Herbert Maxwell.

Memories of the months, being pages from the notebook of a field-naturalist and antiquary (Volume 1) online

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already at work ; so, to protect the entrance, the lip
of the flower has been enlarged into a process
exactly resembling the business end of a bee (in the
Fly Orchis it resembles the hind-quarters of a fly).
To the Spider Orchis (Ophrys amnifera), another
British species, it seems to have occurred how a still
more violent shock might be administered to the
nerves of troublesome insect callers, so it displays at
its front door the likeness of a large spider.

Some of us are vain enough to imagine that the
fragrance of flowers was invented for the special
gratification of the senses of man, though the true
object seems to be the attraction of insect visitors.
The perfume is generally agreeable, but by no means


always. Certain plants which covet the presence of
carrion-loving flies emit odours most revolting to
human nostrils. The giant Rafflesia, with flowers
fully a yard in diameter, stinks like putrescent
meat, thereby attracting swarms of flies. The
Eafflesia is a tropical plant; but some forms of
Arum, notably Arum dracunculus and crinitum,
which practise a similar form of deception, may be
grown in English gardens. The last-named is pro-
bably the most hideous flower in existence, for
which reason, perhaps, it is seldom seen in this
country. It resembles a gaping wound, lurid with
gangrene, nearly a foot long. The fraud is thor-
oughly effective ; I have seen the flowers of Arum
crinitum in my garden just as completely fly-blown
as if they really had been decaying flesh. The
wriggling of the maggots round the inflorescence
(which, as in other Aroids, rises like a column
within the spathe) ensured communication between
the male florets on the upper part of the spike and
the female florets lower down.

An example, still more familiar to everybody in
this country, of deceptive odours emitted to attract
flies, is that of the Stinkhorn Fungus (Phallus
impudicus), a common object in our woods in autumn.


Now how shall we attempt to account for these
and scores of other instances of deliberate deception 1
Plants, so far as we are informed, are destitute of
will or intelligence ; even if they possessed them, it
is not possible to understand how they could modify
their own structure. Yet it is almost equally diffi-
cult to imagine the Euler of the universe occupying
Himself in imitating some of the humblest of His
creatures, such as spiders and bees, in order to
protect others still more humble, such as orchids.
Equally hard to imagine Him directing the concoc-
tion of disgusting smells. For some purposes it is
to be greatly regretted that we have abandoned our
belief in fairies.


Talking of poisons reminds one of adders, our
only poisonous snake, which, during this

month and last, may have been seen in swallow

, ,, , ii- ,,_ . their Young?

neatny places, basking in the spring

sunshine ; and the mention of these recalls a vener-
able controversy, the flames of which have broken
out afresh lately. Seven lustres must have run
their course since a good hare, as old and tough as
human credulity, was started in the columns of the
Field, and, lo ! it is running as stoutly as ever.


1 Do vipers swallow their young ? ' It has been
asserted from a very remote antiquity that they do
that when danger threatens, the parent snake
opens her mouth, into which the snakelets straight-
way pass for shelter in the gullet. Recognised
authorities have ranged themselves on each side in
this discussion; some relying on the abundant
evidence of people of known integrity, who claim to
have been eye-witnesses of the feat ; others refusing
to be convinced without ocular and anatomical proof,
usually a postulate in questions of natural science.
Admittedly, it is a delicate matter to prove, owing
to the very nature of it. First, you must find your
viper; not at this season though, when vipers are
most accessible, but late in summer, after the young
are out. Next, you must alarm the brood, and
watch closely to see if they enter their parent's
mouth. Then (and here comes the really trying part
of it) you must secure the throat of your viper by
tying a piece of string securely round it. Probably
it will be found more convenient to kill your viper
before this stage of the experiment; but this it
behoves you to do delicately, as if you loved her
(which, if you are a properly constituted human
being, you certainly don't), so as not to derange the


internal anatomy. Lastly, you must be careful
never to mislay the address of Professor Stewart,
Curator of the College of Surgeons, so that you may
despatch your trophy to him without delay, claim
the reward of .5 which was offered many years ago,
and is still offered, by Mr. Tegetmeier, and im-
mortalise yourself by setting a famous controversy
at rest. Nothing short of this will do. It may
seem an excess of scepsis scientifica to hesitate to
accept the testimony of people above suspicion of
intentional dishonesty or exaggeration, who declare
they have seen the young vipers entering the mouth
of the parent. Nay, more : such persons more than
once have dissected snakes killed after they have
been seen to swallow their young. But, in the first
place, the nerves of anybody suddenly coming upon
a snake usually become somewhat disturbed, which
is unfavourable to cool observation; and, in the
second place, those who claim to have dissected
snakes which have been seen to swallow their young,
seldom know how to distinguish between the oeso-
phagus and the oviduct. The presence of live young
snakes in the latter would prove nothing, for that
would be the natural place to expect to find unborn
snakelets; their presence in the former would be


difficult to reconcile with the action of the gastric

Dr. George Harley has come nearest to an authori-
tative pronouncement on the puzzle. In a letter to
the Field, March 9, 1895, he described how he
dissected on the spot a viper which had been seen to
admit its young into its mouth, and had been killed
immediately. He found the young in the body of
the parent, sure enough, but neither in the stomach
nor in the oviduct. It was not till he was dissecting
a puff-adder in 1863 that he discovered a sac,
situated under the lungs, but nearer the tail, into
which he concluded the young might be received
and supplied with the air necessary for their exist-
ence, thus forming a provision somewhat analogous
to the pouch in marsupials. There are only two
unsatisfactory points about this statement by a man
of science ; unfortunately, they are destructive of its
value. The first is that the dissection took place
thirty-eight years ago in 1837 ; the second, that
the viper was thrown away after dissection.

It is ever thus with these wonderful stories.
They are not a bit more surprising than many facts
perfectly capable of demonstration; the extraordinary
part about them is that they refuse persistently to


be demonstrated. Till they are demonstrated, one
should not hesitate to refuse credence to them, which
is a very different thing from declaring them to be


Another meet subject for CTTOX^, or philosophic
suspension of judgment, is the claim of
certain persons to the power of the Divining
divining rod. It is not necessary in-
deed, it would be the reverse of philosophic to deny
the possibility of such a faculty, belief in which is so
venerable and so widespread. But it is reasonable
nay, it is the only course consistent with reason
to refuse to believe in its existence until it has been
submitted to proper tests. This has never been
done, though I was present some years ago at an
elaborate attempt to do so. The facts were as
follows :

Lord Jersey had employed Mullins, the celebrated
water-finder, 1 to discover springs on his property at
Middleton, in Oxfordshire, and had been not only
gratified, but astonished at his success. I ventured,
without questioning Mullins' undoubted skill and

i Mullins died in the winter of 1894-5.


usefulness, to express some doubt as to the part
played by the divining rod. It seemed so much
easier to credit the man with experience and quick
powers of observation, enabling him to detect the
presence of subterranean springs by means of signs
invisible to less practised eyes. That Mullins was
an expert was beyond doubt : dozens of people had
reason to be grateful to him for finding water for
them after all other means had failed. The only
question was whether he was not a bit of a humbug
also. It was determined to invite him to submit to
certain simple tests. He accepted Lord Jersey's
invitation to examine the ground at Osterley Park,
near Isleworth, in the presence of certain persons
accustomed to scientific inquiry. Now in describing
what took place, there is no intention of reflecting
unfairly on Mullins' proceedings, or of imputing to
him any intentional dishonesty. There may have
been a degree of suspicion in the minds of some
of those present ; probably there was ; but Mullins
got perfectly fair play, and people must be left to
draw their own conclusions from an accurate report
of the proceedings and their result in the only serious
attempt on record to test the virtues of the divining


Mullins arrived at Osterley in the forenoon. He
was at perfect liberty to go about and inspect the
field of operations, and I think I remember being
told he had done so. After luncheon he presented
himself to the visitors and set to work. Sir James
Crighton-Brown took command of the inspecting
staff. Mullins, having a supply of light, forked
hazel rods, rather thicker than an ordinary drawing
pencil, and about a foot or fifteen inches long, seized
one of them with a prong in each hand, and began
to move about with the point of the rod about a foot
above the surface of the ground. At two places on
the gravel sweep in front of the house the rod
turned up, Mullins stopped, and told us that a spring
would be found at those points. The same happened
at more than one place in the park, where the sur-
face was grassy. He showed us how the rod twisted
so violently that, when he held it tight, it broke in
his hand. Asked what his sensations were, he
replied that when the rod turned up he felt a ' kind
of a shivering ' passing upwards along his spine. He
stood on a plate of thick glass, and explained to us
that the rod then gave no sign, which, in his view,
showed that the influence was electricity. Sir James
then proposed that Mullins should go through his


performance blindfold, to which the operator made
no objection. A large handkerchief was tied over
his eyes, and he made ready to begin again.

' I don't call that blindfolding at all ! ' cried Sir
James, and produced some cotton wool, which he
proposed to stuff under the handkerchief; upon
which Mullins tore off the handkerchief, vowed that
he had practised his profession for thirty years
without once having had his honesty called in ques-
tion, and would not submit to have it doubted now.

' Don't you believe my word ? ' said he.

* I believe nothing but what I see ! ' returned Sir
James, a sentiment which, though it precisely de-
fined the proper mental attitude of a scientific critic,
brought the stance to an abrupt conclusion ; for
Mullins, so deeply wounded in his self-respect, re-
fused to undertake any further experiments.

The question, therefore, so far as we were con-
cerned, remained exactly where it was when we
took it up y that is I don't believe in the divining
rod, but I don't deny that its virtues are genuine ;
and were I in straits to find water, I should employ
without hesitation a professional water-finder rod
and all if there remains one so successful as Mullins



To return for a moment to the subject of snakes
it is well known that their poison is ren-
dered more potent by hot weather. The
only instance of fatal results from the bite of an adder
which has ever come under my notice happened
after three weeks of intense heat in July 1876.
Four Scottish Militia regiments were brigaded in
camp at Holmwood, near Dorking, during the
summer manoeuvres. A bicyclist, who had come
down from London to see the troops, was bitten
by an adder in the heather, and died in a few hours.

Even adders are not without their services to
man. During the great plague of field-voles in
Scotland in 1891-2, the only adder I happened to
see killed had a full-sized vole in its gullet.


Few of us make enough of our gardens in spring.
We have trained our gardeners to con- spring-
form to the vicious habit which draws F1 wers
people to the town during the first acts of Nature's
annual opera, and to concentrate all their skill and
ingenuity on a display of colour in autumn. Every-


body admits that spring flowers are the sweetest,
the purest, and the prettiest, but it is a rare thing
to see much trouble bestowed upon them. But a
visit during this month to Mr. George Wilson's
garden at Wisley, near Weybridge, would open
most people's eyes to the brilliant effect that these
can be made to produce.

A garden in the strict sense it can scarcely be
termed ; rather it is a champfleuri a field of flowers.
It is a piece of land wherein an owner, being as
much botanist as gardener, has collected from all
parts of the world the fairest flowers that are
patient of our climate, there to test, to multiply,
and display them. The ground chosen, some nine
acres in extent, includes a hillside, an oakwood
at the foot, and a couple of level fields beyond.
Water-loving plants have been accommodated by
the excavation of two or three ponds in the gravel,
and in this month the surface of one of these is
closely studded with white blossoms of the Cape
pondweed (Aponogeton distachyon\ and the air is
loaded with their perfume of mingled hawthorn
and bitter almonds. But it is in the wood that, at
this season, the choicest flowers are to be found;
charming surprises abound there at every turn of


the narrow tracks ; for there delicate petals may
expand without risk of searing wind, and the
sunshine is filtered gently through the bare oak
boughs. There are glades of narcissus, not only
the common English daffodil, dear to Herrick and
Wordsworth (than which none can be more perfect),
but also the many forms into which it has sported,
as well as distinct species, such as Ucolor, with
golden tube and broad creamy sepals, and its
grander variety, Horsfieldii ; pallid, nodding cernuus ;
graceful incompamUlis in many shades, and its
double form, * butter-and-eggs ' ; the quaint bulboco-
divm, or hoop petticoat, golden or primrose-hued ;
the delicate cyclamineus, with sepals smartly re-
flexed ; and, rarest of all, the tiny minimus, ' whose
nose,' saith Parkinson, ' doth mostly rest upon the
ground.' All these gain a degree of grace in this
woodland, which those who have seen them only in
formal borders can scarcely realise.

Then there are sheets of anemones not only our
native wood species, with white or flushed flowers,
but its near relative, equally hardy and profuse in
bloom, the skyblue appenina, and Robinsoni with
bronzy foliage and petals of delicate lavender hue.
In sunny spots the intensely scarlet Anemone fulgens


is as much at home as in any oliveyard on
the Mediterranean; and, most remarkable of all, a
variety of our native Pasque flower, A. pulsatilla
patens, with long silky hairs on its leaves and
bracts, giving it a strange old-world look.

Advantage has been taken of every ditch in the
wood ditches ! they are but woodland gutters
and thousands of squills, hepaticas, hellebores, saxi-
frages, grape-hyacinths, and primroses gleam among
the withered leaves like living jewellery. In
making mention of the last, the Wonder of Wisley
is touched on ; for here are not merely

' pale primroses

That die unmarried ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength,'

but primroses of hues never before beheld in that
modest flower. Blue roses, the type of unpractical
quest, have yet to be disclosed; but by sedulous
selection of seed-parents, Mr. Wilson has succeeded
in producing lusty clumps of primroses bearing
flowers, not only of cramoisie, cinnabar red, and
royal purple, but of veritable blue. When, a few
years ago, these flowers were first exhibited at the
Royal Horticultural Show, the Committee looked
askance on them; the plants, they suspected, had


been doctored with mineral solution; but inquiry
only proved that the strain was really and incorri-
gibly blue.

One question must occur to everybody who visits
this wilderness How comes it, seeing there is such
abundant variety to choose from, that most gardens
and shrubberies present such monotony in their
furnishing 1 Here is one plant, for instance, Daphne
Blagayana, covered with ivory-white rosettes of
exquisite fragrance, evergreen, shapely, and withal
as hardy as a box-bush, which one would expect to
be a general favourite, yet you shall look for it
in vain in ninety-nine hundred gardens out of a
thousand. How many ladies who really take pains
about their borders are acquainted with the lovely
little ground-laurel (Epigcea repens), the chosen
badge of Nova Scotia, or the quaint, oak-leaved
avens (Dryas octopetala), sheeting the banks with
dark-green foliage and gay white flowers ? The
Canadian ' puccoon ' or blood-root (Sanguinaria cana-
densis) far exceeds the snowdrop in lustrous white,
and is quite as easily naturalised ; while for match-
less blue consider the Himalayan Tecophilcea cyano-



It is impossible for any sober citizen to write or
Barbarous rea d about gardening without breaking
p ant names ^ s shins over the preposterous poly-
syllables in use to designate those plants which have
not acquired popular English names. Generic and
specific terms are necessary, of course, for scientific
classification ; and Latin, even as pronounced in this,
as in no other land, is unrivalled as a medium
combining elegance and precision. But it is time
to enter a mild protest against the intemperate use
by botanists of the speech of Imperial Rome. The
difficulty of ticketing with distinctive names the
ever-increasing horde of herbs must be enormous ;
still, that is no reason for ignoring the beauty of
the language and obscuring its succinct precision. An
old Scotch gardener once confessed to the difficulty
which this nomenclature added to his vocation.
Asked whether he did not find it hard to teach his
apprentices the long learned names: 'I do that,'
replied he ; ' and fac' I couldna teach them ava'
withoot my memoria technical Asked further to give
an example of that : ' Weel,' said he, ' see there ;
yon's what they ca' a Cryptomeria japonica ; u Noo,"


says I to the lads, "when ye want to mind the
name o' yon tree, just think o' Creep-to-the-mear-
and-jump-onto-her." '

Even this worthy's system would have been
sorely taxed in respect of a beautiful but unfor-
tunate lily which was exhibited at a London show
some years ago, suffering from the pundits as wo-
fully as Susannah did at the hands of her elders ;
for there was bound to her feet the excruciating
title Lilium umbellatum Thunbergianum bulbiferum
nigro^naculatum. Compare with this mouthing the
scholarly simplicity of Linnaeus, who, having to fix
a scientific title for the English oak, dubbed it once
and for ever Quercus robur oak of oaks. On
the other hand, when he presumed to attach a per-
sonal name to a plant, he sought out a simple little
trailing herb a solitary species, native of his own
northern woods and wedded his own to it for
ever Linncea borealis. It became his lasting cog-
nisance, and inseparably associated with his touching
motto, Tantus amor florum so deep is my passion for

What is required of floral nomenclature is not
that it should commemorate some defunct, inglorious
biped (for there arise not many Linnseus in an aeon),


nor yet that it should serve merely to mark the
labels in a herbarium. The titles should express
the origin, chief qualities, or points of difference of
genera and species, with all the precision and melody
of the Latin tongue. Take the beautiful family of
Iris as an instance : the two native species are satis-
factorily named the common yellow flag, being
known as Iris pseudacorus, that is, the flag-like iris ;
and the gladdon or wood iris as Iris foetidissima
the stinking iris, a title fairly earned by the evil
odour of the leaves. But when I take up a list of
new species of Iris from the East, the first to catch
the eye is one described as having 'long grassy
foliage and pale sulphur flowers,' surely hardly suffi-
cient reason for naming it Iris Grant-Duffi \ To
another species from the Holy Land has been
assigned a title from a higher source than an ex-
Governor of Madras, for it is prettily called Iris
Marice ; and a third, from the same country, seems
to have been rescued from the terrible name of Iris
Bismarckiana, for it is now to be distinguished as
Nazariensis. That is fitting enough ; but fresh
horrors lie in wait over the page, for here is a lovely
species 'with large, white flowers, and a beautiful
butterfly-like blotch on the falls,' and what think


you the learned folk have invented for it 1 It
has been christened Iris EoUnsoni ! These homely
English patronymics offer a serious obstacle to those
who love to commemorate their affection for the
departed by flowers which return year by year.
It must be seldom that a modern Bion shall
find a Moschus to marshal sweet mourners at his

' Ye flowers, sigh forth your odours with red buds ;
Flush deep, ye roses and anemones ;
And more than ever now, hyacinth, show
Your written sorrows the sweet singer's dead.'

To find one of the congeners of Eobinson we need
only turn to the list of lilies; and who the deuce
was Brown ? we murmur pettishly, that he should
make a godchild of the noble Lilium Broumi, with
its purple trumpets, lined with white satin. Lilies
on the whole have fared better than other plants
when names were served out ; for here are tigrinum
and pardalinum, the tiger and leopard lilies, in
gorgeous livery of orange and sable. Yet a recent
importation from Mexico, described as 'one of the
most beautiful of all,' has to carry a barbarous
barrow-load of polysyllables Lilium Eloomerianum


Daffodils (let alone the florist's varieties) come
fairly well out of it. Narcissus tricolor, odorus, jon-
quilla, were so called of old, in the good days of
Gerarde and Parkinson, and their names mingle
prettily with memories of March winds and suns.
Poeticus, too, the exquisite pheasant-eye narcissus,
latest to flower, brings to mind the deep orchard
grass of May, when the apple-trees shed their bloom.
But who shall explain the fitness of associating the
eucharis-flowered daffodil with a smoky town, or
even with the Duke of that ilk, by naming it Nar-
cissus Leedsi 1

Is it not mischievous that anybody should have
been allowed to fix on a delicate lavender crocus the
stigma of Crocus Thomassi 1 Such a barbarous name
never came out of the same satchel as the Greek one
of Chionodoxa winter grace for an early flowering
bulb with thyrses of porcelain blue, or Amaryllis
belladonna for the wayward Jersey lily. But the
witless loons have tainted this list also; for here
behold a newer kind advertised as Amaryllis Johiir
son i a name recalling the fact that, in all his
writings and recorded sayings, Dr. Johnson hardly
makes the most transient allusion to flowers of any


The name of Hooker has been so conspicuous for
two generations in plant lore, that it were un-
generous to carp at its frequent use as a specific
title. Unluckily, it is not musical, and the hand-
some yellow African lily-wort suffers under the
uncouth designation Chrysdbactron Hodkeri.

Descriptive plant-names are sometimes very happy.
Information could hardly be more concisely conveyed
than by such a name as Dictamnus fraxinella, the
ash-leaved dittany. Gladiolus (gladiolus, ma'am,
not gladiolus, as some use, nor gladiolus, as others) is
perfect the little sword-bearer ; it exactly describes
the foliage. But what sense can man discern in the
name given to a nearly allied lily-wort Watsonia "?
Commemorative names are seldom pleasant to use till

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Online LibraryHerbert MaxwellMemories of the months, being pages from the notebook of a field-naturalist and antiquary (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 15)