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.
It is well known that, for some years past, efforts have been made by prominent agriculturists in various sections of the Union, and especially by the United States Agricultural Society, which holds its annual convention at Washington, to direct attention to the utility of a National Agricultural Department - its head a cabinet officer, with power and position co-ordinate with the other Secretaries. There is, it must be admitted, some propriety in the scheme, inasmuch as the rural interest is supreme, and the tillers of the soil greater in number and wealth than all others combined; hence it could be only necessary for them to unite on the measure to carry it into effective operation. Why, then, it may be asked, is it not accomplished? Perhaps a sufficient answer may be found in the fact, there is fear - well founded fear - lest it get into the hands of politicians. Its head not selected because of his fitness for the post, but in recompense for services on the stump; not in extracting stumps, for to that extent his claim might be legitimate, and his aids appointed through favoritism and personal friendship, without regard to their capacity.
Such has unhappily been the result of many a well intentioned effort; and if the Agricultural Department were established, it would be a miracle, indeed, did it escape. I had read of the agricultural division of the Patent Office, and, when last in Washington, strolled towards the structure which bears that name - a noble pile of marble, its facade equal to one of our city squares, its Grecian portico almost rivalling the Parthenon. I rejoiced that American inventors were so much honored in the edifice; they have done, and are doing, their share towards the civilization and refinement of all mankind; and the arts of peace have been more potent to elevate American character abroad than the triumphs of war. McCormick has surpassed Scott, and that is no slight praise. But I am digressing. I was about to lead you, Mr. Editor, to the agricultural division of the Patent Office. Where, sir, do you imagine I found the department which represented at Washington our country's leading interest ? Shall I write it down? In a dingy, dismal corner of the rear basement, with just light enough to make the gloom more gloomy - the official a clerk unknown to agriculture, but not "unknown to fame".
When the "agricultural division," as it is called, was made (one hardly knows how, for it would seem to have sprung into existence self-created), and a person was appointed, charged with the duty of procuring and distributing seeds, a favorable opportunity presented to test the practical working of an inchoate scheme. The appropriations made by Congress were ample, and met with scarcely a dissentient voice. But, alas ! how are the best intentions made abortive by an erroneous step ! - a false move at chess endangers the game - and the appointment of an incompetent person to procure seeds, has frustrated the well-intentioned efforts of the friends of agriculture. It may be said that an official duly qualified for the post, is not readily obtained. True, there are difficulties in the way. The incumbent should be one practically acquainted with agriculture in its various subdivisions. He should be possessed of some botanical knowledge; have at least a smattering of chemistry as applied to agriculture; not ignorant of the products of other lands, especially with reference to the numerous plants which, either simply or combined, are used in manufactures, the arts, and sciences.
Such knowledge would qualify him to judge of the probable advantage of their introduction to our country, and his investigations would enable him to point out the latitude and character of the soil in which success was probable, together with the mode of culture which experience had determined as the best.
Mr. Editor, here is a wide field with "ample room and verge enough," and had a clerk of proper qualifications been selected, much might have been accomplished; the harvest was indeed plentiful, and the means to meet expenses ample. We should not then have seen seeds from warm latitudes distributed in the North, and English grain and esculent vegetable seeds, of varieties familiar to every kitchen garden in our country, scattered broadcast, whilst the same identical sorts, of American growth, were being exported to the British possessions, more esteemed there than those obtained from England! Hyacinth roots, such as are sold at auction in every seaport, and nearly every city in the Union, would not then have been imported, packed in tin cases, and dispatched by the mails, as an exploit worthy of the Patent Office!' We should not then have seen tens of thousands of dollars expended in the wretched compilation known as the "Agricultural Report of Patent Office," which no man well informed in rural affairs would venture to send abroad, so shamefully does it misrepresent the actual agricultural condition and intelligence of our country. Verily, we are a patient people, to be content to "pay the piper" for such execrable music.
Mr. Editor, has not our faithful sentinel, the Horticulturist, a word to say on this unvarnished expose, and shameless perversion of the public funds? Agricola.
[Beyond all question, the subject should be investigated. A letter writer from Washington asserts that all the common garden seeds planted for ten miles round that capital, are procured from the Patent Office gratuitously, and that, in many instances, poultry is fattened on corn and wheat obtained in like manner. We have ourselves seen boxes and bags of seeds going a begging from the same source, and to get rid of the stuff sent in kindness by Washington habitues, in over abundance, it has been fed to pleasure horses 1 But what shall we think of long scarlet raddish seed, early York cabbage, and mignonette 1 to say nothing of turnip seeds imported, though originating here, and given away in over-doses to all who know the secret of the public crib-bmg. It is surely a misapplication of the appropriation, and needs reform. What a melancholy thing it is to find the best intentioned schemes fail from incompetent management. We were about to take notice of some errors in the last Report which would indeed make us ashamed to meet it abroad, when this communication came to hand, and we must wait.
Our correspondent might well have made some remarks on the injustice of gratuitously distributing English seeds, such as our own people are engaged in producing with great success. - Ed. H].