I have already mentioned that I was nearly deterred from taking up two or three subjects, by finding that Hervey had left me nothing to say respecting the particular flowers connected with them. I shall, however, venture to pursue the original plan, at least with regard to one of these, especially as I have very little to say of the type; and a great deal of that to which I have attached it, as a memento.
I never could look upon the Passion-flower so enthusiastically as some do, nor find much gratification in following up the imaginary resemblance to that whence its name is derived : and, strange as it may appear, although peculiarly fond of graphic representations, I have rather an aversion, as well to those which assume to pourtray the awful scene of Calvary, as to the incongruous host of Madonnas and holy families ; which, from their utter dissimilarity one to another, irresistibly impress my mind with the idea of gross fiction, and rather cloud than assist the mental perception of what is so simply and sweetly set forth in the written word. Perhaps a consciousness of the idolatrous purpose to which such pictures have been perverted, may have contributed to produce this effect.
The Passion-flower wras not placed on my list of favourites, until I met with it—can any reader guess where ?—growing against the walls of a Roman Catholic chapel. It then became endeared to me indeed; and holds, to this day, a high place among the most touching of my lovely remembrancers. I was dwelling in Ireland, not far from a flourishing nunnery, which it was the fashion for strangers to visit: but I had never felt any inclination so to do, until a friend mentioned to me that, among the children of the convent school, there was a deaf mute, whom they could by no means teach. My interest was excited : and, as I knew something of the mode of instructing such, I readily accompanied my friend to the convent, to proffer my help. As we passed along, she laughingly remarked, 'I did not think any thing would have tempted you to visit such a place.' I replied, 'Where God is pleased to point out a path of duty, I care not in what direction it may lie. As a matter of idle curiosity, you would not have prevailed on me to go there'.
It was with some trepidation that I entered, for 22 the first time, a building to which the light reading of former days had attached many romantic ideas ; while the better instruction of a later period had taught me to view it in its real character, as a strong-hold of superstition and self-righteous delusion. The nun, who had especially taken an interest in the little dumb girl, was presently introduced to me; and never did I behold a more engaging creature. Tall, graceful, and bearing about her the manners of polished society, her aspect was that of the most winning sweetness, the most unaffected humility: and when, by a very short process, I convinced her that every difficulty might be overcome, and the child instructed to spell and write, the sparkling animation of her looks, the eager delight with which she listened to my directions, and the fervency of her eloquent thanks, while, with glistening eyes she caressed the child whose welfare she was planning, all attracted me irresistibly. I do not know how far the picturesque effect of her habit, which I never before had seen —the loose folds of a long black robe gathered into a broad belt, with its depending rosary, and the graceful veil which, falling back from her beautiful brow, nearly swept the ground,—might tend to deepen the impression; but certainly I believed her to be, without exception, the most fascinating creature I had ever seen : and when she asked me to walk around the garden with her, I readily agreed, glad of any excuse to prolong the interview.
She showed me her plants, and brought me to the entrance of a building, which I supposed might be a school-house, where a handsome flight of stairs led to two large folding doors. These she pushed open, and I entered : but to my real dismay, I found myself opposite a splendid altar, profusely decorated with images, covered with gilding, and variously ornamented: above all, was-elevated the crucifix; and, on turning to look for my companion, I saw her nearly prostrate in the door-way, her arms crossed on her bosom, and her head almost touching the ground, in profound adoration of that idolatrous image. The impulse of my feelings was to make a precipitate retreat; but the nun arose, and taking my arm, led me onwards. The chapel was very magnificent, but I shrunk from the contemplation, and confined my remarks to the beautiful prospect, from its window, of the garden beneath ; and hastened our return. The nun retreated slowly backwards with many genuflexions : and I almost ran out, rejoicing when the richly carved doors once more closed upon a scene so indescribably painful to me.
My gentle conductress redoubled her attentions to cheer me; for the sudden depression of my spirits could not but be visible to her : and as we left the building, she gathered a Passion-flower
Her hand supplied the flowers that adorned the cradle of the Irish baby; and often did she hasten to present me with the first and freshest buds of May, assuring me of her fervent prayers on behalf of the dear though distant, and to her unknown, antitype of those fragrant blossoms. To her I took the Passion-flower; and the nun, whom she personally knew, formed the theme of numberless conversations between us; while there also, I had the help of her persevering prayers. So intimately was she acquainted with all most interesting to me, that I have almost marvelled she should not have broken through the lengthened silence, won to renew the correspondence by the touching of a chord in her sensitive bosom, that never failed to respond. Alas ! I little thought that she had gone to rejoice with those who had awakened so intense an interest in us: and that the Lemon-plant, or Verbena, a sweet shrub which I had, from the first day of our acquaintance, held in a manner sacred to her, was soon to be placed among the mementos of the dead.