Welsh, Glych Enid. - French, Muguet, Gros muguet, Muguet de Mai, Lis des Vallees. - Italian, Mughetto, Giglio dei convalli, Scala cielo. - German, Maiblume, Mai glocken.
William Coles, the old herbalist, who wrote "Adam and Eve, or the Paradise of Plants," enlarges on the celebrated "Doctrine of Signatures," in which our ingenious forefathers took such delight: and appropriates "to every part of the body (from the crowne of the head, with which I begin, and proceed till I come to the sole of the foot), such herbs and plants, whose grand uses and virtues do most specifycally, and by signature, thereunto belong, not only for strengthening the same, but also for curing the evil effects whereunto they are subjected." The signatures being, as it were, books out of which men first learned their virtues; nature having stamped on "divers of them, legible characters to discover their uses," though others have been left without auy; that after "she had shewed them the way, they, by their labour and industry, which renders everything more acceptable, might find out the rest. ... So too, the piony, being not yet blown, was thought to have some signature and proportion with the head of man, having sutures and little veins dispersed up and down, like unto those which environ the brain; when the flowers blow they open an outward little skin representing the skull:" - an appearance, which, according to Coles, indicates the plant as a cure for the "falling sickness," He adds that, amongst other things, thistles and holly-leaves, signify by their prickles, that they were excellent for pleurisies and stitches in the side; and that it has been "found experimentally," that all bark, roots, and flowers, which are yellow, cure the yellow jaundice.
And lilies of the valley, by their same signatures, were assumed to be specific in apoplexy, for, he says, "as that disease is caused by the dropping of humours into the principle ventricles of the brain, so the flowers of this lily, hanging on the plants as if they were drops, are of wonderful use herein!" At the present day, however, these beautiful blossoms, which he so happily compares to drops hanging on the plant, are little used in medicine, though occasionally dried and powdered, in order to excite sneezing; and an extract is made by distillation, which is bitter and very purgative, resembling aloes in its qualities. This was the celebrated Aqua aurea, which was anciently held in such high repute, as a preventative of infection from plague. It is esteemed, though apparently without good reason, in nervous disorders, being for this purpose, made into a conserve. The roots of its sister-plant, the Solomon's seal (C. polygonatum, verticillata, and multi-flora), is useful when applied to bruises, being, according to Gerarde, to be "stamped while it is greene," when it will take away, he tells us, "in one night, or two at most, any bruse, blacke or blewe spotts, gotten by falls, or woman's wilfulnesse in stumbling on their hastie husbandes fists, or such like!" A conserve is also made by beating up these roots with sugar; which is astringent and efficacious in cases of spitting of blood.
These roots when macerated, yield a farinaceous substance which has, in times of scarcity, been made into an excellent bread; the Turks boil the young shoots in spring, as we do asparagus; and the leaves of the tribe, infused with lime, give a green dye almost as beautiful as the tender hue of their own semi-transparent leaves.
Gerarde thus descants on their virtues: "Galen says neither herb nor root is to be given inwardly, but note what experience hath found out, and of late daies, especially among the vulgar sort of people in Hampshire . . . that if any sex or age soever chance to have any bones broken, in what part of their bodies soever, their refuge is to stamp the roots hereof and give it to the patient . . . . it sodoreth and glues together the bones in a very short space, and.......common experience teacheth that in the world there is not another herb comparable to it for the purpose aforesaid." And to this he attributes the name of Solomon's seal as "knitting together, soddering, or sealing of broken bones, etc." But it is more generally referred, in our rustic districts, to a confused pattern, which is formed by the arrangement of the root-fibres, and is seen on cutting the root across, and which imagination has tortured into a semblance of Hebrew characters such as might have been borne by King Solomon on his seal.
The provincial name of David's harp appears to have arisen from the exact similarity of the outline of the bended stalk, with its pendant, bell-like, blossoms, to the drawings of monkish times, in which King David is represented as seated before an instrument shaped like the half of a pointed arch, from which are suspended metal bells, which he strikes with two hammers. This representation is employed either under the strange supposition that bells were invented at an earlier date than the stringed instruments which we know as harps; or, more probably because these holy monks considered an instrument, so commonly heard as the harp in profane feasts and other merry-makings, too sublunary for "the sweet psalmist of Israel," and out of reverence assigned to him the use of the bells which they themselves held so holy, and employed to scare away "thunder, lightning, and other heretics." It is much to be regretted that in the present more enlightened age children should be taught, and more especially in the schools for the poorer classes, that such was the case, and edified by pictures of King David engaged in playing on his bell instrument.
The thing is in itself perfectly immaterial; but every untrue teaching, however apparently trivial, becomes of importance when in any way connected with the subject of religion; and we must remember that the scoffer is often furnished with matter for his unseemly mirth - the doubter oftener sunk into the hopelessness of that despair which dares not press forward because on all sides the ground appears to sink from beneath his feet - by the errors of those who in feeling, though not in judgment, are the real friends of Christianity, but who are, unhappily, so little imbued with the purity of its spirit as to fear to let the truth shine in on that which is all pure, all holy, all fit to bear its most searching light.
Lily of the Valley. - Convallaria majalis.
The pretty names of "Ladder to Heaven," "Jacob's ladder," and "scala cielo," are variously attributed to the emblematic meaning given to it in the middle ages, when this plant, as the "flower of humility," was so termed; or, from the resemblance to a ladder scaled by angels, which imagination may discern in the outline of the common Solomon's seal (C. multiflora, or vulgaris), to which, more properly, the name belongs. For if we hold it above the level of our eyes, and so look up to the back, or under part, of the stalk, we may easily picture to ourselves the slender and ethereal-looking blossoms to be miniature angels in long white robes, bordered with delicate broidery of green, ascending and descending in pairs, by the celestial ladder.
The Welsh name, Clych enid, signifies literally, bell of the woodlark, but it appears to bear reference to the old and popular story of "Geiraint, the son of Erbin," the heroine of which - the national type of true-hearted and womanly gentleness - bears the name of Enid, a name justly transferred from her to the flower of patience and humility.*
Of our four British species of Convallaria, the best known is that of which the poet says:-
* A living poet is said to be employed in preparing for publication a metrical version of this beautiful tale. By thus producing it in an inexpensive form he will do good service; but those who desire to see the tale in the exquisite simplicity of its epic prose may be referred to the "Mabinogion," as translated by Lady Charlotte Guest.
"No flower 'mid the garden fairer grows Than the sweet lily of the lowly vale, The queen of flowers."*
It is the common lily of the valley; the very gem of English flowers, which once grew in such abundance on Hampstead Heath, and which still blossoms alike in our sunny, and in our shady, woods, as well as in our gardens, and our winter forcing-houses.
Very beautiful, also, are the Solomon's seals (Con-vallaria verticillata, multiflora, and polygonatum), from the grand play of light and shade thrown on the varied and effective curve which outlines their delicate green leaves.
The first-named of these, the narrow-leaved Solomon's seal, is very rare in Britain, occurring only in certain districts of Scotland; the second, or common Solomon's seal, is so frequent in our shrubberies and coppices as to render any description of it needless; and the third, the angular Solomon's seal, is, like the first, a rare plant, found only in Yorkshire, Kent, and Somersetshire. It has green flowers, and is smaller in all its parts than the C. multiflora, from which it is readily distinguished by the fragrance of its blossom.