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On Crystalline And Slaty Cleavage

( Originally Published 1905 )

WHEN the student of physical science has to investigate the character of any natural force, his first care must be to purify it from the mixture of other forces, and thus study its simple action. If, for example, he wishes to know how a mass of liquid would shape itself if at liberty to follow the bent of its own molecular forces, he must see that these forces have free and undisturbed exercise. We might perhaps refer him to the dew-drop for a solution of the question; but here we have to do, not only with the action of the molecules of the liquid upon each other, but also with the action of gravity upon the mass, which pulls the drop downward and elongates it. If he would examine the problem in its purity, he must do as Plateau has done—detach the liquid mass from the action of gravity; he would then find the shape to be a perfect sphere. Natural processes come to us in a mixed manner, and to the uninstructed mind are a mass of unintelligible confusion. Suppose half-a-dozen of the best musical performers to be placed in the same room, each playing his own instrument to perfection, but no two playing the same tune; though each individual instrument might be a source of perfect music, still the mixture of all would produce mere noise. Thus it is with the processes of nature, where mechanical and molecular laws intermingle and create apparent con-fusion. Their mixture constitutes what may be called the noise of natural laws, and it is the vocation of the man of science to resolve this noise into its components, and thus to detect the underlying music.

The necessity of this detachment of one force from all other forces is nowhere more strikingly exhibited than in the phenomena of crystallization. Here, for example, is a solution of common sulphate of soda or Glauber salt. Looking into it mentally, we see the molecules of that liquid, like disciplined squadrons under a governing eye, arranging themselves into battalions, gathering round distinct centres, and forming themselves into solid masses, which after a time assume the visible shape of the crystal now held in my hand. I may, like an ignorant meddler wishing to hasten matters, introduce confusion into this order. This may be done by plunging a glass rod into the vessel; the consequent action is not the pure expression of the crystalline forces; the molecules rush together with the confusion of an unorganized mob, and not with the steady accuracy of a disciplined host. In this mass of bismuth also we have an example of confused crystallization; but in the crucible behind me a slower process is going on: here there is an architect at work "who makes no chips, no din," and who is now building the particles into crystals, similar in shape and structure to those beautiful masses which we see upon the table. By permitting alum to crystallize in this slow way we obtain these perfect octahedrons; by allowing carbonate of lime to crystallize, nature produces these beautiful rhomboids; when silica crystallizes, we have formed these hexagonal prisms capped at the ends by pyramids; by allowing saltpetre to crystallize we have these prismatic masses, and when carbon crystallizes we have the diamond. If we wish to obtain a perfect crystal we must allow the molecular forces free play; if the crystallizing mass be permitted to rest upon a surface it will be flattened, and to prevent this a small crystal must be so suspended as to be surrounded on all sides by the liquid, or, if it rest upon the surface, it must be turned daily so as to present all its faces in succession to the working builder.

In building up crystals these little atomic bricks often arrange themselves into layers which are perfectly parallel to each other, and which can be separated by mechanical means; this is called the cleavage of the crystal. The crystal of sugar I hold in my hand has, thus far, escaped the solvent and abrading forces which sooner or later determine the fate of sugar-candy. I readily discover that it cleaves with peculiar facility in one direction. Again I lay my knife upon this piece of rocksalt, and with a blow cleave it in one direction. Laying the knife at right angles to its former position, the crystal cleaves again; and finally placing the knife at right angles to the two former positions, we find a third cleavage. Rocksalt cleaves in three directions, and the resulting solid is this perfect cube, which may be broken up into any number of smaller cubes. Iceland spar also cleaves in three directions, not at right angles, but oblique to each other, the resulting solid being a rhomboid. In each of these cases the mass cleaves with equal facility in all three directions. For the sake of completeness I may say that many crystals cleave with unequal facility in different directions : heavy spar presents an example of this kind of cleavage.

Turn we now to the consideration of some other phenomena to which the term cleavage may be applied. Beech, deal, and other woods cleave with facility along the fibre, and this cleavage is most perfect when the edge of the axe is laid across the rings which mark the growth of the tree. If you look at this bundle of hay severed from a rick, you will see a sort of cleavage in it also; the stalks lie in horizontal planes, and only a small force is required to separate them laterally. But we cannot regard the cleavage of the tree as the same in character as that of the hayrick. In the one case it is the molecules arranging themselves according to organic laws which pro-duce a cleavable structure, in the other case the easy separation in one direction is due to the mechanical arrangement of the coarse sensible stalks of hay.

This sandstone rock was once a powder held in mechanical suspension by water. The powder was composed of two distinct parts—fine grains of sand and small plates of mica. Imagine a wide strand covered by a tide, or an estuary with water which holds such powder in suspension: how will it sink ? The rounded grains of sand will reach the bottom first, because they encounter least resistance, the mica afterward, and when the tide recedes we have the little plates shining like spangles upon the surface of the sand. Each successive tide brings its charge of mixed powder, deposits its duplex layer day after day, and finally masses of immense thickness are piled up, which by preserving the alternations of sand and mica tell the tale of their formation. Take the sand and mica, mix them together in water, and allow them to subside; they will arrange themselves in the manner indicated, and by repeating the process you can actually build up a mass which shall be the exact counterpart of that presented by Nature. Now this structure cleaves with readiness along the planes in which the particles of mica are strewn. Specimens of such a rock sent to me from Halifax, and other masses from the quarries of Over Dar-wen in Lancashire, are here before you. With a hammer and chisel I can cleave them into flags; indeed, these flags are employed for roofing purposes in the districts from which the specimens have come, and receive the name of "slatestone." But you will discern, without a word from me, that this cleavage is not a crystalline cleavage any more than that of a hayrick is. It is molar, not molecular.

This, so far as I am aware of, has never been imagined, and it has been agreed among geologists not to call such splitting as this cleavage at all, but to restrict the term to a phenomenon of a totally different character.

Those who have visited the slate quarries of Cumber-land and North Wales will have witnessed the phenomenon to which I refer. We have long drawn our supply of roofing-slates from such quarries ; schoolboys ciphered on these slates, they were used for tombstones in church-yards, and for billiard-tables in the metropolis; but not until a comparatively late period did men begin to inquire how their wonderful structure was produced. What is the agency which enables us to split Honister Crag, or the cliffs of Snowdon, into laming from crown to base? This question is at the present moment one of the great difficulties of geologists, and occupies their attention perhaps more than any other. You may wonder at this.

Looking into the quarry of Penrhyn, you may be disposed to offer the explanation I heard given two years ago. "These planes of cleavage," said a friend who stood beside me on the quarry's edge, "are the planes of stratification which have been lifted by some convulsion into an almost vertical position." But this was a mistake, and indeed here lies the grand difficulty of the problem. The planes of cleavage stand in most cases at a high angle to the bedding. Thanks to Sir Roderick Murchison, I am able to place the proof of this before you. Here is a specimen of slate in which both the planes of cleavage and of bedding are distinctly marked, one of them making a large angle with the other. This is common. The cleavage of slates then is not a question of stratification; what then is its cause ?

In an able and elaborate essay published in 1835, Professor Sedgwick proposed the theory that cleavage is due to the action of crystalline or polar forces subsequent to the consolidation of the rock. "We may affirm," he says, "that no retreat of the parts, no contraction of dimensions in passing to a solid state, can explain such phenomena. They appear to me only resolvable on the supposition that crystalline or polar forces acted upon the whole mass simultaneously in one direction and with adequate force." And again, in another place: "Crystalline forces have rearranged whole mountain masses, producing a beautiful crystalline cleavage, passing alike through all the strata." ' The utterance of such a man struck deep, as it ought to do, into the minds of geologists, and at the present day there are few who do not entertain this view either in whole or in part.' The boldness of the theory, indeed, has, in some cases, caused speculation to run riot, and we have books published on the action of polar forces and geologic magnetism, which rather astonish those who know something about the subject. According to this theory whole districts of North Wales and Cumberland, mountains included, are neither more nor less than the parts of a gigantic crystal. These masses of slate were originally fine mud, composed of the broken and abraded particles of older rocks. They contain silica, alumina, potash, soda, and mica mixed mechanically together. In the course of ages the mixture became consolidated, and the theory be-fore us assumes that a process of crystallization afterward rearranged the particles and developed in it a single plane of cleavage. Though a bold, and I think inadmissable, stretch of analogies, this hypothesis has done good service. Right or wrong, a thoughtfully uttered theory has a dynamic power which operates against intellectual stag-nation; and even by provoking opposition is eventually of service to the cause of truth. It would, however, have been remarkable if, among the ranks of geologists them-selves, men were not found to seek an explanation of slate-cleavage involving a less hardy assumption.

The first step in an inquiry of this kind is to seek facts. This has been done, and the labors of Daniel Sharpe (the late President of the Geological Society, who, to the loss of science and the sorrow of all who knew him, has so suddenly been taken away from us), Mr. Henry Clifton Sorby, and others, have furnished us with a body of facts associated with slaty cleavage, and having a most important bearing upon the question.

Fossil shells are found in these slate-rocks. I have here several specimens of such shells in the actual rock, and occupying various positions in regard to the cleavage planes. They are squeezed, distorted, and crushed; in all cases the distortion leads to the inference that the rock which contains these shells has been subjected to enormous pressure in a direction at right angles to the planes of cleavage. The shells are all flattened and spread out in these planes. Compare this fossil trilobite of normal proportions with these others which have suffered distortion. Some have lain across, some along, and some oblique .to the cleavage of the slate in which they are found; but in all cases the distortion is such as required for its production a compressing force acting at right angles to the planes of cleavage. As the trilobites lay in the mud, the jaws of a gigantic vice appear to have closed upon them and squeezed them into the shapes you see.

We sometimes find a thin layer of coarse gritty material, between two layers of finer rock, through which and across the gritty layer pass the planes of lamination. The coarse layer is found bent by the pressure into sinuosities like a contorted ribbon. Mr. Sorby has described a striking case of this kind. This crumpling can be experimentally imitated; the amount of compression might, moreover, be roughly estimated by supposing the contorted bed to be stretched out, its length measured and compared with the shorter distance into which it has been squeezed. We find in this way that the yielding of the mass has been considerable.

Let me now direct your attention to another proof of pressure; you see the varying colors which indicate the bedding on this mass of slate. The dark portion is gritty, being composed of comparatively coarse particles, which, owing to their size, shape and gravity, sink first and constitute the bottom of each layer. Gradually, from bottom to top the coarseness diminishes, and near the upper surface we have a layer of exceedingly fine grain. It is the fine mud thus consolidated from which are derived the German razor-stones, so much prized for the sharpening of surgical instruments. When a bed is thin, the, fine-grain slate is permitted to rest upon a slab of the coarse slate in. contact with it; when the fine bed is thick, it is cut into slices which are cemented to pieces of ordinary slate., and thus rendered stronger. The mud thus deposited is, as might be expected, often rolled up into nodular masses, carried forward, and deposited among coarser material by the rivers from which the slate-mud has sub-sided. Here are such nodules enclosed in sandstone. Everybody, moreover, who has ciphered upon a school-slate must remember the whitish-green spots . which some-times dotted the surface of the slate, and over which the pencil usually slid as if the spots were greasy-. Now these spots are composed of the finer mud, and they could not, on account of their fineness, bite the pencil like the surrounding gritty portions of the slate. Here is a beautiful example of these spots : you observe them, on the cleavage surface, in broad round patches. But turn the slate edgewise and the section of each nodule is seen to be a sharp oval with its longer axis parallel to the cleavage. This instructive fact has been adduced by Mr. Sorby. I have made excursions to the quarries of Wales and Cumberland, and to many of the slate yards of London, and found the fact general. Thus we elevate a common experience of our boyhood into evidence of the highest significance as regards a most important geological problem. From the magnetic deportment of these slates, I was led to infer that these spots contain a less amount of iron than the surrounding dark slate.

According to these analyses the quantity of iron in the dark slate immediately adjacent to the greenish spot is nearly double the quantity contained in the spot itself. This is about the proportion which the magnetic experiments suggested.

Let me now remind you that the facts brought before you are typical—each is the representative of a class. We have seen shells crushed; the trilobites squeezed, beds contorted, nodules of greenish marl flattened; and all these sources of independent testimony point to one and the same conclusion, namely, that slate-rocks have been subjected ,to enormous pressure in a direction at right angles to the planes of cleavage.

In reference to Mr. Sorby's contorted bed, I have said that by supposing- it to be stretched out and its length measured, it would give us an idea of the amount of yielding of the mass above and below the bed. Such a measurement, however, would not give the exact amount of yielding. I hold in my hand a specimen of slate with its bedding marked upon it; the lower portions of each layer being composed of a comparatively coarse gritty material something like what you may suppose the contorted bed to be composed of. Now, in crossing these gritty portions, the cleavage turns, as if tending to cross the bedding at another angle. When the pressure began to act, the intermediate bed, which is not entirely unyielding, suffered longitudinal pressure ; as it bent, the pressure became gradually more transverse, and the direction of its cleavage is exactly such as you would infer from an action of this kind—it is neither quite across the bed, nor yet in the same direction as the cleavage of the slate above and below it, but intermediate between both. Sup-posing the cleavage to be at right angles to the pressure, this is the direction which it ought to take across these more unyielding strata.

Thus we have established the concurrence of the phenomena of cleavage and pressure—that they accompany each other; but the question still remains, Is the pressure sufficient to account for the cleavage? A single geologist, as far as I am aware, answers boldly in the affirmative.

This geologist is Sorby, who has attacked the question in the true spirit of a physical investigator. Call to mind the cleavage of the flags of Halifax and Over Dar-wen, which is caused by the interposition of, layers of mica between the gritty strata. Mr. Sorby finds plates of mica to be also a constituent of slate-rock. He asks himself, what. will be the effect of pressure upon a mass containing such plates confusedly mixed up in it? It will be, he argues, and he argues rightly, to place the plates with their flat surfaces more or less perpendicular to the direction in which the pressure is exerted. He takes scales of the oxide of iron, mixes them with a fine pow-der, and on squeezing the mass finds that the tendency of the scales is to set themselves at right angles to the line of pressure. Along the planes of weakness produced by the scales the mass cleaves.

By tests of a different character from those applied by Mr. Sorby, it might be shown how true his conclusion is that the effect of pressure on elongated particles, or plates, will be such as he describes it. But while the scales must be regarded as a true cause, I should not ascribe to them a large share in the production of the cleavage. I believe that even if the plates of mica were wholly absent, the cleavage of slate-rocks would be much the same as it is at present.

Here is a mass of pure white wax: it contains no mica particles, no scales of iron, or anything analogous to them. Here is the self-same substance submitted to pressure. I would invite the attention of the eminent geologists now before me to the structure of this wax. No slate ever exhibited so clean a cleavage ; it splits into laming of surpassing tenuity, and proves at a single stroke that pressure is sufficient to produce cleavage, and that this cleavage is independent of intermixed plates or scales. I have purposely mixed this wax with elongated particles, and am unable to say at the present moment that the cleavage is sensibly affected by their presence—if anything, I should say they rather impair its fineness and clearness than promote it.

The finer the slate is the more perfect will be the resemblance of its cleavage to that of the wax. Compare the surface of the wax with the surface of this slate from Borrodale in Cumberland. You have precisely the same features in both: you see flakes clinging to the surfaces of each, which have been partially torn away in cleaving. Let any close observer compare these two effects, he will, I am persuaded, be led to the conclusion that they are the product of a common cause.

But you will ask me how, according to my view, does pressure produce this remarkable result? This may be stated in a very few words.

There is no such thing in nature as a body of perfectly homogeneous structure. I break this clay which seems so uniform, and find that the fracture presents to my eyes innumerable surfaces along which it has given way, and it has yielded along those surfaces because in them the cohesion of the mass is less than elsewhere. I break this marble, and even this wax, and observe the same result; look at the mud at the bottom of a dried pond; look at some of the ungraveiled walks in Kensington Gardens on drying after rain—they are cracked and split, and, other circumstances being equal, they crack and split where the cohesion is a minimum. Take then a mass of partially consolidated mud. Such a mass is divided and subdivided by interior surfaces along which the cohesion is comparatively small. Penetrate the mass in idea, and you will see it composed of numberless irregular polyhedra bounded by surfaces of weak cohesion. Imagine such a mass subjected to pressure—it yields and spreads out in the direction of least resistance;' the little polyhedra become converted into laminae, separated from each other by surfaces of weak cohesion, and the infallible result will be a tendency to cleave at right angles to the line of pressure.

Further, a mass of dried mud is full of cavities and fissures. If you break dried pipe-clay you see them in great numbers, and there are multitudes of them so small that you cannot see them. A flattening of these cavities must take place in squeezed mud, and this must to some extent facilitate the cleavage of the mass in the direction indicated.

Although the time at my disposal has not permitted me duly to develop these thoughts, yet for the last twelve months the subject has presented itself to me almost daily under one aspect or another. I have never eaten a biscuit during this period without remarking the cleavage developed by the rolling-pin. You have only to break a biscuit across, and to look at the fracture, to see the laminated structure. We have here the means of pushing the analogy further. I invite you to compare the structure of this slate, which was subjected to a high temperature during the conflagration of Mr. Scott Russell's premises, with that of a biscuit. Air or vapor within the slate has caused it to swell, and the mechanical structure it reveals is precisely that of a biscuit. During these inquiries I have received much instruction in the manufacture of puff-paste. Here is some such paste baked under my own superintendence. The cleavage of our hills is accidental cleavage, but this is cleavage with intention. The volition of the pastry-cook has entered into its formation. It has been his aim to preserve a series of surfaces of structural weakness, along which the dough divides into layers. Puff-paste in preparation must not be handled too much; it ought, moreover, to be rolled on a cold slab, to pre-vent the butter from melting, and diffusing itself, thus rendering the paste more homogeneous and less liable to split. Puff-paste is, then, simply an exaggerated case of slaty cleavage.

The principle here enunciated is so simple as to be almost trivial; nevertheless, it embraces not only the cases mentioned, but, if time permitted, it might be shown you that the principle has a much wider range of application. When iron is taken from the puddling furnace it is more or less spongy, an aggregate in fact of small nodules : it is at a welding heat, and at this temperature is submitted to the process of rolling. Bright, smooth bars are the result. But notwithstanding the high heat the nodules do not perfectly blend together. The process of rolling draws them into fibres. Here is a mass acted upon by dilute sulphuric acid, which exhibits in a striking manner this fibrous structure. The experiment was made by my friend Dr. Percy, without any reference to the question of cleavage.

Break a piece of ordinary iron and you have a granular fracture; beat the iron, you elongate these granules, and finally render the mass fibrous. Here are pieces of rails along which the wheels of locomotives have slidden; the granules have yielded and become plates. They ex-foliate or come off in leaves; all these effects belong, I believe, to the great class of phenomena of which slaty cleavage forms the most prominent example.'

We have now reached the termination of our task. You have witnessed the phenomena of crystallization, and have had placed before you the facts which are found associated with the cleavage of slate rocks. Such facts, as expressed by Helmholtz, are so many telescopes to our spiritual vision, by which we can see backward through the night of antiquity, and discern the forces which have been in operation upon the earth's surface.

Ere the lion roared,
Or the eagle soared.

From evidence of the most independent and trust-worthy character, we come to the conclusion that these slaty masses have been subjected to enormous pressure, and by the sure method of experiment we have shown—and this is the only really new point which has been brought before you—how the pressure is sufficient to produce the cleavage. Expanding our field of view, we find the self-same law, whose footsteps we trace amid the crags of Wales and Cumberland, extending into the domain of the pastry-cook and iron-founder; nay, a wheel cannot roll over the half-dried mud of our streets without revealing to us more or less of the features of this law. Let me say, in conclusion, that the spirit in which this problem has been attacked by geologists indicates the dawning of a new day for their science. The great intellects who have labored at geology, and who have raised it to its present pitch of grandeur, were compelled to deal with the subject in mass; they had no time to look after de-tails. But the desire for more exact knowledge is increasing; facts are flowing in which, while they leave untouched the intrinsic wonders of geology, are gradually supplanting by solid truths the uncertain speculations which beset the subject in its infancy. Geologists now aim to imitate, as far as possible, the conditions of nature, and to produce her results; they are approaching more and more to the domain of physics, and I trust the day will soon come when we shall interlace our friendly arms across the common boundary of our sciences, and pursue our respective tasks in a spirit of mutual helpfulness, encouragement and goodwill.

[I would now lay more stress on the lateral yielding, referred to in the note at the bottom of page 334, accompanied as it is by tangential sliding, than I was prepared to do when this lecture was given. This sliding is, I think, the principal cause of the planes of weakness, both in pressed wax and slate rock. J. T., 1871.]

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