Welsh, Craf, Cennin, or Cenhinen, Seifys. - French, Ail a tuniques, Porreau. - German, Zahme Lauch, Spanische Lauch. - Dutch, Prey, Porreyc. - Swedish, Purio. - Russian, Pras. - Polish, Plodzis-yek. - Hungarian, Par-hagyma. - Italian, Porro, Porreta. - Spanish, Puerro. - Hebrew, Cha-zir (Hatzir.) - Arabic, Korrat.
I HAVE somewhat departed from my general rule, in this particular instance, for while necessity com-pels me to group together, in the following paper, the allium tribe, I have given in the list of syno-nymes the names which especially pertain to the leek, intending, that to that plant in particular - though said not to be a native of Great Britain - we should give our attention. Commencing, as in duty bound, with a reference to the various opinions re-specting the true origin of the leek as the emblem of Wales (I say a reference, for I believe that we are little likely, at the present day, to discover the real cause), I will state, before relating the different ver-sions of the tale, "once for all," that, in the words of the old physician; -
"I nozt leve [believe] it; it may be so."*
* See below "Agrimony".
And I will not presume to enter a controversy, al-ready so rife, by suggesting that like the leek and onion, it may have become amalgamated into the Druidic theology with a degree of sanctity, accord-ing to Latin writers, similar to that which rendered the leek so sacred a symbol amongst the ancient Egyptians, that to swear by these plants was con-sidered equivalent to swearing by one of their gods;* but will pass on to tell how Owen, other-wise a good antiquary, actually derives it from a prevalent Welsh custom, called Gymhortha,by which neighbours assemble, at seed-time, or harvest, to assist each other in completing the labour of the day; at which gathering each man contributes, by a sort of complimentary usage, a leek to the broth which forms the dinner on the occasion; and as these leeks, he assures us, might naturally be carried in the band of the hat, he supposes the nation as-sumed them as a badge! The custom may have existed in his day, but it will not certainly account for the selection of the leek as the Welsh emblem.
King James in his "Royal Apothegms" says, that it was chosen to commemorate the lamented Black Prince; but what connection subsisted between that gallant youth and the ill-sceuted plant, he does not inform us. Nor do the old Welsh records approach much nearer to the truth. Their general testimony appears to be in favour of some battle, in which the Welsh were victorious, having been fought in a garden of leeks, from which each man gathered and wore one, to enable his countrymen to distinguish him from the enemy; to whom they had pre-determined to grant no quarter. This battle is variously stated to have occurred under the leadership of St. David at the close of the fifth, or the commencement of the sixth century; or under that of Cadwalladr, in the year 633, when he de-feated the Saxons near Hethfield, or Hatfield, in Yorkshire. It is needless to say that the idea is imaginary, and wholly insufficient to explain what we require. In fact, a single consideration of the numerous tribes into which the Cymry were, at the respective dates, divided, nullifies the supposition that such an occurrence could lead to the adoption of a national emblem.
* Pliny, lib. xix., cap. 32.
The ancient poets make frequent and exaggerated allusion to the degree of sanctity with which the onion tribe was invested by the Egyptians; for the onion was neither sacred, nor a god; it was eaten by the workmen at the pyramids, as by other Egyp-tians, and if it was forbidden to the priests, still it was brought to private tables, as well as to the altars of the gods.
"'Tis dangerous here To violate an onion, or to stain The sanctity of leeks with tooth profane; Oh, Holy nation! sacro-sancte abodes! Where every garden propagates its gods."*
And Prudentius declares they "raise sacred altars to the leek, and worship the sharp onion, and the biting garlic," †
* Sat, 25.
† Hymn, x., s. 258.
Lucan, in speaking of Cleopatra's banquet to Caesar, asserts that:
"For dainties Egypt every land explores, Nor spares those very gods her zeal adores".
Probably they surmised that the extreme liking exhibited by this people for the onion might have lead to its deification; and Hasselquist (with a singular license of imagination), describes the Egyptians even of his day, with a sort of Scandinavian spiritualism, devoutly wishing that onions might form one of the viands of the world to come! This value for the onion-tribe as an article of food would appear almost like a natural instinct in certain countries and climates, however strange the fact may appear to us, evidencing, that though we may like neither the one nor the other, yet that,
"Different people have different 'pinions,' Some like leeks, and some like o [i] nions!"
The above-named traveller refers with quite an Israelitish longing* to the onions of Egypt; for whoever, he says, has tasted of them, "must ac-knowledge that none can be better in any part of the universe/' The importance of the onion, as an article of consumption in ancient Egypt, is attested not only by the passage in Numbers to which we have referred: "We remember the fish that we did eat in Egypt freely.....and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;" but also by the information so carefully given to us by Herodotus of the quantity of onions consumed by the workmen in the building of the Great Pyramid.
* See Numbers, xi. 5.
In somewhat more modern days Major Denham, during his route south from Bornou, observed the frequent occurrence of gardens, in which, however, no vegetable except onions appeared to be culti-vated, a circumstance which recalls to us the asser-tion of Woolidge, that he had seen gardens in Wales, the greater part of which were planted with leeks, while a portion of the remainder was stocked with onions and garlic. Nor is this altogether so extra-ordinary a thing as it may, at first sight, appear. For it is to be remembered that in the strictly agricultural - or rather, pastoral - districts of the principality (and in no other parts will the pecu-liarity be observed), almost the entire food of the people is a kind of vegetable broth, or rather porridge, into which meat is rarely introduced; and that this cawl, as it is termed, has for its principal ingredient a large quantity of chopped leeks, so that a very full supply is necessary for daily consumption throughout the year. And it will be remembered, too, that in such localities it is almost universally the custom, on account of the extreme lowness of wages, for each labourer to have the right of setting his row of potatoes in the field of the farmer for whom he works, so that his little garden is not occupied by the root which, elsewhere, usually occupies the greater part of the cottage enclosure, and it is therefore devoted to the plant next in daily demand.