Welsh, Llysiau Llewelyn, Rhwyddlwyn. - French, Veronique. - German, Ehren-preiss, Blumchen der Treue. - Dutch, Eer en prus. - Danish, CEren prus. - Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, Veronica.
Scophularinece. Ringentes. Veronica.
How pleasantly sounds in our ears the familiar old English name of speedwell, and how brightly, how beautifully, does the little blue flower which bears it correspond to its meaning, as it seems to look up to us like some clear and earnest eye, whose glance willingly meeting our own indicates thoughts that are uninterrupted currents of good, and gives all-sufficing, guarantees of their sterling worth. In almost all countries this flower appears to have been looked on with peculiar favour by the eyes whose gaze it so honestly meets. Blumchen der Treue, the flower of truth, is the title by which the German knows its blossoms; or, with the same prevailing idea, terms it Ehren-preiss, the praise of honour, as do also his Dutch and Danish brothers. Such names have a beautiful significance to those who, like the Germans, take the plant for the emblem of friendship; and its hue, from its resemblance to that of the heavens, is everywhere regarded as emblematic of truth. Thus the poet sings:-
"Blaue Bluthe, Bild der Treue, Blauer als des Himmels Blaue;"* and his words are re-echoed in the popular symbolism of many a land.†
Weary disputes have, nevertheless, arisen about the very name of the plant:- disputes originated by men accustomed only to in-door study of the natural objects respecting the etymologies of which they so unceasingly raised doubts, and yet to whom we will, notwithstanding, acknowledge a debt of gratitude for their having thus brought to light many a trait in the "lore" of popular natural history, which might have remained unnoticed. These disputes, therefore, it becomes a duty to lay before the reader.
The name of veronica is generally admitted to signify true image, and to have been attributed by the monkish legends to that saint who is said to have wiped, with her handkerchief, the face of our Saviour when on the path to Calvary; in memory of which pious action the impress of the Divine countenance was supposed to have been indelibly stamped upon the linen. But I do not see why the mysteries of philological science should demand from us an acknowledgment that we descry in the blue stars of the speedwell certain spots "resembling human features," which - despite the theoretic assertion - most certainly do not there exist. It is, moreover, generally agreed that the name Veronica was only by tradition applied to a saint, and arose from the circumstance of the words vera icon (true image), being attached to the supposed original handkerchief preserved at St. Peter's,* which words were at length believed to be the name of a real person, whose appellation was then conjecturally traced to Berenice, the woman who, according to the apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus, was healed by touching the garment of Christ.† Dr. H. F. Halle objects to this, and pretends that Berenice was the Macedonian, and subsequently the Latin, construction of a Greek word signifying victory bearer; a meaning, he remarks, which renders the name, if thus derived, very inappropriate to the meek-eyed little flower.
He, therefore, with considerable ingenuity attributes to it an oriental derivation, supposing it to be compounded of some Eastern words (he does not say in what language), signifying beautiful remembrance; thus making it, a forget-me-not with an Eastern title; an hypothesis, in some degree, supported by the frequency with which we hear the plant confounded with the true forget-me-not,* yet I cannot feel satisfied as to the correctness of his derivations. If the flower be regarded as the emblem of truth - and the concurrent testimony of different languages proves that it is - then the derivation from Berenice would give a signification of singular ap-positeness and force; while if, as some suppose, it be derived from iepa, sacred, and elkwv, picture or image, it might, perhaps, signify the image, or symbolical representation of that which is sacred, or true; since nothing can be more correct, in poetic imagery, than the substitution of the subjective for the objective. The same idea occurs in the names the plant bears throughout Southern Europe, as well as in the Slavonic dialects.
But these appear to be forced resemblances; the half Latin and half Greek name of St. Veronica, vera elkwv, probably originated in the seventh century, when the use of the lamb, and of other common emblems and emblematic figures of Christ, was forbidden, and the human representation of Him "was directed to be lifted up before all eyes." Hence, in San Giovanni Laterano under a picture by Giotto of Pope Boniface III., we find this inscription: "IMAGO-ICONICA-BONIFACI-IIL PONT. MAX;" and at the church of S. Domenico in Bologna, under an old picture of the Virgin, is "R. v. MARLAE AD RHENVM ICONEM ANTIQUISSIMAM." And the saint was derived from this compound name.
† It must, however, be acknowledged that a somewhat different feeling is expressed in the German popular name of the plant manner-treue (man's faith), or, more properly, truth: in allusion to the way in which the whole of the beautiful corolla falls off at the slightest breath.
* It is almost unnecessary to remark that there are several of these so-called originals preserved in different places.
† See "Notes and Queries," vol. vi., p. 252, et seq. There are two saints of the name of Veronica in the Romish calendar, who must be distinguished; the second having only been canonised in the year 1517.
* Also "Notes and Queries".