The question is one, which, of course, can never be satisfactorily settled, neither is it of importance; yet it should be remembered that there exists a singular, yet constantly acting, dispersional law, by which, as has been already hinted, certain plants seem spontaneously to follow man from their native spots, to such distant lands as he may make his home. Thus the thorn-apple (Datura Stramonium) has tracked the gypsies out of Asia into all parts of Europe. The middle-age incursions of those wild hordes which advanced from Asia into Central Europe, were marked by the more permanent migration of the Tartar kale (Crambe tartarica). The keenly ob-servant North American Indian, terms our common road-weed (Plantago major) "the footstep of the white," so distinctively does it mark his path in the new world. I might adduce numberless instances of a similar nature, but it is sufficient here to remark that the plants most certainly following the Eu-ropean, are the nettle and the goosefoot (Chenopo-dium).* May we not therefore reasonably allow that the nettle in question might possibly migrate to Britain with the Romans, even though we reject the traditional record of the motive for its introduction?
* Display of Heraldie.
* See Schleiden "The Plant".
The remaining British species are the great, or common nettle (U. dioica), which is too well known to need a description, and the small nettle (U. urens), which is almost as frequent, and which may be dis-tinguished, not only by its diminutive growth, but also by the greater simplicity of the flower racemes; which in the common nettle are much branched; and, lastly, by the firmer and less flaccid appearance of its whole texture. The sting is much more severe than that of the common nettle; but I scarcely suppose the reader to be so zealous in his botanical pursuits as to attempt to identify either plant by this test. I simply mention the fact; con-cluding that he will, probably, take it on trust, and shall, therefore, merely append the very character-istic remark on nettles made by that quaint old herbalist, Culpepper, who assures us that it is their peculiarity, that they "may be found by feeling on the darkest night".
The fourth species, which is given as British by the "Edinburgh Catalogue," is the U. Dodartii, or Dodart's nettle, which is a native of the south of Europe.
Before quitting the subject of the nettle-sting, I cannot avoid mentioning that, in common with many other evils, it has a remedy within itself. Its own juice instantly allays the irritation. And we rarely see a bed of nettles growing without some neighbouring dock-plants (Rumex), which, as every little child knows, are a speedy anti-dote to the poison, as is recorded in the old charm with which peasant children accompany its application; and, as they believe, increase its virtues:-
"Nettle in, dock out, Dock in, nettle out, Nettle in, dock out, Dock rub nettle out:" or, as the children in Wiltshire word it,
"Out 'ettle, In dock; Dock shall ha' a new smock, Ettle shant Ha' narrun:"
- a familiar charm; the antiquity of which is shewn by its employment in old English writings to express instability of action; thus, Chaucer says:-
"But canst thou playen racket to and fro, Nettle in, dock out, now this, now that, Pindare?"
Trolius and Creside.
And again, " I have not plaid raket, nettle in, dock out And with the weather-cocke waned".
Testament of Love.
Bishop Andrews, also, in his sermon "Of the Resurrection," says, "Off and on, fast or loose, in docke out nettle, and in nettle out docke," etc.;* while Middleton, in his "More Dissemblers besides Women," has the passage:-
"Is this my in dock, out nettle?"
The poor nettle has, I fear, been but disrespectfully treated by poets in all ages, who seem to feel gratified when they have called it by a few hard names, or made a few ungoodly comparisons respect-ing it; yet, if it boast no great outward beauty of its own, it, at least, gladdens our eyes with the bright and beautiful butterflies and other gorgeous insects to which it affords shelter and nourishment. For entomologists tell us, that in Britain alone, up-wards of thirty species of insects are nurtured solely by the nettle-plant. Amongst these are our most beautiful butterflies, namely, the brilliant Red Ad-miral (Vanessa Atalanta); the Peacock butterfly (V. Io.); the familiar, but not less attractive, Tor-toiseshell butterfly (V. urticce), and the Nymphalis gemmatus, which is so pre-eminent for the gorge-ously gemmed feathers which adorn its wings.
* See "Notesand Queries;" "Athenaeum," etc.
Shakespeare makes the nettle one of the plants wreathed by the hapless Ophelia into her death-garlands:-
"Corn-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples.*"
And he records an old superstition while he makes the significant moral reflection:-
"The strawberry grows underneath the nettle, And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best Neighboured by fruit of sadder quality".
Such of our readers as may have been in the habit of weeding their own strawberry-beds will, we think, vouch for the accuracy with which this wondrous student of Nature noticed even so mere a trifle as the very frequent occurrence of the nettle plant wherever strawberries grow in any quantity.
I have already said that the nettle is an object of exquisite microscopic beauty, alluding more espe-cially to the dense, fine hairs with which it is clothed, and which will most amply repay minute investiga-tion. They are the myriad stings, which in their mechanism closely resemble the poisoned tooth of the serpent. This examination is not one which can be made by proxy, and, therefore, in lieu of describ-ing its objects, I earnestly recommend the student of God's works to make it for himself; assuring him that neither this, nor any other amongst them, can be productive of disappointment to him who inves-tigates them in humility and the love of his Crea-tor. And thus I leave him, deeming that the very nature of his pursuits will be his best preservative from the hapless doom of those whom Waller sings:-
"Some so like thorns and nettles live That none for them can, when they perish, grieve".