Welsh, Clychau maban, Cenhinen pedr, Croes aw gwanwyn. - French, Asphodele, Pauvre fille de Sainte Claire, Narcisse sauvage, Campane jaune, (aian, aioult?) - German, Grune Dame. - Italian, Arfodillo, Fiore di Santa Caterina, Trombone giallo, Tazzetta - Arabic, Nargis.
There is often a grace in the local names of plants. The foxglove, in Cornwall, is the "fairy's cap;" the snowdrop in the southern counties is the "fair maid of February;" and the Welsh peasant calls the daffodil, Clychau maban, babies' bells, or Croes aw gwanwyn, welcome spring; while the German familiarly impersonates it as the grune Dame, as in the Servian ballad; -
"Wuchsen Blumen im Melongarten, Blauer Hiacynth nnd grune Dame".
Which recals the old English nursery rhyme; -
"Daffy down dill, is come to town With a yellow petticoat and a green gown".
The French give it the name of Pauvre fille de Sainte Claire; and the Italians call it the Fiore di Santa Caterina; so welcome to all is this flower of the spring. For, in the words of Shakespeare, -
"When daffodils begin to peer With heigh! the doxy* over the dale - Why then comes in the sweet of the year".
"And when the month of Maie, Is comin, and I here the foulis sing, And that the flouris ginnin for to spring,"† it is time as Coleridge says, to "Leave the hearth, and leave the house To the cricket and the mouse. Find gran'am out a sunny seat, With babe and lambkin at her feet; Not a soul at home must stay!"
For " All nature seems at work, slugs leave their lair - The bees are stirring - birds are on the wing - And winter, slumbering in the open air Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring!"
In Cornwall the daffodils are still called "Lent lilies," and doubtless are the flowers to which this old English name properly belongs, though now generally applied to various lilies.
The botanical name Narcissus having been given to the daffodil, has confounded it with the Greek Narcissus, which was the other allied plant ‡ known in English by that name, and was so called from the word vapkn, stupor, on account of the overpowering effect produced by the smell of that flower, a quality from which the daffodil is perfectly free. The narcissus was, therefore, consecrated to the furies, who were fabled to stupefy their victims by its means before attacking them; hence Sopho-cles calls them "garlands of the infernal gods."* Perhaps, on this account the asphodels, which Pro-serpine is represented as gathering when she was seized by Pluto, were really the narcissus (the Jeanette de Contois of the French). The Chinese, however, regard the narcissus very differently, de-corating the shrines of their household gods with it, and placing large china dishes of its blossoms before them on the first day of the new year; for which purpose the roots are planted in pots filled with pebbles and water, just in time to cause them to blow for this festival.
* The glory. † Chaucer.
‡ The N. poeticus, or others.
In modern mythology, the common daffodil is sacred to St. Perpetua; the pretty little hoop-petticoat daffodil to St. Catherine, and the nar-cissus nutans to St. Julian.
The name of daffodil, which Skinner and others derive from the family resemblance of the plant to the asphodels, is simply the old English word affo-dyle, which signified "that which cometh early," and it was long before the word was corrupted into our present daffodil.
* It seems almost superfluous to remind the reader of the fable of the youth Narcissus, who falling in love with his own image in the water, pined away until he was changed into the pale flower which now bears his name; -
"And on a bank a lonely flower he spied, A meek, and forlorn flower, with nought of pride, Drooping its beauty o'er the water's clearness, To woo its own sad image into nearness, Deaf to light Zephyrus it would not move; But still would seem to droop, to pine, to love".
"Affodylle, a precious gres [herb] His noth red in Englysch (?) Sume seyn yer arn lekys [leeks} fywe [five] But ye beste yet is on lywe [alive] Garlec ye ton, lec ye toyer [garlic the one, leek the other] Squirle [squill] is ye great broyer [the great brother] Gracia Dei yt growyth in mede Affodylle ye fyfte schrede; In Februarie he gynyth to springe, In May he gynnyth down to hinge Fyrst in piscibus his sprynginge is, Be sone in cancer awey I wys; In March and Aprile wyll he flowre, Now so fayre herbe to him is i colour, Ye floure is yewl [yellow] wol tytyl whyth, I knowe no flowre lyke to it,
Ye stalke is fote and quatir longe [a foot and a quarter] Ye lef is of ye same wange [measure], On ye stalke are leuys [leaves] non, But stalke and leuys all of one heythe, Ny as it were of on heyte whyte, Ye tast is sumdell also eke Yow it lytyll be as of lek [the taste is some deal also, though it little be, as of a leek] He beryth a knop (bud, still used) wt. many sedys Blae polyssyd as greet it is; Yis erbe in a clene cloth wt. his rote Ageyn ye fallende euyl it is bote, Affodyll in clene cloth kepte yus [thus] Schall suffryn no fend [fiend] in yt house And yu bere it on ye day et nyth Ye fend [fiend] of you schall have no myth Nor dred of man shall hy non dere Ye man yt on myth on hy it bere, And good it is to bere on myth Toman yt goth in fray et fyth [that goeth in fray and fight] Zif it be stampid et leyd to wonde Ye powdyr on ded flesche [proud flesh] who so leye Anon it sleth [slayeth] it as men seye."*
The root of the daffodil, and, perhaps, also to some extent, the whole plant, is poisonous, yet a useful spirit is distilled from it; and so lately as in the year 1855, a decree was published in the Moniteur, whereby alcohols distilled in Algeria from the daffodil are ordered to be admitted duty free into France. A distillation of the daffodil has also been beneficially used as an embrocation in dropsy and palsy.
The daffodil (N. pseudo-narcissus), is rare in Scotland and also in Ireland, but in parts of this island, more especially in the south-west, it covers acres of land; and in some districts its bright yel-low flowers assume a delicate lemon, or cream-like, hue, which is very elegant. The remaining nar-cissus of Britain are the N. poeticus, which, doubt-less, is the true scented narcissus of the Greeks; and the pale, or biflorus narcissus, which occurs in several of our southern counties, but it seems very doubtful whether these last two are not always outcasts from gardens or orchards, though they pro-bably took root at some remote period.
* "Stockholm MS." See page 88.