It was in the autumn of 1849 that Frederika Bremer came to America. She had been for several years in intimate correspondence with Mr. Downing, and was closely attracted to him by a profound sympathy with his view of the dignity and influence of the home. He received Miss Bremer upon her arrival, and she went with him to his house, where she staid several weeks, and wrote there the introduction to the authorized American edition of her works. It is well for us, perhaps, that as she has written a work upon "The Homes of the United States," she should have taken her first impression of them from that of Mr. Downing. During all her travels in this country she constantly corresponded with him and his wife, to whom she was very tenderly attached. Her letters were full of cheerful humor and shrewd observation. She went bravely about alone, and was treated, almost without exception, with consideration and courtesy. And after her journey was over, and she was about to return home, she came to say farewell where she had first greeted America, in Downing's garden.
In this year he finally resolved to devote himself entirely to architecture and building, and, in order to benefit by the largest variety of experience in elegant rural life, and to secure the services of an accomplished and able architect, thoroughly trained to the business he proposed, Mr. Downing went to England in the summer of 1850, having arranged with Messrs. D. Appleton & Co. for the publication of "The Architecture of Country Houses; including Designs for Cottages, Farm-houses, and Villas".
Already in correspondence with the leading Englishmen in his department, Mr. Downing was at once cordially welcomed. He showed the admirable, and not the unfriendly, qualities of his countrymen, and was directly engaged in a series of visits to the most extensive and remarkable of English country seats, where he was an honored guest. The delight of the position was beyond words to a man of his peculiar character and habits. He saw on every hand the perfection of elegant rural life, which was his ideal of life. He saw the boundless parks, the cultivated landscape, the tropics imprisoned in glass; he saw spacious Italian villas, more Italian than in Italy; every various triumph of park, garden, and country house. But with these, also, he met in the pleasantest way much fine English society, which was his ideal of society. There was nothing wanting to gratify his fine and fastidious taste; but the passage already quoted from his letter at Warwick Castle shows how firmly his faith was set upon his native land, while his private letters are full of affectionate longing to return.
It is easy to figure him moving with courtly grace through the rooms of palaces, gentle, respectful, low in tone, never exaggerating, welcome to lord and lady for his good sense, his practical knowledge, his exact detail; pleasing the English man and woman by his English sympathies, and interesting them by his manly and genuine, not boasting, assertions of American genius-and success. Looking at the picture, one remembers again that earlier one of the boy coming home from Montgomery Academy, in Orange County, and introduced at the wealthy neighbor's to the English gentleman. The instinct that remembered so slight an event secured his appreciation of all that England offered. No American ever visited England with a mind more in tune with all that is nobly characteristic of her. He remarked, upon his return, that he had been much impressed by the quiet, religious life and habits which he found in many great English houses. It is not a point of English life often noticed, nor presupposed, but it was doubly grateful to him, because he was always a Christian believer, and because all parade was repugnant to him.
His letters before his marriage, and during the last years of his life, evince the most genuine Christian faith and feeling.
His residence in England was very brief - a summer trip. He crossed to Paris and saw French life. Fortunately, as his time was short, he saw more in a day than most men in a month, because he was prepared to see, and knew where to look. He found the assistant he wished in Mr. Calvert Vaux, a young English architect, to whom he was introduced by the Secretary of the Architectural Association, and with whom, so mutual was the satisfaction, he directly concluded an agreement. Mr. Vaux sailed with him from Liverpool in September, presently became his partner in business, and commanded, to the end, Mr. Downing's unreserved confidence and respect.
I remember a Christmas visit to Downing in 1850, after his return from Europe, when we all danced to a fiddle upon the marble pavement of the hall, by the light of rustic chandeliers wreathed with Christmas green, and under the antlers, and pikes, and helmets, and breastplates, and plumed hats of cavaliers, that hung upon the walls. The very genius of English Christmas ruled the revel.
During these years he was engaged in superintending the various new editions of his works, and looking forward to larger achievements with maturer years. He designed a greatly enlarged edition of the "Fruit-Trees," and spoke occasionally of the "Shade-Trees," as a work which would be of the greatest practical value. He was much interested in the establishment of the Pomological Congress, was chairman of its fruit committee from the beginning, and drew up the "Rules of American Pomology." Every moment had its work. There was not a more useful man in America; but his visitor found still the same quiet host, leisurely, disengaged; picking his favorite flowers before breakfast; driving here and there, writing, studying, as if rather for amusement; and at twilight stepping into the wagon for a loitering drive along the.river.