The entire book consists of two lists, and a short collection of poems in the back featuring flowers. The first is a list of flowers, from abecedary to zinnia, and their meanings. (Volubility and Missing Absent Friends) by the way. The second list is reversed--a variety of messages, followed by the proper flower to use.
But what the heck was abecedary? Never heard of it. I assumed it was either an obsolete term for some common flower, or an obscure bloom known only to Europe. So I hauled out my handy Websters Collegiate and looked it up.
According to my dictionary, which is, granted some years old, but a lot newer than the Language of Flowers, the only definitions for abecedary is a book of the alphabet, or a book in alphabetical order, or something pertaining to the alphabet, in particular the first four letters, and it is prounounced A-B-C-dary. Assuming I needed a different dictionary, I consulted one of my mother's old prize books, the dictionary that takes two people to lift. No difference.
So, desperate, I resorted to Google and found sixteen or so listings of the same bloody definition. Then I spotted one, an ask-the-expert column, where another poor soul had obviously done the same search. According to the expert, the word never appears anywhere in print in relation to flowers other than in Greenaway's book. (Which, btw, came out in 1885, and was reprinted in 1892. Apparently my little book is older than I thought.)
He suggests that the story is apocryphal and since he doesn't own a copy of the book, probably somewhere along the way, someone took the page header and accidentally added it to the list.
Nope. Got the book right here, and there it is. Interestingly, the second flower, Abatina,(fickleness) also doesn't exist according to same expert. My guess is still what it was--that it may have been a local nickname for some ordinary blossom. Or else they were printers' typos.
The book is printed in an orangey ink, and is hard to read, also is full of those lovely draped and hatted ladies along with child-sized cherubs with wings and straw hats. Still, it has always fascinated me, partially because of the simplicity of the style compared to the complexity of the subject. So many flowers, so many meanings. This is the kind of historical research I can get lost in, to the point where I forgot where I started.
Wishing all of you Cape Jasmine and Wood Sorrel, (inspiration and joy) this spring!
Cindy Spencer Pape