Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 55.djvu/241

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THE BOTANY OF SHAKESPEARE.

229

of March with beauty," and dies ere it beholds "bright Phœbus in his strength," and it is precisely this species that forms the basis of one of Darwin's earliest and most fruitful studies in the cross-fertilization of flowers. The styles in one form of the early primrose are three times as long as in the other, the stigmas differ, and the coadaptation of the parts of the different flowers extends even to the grains of pollen. Such flowers in the absence of insects are entirely unproductive. Insects are rare so early in the year, and accordingly many of the primroses die, as Perdita says, "unmarried."

Of course, it is not pretended that Shakespeare knew anything of this; but that he should have discovered the fact that the early primrose bears little or no seed, and that he should have been impressed by the truth that this is due to lack of fertilization, is wonderful. This circumstance might well lead to the suspicion that the poet was a gardener.

We must not forget to notice, too, in this connection, that carnations—i.e., pinks—are remarkable for the great number of their varieties. We have, if I may so say, pinks of every color, from crimson to white, even brown it is said. This was true in Shakespeare's time, if one may trust Gerarde again; he says, "A great and large volume would not suffice to write of every one at large considering how infinite they are, and how every year the climate and country bringeth forth new sorts and such as have not heretofore been written of."

Another passage in which the poet has instinctively hit upon a scientific truth is found in Sonnet IV, the last ten lines. The beauty of the passage as a whole is so remarkable that the delicate touches in particular lines are apt to be overlooked:

"For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone.
Beauty o'ersnowed and bareness everywhere:
Then, were not summer's distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass.
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor remembrance what it was:
But flowers distilled though they with winter meet,
Lose but their show; their substance still lives sweet."

No botanist can read the line "A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass" and not recognize the exact portrayal of the living vegetable cell. The living protoplasm is a liquid prisoner sure enough, hemmed in by walls transparent. There could be no more striking image. And when in herb and tree, in every living plant, the summer's work is ended and hideous winter falls, the new cells, summer's distillation left, do in all perennials actually survive, lest of the effect