( Originally Published 1851 )
Sugar may be properly reckoned a necessary of life. It is of almost universal use throughout the world. The scattered tribes of North American Indians spend the months of spring in their rude encampments, manufacturing sugar out of the juice of the maple;--the five-and-twenty million inhabitants of Great Britain employ, throughout the year,two hundred thousand tons of shipping to export five hundred million pounds of sugar from their colonies. Through the natural operation of our commercial power this important article of comfort is placed within the reach of the humblest in the land.
The Sugar-cane must be considered as a native of China, since it has been pretty accurately shown that its cultivation was prosecuted in that empire for two thousand years before sugar was even known in Europe, and for a very long period before other eastern nations became acquainted with its use. For some time after this substance, in its crystalline form, had found its way to the westward, through India and Arabia, a singular degree of ignorance prevailed in regard to its nature, and the mode of its production; and there is reason for believing that the Chinese, who have always evinced an unconquerable repugnance to foreign intercourse, purposely threw a veil of mystery over the subject. Persons have not been wanting, even in modern times, who have approved of this anti-social spirit, as being the perfection of political wisdom;óbut is it not a complete answer to their opinion, that every nation which has cultivated commercial relations has been steadily advancing in civilisation, and adding most importantly to the sum of its comforts and conveniences? while the inhabitants of China, although possessed of the greatest natural advantages, arising from variety of soil and climate, by which advantages they had so long ago placed themselves in advance of other people, have remained altogether stationary?
A knowledge of the origin of cane sugar was correctly revealed in the middle of the thirteenth century, by the celebrated traveller Marco Polo; though it was partially known much earlier. The plant was soon conveyed to Arabia, Nubia, Egypt, and Ethiopia, where it became extensively cultivated. Early in the fifteenth century the sugar-cane first appeared in Europe. Sicily took the lead in its cultivation; thence it passed to Spain, Madeira, and the Canary Islands; and shortly after the discovery of the New World by Columbus, this plant was conveyed to Hayti and Brazil, from which latter country it gradually spread through the islands of the West Indies.
The sugar-cane varies exceedingly in its growth, depending upon the nature of the soil. In new and moist land it sometimes attains the height of twenty feet. It is always propagated from cuttings. The hoeing of a cane-field is a most laborious operation when performed, as it must be, under the rays of a tropical sun. Formerly this task was always effected by hand labor, but, of late years, where the nature of the ground will admit of the employment of a plough, that instrument has been substituted, to the mutual advantage of the planter and his laborers. The planting of canes does Rot require to be renewed annually; in such a case the utmost number of laborers now employed on a sugar plantation would be wholly inadequate to its performance.
When the canes are fully ripe they are cut close to the ground, and being then divided into convenient lengths, are tied up in bundles, and conveyed to the mill. The canes, on being passed twice between the cylinders of this mill, have all their juice expressed. This is collected in a cistern, and must be immediately placed under process by heat to prevent its becoming acid. A certain quantity of' lime in powder, or of lime-water, is added at this time to promote the separation of the grosser matters contained in the juice; and these being as far as possible removed at a heat just sufficient to cause the impurities to collect together on the surface, the cane liquor is then subjected to a very rapid boiling, in order to evaporate the watery particles, and bring the syrup to such a consistency that it will granulate on cooling. Upon an average, every five gallons, imperial measure, of cane juice, will yield six pounds of crystallized' sugar, and will be obtained from about one hundred and ten well-grown canes.
When the sugar is sufficiently cooled in shallow trays, it is put into the hogsheads in which it is shipped. These casks have their bottoms pierced with holes, and are placed upright over a large cis-tern into which the molasses which is the portion of saccharine matter that will not crystallize drains away, leaving the raw sugar in the state wherein we see it in our grocers' shops: the casks are then filled up, headed down, and shipped.
The molasses which has drained from the sugar, together with all the scummings of the coppers, are collected, and, being first fermented, are distilled for the production of rum.
A Curious River.óln the province of Andalusia, in Spain, there is a river called the Tinto, from the tinge of its waters, which are as yellow as Topaz. It possesses the most extra-ordinary and singular qualities. If a stone happen to fall in and rest upon another, they both become, in one year's time, perfectly united and conglutinated. All the plants on its banks are withered by its waters whenever they overflow. No kind of verdure will come up where its water reaches, nor can any fish live in its stream. This river rises in the Sierra Morena mountains, and its singular properties continue until other rivers run into it and alter its nature.