This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
Such of our readers as may have the British Classics at their elbow will be spared the trouble of referring to The Tatler, No. 218; whilst those who, unhappily, do not possess these depositories of the wit of Addison and his contemporaries, will thank us for extracting a paper full of the happiest pleasantry, conveyed in the purest and most elegant language. We, as florists, are not unwilling that the most polished writers should indulge in a smile at our expense. We can relish such exquisite humour as much as any of that large party who can "look upon it as a piece of happiness that they have never fallen into any of these fantastical tastes;" but we cannot afford to part with any of our enthusiasm in what we know to be a sensible and pleasing pursuit, and one that yields a great amount of innocent enjoyment. But our principal object is, to draw attention to a series of papers, "On the Philosophy of Florists' Flowers," from the pen of a scholar and a gentleman, the first of which appears in this Number. Many will be furnished in these essays with replies to such objections as Addison raised in his day, and which are largely partaken of by others in our own times, who, eating with the greatest satisfaction fruits improved in size and flavour by the skill of the fruitist, would try to cast ridicule upon florists for attempting to develope those beautiful forms and colours in flowers, which administer to as refined a taste as that of the palate.
We should soon reach these objectors' hearts, if the road only lay a little more in the direction of the Englishman's vulnerable part - the stomach.
"From my own Apartment, Aug. 30, 1760.
"I chanced to rise very early one particular morning this summer, and took a walk into the country to divert myself among the fields and meadows, while the green was new and the flowers in their bloom. As at this season of the year every lane is a beautiful walk, and every hedge full of nosegays, I lost myself with a great deal of pleasure among several thickets and bushes, that were filled with a great variety of birds, and an agreeable confusion of notes, which formed the pleasantest scene in the world to one who had passed a whole winter in noise and smoke. The freshness of the dews that lay upon every thing about me, with the cool breath of the morning, which inspired the birds with so many delightful instincts, created in me the same kind of animal pleasure, and made my heart overflow with such secret emotions of joy and satisfaction as are not to be described or accounted for. On this occasion, I could not but reflect upon a beautiful simile in Milton:
'As one who long in populous city pent, Where houses thick and sewers annoy the air, Forth issuing on a summer's morn to breathe Among the pleasant villages and farms Adjoin'd, from each thing met conceives delight: The smell of grain, or tedded grass, or kine, Or dairy, each rural sight, each rural sound'.
Those who are conversant in the writings of polite authors receive an additional entertainment from the country, as it revives in their memories those charming descriptions with which such authors do frequently abound.
"I was thinking of the foregoing beautiful description in Milton, and applying it to myself, when I observed to the windward of me a black cloud falling to the earth in long trails of rain, which made me betake myself for shelter to a house which 1 saw at a little distance from the place where I was walking. As I sat in the porch I heard the voices of two or three persons, who seemed very earnest in discourse. My curiosity was raised when I heard the names of Alexander the Great and Artaxerxes; and, as their talk seemed to run on ancient heroes, I concluded there could not be any secret in it j for which reason I thought I might very fairly listen to what they said.
"After several parallels between great men, which appeared to me altogether groundless and chimerical, I was surprised to hear one say, that he valued the Black Prince more than the Duke of Vendome. How the Duke of Ven-dome should become a rival of the Black Prince, I could not conceive; and was more startled when I heard a second affirm, with great vehemence, that if the Emperor of Germany was not going off, he should like him better than either of them. He added, that though the season was so changeable, the Duke of Marlborough was in blooming beauty. I was wondering to myself from whence they had received this odd intelligence; especially when I heard them mention the names of several other great generals, as the Prince of Hesse and the King of Sweden, who, they said, were both running away; to which they added, what I entirely agreed with them in, that the crown of France was very weak, but that the Marshal Villars still kept his colours. At last, one of them told the company, if they would go along with him, he would shew them a Chimney-Sweeper and a Painted Lady in the same bed, which he was sure would very much please them.
The shower, which had driven them, as myself, into the house, was now over; and as they were passing by me into the garden, I asked them to let me be one of their company.
"The gentleman of the house told me, if I delighted in flowers, it would be worth my while; for that he believed he could shew me such a blow of Tulips as was not to be matched in the whole country.
"I accepted the offer, and immediately found that they had been speaking in terms of gardening, and that the kings and generals they had mentioned were only so many Tulips, to which the gardeners, according to their usual custom, had given such high titles and appellations of honour.
"I was very much pleased and astonished at the glorious show of these gay vegetables, that arose in great profusion on all the banks about us. Sometimes I considered them, with the eye of an ordinary spectator, as so many beautiful objects varnished over with a natural gloss, and stained with such a variety of colours as are not to be equalled in any artificial dyes and tinctures. Sometimes I considered every leaf as an elaborate piece of tissue, in which the threads and fibres were woven together into different configurations, which give a different colouring to the light as it glanced on the several parts of the surface. Sometimes I considered the whole bed of Tulips, according to the notion of the greatest mathematician and philosopher that ever lived, as a multitude of optic instruments designed for the separating light into all those various colours of which it is composed.
"I was awakened out of these my philosophical speculations by observing the company often seemed to laugh at me. I accidentally praised a Tulip as one of the finest I ever saw; upon which they told me it was a common Fool's Coat. Upon that I praised a second, which it seems was but another kind of Fool's Coat. I had the same fate with two or three more; for which reason I desired the owner of the garden to let me know which were the finest of the flowers; for that I was so unskilful in the art, that I thought the most beautiful were the most valuable, and that those which had the gayest colours were the most esteemed. The gentleman smiled at my ignorance. He seemed a very plain honest man, and a person of good sense, had not his head been touched with that distemper, which Hippocrates calls Tulippomania; insomuch that he would talk very rationally on any subject in the world but a Tulip.
"He told me that he valued the bed of flowers which lay before us, and was not above twenty yards in length and two in breadth, more than he would the best hundred acres of land in England; and added, that it would have been worth twice the money it is, if a foolish cook-maid of his had not almost ruined him the last winter, by mistaking an handful of Tulip-roots for an heap of onions, ' And, by that means,' says he, ' made me a dish of porridge that cost me above a thousand pounds sterling,' He then shewed me what he thought the finest of his Tulips, which I found received all their value from their rarity and oddness; and put me in mind of your great fortunes, which are not always the greatest beauties.
"I have often looked upon it as a piece of happiness, that I have never fallen into any of these fantastical tastes, nor esteemed any thing the more for its being uncommon and hard to be met with. For this reason I look upon the whole country in spring-time as a spacious garden, and make as many visits to a spot of Daisies, or a bank of Violets, as a florist does to his borders or parterres. There is not a bush in blossom within a mile of me which I am not acquainted with, nor scarce a Daffodil or Cowslip that withers away in my neighbourhood without missing it. I walked home in this temper of mind through several fields and meadows with an unspeakable pleasure, not without reflecting on the bounty of Providence, which has made the most beautiful and most pleasing objects the most ordinary and most common." Addison.