A Shower Of Snow Crystals

(From the Daily News, March 11, 1869)

Yesterday morning a remarkably fine fall of snow-stars took place over many parts of London. The crystals were larger and more perfectly formed than is commonly the case in our latitudes, where the conditions requisite for the formation of these beautiful objects are less perfectly fulfilled than in more northerly231 regions. Many forms were to be noticed which the researches of Scoresby, Glaisher, and Lowe have shown to be somewhat uncommon.

Some of my readers will perhaps be surprised to learn that no less than 1,000 different kinds of snow-crystals have been noticed by the observers named above, and that a large proportion of them have been figured and described. The patterns are of wonderful beauty. A strange circumstance connected with these objects is the fact that for the most part they are found, on a close examination, to be formed of minute coloured crystals—some red, some green, others blue or purple. In fact, all the colours of the rainbow are to be seen in the delicate tracery of these fine hexagonal stars. So that in the perfect whiteness of the driven snow we have an illustration of the well-known fact that the colours of the rainbow combine to form the purest white. For the common snow-flake is formed of a large number of such tiny crystals as were falling yesterday; though their beauty is destroyed in the snow-flake, through the effects of collision and partial melting. It may not be very commonly known that ordinary ice, also, is composed of a combination of crystals presenting all the regularity of formation seen in the snow-crystals. This would scarcely be believed by anyone who examined a rough mass of ice taken from the surface of a frozen lake. Yet, if a slice be cut from the mass and placed in the sun’s light, or before a fire, the beautiful phenomena called ice-flowers make their appearance.232 ‘A fairy seems to have breathed upon the ice, and caused transparent flowers of exquisite beauty suddenly to blossom in myriads within it.’

When we remember that the enormous icebergs of the Arctic and Antarctic seas, the snow-caps which crown the Alps and Andes and Himalayas, and the glaciers which urge their way with resistless force down the mountain valleys, are all made up of these delicate and beautiful snow-flowers, we are struck with the force of the strange contrasts which Nature presents to our contemplation. We may say of the snow-crystals what Tennyson said of the small sea-shell. Each snow-star is

Frail, but a work divine
Made so fairily well
So exquisitely minute
A miracle of design.

Yet—massed together with all the prodigality of Nature’s unsparing hand—they crown the everlasting hills; or, falling in avalanche and glacier, overwhelm the stoutest works of man; or, in vast islands of floating ice, show themselves to be

Of force to withstand, year upon year, the shock
Of cataract seas that snap the three-decker’s oaken spine.

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