ONE day after a feast given by Charlemagne, the guests were amused to see a page enter, and on bended knee, present to his royal master a salver, upon which was carelessly folded a soiled white table-cloth. Charlemagne, not in the least surprised, threw it into a fire, evidently prepared for the purpose. All eyes were fixed on the fabric, which did not smoke nor blaze, but only assumed a red-hot appearance. A few moments passed, and the monarch raised it from the furnace unharmed and white as snow.  "A miracle! A miracle!" they all exclaimed.

"No, good friends," answered the king; " this cloth is woven of a substance which fire purifies,- but cannot destroy. It was known to the Greeks, who named it asbestos, meaning unchanged by fire; and an Italian writer, who lived hundreds of years before our time, speaks of a cloth made from some vegetable product which could not be injured by heat. Another mentioned, with apparent sincerity, that it was manufactured '  from the hair of certain rats that lived in volcanoes.' We read also, that the marvelous cloth was used to wrap the dead, before placing them on the funeral pile, that their ashes might be gathered separate from those of the wood."

Thus spoke the mighty emperor for the instruction and edification of his guests. While Charlemagne did not quite partake of the wild fancies of the southern nations, it is not probable that he had a very clear idea of the real structure of this mysterious substance. As time advanced, it was fully understood; and now that it has become of practical use, we often see the advertisement "Asbestos Materials."

Asbestos is a fibrous variety of a dark-colored rock, resembling iron ore; this is known by the name of hornblende. Pyroxene, another mineral, also assumes this appearance, but not so often as the former. We cannot understand how one of the toughest stones can be transformed into a substance as soft, flexible and white as floss silk; neither can we comprehend how the sparkling diamond is produced from charcoal. Yet we must accept these facts, and try to learn all about them.

When the hard rock took this beautiful form, it was called by the Greeks amianthus, meaning wide/tied, in reference to the manner of cleansing it by fire. This name is now used to distinguish it from the coarser and more impure varieties known as asbestos. 

It occurs in narrow seams in the rock, and is occasionally found in fibers two-thirds of a yard long. These have a rich satin lustre, and the slender filaments can easily be separated one from the other. A single one, if thrown into the fire, changes into a drop of enameled glass, while a quantity can be heated without producing any change.

The silk-like appearance of amianthus gave to some ingenious ladies the thought of carding, spinning, and weaving it into cloth of different degrees of fineness. Purses, gloves, caps, handkerchiefs, and napkins were made of it, and sometimes articles were knitted from the soft, exquisite thread. The inhabitants of the Pyrenees wore girdles of this substance, mingled with silver, which they esteemed not only for their beauty, but for some mysterious charm they were thought to possess.

When Napoleon went to battle, he wore a skirt woven of amianthus, which was easily cleansed by throwing it into the fire. In France and Bohemia firemen's clothes and gloves for handling hot iron were made from it. The Russians have also attempted the manufacture of incombustible paper. At one time it was hoped that an important branch of industry might be established for the manufacture of this delicate and useful fabric; but the rarity of amianthus and the difficulty of carding it into durable thread, in consequence of its brittleness, have caused them now to be regarded only as curiosities.

Asbestos, besides being of a coarser texture than amianthus, differs from it in color; the latter is a creamy white, while the former is brown, green, and grayish white. It sometimes occurs in thin interlaced sheets between the cracks and fissures of rocks, and feels something like kid; it is then known as mountain leather; when in thicker masses, it is called mountain cork, referring to its elasticity. It is also found very hard and compact, and then receives the name of ligniform asbestos, from its resemblance to petrified wood.

Asbestos is found in many parts of Europe and various localities in the United States, and is now mined and transported to factories, where it is assorted, cleaned, and prepared for the various purposes for which it is used. It is often made into paints of different colors, which are used to protect surfaces exposed to heat or water.