Decr 5th [1851]

MS Huntington Library: Yonge Letters

Dear Madam
My cousin answers me ‘the Lotus is not a flower, but a large tree, I do not remember the blossom, but the fruit is in large pods which the Zantiotes almost live on, we used to have them as vegetables at dinner but I always thought them very nasty. It was always called the locust tree, and it was disputed whether it was these Locusts or the insects that St John the Baptist used to eat.’1 I doubt whether she is right about this. I see the Delphin annotator on Virgil considers the Lotus in Georgic III to be the same with that in Georgic II, which is evidently the tree. I always learned to call our own little flower the Birds foot trefoil. In Facciolati’s Lexicon, I find that the Lotus is sometimes called the Nettle tree from its serrated leaves, and that when introduced into Italy it was called the Greek bean.2 The Egyptian bean or Lotus is I see clearly the Nelumbium Speciosum, of which both the roots and seeds are eaten in China as well as in Egypt, and which is a splendid kind of water lily.3 Facciolati says that though it is ‘similis fabæ, foliis densa congerie stipiatis, brevioribus tantum et gracilioribus, fructu in capita papaveri simile incisuris, omnique alio modo: intus granis ceu milii.’ and then follows the account of the inhabitants making bread of them.4 This accommodates the question how the plant could both be a bean and a waterlily. I see you give St Catherine as bay, which is very appropriate to her learning, but do you observe that Raffaelle introduces a dandelion globe in her picture in the National gallery, I wonder if this is any allusion to her wheel.

Did you ever hear of the custom at Eton that on St Patrick’s day the Irish boy of highest rank should give the head master a silver shamrock, the chief Welsh boy a silver leek on St David’s day, and the chief Scots boy a silver thistle on St Andrew’s day? I could find out more about this if you thought it would be of any use to you. The Dove orchis I think I have once seen, it is one of the orchidaceous parasites, and is like a white dove flying, about the size of the little ivory things that ladies some times wear. I think it was at Chiswick that I saw it. There is another kind like a dove in a nest, which I saw at a gardener’s at Plymouth, very pretty, but I believe not the St Esprit flower, unluckily I do not know the botanical name of either.

I think it is hardly worth while to make your letters pass through the Paternoster Row, so I will ask you to direct for the future to Miss Yonge, Otterbourn, Winchester, begging you however not to talk of me by my name, as I do not wish to be known as the Editor.

Yours sincerely
Charlotte M. Yonge

1Probably Jane Colborne, who had lived in the Ionian islands when her father was governor, or one of her sisters. She is describing zizyphus lotus. The discussion relates to Roberts's work on a series of articles in MP entitled ''A Garland for the Year'.
2Jacopo Facciolati and Egidio Forcellini, Totius Latinitatis Lexicon 4 vols (Padua 1771). At this point Facciolati seems to be describing the nettle tree, celtis australis L., which has small cherry-like fruits called fava greca by Pliny.
3The Egyptian lotus, nymphaea lotus L., is a waterlily, related to the Indian lotus, Nelumbo nucifera Gaertn. (syn. nelumbo speciosum).
4‘like beans, with dense foliage growing closely together, only shorter and narrower; the fruit, which is at its head, resembles a poppy in being grooved and in other ways. Inside there are seeds like millet.’ This passage is a paraphrase of the description of the Egyptian lotus by Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis.
Cite this letter

The Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge(1823-1901) edited by Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan and Helen Schinske.

URL to this Letter is: https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/yonge/2983/to-elizabeth-roberts-5

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