To-Day, October 24, 1901
THE LANGUAGE OF
TO the literature of the streets a small volume has recently been added, which at first sight induces the purchaser to think the charge of a penny an excessive one. This feeling, however, disappears after a thoughtful perusal of the work in question.
It is a comprehensive dictionary of flowers, containing also a preface which is a prose poem, thirty lines of verse from the pen of an anonymous writer, and full information as to how neuralgia, tic, rheumatism, toothache, and gout may be cured simultaneously at the extremely moderate cost of one and threepence. Few will be found so grasping as to demand more for their penny.
“Each blossom,” says the writer of the preface, “has its odour, its mission, its message. The violet will never cease to speak of humility, or the marigold of vulgar jealousy. (A little hard, this, on the marigold.) And their odours! Who can forget the delicacy of the violet’s breath, the sweet perfume of the rose, or the pleasant scented lavender. Oh! the measure of sweetness that comes from the silent children of the sod to the speaking and thinking ones of earth!” Like the hero of one of Mr. Quiller-Couch’s poems, the writer certainly has a neat poetic vein when he is fairly started.
A few more preliminary remarks on the subject of the arrangement of flowers, and the reader is brought to the vocabulary itself. From this it is an easy task, especially if one is a member of the class referred to as the speaking and thinking ones of earth, to weave romantic situations. It is, for instance, the mauvais quart d’heure preceding dinner. Our hero has been told off to take down the heroine, with whom he has for many a long month been secretly in love. He, being of an intensely shy nature, feels himself unequal to the task of framing his opinions in words. She being the very soul of maidenly reserve, cannot bring herself to lend him the helping hand he so sorely needs. He remarks that the weather is fine, especially for the time of year. She agrees. Then there is an awkward silence. This is where a knowledge of the language of flowers is of such vital importance. Assuming that the hero has brought with him a basketful of assorted blossoms, he commences by selecting an arbutus—not a whole tree, presumably, though our author says nothing on the subject, but a portion of one. This he presents to the lady, thereby indicating to her, if she is also a speaking and thinking one of earth, “Thee only do I love.” Though naturally taken aback somewhat by this sudden declaration of passion, she follows suit according to her mood. She may select a double China aster, “I partake of your sentiments,” or perhaps, if she wishes to keep him a little longer in suspense, she substitutes a single China aster, that flower expressing the cold but eminently proper words, “I will think of it.”
This urges the hero on to further efforts. He thinks for a while. Then he presents her with a Dianthus. “Make haste” is the exact meaning of the Dianthus. To such a floral remark a floral snub is the only reply. She withers him with a Dipladenia Crassinoda, “You are too bold.” His observations then become sharp and abrupt, after the fashion of Mr. Alfred Jingle. He produces in rapid succession a parti-coloured daisy, a damask rose, an eschscholtzia, and a jonquil. In effect he says: “Beauty! Brilliant complexion! Do not refuse me! I desire a return of affection!”
She wavers and exhibits a marjoram, to show that she is blushing. His eloquence now gets the best of him in impassioned entreaties. He bends down, and begins to pull flower after flower from the basket. Having obtained as many as he requires, he arranges them before her in the following order. “Hortensia. (You are cold.) Purple hyacinth. (I admit my imperfections.) Henbane. (And I am sorry for them.) Green locust tree. (My love will last beyond the grave.) Moving plant. (Observe my agitation.) Pine-apple. (You are perfect!) Pink. (And I know that I am taking a great liberty), but Christmas Rose. (Put me out of my misery.) White Rose. (I am on the whole quite worthy of you), for Wheat stalk, white mullen, and variegated tulip. (I am rich, good-natured, and have beautiful eyes.) Reversed vine. (No, I do not drink.) In a word stephanotis, and oxlip. (Will you accompany me to the East. Speak out!)”
The effect of this speech is instantaneous. A red tulip, or in other words a declaration of love follows, and the two proceed to dinner—the gong having just sounded—an engaged couple.
Other uses for the language of flowers readily present themselves. Biting sarcasm may be employed by presenting an unwelcome guest with a reversed sweet pea, which signifies “Don’t go.” Delicate satire could be effected by a judge presenting a criminal after sentence with a sweet-scented tussilago, which, being interpreted, means “Justice shall be done you,” a charming present for a gentleman shortly to embark on a ten years’ visit, sweetened by toil and simple fare, at Portland or Dartmoor.
Soon, too, the sight may be familiar in London of an army of rejected contributors blocking the streets opposite the various editorial offices, each wearing in his button-hole a simple red primrose, the sign of unpatronised merit. Undoubtedly, the language of flowers has many uses.
P.G. wrote: “In ‘To-Day’ published Oct 24, I have an article called the ‘Language of Flowers.’ ’Ighly yumourous.” Later note: “Paid 18/4 on Feb 24 1902.” With a four-month lag for payment, P.G. probably didn’t bother with To-Day again. “The Language of Flowers” was his sole contribution to it.
George Wedlake was editor of To-Day, a weekly “Illustrated magazine journal rivaled by many equaled by none.” He wanted short stories of 1200 to 2500 words and humorous or satirical articles of about 600 to 1200 words. (Barry Pain had also edited To-Day, but I haven’t been able to confirm the dates of his tenure there.)