Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hi guys! I had a successful week, finding sources and reading some articles on plants and gardening in the Middle Ages. I’ve started looking at actual herbals from the time: one comprised Latin poems written by Friar Henry Daniel, and it has already been very useful (I picked up the book yesterday). During all this, I came across an interesting article on a primary source that I’d love to see, or read through a translated secondary source.

The article is called The First English Gardening Book: Mayster John Gardener’s Treatise and Its Background, and, as we see in the progression of this study, although it certainly wasn’t the first book on this s ubject, John H. Harvey argues it could be the first in the burgeoning, yet more stable, ‘vulgar’ (common) English language. He says that, “the practical character of this book, and its lack of ‘authorities’ strongly suggest a vernacular origin in the personal experience of a master English gardener.”[1]

The “primary manuscript,” as Harvey calls the one from Cambridge, is expanded in some areas, by the more recently discovered (and probably more recently composed) “Loscombe” manuscript. However, Harvey calls the Loscombe “seriously defective” in that it is lacking the introduction on gardening along with the following chapters on “Trees, Grafting” and “Viticulture.”[2] The Loscombe contains information on saffron and rosemary, while the Cambridge has no information concerning rosemary and only some on saffron. Harvey notes particularly “this last may well indicate that Loscombe was based upon an enlarged edition of the original booklet, revised in light of further experience of saffron growing.”[3] Saffron, we must remember, was introduced to England in the mid-1300s. Rosemary too, introduced to England in about the 1340s, helps put the date of the Loscombe’s composition “quite late in the fourteenth century.”[4] Other differences exist between the lists in the two manuscripts, but also points of concordance.

There are also some questions on types of ‘liverworts’ (so called because of their actual uses in liver-treatment) included. These plants appear in the older text. Harvey notes that the newer text “suffers from textual corruption,” one example being the repetition and confusion of some herbs: a helpful list of plants and variations on their names appears at the end of the article.[5] Thus, the differences in manuscripts exist. Something included in both manuscripts however is “honysoke”; Harvey tells us that this is NOT honeysuckle, but rather a “trefoil,” i.e. thre leued gras (three-leaved grass) and furthermore, that this plant appeared in another list under this category. Therefore, “the original sense [of honysoke] was a species of Meliotus, to which the clovers, Trifolium spp., were later added.”[6] Personally, I find this categorization, and particularly the name change, fascinating! And we do have clover in the Loyola medieval garden!

In short, this is a primary source FULL of information for use in our website ‘herbal’ on Loyola’s garden. I have Friar Daniel (who used this source) and new books on medieval medicine to read through as well! Until next time everyone!

[1] John H. Harvey, “The First English Garden Book: Mayster Jon Gardener’s Treatise and Its Background.” Garden History Vol. 13 (1985), 83-101.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

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