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THE SPIKENARD OF THE ANCIENTS.
BY THE PRESIDENT.
It is painful to meet perpetually with words, that convey no distinct
ideas; and a natural defire of avoiding that pain excites us often to make inquiries, the refult of which can have no other use than to give us clear conceptions. Ignorance is to the mind what extreme darkness is to the nerves: both caufe an uneafy fenfation; and we naturally love knowledge, as we love light, even when we have no design of applying either to a purpofe effentially ufeful. This is intended as an apology for the pains which have been taken to procure a determinate answer to a question of no apparent utility, but which ought to be readily answered in India, What is Indian Spikenard? All agree, that it is an odoriferous plant, the best fort of which, according to PTOLEMY, grew about Rangamritíca or Rangamáti, and on the borders of the country now called Butàn: it is mentioned by Dios coRIDES, whofe work I have not in my poffeffion; but his defcription of it must be very imperfect, fince neither LINNAEUS nor any of his difciples pretend to class it with certainty, and, in the latest botanical work, that we have received from Europe, it is marked as unknown. I had no doubt, before I was perfonally acquainted with KOENIG, that he had ascertained it; but he affured me, that he knew not what the Greek
Greek writers meant by the nard of India: he had found, indeed, and defcribed a fixth fpecies of the nardus, which is called Indian in the Supplement to Linnæus; but the nardus is a grafs, which, though it bear a Spike, no man ever fuppofed to be the true Spikenard, which great Botanical Philofopher himself was inclined to think a fpecies of Andropogon, and places, in his Materia Medica, but with an expreffion of doubt, among his polygamous plants. Since the death of KOENIG I have confulted every botanist and physician, with whom I was acquainted, on the fubject before us; but all have confeffed without referve, though not without fome regret, that they were ignorant what was meant by the Indian Spikenard.
In order to procure information from the learned natives, it was neceffary to know the name of the plant in fome Afiatick language. The very word nard occurs in the fong of SOLOMON; but the name and the thing were both exotick: the Hebrew lexicographers imagine both to be Indian; but the word is in truth Perfian, and occurs in the following distich of an old poet:
A'n chu bíkheft, ín chu nardeft, án chu fhákheft, ín chu bàr,
It is not easy to determine in this couplet, whether nard mean the ftem, or, as ANJU' explains it, the pith; but it is manifeftly a part of a vegetable, and neither the root, the fruit, nor the branch, which are all separately named: the Arabs have borrowed the word nard, but in the fenfe, as we learn from the Kámùs, of a compound medicinal unguent. Whatever it fignified in old Perfian, the Arabick word fumbul, which, like fumbalah, means an ear or Spike, has long been fubftituted for it; and there can be no doubt, that by the fumbul of India the Mufelmáns understand the fame plant with the nard of PTOLEMY and the Nar
doftachys, or Spikenard, of GALEN; who, by the way, was deceived by the dry fpecimens, which he had feen, and mistook them for
A fingular description of the fumbul by ABU'LFAZL, who frequently mentions it as an ingredient in Indian perfumes, had for fome time almost convinced me, that the true Spikenard was the Cétaca, or Pandanus of our botanists: his words are, Sumbul panj berg dáred, ceh dirázíi án dah angofhteftu pahnái feh, or, "The fumbul has five leaves, ten fingers long, and three broad." Now I well knew, that the minister of ACBAR was not a botanist, and might easily have mistaken a thyrfus for a single flower: I had seen no blossom, or assemblage of bloffoms, of such dimensions, except the male Cétaca; and, though the Perfian writer defcribes the female as a different plant, by the vulgar name Cyóra, yet fuch a mistake might naturally have been expected in fuch a work: but what most confirmed my opinion, was the exquifite fragrance of the Cétaca-flower, which to my fenfe far furpaffed the richest perfumes of Europe or Afia. Scarce a doubt remained, when I met with a description of the Cétaca by FORSKOHL, whofe words are fo perfectly applicable to the general idea, which we are apt to form of Spikenard, that I give you a literal tranflation of them: "The Pandanus is an incomparable plant, and cultivated for its odour, "which it breathes fo richly, that one or two Spikes, in a fituation "rather humid, would be fufficient to diffufe an odoriferous air for a long time through a fpacious apartment; fo that the natives in general are not folicitous about the living plants, but purchase the Spikes at a great price." I learned also, that a fragrant effential oil was extracted from the flowers; and I procured from Banáres a large phial of it, which was adulterated with fandal; but the very adulteration convinced me, that the genuine effence must be valuable, from the great number of thyrfi, that must be required in preparing a small
quantity of it. Thus had I nearly perfuaded myself, that the true nard was to be found on the banks of the Ganges, where the Hindu women roll up its flowers in their long black hair after bathing in the holy river ; and I imagined, that the precious alabafler-box mentioned in the Scripture, and the small onyx, in exchange for which the poet offers to entertain his friend with a cask of old wine, contained an effence of the fame kind, though differing in its degree of purity, with the nard, which I had procured: but an Arab of Mecca, who faw in my study fome flowers of the Cétaca, informed me, that the plant was extremely common in Arabia, where it was named Cádhì; and feveral Mahomedans of rank and learning have since affured me, that the true name of the Indian Sumbul was not Cétaca, but Jatámánsì. This was important information finding therefore, that the Pandanus was not peculiar to Hinduftán, and confidering, that the Sumbul of ABU'LFAZL differed from it in the precife number of leaves on the thyrfus, in the colour, and in the season of flowering, though the length and breadth correfponded very nearly, I abandoned my first opinion, and began to enquire eagerly for the Fatámánsì, which grew, I was told, in the garden of a learned and ingenious friend, and fortunately was then in bloffom. A fresh plant was
very foon brought to me: it appeared on infpection to be a moft elegant Cypirus with a polished three-fided culm, an umbella with three or four enfiform leaflets minutely ferrated, naked proliferous peduncles, crowded spikes, expanded daggers; and its branchy root had a pungent tafte with a faint aromatick odour; but no part of it bore the leaft refemblance to the drug known in Europe by the appellation of Spikenard; and a Mufelmán phyfician from Dehli affured me pofitively, that the plant was not Jatámánsì, but Sûd, as it is named in Arabick, which the author of the Tohfatul Múmenin particularly diftinguishes from the Indian Sumbul. He produced on the next day an extract from the Dictionary of Natural hiftory, to which he had referred; and I present you with a tranflation of all that is material in it.