The plant-lore & garden-craft of Shakespeare
by Henry Nicholson Ellacombe
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All's Well that Ends Well, act i, sc. 3 (135).

(31) Bastard.

My face so thin, That in mine ear I durst not stick a Rose.

King John, act i, sc. 1 (141).

(32) Antony.

Tell him he wears the Rose Of youth upon him.

Antony and Cleopatra, act iii, sc. 13 (20).

(33) Cleopatra.

Against the blown Rose may they stop their nose That kneel'd unto the buds.

Ibid. (39).

(34) Boult.

For flesh and blood, sir, white and red, you shall see a Rose; and she were a Rose indeed!

Pericles, act iv, sc. 6 (37).

(35) Gower.

Even her art sisters the natural Roses.

Ibid., act v, chorus (7). (See CHERRY, No. 5.)

(36) Juliet.

What's in a name? That which we call a Rose By any other name would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet, act ii, sc. 2 (43).

(37) Ophelia.

The expectancy and Rose of the fair state.

Hamlet, act iii, sc. 1 (160).

(38) Hamlet.

Such an act . . . takes off the Rose From the fair forehead of an innocent love, And sets a blister there.

Ibid., act iii, sc. 4 (40).

(39) Othello.

When I have pluck'd the Rose, I cannot give it vital growth again, It needs must wither. I'll smell it on the tree.

Othello, act v, sc. 2 (13).

(40) Timon.

Rose-cheeked youth.

Timon of Athens, act iv, sc. 3 (86).

(41) Othello.

Thou young and Rose-lipp'd cherubim.

Othello, act iv, sc. 2 (63).


Roses, their sharp spines being gone, Not royall in their smells alone But in their hue.

Two Noble Kinsmen, Introd. song.

(43) Emilia.

Of all flowres Methinks a Rose is best.


Why, gentle madam?


It is the very Embleme of a maide. For when the west wind courts her gently, How modestly she blows, and paints the Sun With her chaste blushes? When the north winds neere her, Rude and impatient, then, like Chastity, Shee locks her beauties in her bud againe, And leaves him to base Briers.

Ibid., act ii, sc. 2 (160).

(44) Wooer.

With cherry lips and cheekes of Damaske Roses.

Ibid., act iv, sc. 2 (95).

(45) See NETTLES, No. 13.


Roses have thorns and silver fountains mud, And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.

Sonnet xxxv.


The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem For that sweet odour that doth in it live. The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye As the perfumed tincture of the Roses, Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly When summer's breath their masked buds discloses; But, for their virtue only is their show, They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade; Die to themselves—sweet Roses do not so; Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made.

Sonnet liv.


Why should poor beauty indirectly seek Roses of shadow, since his Rose is true?

Ibid. lxvii.


Shame, like a canker in the fragrant Rose, Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name.

Ibid. xcv.


Nor did I wonder at the Lily's white, Nor praise the deep vermilion of the Rose.

Ibid. xcviii.


The Roses fearfully in thorns did stand, One blushing shame, another white despair; A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath.

Ibid. xcix.


I have seen Roses damask'd, red and white, But no such Roses see I in her cheeks.

Ibid. cxxx.


More white and red than dove and Roses are.

Venus and Adonis (10).


What though the Rose has prickles? yet 'tis plucked.

Ibid. (574).


Who, when he lived, his breath and beauty set Gloss on the Rose, smell to the Violet.

Ibid. (935).


Their silent war of Lilies and of Roses.

Lucrece (71).


O how her fear did make her colour rise, First red as Roses that on lawn we lay, Then white as lawn, the Roses took away.

Ibid. (257).


That even for anger makes the Lily pale, And the red Rose blush at her own disgrace.

Ibid. (477).


I know what Thorns the growing Rose defends.

Ibid. (492).


Rose-cheeked Adonis hied him to the chase.

Venus and Adonis. (3).


A sudden pale, Like lawn being spread upon the blushing Rose, Usurps her cheek.

Ibid. (589).


That beauty's Rose might never die.

Sonnet i.


Nothing this wide universe I call Save thou, my Rose; in it thou art my all.

Ibid. cix.


Rosy lips and cheeks Within time's bending sickle's compass come.

Ibid. cxvi.


Sweet Rose, fair flower, untimely pluck'd, soon vaded, Pluck'd in the bud, and vaded in the spring!

The Passionate Pilgrim (131).

In addition to these many passages, there are perhaps thirty more in which the Rose is mentioned with reference to the Red and White Roses of the houses of York and Lancaster. To quote these it would be necessary to extract an entire act, which is very graphic, but too long. I must, therefore, content myself with the beginning and the end of the chief scene, and refer the reader who desires to see it in extenso to "1st Henry VI.," act ii, sc. 4. The scene is in the Temple Gardens, and Plantagenet and Somerset thus begin the fatal quarrel—


Let him that is a true-born gentleman And stands upon the honour of his birth, If he suppose that I have pleaded truth, From off this Brier pluck a White Rose with me.


Let him that is no coward nor no flatterer, But dare maintain the party of the truth, Pluck a Red Rose from off this Thorn with me.

And Warwick's wise conclusion on the whole matter is—

This brawl to-day, Grown to this faction in the Temple Garden, Shall send, between the Red Rose and the White, A thousand souls to death and deadly night.

There are further allusions to the same Red and White Roses in "3rd Henry VI.," act i, sc. 1 and 2, act ii, sc. 5, and act v, sc. 1; "1st Henry VI.," act iv, sc. 1; and "Richard III.," act v, sc. 4.

There is no flower so often mentioned by Shakespeare as the Rose, and he would probably consider it the queen of flowers, for it was so deemed in his time. "The Rose doth deserve the cheefest and most principall place among all flowers whatsoever, being not onely esteemed for his beautie, vertues, and his fragrant and odoriferous smell, but also because it is the honore and ornament of our English Scepter."—GERARD. Yet the kingdom of the Rose even then was not undisputed; the Lily was always its rival (see LILY), for thus sang Walter de Biblesworth in the thirteenth century—

"En co verger troveroums les flurs Des queus issunt les doux odours (swote smel) Les herbes ausi pur medicine La flur de Rose, la flur de Liz (lilie) Liz vaut per royne, Rose pur piz."

But a little later the great Scotch poet Dunbar, who lived from 1460 to 1520, that is, a century before Shakespeare, asserted the dignity of the Rose as even superior to the Thistle of Scotland.

"Nor hold none other flower in sic dainty As the fresh Rose of colour red and white; For if thou dost, hurt is thine honesty, Considering that no flower is so perfite, So full of virtue, pleasaunce, and delight, So full of blissful angelic beauty, Imperial birth, honour, and dignity."

Volumes have been written, and many more may still be written, on the delights of the Rose, but my present business is only with the Roses of Shakespeare. In many of the above passages the Rose is simply the emblem of all that is loveliest and brightest and most beautiful upon earth, yet always with the underlying sentiment that even the brightest has its dark side, as the Rose has its thorns; that the worthiest objects of our earthly love are at the very best but short-lived; that the most beautiful has on it the doom of decay and death. These were the lessons which even the heathen writers learned from their favourite Roses, and which Christian writers of all ages loved to learn also, not from the heathen writers, but from the beautiful flowers themselves. "The Rose is a beautiful flower," said St. Basil, "but it always fills me with sorrow by reminding me of my sins, for which the earth was doomed to bear thorns." And it would be easy to fill a volume, and it would not be a cheerless volume, with beautiful and expressive passages from poets, preachers, and other authors, who have taken the Rose to point the moral of the fleeting nature of all earthly things. Herrick in four lines tells the whole—

"Gather ye Roses while ye may Old time is still a-flying, And the same flower that smiles to-day, To-morrow will be dying."

But Shakespeare's notices of the Rose are not all emblematical and allegorical. He mentions these distinct sorts of Roses—the Red Rose, the White Rose, the Musk Rose, the Provencal Rose, the Damask Rose, the Variegated Rose, the Canker Rose, and the Sweet Briar.

The Canker Rose is the wild Dog Rose, and the name is sometimes applied to the common Red Poppy.

The Red Rose and the Provencal Rose (No. 13) are no doubt the same, and are what we now call R. centifolia, or the Cabbage Rose; a Rose that has been supposed to be a native of the South of Europe, but Dr. Lindley preferred "to place its native country in Asia, because it has been found wild by Bieberstein with double flowers, on the eastern side of Mount Caucasus, whither it is not likely to have escaped from a garden."[250:1] We do not know when it was introduced into England, but it was familiar to Chaucer—

"The savour of the Roses swote Me smote right to the herte rote, As I hadde alle embawmed be.

* * * * *

Of Roses there were grete wone, So faire were never in Rone."

i.e., in Provence, at the mouth of the Rhone. For beauty in shape and exquisite fragrance, I consider this Rose to be still unrivalled; but it is not a fashionable Rose, and is usually found in cottage gardens, or perhaps in some neglected part of gardens of more pretensions. I believe it is considered too loose in shape to satisfy the floral critics of exhibition flowers, and it is only a summer Rose, and so contrasts unfavourably with the Hybrid Perpetuals. Still, it is a delightful Rose, delightful to the eye, delightful for its fragrance, and most delightful from its associations.

The White Rose of York (No. 20) has never been satisfactorily identified. It was clearly a cultivated Rose, and by some is supposed to have been only the wild White Rose (R. arvensis) grown in a garden. But it is very likely to have been the Rosa alba, which was a favourite in English gardens in Shakespeare's time, and was very probably introduced long before his time, for it is the double variety of the wild White Rose, and Gerard says of it: "The double White Rose doth grow wilde in many hedges of Lancashire in great abundance, even as Briers do with us in these southerly parts, especially in a place of the countrey called Leyland, and in a place called Roughford, not far from Latham." It was, therefore, not a new gardener's plant in his time, as has been often stated. I have little doubt that this is the White Rose of York; it is not the R. alba of Dr. Lindley's monograph, but the double variety of the British R. arvensis.

The White Rose has a very ancient interest for Englishmen, for "long before the brawl in the Temple Gardens, the flower had been connected with one of the most ancient names of our island. The elder Pliny, in discussing the etymology of the word Albion, suggests that the land may have been so named from the White Roses which abounded in it—'Albion insula sic dicta ab albis rupibus, quas mare alluit, vel ob rosas albas quibus abundat.' Whatever we may think of the etymological skill displayed in the suggestion . . . we look with almost a new pleasure on the Roses of our own hedgerows, when regarding them as descended in a straight line from the 'rosas albas' of those far-off summers."—Quarterly Review, vol. cxiv.

The Damask Rose (No. 5) remains to us under the same name, telling its own history. There can be little doubt that the Rose came from Damascus, probably introduced into Europe by the Crusaders or some of the early travellers in the East, who speak in glowing terms of the beauties of the gardens of Damascus. So Sir John Mandeville describes the city—"In that Cytee of Damasce, there is gret plentee of Welles, and with in the Cytee and with oute, ben many fayre Gardynes and of dyverse frutes. Non other Cytee is not lyche in comparison to it, of fayre Gardynes, and of fayre desportes."—Voiage and Travaile, cap. xi. And in our own day the author of "Eoethen" described the same gardens as he saw them: "High, high above your head, and on every side all down to the ground, the thicket is hemmed in and choked up by the interlacing boughs that droop with the weight of Roses, and load the slow air with their damask breath. There are no other flowers. The Rose trees which I saw were all of the kind we call 'damask;' they grow to an immense height and size."—Eoethen, ch. xxvii. It was not till long after the Crusades that the Damask Rose was introduced into England, for Hakluyt in 1582 says: "In time of memory many things have been brought in that were not here before, as the Damaske Rose by Doctour Linaker, King Henry the Seventh and King Henrie the Eight's Physician."—Voiages, vol. ii.[252:1]

As an ornamental Rose the Damask Rose is still a favourite, though probably the real typical Rosa Damascena is very seldom seen—but it has been the parent of a large number of hybrid Roses, which the most critical Rosarian does not reject. The whole family are very sweet-scented, so that "sweet as Damask Roses" was a proverb, and Gerard describes the common Damaske as "in other respects like the White Rose; the especiale difference consisteth in the colour and smell of the floures, for these are of a pale red colour and of a more pleasant smell, and fitter for meate or medicine."

The Musk Roses (No. 1) were great favourites with our forefathers. This Rose (R. moschata) is a native of the North of Africa and of Spain, and has been also found in Nepaul. Hakluyt gives the exact date of its introduction. "The turkey cockes and hennes," he says, "were brought about fifty yeres past, the Artichowe in time of King Henry the Eight, and of later times was procured out of Italy the Muske Rose plant, the Plumme called the Perdigwena, and two kindes more by the Lord Cromwell after his travel."—Voiages, vol. ii. It is a long straggling Rose, bearing bunches of single flowers, and is very seldom seen except against the walls of some old houses. "You remember the great bush at the corner of the south wall just by the blue drawing-room windows; that is the old Musk Rose, Shakespeare's Musk Rose, which is dying out through the kingdom now."—My Lady Ludlow, by Mrs. Gaskell. But wherever it is grown it is highly prized, not so much for the beauty as for the delicate scent of its flowers. The scent is unlike the scent of any other Rose, or of any other flower, but it is very pleasant, and not overpowering; and the plant has the peculiarity that, like the Sweet Briar, but unlike other Roses, it gives out its scent of its own accord and unsought, and chiefly in the evening, so that if the window of a bedroom near which this rose is trained is left open, the scent will soon be perceived in the room. This peculiarity did not escape the notice of Lord Bacon. "Because the breath of flowers," he says, "is far sweeter in the air (when it comes and goes like the warbling of music) than in the hand, therefore nothing is more fit for that delight than to know what be the flowers and plants that do best perfume the air. Roses, damask and red, are fast flowers of their smells, so that you may walk by a whole row of them, and find nothing of their sweetness, yea, though it be in a morning's dew. Bays, likewise, yield no smell as they grow, Rosemary little, nor Sweet Marjoram; that which above all others yields the sweetest smell in the air is the Violet, especially the white double Violet which comes twice a year, about the middle of April, and about Bartholomew-tide; next to that is the Musk-rose."—Essay of Gardens.

The Roses mentioned in Nos. 34, 51, and 52 as a mixture of red and white must have been the mottled or variegated Roses, commonly called the York and Lancaster Roses;[253:1] these are old Roses, and very probably quite as old as the sixteenth century. There are two varieties: in one each petal is blotched with white and pink; this is the R. versicolor of Parkinson, and is a variety of R. Damascena; in the other most of the petals are white, but with a mixture of pink petals; this is the Rosa mundi or Gloria mundi, and is a variety of R. Gallica.

These, with the addition of the Eglantine or Sweet Brier (see EGLANTINE), are the only Roses that Shakespeare directly names, and they were the chief sorts grown in his time, but not the only sorts; and to what extent Roses were cultivated in Shakespeare's time we have a curious proof in the account of the grant of Ely Place, in Holborn, the property of the Bishops of Ely. "The tenant was Sir Christopher Hatton (Queen Elizabeth's handsome Lord Chancellor) to whom the greater portion of the house was let in 1576 for the term of twenty-one years. The rent was a Red Rose, ten loads of hay, and ten pounds per annum; Bishop Cox, on whom this hard bargain was forced by the Queen, reserving to himself and his successors the right of walking in the gardens, and gathering twenty bushels of Roses yearly."—CUNNINGHAM. We have records also of the garden cultivation of the Rose in London long before Shakespeare's time. "In the Earl of Lincoln's garden in Holborn in 24 Edw. I., the only flowers named are Roses, of which a quantity was sold, producing three shillings and twopence."—HUDSON TURNER.

My space forbids me to enter more largely into any account of these old species, or to say much of the many very interesting points in the history of the Rose, but two or three points connected with Shakespeare's Roses must not be passed over. First, its name. He says through Juliet (No. 36) that the Rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But the whole world is against him. Rose was its old Latin name corrupted from its older Greek name, and the same name, with slight and easily-traced differences, has clung to it in almost all European countries.

Shakespeare also mentions its uses in Rose-water and Rose-cakes, and it was only natural to suppose that a flower so beautiful and so sweet was meant by Nature to be of great use to man. Accordingly we find that wonderful virtues were attributed to it,[255:1] and an especial virtue was attributed to the dewdrops that settled on the full-blown Rose. Shakespeare alludes to these in Nos. 22 and 27; and from these were made cosmetics only suited to the most extravagant.

"The water that did spryng from ground She would not touch at all, But washt her hands with dew of Heaven That on sweet Roses fall."

The Lamentable Fall of Queen Ellinor.—Roxburghe Ballads.

And as with their uses, so it was also with their history. Such a flower must have a high origin, and what better origin than the pretty mediaeval legend told to us by Sir John Mandeville?—"At Betheleim is the Felde Floridus, that is to seyne, the Feld florisched; for als moche as a fayre mayden was blamed with wrong and sclaundered, for whiche cause sche was demed to the Dethe, and to be brent in that place, to the whiche she was ladd; and as the Fyre began to brent about hire, sche made hire preyeres to oure Lord, that als wissely as sche was not gylty of that Synne, that He wolde helpe hire and make it to be knowen to alle men, of his mercyfulle grace. And when sche hadde thus seyd, sche entered into the Fuyr; and anon was the Fuyr quenched and oute; and the Brondes that weren brennynge becomen red Roseres, and the Brondes that weren not kyndled becomen white Roseres, full of Roses. And these weren the first Roseres and Roses, both white and rede, that evere ony man saughe."—Voiage and Travaile, cap. vi.

With this pretty legend I may well conclude the account of Shakespeare's Roses, commending, however, M. Biron's sensible remarks on unseasonable flowers (No. 26) to those who estimate the beauty of a flower or anything else in proportion to its being produced out of its natural season.


[244:1] This was a familiar idea with the old writers: "Therefore, sister Bud, grow wise by my folly, and know it is far greater happinesse to lose thy virginity in a good hand than to wither on the stalk whereon thou growest."—THOMAS FULLER, Antheologia, p. 32. (See also Chester's "Cantoes," No. 13, p. 137, New Shak. Soc.)

[245:1] "Non vivunt contra naturam, qui hieme concupiscunt rosas?"—SENECA, Ep. 122.

[250:1] We have an old record of the existence of large double Roses in Asia by Herodotus, who tells us, that in a part of Macedonia were the so-called gardens of Midas, in which grew native Roses, each one having sixty petals, and of a scent surpassing all others ("Hist.," viii. 138).

[252:1] The Damask Rose was imported into England at an earlier date but probably only as a drug. It is mentioned in a "Bill of Medicynes furnished for the use of Edward I., 1306-7: 'Item pro aqua rosata de Damasc,' lb. xl, iiiili."—Archaeological Journal, vol. xiv. 271.

[253:1] The York and Lancaster Roses were a frequent subject for the epigram writers; and gave occasion for one of the happiest of English epigrams. On presenting a White Rose to a Lancastrian lady—

"If this fair Rose offend thy sight, It in thy bosom wear; 'Twill blush to find itself less white, And turn Lancastrian there."

[255:1] "A Rose beside his beauty is a cure."—G. HERBERT, Providence.


(1) Perdita.

Reverend Sirs, For you there's Rosemary and Rue; these keep Seeming and savour all the winter long; Grace and remembrance be to you both.[256:1]

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 4 (73).

(2) Bawd.

Marry, come up, my dish of chastity with Rosemary and bays.

Pericles, act iv, sc. 6 (159).

(3) Edgar.

Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices Strike in their numb'd and mortified bare arms Pins, wooden pricks, and sprigs of Rosemary.

Lear, act ii, sc. 3 (14).

(4) Ophelia.

There's Rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray, love, remember.

Hamlet, act iv, sc. 5 (175).

(5) Nurse.

Doth not Rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?


Ay, nurse; what of that? both with an R.


Ah, mocker! that's the dog's name; R is for the ——. No; I know it begins with some other letter:—and she hath the prettiest sententious of it, of you and Rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it.

Romeo and Juliet, act ii, sc. 4 (219).

(6) Friar.

Dry up your tears, and stick your Rosemary On this fair corse.

Ibid., act iv, sc. 5 (79).

The Rosemary is not a native of Britain, but of the sea-coast of the South of Europe, where it is very abundant. It was very early introduced into England, and is mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon Herbarium under its Latin name of Ros marinus, and is there translated by Bothen, i.e. Thyme; also in an Anglo-Saxon Vocabulary of the eleventh century, where it is translated Feld-madder and Sun-dew. In these places our present plant may or may not be meant, but there is no doubt that it is the one referred to in an ancient English poem of the fourteenth century, on the virtues of herbs, published in Wright and Halliwell's "Reliquiae Antiquae." The account of "The Gloriouse Rosemaryne" is long, but the beginning and ending are worth quoting—

"This herbe is callit Rosemaryn Of vertu that is gode and fyne; But alle the vertues tell I ne cane, No I trawe no erthely man.

* * * * *

Of thys herbe telles Galiene That in hys contree was a quene, Gowtus and Crokyt as he hath tolde, And eke sexty yere olde; Sor and febyl, where men hyr sey Scho semyth wel for to dey; Of Rosmaryn scho toke sex powde, And grownde hyt wel in a stownde, And bathed hir threyes everi day, Nine mowthes, as I herde say, And afterwarde anoynitte wel hyr hede With good bame as I rede; Away fel alle that olde flessche, And yowge i-sprong tender and nessche; So fresshe to be scho then began Scho coveytede couplede be to man." (Vol. i, 196).

We can now scarcely understand the high favour in which Rosemary was formerly held; we are accustomed to see it neglected, or only tolerated in some corner of the kitchen garden, and not often tolerated there. But it was very different in Shakespeare's time, when it was in high favour for its evergreen leaves and fine aromatic scent, remaining a long time after picking, so long, indeed, that both leaves and scent were almost considered everlasting. This was its great charm, and so Spenser spoke of it as "the cheerful Rosemarie" and "refreshing Rosemarine," and good Sir Thomas More had a great affection for it. "As for Rosemarine," he said, "I lett it run alle over my garden walls, not onlie because my bees love it, but because tis the herb sacred to remembrance, and therefore to friendship; whence a sprig of it hath a dumb language that maketh it the chosen emblem at our funeral wakes and in our buriall grounds." And Parkinson gives a similar account of its popularity as a garden plant: "Being in every woman's garden, it were sufficient but to name it as an ornament among other sweet herbs and flowers in our gardens. In this our land, where it hath been planted in noblemen's and great men's gardens against brick walls, and there continued long, it riseth up in time unto a very great height, with a great and woody stem of that compasse that, being cloven out into boards, it hath served to make lutes or such like instruments, and here with us carpenters' rules and to divers others purposes." It was the favourite evergreen wherever the occasion required an emblem of constancy and perpetual remembrance, such especially as weddings and funerals, at both of which it was largely used; and so says Herrick of "The Rosemarie Branch"—

"Grow for two ends, it matters not at all, Be't for my bridall or my buriall."

Its use at funerals was very widespread, for Laurembergius records a pretty custom in use in his day, 1631, at Frankfort: "Is mos apud nos retinetur, dum cupresso humile, vel rore marino, non solum coronamus funera jamjam ducenda, sed et iis appendimus ex iisdem herbis litteras collectas, significatrices nominis ejus quae defuncta est. Nam in puellarum funeribus haec fere fieri solent" ("Horticulturae," cap. vj.).

Its use at weddings is pleasantly told in the old ballad of "The Bride's Good-morrow"—

"The house is drest and garnisht for your sake With flowers gallant and green; A solemn feast your comely cooks do ready make, Where all your friends will be seen: Young men and maids do ready stand With sweet Rosemary in their hand— A perfect token of your virgin's life. To wait upon you they intend Unto the church to make an end: And God make thee a joyfull wedded wife."

Roxburghe Ballads, vol. i.

It probably is one of the most lasting of evergreens after being gathered, though we can scarcely credit the statement recorded by Phillips that "it is the custom in France to put a branch of Rosemary in the hands of the dead when in the coffin, and we are told by Valmont Bomare, in his 'Histoire Naturelle,' that when the coffins have been opened after several years, the plant has been found to have vegetated so much that the leaves have covered the corpse." These were the general and popular uses of the Rosemary, but it was of high repute as a medicine, and still holds a place, though not so high as formerly, in the "Pharmacopoeia." "Rosemary," says Parkinson, "is almost of as great use as Bayes, both for inward and outward remedies, and as well for civill as physicall purposes—inwardly for the head and heart, outwardly for the sinews and joynts; for civile uses, as all do know, at weddings, funerals, &c., to bestow among friends; and the physicall are so many that you might as well be tyred in the reading as I in the writing, if I should set down all that might be said of it."

With this high character we may well leave this good, old-fashioned plant, merely noting that the name is popularly but erroneously supposed to mean the Rose of Mary. It has no connection with either Rose or Mary, but is the Ros marinus, or Ros Maris (as in Ovid—

"Ros maris, et laurus, nigraque myrtus olent;"

De Arte Aman., iii, 390),

the plant that delights in the sea-spray; and so the old spelling was Rosmarin. Gower says of the Star Alpheta—

"His herbe proper is Rosmarine;"

Conf. Aman., lib. sept.

a spelling which Shenstone adopted—

"And here trim Rosmarin that whilom crowned The daintiest garden of the proudest peer."

It was also sometimes called Guardrobe, being "put into chests and presses among clothes, to preserve them from mothes and other vermine."


[256:1] Grace was symbolized by the Rue, or Herb of Grace, and remembrance by the Rosemary.


(1) Perdita.

For you there's Rosemary and Rue.

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 4 (74). (See ROSEMARY, No. 1.)

(2) Gardener.

Here did she fall a tear; here in this place I'll set a bank of Rue, sour Herb of Grace: Rue, even for ruth, here shortly shall beseen, In the remembrance of a weeping queen.

Richard II, act iii, sc. 4 (104).

(3) Antony.

Grace grow where these drops fall.

Antony and Cleopatra, act iv, sc. 2 (38).

(4) Ophelia.

There's Rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it Herb-grace o' Sundays: O, you must wear your Rue with a difference.

Hamlet, act iv, sc. 5 (181).

(5) Clown.

Indeed, sir, she was the Sweet Marjoram of the salad, or rather the Herb of Grace.


They are not salad-herbs, you knave, they are nose-herbs.

All's Well that Ends Well, act iv, sc. 5 (17).

Comparing (2) and (3) together, there is little doubt that the same herb is alluded to in both; and it is, perhaps, alluded to, though not exactly named, in the following:

Friar Laurence.

In man, as well as herbs, grace and rude will.

Romeo and Juliet, act ii, sc. 3 (28).

Shakespeare thus gives us the two names for the same plant, Rue and Herb of Grace, and though at first sight there seems to be little or no connection between the two names, yet really they are so closely connected, that the one name was derived from, or rather suggested by, the other. Rue is the English form of the Greek and Latin ruta, a word which has never been explained, and in its earlier English form of rude came still nearer to the Latin original. But ruth was the English word for sorrow and remorse, and to rue was to be sorry for anything, or to have pity;[260:1] we still say a man will rue a particular action, i.e., be sorry for it; and so it was a natural thing to say that a plant which was so bitter, and had always borne the name Rue or Ruth, must be connected with repentance. It was, therefore, the Herb of Repentance, and this was soon transformed into the Herb of Grace (in 1838 Loudon said, "It is to this day called Ave Grace in Sussex"), repentance being the chief sign of grace; and it is not unlikely that this idea was strengthened by the connection of Rue with the bitter herbs of the Bible, though it is only once mentioned, and then with no special remark, except as a tithable garden herb, together with Anise and Cummin.

The Rue, like Lavender and Rosemary, is a native of the more barren parts of the coasts of the Mediterranean, and has been found on Mount Tabor, but it was one of the earliest occupants of the English Herb garden. It is very frequently mentioned in the Saxon Leech Books, and entered so largely into their prescriptions that it must have been very extensively grown. Its strong aromatic smell,[261:1] and bitter taste, with the blistering quality of the leaves, soon established its character as almost a heal-all.

"Rew bitter a worthy gres (herb) Mekyl of myth and vertu is."

Stockholm MS., 1305.

Even beasts were supposed to have discovered its virtues, so that weasels were gravely said, and this by such men as Pliny, to eat Rue when they were preparing themselves for a fight with rats and serpents. Its especial virtue was an eye-salve, a use which Milton did not overlook—

"To nobler sights Michael from Adam's eyes the filme removed Which that false fruit which promised clearer sight Had bred; then purged with Euphrasie and Rue The visual nerve, for he had much to see:"

Paradise Lost, book xi.;

and which was more fully stated in the old lines of the Schola Salerni—

"Nobilis est Ruta quia lumina reddit acuta; Auxilio rutae, vir lippe, videbis acute; Cruda comesta recens oculos Caligine purgat; Ruta facit castum, dat lumen, et ingerit astum; Cocta facit Ruta et de pollicibus loca tuta."

After reading this high moral and physical character of the herb, it is rather startling to find that "It is believed that if stolen from a neighbour's garden it would prosper better." It was, however, an old belief—

"They sayen eke stolen sede is butt the bette."

Palladius on Husbandrie (c. 1420) iv, 269.

"It is a common received opinion that Rue will grow the better if it bee filtched out of another man's garden."—HOLLAND'S Pliny, xix. 7.

As other medicines were introduced the Rue declined in favour, so that Parkinson spoke of it with qualified praise—"Without doubt it is a most wholesom herb, although bitter and strong. Some do rip up a bead-rowl of the virtues of Rue, . . . but beware of the too-frequent or overmuch use therof." And Dr. Daubeny says of it, "It is a powerful stimulant and narcotic, but not much used in modern practise."

As a garden plant, the Rue forms a pretty shrub for a rock-work, if somewhat attended to, so as to prevent its becoming straggling and untidy. The delicate green and peculiar shape of the leaves give it a distinctive character, which forms a good contrast to other plants.



"Rewe on my child, that of thyn gentilnesse Rewest on every sinful in destresse."

CHAUCER, The Man of Lawes Tale.

[261:1] "Ranke-smelling Rue."—SPENSER, Muiopotmos.


(1) Rosalind.

He taught me how to know a man in love; in which cage of Rushes I am sure you are not prisoner.

As You Like It, act iii, sc. 2 (388).

(2) Phoebe.

Lean but on a Rush, The cicatrice and capable impressure Thy palm some moment keeps.

Ibid., act iii, sc. 5 (22).

(3) Clown.

As fit as Tib's Rush for Tom's forefinger.

All's Well that Ends Well, act ii, sc. 2 (24).

(4) Romeo.

Let wantons light of heart Tickle the senseless Rushes with their heels.

Romeo and Juliet, act i, sc. 4 (35).

(5) Dromio of Syracuse.

Some devils ask but the parings of one's nail, A Rush, a hair, a drop of blood, a pin, A Nut, a Cherry-stone.

Comedy of Errors, act iv, sc. 3 (72).

(6) Bastard.

A Rush will be a beam To hang thee on.

King John, act iv, sc. 3 (129).

(7) 1st Groom.

More Rushes, more Rushes.

2nd Henry IV, act v, sc. 5 (1).

(8) Eros.

He's walking in the garden—thus; and spurns The Rush that lies before him.

Antony and Cleopatra, act iii, sc. 5 (17).

(9) Othello.

Man but a Rush against Othello's breast, And he retires.

Othello, act v, sc. 2 (270).

(10) Grumio.

Is supper ready, the house trimmed, Rushes strewed, cobwebs swept?

Taming of the Shrew, act iv, sc. 1 (47).

(11) Katherine.

Be it moon or sun, or what you please, And if you please to call it a Rush-candle, Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

Ibid., act iv, sc. 5 (13).

(12) Glendower.

She bids you on the wanton Rushes lay you down, And rest your gentle head upon her lap.

1st Henry IV, act iii, sc. 1 (214).

(13) Marcius.

He that depends Upon your favours swims with fins of lead And hews down Oaks with Rushes.

Coriolanus, act i, sc. 1 (183).

(14) Iachimo.

Our Tarquin thus Did softly press the Rushes.

Cymbeline, act ii, sc. 2 (12).

(15) Senator. Our gates Which yet seem shut, we have but pinn'd with Rushes! They'll open of themselves.

Coriolanus, act i, sc. 4 (16).


And being lighted, by the light he spies Lucretia's glove, wherein her needle sticks; He takes it from the Rushes where it lies.

Lucrece (316).

(17) See REEDS, No. 7.

(18) Wooer.

Rings she made Of Rushes that grew by, and to 'em spoke The prettiest posies.

Two Noble Kinsmen, act iv, sc. 1 (109).

See also FLAG, REED, and BULRUSH.

Like the Reed, the Rush often stands for any water-loving, grassy plant, and, like the Reed, it was the emblem of yielding weakness and of uselessness.[264:1] The three principal Rushes referred to by Shakespeare are the Common Rush (Juncus communis), the Bulrush (Scirpus lacustris), and the Sweet Rush (Acorus calamus).

The Common Rush, though the mark of badly cultivated ground, and the emblem of uselessness, was not without its uses, some of which are referred to in Nos. 1, 3, and 11. In Nos. 3 and 18 reference is made to the Rush-ring, a ring, no doubt, originally meant and used for the purposes of honest betrothal, but afterwards so vilely used for the purposes of mock marriages, that even as early as 1217 Richard Bishop of Salisbury had to issue his edict against the use of "annulum de junco."

The Rush betrothal ring is mentioned by Spenser—

"O thou great shepheard, Lobbin, how great is thy griefe! Where bene the nosegayes that she dight for thee? The coloured chaplets wrought with a chiefe, The knotted Rush-ringes and gilt Rosemarie."

Shepherd's Calendar—November.

And by Quarles—

"Love-sick swains Compose Rush-rings, and Myrtle-berry chains, And stuck with glorious King-cups in their bonnets, Adorned with Laurel slip, chant true love sonnets."

But the uses of the Rush were not all bad. Newton, in 1587, said of the Rush—"It is a round smooth shoote without joints or knots, having within it a white substance or pith, which being drawn forth showeth like long white, soft, gentle, and round thread, and serveth for many purposes. Heerewith be made manie pretie imagined devises for Bride-ales and other solemnities, as little baskets, hampers, frames, pitchers, dishes, combs, brushes, stooles, chaires, purses with strings, girdles, and manie such other pretie and curious and artificiall conceits, which at such times many do take the paines to make and hang up in their houses, as tokens of good will to the new married Bride; and after the solemnities ended, to bestow abroad for Bride-gifts or presents." It was this "white substance or pith" from which the Rush candle (No. 11) was and still is made: a candle which in early days was probably the universal candle, which, till within a few years, was the night candle of every sick chamber, in which most of us can recollect it as a most ghastly object as it used to stand, "stationed in a basin on the floor, where it glimmered away like a gigantic lighthouse in a particularly small piece of water" (Pickwick), till expelled by the night-lights, and which is still made by Welsh labourers, and, I suppose, in Shakespeare's time was the only candle used by the poor.

"If your influence be quite damm'd up With black usurping mists, some gentle taper, Though a Rush-candle from the wicker hole Of some clay habitation, visit us With thy long levell'd rule of streaming light."—Comus.

But the chief use of Rushes in those days was to strew the floors of houses and churches (Nos. 4, 7, 10, 12, and 14). This custom seems to have been universal in all houses of any pretence. "William the son of William of Alesbury holds three roods of land of the Lord the King in Alesbury in Com. Buck by the service of finding straw for the bed of the Lord the King, and to strew his chamber, and also of finding for the King when he comes to Alesbury straw for his bed, and besides this Grass or Rushes to make his chamber pleasant."—BLUNT'S Tenures. The custom went on even to our own day in Norwich Cathedral, and the "picturesque custom still lingers in the West of strewing the floors of the churches on Whit Sunday with Rushes freshly pulled from the meadows. This custom attains its highest perfection in the church of St. Mary Redcliffe at Bristol. On 'Rush Sunday' the floor is strewn with Rushes. All the merchants throw open their conservatories for the vicar to take his choice of their flowers, and the pulpit, the lectern, the choir, and the communion rails and table present a scene of great beauty."—The Garden, May, 1877.

For this purpose the Sweet-scented Rush was always used where it could be procured, and when first laid down it must have made a pleasant carpet; but it was a sadly dirty arrangement, and gives us a very poor idea of the cleanliness of even the best houses, though it probably was not the custom all through the year, as Newton says, speaking of Sedges, but evidently confusing the Sedge with the Sweet-scented Rush, "with the which many in this countrie do use in sommer time to straw their parlours and churches, as well for cooleness as for pleasant smell."[266:1] This Rush (Acorus calamus) is a British plant, with broad leaves, which have a strong cinnamon-like smell, which obtained for the plant the old Saxon name of Beewort. Another (so-called) Rush, the Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus), is one of the very handsomest of the British plants, bearing on a long straight stem a large umbel of very handsome pink flowers. Wherever there is a pond in a garden, these fine Rushes should have a place, though they may be grown in the open border where the ground is not too dry.

There is a story told by Sir John Mandeville in connection with Rushes which is not easy to understand. According to his account, our Saviour's crown of thorns was made of Rushes! "And zif alle it be so that men seyn that this Croune is of Thornes, zee shall undirstande that it was of Jonkes of the See, that is to sey, Russhes of the See, that prykken als scharpely as Thornes. For I have seen and beholden many times that of Parys and that of Constantynoble, for thei were bothe on, made of Russches of the See. But men have departed hem in two parties, of the which on part is at Parys, and the other part is at Constantynoble—and I have on of the precyouse Thornes, that semethe licke a white Thorn, and that was zoven to me for great specyaltee. . . . The Jewes setten him in a chayere and clad him in a mantelle, and then made thei the Croune of Jonkes of the See."—Voiage and Travaile, c. 2.

I have no certainty to what Rush the pleasant old traveller can here refer. I can only guess that as Rushes and Sedges were almost interchangeable names, he may have meant the Sea Holly, formerly called the Holly-sedge, of which there is a very appropriate account given in an old Saxon runelay thus translated by Cockayne: "Hollysedge hath its dwelling oftenest in a marsh, it waxeth in water, woundeth fearfully, burneth with blood (i.e., draws blood and pains) every one of men who to it offers any handling."[267:1]



"Around the islet at its lowest edge, Lo, there beneath, where breaks th' encircling wave, The yielding mud is thick with Rushes crowned. No other flower with frond or leafy growth Or hardened fibre there can life sustain, For none bend safely to the watery shock."

DANTE, Purgatorio, canto i. (Johnston).

[266:1] "In the South of Europe Juniper branches were used for this purpose, as they still are in Sweden."—Flora Domestica, p. 213.

"As I have seen upon a bridal day, Full many maids clad in their best array, In honour of the bride, come with their flaskets Filled full of flowers, other in wicker baskets Bring from the Marish Rushes, to overspread The ground whereon to Church the lovers tread."

BROWNE'S Brit. Past., i, 2.

[267:1] I leave this as I first wrote it, but I have to thank Mr. Britten for the very probable suggestion that Sir John Mandeville was right. Not only does the Juncus acutus "prykken als scharpely as Thornes," but "what is shown in Paris at the present day as the crown of Thorns is certainly, as Sir John says, made of rushes; the curious may consult M. Rohault de Fleury's sumptuous 'Memoire sur les Instruments de la Passion,' for a full description of it."


(1) Iris.

Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy rich leas Of Wheat, Rye, Barley, Vetches, Oats, and Pease.

Tempest, act iv, sc. 1 (60).

(2) Iris.

You sunburnt sicklemen, of August weary, Come hither from the furrow and be merry; Make holiday; your Rye-straw hats put on.

Ibid., act iv, sc. 1 (135).

(3) Song.

Between the acres of the Rye These pretty country folks would lye.

As You Like It, act v, sc. 3 (23).

The Rye of Shakespeare's time was identical with our own (Secale cereale). It is not a British plant, and its native country is not exactly known; but it seems probable that both the plant and the name came from the region of the Caucasus.

As a food-plant Rye was not in good repute in Shakespeare's time. Gerard said of it, "It is harder to digest than Wheat, yet to rusticke bodies that can well digest it, it yields good nourishment." But "recent investigations by Professor Wanklyn and Mr. Cooper appear to give the first place to Rye as the most nutritious of all our cereals. Rye contains more gluten, and is pronounced by them one-third richer than Wheat. Rye, moreover, is capable of thriving in almost any soil."—Gardener's Chronicle, 1877.


(1) Ceres.

Who (i.e., Iris), with thy Saffron wings upon my flowers, Diffusest honeydrops, refreshing showers.

Tempest, act iv, sc. 1 (78).

(2) Antipholus of Ephesus.

Did this companion with the Saffron face Revel and feast it at my house to day?

Comedy of Errors, act iv, sc. 4 (64).

(3) Clown.

I must have Saffron to colour the Warden pies.

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 3 (48).

(4) Lafeu.

No, no, no, your son was misled with a snipt-taffeta fellow there, whose villanous Saffron would have made all the unbaked and doughy youth of a nation in his colour.

All's Well that Ends Well, act iv, sc. 5 (1).

Saffron (from its Arabic name, al zahafaran) was not, in Shakespeare's time, limited to the drug or to the Saffron-bearing Crocus (C. sativus), but it was the general name for all the Croci, and was even extended to the Colchicums, which were called Meadow Saffrons.[268:1] We have no Crocus really a native of Britain, but a few species (C. vernus, C. nudiflorus, C. aureus, and C. biflorus) have been so naturalized in certain parts as to be admitted, though very doubtfully, into the British flora; but the Saffron Crocus can in no way be considered a native, and the history of its introduction into England is very obscure. It is mentioned several times in the Anglo-Saxon Leech Books: "When he bathes, let him smear himself with oil; mingle it with Saffron."—Tenth Century Leech Book, ii. 37. "For dimness of eyes, thus one must heal it: take Celandine one spoonful, and Aloes, and Crocus (Saffron in French)."—Schools of Medicine, tenth century, c. 22. In these instances it may be only the imported drug; but the name occurs in an English Vocabulary among the Nomina herbarum: "Hic Crocus, A{e} Safurroun;" and in a Pictorial Vocabulary of the fourteenth century, "Hic Crocus, An{ce} Safryn;" so that I think the plant must have been in cultivation in England at that time. The usual statement, made by one writer after another, is that it was introduced by Sir Thomas Smith into the neighbourhood of Walden in the time of Edward III., but the original authority for this statement is unknown. The most authentic account is that by Hakluyt in 1582, and though it is rather long, it is worth extracting in full. It occurs in some instructions in "Remembrances for Master S.," who was going into Turkey, giving him hints what to observe in his travels: "Saffron, the best of the universall world, groweth in this realme. . . . It is a spice that is cordiall, and may be used in meats, and that is excellent in dying of yellow silks. This commodity of Saffron groweth fifty miles from Tripoli, in Syria, on an high hyll, called in those parts Gasian, so as there you may learn at that part of Tripoli the value of the pound, the goodnesse of it, and the places of the vent. But it is said that from that hyll there passeth yerely of that commodity fifteen moiles laden, and that those regions notwithstanding lacke sufficiency of that commodity. But if a vent might be found, men would in Essex (about Saffron Walden), and in Cambridgeshire, revive the trade for the benefit of the setting of the poore on worke. So would they do in Herefordshire by Wales, where the best of all England is, in which place the soil yields the wilde Saffron commonly, which showeth the natural inclination of the same soile to the bearing of the right Saffron, if the soile be manured and that way employed. . . It is reported at Saffron Walden that a pilgrim, proposing to do good to his countrey, stole a head of Saffron, and hid the same in his Palmer's staffe, which he had made hollow before of purpose, and so he brought the root into this realme with venture of his life, for if he had bene taken, by the law of the countrey from whence it came, he had died for the fact."—English Voiages, &c., vol. ii. From this account it seems clear that even in Hakluyt's time Saffron had been so long introduced that the history of its introduction was lost; and I think it very probable that, as was suggested by Coles in his "Adam in Eden" (1657), we are indebted to the Romans for this, as for so many of our useful plants. But it is not a Roman or Italian plant. Spenser wrote of it as—

"Saffron sought for in Cilician soyle—"[270:1]

and Browne—

"Saffron confected in Cilicia"—Brit. Past., i, 2;

which information they derived from Pliny. It is supposed to be a native of Asia Minor, but so altered by long cultivation that it never produces seed either in England or in other parts of Europe.[270:2] This fact led M. Chappellier, of Paris, who has for many years studied the history of the plant, to the belief that it was a hybrid; but finding that when fertilized with the pollen of a Crocus found wild in Greece, and known as C. sativus var. Graecus (Orphanidis), it produces seed abundantly, he concludes that it is a variety of that species, which it very much resembles, but altered and rendered sterile by cultivation. It is not now much cultivated in England, but we have abundant authority from Tusser, Gerard, Parkinson, Camden, and many other writers, that it was largely cultivated before and after Shakespeare's time, and that the quality of the English Saffron was very superior.[271:1] The importance of the crop is shown by its giving its name to Saffron Walden in Essex,[271:2] and to Saffron Hill in London, which "was formerly a part of Ely Gardens" (of which we shall hear again when we come to speak of Strawberries), "and derives its name from the crops of Saffron which it bore."—CUNNINGHAM. The plant has in the same way given its name to Zaffarano, a village in Sicily, near Mount Etna, and to Zafaranboly, "ville situee pres Inobole en Anatolie, au sud-est de l'ancienne Heraclee."—CHAPPELLIER. The plant is largely cultivated in many parts of Europe, but the chief centres of cultivation are in the arrondissement of Pithiviers in France, and the province of Arragon in Spain; and the chief consumers are the Germans. It has also been largely cultivated in China for a great many years, and the bulbs now imported from China are found to be, in many points, superior to the European—"l'invasion Tartare aurait porte le Safran en Chine, et de leur cote les croises l'auraient importe en Europe."—CHAPPELLIER.

I need scarcely say that the parts of the plant that produce the Saffron are the sweet-scented stigmata, the "Crocei odores" of Virgil; but the use of Saffron has now so gone out of fashion, that it may be well to say something of its uses in the time of Shakespeare, as a medicine, a dye, and a confection. On all three points its virtues were so many that there is a complete literature on Crocus. I need not name all the books on the subject, but the title page of one (a duodecimo of nearly three hundred pages) may be quoted as an example: "Crocologia seu curiosa Croci Regis Vegetabilium enucleatio continens Illius etymologiam, differencias, tempus quo viret et floret, culturam, collectionem, usum mechanicum, Pharmaceuticum, Chemico medicum, omnibus pene humani corporis partibus destinatum additis diversis observationibus et questionibus Crocum concernentibus ad normam et formam S. R. I. Academiae Naturae curiosorum congesta a Dan: Ferdinando Hertodt, Phys. et Med. Doc., &c., &c. Jenae. 1671." After this we may content ourselves with Gerard's summary of its virtues: "The moderate use of it is good for the head, and maketh sences more quicke and lively, shaketh off heavy and drowsie sleep and maketh a man mery." For its use in confections this will suffice from the "Apparatus Plantarum" of Laurembergius, 1632: "In re familiari vix ullus est telluris habitatus angulus ubi non sit Croci quotodiana usurpatio, aspersi vel incocti cibis." And as to its uses as a dye, its penetrating powers were proverbial, of which Luther's Sermons will supply an instance: "As the Saffron bag that hath bene ful of Saffron, or hath had Saffron in it, doth ever after savour and smel of the swete Saffron that it contayneth; so our blessed Ladye which conceived and bare Christe in her wombe, dyd ever after resemble the maners and vertues of that precious babe which she bare" ("Fourth Sermon," 1548). One of the uses to which Saffron was applied in the Middle Ages was for the manufacture of the beautiful gold colour used in the illumination of missals, &c., where the actual gold was not used. This is the recipe from the work of Theophilus in the eleventh century: "If ye wish to decorate your work in some manner take tin pure and finely scraped; melt it and wash it like gold, and apply it with the same glue upon letters or other places which you wish to ornament with gold or silver; and when you have polished it with a tooth, take Saffron with which silk is colored, moistening it with clear of egg without water, and when it has stood a night, on the following day cover with a pencil the places which you wish to gild, the rest holding the place of silver" (Book i, c. 23, Hendrie's translation).

Though the chief fame of the Saffron Crocus is as a field plant, yet it is also a very handsome flower; but it is a most capricious one, which may account for the area of cultivation being so limited. In some places it entirely refuses to flower, as it does in my own garden, where I have cultivated it for many years but never saw a flower, while in a neighbour's garden, under apparently the very same conditions of soil and climate, it flowers every autumn. But if we cannot succeed with the Saffron Crocus, there are many other Croci which were known in the time of Shakespeare, and grown not "for any other use than in regard of their beautiful flowers of several varieties, as they have been carefully sought out and preserved by divers to furnish a garden of dainty curiosity." Gerard had in his garden only six species; Parkinson had or described thirty-one different sorts, and after his time new kinds were not so much sought after till Dean Herbert collected and studied them. His monograph of the Crocus, in 1847, contained the account of forty-one species, besides many varieties. The latest arrangement of the family by Mr. George Maw, of Broseley, contains sixty-eight species, besides varieties; of these all are not yet in cultivation, but every year sees some fresh addition to the number, chiefly by the unwearied exertions in finding them in their native habitats, and the liberal distribution of them when found, of Mr. Maw, to whom all the lovers of the Crocus are deeply indebted. And the Croci are so beautiful that we cannot have too many of them; they are, for the most part, perfectly hardy, though some few require a little protection in winter; they are of an infinite variety of colour, and some flower in the spring and some in the autumn. Most of us call the Crocus a spring flower, yet there are more autumnal than vernal species, but it is as a spring flower that we most value it. The common yellow Crocus is almost as much "the first-born of the year's delight" as the Snowdrop. No one can tell its native country, but it has been the brightest ornament of our gardens, not only in spring, but even in winter, for many years. It was probably first introduced during Shakespeare's life. "It hath floures," says Gerard, "of a most perfect shining yellow colour, seeming afar off to be a hot glowing coal of fire. That pleasant plant was sent unto me from Robinus, of Paris, that painful and most curious searcher of simples." From that beginning perhaps it has found its way into every garden, for it increases rapidly, is very hardy, and its brightness commends it to all. It is the "most gladsome of the early flowers. None gives more glowing welcome to the season, or strikes on our first glance with a ray of keener pleasure, when, with some bright morning's warmth, the solitary golden fringes have kindled into knots of thick-clustered yellow bloom on the borders of the cottage garden. At a distance the eye is caught by that glowing patch, its warm heart open to the sun, and dear to the honey-gathering bees which hum around the chalices."—FORBES WATSON.

With this pretty picture I may well close the account of the Crocus, but not because the subject is exhausted, for it is very tempting to go much further, and to speak of the beauties of the many species, and of the endless forms and colours of the grand Dutch varieties; and whatever admiration may be expressed for the common yellow Dutch Crocus, the same I would also give to almost every member of this lovely and cheerful family.


[268:1] Fuller says of the crocodile—"He hath his name of chrocho-deilos, or the Saffron-fearer, knowing himself to be all poison, and it all antidote."—Worthies of England, i, 336, ed. 1811.

[270:1] "Cilician," or "Corycean," were the established classical epithets to use when speaking of the Saffron. Cowley quotes—

"Corycii pressura Croci"—LUCAN;

"Ultima Corycio quae cadit aura Croco"—MARTIAL;

and adds the note—"Omnes Poetae hoc quasi solenni quodam Epitheto utuntur. Corycus nomen urbis et montis in Cilicia, ubi laudatissimus Crocus nascebatur."—Plantarum, lib. i, 49.

[270:2] "Saffron is . . . a native of Cashmere, . . . and the . . . Saffron Crocus and the Hemp plant have followed their (the Aryans) migrations together throughout the temperate zone of the globe."—BIRDWOOD, Handbook to the Indian Court, p. 23.

[271:1] "Our English hony and Safron is better than any that commeth from any strange or foregn land."—BULLEIN, Government of Health, 1588.

[271:2] The arms of the borough of Saffron Walden are "three Saffron flowers walled in."



Half-way down Hangs one that gathers Samphire, dreadful trade! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head.

King Lear, act iv, sc. 6 (14).

Being found only on rocks, the Samphire was naturally associated with St. Peter, and so it was called in Italian Herba di San Pietro, in English Sampire and Rock Sampier[274:1]—in other words, Samphire is simply a corruption of Saint Peter. The plant grows round all the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, wherever there are suitable rocks on which it can grow, and on all the coasts of Europe, except the northern coasts; and it is a plant very easily recognized, if not by its pale-green, fleshy leaves, yet certainly by its taste, or its "smell delightful and pleasant." The leaves form the pickle, "the pleasantest sauce, most familiar, and best agreeing with man's body," but now much out of fashion. In Shakespeare's time the gathering of Samphire was a regular trade, and Steevens quotes from Smith's "History of Waterford" to show the danger attending the trade: "It is terrible to see how people gather it, hanging by a rope several fathoms from the top of the impending rocks, as it were in the air." In our own time the quantity required could be easily got without much danger, for it grows in places perfectly accessible in sufficient quantity for the present requirements, for in some parts it grows away from the cliffs, so that "the fields about Porth Gwylan, in Carnarvonshire, are covered with it." It may even be grown in the garden, especially in gardens near the sea, and makes a pretty plant for rockwork.

There is a story connected with the Samphire which shows how botanical knowledge, like all other knowledge, may be of great service, even where least expected. Many years ago a ship was wrecked on the Sussex coast, and a small party were left on a rock not far from land. To their horror they found the sea rising higher and higher, and threatening before long to cover their place of refuge. Some of them proposed to try and swim for land, and would have done so, but just as they were preparing for it an officer saw a plant of Samphire growing on the rock, and told them they might stay and trust to that little plant that the sea would rise no further, for that the Samphire, though always growing within the spray of the sea, never grows where the sea could actually touch it. They believed him and were saved.


[274:1] Dr. Prior.



Here's flowers for you; Hot Lavender, Mints, Savory, Marjoram.

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 4. (103).

Savory might be supposed to get its name as being a plant of special savour, but the name comes from its Latin name Saturcia, through the Italian Savoreggia. It is a native of the South of Europe, probably introduced into England by the Romans, for it is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon recipes under the imported name of Savorie. It was a very favourite plant in the old herb gardens, and both kinds, the Winter and Summer Savory, were reckoned "among the farsing or farseting herbes, as they call them" (Parkinson), i.e., herbs used for stuffing.[275:1] Both kinds are still grown in herb gardens, but are very little used.



"His typet was ay farsud ful of knyfes And pynnes, for to give fair wyves."

Canterbury Tale, Prologue.

"The farced title running before the King."

Henry V, act iv, sc. 1 (431).

The word still exists as "forced;" e.g., "a forced leg of mutton," "forced meat balls."


(1) 2nd Servant.

And Cytherea all in Sedges hid, Which seem to move and wanton with her breath, Even as the waving Sedges play with wind.

Taming of the Shrew, Induction, sc. 2. (53).

(2) Iris.

You nymphs, called Naiads, of the winding brooks, With your Sedged crowns and ever-harmless looks.

Tempest, act iv, sc. 1 (128).

(3) Julia.

The current that with gentle murmur glides, Thou knowest, being stopped, impatiently doth rage; But when his fair course is not hindered, He makes sweet music with the enamell'd stones, Giving a gentle kiss to every Sedge He overtaketh in his pilgrimage; And so by many winding nooks he strays With willing sport to the wild ocean.

Two Gentlemen of Verona, act ii, sc. 7 (25).

(4) Benedick.

Alas, poor hurt fowl! now will he creep into Sedges.

Much Ado About Nothing, act ii, sc. 1 (209).

(5) Hotspur.

The gentle Severn's Sedgy bank.

1st Henry IV, act i, sc. 3 (98).

(6) See REEDS, No. 7.

Sedge is from the Anglo-Saxon Secg, and meant almost any waterside plant. Thus we read of the Moor Secg, and the Red Secg, and the Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum) is called the Holly Sedge. And so it was doubtless used by Shakespeare. In our day Sedge is confined to the genus Carex, a family growing in almost all parts of the world, and containing about 1000 species, of which we have fifty-eight in Great Britain; they are most graceful ornaments both of our brooks and ditches; and some of them will make handsome garden plants. One very handsome species—perhaps the handsomest—is C. pendula, with long tassel-like flower-spikes hanging down in a very beautiful form, which is not uncommon as a wild plant, and can easily be grown in the garden, and the flower-spikes will be found very handsome additions to tall nosegays. There is another North American species, C. Fraseri, which is a good plant for the north side of a rock-work: it is a small plant, but the flower is a spike of the purest white, and is very curious, and unlike any other flower.



What Rhubarb, Senna, or what purgative drug Would scour these English hence?[277:1]

Macbeth, act v, sc. 3 (55).

Even in the time of Shakespeare several attempts were made to grow the Senna in England, but without success; so that he probably only knew it as an important "purgative drug." The Senna of commerce is made from the leaves of Cassia lanceolata and Cassia Senna, both natives of Africa, and so unfitted for open-air cultivation in England. The Cassias are a large family, mostly with handsome yellow flowers, some of which are very ornamental greenhouse plants; and one from North America, Cassia Marylandica, may be considered hardy in the South of England.


[277:1] In this passage the old reading for "Senna" is "Cyme," and this is the reading of the Globe Shakespeare; but I quote the passage with "Senna" because it is so printed in many editions.



He persuaded us to do the like.


Yea, and to tickle our noses with Speargrass to make them bleed, and then to beslubber our garments with it and swear it was the blood of true men.

1st Henry IV, act ii, sc. 4 (339).

Except in this passage I can only find Speargrass mentioned in Lupton's "Notable Things," and there without any description, only as part of a medical recipe: "Whosoever is tormented with sciatica or the hip gout, let them take an herb called Speargrass, and stamp it and lay a little thereof upon the grief." The plant is not mentioned by Lyte, Gerard, Parkinson, or the other old herbalists, and so it is somewhat of a puzzle. Steevens quotes from an old play, "Victories of Henry the Fifth": "Every day I went into the field, I would take a straw and thrust it into my nose, and make my nose bleed;" but a straw was never called Speargrass. Asparagus was called Speerage, and the young shoots might have been used for the purpose, but I have never heard of such a use; Ranunculus flammula was called Spearwort, from its lanceolate leaves, and so (according to Cockayne) was Carex acuta, still called Spiesgrass in German. Mr. Beisly suggests the Yarrow or Millfoil; and we know from several authorities (Lyte, Hollybush, Gerard, Phillip, Cole, Skinner, and Lindley) that the Yarrow was called Nosebleed; but there seems no reason to suppose that it was ever called Speargrass, or could have been called a Grass at all, though the term Grass was often used in the most general way. Dr. Prior suggests the Common Reed, which is probable. I have been rather inclined to suppose it to be one of the Horse-tails (Equiseta).[278:1] They are very sharp and spearlike, and their rough surfaces would soon draw blood; and as a decoction of Horse-tail was a remedy for stopping bleeding of the nose, I have thought it very probable that such a supposed virtue could only have arisen when remedies were sought for on the principle of "similia similibus curantur;" so that a plant, which in one form produced nose-bleeding, would, when otherwise administered, be the natural remedy. But I now think that all these suggested plants must give way in favour of the common Couch-grass (Triticum repens). In the eastern counties, this is still called Speargrass; and the sharp underground stolons might easily draw blood, when the nose is tickled with them. The old emigrants from the eastern counties took the name with them to America, but applied it to a Poa (Webster's "Dictionary," s.v. Speargrass).


[278:1] "Hippurus Anglice dicitur sharynge gyrs."—TURNER'S Libellus, 1538.




Thy turfy mountains, where live nibbling sheep, And flat meads thatch'd with Stover, them to keep.

Tempest, act iv, sc. 1 (62).

In this passage, Stover is probably the bent or dried Grass still remaining on the land, but it is the common word for hay or straw, or for "fodder and provision for all sorts of cattle; from Estovers, law term, which is so explained in the law dictionaries. Both are derived from Estouvier in the old French, defined by Roquefort—'Convenance, necessite, provision de tout ce qui est necessaire.'"—NARES. The word is of frequent occurrence in the writers of the time of Shakespeare. One quotation from Tusser will be sufficient—

"Keepe dry thy straw—

"If house-roome will serve thee, lay Stover up drie, And everie sort by it selfe for to lie. Or stack it for litter if roome be too poore, And thatch out the residue, noieng thy door."

November's Husbandry.


(1) Iago.

Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief Spotted with Strawberries in your wife's hand?[279:1]

Othello, act iii, sc. 3 (434).

(2) Ely.

The Strawberry grows underneath the Nettle, And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best Neighbour'd by fruit of baser quality; And so the prince obscured his contemplation Under the veil of wildness.

Henry V, act i, sc. 1 (60).

(3) Gloster.

My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good Strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you send for some of them.


Marry, and will, my Lord, with all my heart.

* * * * *

Where is my lord Protector? I have sent For these Strawberries.

King Richard III, act iii, sc. 4 (32).

The Bishop of Ely's garden in Holborn must have been one of the chief gardens of England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, for this is the third time it has been brought under our notice. It was celebrated for its Roses (see ROSE); it was so celebrated for its Saffron Crocuses that part of it acquired the name which it still keeps, Saffron Hill; and now we hear of its "good Strawberries;" while the remembrance of "the ample garden," and of the handsome Lord Chancellor to whom it was given when taken from the bishopric, is still kept alive in its name of Hatton Garden. How very good our forefathers' Strawberries were, we have a strong proof in old Isaak Walton's happy words: "Indeed, my good scholar, we may say of angling as Dr. Boteler said of Strawberries: 'Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did;' and so, if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling." I doubt whether, with our present experience of good Strawberries, we should join in this high praise of the Strawberries of Shakespeare's or Isaak Walton's day, for their varieties of Strawberry must have been very limited in comparison to ours. Their chief Strawberry was the Wild Strawberry brought straight from the woods, and no doubt much improved in time by cultivation. Yet we learn from Spenser and from Tusser that it was the custom to grow it just as it came from the woods.

Spenser says—

"One day as they all three together went Into the wood to gather Strawberries."—F. Q., vi. 34;

and Tusser—

"Wife, into thy garden, and set me a plot With Strawbery rootes of the best to be got: Such growing abroade, among Thornes in the wood, Wel chosen and picked, prove excellent good.

* * * * *

The Gooseberry, Respis, and Roses al three With Strawberies under them trimly agree."

September's Husbandry.

And even in the next century, Sir Hugh Plat said—

"Strawberries which grow in woods prosper best in gardens."

Garden of Eden, i, 20.[281:1]

Besides the wild one (Fragaria vesca), they had the Virginian (F. Virginiana), a native of North America, and the parent of our scarlets; but they do not seem to have had the Hautbois (F. elatior), or the Chilian, or the Carolinas, from which most of our good varieties have descended.

The Strawberry is among fruits what the Primrose and Snowdrop are among flowers, the harbinger of other good fruits to follow. It is the earliest of the summer fruits, and there is no need to dwell on its delicate, sweet-scented freshness, so acceptable to all; but it has also a charm in autumn, known, however, but to few, and sometimes said to be only discernible by few. Among "the flowers that yield sweetest smell in the air," Lord Bacon reckoned Violets, and "next to that is the Musk Rose, then the Strawberry leaves dying, with a most excellent cordial smell." In Mrs. Gaskell's pretty tale, "My Lady Ludlow," the dying Strawberry leaves act an important part. "The great hereditary faculty on which my lady piqued herself, and with reason, for I never met with any other person who possessed it, was the power she had of perceiving the delicious odour arising from a bed of Strawberry leaves in the late autumn, when the leaves were all fading and dying." The old lady quotes Lord Bacon, and then says: "'Now the Hanburys can always smell the excellent cordial odour, and very delicious and refreshing it is. In the time of Queen Elizabeth the great old families of England were a distinct race, just as a cart-horse is one creature and very useful in its place, and Childers or Eclipse is another creature, though both are of the same species. So the old families have gifts and powers of a different and higher class to what the other orders have. My dear, remember that you try and smell the scent of dying Strawberry leaves in this next autumn, you have some of Ursula Hanbury's blood in you, and that gives you a chance.' 'But when October came I sniffed, and sniffed, and all to no purpose; and my lady, who had watched the little experiment rather anxiously, had to give me up as a hybrid'" ("Household Words," vol. xviii.). On this I can only say in the words of an old writer, "A rare and notable thing, if it be true, for I never proved it, and never tried it; therefore, as it proves so, praise it."[282:1] Spenser also mentions the scent, but not of the leaves or fruit, but of the flowers—

"Comming to kisse her lyps (such grace I found), Me seem'd I smelt a garden of sweet flowres That dainty odours from them threw around:

* * * * *

Her goodly bosome, lyke a Strawberry bed,

* * * * *

Such fragrant flowres doe give most odorous smell."[282:2]

Sonnet lxiv.

There is a considerable interest connected with the name of the plant, and much popular error. It is supposed to be called Strawberry because the berries have straw laid under them, or from an old custom of selling the wild ones strung on straws.[282:3] In Shakespeare's time straw was used for the protection of Strawberries, but not in the present fashion—

"If frost doe continue, take this for a lawe, The Strawberies look to be covered with strawe. Laid ouerly trim upon crotchis and bows, And after uncovered as weather allows."

TUSSER, December's Husbandry.

But the name is much more ancient than either of these customs. Strawberry in different forms, as Strea-berige, Streaberie-wisan, Streaw-berige, Streaw-berian wisan, Streberilef, Strabery, Strebere-wise, is its name in the old English Vocabularies, while it appears first in its present form in a Pictorial Vocabulary of the fifteenth century, "Hoc ffragrum, A{ce} a Strawbery." What the word really means is pleasantly told by a writer in Seeman's "Journal of Botany," 1869: "How well this name indicates the now prevailing practice of English gardeners laying straw under the berry in order to bring it to perfection, and prevent it from touching the earth, which without that precaution it naturally does, and to which it owes its German Erdbeere, making us almost forget that in this instance 'straw' has nothing to do with the practice alluded to, but is an obsolete past-participle of 'to strew,' in allusion to the habit of the plant." This obsolete word is preserved in our English Bibles, "gathering where thou hast not strawed," "he strawed it upon the water," "straw me with apples;" and in Shakespeare—

The bottom poison, and the top o'erstrawed With sweets.—Venus and Adonis.

From another point of view there is almost as great a mistake in the second half of the name, for in strict botanical language the fruit of the Strawberry is not a berry; it is not even "exactly a fruit, but is merely a fleshy receptacle bearing fruit, the true fruit being the ripe carpels, which are scattered over its surface in the form of minute grains looking like seeds, for which they are usually mistaken, the seed lying inside of the shell of the carpel." It is exactly the contrary to the Raspberry, a fruit not named by Shakespeare, though common in his time under the name of Rasps. "When you gather the Raspberry you throw away the receptacle under the name of core, never suspecting that it is the very part you had just before been feasting upon in the Strawberry. In the one case, the receptacle robs the carpels of all their juice in order to become gorged and bloated at their expense; in the other case, the carpels act in the same selfish manner upon the receptacles."—LINDLEY, Ladies' Botany.

Shakespeare's mention of the Strawberry and the Nettle (No. 2) deserves a passing note. It was the common opinion in his day that plants were affected by the neighbourhood of other plants to such an extent that they imbibed each other's virtues and faults. Thus sweet flowers were planted near fruit trees, with the idea of improving the flavour of the fruit, and evil-smelling trees, like the Elder, were carefully cleared away from fruit trees, lest they should be tainted. But the Strawberry was supposed to be an exception to the rule, and was supposed to thrive in the midst of "evil communications" without being corrupted. Preachers and emblem-writers naturally seized upon this: "In tilling our gardens we cannot but admire the fresh innocence and purity of the Strawberry, because although it creeps along the ground, and is continually crushed by serpents, lizards, and other venomous reptiles, yet it does not imbibe the slightest impression of poison, or the smallest malignant quality, a true sign that it has no affinity with poison. And so it is with human virtues," &c. "In conversation take everything peacefully, no matter what is said or done. In this manner you may remain innocent amidst the hissing of serpents, and, as a little Strawberry, you will not suffer contamination from slimy things creeping near you."—ST. FRANCIS DE SALES.

I need only add that the Strawberry need not be confined to the kitchen garden, as there are some varieties which make very good carpet plants, such as the variegated Strawberry, which, however, is very capricious in its variegation; the double Strawberry, which bears pretty white button-like flowers; and the Fragaria lucida from California, which has very bright shining leaves, and was, when first introduced, supposed to be useful in crossing with other species; but I have not heard that this has been successfully effected.


[279:1] "Mrs. Somerville made for me a delicate outline sketch of what is called Othello's house in Venice, and a beautifully coloured copy of his shield surmounted by the Doge's cap, and bearing three Mulberries for device—proving the truth of the assertion that the Otelli del Moro were a noble Venetian folk, who came originally from the Morea, whose device was the Mulberry, the growth of that country, and showing how curious a jumble Shakespeare has made both of name and device in calling him a Moor, and embroidering his arms on his handkerchief as Strawberries."—F. KEMBLE'S Records, vol. i. 145.

[281:1] It seems probable that the Romans only knew of the Wild Strawberry, of which both Virgil and Ovid speak—

"Qui legitis flores et humi nascentia fraga."—Ecl., ii.

"Contentique cibis nullo cogente creatis Arbuteos foetus montanaque fraga legebant."—Metam., i, 105.

[282:1] "Quae neque confirmare argumentis neque refellere in animo est; ex ingenio suo quisque demat vel addat fidem."—TACITUS.

[282:2] The flowers of Fragaria lucida are slightly violet-scented, but I know of no Strawberry flower that can be said to "give most odorous smell."


"The wood nymphs oftentimes would busied be, And pluck for him the blushing Strawberry, Making from them a bracelet on a bent, Which for a favour to this swain they sent."

BROWNE'S Brit. Past., i, 2.


(1) Prince Henry.

But, sweet Ned—to sweeten which name of Ned, I give thee this pennyworth of Sugar, clapped even now into my hand by an under-skinker.

* * * * *

To drive away the time till Falstaff comes, I prithee, do thou stand in some by-room, while I question my puny drawer to what end he gave me the Sugar.

* * * * *

Nay, but hark you, Francis; for the Sugar thou gavest me, 'twas a pennyworth, was't not?

1st Henry IV, act ii, sc. 4 (23, 31, 64).

(2) Biron.

White-handed mistress, one sweet word with thee.


Honey, and Milk, and Sugar, there is three.

Love's Labour's Lost, act v, sc. 2 (230).

(3) Quickly.

And in such wine and Sugar of the best and the fairest, that would have won any woman's heart.

Merry Wives, act ii, sc. 2 (70).

(4) Bassanio.

Here are sever'd lips Parted with Sugar breath; so sweet a bar Should sunder such sweet friends.

Merchant of Venice, act iii, sc. 2 (118).

(5) Touchstone.

Honesty coupled to beauty is to have honey a sauce to Sugar.

As You Like It, act iii, sc. 2 (30).

(6) Northumberland.

Your fair discourse hath been as Sugar, Making the hard way sweet and delectable.

Richard II, act ii, sc. 3 (6).

(7) Clown.

Let me see,—what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of Sugar, five pound of Currants.

Winter's Tale, act iv, sc. 3 (39).

(8) K. Henry.

You have witchcraft in your lips, Kate: there is more eloquence in a Sugar touch of them than in the tongues of the French council.

Henry V, act v, sc. 2 (401).

(9) Queen Margaret.

Poor painted Queen, vain flourish of my fortune! Why strew'st thou Sugar on that bottled spider, Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?

Richard III, act i, sc. 3 (241).

(10) Gloucester.

Your grace attended to their Sugar'd words, But look'd not on the poison of their hearts.

Richard III, act iii, sc. 1 (13).

(11) Polonius.

We are oft to blame in this— Tis too much proved—that with devotion's visage And pious actions we do Sugar o'er The devil himself.

Hamlet, act iii, sc. 1 (46).

(12) Brabantio.

These sentences, to Sugar, or to gall, Being strong on both sides, are equivocal.

Othello, act i, sc. 3 (216).

(13) Timon.

And never learn'd The icy precepts of respect, but follow'd The Sugar'd game before thee.

Timon of Athens, act iv, sc. 3 (257).

(14) Pucelle.

By fair persuasion mix'd with Sugar'd words We will entice the Duke of Burgundy.

1st Henry VI, act iii, sc. 3 (18).

(15) K. Henry.

Hide not thy poison with such Sugar'd words.

2nd Henry VI, act iii, sc. 2 (45).

(16) Prince Henry.

One poor pennyworth of Sugar-candy, to make thee long-winded.

1st Henry IV, act iii, sc. 3 (180).


Thy Sugar'd tongue to bitter Wormwood taste.

Lucrece (893).

As a pure vegetable product, though manufactured, Sugar cannot be passed over in an account of the plants of Shakespeare; but it will not be necessary to say much about it. Yet the history of the migrations of the Sugar-plant is sufficiently interesting to call for a short notice.

Its original home seems to have been in the East Indies, whence it was imported in very early times. It is probably the "sweet cane" of the Bible; and among classical writers it is named by Strabo, Lucan, Varro, Seneca, Dioscorides, and Pliny. The plant is said to have been introduced into Europe during the Crusades, and to have been cultivated in the Morea, Rhodes, Malta, Sicily, and Spain.[286:1] By the Spaniards it was taken first to Madeira and the Cape de Verd Islands, and, very soon after the discovery of America, to the West Indies. There it soon grew rapidly, and increased enormously, and became a chief article of commerce, so that though we now almost look upon it as entirely a New World plant, it is in fact but a stranger there, that has found a most congenial home.

In 1468 the price of Sugar was sixpence a pound, equal to six shillings of our money,[287:1] but in Shakespeare's time it must have been very common,[287:2] or it could not so largely have worked its way into the common English language and proverbial expressions; and it must also have been very cheap, or it could not so entirely have superseded the use of honey, which in earlier times was the only sweetening material.

Shakespeare may have seen the living plant, for it was grown as a curiosity in his day, though Gerard could not succeed with it: "Myself did plant some shootes thereof in my garden, and some in Flanders did the like, but the coldness of our clymate made an end of myne, and I think the Flemmings will have the like profit of their labour." But he bears testimony to the large use of Sugar in his day; "of the juice of the reede is made the most pleasant and profitable sweet called Sugar, whereof is made infinite confections, sirupes, and such like, as also preserving and conserving of sundrie fruits, herbes and flowers, as roses, violets, rosemary flowers and such like."


[286:1] "It is the juice of certain canes or reedes whiche growe most plentifully in the Ilandes of Madera, Sicilia, Cyprus, Rhodus and Candy. It is made by art in boyling of the Canes, much like as they make their white salt in the Witches in Cheshire."—COGHAN, Haven of Health, 1596, p. 110.

[287:1] "Babee's Book," xxx.

[287:2] It is mentioned by Chaucer—

"Gyngerbred that was so fyn. And licorys and eek comyn With Sugre that is trye."—Tale of Sir Thopas.



(1) Desdemona (singing).

The poor soul sat sighing by a Sycamore tree.

Othello, act iv, sc. 3 (41).

(2) Benvolio.

Underneath the grove of Sycamore That westward rooteth from the city's side, So early walking did I see your son.

Romeo and Juliet, act i, sc. 1 (130).

(3) Boyet.

Under the cool shade of a Sycamore I thought to close mine eyes some half an hour.

Love's Labour's Lost, act v, sc. 2 (89).

In its botanical relationship, the Sycamore is closely allied to the Maple, and was often called the Great Maple, and is still so called in Scotland. It is not indigenous in Great Britain, but it has long been naturalized among us, and has taken so kindly to our soil and climate that it is one of our commonest trees. It is one of the best of forest trees for resisting wind; it "scorns to be biassed in its mode of growth even by the prevailing wind, but shooting its branches with equal boldness in every direction, shows no weatherside to the storm, and may be broken, but never can be bended."-Old Mortality, c. i.

The history of the name is curious. The Sycomore, or Zicamine tree of the Bible and of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, is the Fig-mulberry, a large handsome tree indigenous in Africa and Syria, and largely planted, partly for the sake of its fruit, and especially for the delicious shade it gives. With this tree the early English writers were not acquainted, but they found the name in the Bible, and applied it to any shade-giving tree. Thus in AElfric's Vocabulary in the tenth century it is given to the Aspen—"Sicomorus vel celsa aeps." Chaucer gives the name to some hedge shrub, but he probably used it for any thick shrub, without any very special distinction—

"The hedge also that yedde in compas And closed in all the greene herbere With Sicamour was set and Eglateere, Wrethen in fere so well and cunningly That every branch and leafe grew by measure Plaine as a bord, of an height by and by."

The Flower and the Leaf.

Our Sycamore would be very ill suited to make the sides and roof of an arbour, but before the time of Shakespeare it seems certain that the name was attached to our present tree, and it is so called by Gerard and Parkinson.

The Sycamore is chiefly planted for its rapid growth rather than for its beauty. It becomes a handsome tree when fully grown, but as a young tree it is stiff and heavy, and at all times it is so infested with honeydew as to make it unfit for planting on lawns or near paths. It grows well in the north, where other trees will not well flourish, and "we frequently meet with the tree apart in the fields, or unawares in remote localities amidst the Lammermuirs and the Cheviots, where it is the surviving witness of the former existence of a hamlet there. Hence to the botanical rambler it has a more melancholy character than the Yew. It throws him back on past days, when he who planted the tree was the owner of the land and of the Hall, and whose name and race are forgotten even by tradition. . . . And there is reasonable pride in the ancestry when a grove of old gentlemanly Sycamores still shadows the Hall."—JOHNSTON. But these old Sycamores were not planted only for beauty: they were sometimes planted for a very unpleasant use. "They were used by the most powerful barons in the West of Scotland for hanging their enemies and refractory vassals on, and for this reason were called dool or grief trees. Of these there are three yet standing, the most memorable being one near the fine old castle of Cassilis, one of the seats of the Marquis of Ailsa, on the banks of the River Doon. It was used by the family of Kennedy, who were the most powerful barons of the West of Scotland, for the purpose above mentioned."—JOHNS.

The wood of the Sycamore is useful for turning and a few other purposes, but is not very durable. The sap, as in all the Maples, is full of sugar, and the pollen is very curious; "it appears globular in the microscope, but if it be touched with anything moist, the globules burst open with four valves, and then they appear in the form of a cross."—MILLER.


(1) Burgundy.

And nothing teems But hateful Docks, rough Thistles, Kecksies, Burs.

Henry V, act v, sc. 2 (51).

(2) Bottom.

Mounsieur Cobweb, good mounsieur, get you your weapons ready in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped humble bee on the top of a Thistle; and, good mounsieur, bring me the honey-bag.

Midsummer Night's Dream, act iv, sc. 1 (10).

Thistle is the old English name for a large family of plants occurring chiefly in Europe and Asia, of which we have fourteen species in Great Britain, arranged under the botanical families of Carlina, Carduus, and Onopordon. It is the recognized symbol of untidiness and carelessness, being found not so much in barren ground as in good ground not properly cared for. So good a proof of a rich soil does the Thistle give, that a saying is attributed to a blind man who was choosing a piece of land—"Take me to a Thistle;" and Tusser says—

"Much wetnes, hog-rooting, and land out of hart makes Thistles a number foorthwith to upstart. If Thistles so growing proove lustie and long, It signifieth land to be hartie and strong."

October's Husbandry (13).

If the Thistles were not so common, and if we could get rid of the associations they suggest, there are probably few of our wild plants that we should more admire: they are stately in their foliage and habit, and some of their flowers are rich in colour, and the Thistledown, which carries the seed far and wide, is very beautiful, and was once considered useful as a sign of rain, for "if the down flyeth off Coltsfoot, Dandelyon, or Thistles when there is no winde, it is a signe of rain."—COLES.

It had still another use in rustic divination—

"Upon the various earth's embroidered gown, There is a weed upon whose head grows down, Sow Thistle 'tis y'clept, whose downy wreath If anyone can blow off at a breath We deem her for a maid."—BROWNE'S Brit. Past., i, 4.

But it is owing to these pretty Thistledowns that the plant becomes a most undesirable neighbour, for they carry the seed everywhere, and wherever it is carried, it soon vegetates, and a fine crop of Thistles very quickly follows. In this way, if left to themselves, the Thistles will soon monopolize a large extent of country, to the extinction of other plants, as they have done in parts of the American prairies, and as they did in Australia, till a most stringent Act of Parliament was passed about twenty years ago, imposing heavy penalties upon all who neglected to destroy the Thistles on their land. For these reasons we cannot admit the Thistle into the garden, at least not our native Thistles; but there are some foreigners which may well be admitted. There are the handsome yellow Thistles of the South of Europe (Scolymus), which besides their beauty have a classical interest. "Hesiod elegantly describing the time of year, says,

emos de skolymos t'anthei,

when the Scolymus flowers, i.e., in hot weather or summer ("Op. et dies," 582). This plant crowned with its golden flowers is abundant throughout Sicily."—HOGG'S Classical Plants of Sicily. There is the Fish-bone Thistle (Chamaepeuce diacantha) from Syria, a very handsome plant, and, like most of the Thistles, a biennial; but if allowed to flower and go to seed, it will produce plenty of seedlings for a succession of years. And there is a grand scarlet Thistle from Mexico, the Erythrolena conspicua ("Sweet," vol. ii. p. 134), which must be almost the handsomest of the family, and which was grown in England fifty years ago, but has been long lost. There are many others that may deserve a place as ornamental plants, but they find little favour, for "they are only Thistles."

Any notice of the Thistle would be imperfect without some mention of the Scotch Thistle. It is the one point in the history of the plant that protects it from contempt. We dare not despise a plant which is the honoured badge of our neighbours and relations, the Scotch; which is ennobled as the symbol of the Order of the Thistle, that claims to be the most ancient of all our Orders of high honour; and which defies you to insult it or despise it by its proud mottoes, "Nemo me impune lacessit," "Ce que Dieu garde, est bien garde." What is the true Scotch Thistle even the Scotch antiquarians cannot decide, and in the uncertainty it is perhaps safest to say that no Thistle in particular can claim the sole honour, but that it extends to every member of the family that can be found in Scotland.[292:1]

Shakespeare has noticed the love of the bee for the Thistle, and it seems that it is for other purposes than honey gathering that he finds the Thistle useful. For "a beauty has the Thistle, when every delicate hair arrests a dew-drop on a showery April morning, and when the purple blossom of a roadside Thistle turns its face to Heaven and welcomes the wild bee, who lies close upon its flowerets on the approach of some storm cloud until its shadow be past away. For with unerring instinct the bee well knows that the darkness is but for a moment, and that the sun will shine out again ere long."—LADY WILKINSON.


[292:1] See an interesting and fanciful account of the fitness of the Thistle as the emblem of Scotland in Ruskin's "Proserpina," pp. 135-139.


(1) Ariel.

Tooth'd Briers, sharp Furzes, pricking Goss, and Thorns, Which entered their frail skins.

Tempest, act iv, sc. 1 (180).

(2) Quince.

One must come in with a bush of Thorns and a lanthorn, and say he comes in to disfigure, or to present, the person of Moonshine.

Midsummer Night's Dream, act iii, sc. 1 (60).

(3) Puck.

For Briers and Thorns at their apparel snatch.

Ibid., act iii, sc. 2 (29).

(4) Prologue.

This man with lanthorn, dog, and bush of Thorn, Presenteth Moonshine.

Ibid., act v, sc. 1 (136).

(5) Moonshine.

All that I have to say, is to tell you that the lanthorn is the moon; I, the man in the moon; this Thorn-bush, my Thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog.

Ibid. (261).

(6) Dumain.

But, alack, my hand is sworn Ne'er to pluck thee from thy Thorn.

Love's Labour's Lost, act iv, sc. 3 (111).

(7) Carlisle.

The woe's to come; the children yet unborn Shall feel this day as sharp to them as Thorn.

Richard II, act iv, sc. 1 (322).

(8) King Henry.

The care you have of us, To mow down Thorns that would annoy our foot, Is worthy praise.

2nd Henry VI, act iii, sc. 1 (66).

(9) Gloucester.

And I—like one lost in a Thorny wood, That rends the Thorns and is rent with the Thorns, Seeking a way, and straying from the way.

3rd Henry VI, act iii, sc. 2 (174).

(10) K. Edward.

Brave followers, yonder stands the Thorny wood.

Ibid., act v, sc. 4 (67).

(11) K. Edward.

What! can so young a Thorn begin to prick.

Ibid., act v, sc. 4 (13).

(12) Romeo.

Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like Thorn.

Romeo and Juliet, act i, sc. 4 (25).

(13) Boult.

A Thornier piece of ground.

Pericles, act iv, sc. 6 (153).

(14) Leontes.

Which being spotted Is goads, Thorns, Nettles, tails of wasps.

Winter's Tale, act i, sc. 2 (328).

(15) Florizel.

But O, the Thorns we stand upon!

Ibid., act iv, sc. 4 (596).

(16) Ophelia.

Do not, as some ungracious pastors do, Shew me the steep and Thorny path to Heaven.

Hamlet, act i, sc. 3 (47).

(17) Ghost.

Leave her to Heaven, And to those Thorns that in her bosom lodge, To prick and sting her.

Ibid., act i, sc. 5 (86).

(18) Bastard.

I am amazed, methinks, and lose my way Among the Thorns and dangers of this world.

King John, act iv, sc. 3 (40).

See also ROSE, Nos. 7, 18, 22, 30, the scene in the Temple gardens; and BRIER, No. 11.

Thorns and Thistles are the typical emblems of desolation and trouble, and so Shakespeare uses them; and had he spoken of Thorns in this sense only, I should have been doubtful as to admitting them among his other plants, but as in some of the passages they stand for the Hawthorn tree and the Rose bush, I could not pass them by altogether. They might need no further comment beyond referring for further information about them to Hawthorn, Briar, Rose, and Bramble; but in speaking of the Bramble I mentioned the curious legend which tells why the Bramble employs itself in collecting wool from every stray sheep, and there is another very curious instance in Blount's "Antient Tenures" of a connection between Thorns and wool. The original document is given in Latin, and is dated 39th Henry III. It may be thus translated: "Peter de Baldwyn holds in Combes, in the county of Surrey, by the service to go a wool gathering for our Lady the Queen among the White Thorns, and if he refuses to gather it he shall pay into the Treasury of our Lord the King xxs. per annum." I should almost suspect a false reading, as the editor is inclined to do, but that many other services, equally curious and improbable, may easily be found.

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