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LETTER IV. ON THE SCIENCE AND LITERATURE OF THE MIDDLE AGES,

SIR,

Considered with Reference to the Cause of Catholic Emancipation.

ON BOTANY AND MEDICINE.

To the Editor of the Catholic Miscellany.

It will be perceived that, in the foregoing letters, I have connected the botany of the middle ages with the charitable habits and practices of the monks; and the reason of this connection may not be immediately apparent to the reader. The fact is, that the whole, or nearly the whole of our popular medicine, owes its existence to the priests and religious orders in the times of what is vulgarly called "monkish ignorance."

Among the vestiges of Greek and Roman science preserved through the early ages of the church in the monasteries, may be enumerated that of botany. The monks cultivated and improved on this science, discovered what plants were intended by the Greek names, found the same plants with numerous others in our climate, and applied and taught in England all the popular medical doctrines and receipts of the Greek physicians, which were founded on a knowledge of physiological botany. Thus the gardens of monasteries in France, England, and indeed all over Europe, became physic gardens for the use of the public at large, but particularly for the poor. Besides this general use of the science, certain intelligent monks became amateur botanists, and many abbey gardens became celebrated for the cultivation of beautiful plants, and hence we have derived most of the double or full varieties of our British flowers, which were the only ornaments of our parterres before the wars of the Crusades afforded an opportunity to Europeans of bringing foreign plants from the Holy Land, and of introducing the taste for more ornamental gardening from the East. It has been falsely asserted that we derive our botany from Clusius, and other gardeners of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; but though many rare plants were introduced about that time, yet the bulk of our popular botany and medicine can be traced many hundred years farther back. And that it originated with, or was modified by the religious orders, is proved by the very names of the most conspicuous plants, as I have before hinted at.

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The pilgrimages and the travelling of the mendicant friars, which began to be common towards the close of the twelfth century, spread this knowledge of plants and of medical nostrums far and wide, and we have the traces of this extended knowledge in the popular, and I might almost say, legendary medicine of our country practitioners. Though many of the vegetable specifics I allude to have been of late years erased from our pharmacopæias, yet their utility has been asserted by some very able writers on physic, and the author of these observations has himself often witnessed their efficacy in cases where regular practice had been unavailing. Mr. Abernethy has alluded to the surprising efficacy of these popular vegetable diet drinks, in his book on the digestic organs. And it is a fact curiously corroborating their utility, that similar medicines are used by the North American Indians, whose sagacity has found out and known, from time immemorial, the use of such various herbs as medicines, which the kind hospitable woods provide; and by means of which Mr. Whitlaw is now making many excellent cures of diseases. But it is time to proceed to a closer examination of early botany, by a brief survey of several species of plants, and their names, by which their cultivation by the religious orders will become apparent. I shall begin with certain plants noted as flowering about the time of certain religious festivals, and shall proceed in the order of the calendar.

The snowdrop, galanthus nivalis, whose pure white and pendant flowers are the first harbinger of spring, is noted down in some calendars as being an emblem of the purification of the spotless Virgin, as it blows upon Candlemas, and was not known by the name of snowdrop till lately, being formerly called fair maid of February, in honour of Our Lady. Sir James Edward Smith, and other modern botanists, make this plant a native of England, but I can trace most of the wild specimens to some neighbouring garden, or old dilapidated monastery; and I am persuaded it was introduced into England by the monks subsequent to the Conquest, and probably since the time of Chaucer, who does not notice it, though he mentions the daisy and various less striking flowers.

The ladysmock, cardamine pratensis, is a word corrupted of Our Lady's smock, a name by which this plant (as well as that of chemise de Notre Dame) is still known in parts of Europe: it first flowers about Ladytide, or the festival of the Annunciation, and hence its

name.

Crosswort, galium cruciatum, as well as goose grass, galium

anserinum, were used as medical herbs, and the latter with great

success.

Cross flower, polygala vulgaris, which begins to flower about the Invention of the Cross, May 3, was also called Rogation flower, and was carried by maidens in the processions in Rogation week, in early times. The monks discovered its quality of producing milk in nursing women, and hence it was called milkwort. Indeed, so extensive was the knowledge of botany, and of the medical power of herbs among the monks of old, that a few examples only can be adduced in a general essay; and indeed it appears that many rare species of exotics were known by them, and were inhabitants of their monastery gardens, which Beckman in his Geschiette der Erfingdungen, and Dryander in the Hortus Kewensis, have ascribed to more modern introducers.

What is very remarkable is, that above three hundred species of medical plants were known to the monks and friars, and used by the religious orders in general for medicines, which are now to be found in some of our numerous books of pharmacy and medical botany, by new and less appropriate names, just as if the Protestants of subsequent times had changed the old names with a view to obliterate any traces of Catholic science. Linnæus, however, occasionally restored the ancient names.

The following are some familiar examples which occur to me, all of medicinal plants whose names have been changed in later times. The Virgin's bower, of the monastic physicians, was changed into flammula Jovis, by the new pharmacians. The hedge hyssop, into gratiola-the St. John's wort, (so called from flowering about St. John the Baptist's day) was changed into hypericum-fleur de St. Louis, into iris-palma Christi, into ricinus-Our Master wort, into imperatoria-sweet bay, into laurus-Our Lady's smock, into cardamine→→→ Solomon's seal, into convallaria-Our Lady's hair, into trichomanes -balm, into Melissa-marjorum, into origanum-crow foot, ranunculus-herb Trinity, into viola tricolor-avens, into caryophyllatacoltsfoot, into tussilago-knee holy, into rascus-wormwood, into absinthium-rosemary, into rosmarinus-marygold, into calundula, and so on. Thus the ancient names were not only changed, but in this change all the references to religious subjects, which would have led people to a knowledge of their culture among the monastic orders, were carefully left out. Mark well this circumstance, for trifling as it may appear, it will gain importance with reference to my argu

ment, when I shall show by and by, that similar attempts have also been made in other sciences, to obliterate the traces of Catholic science, utility, and humanity.

Moreover, we shall find that in cases almost too trivial to notice, the same trick has been played, in order, as it would seem, to fix the era of science and the revival of knowledge at no earlier period than the pretended Reformation.

The thorn apple, datura stramonium, is not a native of England; it was introduced by the friars in early times of pilgrimage; and hence we see it on old wasted lands near abbeys, and on dunghills, &c. Modern botanists, however, have ascribed its introduction to gipsies, although it has never been seen among that wandering people, nor used by them as a drug. I could adduce many other instances of the same sort. But vain indeed would be the endeavour to overshadow the fame of the religious orders to medical botany and the knowledge of plants: go into any garden, and the common name of marygold, Our Lady's seal, Our Lady's bedstraw, holy oak, (corrupted into holyhock) the Virgin's thistle, St. Barnaby's thistle, herb Trinity, herb St. Christopher, herb St. Robert, herb St. Timothy, Jacob's ladder, star of Bethlehem, now called ornithogalum; star of Jerusalem, now made goatsbeard; Passion flower, now passiflora; Lent lily, now daffodil; Canterbury bells (so called in honour of St. Augustine) is now made into campanula; cursed thistle, now carduus —besides Archangel, apple of Jerusalem, St. Paul's botany, Basil, St. Barbe, herb St. Barbara, bishopsweed, herba Christi, herba benedicta, herb St. Margaret, erroneously converted into la belle Marguerite,) God's flower, flos Jovis, Job's tears, Our Lady's laces, Our Lady's mantle, Our Lady's slipper, monk's hood, friar's cowl, St. Peter's herb, flower of St. Fain, flower of St. Catherine, star of St. Bartholomew, rose of Jericho, rose of Lima, Visitation lily, and a hundred more such:-Go into any garden, I say, and these names will remind every one at once of the knowledge of plants possessed by the monks, most of them have been named after the festivals and saints' days on which their natural time of blowing happened to occur; and others were so called, from the tendency of the minds of the religious orders of those days to convert every thing into a memento of sacred history, and the holy religion which they embraced.*

And here it may be observed, that it was this same disposition

* See Circle of the Seasons-a work which will be published on the 1st of November, by Messrs. Hookham, of Bond Street.

to convert every thing into a religious memorial, if I may so express it, which, on a larger scale and with still sublimer views, painted the storied windows of a cathedral with sacred history; which erected pious images, and lighted candles and lamps to them; which garnished the altar; which placed the cock, the emblem of vigilance, on the top of the steeple; and which, in short, made every thing typical of religious obligation, and became a daily incentive to the cardinal virtues, by resuscitating great events in our memories. The same pious spirit hung the ivy and holy berries up at Christmas, burnt lights on the eve of the Purification, in short, caused all the festive joys and ceremonies connected with our religion, at a time when the merry wake, and Christmas carrol, and the festive mirth of New-Year's Day, gladdened the heart of the rich and the poor, assembled together in a season of joyousness, and in the gothic hall of OLD BRITISH HOSPITALITY, before the desolating violence of the pretended Reformation enervated the vigour of the mind, paralyzed the hand of Charity, and gave us pauperism and the Poor Laws as a substitute, as Mr. Cobbett has reminded us, in his History of the Reformation; a work, by the way, which is this moment come into my hands, and which, I must candidly confess, will render unnecessary the whole of my intended next letter," On the Institutions of Charity of the Middle Ages, and on Modern Beggary." I shall pass over this subject, therefore, to the more immediate objects of scientific research, leaying it to the more able pen of a highly-talented writer, to describe a change for the worse in this respect of so appalling a nature, as is calculated only to make us throw down our pen in disgust of human pretensions and the boasted improvements of the age we live in.

Go, physician and moralist, into the gardens of ruined monasteries, and behold in the curious plants which still grow there, as if wild, the sources of your art, and the traces of those monks who revived physic in Europe. Proceed to examine the remains of the hospitals they founded, and examine the real history of their conduct in administering therein the blessings of medicine, food, and raiment to the poor.

Then, after tracing early Catholic benevolence in the records of history, take a survey of the present Protestant parish workhouses and jails, and learn the whole grovelling spirit of modern charity and Mendicity Society-ism. At length mount to the summit of those Alpine mountains, where, cased in eternal snow, the Hospice of St. Bernard, full of "idle dirty useless monks," offers to every traveller a refuge and a guide, and administers to human sufferings amidst the

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