I am very ignorant of Irish affairs in general, but I listened with extreme interest to all that I could hear of the co-operative movement now being carried out by so many farmers in Ireland. I have since kept myself informed in the matter by taking in that excellent little weekly paper 'The Irish Homestead.' Mr. William Lawler in a long poem in the 'London Year-Book' for 1898 begins a paragraph on Ireland, of which the first lines at any rate do not inappropriately express my wishes and my hopes for the co-operation of Irish industries:
Oh, Ireland, when your children shall abate Their love of captious things to study great; When you shall let your aspirations lie Far less in Statecraft than in Industry;
• • • • • •
Then shall your people prosper and advance.
A charming shrub, and new to me, is Escallonia pterocladon, which I saw growing on the walls of a house in Ireland; it was covered in this mid-winter time with white flowers rather like a large Privet.
I saw a pretty dinner-table decoration consisting of a quantity of Jasminum nudiflorum picked and put in small glasses with leaves from greenhouse plants. Also an effective decoration was of Geranium flowers (Pelargoniums, red or pink) arranged in saucers full of moss and - in between these - narrow, pointed glasses with branches of pink Begonias. A little winter-flowering Begonia, called Gloire de Lorraine, has lately come into fashion. What a term for a flower! But it is true, and plants of this Begonia make a charming table decoration at a time of year when flowers are scarce. They look best growing in pots. Roman hyacinths in glasses could be placed between, and pink shades used for the candles; or, for a small table, one plant in the middle would be enough. The colour, the growth, the shape of the leaves, all make it charming. I do not yet know if it is difficult to grow} as I have only lately bought a plant.
I did not see it in Ireland, but a shrub that should never be omitted from any garden, small or large, is Lonicera fragrantissima. It begins to flower in January, and continues through February and March. Like every flower or shrub I know, a little care - such as pruning and mulching - improves its flowering powers. I had it here in a neglected state in a shrubbery for years. I only knew its pretty green leaves, and never guessed what it was or its early-flowering qualities. But my gardening ignorance in those days was supreme.
In spite of the time of year I had pleasant days in Dublin at the College Botanical Garden and also at Glasnevin, the 'Kew of Dublin.' The little Irises Stylosa alba and speciosa were flowering well. They must be starved; for if their foliage is good, it means no flowers. Many kinds of Hellebores were coming into bloom, some of which I had never seen before. The warm damp winters are very favourable to January-flowering plants, and we can scarcely expect to copy them in Surrey. The rather rare and interesting Daphne blagayana was growing to a great size, and covered with flowers, at Glasnevin. Mr. Robinson describes it as a 'beautiful, dwarf Alpine shrub of easy growth.' I have not found it at all easy; in fact, two out of the three plants I had have died, and the third looks rather ill. But I think I tried to grow it too much in the sun; it also wants pegging down every year after flowering.
In a country house in Ireland I saw last year for the first time the reproductions, sanctioned by the Berlin Government, of Botticelli's illustrations of Dante. I never knew before that such things existed, or that outline book-illustration of that kind was so old. The original drawings had belonged to Lord Ashburnham's collection, and we in England allowed them to be bought at his sale by the German Government for 25,000l. - an unfortunate result of the law which never allowed the authorities either of the Print Room in the British Museum or of the National Gallery to keep any money in hand. These drawings are curious rather than very beautiful, and many of them are unfinished. In the illustrations of Hell and Purgatory, Botticelli glories in detail; but the 'Paradiso' is left almost entirely to the imagination. Dante and Beatrix surrounded by a circle, he himself appearing often blinded by the rays of light, the whole surrounded by more circles; this is all he seems to have dared attempt.
In this same house I was able to turn from these lineal illustrations of the fifteenth century, with their delicate though meagre draughtsmanship, to the latest and richest of modern illustrations, the finest colour-printing that France has been able to produce - the Tissot Bible. It was not otherwise than satisfactory to realise that, however much art may have in some respects deteriorated, these illustrations, artistically and mechanically, surpassed those particular drawings of the Middle Ages, though the comparison is an unfair one. It would be immensely interesting to know what will be thought of this Tissot Bible in a hundred years.