This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
By the death of John Jay Smith, the Gardener's Monthly and Horticulturist mourns one of its own family. A. J. Downing, who, in connection with Luther Tucker, of Albany, projected the Horticul-turist, edited it till 1852, when, in his efforts to save his fellow passengers at the burning of the "Henry Clay" on the Hudson river, he lost his own life. The magazine was then sold to Mr. Vick, and edited by Mr. Barry, and from them purchased and edited by John Jay Smith. It went after this to New York, where it was edited successively by Messrs. Mead, Woodward and Williams, till it finally became merged in the present publication. No periodical ever excited a greater love for rural pursuits than the Horticulturist; and, in its earlier years, hundreds dated their love of country life from their perusal of its pages. It was in this particular field that Mr. Smith excelled in editorial ability. Delegating to others more familiar with every-day gardening - as for instance Mr. Wm. Saunders, the present able chief of the experimental grounds at Washington - the more practical details, he reserved for himself the task of throwing around horticulture those intellectual charms which in all ages have commended it to the love of the good and the great.
But the important influence which he exerted on American horticulture was by no means confined to his editorial career. Long before the Horticulturist was conceived, down through over half a century to the last production of his pen, written on his death-bed, gardening was his constant theme. His knowledge of trees and plants, of garden art and rural taste, was singularly acute, and many of the most beautiful grounds, not only about Philadelphia, but in many distant parts of the country were made more lovely by the suggestions freely thrown out by his fertile mind. The grounds around his beautiful residence in German town are a remarkable piece of successful landscape gardening. They are so arranged that one might wander about the place for an hour, and still continue to find objects of interest, and scarcely realize the fact when ultimately told that this charming spot with its beautiful lawn, belts of shrubbery, numerous rare trees and shrubs, fruit garden, vegetable garden, green-house, stables, etc., are all on a small city lot of less than two acres. "Ivy Lodge" is a singular triumph of garden art.
The love of gardening which he exhibited in almost every thought expressed, was evidently an inherited one. His ancestors, Smith and Logan, who were associated with William Penn in founding the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and in doing which they stamped on the whole country the great principles of civil and religious liberty, which have made it the admiration of the world, were also famous for their love of rural life. Perhaps in no respect does Mr. Smith's love of gardening more entitle his memory to a grateful remembrance than in the establishment of rural cemeteries. The city graveyard had become an abomination. The writer of this has seen several hundred weight of bones - skulls and limbs of those who have loved and been loved - gathered into obscure corners till sold to fertilizing companies by the digger of the new graves in the old grounds. All this he has seen close to the last resting place of the authoress of that touching work, the " Dairyman's Daughter," whose bones, for aught any one knows, may have been so used ere this. Mr. Smith had also had his sensibilities often touched by similar scenes. The burial of a loved one in such a place fixed his determination for reform. Not a flower bloomed in that barren, sectarian graveyard.
No bird sang its innocent chant; no tree - no sign of any living thing appeared in this old-time desert of the dead, but the few blades of grass which persistently struggled to enforce a protest against this awful desecration of nature's love for us even after we are gone. But the sound from that grave, as the little coffin splashed into its muddy bed, was the knell of the whole system. Laurel Hill Cemetery was the result of that day's work, and it was opened for burials in October of 1836, and garden cemeteries in some form or another have become an essential part of American civilized communities. Few things gave Mr. Smith more pleasure than to dwell on this great victory over past folly. It was a severe struggle. The notion of the middle ages that a special sanctity could be given by ecclesiastical rites to a church graveyard had not wholly passed away. True, few people believed, as in the olden time, that evil spirits would trouble dead bodies any more in "unconsecrated" than in "consecrated" ground. But though the old thoughts had passed away, the old habits which these thoughts engendered yet remained, and it was irreligious to think of burial elsewhere. Mr. Smith was resolved. He issued a call for a meeting.
It would have been a dampener to many to find but three persons respond to the call. But, nothing daunted, the meeting was organized. There was enough for a president, a secretary, and some one to vote on the resolutions; and the "unanimous" result of that meeting's work was duly reported in the city papers, and the nascent rural cemetery idea was presented to the public. High ecclesiastical dignitaries, who ardently opposed the project, are now among the tenants of this flowery land!
We have to confine our sketch to horticultural matters, or we would fill a whole number of our magazine with extremely interesting illustrations of his very useful life. His literary labors have been enormous. On our shelves the beautiful English translation from the French of Michaux's " Forest Trees in America," and an edition of McMahon's " American Gardener," bear his name as editor on their title pages.
The remarkable activity of Mr. Smith's mind seems to have been in a measure inherited. His grandfather, John Smith, who married Chief Justice Logan's daughter, established the first insurance company in America. The first line of packet ships which made regular trips to England was also his work. He called the first meeting which resulted in the famous Pennsylvania Hos-pital and was its secretary for many years. His grandson, John Jay Smith, was of precisely the same mould. He was the secretary of the company which introduced the famous line of daily Conestoga wagons from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, - and was among the early originators of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Logan, the founder of the famous Loganian Library, of Philadelphia, willed it to the city, conditional that any of his descendants, educated in the classics, should always have the preference for the office of Librarian. Mr. Smith filled this quasi hereditary office for many years to the entire satisfaction of the community. The meeting which resulted in forming the Girard Life Insurance Company, was called by him, - and the Germantown Horticultural Society grew out of his active brain and generous energy.
But it would be impossible to name, in a short notice like this, a tithe of good works now successfully accomplished or still working on in a useful way, which originated with him. During the last few years of his life he earnestly endeavored to promote the introduction of trees and plants of commercial value - notably the cork oak and the mushroom. One of the last letters which the editor of the Gardener's Monthly received from him, was overflowing with enthusiasm at the success of some one whom he had encouraged to try the artificial culture of the delicious esculent mentioned, on a large scale.
It is almost inconceivable that one whose eighty-three years of life was one of such eminent activity and usefulness, should have passed at least forty years in physical pain and suffering. On one occasion his life was only saved by a surgical operation, of a heroic sort. Truly the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong! The man who lives the longest is the one who loves best the work he was sent into the world to do. Even though the active man die young in years, his work is his life. In this light John Jay Smith's has gone beyond Methuselah's. A full detailed account of his life would be admirable reading for young men. In this connection it may not be out of place to note that his own descendants seem proud to walk in the horticultural traditions of the family. Albanus L. Smith, grandson of John Jay Smith, has assumed the task of carrying out the plans of his grandfather in reference to the new West Laurel Hill Cemetery.