Lettre 6

Publié le par Catherine Traverso




Rare Books and Manuscripts
Special Collections Library
Pennsylvania State University

Lady Hester Stanhope
1993-0016R/Vf Lit

The convent of Mar Elias
M. L.
Dec 24th 1815

Dear Sir [Joseph Banks, 1743-1820]

Here is more information about the Hermodacte with a box marked J. B. N°4 sent to Malta to the care of Sir J. Maitland.
I have lately discovered that a box of the root forwarded by a vessel to Cyprus some months ago was taken on by mistake to Egypt. I am vastly sorry for this mistake but it was no fault of mine.
Health & happiness to you in a London fog, the weather here is still charming tho tomorrow is Christmas day.
Believe me dear Sir with great respect
Yours sincerely


Cette courte missive était sans doute accompagnée des notes parues sous le titre: Remarks Upon Hermodactylus qui furent publiées en juillet 1933 en quarante exemplaires à titre privé, et dont le texte suit.
Selon la définition de Littré, "
hermodacte ou hermodatte est le nom donné, dans le commerce de la droguerie, à des tubercules qui sont apportés du Levant par Marseille, et que beaucoup pensent provenir d'une espèce de colchique."
Dans la Grèce antique, cette plante était utilisée dans le traitement de la goutte.

Remarks upon Hermodactylus

1. Hermodactylus, in French Hermodacte, is a tuberous or bulbous root, of the size of a small chestnut, heart-shaped, the outside reddish in colour, the inside snow-white, of light, inflammable substance, without fibres, easily breakable and readily reducible to a flour-like powder: the taste, sweetish and somewhat glutinous. It comes to us from Egypt and Syria. The nature of the plant it bears has not yet been fully ascertained. It is usually supposed to be a kind of Colchicum, named by Gaspard Baudin, Colchicum radice sicata alba, and by Lobel, Hermodactylus non venent officinarum. Other authorities maintain that it is the tuberous iris, named by Gaspard Bauhin, Iristuberosa, folio anguloso, and by Mattioli, Hermodactylus verus. The modern author Pomet, is of a very different opinion: he declares that Hermodactylus is not a root at all, but the fruit of an Egyptian tree. He advances two considerations in proof of this assertion: firstly, he declares, the object is much more like a fruit than a root; secondly, he says that a Marseilles correspondent writes that Hermodactylus comes frm Egypt, and is the fruit of a large tree. Pomet's first reason does not strike me as a good one. In my opinion Hermodactylus is at least as like a bulbous or tuberous root as a fruit; and as far as its substance goes, it resembles the arum root and the root of many other plants. Nor does his second reason convince me. His Marseilles correspondent, for all that he tells us, may not be well informed himself, and I think the only thing to be done is to suspend our judgment, and to await further information from other travellers.

2. How to Select Hermodactylus: its Medicinal Properties.
In selecting Hermodactylus choose large, young, well formed, well dried specimens. They should be free from decay -to which the plant is extremely subject- with reddish skins and white insides. They abound in oil and in essential salt. Good for affections of the brain and joints in phlegmatic constitutions, they produce perspiration. According to the Arabian writers, the root is that of a small plant with a leaf like that of a leek. The flower resembles that of the small yellow-white lily. It blooms on the ground at the base of the plant, producing a small dark red fruit, without any medicinal properties. It grows in mountainous country and appears at the end of winter.

3. Some Remarks on the Properties and Employment of Hermodactylus (Translated from the Arabic)
.... "This root is of three varieties: White, Red, and Black. The two latter kinds are injurious: the White only should be used. This root can be kept in good condition for three years. It is hot and siccative in the third degree: disperses and destroys phlegmatic humours throughout the body, especially in the joints and nerves: mixed with aloes it cures the pain in the thigh called in Arabic Eskel Nepa (this has been proved): with ginger and pepper it is a strong stimulant to the Sport of Love, exciting sexual activity: infused in milk and taken as a draught, it increases the secretion of the semen: mixed thoroughly with saffron and eggs and applied externally it cures painful inflammations of the bones. It removes obstructions, and cures jaundice by drawing down the evil humours, but a surfeit is bad for the stomach and liver, and gives gripes. Antidote: gum tragacanth with sugar: dose of this, one drachm" ....

4. Other Remarks upon Hermodactylus
The root is an excellent purge: too highly praised, perhaps, by the ancients, and certainly too much neglected by the moderns. I have employed it, and I am sure with success, in chronic maladies where a stimulant is indicated, as in rheumatic affections, especially where there are specific complications, of a scrofulous, syphilitic, or scorbutic nature. I never use it by itself but always in combination with some other purge of a kind appropriate to the disease under treatment, and I invariably add some carminative drug as a corrective. Hermodactylus is used in various compounds: electuaries, boluses, pills, but always with some corrective drug. Otherwise it is too stimulating. I have always relied most upon this last opinion, that of adding a corrective drug, as it was given me by a regular practitioner in Damascus

Hester Lucy Stanhope
Mount Lebanon
Page 134 de leur livre, Gout: the Patrician Malady (Yale University Press, 2000), Roy Porter et G.S. Rousseau écrivaient :
"Banks too investigated the origins of the decoction [l'Eau Médicinale introduite en Angleterre en 1808], whose composition Husson had kept a close secret, though its relation to extracts from Colchicum plants had long been suspected. Through correspondence with his kinswoman Lady Hester Stanhope, living in Syria, Banks pursued the mystery of the hermodactyl plant as used by the Ancients. She sent him roots, and French translations from Arabic texts, though he was already convinced that the genus Colchicum harboured an active principle with effects similar to Husson's medicine."

Publié dans Epistolaire

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