Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/83

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73
ABOUT THE WEDDING RING.

conciliate their brides and be in the fashion. The revulsion made the ring what we now have, a plain gold circlet; though, by a compromise, the engagement-ring may be as costly as fancy dictates or means permit.

The materials of which wedding-rings have been composed are as diverse as the nations which have used the ring. The British Museum has rings of bone and of hard wood, found in the Swiss lakes; on one of the bone rings is traced a heart, giving antiquaries reason to believe that the ring was a pledge of affection, if not a wedding-ring. The same museum has rings from all parts of the earth—of bone, ivory, copper, brass, lead, tin, iron, silver, gold, and some of a composite of several of these metals. One ivory ring, from an Egyptian tomb, bears two clasped hands; an iron ring, having the design of a hand closing over a heart, once graced the hand of a Roman matron; while the inscriptions on many others make it certain that they were wedding-rings.

The use of many different materials in the construction of these wedding-rings does not indicate capricious changes of fashion, for it should be remembered that museums and collections of antiquities comprise specimens of many ages and of widely-separated lands, but there is no doubt that fashion has sometimes had an influence in determining the style and material of the ring. For instance: during the latter part of the sixteenth century a fashion for some time prevailed in France of making the wedding-ring consist of several links fastened together in such a way as to seem but one. Sometimes there were three, two links having graven hands and the third a heart, the union of the three in the proper position clasping the hands over the heart. During the palmy days of astrology, there was quite a fashion in Germany of wedding-rings engraved with astronomical and astrological characters, the horoscopes of both the contracting parties being sometimes indicated in the setting of the ring. That being also the golden age of the quack doctor, wedding-rings were often made with a cavity to contain medical preparations or charms to preserve or restore health or avert evil. After the Crusades had set Europe in a flame, a practice became common in France, Germany, and England, of wearing rings the setting of which was a tiny fragment of wood from the true cross, and many of these rings are still preserved in the cabinets and museums of Europe. Ass-hoof rings were, in the seventeenth century, very popular among the Spanish peasants as a cure for epilepsy; and such a ring, made, it was said, from the hoof of the ass which carried Christ into Jerusalem, was used in a wedding in a country church near Madrid in 1881!

But when the ring was not plain, precious stones of some kind constituted the settings; and when the selection of the stone was in question, the dominance of fashion was absolute. In the fourteenth century, a fanciful Italian writer on the mystic arts set forth the vir