So complete is the catalogue of its medicinal virtues, given in the "Stockholm MS.," that I will present it nearly at length, as it may probably be new to some of my readers. The following passage, which I select, may be strongly recommended to persons of studious habits.
"A playster of betonye I ye seye Is good, on ye thonwongys [temples] for to leye It abriggyth heed werke, And zeweth brythnesse to syth derke!" [dark sight?]
But to return to the text;
"At betonye I wille begyne Yt. many vertewys hath hy wt. ine [with wine] Betonye sothy yese lechys [say these leeches] bedene Yat kepyth manys body clene. * * * *
Betonye boyled et dronkyn wt. honey,
Is good ageyn ye dropesy.
And a playster of betonye,
Is good to leyn to syth of eyne [sight of eyes],
Tows of betonye, with eurose [euphrosyne] clere,
Counfortyth [comforteth] ye herynge of ye ere [ear],
Powdyr of betonye eke is good,
Medelyd [mingled?] wt. hony for wyolent blood,
Ageyn ye nost [cough] wt. owte lae,
Yat counfortyth ye brest wt. ye stak [stitch?],
Ye lewys of betonye wt. salt made nesche,
Is good for woundys in the heed fresch;
Betonye also drounken et etyn,
Terys [tears] of eyne it wyll letyn [let, stop].
Betonye sothyn, ye soth to sayn [seethed, sooth to say],
Is good for ye bolnynge [boiling inflammation] of the eyn,
In lucure yt. whych wy [wise] men calley [call],
Whane ye eyne arn blod fallyn.
Betonye wt. rewe [rue] sothy et dyth,
For doth i nurked of manys syth;
Betonye sothy in reed wyn clene.
Purgyth ye stomak et ye spleen.
Iiij lewys of betonye fyn,
And iij cupful of elder wy [wine],
And greynes of pepir xx et vij,
Alle to geddere groundg ewene [evenly ground],
And mad a drynke yer of clenlyke [cleanly?],
Yt. purgyth ye neris mythylyke [nerves mightily]
Betonye & plantain to gedere yn take,
And wt. hoot water to gedere yn make,
As seyth Macer opynlyke [openly],
Yt covereth ye cotidyan [? quartan ague] mythilycke.
If yn of vomites wylt have bote,
Make a powdyr of betonye rote,
And drink it wyth water clene.
It distroith ye fe all be dene.
Iiij lewes of betonye drounken wt. hoth wyn,
Purgyth ye rewme weell et fyn;
Ye seede of betonye in tyme
Is mythy drynke ageyn all venyme.
* * * *
Whoso take abene weyte [a bean's weight]
Of powdyr of betonye wt. hony weell dyth,
And ete it sone after hys sopere ryf,
It counfortyth ye stomack et mythys [mightily] digestif.
* * * *
Yorow [through] all yis woorld here on gronde Beter erbys may non be fonde Yane betonye, et myte [mighty] for ye stomack And eke for peyne et werke in ye bak;
* * * *
And zif it befalle to old or zing [young]
Newly to lesyn [lose] here hering,
Tows of betonye in hys ere de leyen [left (delayed)]
And it bringyth ye herynge ageyn;
Zif on have ye toth ake,
Betoyn sothy et wy he take [betony seethed and wine]
And kepe it in hys mowth at ewyn et morise [evening and morning, mom rise] And it schall drywy [drive] awaye ye sorrowe.
* * * *
For alle sekenesse in every stoude Betonye is good wyhl is may fonde [found] What manner hurt yt neddrys [adders] have And he mowe [must?] betonye crawe [crave] He schall hy striky yer on anon [thereon anon] And all his wo schall fro hy gon,
Yat have I seyn wt. eye [seen with my eyes] Betonye is ye erbis name, And Vetonye ike i same. For dropesey, gode medycyne,
Anoyer medycyne I fynde wrete also,
Yat to ye cold dropesye is gode to doo,
Alisandir, betonye, et feukele, de take,
Wt. anence [?annise] zewerne porcyon [7 portion] late make,
Et in a lynen cloth these gresys [plants] betake,
It must be sothyn [seethed] in good olde ale,
And late [let] hym drynkyn dayes sewene [seven],
Euerike [every] day aporcion zewene:"
Another, and even more curious, medical manuscript than that already quoted, is the "Meddygon myddvai," or surgeons of Myddvai, which thus prescribes the use of betony in diseases of the dura mater. The bones of the head are first to be removed in such a manner as to expose the suffering brain; to which is to be applied an ointment composed of two parts of betony, and one part of violets, with salt butter; and this application is to be continued - if the injury be of long-standing - for nine days; or, in more recent complaints, for a very short time. At the termination of the period enjoined the already loosened bone is to be removed, and a salve applied of fresh butter and violets; or, if violets are not in season, the white of an egg; the composition is then to be left on until a membrane has grown over the brain. For this operation, performed by the physician "in his mercy" [yn y hvnnvo] he is to receive a fee of thirty shillings,* or of fifteen shillings and his food.
* So the expression "punt a hanner" a pound and a-half, is port themselves on its silent shores. Attracted, as well as astonished, by the sight, the farmer endeavoured to catch the enchantresses, who, however, instantly disappeared beneath the waters, singing as they sank, the words:-
This rare manuscript, copies of which are to be found in the library of the Welsh school in Gray's-Inn-Lane, in the Llyfyr coch o' Hengest, and, I believe, in one or two other collections, and to which is attributed, from the style of its orthography, a date of about the commencement of the fourteenth century was - as we are informed by its compilers - written to set forth the best and the principal things in the art of healing with respect to the human body [y dangoset y medeginaethau gorau ae yn benaf or yssyd wrth gorf dyn], and of it, moreover, we are told, that those things were commanded to be written, lest there should be none possessed of so much knowledge as they* were found to have [Sef achafs y peris ef eu hys-criuenu rac na bei afypei gystal ac a fydgn wy.] In common with many of the earlier medical treatises this manuscript, or rather the prototype on which it must evidently have been founded, † has a fabulous origin attached to it, the legend of which runs thus:-
"Once upon a time there lived a farmer in a house called Esgair Llaethdy (which was situated in the parish of Myddvai, in the Black Mountains of Caermarthenshire), who went one day to feed .his lambs near the margin of the dark Llyn Fan Fach. Presently he was surprised to see three beautiful females issue from the depths of the lake, and disrendered by Mr. Lewis Morris, in the "Cambrian Register" for 1796, but I question whether it may not rather be referred to a pound weight of silver.
* The surgeons of Myddvai.
† The original is stated to have been written a.d. 1230.
"Cras dy fara, Anhawdd ein dala;" that is, "eater of hard-baked bread, it is difficult for thee to catch us," Baffled in his attempt, and unable to solve the meaning of the words, the "eater of hard-baked bread" determined to return to the Llyn on the following day, in the hope of obtaining the object of his wishes. While gazing on the dark waters, he observed a soft and dough-like substance floating on their surface; and instinctively tasting a portion which was cast on shore, he was instantly rejoiced by the re-appearance of the water-nymphs, who no longer retained the power of escaping from one who had eaten of their own magical bread. The farmer seized the most beautiful of the three, who immediately calling from the waters a bull, two oxen, and seven cows, followed her captor to his home, telling him that she would be a true and dutiful wife to him until such time as he should strike her three times, "without a cause."' Happy in the society of his docile, beautiful, and richly-dowered wife, and rejoicing in the birth of three fair sons, there appeared to be no risk of the master of Esgair Llaethdy breaking the spell which alone secured to him his present happiness; but, alas! for human forgetfulness, the luckless husband one day having sent his wife to the field to catch his horse, struck her playfully on the arm three times with the bridle, as he exclaimed, 'dos, dos, das' (go, go, go). Gazing for a moment with yearning sorrow on the husband and the children she loved with all the strength of human love, the naiad obeyed her spirit-doom, and without speaking, signalled to the animals which had accompanied her to follow her once more to the lake; and with the whole of them, she disappeared beneath the waters,* from whence she has only once more emerged.
This occurred when her sons had attained to the age of manhood. The mountain gorge † is still reverentially regarded where she met them, and gave them a bag, telling them that by its contents they might benefit their fellow-creatures so long as the world existed. This bag was, on examination, found to contain the prescriptions which compose the book of the Meddygon Myddvai; and the neighbouring peasants still point - in confirmation of the tale - to a remarkable furrow-like indentation which runs along the side of the mountain, till it terminates abruptly in the still more remarkable Llyn; and which tradition asserts to have been caused by the plough with which the two water-oxen were ploughing in the field when their mistress signalled them away, and which they carried with them.
* Though the story of the nymph of the Llyn Fan Fach bears but little resemblance to that of the German Undine, we cannot but be struck with the similar manner in which these two tales blend together the doomed and mystical spirit-nature and the new-born sympathies of human love.
† That of Cwm Myddvai.
So runs the fable; while for the fact, I can only-say that a family, who acknowledged no name or title but that of the Meddygon Myddvai, still exists, or very recently existed amongst the peculiar people inhabiting this mountain district, and that on the strength of their ancestral fame, and the possession of a copy of the celebrated manuscript they were actually the hereditary, though not legally, qualified practitioners, to whose sagacity difficult cases from all parts of the county were submitted. Mr. Lewis Morris, writing in the year 1796, states that the then possessor of these traditionary honours had so little inclination for the practice that he had wholly abandoned it; but it seems that his successor viewed the matter in a different light, as I can recollect being told by an old servant of several amongst her acquaintances who had sought the advice of the Meddygon Myddvai; though with what success I know not. It is far from surprising. that success in the art of healing should, in early ages, have been regarded as springing from a more than human power. Most countries attach some such superstitions to their earlier medical experience.
We may instance the Irish legend of Murogh O'Ley, who so lately as in the year 1668 was carried off to the mystical Isle of O'Brazil, or Begara, which only rises above the waves once in seven years, and then only appears to the inhabitants of the South Arran Isles; and of which Martin says, "whether it be reall and firm land, kept hidden by the special ordinance of God, as the terrestrial paradise, or else some illusion of airy clouds appearing on the surface of the sea, or craft of evil spirits, is more than our judgment can sound." He was presented there with a book which enabled him to "practice physic and chirurgery, though he never studied or practised either all his life-time before;" but it is to be remarked that his ancestors were hereditary physicians. The book - supernatural or not - still exists in the library of the Irish Royal Academy, and I regret having had no opportunity of examining it. And so:-
"With betonye ende I, And begyne with centorie.*
* See the "Stockholm MS".