« PreviousContinue »
from their being so easily tonsile, were invaluable for forming mazes, now only retain their station in our church-yards, where they were originally ordered to be planted by law, that, upon occasion, their tough branches might afford a ready supply of bows. But this Laurel cannot be so easily dismissed; it is literally and truly an evergreen, for classical associations assure to it an imperishable youth and freshness. Into this tree was Daphne metamorphosed when she fled from Apollo in the vale of Tempè; with these leaves did the enamoured god bind his brows, and decree that it should be for ever sacred to his divinity; since when, as all true poets believe, it has been an infallible preservative against lightning;—and from tufted bowers of this plant did the Delphic girls rush out upon Mount Parnassus, when with music, dancing, and enthusiastic hymns, they celebrated the festival of the god of day. A wreath of laurel was the noblest reward to which virtue and ambition aspired, before the world became venal, and fell down to worship the golden calf. Cæsar wore his, it is said, to hide a defect; and our modern kings have little better plea for their crowns, from the Tartar dandy down to Ferdinand the Embroiderer. Yonder is the Laurus,
might be supposed to be pourtraying some of the worst specimens of the art of gardening which our own country exhibited in King William's time, dwelling, with apparent pleasure, on box-trees cut into monsters, animals, letters, and the names of the master and artificer; with the usual appendages of slopes, terraces, water-spouts, rectangular walks, and the regular alternations by which "half the garden just reflects the other."
or bay-tree, a garland of whose leaves was deemed their noblest recompense by ancient poets; but our modern Laureates, not even content with the addition of a hundred pounds and a butt of sack, must have pensions and snug little sinecures besides. Virgil places Anchises in Elysium, in a grove of sweet-scented bays.
Those three shrubs planted close together are the Privet, and two varieties of Holly, so placed that their black, yellow, and red berries might be intermixed; the Misletoe, with its transparent pearls, would have formed a beautiful addition; but it is a parasite, and requires larger trees to support it. On New Year's Day the ancient Druids went out to seek this plant with hymns, ceremonies, and rejoicings, distributing it again among the people as something sacred and auspicious.
Two or three hundred years hence this young plant, which has only lately been added to the garden, may become a majestic Cypress: it is of very slow growth, and still slower decay, on which account the ancients used it for the statues of their gods. The gates of St. Peter's church at Rome, made of this wood, had lasted from the time of Constantine, eleven hundred years, as fresh as new, when Pope Eugenius IV. ordered gates of brass in their stead. Some will have it that the wood Gophir, of which Noah's ark was made, was cypress. Plato preferred it to brass for writing his laws on; the Athenians, according to Thucydides, buried their heroes in coffins of this wood, and many of the Egyptian-mummy chests are formed of the same material. The beautiful youth who killed Apollo's
favourite stag, was metamorphosed into this tree.Those taller trees at the back of the plantation are Firs and Pines, sacred in the olden time to Pan. Unacquainted with brandy, the ancients used to tap these trees for a species of turpentine to fortify and preserve their wines, whence the Bacchanalian Thyrsus was always terminated with a fir cone. Our garden cannot boast a single Pinaster; but there is a noble one on the lawn of the Episcopal Palace at Fulham, whence these large flakes of smooth bark were lately peeled off, and, by subdividing them into thin laminæ, they may be written on like so many sheets of paper, without the smallest preparation. For this purpose they were used by the ancients, who also formed a papyrus from the bark of the mulberry-tree, whence the Latin word liber signified both the bark of a tree, and a book; and the term folium, a leaf, was on the same account equally applied to both. From liber comes libellus, a little book; and hence have we derived our Libel law, with all its difficulties and anomalous inflictions. Who would have thought that, amid all the delightful associations of our garden, the Attorney-General would have popped his gown and wig upon our thoughts from behind the peaceful bark of a pine?
Leaving these evergreens, let us for a moment take a seat beneath this beautiful Plane, a tree which was. brought originally from the Levant to Rome, and formed such a favourite decoration in the villas of her greatest orators and statesmen, that we read of their irrigating them with wine instead of water. Pliny affirms, that no tree defends more effectually from the
heat of the sun in summer, nor admits its kindly in the winter. Its introduction into England is generally ascribed to Lord Bacon, who planted a noble parcel of them at Verulam :-nor can I gaze through its branches upon the blue benignant heavens, without participating that enthusiasm of natural religion by which Bacon himself was actuated, when he occasionally walked forth in a gentle shower without any covering on his head, in order, as he said, that he might feel the spirit of the universe descending upon him. Mention is made of a plane-tree growing at a villa of the Emperor Caligula, whose hollow trunk was capacious enough to contain ten or twelve persons at dinner, with their attendants; but the most celebrated upon record, is that with which Xerxes was so much smitten, that he halted his whole army for some days to admire it; collecting the jewels of his whole court to adorn it; neglecting all the concerns of his grand expedition, while he passionately addressed it as his mistress, his minion, his goddess; and, when he finally tore himself away, causing a representation of it to be stamped on a gold medal, which he continually wore about his neck.
Some interesting reflections will be suggested by the mere nomenclature of plants, if we attend to a few of the more common sorts, as we stray along the borders, and through the green-house. This little elegant flower, with its hoar and dark green leaves, and golden crown, has had two sponsors; having first been honoured with the name of Parthenis, imparted to it by the Virgin Goddess, until Artemisia, the wife of
Mausolus, adopted it, and ordered that it should bear her own. The columns, and obelisks, and towers of the far-famed mausoleum built by this Queen have gradually crumbled, until they have become so effectually mingled with the dust, that even the site of one of the wonders of the world is utterly unknown; while this fragile flower, immutable and immortal, continues precisely the same as when her youthful fingers first pruned its leaves in the windows of her palace. In this Teucrium, or tree germander, we recognise the name of King Teucer, who first introduced it among his Phrygian subjects, as well as the worship of Cybele, and the dances of the Corybantes. Black Hellebore, or melampodium, is not very inviting in its associations, if we merely consider its dangerous qualities; but it possesses an historical interest, when we recollect, that with this plant Melampus cured the mad daughters of King Prætus, and received the eldest in marriage for his reward. Euphorbia commemorates the physician of Juba, a Moorish prince; and Gentiana immortalizes a King of Illyria.* These references might be extended among ancient names to the end of our walk; but we will now advert to a few of the more modern derivations. Tournefort gave to this scarlet jasmine the name of Bignonia, in honour of Abbot Bignon, librarian to Louis XIV. The Browallia demissa and elata record a botanist of humble origin, who afterwards became Bishop of Upsal; and the French, by a Greek pun upon Buo
*See Smith's Introduction to Botany, p. 374.