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.
Whatever definition of beauty we may adopt, the fact of its existence will not be questioned. It greets us on every hand, more abundantly disclosed, indeed, to the cultivated and observing eye, yet visible also to the most superficial and heedless. Physical beauty - of which alone we now speak - abounds in every department of nature. In the animal kingdom, for instance, what graceful forms and proportions, what richness and delicacy of colors, what sweetness of sounds! It was not mere utility that fashioned the humming-bird which flits around our doorways, or the bobolink pouring out his liquid, gurgling melody as he flies over the meadow. "In the commonest human face," says an artist, "there is more beauty than Raphael will take away with him." The eye is* not only an admirable contrivance for conveying images of external objects to the mind, but, in its form, colors, and varying expression, is in itself beautiful. Can anything surpass the tints of an insect's wing, whether viewed by the naked eye, or through the lenses of a microscope? If we descend into the region of animalcules, the minutest living objects examined by the most powerful instruments exhibit the greatest perfection and finish.
Indeed, it seems as though the Creator had purposely drawn a veil between the common eye and some of the finest specimens of his handiwork, in order to surprise, and stimulate the investigations of science.
In the mineral kingdom, there are not only the precious and useful metals, but also beautiful gems. Those most useful often appear in pleasing forms and combinations. Here are the diamond, sapphire, emerald, topaz, ruby, and other precious stones, which, under the hand of the lapidary, reveal the most exquisite tints and shades of color. What wonder that wealth and beauty, and the pride of kingdoms, have in all ages come to this kingdom of nature for their ornaments! Surely, utility had little need of these minerals in laying the foundations of the earth. Caverns would have afforded the wild beasts and reptiles just as safe and convenient lurking-places though they had not been paved and arched over with gems.
In the vegetable kingdom, there is beauty in the seed cast into the earth; and in the plant shooting up into the sunlight, in its opening leaves, with their various forms and hues; in the out-spreading branches, stems, tendrils; in the forming bud, the expanding flower, and the ripening fruit. Notice the shape and structure of trees. Yonder elm, for example. It is not set in the ground like a post, but springs from it like a thing of life. Its massive trunk, braced up with buttresses, rises on high, then spreads out in tapering branches on every side, supporting a leafy dome whose majesty and grace charm every beholder. Analyze the tree more minutely. Examine its bark, twigs, leaves; cut into its very heart-wood, and beauty haunts you still. How wide the diversity between the pendulous willow and the stately and dense maple, the gnarled oak, the columnar poplar, and the heaven-kissiug pine. Observe the variety in the form, size, and color of leaves, both of trees and plants. There is a vast range between those of the palm-tree and the Victoria regia, down to the leaflets of the mosses. Even in mid-summer, there are purple and blue, gray and yellow, striped and veined, splashed and spotted, and various other colored leaves, with every conceivable shade of green.
And then, what changes are wrought in their color between the first pale hues of spring and the crimson and gold of autumn! And after the varied glory of summer has passed by, and the pomp of autumn is blasted, it is not the least pleasant sight of the year to observe the evergreen trees, holding out faithfully amid frosts and storms, and diffusing a smile over the cold face of winter. And, as to flowers, words cannot express their loveliness. But the wide earth is covered with them; the air is loaded with their fragrance. At every step, you trample on some wonder of elaborate workmanship and beauty. Fruits, too, at least most of them, must^ be set down among the beautiful. Here are ruby cherries, golden pears, fair-cheeked apples, purple grapes, which are not only good to eat, but pleasant to look upon.
There is beauty, also, in the elements of fire and water. In fire, glowing, in our evening lamps, crackling on our hearthstones, throwing far its beams, by night, from many a casement on hillside and plain, illuminating the streets of cities, flashing on the headlands of rocky coasts, and shining from the sun and stars. In water, when the dew scatters diamonds on grass, shrub, and tree; when the mist spreads along the valley, or rolls up the mountain side, and when the departing shower garlands its locks with rainbows; beauty, too, when it ripples on the sea-shore, when the ocean is burnished with gold by day, and silver by night, and when its waves are gemmed with phosphorescent fires; beauty in lakes, rivers, creeks, and musical brooks, in the silvery spray of fountains, and in the silent springs, reflecting the overhanging woods.
The revolving seasons have many pleasing aspects. Spring scatters the Hepatica and Anemone on the hillside, tinges the meadow with, green, breathes on tree and shrub, and bids them revive, and awakes the song of birds. Summer fills the air with fragrance and music, robes the forest in deep, rich foliage, supplies man with fair and invigorating fruits, and decks his fields with the tokens of a coming harvest. She brings us cool and dewy mornings, long twilights, evening airs, resonant with the chirp of insects, the peal of distant bells, and the murmur of leaves and streams. She brings that " - - strange, superfluous glory of the air," which poetry feels, though chemistry cannot discover it, brings skies of tropical richness and splendor, clouds, and refreshing rain. Autumn comes laden with ruddy fruit and golden grain; she decks the hills with variegated banners, and over all casts a thin, azure haze, softening, the rugged outlines of the landscape, suffusing every object with a dreamy spell which laps the beholder in an Elysium of delight.