This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The December number of the Horticulturist was a prominent item in my mail matter one day last week. I opened it, and looked first in front and then at the end to see if I could find a list of contents, but none such could I discover. Really, Mr. Editor, I felt angry with you for once, and I entreat you not to let another series of numbers go forth among your readers without at least a list of the more important articles being prefixed or affixed to each. There being no table of contents, I began at the beginning, and never stopped until I had read straight through - advertisements and all. Indeed, I did not quite omit even the index, but gave it more than a passing glance.
Our friend Elliott's most interesting article, "A Little More Grape;" the editorial on Geraniums; Fuller's article on Budding, with numerous shorter articles, followed up by the skirmishing columns of the "Editor's Table," seemed to indicate that if the Horticulturist has not yet all the talent of the country, it at least has its share.
Among the pleasant things which caught my eye was the note by the well-known writer A. S. F., in which he alludes to some former scribblings of mine. He seems to regard them as interesting as well as instructive ; and as I claim no honor beyond that of a mere reporter, perhaps I may be pardoned for sending you another conversation, to which the article just mentioned gave rise.
In the evening, as soon as supper was over, and I had attended to the various little duties incident to country life, I walked over to my friend B., having first put the Horticulturist in my pocket, for which, by the way, my wife gave me a good scolding as soon as I returned, as she thinks she has as good a right to it as I have. I found B. at home, and asked him if he had seen the article by A. S. F.
B. Yes. It is a pleasant, sensible article.
L. But is it true that McMahon's book is a mere reprint of Abercrombie's work ?
B. Perhaps in calling it a reprint, A. 8. F. uses language a little too strong. McMa-hon borrowed largely from Abercrombie, but he modified the original a good deal, and he added much new matter. I had the misfortune to fall on the ice last night and sprain my ankle, so please hand me that green book and its companion in musty old leather, and also McMahon's book, of which the first edition stands on the shelf, just below Abercrombie. Here we have one of the latest editions of Abercrombie. London, 1857. Edited first by Main and then by Glenny, and now forming a 12mo of 459 pages. The old edition is larger, and McMahon's is an octavo of 666 pages; and if you examine it closely and compare it with Abercrombie, you will see that a good deal has been added and changed.
Loudon* refers very respectfully to McMahon's book; and as he was unquestionably familiar with Abercrombie's work (which was the pocket companion of most young gardeners at that time), it is strange he did not notice the plagiarism. By the way he describes the book - as a 12mo - I should like to know whether this is a mistake, or whether the book was republished in Great Britain.
Abercrombie was a good gardener, and wrote several works besides this. There are two books standing on that shelf - Johnson's "History of Gardening" and Felton's "Portraits of English Authors on Gardening." Please hand them down. Johnson gives quite an interesting account of Abercrombie. "He was born in Edinburgh in 1726, near which city his father conducted a large market-garden".
L. Why, I read the very same words not an hour ago. Have you "Wet Days at Edgewood" among your books ?
B. I believe so. There it is.
L. That sentence at least is transferred verbatim to "Wet Days." Is the whole article copied ?
B. No. The materials are evidently almost entirely from Johnson; but then this is all fair. Mitchell has re-arranged them and converted them into a Life of Abercrombie, very different from that of Johnson. And so with McMahon. He took many of the paragraphs of Abercrombie, and many of his directions are quoted verbatim from "Every Man His Own Gardener." But Abercrombie's work, if simply reprinted, would not have suited our country, while McMahon's book has been received with great favor.
* Encyclopedia of Gardening (1850), page 889.
L. It would be interesting to examine how far this plagiarism is carried on.
B. Yes; but unfortunately the labor is great and the reward small. Still, we can find enough of it if we seek it. If our friend It. had not borrowed it, I could show you a recent book in which even typographical errors have been stolen ; a well-known work on flowers is taken, cuts and all, from the work of an English author; and we have recently had an instance of a standard English book being appropriated piecemeal by one of our periodicals, and published as original. This reminds one of the Western editor, who being shut out by a violent snow-storm from access to the world at large, promised to keep up the issue of his paper "as long as the stories in the old almanac lasted".
You see those four ponderous folio volumes bound in rough old calf. They are Prof. Martyn's edition of Miller. Please hand me the first volume. I read in it the other day a curious passage in regard to this very subject. After giving a very complete list of authors, he says: " It would be a curious speculation to ascertain how much, or rather perhaps I should say how little, in this copious list of authors and their works is truly original. The venerable Judge Fitzherbert, the father of English husbandry, gave a good example, but it was not followed by many, except Sir Hugh Plat, Gabriel Plattes, and the writers in the time of the Commonwealth - Sir Richard Weston, Hartleb, and Blith. The old gardening books previous to the Restoration are of very inferior value, with scarcely any pretense to originality, if we except Scott, Lawson, Parkinson, and Austen".
It would not be strange if Abercrombie himself had done unto others as he had been done by. Prof. Martyn seems to hint this in the following sentence : "Mr. Miller during his long career had no considerable competitor until he had approached the end of it, when several writers took advantage of his unwearied labors of near half a century, and fixed themselves upon him as various marine insects do upon a decaying shell-fish. I except Hitt and Justice in 1755, who are both original, as is also Hill, after his fashion, but his gardening is not much founded in experience. Hanbury first appeared in 1758; Wheeler, in 1763; Abercrombie, under the name of Mawe, in 1766; Dicks, in 1769".
L. Well, this does not argue much for the morality of gardeners.
B. It is the same in all other departments of literature. Even theology is not exempt from it. A few years ago a very learned treatise on theology was published in this country. Examination showed it to be a mass of plagiarism.
L. I have been looking over " Wet Days at Edgewood" lately. I see he refers to several works on the bibliography of Agriculture. Have you got them ?
B. Most of them. Johnson's History of Gardening, Felton's Portraits of English Authors on Gardening, Weston's Tracts, and Donaldson's Agricultural Biography are the chief works in this department referred to by him.
B. It would certainly be of very great assistance to all lovers of books. I had a letter the other day from the Professor of Agriculture in one of our colleges, and he tells me that he has been engaged for some years on a work of this kind;
He is now pushing it forward, and knowing that I had a few curious old books, he wrote to make some inquiries about titles, dates, etc. I understand that he intends to include not only horticulture and agriculture, but many of the kindred sciences.
L. Such a book would be of incalculable value, not only to every book collector, but to every student, and I hope it will point out the most thorough and the best works in all departments of agricultural science.
B. That would be not only a difficult, but a dangerous undertaking.
L. Do any of the works previously mentioned include American authors ?
B. I believe not. The fact is, our American Agricultural literature is a terra incognita to bibliographers. None of our American publications do us justice. Triib-ner's works on American literature is disgracefully meagre. Thus, Adlum's name is not given in it. Either Alibone's Dictionary of Authors, or the New American Cyclopedia, in whose pages every tenth-rate literary author is found, does not mention Adlum. I forgot just now which it is that leaves him out entirely, but it is not a matter of much consequence, as the account given by the other is very meagre and very erroneous.
L. Which was the first work on Agriculture published in the country ?
B. Really I can not tell. Your question is a very difficult one to answer. The oldest work in my possession is that by Varlo, in two volumes.
And then I took from their shelf a very curious work on Agriculture. But I see that I have taken up enough of your space and time with my rambling chat, so, if you please, I will defer to a future number an account of the first American work on Agriculture. Liber.