратил все дары ведьмы, стал пользоваться огнивом и в итоге, не прилагая никаких усилий, обманом стал королем и женился на принцессе. И чему собственно учит эта сказка?

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