Comparisons which we may refer rather to the deli-cate tinting of purple which gives so great a charm to some eyelids, especially to those of little babies, rather than to the ancient practice of imitating this tinge by colouring the eyelids with powder of anti-mony, to which some commentators have attributed it: since the black kohl, or antimony, cannot well be compared in colour to the violet one which we find frequently and variously ex-pressed, when he says:-
Shakespeare alludes to a very old belief, and roots of the plant - having, however, its action on the animal system modified in the three first, from its chemical associa-tion with different proximate principles. Violene differs from emetin in its being united with malic instead of gallic acid.
* * "Lay her i' the earth,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring".
Or, as Herrick has it,
"From her happy spark, here let Spring the purple violet".
Partly perhaps for this reason the violet, su-preme in its sweetness, finds its place with these and other sweet-smelling herbs in the graveyards of Wales; and the Romans called the days set apart for decking their graves with flowers "Dies vio-laris." In allusion to this use of the flower, Shelley says:-
"Lilies for a bridal bed, Roses for the matron's head, Violets for a maiden dead".
And again, -
"His head was bound with pansies overblown, And faded violets, white, pied, and blue".
The violet was a great favourite with the Greeks, claiming, according to Theocritus, the earliest place in the flowers chosen for the wreath; and Homer, as translated by Cowper, says:-
* * "Everywhere appeared.
Meadows of softest verdure, purpled o'er With violets; it was a scene to fill* A god from Heaven with wonder and delight".
* " Odyssey," Book v.
Virgil, too (Bucol. Eel. 1 - 47), weaves it into his garland of blossoms:-
"Pallentes violas, et summa papavera carpens, Narcissum, et florem jungit bene olentis anethi. Turn casia, atque aliis intexens suavibus herbis, Mollia luteola pingit vaccinia caltha".
Athens was noted for its love of violets. Aris-tophanes (Knights) says, "he lives in the ancient violet-crowned Athens;" and (Acharn.), "first they called you (Athenians) violet-crowned." The same epithet was applied to the Muses, and Homer even calls Venus "Ioarecpavov " - "crowned with violets".
Athenaeus (Deipn. xv. p. 680), like other ancient writers, speaks of the use of violets for chaplets; but in another place (p. 675), he pretends that they were excluded from banquets because they affected the head by their scent. In this, however, he is contradicted by Pliny (xxi. 19.); and Plutarch more distinctly says (Symp. iii. 1.), "its exhalations greatly assist in removing the affections of the head caused by wine." Athenseus (xv. p. 682), states that at Cyrene the scent of the violet is "especially strong and divine, as is that of other flowers there except-ing the crocus; a statement, probably, borrowed from Theophrastus (vi. p. 643). He also assigns to "the black violet the most agreeable scent;" and adds, "Apollodorus writes that this is called by some chamcepiten (chamoepites, 'creeping on the ground'); by the Athenians, Ionian; by the Eubceans, Si de-ntin;" and, according to Nicander, "certain nymphs named ladae or Ionides (Ioniades), first gave the violet (Ion) to Ion," when "after hunting he had bathed in the Alpheus, wearing its flowers for a chap-let in the gardens of Pisa".
The old Greek poets, in their admiration of the violet, prettily feigned that when Io was changed into a cow, the earth "honouring her,"brought forth the violet for her to feed upon; and Jane Taylor, in her delightful "Nursery Rhymes," as prettily, though quite unintentionally, re-echoes the idea of its being a favourite food of the cow:-
"Where the purple violet blows Pretty cow go there and dine".
Nicander, however, ignores this fable, and sub-stitutes for it the legend already mentioned.
There is, probably, no land in which the violet grows - and it abounds in every part of Europe, in Barbary, Palestine, Japan, China, and America - in whose language its praises have not been sung. To refer to them would be to form a perfect authologia, and I must, therefore, not make the attempt, but will only give the lines of a Welsh poet:-
"Clwys yw'r crinllys, ar'y dorllann Pan font newydd dorri 'allan; Chwerthin byddant ar yr eira, Pan fo'n amdo ar'y brynia. Maent yn glws O Maent yn glws!"
Which may be rendered:-
"Beautiful are violets on the broken bank When starting into sudden bloom; All trustfully they smile upon the snow That coldly shrouds the hills above.
They are beautiful!
Oh, they are beautiful!"
The American bard says:-
"When its long rings uncurls the fern, The violet nestling low, Casts back the white lid of its urn,
Its purple streaks to shew. Beautiful blossom! first to rise And smile beneath Spring's wakening skies,
The courier of a band Of coming flowers, what feelings sweet Gush, as the silvery gem we greet Upon its slender wand".
Robert Storey, the Northumbrian poet, thus alludes to the emblematic meaning attached to the violet in common with other blue flowers:-
* * " Telling me in every wreath I made Not to omit the violet, which meant truth".
The violet was the appropriate May-day prize bestowed on the troubadour, or the minnie-singer of the olden time. Its place was afterwards taken by a golden violet; and a remembrance of the custom survived in the Toulouse Academy of Floral Games.*
The words of Shakespeare -
"To gild refined gold," are familiar to every one, but we seldom recollect that the illustration is, to the full, as apt when he pronounces it an equally,
"Wasteful and ridiculous excess. To throw a perfume on the violet".
This perfume, according to Lord Bacon, may be preserved for a year or more by repeatedly infusing the petals in vinegar.
* See the Works of Marmontel.
Most persons must have felt the extraodinary power of scents in recalling the memory of long-past years; before the following lines were written,
"The smell of violets hidden in the grass, Poured back into my empty soul and frame The times when I remember to have been Joyful and free from blame."*
Dr. Delany, dean of Down, in his sermon "The Immortality of the Soul Proved," quaintly asks, "Hath a doubt, or a denial, or judgment, any colour, or figure, or extension? Can we properly say a white doubt, or a scarlet denial, or a square judg-ment? A reflection a foot long, or a foot broad, or of a pound weight?" But we certainly have so much association between colours and scents, that the one easily suggests to us the other; and there are few people who do not readily understand what is meant when we speak of a brown, a grey, or a green, smell.
Milton, who is usually most accurate in his ob-servation of nature, makes the remark that.
"In the violet-embroidered vale The love-lorn nightingale, Nightly her sad song mourneth well".
And it certainly is a curious circumstance that the broad band extending across England, which re-joices in the possession of the sweet-scented Viola odorata, is, I believe, also frequented by this bird. Does the plant nourish any peculiar insect on which the nightingale habitually feeds?
The Latin name of Viola, whence our violet, is by some authors supposed to have arisen from the gradual corruption of vitula, but others trace its relationship to the Greek ion, with the prefixed v or †, so generally retained in Latin.
The sweet violet is not the only one used by the rustic practitioner. The dog-violet (V. canina) - which, in spite of all our predilections, has really a prettier blossom than its more valued and favoured sister - is used to cure cutaneous disorders, and mixed with milk, it forms a highly-prized cosmetic. In mountainous and sunny districts the flowers of this violet are of great size and of a brilliant colour, though the plant becomes proportionably dwarfed; while, in barren and sandy "dunes," there is satis-factory reason to believe that it dwindles into the V. flavicornis of some botanists. This plant, with the three following, belongs to the subdivision of the violets which are furnished with an evident stem; the remaining three British species being stemless, or nearly so.
The so-called cream-coloured violet (V. Iactea), is a rare species, occurring on high and heathy land, and bearing some resemblance to the V. montana of Linnaeus, but it is now generally considered to be a distinct plant.
The yellow mountain violet (V. lutea) occurs in the wilder districts of Wales, Scotland, the north of England, and also, I believe, in Cornwall. At a first view it bears some resemblance to the pansy (P. tricolor), though, in reality, quite distinct from it.
This last is the "hearts-ease," the "herb-trinity," the "love-in-idleness;" the plant with many other pleasant names. Who does not know how Cupid, "in idleness," shot his shaft at the fair queen of the "throned west," who passed on,
" In maiden meditation, fancy free?" and how the winged arrow,
"Fell upon a little western flower, Before milk-white; now purple with love's wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness?"
And who knows not, upon the same authority, that,
"The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid, Will make a man, or woman madly dote, Upon the next live creature that it sees?"
It is the stiefmutterchen (little stepmother) of the Germans, the origin of which seems quite inexplicable.
Besides the sweet violet the stemless sub-division includes the hairy violet (P. hirta), which grows in such well-marked distinctness on calcareous soils only; and the pretty little marsh violet (P. palus-tris), with its delicately-streaked and roundish blos-soms, and its fine glossy leaves. The latter grows in the damp parts of the hilly regions of Scotland and Wales, mingling prettily with its companion flower, the bog pimpernel.