Изображения страниц

flowers; and is commonly found throughout Europe, especially near habitations: it is said to be never met with farther than a quarter of a mile from a house-hence, being so easy of acquisition, it was called "Simpler's (i.e. Herbalist's) Joy."

Sorrowful to say, but easily to be credited, this plant of peace and goodwill is not indigenous in Ireland; had it but been so, how many factionfights it might have saved in the good old days of the "Black Hens and Magpies, the Gows and Poleens, and the Caravats and Shanavests"-not to speak of the nobler feuds of the O'Briens and O'Flaherties, the Desmonds and the Butlers. But let us take comfort: our florists have introduced into Irish gardens many of the Vervain species, the beautiful foreign Verbenas of various colours. Let us hope that these exotics have something of the ancient tranquillizing nature of their great ancestor, the sacred Vervain: and truly it seems as though it were so, for the factions have nearly died out, and contested elections are greatly tamed down.

Beside the Vervain as the symbol of peace, we will place the tribute of an appropriate lay:


M. E. M.

Would'st thou seek Peace? Up! hie thee to the mountains, Far above human passions, toil, and strife:

Up to the rivers' springs! those rockborn fountains,

Emblems of all that's bright, pure, free, in life.

Up to the mountains! there dwells Peace, united

With Solitude and Freedom, triad blest!

There morning earliest comes, with gaze delighted;

There linger long the sunbeams of the West.

Untrampled there are nature's flow'rets springing;

There flow the streams, unsullied, unconfin'd;

Nor taint nor din from distant cities bringing,

There musically breathes the healthful wind.

"Freedom and peace!" thus chaunt your happy voices,

Ye soaring birds! and thine, oh wilding bee!

At that glad sound e'en the lone rock rejoices,

And bids the echoes answer, "peaceful! free!"

Scorn comes not there the gentle heart to wither;

Nor Malice, forcing bitter tears to flow;

Pride, Jealousy, Injustice climb not thither,

Too steep the heights,--their haunts lie far below.

'Twas on the mountains, safely sped by heaven,

The storm-tost ark at length found place of rest:

To Moses' longing eyes the view was given

Of promis'd Canaan from a mountain's crest.

How beautiful the mountains' verdure pressing

The feet of Him who peace, glad tidings, brought*—

How dear the Mount where words replete with blessing

The Prince of Peace to crowding hearers taught!

Mountains, be glad in your surpassing glory!

Before you richest plains their vaunts

must cease:

For oft the pen inspir'd of sacred story Hath writ on your ennobled summits "Peace !"

ST. JOHN'S WORT (Hypericum perforatum) is so handsome a wild flower that it finds a place in many gardens, where it is very showy with its broad, glossy, bright green leaves, its starlike bright yellow corolla, and the inner circle of fine golden threads, like a halo of sun-beams. On account of the brightness of its hue, and of its being sometimes phosphorescent, it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, because he is called in Scripture a burning and a shining light." It was gathered on St. John's Eve by the rustics, and worn, along with


[ocr errors]

Vervain, in wreaths their upon heads, as they danced round the bonfires that custom still kindles in his honour (and which, after all, are but a continuance of the old Celtic Beltane fires), and the Saint's votaries threw bunches of St. John's Wort into the flames, praying that the succeeding twelve months might be more fertile, abundant, and happy than the preceding.

It was also called Fuga Demonum, for its imaginary power in banishing evil spirits. In France and Germany the peasants gather it on the saint's day (June 25th), and hang it up over their doors and windows to keep away Satan and his imps, and to preserve the houses from lightning and tempest. Cattle that have grazed on the track of the fairies are supposed liable to a grievous disorder, of which they can only be cured by eating a handful of St. John's Wort, pulled at twelve o'clock on the [saint's night.

In Scotland it is esteemed as a preservative from magic and witchcraft; and especially from the arts of the dairy witches, who spoil the milk, and steal the butter of their neighbours.

It was considered an emblem of war, from the minute perforations, fancied to resemble small spear wounds, that may be seen on all the green leaves when held up to the light; and from the circumstance that its filaments yield, when bruised, a resinous juice, reddish like blood: hence one of its names is Androsamum (Avopos aiμa), man's blood. "It is," says the old herbalist Culpepper, a singular wound herb," i. e., beneficial in curing wounds.


A small species of St. John's Wort, exactly resembling the foregoing, but not perforated, grows wild very commonly in the south of Ireland. Dried, and used with alum, it dyes wool yellow.

There is a species larger than the perforated St. John's Wort, which is dedicated to St. Peter, as greater than St. John the Baptist, and is called St. Peter's Wort (Hypericum quadrangulum). It is identical with St. John's flower, except that the upper part of the stem is square, and that the young shoots are of a more vivid red.

As St. John's Wort is accounted a

martial herb, and a symbol of war, we must give it a military dirge :


Translated from the German of John Gabriel Seidl.

Auf ferner fremder Aue, da liegt ein todter Soldat.


In a far foreign country
There lay a soldier dead;
Forgotten, unrewarded,
Though brave he fought and bled.


And Gen'rals deck'd with crosses

Rode past; 'twas grand to view— They thought not, "he who yonder Lies low, earn'd honours too."


And there o'er many fallen

Were wailings sad to hear; But for the humble Soldier None had a word or tear.


Yet in his home far distant,

There sat in evening's glow His father, much misgiving, And cried, "He's dead, I know!"


"Heaven help us !" sobb'd the mother;

""Twas shown us long before: "The clock stopp'd at eleven, "And struck the hours no more."


A pale maid through the twilight Looks out with tearful eye"What though the grave may hold thee,

To me thou ne'er cans't die !"


And thus, in sight of Heaven,

Those three were weeping all, For their own poor dead Soldier, As fast as tears could fall.


Heaven in a cloud attracted Those tears shed not in vain ; And sent them swiftly speeding To that far battle plain.


There from the cloud they trickled Like dew-drops o'er the brave; That tears the turf might hallow Upon his foreign grave.

BROOK WEED, or WATER PIMPERNEL; (Samosus Valerandi; so called because gathered in the Isle of Samos, by Valerandus, a botanist of the sixteenth century), was one of the holy herbs of the Druids, and used by them in solemn incantations. Its pretty little white bell-shaped flowers are not common in England, though generally met with in wet places in most parts of the world.

RUE (Ruta Graveolens) was in ancient times accounted as magical, and was used in spells and sorceries. Subsequently it acquired a better reputation, from the properties ascribed to it of preserving from infection, and of being antidotal to poison; thence it came to be esteemed holy, and was used in the Roman Catholic church as an Aspergillum, or holy water sprinkler (and in the early ages, especially in exorcisms, for the expulsion of evil spirits); hence it was called Herb of Grace. "There's rue for you, and some for me: we may call it Herb o' Grace on Sundays." So says poor mad Ophelia (Hamlet, Activ., scene 6). But the Rue, from it bitterness, is also esteemed an herb of sorrow.

"Here did he drop a tear: here in this place

I'll set a bank of rne, sour herb of grace; Rue, even for ruth, here shortly shall be seen, In the remembrance of a weeping Queen.'

King Richard II., act iii., scene 4.

THE COMMON FENNEL GIANT, or FERULE, (Ferula Communis) was venerated among the Greeks as the plant in whose stalk Prometheus concealed the fire which he stole from the chariot of the sun, and brought down to earth from heaven. And certainly the plant is well adapted for the conveyance of fire: the stalk, which is erect, jointed, and from ten to twelve feet high, is

filled with a dry, spongy pith, in which fire can be kept smouldering like tinder, without consuming the outside: it is thus used by the Sicilians. The stem rises from the centre of a bunch of bright green leaves spreading on the ground; and is surmounted by a panicle of yellow flowers.

It was early adopted as the badge of authority, froin its sceptre-like form, by the principals of schools; hence Martial calls it "the Sceptre of the Pedagogues." It was borne as a sceptre by the sovereigns of the Lower Empire, and hence became a symbol of monarchial power; it was, indeed, a fitting emblem of the fra gility of the sway of those emperors.

Bacchus commanded his votaries to carry no other weapon but the stalk of the Ferula in their feasts, that the quarrels excited by wine might at least be bloodless.

Ferula Asafoetida yields the disagreeably scented gum Asafoetida, and is only found in Persia; and that in two districts alone, in the fields and mountains about Herat, and in the province of Laar. Its stem is not above two feet in height. Ferula Orientalis gives ammonia, and attains the height of three feet.

From the connexion of the common Ferula, or Great Fennel Giant, with the chariot of the Sun, we must associate with it a solar song:

[blocks in formation]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Yet they may hail in orient bowers
A sun-rise far more fair.
Then let this lesson, learn'd aright,
With us through life be borne ;
Tho' weeping may endure a night,
Joy cometh in the morn.*

THE DITTANY OF CRETE, (Origa num Dictamnus) among the Romans crowned Juno Lucina, whence it was made the emblem of nativity. It was esteemed as vulnerary; when Eneas was wounded by an arrow, in his combat with Turnus, Venus gathered the Dittany from Mount Ida in Crete, its native isle, and brought it to Iapis, the physician of Eneas, and taught him to express the juice, and give it to his patient, and thus a cure was effected (Eneiad xii.). Pliny says (book xxv.) that men learned the healing qualities of Dittany from the stags, that browsed upon it to cure themselves of arrow wounds. Virgil ascribes the same instinct to goats:

Non illa feris incognita capris Gramina, cum tergo volucres hæsere sagittæ. Eneid, xii.

The Dittany evolves a viscid juice, which in the evening becomes an inflammable gas, so easily ignited that the least spark suffices to set it blazing all over the plant, but without injury to it. The stalks are nine inches high, hairy and purplish; the leaves are round, thick, woolly, and very white; the flowers in spikes of loose, nodding, purplish heads.


MANDRAKE (Atropa Mandragora) is peculiarly a plant of the gloomy superstitions, from its poisonous properties, and its fœtid smell. root is fleshy, and often forked; the leaves dark green, and springing from the crown of the root; the flower is whitish and five-cleft; the fruit, a soft globular berry, as large as a nut-meg, and of a greenish yellow colour when ripe. The root was supposed to resemble the human body, and to be endowed with many magical qualities, and especially with that of exciting love. In small doses it was narcotic:

Not Poppy, nor Mandragora, Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep, Which thou ow'dst yesterday.-Othello. Act Scene 3.


Psalm, xxx 5.

It was believed to grow under gibbets whereon the decaying bodies of murderers were hanging, and to shriek and groan when pulled up; nay, to pull it up was fatal, wherefore it was customary to tie a dog to the root, and compel him to pluck it up, by which he died; the by-stander stopping his ears not to hear the fatal groan of the angry plant.

There the sad Mandrake grows, whose groans are deathful.-The Sad Shepherd, a play by Ben Jonson.

The root is still worn on the person among the Greeks, as a love-charm. Charlatans often substitute Briony roots, which they fashion into a likeness of the human figure. Health, prosperity, and the cure of diseases, were supposed to be obtained by keeping these charms in the house. The roots were carried into Northern nations (where the Mandragora does not grow) and sold by traders, formed into Lares, or house-hold Gods. They were from six to ten inches high; were clothed, laid upon wool in small boxes, and moistened with wine, and meat offered to them at every meal. They were never taken out but to be oracularly consulted, when they were fancied to answer questions, and to foretell events by movements of the head.

The Mandrakes mentioned in Scripture, as so eagerly coveted by Rachel, were of a different species from the above. They are supposed to be identical with a plant of the Melon species which is found in Tuscany as well as in the East. It has leaves like those of the Lettuce, and an agreeable fruit of the size, shape, and colour of a small apple, with a fragrant smell ; it is ripe in May, about the period of the wheat harvest in Judea, the time when Reuben found the Mandrakes in the field. These fruits have been supposed to be the classical apples of love. A surname of Venus was Mandragoritis.

There is in Cayenne a shrub called Epitet, venerated by the natives as possessing the same love-inspiring properties as the Mandrakes.


has had Epitet given to him," is a proverb among the Aborigines of Cayenne to signify a man devotedly in love: eperdument amoureux, as the French express it.

[blocks in formation]

Ah, fruitless comes repentance then, The bitterest tears are all in vain To make the wither'd roses bloom, Or the dead heart be young again.

BALM OF GILEAD, or balm of Jericho (Balsamum Judaicum) was a shrub highly venerated from early times on account of its medicinal qualities, especially for the cure of wounds. It was celebrated by Pliny, Strabo, Tacitus, and Justin. In Judea it grew only in the gardens near Jericho. Justin describes it as like á fir tree, but not so tall. Josephus

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »