Part 3 out of 7
clatter--the brush-and-shovel music--of our little British
negroes--"innocent blacknesses," as Lamb calls them--the
chimney-sweepers,--a class now almost _swept away_ themselves by
_machinery_. One May-morning in the streets of London these
tinsel-decorated merry-makers with their sooty cheeks and black lips
lined with red, and staring eyes whose white seemed whiter still by
contrast with the darkness of their cases, and their ivory teeth kept
sound and brilliant with the professional powder, besieged George Selwyn
and his arm-in-arm companion, Lord Pembroke, for May-day boxes. Selwyn
making them a low bow, said, very solemnly "I have often heard of _the
sovereignty of the people_, and I suppose you are some of the young
princes in court mourning."
My Native readers in Bengal can form no conception of the delight with
which the British people at home still hail the spring of the year, or
the deep interest which they take in all "the Seasons and their change";
though they have dropped some of the oldest and most romantic of the
ceremonies once connected with them. If there were an annual fall of the
leaf in the groves of India, instead of an eternal summer, the natives
would discover how much the charms of the vegetable world are enhanced
by these vicissitudes, and how even winter itself can be made
delightful. My brother exiles will remember as long as life is in them,
how exquisite, in dear old England, is the enjoyment of a brisk morning
walk in the clear frosty air, and how cheering and cosy is the social
evening fire! Though a cold day in Calcutta is not exactly like a cold
day in London, it sometimes revives the remembrance of it. An Indian
winter, if winter it may be called, is indeed far less agreeable than a
winter in England, but it is not wholly without its pleasures. It is, at
all events, a grateful change--a welcome relief and refreshment after a
sultry summer or a _muggy_ rainy season.
An Englishman, however, must always prefer the keener but more wholesome
frigidity of his own clime. There, the external gloom and bleakness of a
severe winter day enhance our in-door comforts, and we do not miss sunny
skies when greeted with sunny looks. If we then see no blooming flowers,
we see blooming faces. But as we have few domestic enjoyments in this
country--no social snugness,--no sweet seclusion--and as our houses are
as open as bird-cages,--and as we almost live in public and in the open
air--we have little comfort when compelled, with an enfeebled frame and
a morbidly sensitive cuticle, to remain at home on what an Anglo-Indian
Invalid calls a cold day, with an easterly wind whistling through every
room. In our dear native country each season has its peculiar moral
or physical attractions. It is not easy to say which is the most
agreeable--its summer or its winter. Perhaps I must decide in favor of
the first. The memory of many a smiling summer day still flashes upon my
soul. If the whole of human life were like a fine English day in June,
we should cease to wish for "another and a better world." It is often
from dawn to sunset one revel of delight. How pleasantly, from the first
break of day, have I lain wide awake and traced the approach of the
breakfast hour by the increasing notes of birds and the advancing
sun-light on my curtains! A summer feeling, at such a time, would make my
heart dance within me, as I thought of the long, cheerful day to be
enjoyed, and planned some rural walk, or rustic entertainment. The ills
that flesh is heir to, if they occurred for a moment, appeared like idle
visions. They were inconceivable as real things. As I heard the lark
singing in "a glorious privacy of light," and saw the boughs of the
green and gold laburnum waving at my window, and had my fancy filled
with images of natural beauty, I felt a glow of fresh life in my veins,
and my soul was inebriated with joy. It is difficult, amidst such
exhilarating influences, to entertain those melancholy ideas which
sometimes crowd upon, us, and appear so natural, at a less happy hour.
Even actual misfortune comes in a questionable shape, when our physical
constitution is in perfect health, and the flowers are in full bloom,
and the skies are blue, and the streams are glittering in the sun. So
powerfully does the light of external nature sometimes act upon the
moral system, that a sweet sensation steals gradually over the heart,
even when we think we have reason to be sorrowful, and while we almost
accuse ourselves of a want of feeling. The fretful hypochondriac would
do well to bear this fact in mind, and not take it for granted that all
are cold and selfish who fail to sympathize with his fantastic cares. He
should remember that men are sometimes so buoyed up by the sense of
corporeal power, and a communion with nature in her cheerful moods, that
things connected with their own personal interests, and which at other
times might irritate and wound their feelings, pass by them like the
idle wind which they regard not. He himself must have had his intervals
of comparative happiness, in which the causes of his present grief would
have appeared trivial and absurd. He should not, then, expect persons
whose blood is warm in their veins, and whose eyes are open to the
blessed sun in heaven, to think more of the apparent causes of his
sorrow than he would himself, were his mind and body in a healthful
With what a light heart and eager appetite did I enter the little
breakfast parlour of which the glass-doors opened upon a bright green
lawn, variegated with small beds of flowers! The table was spread with
dewy and delicious fruits from our own garden, and gathered by fair and
friendly hands. Beautiful and luscious as were these garden dainties,
they were of small account in comparison with the fresh cheeks and
cherry lips that so frankly accepted the wonted early greeting. Alas!
how that circle of early friends is now divided, and what a change has
since come over the spirit of our dreams! Yet still I cherish boyish
feelings, and the past is sometimes present. As I give an imaginary kiss
to an "old familiar face," and catch myself almost unconsciously, yet
literally, returning imaginary smiles, my heart is as fresh and fervid
as of yore.
A lapse of fifteen years, and a distance of fifteen thousand miles, and
the glare of a tropical sky and the presence of foreign faces, need not
make an Indian Exile quite forgetful of home-delights. Parted friends
may still share the light of love as severed clouds are equally kindled
by the same sun. No number of miles or days can change or separate
faithful spirits or annihilate early associations. That strange
magician, Fancy, who supplies so many corporeal deficiencies and
overcomes so many physical obstructions, and mocks at space and time,
enables us to pass in the twinkling of an eye over the dreary waste of
waters that separates the exile from the scenes and companions of his
youth. He treads again his native shore. He sits by the hospitable
hearth and listens to the ringing laugh of children. He exchanges
cordial greetings with the "old familiar faces." There is a resurrection
of the dead, and a return of vanished years. He abandons himself to the
sweet illusion, and again
Lives over each scene, and is what he beholds.
I must not be too egotistically garrulous in print, or I would now
attempt to describe the various ways in which I have spent a summer's
day in England. I would dilate upon my noon-day loiterings amidst wild
ruins, and thick forests, and on the shaded banks of rivers--the pic-nic
parties--the gipsy prophecies--the twilight homeward walk--the social
tea-drinking, and, the last scene of all, the "rosy dreams and slumbers
light," induced by wholesome exercise and placid thoughts. But
perhaps these few simple allusions are sufficient to awaken a train of
kindred associations in the reader's mind, and he will thank me for
those words and images that are like the keys of memory, and "open all
her cells with easy force."
If a summer's day be thus rife with pleasure, scarcely less so is a day
in winter, though with some little drawbacks, that give, by contrast, a
zest to its enjoyments. It is difficult to leave the warm morning bed
and brave the external air. The fireless grate and frosted windows may
well make the stoutest shudder. But when we have once screwed our
courage to the sticking place, and with a single jerk of the clothes,
and a brisk jump from the bed, have commenced the operations of the
toilet, the battle is nearly over. The teeth chatter for a while, and
the limbs shiver, and we do not feel particularly comfortable while
breaking the ice in our jugs, and performing our cold ablutions amidst
the sharp, glass-like fragments, and wiping our faces with a frozen
towel. But these petty evils are quickly vanquished, and as we rush out
of the house, and tread briskly and firmly on the hard ringing earth,
and breathe our visible breath in the clear air, our strength and
self-importance miraculously increase, and the whole frame begins to glow.
The warmth and vigour thus acquired are inexpressibly delightful. As we
re-enter the house, we are proud of our intrepidity and vigour, and pity
the effeminacy of our less enterprising friends, who, though huddled
together round the fire, like flies upon a sunny wall, still complain of
cold, and instead of the bloom of health and animation, exhibit pale and
pinched and discolored features, and hands cold, rigid, and of a deadly
hue. Those who rise with spirit on a winter morning, and stir and thrill
themselves with early exercise, are indifferent to the cold for the rest
of the day, and feel a confidence in their corporeal energies, and a
lightness of heart that are experienced at no other season.
But even the timid and luxurious are not without their pleasures. As the
shades of evening draw in, the parlour twilight--the closed
curtains--and the cheerful fire--make home a little paradise to all.
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loud hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in
The warm and cold seasons of India have no charms like those of England,
but yet people who are guiltless of what Milton so finely calls "a
sullenness against nature," and who are willing, in a spirit of true
philosophy and piety, to extract good from every thing, may save
themselves from wretchedness even in this land of exile. While I am
writing this paragraph, a bird in my room, (not the Caubul songster that
I have already alluded to, but a fine little English linnet,) who is as
much a foreigner here as I am, is pouring out his soul in a flood of
song. His notes ring with joy. He pines not for his native meadows--he
cares not for his wiry bars--he envies not the little denizens of air
that sometimes flutter past my window, nor imagines, for a moment, that
they come to mock him with their freedom. He is contented with his
present enjoyments, because they are utterly undisturbed by idle
comparisons with those experienced in the past or anticipated in the
future. He has no thankless repinings and no vain desires. Is intellect
or reason then so fatal, though sublime a gift that we cannot possess it
without the poisonous alloy of care? Must grief and ingratitude
inevitably find entrance into the heart, in proportion to the loftiness
and number of our mental endowments? Are we to seek for happiness in
ignorance? To these questions the reply is obvious. Every good quality
may be abused, and the greatest, most; and he who perversely employs his
powers of thought and imagination to a wrong purpose deserves the misery
that he gains. Were we honestly to deduct from the ills of life all
those of our own creation, how trifling, in the majority of cases, the
amount that would remain! We seem to invite and encourage sorrow, while
happiness is, as it were, forced upon us against our will. It is
wonderful how some men pertinaciously cling to care, and argue
themselves into a dissatisfaction with their lot. Thus it is really a
matter of little moment whether fortune smile or frown, for it is in
vain to look for superior felicity amongst those who have more
"appliances and means to boot," than their fellow-men. Wealth, rank, and
reputation, do not secure their possessors from the misery of
As happiness then depends upon the right direction and employment of our
faculties, and not on worldly goods or mere localities, our countrymen
might be cheerful enough, even in this foreign land, if they would only
accustom themselves to a proper train of thinking, and be ready on every
occasion to look on the brighter side of all things. In reverting
to home-scenes we should regard them for their intrinsic charms, and not
turn them into a source of disquiet by mournfully comparing them with
those around us. India, let Englishmen murmur as they will, has some
attractions, enjoyments and advantages. No Englishman is here in danger
of dying of starvation as some of our poets have done in the
inhospitable streets of London. The comparatively princely and generous
style in which we live in this country, the frank and familiar tone of
our little society, and the general mildness of the climate, (excepting
a few months of a too sultry summer) can hardly be denied by the most
determined malcontent. The weather is indeed too often a great deal
warmer than we like it; but if "the excessive heat" did not form a
convenient subject for complaint and conversation, it is perhaps
doubtful if it would so often be thought of or alluded to. But admit the
objection. What climate is without its peculiar evils? In the cold
season a walk in India either in the morning or the evening is often
extremely pleasant in pleasant company, and I am glad to see many
sensible people paying the climate the compliment of treating it like
that of England. It is now fashionable to use our limbs in the ordinary
way, and the "Garden of Eden" has become a favorite promenade,
particularly on the evenings when a band from the Fort fills the air
with a cheerful harmony and throws a fresher life upon the scene. It is
not to be denied that besides the mere exercise, pedestrians at home
have great advantages over those who are too indolent or aristocratic to
leave their equipages, because they can cut across green and quiet
fields, enter rural by-ways, and enjoy a thousand little patches of
lovely scenery that are secrets to the high-road traveller. But still
the Calcutta pedestrian has also his gratifications. He can enjoy no
exclusive prospects, but he beholds upon an Indian river a forest of
British masts--the noble shipping of the Queen of the Sea--and has a
fine panoramic view of this City of Palaces erected by his countrymen on
a foreign shore;--and if he is fond of children, he must be delighted
with the numberless pretty and happy little faces--the fair forms of
Saxon men and women in miniature--that crowd about him on the green
sward;--he must be charmed with their innocent prattle, their quick and
graceful movements, and their winning ways, that awaken a tone of tender
sentiment in his heart, and rekindle many sweet associations.
WRITTEN IN EXILE.
Man's heart may change, but Nature's glory never;--
And while the soul's internal cell is bright,
The cloudless eye lets in the bloom and light
Of earth and heaven to charm and cheer us ever.
Though youth hath vanished, like a winding river
Lost in the shadowy woods; and the dear sight
Of native hill and nest-like cottage white,
'Mid breeze-stirred boughs whose crisp leaves gleam and quiver,
And murmur sea-like sounds, perchance no more
My homeward step shall hasten cheerily;
Yet still I feel as I have felt of yore,
And love this radiant world. Yon clear blue sky--
These gorgeous groves--this flower-enamelled floor--
Have deep enchantments for my heart and eye.
Man's heart may change, but Nature's glory never,
Though to the sullen gaze of grief the sight
Of sun illumined skies may _seem_ less bright,
Or gathering clouds less grand, yet she, as ever,
Is lovely or majestic. Though fate sever
The long linked bands of love, and all delight
Be lost, as in a sudden starless night,
The radiance may return, if He, the giver
Of peace on earth, vouchsafe the storm to still
This breast once shaken with the strife of care
Is touched with silent joy. The cot--the hill,
Beyond the broad blue wave--and faces fair,
Are pictured in my dreams, yet scenes that fill
My waking eye can save me from despair.
Man's heart may change, but Nature's glory never,--
Strange features throng around me, and the shore
Is not my own dear land. Yet why deplore
This change of doom? All mortal ties must sever.
The pang is past,--and now with blest endeavour
I check the ready tear, the rising sigh
The common earth is here--the common sky--
The common FATHER. And how high soever
O'er other tribes proud England's hosts may seem,
God's children, fair or sable, equal find
A FATHER'S love. Then learn, O man, to deem
All difference idle save of heart or mind
Thy duty, love--each cause of strife, a dream--
Thy home, the world--thy family, mankind.
For the sake of my home readers I must now say a word or two on the
effect produced upon the mind of a stranger on his approach to Calcutta
from the Sandheads.
As we run up the Bay of Bengal and approach the dangerous Sandheads, the
beautiful deep blue of the ocean suddenly disappears. It turns into a
pale green. The sea, even in calm weather, rolls over soundings in long
swells. The hue of the water is varied by different depths, and in
passing over the edge of soundings, it is curious to observe how
distinctly the form of the sands may be traced by the different shades
of green in the water above and beyond them. In the lower part of the
bay, the crisp foam of the dark sea at night is instinct with phosphoric
lustre. The ship seems to make her way through galaxies of little ocean
stars. We lose sight of this poetical phenomenon as we approach the
mouth of the Hooghly. But the passengers, towards the termination of
their voyage, become less observant of the changeful aspect of the sea.
Though amused occasionally by flights of sea-gulls, immense shoals of
porpoises, apparently tumbling or rolling head over tail against the
wind, and the small sprat-like fishes that sometimes play and glitter on
the surface, the stranger grows impatient to catch a glimpse of an
Indian jungle; and even the swampy tiger-haunted Saugor Island is
greeted with that degree of interest which novelty usually inspires.
At first the land is but little above the level of the water. It rises
gradually as we pass up further from the sea. As we come still nearer to
Calcutta, the soil on shore seems to improve in richness and the trees
to increase in size. The little clusters of nest-like villages snugly
sheltered in foliage--the groups of dark figures in white garments--the
cattle wandering over the open plain--the emerald-colored fields of
rice--the rich groves of mangoe trees--the vast and magnificent banyans,
with straight roots dropping from their highest branches, (hundreds of
these branch-dropped roots being fixed into the earth and forming "a
pillared shade"),--the tall, slim palms of different characters and with
crowns of different forms, feathery or fan-like,--the many-stemmed and
long, sharp-leaved bamboos, whose thin pliant branches swing gracefully
under the weight of the lightest bird,--the beautifully rounded and
bright green peepuls, with their burnished leaves glittering in the
sunshine, and trembling at the zephyr's softest touch with a pleasant
rustling sound, suggestive of images of coolness and repose,--form a
striking and singularly interesting scene (or rather succession of
scenes) after the monotony of a long voyage during which nothing has
been visible but sea and sky.
But it is not until he arrives at a bend of the river called _Garden
Reach_, where the City of Palaces first opens on the view, that the
stranger has a full sense of the value of our possessions in the East.
The princely mansions on our right;--(residences of English gentry),
with their rich gardens and smooth slopes verdant to the water's
edge,--the large and rich Botanic Garden and the Gothic edifice of Bishop's
College on our left--and in front, as we advance a little further, the
countless masts of vessels of all sizes and characters, and from almost
every clime,--Fort William, with its grassy ramparts and white
barracks,--the Government House, a magnificent edifice in spite of many
imperfections,--the substantial looking Town Hall--the Supreme Court
House--the broad and ever verdant plain (or _madaun_) in front--and the
noble lines of buildings along the Esplanade and Chowringhee Road,--the
new Cathedral almost at the extremity of the plain, and half-hidden
amidst the trees,--the suburban groves and buildings of Kidderpore
beyond, their outlines softened by the haze of distance, like scenes
contemplated through colored glass--the high-sterned budgerows and small
trim bauleahs along the edge of the river,--the neatly-painted
palanquins and other vehicles of all sorts and sizes,--the variously-hued
and variously-clad people of all conditions; the fair European, the
black and nearly naked Cooly, the clean-robed and lighter-skinned native
Baboo, the Oriental nobleman with his jewelled turban and kincob vest,
and costly necklace and twisted cummerbund, on a horse fantastically
caparisoned, and followed in barbaric state by a train of attendants
with long, golden-handled punkahs, peacock feather chowries, and golden
chattahs and silver sticks,--present altogether a scene that is
calculated to at once delight and bewilder the traveller, to whom all
the strange objects before him have something of the enchantment and
confusion of an Arabian Night's dream. When he recovers from his
surprise, the first emotion in the breast of an Englishman is a feeling
of national pride. He exults in the recognition of so many glorious
indications of the power of a small and remote nation that has founded a
splendid empire in so strange and vast a land.
When the first impression begins to fade, and he takes a closer view of
the great metropolis of India--and observes what miserable straw huts
are intermingled with magnificent palaces--how much Oriental filth and
squalor and idleness and superstition and poverty and ignorance are
associated with savage splendour, and are brought into immediate and
most incongruous contact with Saxon energy and enterprize and taste and
skill and love of order, and the amazing intelligence of the West in
this nineteenth century--and when familiarity breeds something like
contempt for many things that originally excited a vague and pleasing
wonder--the English traveller in the East is apt to dwell too
exclusively on the worst side of the picture, and to become insensible
to the real interest, and blind to the actual beauty of much of the
scene around him. Extravagant astonishment and admiration, under the
influence of novelty, a strong re-action, and a subsequent feeling of
unreasonable disappointment, seem, in some degree, natural to all men;
but in no other part of the world, and under no other circumstances, is
this peculiarity of our condition more conspicuously displayed than in
the case of Englishmen in India. John Bull, who is always a grumbler
even on his own shores, is sure to become a still more inveterate
grumbler in other countries, and perhaps the climate of Bengal,
producing lassitude and low spirits, and a yearning for their native
land, of which they are so justly proud, contribute to make our
countrymen in the East even more than usually unsusceptible of
pleasurable emotions until at last they turn away in positive disgust
from the scenes and objects which remind them that they are in a state
"There is nothing," says Hamlet, "either good or bad, but thinking makes
it so." At every change of the mind's colored optics the scene before it
changes also. I have sometimes contemplated the vast metropolis of
England--or rather _of the world_--multitudinous and mighty LONDON--with
the pride and hope and exultation, not of a patriot only, but of a
cosmopolite--a man. Its grand national structures that seem built for
eternity--its noble institutions, charitable, and learned, and
scientific, and artistical--the genius and science and bravery and moral
excellence within its countless walls--have overwhelmed me with a sense
of its glory and majesty and power. But in a less admiring mood, I have
quite reversed the picture. Perhaps the following sonnet may seem to
indicate that the writer while composing it, must have worn his colored
LONDON, IN THE MORNING.
The morning wakes, and through the misty air
In sickly radiance struggles--like the dream
Of sorrow-shrouded hope. O'er Thames' dull stream,
Whose sluggish waves a wealthy burden bear
From every port and clime, the pallid glare
Of early sun-light spreads. The long streets seem
Unpeopled still, but soon each path shall teem
With hurried feet, and visages of care.
And eager throngs shall meet where dusky marts
Resound like ocean-caverns, with the din
Of toil and strife and agony and sin.
Trade's busy Babel! Ah! how many hearts
By lust of gold to thy dim temples brought
In happier hours have scorned the prize they sought?
I now give a pair of sonnets upon the City of Palaces as viewed through
somewhat clearer glasses.
VIEW OF CALCUTTA.
Here Passion's restless eye and spirit rude
May greet no kindred images of power
To fear or wonder ministrant. No tower,
Time-struck and tenantless, here seems to brood,
In the dread majesty of solitude,
O'er human pride departed--no rocks lower
O'er ravenous billows--no vast hollow wood
Rings with the lion's thunder--no dark bower
The crouching tiger haunts--no gloomy cave
Glitters with savage eyes! But all the scene
Is calm and cheerful. At the mild command
Of Britain's sons, the skilful and the brave,
Fair palace-structures decorate the land,
And proud ships float on Hooghly's breast serene!
SONNET, ON RETURNING TO CALCUTTA AFTER A VOYAGE TO THE STRAITS OF
Umbrageous woods, green dells, and mountains high,
And bright cascades, and wide cerulean seas,
Slumbering, or snow-wreathed by the freshening breeze,
And isles like motionless clouds upon the sky
In silent summer noons, late charmed mine eye,
Until my soul was stirred like wind-touched trees,
And passionate love and speechless ecstasies
Up-raised the thoughts in spiritual depths that lie.
Fair scenes, ye haunt me still! Yet I behold
This sultry city on the level shore
Not all unmoved; for here our fathers bold
Won proud historic names in days of yore,
And here are generous hearts that ne'er grow cold,
And many a friendly hand and open door.
There are several extremely elegant customs connected with some of the
Indian Festivals, at which flowers are used in great profusion. The
surface of the "sacred river" is often thickly strewn with them. In Mrs.
Carshore's pleasing volume of _Songs of the East_ there is a long
poem (too long to quote entire) in which the _Beara Festival_ is
described. I must give the introductory passage.
"THE BEARA FESTIVAL.
"Upon the Ganges' overflowing banks,
Where palm trees lined the shore in graceful ranks,
I stood one night amidst a merry throng
Of British youths and maidens, to behold
A witching Indian scene of light and song,
Crowds of veiled native loveliness untold,
Each streaming path poured duskily along.
The air was filled with the sweet breath of flowers,
And music that awoke the silent hours,
It was the BEARA FESTIVAL and feast
When proud and lowly, loftiest and least,
Matron and Moslem maiden pay their vows,
With impetratory and votive gift,
And to the Moslem Jonas bent their brows.
_Each brought her floating lamp of flowers_, and swift
A thousand lights along the current drift,
Till the vast bosom of the swollen stream,
Glittering and gliding onward like a dream,
Seems a wide mirror of the starry sphere
Or more as if the stars had dropt from air,
And in an earthly heaven were shining here,
And far above were, but reflected there
Still group on group, advancing to the brink,
As group on group retired link by link;
For one pale lamp that floated out of view
Five brighter ones they quickly placed anew;
At length the slackening multitudes grew less,
And the lamps floated scattered and apart.
As stars grow few when morning's footsteps press
When a slight girl, shy as the timid halt,
Not far from where we stood, her offering brought.
Singing a low sweet strain, with lips untaught.
Her song proclaimed, that 'twas not many hours
Since she had left her childhood's innocent home;
And now with Beara lamp, and wreathed flowers,
To propitiate heaven, for wedded bliss had come"
To these lines Mrs. Carshore (who has been in this country, I believe,
from her birth, and who ought to know something of Indian customs)
appends the following notes.
"_It was the Beara festival_." Much has been said about the Beara or
floating lamp, but I have never yet seen a correct description. Moore
mentions that Lalla Rookh saw a solitary Hindoo girl bring her lamp to
the river. D.L.R. says the same, whereas the Beara festival is a Moslem
feast that takes place once a year in the monsoons, when thousands of
females offer their vows to the patron of rivers.
"_Moslem Jonas_" Khauj Khoddir is the Jonas of the Mussulman; he, like
the prophet of Nineveh, was for three days inside a fish, and for that
reason is called the patron of rivers."
I suppose Mrs. Carshore alludes, in the first of these notes, to the
following passage in the prose part of Lalla Rookh:--
"As they passed along a sequestered river after sunset, they saw a young
Hindoo girl upon the bank whose employment seemed to them so strange
that they stopped their palanquins to observe her. She had lighted a
small lamp, filled with oil of cocoa, and placing it in an earthern
dish, adorned with a wreath of flowers, had committed it with a
trembling hand to the stream: and was now anxiously watching its
progress down the current, heedless of the gay cavalcade which had drawn
up beside her. Lalla Rookh was all curiosity;--when one of her
attendants, who had lived upon the banks of the Ganges, (where this
ceremony is so frequent that often, in the dusk of evening, the river is
seen glittering all over with lights, like the Oton-Jala or Sea of
Stars,) informed the Princess that it was the usual way, in which the
friends of those who had gone on dangerous voyages offered up vows for
their safe return. If the lamp sunk immediately, the omen was
disastrous; but if it went shining down the stream, and continued to
burn till entirely out of sight, the return of the beloved object was
considered as certain.
Lalla Rookh, as they moved on, more than once looked back, to observe
how the young Hindoo's lamp proceeded: and while she saw with pleasure
that it was unextinguished, she could not help fearing that all the hopes
of this life were no better than that feeble light upon the river."
Moore prepared himself for the writing of Lalla Rookh by "long and
laborious reading." He himself narrates that Sir James Mackintosh was
asked by Colonel Wilks, the Historian of British India, whether it was
true that the poet had never been in the East. Sir James replied,
"_Never_." "Well, that shows me," said Colonel Wilks, "that reading over
D'Herbelot is as good as riding on the back of a camel." Sir John
Malcolm, Sir William Ouseley and other high authorities have testified
to the accuracy of Moore's descriptions of Eastern scenes and customs.
The following lines were composed on the banks of the Hooghly at
Cossipore, (many long years ago) just after beholding the river one
evening almost covered with floating lamps.
A HINDU FESTIVAL.
Seated on a bank of green,
Gazing on an Indian scene,
I have dreams the mind to cheer,
And a feast for eye and ear.
At my feet a river flows,
And its broad face richly glows
With the glory of the sun,
Whose proud race is nearly run
Ne'er before did sea or stream
Kindle thus beneath his beam,
Ne'er did miser's eye behold
Such a glittering mass of gold
'Gainst the gorgeous radiance float
Darkly, many a sloop and boat,
While in each the figures seem
Like the shadows of a dream
Swiftly, passively, they glide
As sliders on a frozen tide.
Sinks the sun--the sudden night
Falls, yet still the scene is bright
Now the fire-fly's living spark
Glances through the foliage dark,
And along the dusky stream
Myriad lamps with ruddy gleam
On the small waves float and quiver,
As if upon the favored river,
And to mark the sacred hour,
Stars had fallen in a shower.
For many a mile is either shore
Illumined with a countless store
Of lustres ranged in glittering rows,
Each a golden column throws
To light the dim depths of the tide,
And the moon in all her pride
Though beauteously her regions glow,
Views a scene as fair below
Mrs. Carshore alludes, I suppose to the above lines, or the following
sonnet, or both perhaps, when she speaks of my erroneous Orientalism--
SCENE ON THE GANGES.
The shades of evening veil the lofty spires
Of proud Benares' fanes! A thickening haze
Hangs o'er the stream. The weary boatmen raise
Along the dusky shore their crimson fires
That tinge the circling groups. Now hope inspires
Yon Hindu maid, whose heart true passion sways,
To launch on Gungas flood the glimmering rays
Of Love's frail lamp,--but, lo the light expires!
Alas! what sudden sorrow fills her breast!
No charm of life remains. Her tears deplore
A lover lost and never, never more
Shall hope's sweet vision yield her spirit rest!
The cold wave quenched the flame--an omen dread
That telleth of the faithless--_or the dead_!
Horace Hayman Wilson, a high authority on all Oriental customs, clearly
alludes in the following lines to the launching of floating lamps by
Grave in the tide the Brahmin stands,
And folds his cord or twists his hands,
And tells his beads, and all unheard
Mutters a solemn mystic word
With reverence the Sudra dips,
And fervently the current sips,
That to his humbler hope conveys
A future life of happier days.
But chief do India's simple daughters
Assemble in these hallowed waters,
With vase of classic model laden
Like Grecian girl or Tuscan maiden,
Collecting thus their urns to fill
From gushing fount or trickling rill,
And still with pious fervour they
To Gunga veneration pay
And with pretenceless rite prefer,
The wishes of their hearts to her
The maid or matron, as she throws
_Champae_ or lotus, _Bel_ or rose,
Or sends the quivering light afloat
In shallow cup or paper boat,
Prays for a parent's peace and wealth
Prays for a child's success and health,
For a fond husband breathes a prayer,
For progeny their loves to share,
For what of good on earth is given
To lowly life, or hoped in heaven,
On seeing Miss Carshore's criticism I referred the subject to an
intelligent Hindu friend from whom I received the following answer:--
My dear Sir,
The _Beara_, strictly speaking, is a Mahomedan festival. Some of
the lower orders of the Hindus of the NW Provinces, who have
borrowed many of their customs from the Mahomedans, celebrate
the _Beara_. But it is not observed by the Hindus of Bengal, who
have a festival of their own, similar to the _Beara_. It takes
place on the evening of the _Saraswati Poojah_, when a small
piece of the bark of the Plantain Tree is fitted out with all
the necessary accompaniments of a boat, and is launched in a
private tank with a lamp. The custom is confined to the women
who follow it in their own house or in the same neighbourhood.
It is called the _Sooa Dooa Breta_.
* * * * *
Mrs. Carshore it would seem is partly right and partly wrong. She is
right in calling the _Beara_ a _Moslem_ Festival. It is so; but we have
the testimony of Horace Hayman Wilson to the fact that _Hindu maids and
matrons also launch their lamps upon the river_. My Hindu friend
acknowledges that his countrymen in the North West Provinces have
borrowed many of their customs from the Mahomedans, and though he is not
aware of it, it may yet be the case, that some of the Hindus of
_Bengal_, as elsewhere, have done the same, and that they set lamps
afloat upon the stream to discover by their continued burning or sudden
extinction the fate of some absent friend or lover. I find very few
Natives who are able to give me any exact and positive information
concerning their own national customs. In their explanations of such
matters they differ in the most extraordinary manner amongst themselves.
Two most respectable and intelligent Native gentlemen who were proposing
to lay out their grounds under my directions, told me that I must
not cut down a single cocoa-nut tree, as it would be dreadful
sacrilege--equal to cutting the throats of seven brahmins! Another equally
respectable and intelligent Native friend, when I mentioned the fact,
threw himself back in his chair to give vent to a hearty laugh. When he
had recovered himself a little from this risible convulsion he observed
that his father and his grandfather had cut down cocoa-nut trees in
considerable numbers without the slightest remorse or fear. And yet
again, I afterwards heard that one of the richest Hindu families in
Calcutta, rather than suffer so sacred an object to be injured, piously
submit to a very serious inconvenience occasioned by a cocoa-nut tree
standing in the centre of the carriage road that leads to the portico of
their large town palace. I am told that there are other sacred trees
which must not be removed by the hands of Hindus of inferior caste,
though in this case there is a way of getting over the difficulty, for
it is allowable or even meritorious to make presents of these trees to
Brahmins, who cut them down for their own fire-wood. But the cocoa-nut
tree is said to be too sacred even for the axe of a Brahmin.
I have been running away again from my subject;--I was discoursing upon
May-day in England. The season there is still a lovely and a merry one,
though the most picturesque and romantic of its ancient observances, now
live but in the memory of the "oldest inhabitants," or on the page of
See where, amidst the sun and showers,
The Lady of the vernal hours,
Sweet May, comes forth again with all her flowers.
The _May-pole_ on these days is rarely seen to rise up in English towns
with its proper floral decorations. In remote rural districts a
solitary May-pole is still, however, occasionally discovered. "A
May-pole," says Washington Irving, "gave a glow to my feelings and spread
a charm over the country for the rest of the day: and as I traversed a
part of the fair plains of Cheshire, and the beautiful borders of Wales
and looked from among swelling hills down a long green valley, through
which the Deva wound its wizard stream, my imagination turned all into a
perfect Arcadia. One can readily imagine what a gay scene old London
must have been when the doors were decked with hawthorn; and Robin Hood,
Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, Morris dancers, and all the other fantastic
dancers and revellers were performing their antics about the May-pole in
every part of the city. I value every custom which tends to infuse
poetical feeling into the common people, and to sweeten and soften the
rudeness of rustic manners without destroying their simplicity."
Another American writer--a poet--has expressed his due appreciation of
the pleasures of the season. He thus addresses the merrie month of
Would that thou couldst laugh for aye,
Merry, ever merry May!
Made of sun gleams, shade and showers
Bursting buds, and breathing flowers,
Dripping locked, and rosy vested,
Violet slippered, rainbow crested;
Girdled with the eglantine,
Festooned with the dewy vine
Merry, ever Merry May,
Would that thou could laugh for aye!
I must give a dainty bit of description from the poet of the poets--our
own romantic Spenser.
Then comes fair May, the fayrest mayde on ground,
Decked with all dainties of the season's pryde,
And throwing flowres out of her lap around.
Upon two brethren's shoulders she did ride,
The twins of Leda, which, on eyther side,
Supported her like to their Sovereign queene
Lord! how all creatures laught when her they spide,
And leapt and danced as they had ravisht beene!
And Cupid's self about her fluttred all in greene.
Here are a few lines from Herrick.
Fled are the frosts, and now the fields appeare
Re-clothed in freshe and verdant diaper;
Thawed are the snowes, and now the lusty spring
Gives to each mead a neat enameling,
The palmes put forth their gemmes, and every tree
Now swaggers in her leavy gallantry.
The Queen of May--Lady Flora--was the British representative of the
Heathen Goddess Flora. May still returns and ever will return at her
proper season, with all her bright leaves and fragrant blossoms, but men
cease to make the same use of them as of yore. England is waxing
utilitarian and prosaic.
The poets, let others neglect her as they will, must ever do fitting
observance, in songs as lovely and fresh as the flowers of the hawthorn,
To the lady of the vernal hours.
Poor Keats, who was passionately fond of flowers, and everything
beautiful or romantic or picturesque, complains, with a true poet's
earnestness, that in _his_ day in England there were
No crowds of nymphs, soft-voiced and young and gay
In woven baskets, bringing ears of corn,
Roses and pinks and violets, to adorn
The shrine of Flora in her early May.
The Floral Games--_Jeux Floraux_--of Toulouse--first celebrated at the
commencement of the fourteenth century, are still kept up annually with
great pomp and spirit. Clemence Isaure, a French lady, bequeathed to the
Academy of Toulouse a large sum of money for the annual celebration of
these games. A sort of College Council is formed, which not only confers
degrees on those poets who do most honor to the Goddess Flora, but
sometimes grants them more substantial favors. In 1324 the poets were
encouraged to compete for a golden violet and a silver eglantine and
pansy. A century later the prizes offered were an amaranthus of gold of
the value of 400 livres, for the best ode, a violet of silver, valued at
250 livres, for an essay in prose, a silver pansy, worth 200 livres, for
an eclogue, elegy or idyl, and a silver lily of the value of sixty
livres, for the best sonnet or hymn in honor of the Virgin Mary,--for
religion is mixed up with merriment, and heathen with Christian rites.
He who gained a prize three times was honored with the title of Doctor
_en gaye science_, the name given to the poetry of the Provencal
troubadours. A mass, a sermon, and alms-giving, commence the ceremonies.
The French poet, Ronsard who had gained a prize in the floral games, so
delighted Mary Queen of Scots with his verses on the Rose that she
presented him with a silver rose worth L500, with this inscription--"_A
Ronsard, l'Apollon de la source des Muses_."
At Ghent floral festivals are held twice a year when amateur and
professional florists assemble together and contribute each his share of
flowers to the grand general exhibition which is under the direct
patronage of the public authorities. Honorary medals are awarded to the
possessors of the finest flowers.
The chief floral festival of the Chinese is on their new year's day,
when their rivers are covered with boats laden with flowers, and gay
flags streaming from every mast. Their homes and temples are richly hung
with festoons of flowers. Boughs of the peach and plum trees in blossom,
enkianthus quinque-flora, camelias, cockscombs, magnolias, jonquils are
then exposed for sale in all the streets of Canton. Even the Chinese
ladies, who are visible at no other season, are seen on this occasion in
flower-boats on the river or in the public gardens on the shore.
The Italians, it is said, still have artificers called _Festaroli_,
whose business it is to prepare festoons and garlands. The ancient
Romans were very tasteful in their nosegays and chaplets. Pliny tells us
that the Sicyonians were especially celebrated for the graceful art
exhibited in the arrangement of the varied colors of their garlands, and
he gives us the story of Glycera who, to please her lover Pausias, the
painter of Sicyon, used to send him the most exquisite chaplets of her
own braiding, which he regularly copied on his canvas. He became very
eminent as a flower-painter. The last work of his pencil, and his
master-piece, was a picture of his mistress in the act of arranging a
chaplet. The picture was called the _Garland Twiner_. It is related that
Antony for some time mistrusting Cleopatra made her taste in the first
instance every thing presented to him at her banquets. One day "the
Serpent of old Nile" after dipping her own coronet of flowers into her
goblet drank up the wine and then directed him to follow her example. He
was off his guard. He dipped his chaplet in his cup. The leaves had been
touched with poison. He was just raising the cup to his lips when she
seized his arm, and said "Cease your jealous doubts, for know, that if
I had desired your death or wished to live without you, I could easily
have destroyed you." The Queen then ordered a prisoner to be brought
into their presence, who being made to drink from the cup, instantly
Some of the nosegays made up by "flower-girls" in London and its
neighbourhood are sold at such extravagant prices that none but the very
wealthy are in the habit of purchasing them, though sometimes a poor
lover is tempted to present his mistress on a ball-night with a bouquet
that he can purchase only at the cost of a good many more leaves of
bread or substantial meals than he can well spare. He has to make every
day a banian-day for perhaps half a month that his mistress may wear a
nosegay for a few hours. However, a lover is often like a cameleon and
can almost live on air--_for a time_--"promise-crammed." 'You cannot
feed capons so.'
At Covent Garden Market, (in London) and the first-rate Flower-shops, a
single wreath or nosegay is often made up for the head or hand at a
price that would support a poor labourer and his family for a month. The
colors of the wreaths are artfully arranged, so as to suit different
complexions, and so also as to exhibit the most rare and costly flowers
to the greatest possible advantage.
All true poets
Who have left streaks of light athwart their pages--
have contemplated flowers--with a passionate love, an ardent admiration;
none more so than the sweet-souled Shakespeare. They are regarded by the
imaginative as the fairies of the vegetable world--the physical
personifications of etherial beauty. In _The Winter's Tale_ our great
dramatic bard has some delightful floral allusions that cannot be too
Here's flowers for you,
Hot lavender, mint, savory, majoram,
The marigold, that goes to bed with the sun,
And with him rises weeping these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.
* * * * *
For the flowers now that, frighted, thou lett'st fall
From Dis's waggon! Daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty, violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes,
Or Cytherea's breath, pale primroses,
That die unmarried ere they can behold
Great Phoebus in his strength,--a malady
Most incident to maids, bold oxlips and
The crown imperial, lilies of all kinds,
The flower de luce being one
Shakespeare here, as elsewhere, speaks of "_pale_ primroses." The poets
almost always allude to the primrose as a _pale_ and interesting
invalid. Milton tells us of
The yellow cowslip and the _pale_ primrose
The poet in the manuscript of his _Lycidas_ had at first made the
primrose "_die unwedded_," which was a pretty close copy of Shakespeare.
Milton afterwards struck out the word "_unwedded_," and substituted the
word "_forsaken_." The reason why the primrose was said to "die
unmarried," is, according to Warton, because it grows in the shade
uncherished or unseen by the sun, who was supposed to be in love with
certain sorts of flowers. Ben Jonson, however, describes the primrose as
_a wedded lady_--"the Spring's own _Spouse_"--though she is certainly
more commonly regarded as the daughter of Spring not the wife. J
Fletcher gives her the true parentage:--
Primrose, first born child of Ver
There are some kinds of primroses, that are not _pale_. There is a
species in Scotland, which is of a deep purple. And even in England (in
some of the northern counties) there is a primrose, the bird's-eye
primrose, (Primula farinosa,) of which the blossom is lilac colored and
the leaves musk-scented.
In Sweden they call the Primrose _The key of May_.
The primrose is always a great favorite with imaginative and sensitive
observers, but there are too many people who look upon the beautiful
with a utilitarian eye, or like Wordsworth's Peter Bell regard it with
A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him.
And it was nothing more.
I have already given one anecdote of a utilitarian; but I may as well
give two more anecdotes of a similar character. Mrs. Wordsworth was in a
grove, listening to the cooing of the stock-doves, and associating their
music with the remembrance of her husband's verses to a stock-dove, when
a farmer's wife passing by exclaimed, "Oh, I do like stock-doves!" The
woman won the heart of the poet's wife at once; but she did not long
retain it. "Some people," continued the speaker, "like 'em in a pie; for
my part I think there's nothing like 'em stewed in inions." This was a
rustic utilitarian. Here is an instance of a very different sort of
utilitarianism--the utilitarianism of men who lead a gay town life. Sir
W.H. listened, patiently for some time to a poetical-minded friend who
was rapturously expatiating upon the delicious perfume of a bed of
violets; "Oh yes," said Sir W. at last, "its all very well, but for my
part I very much prefer the smell of a flambeau at the theatre." But
intellects far more capacious than that of Sir W.H. have exhibited the
same indifference to the beautiful in nature. Locke and Jeremy Bentham
and even Sir Isaac Newton despised all poetry. And yet God never meant
man to be insensible to the beautiful or the poetical. "Poetry, like
truth," says Ebenezer Elliot, "is a common flower: God has sown it over
the earth, like the daisies sprinkled with tears or glowing in the sun,
even as he places the crocus and the March frosts together and
beautifully mingles life and death." If the finer and more spiritual
faculties of men were as well cultivated or exercised as are their
colder and coarser faculties there would be fewer utilitarians. But the
highest part of our nature is too much neglected in all our systems of
education. Of the beauty and fragrance of flowers all earthly creatures
except man are apparently meant to be unconscious. The cattle tread down
or masticate the fairest flowers without a single "compunctious visiting
of nature." This excites no surprize. It is no more than natural. But it
is truly painful and humiliating to see any human being as insensible as
the beasts of the field to that poetry of the world which God seems to
have addressed exclusively to the heart and soul of man.
In South Wales the custom of strewing all kinds of flowers over the
graves of departed friends, is preserved to the present day.
Shakespeare, it appears, knew something of the customs of that part of
his native country and puts the following _flowery_ speech into the
mouth of the young Prince, Arviragus, who was educated there.
With fairest flowers,
While summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
I'll sweeten thy sad grave. Thou shalt not lack
The flower that's like thy face, pale Primrose, nor
The azured Harebell, like thy veins; no, nor
The leaf of Eglantine; whom not to slander,
Out-sweetened not thy breath.
Here are two more flower-passages from Shakespeare.
Here's a few flowers; but about midnight more;
The herbs that have on them cold dew o' the night
Are strewings fitt'st for graves.--Upon their faces:--
You were as flowers; now withered; even so
These herblets shall, which we upon you strow.
Sweets to the sweet. Farewell!
I hoped thou shoulds't have been my Hamlet's wife;
I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid,
And not t' have strewed thy grave.
Flowers are peculiarly suitable ornaments for the grave, for as Evelyn
truly says, "they are just emblems of the life of man, which has been
compared in Holy Scripture to those fading creatures, whose roots being
buried in dishonor rise again in glory."
This thought is natural and just. It is indeed a most impressive sight,
a most instructive pleasure, to behold some "bright consummate flower"
rise up like a radiant exhalation or a beautiful vision--like good from
evil--with such stainless purity and such dainty loveliness, from the
hot-bed of corruption.
Milton turns his acquaintance with flowers to divine account in his
Return; Sicilian Muse,
And call the vales, and bid them hither cast
Their bells and flowerets of a thousand hues.
Ye vallies low, where the mild whispers use
Of shades and wanton winds, and gushing brooks,
On whose fresh lap the swart-star sparely looks;
Throw hither all your quaint enamelled eyes,
That on the green turf suck the honied showers.
And purple all the ground with vernal flowers.
Bring the rathe primrose that forsaken dies.
The tufted crow-toe, and pale jessamine,
The white pink, and the pansy freaked with jet,
The glowing violet,
The musk-rose and the well-attired woodbine,
With cowslips wan that hang the pensive head,
And every flower that sad embroidery wears;
Bid Amaranthus all his beauty shed,
And daffodillies fill their cups with tears,
To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies,
For, so to interpose a little ease,
Let our frail thoughts dally with faint surmise
Here is a nosegay of spring-flowers from the hand of Thomson:--
Fair handed Spring unbosoms every grace,
Throws out the snow drop and the crocus first,
the daisy, primrose, violet darkly blue,
And polyanthus of unnumbered dyes,
The yellow wall flower, stained with iron brown,
And lavish stock that scents the garden round,
From the soft wing of vernal breezes shed,
Anemonies, auriculas, enriched
With shining meal o'er all their velvet leaves
And full ranunculus of glowing red
Then comes the tulip race, where Beauty plays
Her idle freaks from family diffused
To family, as flies the father dust,
The varied colors run, and while they break
On the charmed eye, the exulting Florist marks
With secret pride, the wonders of his hand
Nor gradual bloom is wanting, from the bird,
First born of spring, to Summer's musky tribes
Nor hyacinth, of purest virgin white,
Low bent, and, blushing inward, nor jonquils,
Of potent fragrance, nor Narcissus fair,
As o'er the fabled fountain hanging still,
Nor broad carnations, nor gay spotted pinks;
Nor, showered from every bush, the damask rose.
Infinite varieties, delicacies, smells,
With hues on hues expression cannot paint,
The breath of Nature and her endless bloom.
Here are two bouquets of flowers from the garden of Cowper
In streaming gold, syringa, ivory pure,
The scentless and the scented rose, this red,
And of an humbler growth, the other tall,
And throwing up into the darkest gloom
Of neighboring cypress, or more sable yew,
Her silver globes, light as the foamy surf
That the wind severs from the broken wave,
The lilac, various in array, now white,
Now sanguine, and her beauteous head now set
With purple spikes pyramidal, as if
Studious of ornament yet unresolved
Which hue she most approved, she chose them all,
Copious of flowers the woodbine, pale and wan,
But well compensating her sickly looks
With never cloying odours, early and late,
Hypericum all bloom, so thick a swarm
Of flowers, like flies clothing her slender rods,
That scarce a loaf appears, mezereon too,
Though leafless, well attired, and thick beset
With blushing wreaths, investing every spray,
Althaea with the purple eye, the broom
Yellow and bright, as bullion unalloy'd,
Her blossoms, and luxuriant above all
The jasmine, throwing wide her elegant sweets,
The deep dark green of whose unvarnish'd leaf
Makes more conspicuous, and illumines more,
The bright profusion of her scatter'd stars
* * * * *
Th' amomum there with intermingling flowers
And cherries hangs her twigs. Geranium boasts
Her crimson honors, and the spangled beau
Ficoides, glitters bright the winter long
All plants, of every leaf, that can endure
The winter's frown, if screened from his shrewd bite,
Live their and prosper. Those Ausonia claims,
Levantine regions those, the Azores send
Their jessamine, her jessamine remote
Caffraia, foreigners from many lands,
They form one social shade as if convened
By magic summons of the Orphean lyre
Here is a bunch of flowers laid before the public eye by Mr. Proctor--
There the rose unveils
Her breast of beauty, and each delicate bud
O' the season comes in turn to bloom and perish,
But first of all the violet, with an eye
Blue as the midnight heavens, the frail snowdrop,
Born of the breath of winter, and on his brow
Fixed like a full and solitary star
The languid hyacinth, and wild primrose
And daisy trodden down like modesty
The fox glove, in whose drooping bells the bee
Makes her sweet music, the Narcissus (named
From him who died for love) the tangled woodbine,
Lilacs, and flowering vines, and scented thorns,
And some from whom the voluptuous winds of June
Catch their perfumings
I take a second supply of flowers from the same hand
Here, this rose
(This one half blown) shall be my Maia's portion,
For that like it her blush is beautiful
And this deep violet, almost as blue
As Pallas' eye, or thine, Lycemnia,
I'll give to thee for like thyself it wears
Its sweetness, never obtruding. For this lily
Where can it hang but it Cyane's breast?
And yet twill wither on so white a bed,
If flowers have sense of envy.--It shall be
Amongst thy raven tresses, Cytheris,
Like one star on the bosom of the night
The cowslip and the yellow primrose,--they
Are gone, my sad Leontia, to their graves,
And April hath wept o'er them, and the voice
Of March hath sung, even before their deaths
The dirge of those young children of the year
But here is hearts ease for your woes. And now,
The honey suckle flower I give to thee,
And love it for my sake, my own Cyane
It hangs upon the stem it loves, as thou
Hast clung to me, through every joy and sorrow,
It flourishes with its guardian growth, as thou dost,
And if the woodman's axe should droop the tree,
The woodbine too must perish.
Let me add to the above heap of floral beauty a basket of flowers from
Then the flowers on all their beds--
How the sparklers glance their heads,
Daisies with their pinky lashes
And the marigolds broad flashes,
Hyacinth with sapphire bell
Curling backward, and the swell
Of the rose, full lipped and warm,
Bound about whose riper form
Her slender virgin train are seen
In their close fit caps of green,
Lilacs then, and daffodillies,
And the nice leaved lesser lilies
Shading, like detected light,
Their little green-tipt lamps of white;
Blissful poppy, odorous pea,
With its wing up lightsomely;
Balsam with his shaft of amber,
Mignionette for lady's chamber,
And genteel geranium,
With a leaf for all that come;
And the tulip tricked out finest,
And the pink of smell divinest;
And as proud as all of them
Bound in one, the garden's gem
Hearts-ease, like a gallant bold
In his cloth of purple and gold.
Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who introduced inoculation into England--a
practically useful boon to us,--had also the honor to be amongst the
first to bring from the East to the West an elegant amusement--the
Language of Flowers.
Then he took up his garland, and did show
What every flower, as country people hold,
Did signify; and how all, ordered thus,
Expressed his grief: and, to my thoughts, did read
The prettiest lecture of his country art
That could be wished.
_Beaumont's and Fletcher's "Philaster."_
* * * * *
There from richer banks
Culling out flowers, which in a learned order
Do become characters, whence they disclose
Their mutual meanings, garlands then and nosegays
Being framed into epistles.
_Cartwright's "Love's Covenant."_
* * * * *
An exquisite invention this,
Worthy of Love's most honied kiss,
This art of writing _billet-doux_
In buds and odours and bright hues,
In saying all one feels and thinks
In clever daffodils and pinks,
Uttering (as well as silence may,)
The sweetest words the sweetest way.
* * * * *
Yet, no--not words, for they
But half can tell love's feeling;
Sweet flowers alone can say
What passion fears revealing.
A once bright rose's withered leaf--
A towering lily broken--
Oh, these may paint a grief
No words could e'er have spoken.
* * * * *
By all those token flowers that tell
What words can ne'er express so well.
* * * * *
A mystic language, perfect in each part.
Made up of bright hued thoughts and perfumed speeches.
If we are to believe Shakespeare it is not human beings only who use a
Fairies use flowers for their charactery.
Sir Walter Scott tells us that:--
The myrtle bough bids lovers live--
A sprig of hawthorn has the same meaning as a sprig of myrtle: it gives
hope to the lover--the sweet heliotrope tells the depth of his
passion,--if he would charge his mistress with levity he presents the
larkspur,--and a leaf of nettle speaks her cruelty. Poor Ophelia (in
_Hamlet_) gives rosemary for remembrance, and pansies (_pensees_) for
thoughts. The laurel indicates victory in war or success with the Muses,
"The meed of mighty conquerors and poets sage."
The ivy wreathes the brows of criticism. The fresh vine-leaf cools the
hot forehead of the bacchanal. Bergamot and jessamine imply the
fragrance of friendship.
The Olive is the emblem of peace--the Laurel, of glory--the Rue, of
grace or purification (Ophelia's _Herb of Grace O'Sundays_)--the
Primrose, of the spring of human life--the Bud of the White Rose, of
Girl-hood,--the full blossom of the Red Rose, of consummate beauty--the
Daisy, of innocence,--the Butter-cup, of gold--the Houstania, of
content--the Heliotrope, of devotion in love--the Cross of Jerusalem, of
devotion in religion--the Forget-me-not, of fidelity--the Myrrh, of
gladness--the Yew, of sorrow--the Michaelmas Daisy, of cheerfulness in
age--the Chinese Chrysanthemum, of cheerfulness in adversity--the Yellow
Carnation, of disdain--the Sweet Violet, of modesty--the white
Chrysanthemum, of truth--the Sweet Sultan, of felicity--the Sensitive
Plant, of maiden shyness--the Yellow Day Lily, of coquetry--the
Snapdragon, of presumption--the Broom, of humility--the Amaryllis, of
pride--the Grass, of submission--the Fuschia, of taste--the Verbena, of
sensibility--the Nasturtium, of splendour--the Heath, of solitude--the
Blue Periwinkle, of early friendship--the Honey-suckle, of the bond of
love--the Trumpet Flower, of fame--the Amaranth, of immortality--the
Adonis, of sorrowful remembrance,--and the Poppy, of oblivion.
The Witch-hazel indicates a spell,--the Cape Jasmine says _I'm too
happy_--the Laurestine, _I die if I am neglected_--the American Cowslip,
_You are a divinity_--the Volkamenica Japonica, _May you be happy_--the
Rose-colored Chrysanthemum, _I love_,--and the Venus' Car, _Fly with
For the following illustrations of the language of flowers I am indebted
to a useful and well conducted little periodical published in London and
entitled the _Family Friend_;--the work is a great favorite with the
"Of the floral grammar, the first rule to be observed is, that the
pronoun _I_ or _me_ is expressed by inclining the symbol flower to the
_left_, and the pronoun _thou_ or _thee_ by inclining it to the _right_.
When, however, it is not a real flower offered, but a representation
upon paper, these positions must be reversed, so that the symbol leans
to the heart of the person whom it is to signify.
The second rule is, that the opposite of a particular sentiment
expressed by a flower presented upright is denoted when the symbol is
reversed; thus a rose-bud sent upright, with its thorns and leaves,
means, "_I fear, but I hope_." If the bud is returned upside down, it
means, "_You must neither hope nor fear_." Should the thorns, however,
be stripped off, the signification is, "_There is everything to hope_;"
but if stript of its leaves, "_There is everything to fear_." By this it
will be seen that the expression of almost all flowers may be varied by
a change in their positions, or an alteration of their state or
condition. For example, the marigold flower placed in the hand signifies
"_trouble of spirits_;" on the heart, "_trouble or love_;" on the bosom,
"_weariness_." The pansy held upright denotes "_heart's ease_;"
reversed, it speaks the contrary. When presented upright, it says,
"_Think of me_;" and when pendent, "_Forget me_." So, too, the
amaryllis, which is the emblem of pride, may be made to express, "_My
pride is humbled_," or, "_Your pride is checked_," by holding it
downwards, and to the right or left, as the sense requires. Then, again,
the wallflower, which is the emblem of fidelity in misfortune, if
presented with the stalk upward, would intimate that the person to whom
it was turned was unfaithful in the time of trouble.
The third rule has relation to the manner in which certain words may be
represented; as, for instance, the articles, by tendrils with single,
double, and treble branches, as under--
[Illustration of _The_, _An_ & _A_.]
The numbers are represented by leaflets running from one to eleven, as
[Illustration of '1', '2', '3', '4', '5', & '6'.]
From eleven to twenty, berries are added to the ten leaves thus--
[Illustration of '12' & '15'.]
From twenty to one hundred, compound leaves are added to the other ten
for the decimals, and berries stand for the odd numbers so--
[Illustration of '20', '34' & '56'.]
A hundred is represented by ten tens; and this may be increased by a
third leaflet and a branch of berries up to 999.
[Illustration of '100'.]
A thousand may be symbolized by a frond of fern, having ten or more
leaves, and to this a common leaflet may be added to increase the number
of thousands. In this way any given number may be represented in
foliage, such as the date of a year in which a birthday, or other event,
occurs, to which it is desirable to make allusion, in an emblematic
wreath or floral picture. Thus, if I presented my love with a mute yet
eloquent expression of good wishes on her eighteenth birthday, I should
probably do it in this wise:--Within an evergreen wreath (_lasting as my
affection_), consisting of ten leaflets and eight berries (_the age of
the beloved_), I would place a red rose bud (_pure and lovely_), or a
white lily (_pure and modest_), its spotless petals half concealing a
ripe strawberry (_perfect excellence_); and to this I might add a
blossom of the rose-scented geranium (_expressive of my preference_), a
peach blossom to say "_I am your captive_" fern for sincerity, and
perhaps bachelor's buttons for _hope in love_"--_Family Friend_.
There are many anecdotes and legends and classical fables to illustrate
the history of shrubs and flowers, and as they add something to the
peculiar interest with which we regard individual plants, they ought not
to be quite passed over by the writers upon Floriculture.
THE FLOS ADONIS.
The Flos Adonis, a blood-red flower of the Anemone tribe, is one of the
many plants which, according to ancient story sprang from the tears of
Venus and the blood of her coy favorite.
Rose cheeked Adonis hied him to the chase
Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn
Venus, the Goddess of Beauty, the mother of Love, the Queen of Laughter,
the Mistress of the Graces and the Pleasures, could make no impression
on the heart of the beautiful son of Myrrha, (who was changed into a
myrrh tree,) though the passion-stricken charmer looked and spake with
the lip and eye of the fairest of the immortals. Shakespeare, in his
poem of _Venus and Adonis_, has done justice to her burning eloquence,
and the lustre of her unequalled loveliness. She had most earnestly, and
with all a true lover's care entreated Adonis to avoid the dangers of
the chase, but he slighted all her warnings just as he had slighted her
affections. He was killed by a wild boar. Shakespeare makes Venus thus
lament over the beautiful dead body as it lay on the blood-stained
Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost!
What face remains alive that's worth the viewing?
Whose tongue is music now? What can'st thou boast
Of things long since, or any thing ensuing?
The flowers are sweet, their colors fresh and trim,
But true sweet beauty lived and died with him.
In her ecstacy of grief she prophecies that henceforth all sorts of
sorrows shall be attendants upon love,--and alas! she was too correct an
The course of true love never does run smooth.
Here is Shakespeare's version of the metamorphosis of Adonis into a
By this the boy that by her side lay killed
Was melted into vapour from her sight,
And in his blood that on the ground lay spilled,
A purple flower sprang up, checquered with white,
Resembling well his pale cheeks, and the blood
Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood.
She bows her head, the new sprung flower to smell,
Comparing it to her Adonis' breath,
And says, within her bosom it shall dwell
Since he himself is reft from her by death;
She crops the stalk, and in the branch appears
Green dropping sap which she compares to tears.
The reader may like to contrast this account of the change from human
into floral beauty with the version of the same story in Ovid as
translated by Eusden.
Then on the blood sweet nectar she bestows,
The scented blood in little bubbles rose;
Little as rainy drops, which fluttering fly,
Borne by the winds, along a lowering sky,
Short time ensued, till where the blood was shed,
A flower began to rear its purple head
Such, as on Punic apples is revealed
Or in the filmy rind but half concealed,
Still here the fate of lonely forms we see,
_So sudden fades the sweet Anemone_.
The feeble stems to stormy blasts a prey
Their sickly beauties droop, and pine away
The winds forbid the flowers to flourish long
Which owe to winds their names in Grecian song.
The concluding couplet alludes to the Grecian name of the flower
([Greek: anemos], _anemos_, the wind.)
It is said of the Anemone that it never opens its lips until Zephyr
kisses them. Sir William Jones alludes to its short-lived beauty.
Youth, like a thin anemone, displays
His silken leaf, and in a morn decays.
Horace Smith speaks of
The coy anemone that ne'er discloses
Her lips until they're blown on by the wind
Plants open out their leaves to breathe the air just as eagerly as they
throw down their roots to suck up the moisture of the earth. Dr. Linley,
indeed says, "they feed more by their leaves than their roots." I lately
met with a curious illustration of the fact that plants draw a larger
proportion of their nourishment from light and air than is commonly
supposed. I had a beautiful convolvulus growing upon a trellis work in
an upper verandah with a south-western aspect. The root of the plant was
in pots. The convolvulus growing too luxuriantly and encroaching too
much upon the space devoted to a creeper of another kind, I separated
its upper branches from the root and left them to die. The leaves began
to fade the second day and most of them were quite dead the third or
fourth day, but two or three of the smallest retained a sickly life for
some days more. The buds or rather chalices outlived the leaves. The
chalices continued to expand every morning, for--I am afraid to say how
long a time--it might seem perfectly incredible. The convolvulus is a
plant of a rather delicate character and I was perfectly astonished at
its tenacity of life in this case. I should mention that this happened
in the rainy season and that the upper part of the creeper was partially
protected from the sun.
The Anemone seems to have been a great favorite with Mrs. Hemans. She
thus addresses it.
Flower! The laurel still may shed
Brightness round the victor's head,
And the rose in beauty's hair
Still its festal glory wear;
And the willow-leaves droop o'er
Brows which love sustains no more
But by living rays refined,
Thou the trembler of the wind,
Thou, the spiritual flower
Sentient of each breeze and shower,
Thou, rejoicing in the skies
And transpierced with all their dyes;
Breathing-vase with light o'erflowing,
Gem-like to thy centre flowing,
Thou the Poet's type shall be
Flower of soul, Anemone!
The common anemone was known to the ancients but the finest kind was
introduced into France from the East Indies, by Monsieur Bachelier, an
eminent Florist. He seems to have been a person of a truly selfish
disposition, for he refused to share the possession of his floral
treasure with any of his countrymen. For ten years the new anemone from
the East was to be seen no where in Europe but in Monsieur Bachelier's
parterre. At last a counsellor of the French Parliament disgusted with
the florist's selfishness, artfully contrived when visiting the garden
to drop his robe upon the flower in such a manner as to sweep off some
of the seeds. The servant, who was in his master's secret, caught up the
robe and carried it away. The trick succeeded; and the counsellor shared
the spoils with all his friends through whose agency the plant was
multiplied in all parts of Europe.
The OLIVE is generally regarded as an emblem of peace, and should have
none but pleasant associations connected with it, but Ovid alludes to a
wild species of this tree into which a rude and licentious fellow was
converted as a punishment for "banishing the fair," with indecent words
and gestures. The poet tells us of a secluded grotto surrounded by
trembling reeds once frequented by the wood-nymphs of the sylvan race:--
Till Appulus with a dishonest air
And gross behaviour, banished thence the fair.
The bold buffoon, whene'er they tread the green,
Their motion mimics, but with jest obscene;
Loose language oft he utters; but ere long
A bark in filmy net-work binds his tongue;
Thus changed, a base wild olive he remains;
The shrub the coarseness of the clown retains.
The mural of this is excellent. The sentiment reminds me of the Earl of
Roscommon's well-known couplet in his _Essay on Translated Verse_, a
poem now rarely read.
Immodest words admit of no defense,
For want of decency is want of sense,
The HYACINTH has always been a great favorite with the poets, ancient
and modern. Homer mentions the Hyacinth as forming a portion of the
materials of the couch of Jove and Juno.
Thick new-born Violets a soft carpet spread,
And clustering Lotos swelled the rising bed,
And sudden _Hyacinths_ the turf bestrow,
And flaming Crocus made the mountains glow
_Iliad, Book 14_
Milton gives a similar couch to Adam and Eve.
Flowers were the couch
Pansies, and Violets, and Asphodel
And _Hyacinth_, earth's freshest, softest lap
With the exception of the lotus (so common in Hindustan,) all these
flowers, thus celebrated by the greatest of Grecian poets, and
represented as fit luxuries for the gods, are at the command of the
poorest peasant in England. The common Hyacinth is known to the
unlearned as the Harebell, so called from the bell shape of its flowers
and from its growing so abundantly in thickets frequented by hares.
Shakespeare, as we have seen, calls it the _Blue_-bell.
The curling flowers of the Hyacinth, have suggested to our poets the
idea of clusters of curling tresses of hair.
His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule, and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung,
The youths whose locks divinely spreading
Like vernal hyacinths in sullen hue
Sir William Jones describes--
The fragrant hyacinths of Azza's hair,
That wanton with the laughing summer air.
A similar allusion may also be found in prose.
"It was the exquisitely fair queen Helen, whose jacinth hair,
curled by nature, intercurled by art, like a brook through golden sands,
had a rope of fair pearl, which, now hidden by the hair, did, as it were
play at fast and loose each with the other, mutually giving and
receiving richness."--_Sir Philip Sidney_
"The ringlets so elegantly disposed round the fair countenances of these
fair Chiotes  are such as Milton describes by 'hyacinthine locks'
crisped and curled like the blossoms of that flower"
The old fable about Hyacinthus is soon told. Apollo loved the youth and
not only instructed him in literature and the arts, but shared in his
pastimes. The divine teacher was one day playing with his pupil at
quoits. Some say that Zephyr (Ovid says it was Boreas) jealous of the
god's influence over young Hyacinthus, wafted the ponderous iron ring
from its right course and caused it to pitch upon the poor boy's head.
He fell to the ground a bleeding corpse. Apollo bade the scarlet
hyacinth spring from the blood and impressed upon its leaves the words
_Ai Ai_, (_alas! alas!_) the Greek funeral lamentation. Milton alludes
to the flower in _Lycidas_,
Like to that sanguine flower inscribed with woe.
Drummond had before spoken of
That sweet flower that bears
In sanguine spots the tenor of our woes
Hurdis speaks of:
The melancholy Hyacinth, that weeps
All night, and never lifts an eye all day.
Ovid, after giving the old fable of Hyacinthus, tells us that "the time
shall come when a most valiant hero shall add his name to this flower."
"He alludes," says Mr. Riley, "to Ajax, from whose blood when he slew
himself, a similar flower was said to have arisen with the letters
_Ai Ai_ on its leaves, expressive either of grief or denoting the first
two letters of his name [Greek: Aias]."
As poets feigned from Ajax's streaming blood
Arose, with grief inscribed, a mournful flower.
Keats has the following allusion to the old story of Hyacinthus,
Or they might watch the quoit-pitchers, intent
On either side; pitying the sad death
Of Hyacinthus, when the cruel breath
Of Zephyr slew him,--Zephyr penitent,
Who now, ere Phoebus mounts the firmament
Fondles the flower amid the sobbing rain.
Our English Hyacinth, it is said, is not entitled to its legendary
honors. The words _Non Scriptus_ were applied to this plant by
Dodonaeus, because it had not the _Ai Ai_ upon its petals. Professor
Martyn says that the flower called _Lilium Martagon_ or the _Scarlet
Turk's Cap_ is the plant alluded to by the ancients.
Alphonse Karr, the eloquent French writer, whose "_Tour Round my
Garden_" I recommend to the perusal of all who can sympathize with
reflections and emotions suggested by natural objects, has the following
interesting anecdote illustrative of the force of a floral
"I had in a solitary corner of my garden _three hyacinths_ which my
father had planted and which death did not allow him to see bloom. Every
year the period of their flowering was for me a solemnity, a funeral and
religious festival, it was a melancholy remembrance which revived and
reblossomed every year and exhaled certain thoughts with its perfume.
The roots are dead now and nothing lives of this dear association but in
my own heart. But what a dear yet sad privilege man possesses above all
created beings, while thus enabled by memory and thought to follow those
whom he loved to the tomb and there shut up the living with the dead.
What a melancholy privilege, and yet is there one amongst us who would
lose it? Who is he who would willingly forget all"
Wordsworth, suddenly stopping before a little bunch of harebells, which
along with some parsley fern, grew out of a wall, he exclaimed, 'How
perfectly beautiful that is!
Would that the little flowers that grow could live
Conscious of half the pleasure that they give
The Hyacinth has been cultivated with great care and success in Holland,
where from two to three hundred pounds have been given for a single
bulb. A florist at Haarlem enumerates 800 kinds of double-flowered
Hyacinths, besides about 400 varieties of the single kind. It is said
that there are altogether upwards of 2000 varieties of the Hyacinth.
The English are particularly fond of the Hyacinth. It is a domestic
flower--a sort of parlour pet. When in "close city pent" they transfer
the bulbs to glass vases (Hyacinth glasses) filled with water, and place
them in their windows in the winter.
An annual solemnity, called Hyacinthia, was held in Laconia in honor of
Hyacinthus and Apollo. It lasted three days. So eagerly was this
festival honored, that the soldiers of Laconia even when they had taken
the field against an enemy would return home to celebrate it.
Foolish Narcisse, that likes the watery shore
With respect to the NARCISSUS, whose name in the floral vocabulary is
the synonyme of _egotism_, there is a story that must be familiar enough
to most of my readers. Narcissus was a beautiful youth. Teresias, the
Soothsayer, foretold that he should enjoy felicity until he beheld his
own face but that the first sight of that would be fatal to him. Every
kind of mirror was kept carefully out of his way. Echo was enamoured of
him, but he slighted her love, and she pined and withered away until she
had nothing left her but her voice, and even that could only repeat the
last syllables of other people's sentences. He at last saw his own image
reflected in a fountain, and taking it for that of another, he fell
passionately in love with it. He attempted to embrace it. On seeing the
fruitlessness of all his efforts, he killed himself in despair. When the
nymphs raised a funeral pile to burn his body, they found nothing but a
flower. That flower (into which he had been changed) still bears his
Here is a little passage about the fable, from the _Two Noble Kinsmen_
of Beaumont and Fletcher.
_Emilia_--This garden hath a world of pleasure in it,
What flower is this?
_Servant_--'Tis called Narcissus, Madam.
_Em._--That was a fair boy certain, but a fool
To love himself, were there not maids,
Or are they all hard hearted?
_Ser_--That could not be to one so fair.
Ben Jonson touches the true moral of the fable very forcibly.
'Tis now the known disease
That beauty hath, to hear too deep a sense
Of her own self conceived excellence
Oh! had'st thou known the worth of Heaven's rich gift,
Thou would'st have turned it to a truer use,
And not (with starved and covetous ignorance)
Pined in continual eyeing that bright gem
The glance whereof to others had been more
Than to thy famished mind the wide world's store.
Gay's version of the fable is as follows:
Here young Narcissus o'er the fountain stood
And viewed his image in the crystal flood
The crystal flood reflects his lovely charms
And the pleased image strives to meet his arms.
No nymph his inexperienced breast subdued,
Echo in vain the flying boy pursued
Himself alone, the foolish youth admires
And with fond look the smiling shade desires,
O'er the smooth lake with fruitless tears he grieves,
His spreading fingers shoot in verdant leaves,
Through his pale veins green sap now gently flows,
And in a short lived flower his beauty glows
Addison has given a full translation of the story of Narcissus from
Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book the third.
The common daffodil of our English fields is of the genus Narcissus.
"Pray," said some one to Pope, "what is this _Asphodel_ of Homer?" "Why,
I believe," said Pope "if one was to say the truth, 'twas nothing else
but that poor yellow flower that grows about our orchards, and, if so,
the verse might be thus translated in English
--The stern Achilles
Stalked through a mead of daffodillies"
Daphne was a beautiful nymph beloved by that very amorous gentleman,
Apollo. The love was not reciprocal. She endeavored to escape his
godship's importunities by flight. Apollo overtook her. She at that
instant solicited aid from heaven, and was at once turned into a laurel.
Apollo gathered a wreath from the tree and placing it on his own
immortal brows, decreed that from that hour the laurel should be sacred
to his divinity.
Who can unpitying see the flowery race
Shed by the morn then newflushed bloom resign,
Before the parching beam? So fade the fair,
When fever revels in their azure veins
But one, _the lofty follower of the sun_,
Sad when he sits shuts up her yellow leaves,
Drooping all night, and when he warm return,
Points her enamoured bosom to his ray
THE SUN-FLOWER (_Helianthus_) was once the fair nymph Clytia.
Broken-hearted at the falsehood of her lover, Apollo, (who has so many
similar sins to answer for) she pined away and died. When it was too late
Apollo's heart relented, and in honor of true affection he changed poor
Clytia into a _Sun-flower_. It is sometimes called _Tourne-sol_--a
word that signifies turning to the sun. Thomas Moore helps to keep the
old story in remembrance by the concluding couplet of one of his
Oh! the heart that has truly loved never forgets,
But as truly loves on to its close
As the sun flower turns on her god when he sets
The same look that she turned when he rose
But Moore has here poetized a vulgar error. Most plants naturally turn
towards the light, but the sun-flower (in spite of its name) is perhaps
less apt to turn itself towards Apollo than the majority of other
flowers for it has a stiff stem and a number of heavy heads. At all
events it does not change its attitude in the course of the day. The
flower-disk that faces the morning sun has it back to it in the evening.
Gerard calls the sun-flower "The Flower of the Sun or the Marigold of
Peru". Speaking of it in the year 1596 he tells us that he had some in
his own garden in Holborn that had grown to the height of fourteen feet.
The weed is green, when grey the wall,
And blossoms rise where turrets fall
Herrick gives us a pretty version of the story of the WALL-FLOWER,
(_cheiranthus cheiri_)("the yellow wall-flower stained with iron brown")
Why this flower is now called so
List sweet maids and you shall know
Understand this firstling was
Once a brisk and bonny lass
Kept as close as Danae was
Who a sprightly springal loved,
And to have it fully proved,
Up she got upon a wall
Tempting down to slide withal,
But the silken twist untied,
So she fell, and bruised and died
Love in pity of the deed
And her loving, luckless speed,
Turned her to the plant we call
Now, 'The Flower of the Wall'
The wall-flower is the emblem of fidelity in misfortune, because it
attaches itself to fallen towers and gives a grace to ruin. David Moir
(the Delta of _Blackwood's Magazine_) has a poem on this flower. I must
give one stanza of it.
In the season of the tulip cup
When blossoms clothe the trees,
How sweet to throw the lattice up
And scent thee on the breeze;
The butterfly is then abroad,
The bee is on the wing,
And on the hawthorn by the road
The linnets sit and sing.
Lord Bacon observes that wall-flowers are very delightful when set under
the parlour window or a lower chamber window. They are delightful, I
think, any where.
The Jessamine, with which the Queen of flowers,
To charm her god adorns his favorite bowers,
Which brides, by the plain hand of neatness dressed--
Unenvied rivals!--wear upon their breast;
Sweet as the incense of the morn, and chaste
As the pure zone which circles Dian's waist.
The elegant and fragrant JESSAMINE, or Jasmine, (_Jasmimum Officinale_)
with its "bright profusion of scattered stars," is said to have passed
from East to West. It was originally a native of Hindustan, but it is
now to be found in every clime, and is a favorite in all. There are
many varieties of it in Europe. In Italy it is woven into bridal wreaths
and is used on all festive occasions. There is a proverbial saying
there, that she who is worthy of being decorated with jessamine is rich
enough for any husband. Its first introduction into that sunny land is
thus told. A certain Duke of Tuscany, the first possessor of a plant of
this tribe, wished to preserve it as an unique, and forbade his gardener
to give away a single sprig of it. But the gardener was a more faithful
lover than servant and was more willing to please a young mistress than
an old master. He presented the young girl with a branch of jessamine on
her birth-day. She planted it in the ground; it took root, and grew and
blossomed. She multiplied the plant by cuttings, and by the sale of
these realized a little fortune, which her lover received as her
In England the bride wears a coronet of intermingled orange blossom and
jessamine. Orange flowers indicate chastity, and the jessamine, elegance
For here the rose expands
Her paradise of leaves.
The ROSE, (_Rosa_) the Queen of Flowers, was given by Cupid to
Harpocrates, the God of Silence, as a bribe, to prevent him from
betraying the amours of Venus. A rose suspended from the ceiling
intimates that all is strictly confidential that passes under it. Hence
the phrase--_under the Rose_.
The rose was raised by Flora from the remains of a favorite nymph. Venus
and the Graces assisted in the transformation of the nymph into a
flower. Bacchus supplied streams of nectar to its root, and Vertumnus
showered his choicest perfumes on its head.
The loves of the Nightingale and the Rose have been celebrated by the
Muses of many lands. An Eastern poet says "You may place a hundred
handfuls of fragrant herbs and flowers before the Nightingale; yet he
wishes not, in his constant heart, for more than the sweet breath of his
The Turks say that the rose owes its origin to a drop of perspiration
that fell from the person of their prophet Mahommed.
The classical legend runs that the rose was at first of a pure white,
but a rose-thorn piercing the foot of Venus when she was hastening to
protect Adonis from the rage of Mars, her blood dyed the flower. Spenser
alludes to this legend:
White as the native rose, before the change
Which Venus' blood did on her leaves impress.
Milton says that in Paradise were,
Flowers of all hue, and _without thorns the rose_.
According to Zoroaster there was no thorn on the rose until Ahriman (the
Evil One) entered the world.
Here is Dr. Hooker's account of the origin of the red rose.
To sinless Eve's admiring sight
The rose expanded snowy white,
When in the ecstacy of bliss
She gave the modest flower a kiss,
And instantaneous, lo! it drew
From her red lip its blushing hue;
While from her breath it sweetness found,
And spread new fragrance all around.
This reminds me of a passage in Mrs. Barrett Browning's _Drama of Exile_
in which she makes Eve say--
--For was I not
At that last sunset seen in Paradise,
When all the westering clouds flashed out in throngs
Of sudden angel-faces, face by face,