The Rose of June
In the House of Livia, the wife of Augustus, which has been excavated on the Palatine Hill, that rises above the Roman Forum, is a painting. It is above the door of the triclinium or dining room, and it represents a glass vessel full of cut roses. Now, we know that roses were a familiar flower with the ancients, but I do not think we have realized—at least I had not—to what an extent the rose had been cultivated and perfected by the Romans in olden times. That charming little wall painting shows us that they had in their gardens, and twined against their houses, roses of various colors and in great perfection.
Livia must have been fond of flowers. Her country villa at Primaporta has also been unearthed, and the atrium or central hall there has all the walls painted to resemble the lattice work of a garden with flower beds inside, and without landscapes in perspective of woodland. It is altogether a lovely production; the atmospheric effect of distance among the trees is quite such as we might expect of a modern artist. The flowers in the garden are mostly anemones and narcissus — Spring flowers — and the rose, if I remember right, is not there shown.
June is the month of roses. It is then that the wild rose wreathes our hedgerows with its bloom. It is everywhere lovely, and the sweetbriar exhales one of the most delicious of fragrances. It was a custom in England for girls to gather a rose on Midsummer Eve, wear it all day, and then place the petals in a Prayer Book and note whether it lost its hue before New Year’s Day, and take omen thereby. This is alluded to in a poem called “The Cottage Maid,” published in 1786:
The moss-rose that, at fall of dew
(Ere eve its duskier curtain drew,)
Was freshly gather’d from its stem,
She values as the ruby gem;
And, guarded from the piercing air
With all an anxious lover‘s care,
She bids it, for her shepherd’s sake,
Await the New Year’s frolic wake.
When faded, in its alter’d hue
She reads—the rustic is untrue;
But, if it leaves the crimson paint,
Her sickening hopes no longer faint.
The rose upon her bosom worn,
She meets him at th’ peep of morn,
And lo! her lips with kisses prest,
He plucks it from her panting breast.
The sweetbriar is the eglantine of the old English writers, apparently, and not the honeysuckle. Chaucer calls it the Eglantere:
When she sate in a fresh greene laurey tree,
On that further side even right by me,
That gave so passing a delicious smell
According to the Eglantere full well.
It would seem as if all lands on which the sun shines warm had their special roses. There is the rose of Provence, the China rose, the Japan rose, the rose of Damascus, of Sharon, of the Caucasus, the double yellow from Constantinople, the Austrian briar, the rose of Jericho, the true hateful plant of the Dead Sea wastes, and Scotland sends us the Banksia. The rose of Virginia, it is said, if transplanted from its native soil languishes and dies. It is like the carps or Marly, which perished when conveyed to the marble basins full of springing, splashing water.
“They resemble me,” said Mme. de Meintenon, “they regret their native mud.”
Socrates was leaving the theatre in which had been represented a comedy of Aristophanes, in which the humorist had rallied philisophy, and above all the philosopher. The audience hed enthusiastically applauded these sallies.
Socrates encountered Aristophanes outside the theatre; he advanced to him, and thrust a bunch of roses under his nose. The thorns pricked the face of the poet, and he drew back.
Then said Socrates, “Forgive the nose-gay its prickles for the sake of its perfume, as I do your play for its poetry.”
In 1794, some days before the ninth Thermidor, Gen. Hoche, dismissed his command, was interned in the Conciergerie. There were many fellow-prisoners there, and time hung heavy on their hands. They took their meals together.
One morning Hoche received a present in his cell of a magnificent bunch of roses, sent him from an unknown hand. At the hour of table d’hôte he appeared with the roses in his hand.
“Oh, General! what lovely roses! Oh, General, give us some, we entreat you!” was the exclamation from all.
There were ladies as well as gentlemen in the prison. The young officer at once began to distribute the flowers, beginning with the former. And with these beautiful blooms it was as though sunshine and gaiety had penetrated the gloomy walls of the prison.
All at once the door opened. A men entered in black, holding a paper, followed by an escort of soldiers.
He unrolled his paper. Those whose names he read out were to follow to the guillotine.
“Citizen!” said a young women to Hoche. “I go so to my death wearing your rose.”
“And I also!”
“And I as well!”
That day, when the tumbril passed through the streets to the Place de la Révolution, an unusual spectacle presented itself to the lookers-on. Every man who went to death had a rose between his lips and every woman had a rose in her bosom.
In Rome, on Mid-Lent Sunday, the Pope takes the Golden Rose to St. Peter’s—but then it is of gold. Even in Italy the rose hardly appears so early. But it is earlier than June in France, for since 1227 the youngest peer was expected to present at Court la baillée aux roses, a tribute of roses. In 1541 this gave rise to a dispute between the Duke de Bourbon-Montpensier and the Duke de Nevers, one of whom was a Prince of the blood. The claims of the two pretenders were submitted to the Parliament of Paris, and were argued by the most celebrated lawyers of the period. After both sides had been heard, the Parliament gave its decree on Friday, June 17, 1541, “That having regard to the rank of Prince of the blood joined to his peerage, the Court orders that the Duke de Montpensier shall offer the tribute of roses.”
In 1589 the league, no longer considering the Parliament as A Court of Peers, abolished the baillée aux roses.
The rose festival of Salency is, however, celebrated on June 8. The institution is attributed to St. Medard, Bishop of Noyon, who died in 545, and who was born at Salency. It is even said that he charged his family estate there with a sum of money, to be given annually, with a crown of roses, to the most virtuous girl in the village. He is said to have accorded the first crown to his sister, and so he is represented in a painting above the altar in his chapel at Salency. According to the terms of the foundation, not only must the girl be irreproachable, but also her parents must have been good. The seigneur of Salency had the right to choose the “Rosière” out of three girls, natives of the village, presented to him. When he had named her, the parish was informed of it from the pulpit on the following Sunday, and all who had any just cause or impediment to advance were bidden to do so. On June 8, the Feast of St. Medard, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the “Rosière,” dressed in white, attended by twelve girls in white with blue sashes, and twelve boys, her father and mother, and relations, went to the Castle of Salency, where the procession was met by the seigneur, or his bailiff, who conducted the train to the church.
There vespers were sung, and the rose-girl assisted, kneeling at a faldstool in the chancel. After vespers a procession was formed to the chapel of St. Medard at the further end of the village. There the curé took the crown of roses from the altar, blessed it, and, after a short, and appropriate discourse, crowned the girl with it, and gave her a purse containing 25f. The procession then re-formed, returned to the parish church, where a Te Deum was chanted, with an anthem in commemoration of St. Medard, the instituter of the ceremony.
This beautiful usage, interrupted by the Revolution, was re-established in 1812, and takes place now every year; but it has undergone certain modifications. The “Rosière” now receives 300f., of which sum the Municipal Council gives half.
In the chapel of St. Medard is a board on which are inscribed the names of all the “Rosières”; a few of the names have been effaced, because they have misconducted themselves since they have received the crown of St. Medard; but, as a general rule, the custom tends to encourage the girls to rival each other in virtue.
In the churchyard of Barnes, in Surrey, near the entrance to the church, is an old mural tablet to the memory of Edward Rose, citizen of London, who died in the seventeenth century, and bequeathed the sum of £20 annually to that parish forever, on condition that the railing inclosing his grave should be maintained and that rose trees should be planted about it, trained and kept in a flourishing condition. The terms of this eccentric benefaction are very properly compiled with.
The Wars of the Roses must not be passed over, with the choice of badges by the York and Lancaster parties.
Plant. Let him that is a free-born gentleman,
And stands upon the honor of his birth,
If he suppose that I have pleaded truth,
From off this briar pluck a white rose with me.
Somerset. Let him that is no coward, nor no flatterer,
But dare maintain the party of the truth,
Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.
Warwick. I love no colors; and without all color
Of base insinuating flattery,
I pluck this white rose with Plantagenet.
Suffolk. I pluck this red rose with young Somerset,
And say, withal, I think he held the right.
First Part “Henry VI.,” Act II., Sc. 4.
The story goes that when young St. Benedict retired from the world to Subiaco, finding himself regret the luxury and downy beds of his home, he threw himself on a bank or briars near the entrance to the cave he occupied. “Here,” says Mr. Hare, “seven centuries afterward St. Francis coming to visit the shrine, knelt and prayed before the thorns which had such glorious memories, and planted two rose trees beside them. The roses of St. Francis flourish still, and are carefully tended by the monks, but the Benedictine thorns have disappeared.”—“Days Near Rome,” I. p. 316.
There is a beautiful story connected with St. Dorothaea. Her acts are apocryphal, but, unlike most of these fabrications, they contain an element of poetry.
Dorothaea was a native of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and in the persecution of Diocletian she was brought before the Governor, Sapricius. He threatened her with torture unless she would renounce Christ. She replied: “Do thy worst. I fear no pain. If only I may see Him for whom I am ready to die.”
Sapricius said: “Who is He?”
Dorothaea replied: “He is Christ, the Son of God.”
Sapricius asked: “And where is this Christ?”
Dorothaea replied: “In His omnipotence He is everywhere; in His humanity He is in heaven, to which He invites us, where the lilies bloom white, and the roses ever flower, where the fields are green, the mountains wave with fresh grass, and the spring of the water of life bubbles up eternally.”
Then said a lawyer present named Theophilus: “In faith, I should like to see these roses; prithee send me some.”
Thereupon Dorothaea answered and said: “I will.”
The Governor pronounced sentence against her that she should be decapitated. The story goes on that Theophlius went home to his companions, and to them told with great laughter how he had asked the virgin to send him flowers from the paradise to which she aspired. Then all at once he saw a vision. Beside him stood a luminous figure in white, who held in his hand a bunch of the most wondrous roses, the scent of which filled all the room.
He spake, “The Crown is won
As Dorothaea said;
The martyr sendeth now to thee
Some roses white and red.”
The fairest flowers of earth
Might not with those compare
The angel held; they streamed with light
And fragrance passing rare.
According to the legend, Theophilus believed, and was so impressed that he went before the magistrate, and was sentenced to the same death as Dorothaea, and thus received the “baptism of blood.”
It is possible that there may be some foundation or truth in the story; that Theophilus may have been so impressed with the words spoken by the martyr, by the seriousness of the promise, and by her wondrous endurance that he dreamt that what she had said came true. But, if so, then the circumstances have been dressed up by a later hand.