The rose, as is well known, is the emblem of love, on which account it was formerly woven into the bridal wreath (and not, as some grave philosopher suggests, in order to imitate the ordinary decorations of an animal when led to the Greek or Roman altar at which it was to be sacrificed), white roses being more especially chosen, because, like other white garments of the bride, they symbolised purity. But they had yet a deeper and a more beautiful signification even than that of love; for it was certainly intended that the sweetness which remains in their leaves,* when their beauty is dimmed by the touch of time, should convey a moral lesson of such force that we wish still to see every bride crowned with a chaplet of real roses.
Rose-wreaths were also worn at the feasts of the ancients; Lucan thus decorates the assemblage at the banquet of Cleopatra; -
"With wreaths of nard,† the guests their temples bind, And blooming roses of immortal kind".
The Corona sutilis of the Salii, was, in early times, made of various flowers sewed together, instead of being wreathed with their stalks and leaves, but afterwards the petals of roses only were used, and these were delicately and expertly stitched together, so as to form the most elegant, and shelllike, though of course, the most perishable wreaths.‡
Finally, the flower which had thus marked and graced the various epochs of life, was used to deck the tomb. So anxious were the Romans regarding this custom, that Pierius, in the fifty-fifth book of his Hieroglyphics, says they even provided for its observance in their wills. Propertius, and several Latin and Greek authors, mention this application of the flower, and Anacreon declares that the rose has power to protect the dead.
* The botanist must really, for once, forgive the application of the word leaf to the petals of the rose; as "rose-leaves" they are all over the world, and " rose-leaves " they must remain: for - with all due respect for what Schleiden so happily terms " the hay" of botany - I cannot possibly call them petals!
‡ Many wreaths found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians are made of leaves sewn together, with the xeranthe-mum flowers inserted into each stitch.
It has been a question whether the rose of Anacreon was the same as our own, and some have thought that the Island of Rhodes received its name, not from the rose but from the balaustium, or flower of the pomegranate. But the flower figured on the coins of Rhodes is evidently the former, with its glandular and hirsute calyx; and on some Greek vases of a still earlier time, with black figures on a light ground, women are represented smelling a red flower, with a similar three-cleft calyx, over which is written the name podov. This is also a rose, not a pomegranate flower, and the rose of Anacreon was evidently the same. I will not pause to inquire whether, in his statement respecting its protection of the dead, he refers, as some suppose, to any anti-evil spirit properties, or merely to its use in embalming; though the way in which Moore has rendered the lines, added to the knowledge which we possess of its being one of the substances employed in the art, renders the latter supposition the more probable; the passage, in Moore's version, stands thus:
"Preserves the cold inurned clay, And mocks the vestige of decay".
The custom of planting roses on graves was - in the days of Camden, and according to him, from "time out of mind" - observed at Ockley, in Surrey; more especially in cases where the deceased was a young man or woman whose lover had preceded him or her to the tomb. And the legacy of Edward Barnes, "citizen of London," who died in the year 1653, still sustains this pleasant custom in at least one place in the same county: for the good old man, desirous to keep his memory fragrant in some quiet country spot, left the sum of 201. to be laid out in the purchase of an acre of land for the poor of the village of Barnes, for ever, or at least for so long a time as they should keep rose-trees fresh and flourishing on his grave.
But the most touching instance of this application of the rose is yet to be seen* on the battle-field of Towton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where, on March 29, 1461, the armies of the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions met in deadly strife. It is well known that the white and the red rose were the respective badges of the opposing parties in those disastrous "wars of the roses," wars which certainly had more of the thorn than the flower in their character, and their consequences. On that field, where fellow-countrymen refused to each other all quarter, and where thirty-six thousand men fell by the hands of their brothers, the roses which were planted by the survivors on their sepulchral mounds still grow and bloom, breathing out, un-tended and unheeded, silent lessons never yet taught by the blazoned shields and marble trophies which mark the conqueror's tomb. We might almost fancy that the well-known " York and Lancaster" rose, the old fashioned rose of our childhood, whose red and white petals bear, peacefully commingled, the colours of the contending parties, might have sprung from this ungenial soil, and drawn its beauties from the field of civil fight to exhibit an undying reproof to ages yet unborn.
The jongleurs, however, of old days, make white and red roses spring up spontaneously all over the field of Roncevalles, from the blood of the martyred Roland and the "doux pairs".
* For this circumstance, as well as for the lines suggested by it, I am indebted to Miss Jane Williams, the author and editor of the "Life and Remains of the Rev. Thomas Price," etc. etc. (see the Appendix).
At any rate we may fancy this as readily as we listen to the pretty ancient tales of the origin of the two colours in the separate blossoms, to which I shall presently revert.