Friday, May 11, 2012

Say It With Flowers

Roses are the perennially favorite flower for sending as gifts.  But what are you really saying when you send someone a dozen roses?  According to Sarah Hale's Flora's Interpreter (Boston: Thomas H. Webb; Co., 1833) it depends on the type of rose and the shape of the flower.

A red rose bud signifies a wish that the receiver remain ever pure and lovely while a damask rose hints at a bashful love. However, beware sending a thornless rose which is associated with a feeling of ingratitude or the dark Chinese rose with its message that the sender has been forsaken. Worse yet, is the withered white rose of despair.

Hale lists numerous other flowers and ascribes a sentiment to each. She also provides a poem illustrating the associated sentiment, a literary extract mentioning the flower by name, the flower's scientific name and a brief description of it's characteristics and origin.

The language of flowers is thought to have evolved out of the eastern tradition, particularly that of Turkey, of associating certain objects with specific meanings. Lady Mary Montagu, who visited Turkey in the early eighteenth century, is credited with one of the earliest English accounts of this custom.  In the book Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M---Y W---y M----e (London: Homer and Milton, 1766), she details much of what she saw as typical Turkish life, including the language of objects. Interestingly enough, our copy, printed by "Homer and Milton," appears to be a pirated edition of the work and, according to the accompanying letter of provenance, may be the only existing copy of this particular printing.

Find out more about the language of flowers by asking for Rare Book GR 780 .H35 1833. Lady Mary's often scandalous accounts of Turkish life are found in Rare Book DA 501 .M7 L48.

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