'Bellis perennis', plate from 'Flora Londinensis, or Plates and Descriptions of such Plants as Grow Wild in the Environs of London', 5 vols (1777-1828)

William Curtis (1746-1799)

This plate comes from one of the botanical works that Ruskin kept for students to study in the Museum library. It illustrates the common daisy, given under its Latin name.

The flower's simplicity and preponderance did not lessen its charm in Ruskin's eyes. In Fors Clavigera, he explained that 'A daisy is common, and a baby, not uncommon', but 'Neither is vulgar' (January 1873, Works, 27, p. 469).

Ruskin would have been aware of medieval precedents for this floral affection. The plant often forms a detail in medieval art, and was described by Chaucer in The Legend of Good Women as 'the emperice and flour of floures alle' (185).

Ruskin's esteem for the daisy was reflected in his plan to represent it on the reverse of the smaller currency he planned for St George's Company (later renamed the Guild of St George). He stipulated that its decoration should be as follows:

'On the penny, St. George's shield on one side and the English daisy on the other, without inscription.

Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield
' (October 1875, Works, 28, p. 431)

Ruskin on Flora Londinensis

Having grown up in South London, at a time when it shaded into countryside, Ruskin would have taken a keen interest in Curtis's record of the local flora. He devotes most attention to it at the opening of Proserpina (1875-85), Ruskin's book about botany:

'YESTERDAY evening I was looking over the first book in which I studied Botany, -- Curtis's Magazine, published in 1795 at No. 3 St George's Crescent, Blackfriars Road, and sold by the principal booksellers in Great Britain and Ireland. Its plates are excellent, so that I am always glad to find in it the picture of a flower I know' (Works, 25, p. 197)

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