Welsh, Grug, Myncog. - Gaelic, Traoch. - French, Bruyere. - German, Heide. - Italian, Erica. - Spanish, Brezo. - Russian, Weresk. - Polish,Wryos. - Danish, Lyng. - Swedish, Liung.
We all know the heather-bells; we all know how the July's sun brings out the wide purply tracts which mingle with the golden gleam of the furze on our moorlands and mountain sides; we all know how well the Scotchman, and the bees, and the artists, and the children, and the wild grouse, and the child-hearted lover of nature, rejoice to see its bloom; we know the stern, yet poetic, associations which attach to it as the "Highland" emblem; and we know that in the old days when our Danish in-vaders held festival to commemorate their victories over us, they drank deep to our speedy annihilation in their much celebrated heather-ale; but very few of us know how it was that the secret of brewing this liquor perished, and was never imparted to Saxon or to Briton. For the solution of the mystery we must turn to the wild Celtic legends of Southern Scotland, as related by Mr. R. Chambers, in his "Picture of Scotland," or to those of the county Clare, for which we are indebted to a correspondent of "Notes and Queries;" remarking, however, in parenthesis, that though we may, as a matter of course, consider it proper to hold by whatever an old legend may "List to declare," yet that, in point of fact, the inhabitants of the Isle of Skye still do brew an ale of two parts of heather-tops to one part of malt.
But it may be that the malt is deemed so great an adulteration as to render the liquor unworthy of the name of heather-ale. To the uninvalidated legend, there-fore, we turn, and learn that "once upon a time," i. e., when the Danes were building the Castle of Ballyportree, in Western Clare, they compelled men from every part of the country to render them as-sistance, making them work without rest or re-freshment by day and by night; and that as each overtasked frame gave way, the body was thrown on the wall and built into the vast sepulchral edi-fice. The feelings with which the castle, as well as its after inhabitants were regarded, may be better imagined than described; and when the Danes were nearly expelled from the country, this castle, the last stronghold of which they retained possession, made so fierce a resistance against the natives, that when it at length surrendered, only three of the garrison were found alive; these were a father and two sons, the last of their countrymen then remaining in the island.
Their conquerors, with uplifted axe, proposed to spare their lives, and even to give them safe passage to their own land, if they would instruct them in the carefully guarded secret of brewing the heather-ale. For some time neither threat nor promise could avail, or extort the sacred mystery; after a time, however, the father con-sented, only demanding that his children should be put to death before he made it known, lest on reach-ing their native country they should betray what he had done, and so cause him to be deprived of life. Despising, perhaps, in their hearts his cowardice, the Irish chiefs obeyed his behest, and killed the two sons; upon which the father exclaimed, with triumph in his voice, "Fools! I saw that your threats and promises were beginning to influence my sons, for they were but boys, and might have yielded; but now our secret is safe, for neither can have effect on me!" In another moment this martyr of an insufficient cause was hewn in pieces, and thus it happened that the mystery remained un-revealed, though we must suppose it to be still lurking, in cherished secresy, in its native Denmark; lurking, perhaps, amidst the by-ways of that vast heath, or heather-tract, which forms an object of so much interest in the study of the distribution of plants; stretching with greater or less interruptions, from the extreme point of Jutland down to latitude 52° on the south, and westward to the ocean, and and eastward over a great part of Northern Ger-many. The tale of the surviving son has, in reality, a Scandinavian origin, being thus given in the "Edda." Atli, the husband of Gudrum, endeavours to make Gumar, her brother, tell where his great treasure, Vasupati, is buried.
This he refuses to do unless he sees the heart of his brother Hogni, who shared the secret with him. At first Atli hesitates to commit this murder, and brings the heart of another victim to Gumar, who, however, knows his brother's heart so well that, even in death, he perceives by its quiverings that this is not his. Ava-rice now overcomes the tyrant's more merciful feel-ings. He slays Hogni, and brings his heart to his brother; who then, triumphantly exclaims that he alone knows where the treasure lies hid, and that he will never satisfy Atli in his inquiries; after which he quietly submits to his impending death by vipers.
Altogether the geography of the heath is one of peculiar interest, and may be selected as presenting to the student the second most signal example of longitudinal distribution with which we are at pre-sent acquainted; the first being the cactus tribe. The latter pertains exclusively to the New World; and the heath to the Old, where it extends, with various interruptions (occasioned by excessive heat and other climatal causes), yet with remarkable con-tinuity from Norway to the Cape of Good Hope, which seems a sort of head-quarters of the tribe, and from whence we have received nearly four hundred species, now in cultivation in this country; the whole of which were introduced, and, in fact, discovered, subsequently to the claim made on Cape Colony by the British Government in the year 1795. In the New World, as has been said, not a single heath has been met with; though Ericaceous plants abound, and though, in Brazil, the cuphea covers large tracts of land with its brilliant blossoms, as if in emulation of our heaths.