Death Scented Flowers
( Originally Published 1884 )
I have found it a popular notion among that class of people to whom we are most indebted for the preservation of much interesting folklore country cottagers that the peculiar scent of the hawthorn is " exactly like the smell of the Great Plague of London." This belief may have been traditionally held during the last two centuries, and have arisen from circumstances noted at the period of the Great Plague.
Is it recorded that a resemblance to the scent of the hawthorn was noticed in anything that occurred at that terrible time ? I am not aware that the powerful perfume of the gorse has ever been compared to anything connected with death ; but I happen to know that it produces in many people so overpowering a sensation of faintness and sickness, that they cannot, with comfort, pass by the flowering gorse bushes without covering their mouths and noses with a handkerchief. It was only the other day that I was talking with a gardener, and saying something about the sweetness of the gilliflower, when the man observed, " It's a pity that it smells like death 1" I asked him what he meant ? He replied that he did not exactly know what was meant ; but that it was an old saying that a gilliflower smelt like death; and that he had that fancy himself. This " old saying " was quite new to me, and I am not aware if it has been hitherto noted.
I am, etc., CUTHBERT BEDE.