The name of fluellen, by which English writers not unfrequently designate the speedwell, is a corruption of the Welsh, Llys Llewelyn, the herb of Llewelyn; or, more properly, an attempt to assimilate to English pronunciation the peculiar sound of the Cymric Ll, and which is certainly a more felicitous imitation than the more modern custom of substituting for it the sound of Th.* The name of Rhwyddlwyn, signifying the plant of prosperity, or success, is probably similar to that of the English speedwell; and we find an analogous idea expressed by the poet Ruckert:
"Ist eine Pflanze, die tragt Ehr' An jedem Reis;" though it may, perhaps, point to the manifold remedial powers which have been attributed to the whole of the veronicas, and more especially to the bright little germander-speedwell (V. chamcedrys), which, according to Gerarde, is a specific in all wounds and eruptions, including the small-pox and measles; in which, he tells us, it acts as a "purifier of the blood." He also prescribes it, in the form of a poultice, for inflamed eyes; and recommends the powdered root as a cure for "pestilent fevers," and for inflammations of the lungs; for which last complaint he declares that it must be distilled and redistilled in wine. The peasantry, however, still use a simple infusion in pulmonary attacks, and most probably with quite as much effect as if the herb had undergone these processes. In a similar form it was anciently administered at the commencement of dropsy, and in yellow jaundice; while it formed a principal ingredient in the vaunted medicament known as English "treacle," - a term which originally signified any remedial agent, though derived, through the French theriaque, from the Latin the-riaca, which medicine was composed of many ingredients.
Chaucer twice uses it in this generic sense;
*As, for example, Lanelly, of which the ordinary English pronunciation is Lanelly or Lanelly. Shakespeare, it will be remembered, makes Llewelyn, Fluellen, in his "Henry the Fifth," and another familiar instance occurs in the Anglicised word Flumery, for Llymru; a preparation from oat-bran.
* * "I have almost caughte a cardiacle, By Corpus Domini, but I'll have a triacle:" and again, with a very different meaning;
"Crist; which is to every harm a triacle".
One of our old divines says, the true Christian not only slays Satan (or the serpent), "but like the skilful apothecary, makes antidote and treacle of him;" and Berthre de Bourniseaux, in his "Precis Hist, de la Guerre de la Vendee," thus speaks of viper treacle: "Chacun sait que les viperes du Bas Poitou etoient autrefois particulierement re-cherchees pour la confection des theriaques de Ve-nise: depuis la revolution ce commerce est entiere-ment tombe," etc.
The veronica is said to have been used by the Emperor Charles V., as an "arcanum" for gout; and the V. eldtine (?) is declared, by the old writers, to be of great efficacy in cancer, as well as in dysentery; being for the latter malady given in what our more sophisticated age terms "chicken broth," but which sturdy old Gerarde styles - with an attention to matter-of-fact readily appreciated by any managing housewife - "broth of a hen!"
As a natural result of the extended knowledge and commercial intercourse which have placed more potential agents in our hands, the veronicas are not now included in our materia medica; and their qualities may be summed up in a very few words: the whole of them being astringent, while the brook-lime (V. beccabunga), is anti-scorbutic, on which account its mild and succulent leaves are frequently employed in early spring salads. The Welsh peasantry, so far as my own observation extends, still "attribute greate virtues to the same," just as Gerarde describes them to have done in his time; and the employment of the germander, and common speedwells (V. chamcedrys and officinalis), as a substitute for tea, is by no means confined to them, extending to Sweden, Germany, and other countries.
The germander-speedwell is sometimes, though erroneously, called eye-bright; a name which, in reality, apertains to the Euphrasia, and poets, to whom we must attribute the confusion, have also called it "milkmaid's-eye." Wordsworth falls into this error, and Ebenezer Elliott, whose poems are not sufficiently known to those who so mistakenly shrink from him as a mere political, or even party, rhymer, uses the same name in the following ex-quisitively appreciative lines:-
"Blue eye-bright! Loveliest flower of all that grow In flower-loved England! Flower, whose hedge-side gaze Is like an infant's! What heart doth not know Thee, clustered smiler of the bank, where plays The sunbeam with the emerald snake, and strays The dazzling rill, companion of the road Which the lone bard most loveth, in the days When hope and love are young? Oh, come abroad Blue eyebright!"
Who, indeed, loving nature does not know the speedwell, and the early banks on which it blows? mingling its stars with those of the golden loosestrife. Who has not seen them thus united the spring tide through, painting the highways with living illustrations of the words of one of the truest of poets? Words, which I make no apology for transcribing, familiar, as they must be, to all:-
"Spake full well, in language quaint and olden, One who dwelleth on the castled Rhine, When he called the flowers so blue and golden, Stars, that in earth's firmament do shine.
Stars they are, wherein we read our history,
As astrologers and seers of old; Yet not wrapped about with awful mystery,
Like the burning stars, which they behold.
* * * * *
And the poet, faithful and all-seeing,
Sees alike in stars and flowers, a part Of the self-same, universal, being,
Which is throbbing in his brain and heart.
* * * * *
Everywhere about us they are glowing;
Some like stars, to tell us spring is born; Others, their blue eyes with tears o'erflowing,
Stand like Ruth amid the golden corn".
There can be little doubt, I think, that the same author in his "Hyperion" - his prose, but yet his greatest, poem - refers to the same familiar plant when he makes his hero stoop "to pluck one bright blue flower, which bloomed alone in the vast desert, and looked up to him, as if to say, 'oh, take me with you - leave me not here companionless".