Изображения страниц

says it was brought first out of Arabia Felix by the Queen of Sheba, as a present to Solomon, who planted it at Jericho: but the Balm of Gilead is mentioned as a precious article of merchandise in Genesis xxxvii, long before the era of the Queen of Sheba. A shrub of this species was brought to Egypt by Cleopatra and planted at Aim Shems, now Matara, in an old garden mentioned with great interest by travellers, both Mahometan and Christian.

The Eastern Christians attached a religious value to it, and had many superstitious opinions relating to it. They believed that it would only flourish under the care of Christian gardeners; and that the incision for causing the gum to flow should be made in the bark by an implement of stone, or of bone, but not of iron, otherwise the balsam would be corrupt. They believed it to be a Sovereign remedy for fifty diseases: and in Confirmation they used it to anoint the persons confirmed. It was also mingled in the oil at the Coronation of European monarchs.

Not all the water in the rough, rude sea, Can wash the balin from an anointed King.

King Richard II., act 3, scene 2.

The Coptic Christians had a tradition that when the Holy Family were leaving Egypt to return to Judea, they stopped to rest at Matara, and went from house to house begging a cup of water, which was everywhere refused. The Virgin Mary sat down, faint from thirst and sorrow, under the Balsam trees that had been cultivated there from the one formerly brought from the Holy Land, and immediately a fountain sprang up beside her, to relieve her distress; and from that time forth the trees would not grow unless watered from that fountain. The Balm trees of Matara were killed by an inundation of the Nile in 1615.

It is believed that the true Balm tree is now extinct; the tree at present known as such grows about Babelmandel; the trunk is eight or ten inches in diameter, the wood is light, the bark smooth, the leaves are few, and the flowers like those of the Acacia, small and white, except that five flowers hang on the filaments, and in the Acacia only one flower.

[blocks in formation]

amongst the Christian females; it is called the HOLY ROSE OF JERICHO, (Anastatica Hieropuntica.) It grows among the sands of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, and is found in Barbary. It is cruciform; and when its flowers and leaves have withered and fallen off, the branches, as they dry, curl inwards, and form a round mass, thence called a rose. The roots die; the winds tear it up, and blow it about the sands till it lodges in a moist spot, or is wetted with the rain; then the curled-up globe expands and suffers the seeds to escape from the seed-vessel in which they were enclosed; and becoming embedded in the sands, they germinate anew, hence its name, Anastatica, from AvaσTaσis, Resurrection. It is venerated in Palestine from the tradition that it blossomed at the moment when our Lord was born, and was endowed with qualities propitious to nativity. Wherefore the Eastern women, when occasion requires, are anxious to have one of these dried plants expanding in a vase of water beside them, firmly believing that it has a salutary influence. It is an article of commerce, and bears a high price in the East.

There are some lines, by an old Italian poet, very applicable to this "Rose," to whose existance and expansion moisture is so necessary.


Translated from the Italian of Benedetto dell' Uva.*

Come tenero fiore

Spiega la chioma sua, se lo nodrica
Pioggia, o rugiada amica,

E'en as a gentle flower
Unfolds its beauties to the view,
If cherished by the genial dew,
Or kindly shower;
So may a lovely thought bloom fair
Within the heart if foster'd there

By Grace with drops divine. Not so ?--then vainly would it ope, Of flower or fruit can be no hope,

For it must droop and pine, And like a plant unwater'd die Upon a soil parch'd up and dry.

How can the fragile flower Unfold its beauties to the view Unless it drinks the genial dew, Or kindly shower?

The BANYAN TREE of the East Indies is called the fig tree of Adam and Eve, from the idea that our first parents used its large leaves for clothing. Some have supposed it the tree of the forbidden fruit in Eden. The Portuguese in old times scrupled to eat of the fruit, because, when cut transversely, it showed within the figure of a cross. With the Brámins it is a holy tree, for, say they, the supreme deity, Brahma, took shelter under it from a thunder storm, and blessed it, and gave it the power of averting lightning.

In Senegal is a sacred tree called Ded, which the natives believe to afford an impenetrable asylum to fugitives, from which no force could avail to remove them, and where no weapon, not even the poisoned arrows of their pursuers, could reach them.

The name of the Peony (Paonia officinalis) is derived from Peon, the celebrated Greek Physician of Thessaly. Theseus having descended to the infernal regions, and attempted to carry away Proserpine, was detained in captivity by Pluto: Hercules going to deliver the prisoner, fought with and wounded Pluto so seriously that the latter was obliged to repair to Thessaly, to seek the aid of Peon, who cured him by medicaments drawn from the Peony.

This flower is esteemed by the superstitious Greeks to be of divine origin, emanating from the light of the full moon, on which account it was believed to cure epilepsy, long considered as a moon-struck malady. The once popular "Anodyne Necklace," worn round the neck to cure or avert epilepsy, was formed of dried Peony roots cut into regular pieces, and strung on a narrow ribbon. The black seeds powdered and taken in wine when fasting in the morning, and just before bed time, were believed, even in late days, to preserve from nightmare and evil dreams. Pliny says (book xxv.), that it was efficacious in the sports of the Fauns, from whose malicious antics nightmares and evil dreams were supposed to proceed. The Peony was formerly used by adepts in some of their ceremonies, and was superstitiously believed to have power over the winds (from its lunar origin), to protect the

* A Monk, native of Capua; flourished about 1570.

harvest from storms, and to avert tempests.

The large double Peony is a foreign contribution to our gardens; but England boasts one native species (Paeonia Coralina) which grows on the Steep Holmes, a small island, or rather rock, at the mouth of the Severn. The flower is single, and the leaves, unlike those of their foreign kindred, are smooth.

By the side of the Peony as a wind-flower, we lay a simple allegory.


M. E. M.

"Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro?" Job. xiii., 25.

And wilt thou break a leaf
That's driven by the wind?-----
Nay! let the pleading voice of grief
An ear of pity find.

'Tis not the Oak, whose haughty head Unbending braves the tempest dread, 'Tis not a Tower that standing fast For ages mocks the threat'ning blast, "Tis but a Leaf, poor fragile thing, So shrunken, pale, and withering.

Alas! 'gainst aught so humble
What need of giant might?
Suffice one touch to crumble

In dust its form so slight.

Break not, O Wind, the Leaf !

No prideful place was mine, Ne'er in the wreath of Victor Chief

Was it my fate to twine :
Nor in the Poet's crown of fame,
Nor in the garland, Beauty's claim,
Nor was I brought at Pleasure's call,
To decorate a festal hall.

Upon a lonely tree,
Amid a wild to be,
Such was my lot:

Yet 'twas a pleasant destiny,
I murmur'd not;

For well I lov'd the fresh free air,
And the clear rays that glinted there.

But me, ill-fated Leaf !-

A blight came o'er my prime ; I faded in my Autumn brief, I fell ere Winter time. And the wild wind, by night and day, Hath made me now its sport and prey, Now whirls me upward to the sky, Now down mid rugged stones to lie;

Sweeps me o'er heath and barren earth
Where never kindly flower had birth;
Hurls me against the frowning rock,
My frail frame wounded by the shock;
Now mid the thorns of cruel brake-
Now o'er the chill and troubled lake,
And casts me weary, cold, and dank,
To shiver on the sunless bank,
"Till driven by swelling gust again
O'er hill and crag, o'er moor and plain.
No rest, no rest-the wind increasing,
No rest, no rest-my woes unceasing:
May not the raging Wind at

Be tamed to meekness?
And seek no more to prove its

Against my weakness ?---

Thou who alike the Leaf and Wind hast made,

Speak, "Peace, be still!"-thy word will be obey'd.

Thou wilt not break the Leaf

That's driven by the Wind; No, no! the pleading voice of grief In thee shall pity find. Look on me! and the tyrant blast Will sink in zephyr's breath at last. So let it waft me softly, slowly, To spot of rest, remote and lowly; Some silent and sequester'd nook Where in Heaven's eye alone can look. There, shelter'd from the storm and rain,

Unmark'd, unknown, let me remain, And half forgetful of Life's troubled day,

Yield me in peace to Nature's sure decay.

Huc, in the course of his travels in Asia, met with a venerated tree, called "The Tree of the thousand images;" of such an extraordinary nature that we would not venture to give the description in any words but his own :

"We had heard of this tree too often during our journey not to feel somewhat eager to visit it. At the foot of the mountain on which the Lama-serey† stands, and not far from the principal Buddhist Temple, is a great square enclosure, formed by brick walls. Upon entering this we were able to examine at leisure the marvellous tree, some of the branches of which had already manifested themselves above the wall. Our eyes were first directed with earnest curiosity to

†The residence of the Grand Lama; the head of the religion of Thibet.

the leaves, and we were filled with an absolute consternation of astonishinent at finding, that in point of fact, there were upon each of the leaves well-formed Thibetian characters, all of a green colour, some darker, some lighter than the leaf itself. Our first impression was a suspicion of fraud on the part of the Lamas; but after a minute examination of every detail, we could not discover the least deception. The characters all appeared to us portions of the leaf itself, equally with its veins and nerves; the position was not the same in all; in one leaf they would be at the top of the leaf; in another, in the middle; in a third, at the base, or at the side; the younger leaves represented the characters only in a partial state of formation. The bark of the tree and its branches, which resemble that of the plane tree, are also covered with these characters. When you remove a piece of old bark, the young bark under it exhibits the indistinct outlines of characters in a germinating state; and what is very singular, these new characters are not unfrequently different from those which they replace. We examined every thing with, the closest attention, in order to detect some trace of trickery, but we could discern nothing of the sort. More profound intellects than ours may, perhaps, be able to supply a satisfactory explanation of the mysteries of this singular tree; but as to us, we altogether give it up."

The ENCHANTER'S NIGHTSHADE, (Circea Lutetiann), notwithstanding its pretty pink and white flowers, is an herb of the gloomy superstitions. Growing luxuriantly in churchyards, among bones and broken coffins, it was believed to be a necromantic plant, and was used by witches in their incantations to raise the dead. Its scientific name is derived from the classic enchantress Circe: the little hooks on the herb, that cling to the passers-by, as though to draw them towards it, were, by a stretch of fancy, supposed to symbolize the arts of Circe, by which she drew persons into her snares.

For this melancholy plant of night and the grave, we must find a befitting strain.


Translated from the Spanish of Zorrilla.

Ove sublime cantor,

Si es fuerza que al fin succumba, &c.


Hear me, O Bard of song divine!

If I must yield to fortune's frown, If grave unhonour'd must be mine,

There with my gričf to lay me down,

[blocks in formation]

tive Irish, it was venerated as holy, and called in the vernacular, AthairLusa, the "father of herbs," or the "herb father." Its sanctity was conceived from the circumstance, that its anthers when perfect form the figure of a St. Andrew's cross. But this figure is often wanting early in spring, when some of the filaments are imperfect, being but half their proper length, and blunted. On account of its floral cross, this plant was revered as an especial charm against fairies and witches, whose spells it destroyed, and against evil spirits whom it banished.

The Brahmins venerate a grass named the DOOBGRASS, as a symbol of divinity, not subject to age or death, and they call it "the armour of India," "preserver of regions," "destroyer of enemies," "gem that gives increase to the field." It is thought to be identical with the Creeping dog's tooth grass (Cynodon Dactylon) found in Cornwall.

The early Christians, attracted to some certain plants and flowers, either from their good properties, from some peculiarity in form or in beauty, or from their flourishing at some particular seasons, looked upon them with reverence, and dedicated them to various saints. Among the principal were those consecrated to the Virgin Mary, to whom, in fact, belongs quite an Herbarium. White flowers especially were allotted to her as symbols of innocence; such as the magnificent white lily, so pure and so majestic ; the modest lily of the valley, half hidden beneath its green hood; the snow-drop, so delicate that it looks fair even amid the trying whiteness of the snow itself; the white daffodil, the white rose, the white hyacinth, the white dèmatis, designated as the Virgin's Bower, &c. Then we find many others dedicated to "Our Lady." (It may be observed that wherever a plant has the prefix "Lady," our, is to be understood before it.) There is (our) LADY'S TRACES, (neottia spiralis,) a corruption of our Lady's tresses, a pretty little orchislike flower, of a greenish white, and a fragrant scent; its protuberant germs growing one above another in regular

gradation, suggested the idea of plait ed hair, or tresses.

(Our) LADY'S HAIR (Briza media,) the graceful quaking grass, with its tremulous pannicles of heart-shaped florets. The French call it Amourettes, in allusion to love-locks.

LADY'S FINGER (Anthyllis vulneraria,) so called from its rounded stem, like a taper finger, tipped with a yellow flower, like the saffron-dyed nails of the oriental ladies.

And LADY'S THISTLE (Carduus Marianus,) with the milky streaks on its leaves, believed to be medicinal in dropsy, jaundice, and even in the plague.

"MARY'S HAND" is another name for the Holy Rose of Jericho before mentioned.

Then the Virgin Mary has quite a floral wardrobe, for instance

LADY'S MANTLE (Alchemilla vulgaris,) a celebrated rural cosmetic, a decoction of its leaves being a wondrous clearer of the complexion. Its flowers are greenish yellow, or rather yellowish green; and its circular, broad leaf is scallopped and plaited in regular folds, like a mantle.

LADY'S SMOCK (Cardamine pratensis,) that lovely little pale lilac flower that, in genial seasons, blows about the time of the Annunciation. It is often called by the less quaint appellation of cuckoo flower.

LADY'S SLIPPER (Cypripedium,) having its four purplish petals in the form of a cross, and the yellow nectary in the centre shaped like a shoe. The French call it Soulier de Notre Dame, and Sabot de notre Dame. The Italians and Germans also dedicate it to the foot of the Virgin. The Botanical name devotes it, less worthily, to the foot of *Venus (Cypris.)

LADY'S GLOVE is an old name for the tall, showey Fox Glove (Digitalis purpurea.)

LADY'S SEAL is the common briony (Tamus Communis,) sometimes called wild vine, the creeper that adorns the hedges in autumn with its festoons of yellow leaves and bright red berries that succeed to its green flowers. The young shoots are sometimes boiled as asparagas. The French call it Sceau de Notre Dame.

Most of the plants and flowers which the heathens consecrated to Venus, were afterwards dedicated to the Virgin by a pious scruple of the early herbalists.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »