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 house, of which a picture is presented in the present number, may be said to be the cradle of American bojany; from the proprietor emanated the plants and seeds which supplied the means and fostered the taste of what now constitutes half of the older ornamental planting of England. It was finished in the year 1770, and is still preserved with pious care by Colonel Eastwick, its present liberal proprietor, and forms the most interesting shrine for a pilgrimage within our borders.
Bartram was, perhaps, the first Anglo-American who established a Botanic Garden for native plants as well as exotics, and who travelled for the discovery and acquisition of novelties. At the then distance of about three miles from the city, on the Schuylkill River, he built with his own hands, and laid out a garden with a fine exposure, of about five acres, subsequently much increased, and from hence communicated, to the curious in Europe and elsewhere, his discoveries for the benefit of science, commerce, and the useful arts. He travelled several thousand miles in Florida and Carolina, bringing seeds and even plants on these laborious journeys, being fortunately a good botanist for that day - Linnaeus said the best natural botanist known. He explored various northern points on the same errands for pay that could have been the least part of his reward.
He was a man of modest and gentle manners, frank, cheerful, and of great good nature; a lover of justice, truth, and charity; he was never known to have been at enmity with any man. His religious creed may be collected from the inscription by his own hand, in very conspicuous characters upon a stone which is shown in the wall, as follows: -
"Tis God alone, Almighty Lord,
The Holy One, by me adored.
John Bartram, 1770".
This may show the simplicity and sincerity of his heart, which never harbored aor gave countenance to dissimulation.
The simplicity of his style of life is well portrayed by one of his visitors, a French gentleman named Hector St. John, who published an account of his visit; he stayed with him a few days, and says: "We entered into a large hall where there was along table full of victuals; at the lowest part sat his negroes; his hired men were next, then the family and myself, and at the head, the venerable father and his wife presided. Each reclined his head and said his prayers, divested of the tedious cant of some, and of the ostentatious style of others." Astonished by his knowledge, the visitor said: "Pray, Mr. Bartram, when did you imbibe the first wish to cultivate the science of botany? Were you regularly bred to it?" "I have never received any other education than barely reading and writing," was his reply. The beauty of plants early attracted him, and he studied Latin for three months, enough to understand Linnaeus, and acquired himself a general knowledge of every plant and tree to be found on our continent.
Peter Collinson, one of the most constant correspondents of Linnaeus, highly distinguished as a naturalist in London, soon found out our natural botanist, and their correspondence, rescued some years back from smoke and dust in an old loft of the mansion, by Dr. W. Darlington, forms one of the most entertaining and instructive volumes; Peter is constantly urging Bartram for seeds and plants and tortoises; in short, for everything new; their intercourse is sometimes highly amusing and quaint. Some dried plants being received in London, Collinson says: "I shall, at my first leisure, send thee their true botanical names, and shall send thee more paper; but one quire a year will be sufficient." The instructions sometimes run thus: "If thee observes any curious insects, beetles, butterflies, etc, they are easily preserved, being pinned through the body to the inside of the box. When thee goes abroad, put a little box in thy pocket, and as thee meets with them put them in, and then stick them in another box when thee comes home. I want a terrapin or two. Put them in a box with earth, and they will come safe.
They will live a long while without food." Again: "In the course of thy travels, or in digging the earth, or in thy quarries, possibly some sort of figured stones may be found, mixed with earth, or stone and chalk. What use the learned make of them, is, they are evidences of the Deluge I"
The amount of patronage to Bartram, never large, is gathered from the correspondence: "I shall divide the seeds in proportion to my three contributors; Lord Petre is ten guineas; the Duke of Richmond five, and Philip Miller five. Send more black walnuts, long walnuts, and both sorts of hickory, acorns of all sorts, sweet gum, dogwood, red cedar-berries, allspice, sassafras. * * * Virginians are a very gentle, well-dressed people, and look, perhaps, more at a man's outside than his inside. For these and other reasons, pray go very clean, neat, and handsomely dressed to Virginia. Never mind thy clothes: I will send more another year." * * * "I have heard of thy house, and thy great art and industry in building it; it makes me long to see it and the builder." * * *
"Pray, look out sharp next year, and be beforehand with that saucy raccoon, that I may see that pretty nest built in the bush; and send the wasp, and a better specimen of the clay-wasp; for the last wanted its head".
John to Peter sayeth: "I take thy advice about books very kindly, although I love reading such dearly; and I believe, if Solomon had loved women less, and books more, he would have been a wiser and happier man than he was." * * * "I sent Gordon a fine parcel of hollyberries, the getting of which had like to have broke my bones. I was on the top of the tree, when the top that I had hold of, and the branch I stood on, broke, and I fell to the ground. My little son was not able to help me up; my pain was grievous; afterwards very sick; then in a wet sweat, in a dark thicket, no house near, and a very cold, sharp wind, and above twenty miles to ride home".
A sensitive plant sent Collinson amuses all who saw it; he says: "Whilst the Frenchman was ready to burst with laughing, I am ready to burst with desire for root, seed, or specimen of the waggish Tipitiwitchet sensitive. If I have not a specimen in thy next letter, never write me more. I wish it was in my power to mortify thee as much. Pray look where grows nearest, some Azaleas, Kalmias, and Rhododendrons." * * * Again: "O, Botany! delightfulest of all sciences. There is no end to thy gratifications. I have sent Linnaeus a specimen of Tipitiwitchet sensitive; only to him would I spare such a jewel; he will be in raptures." * * * Lady Petre sent over to Bartram the seed of a pear, which was planted, and in 1763 it produced fine fruit; Bartram says: "I think a better is not in the world." The tree still exists near the old house, and annually its fruit is one of the pleasant things to call up old reminiscences at our Horticultural exhibitions. The same year he says to Collinson: "The variety of plants and flowers in our southwestern continent, is beyond expression.
Is it not, dear Peter, the very palace garden of old Madam Flora? Oh! if I could but spend six months on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Florida in health, I believe I could find more curiosities than the English, French, and Spaniards have done in six score years. But the Indians, instigated by the French, will not let us look at so much as a plant or tree in this great British empire." The grafting of the pear on the quince had already attracted the attention of the knowing ones. In 1763, Peter writes: "What I am persuaded will prevent its dropping its fruit, if some quinces were planted in the lower part of thy garden, near the spring, and graft them with the pear - it meliorates the fruit. By long experience, all our pears are grafted on quince stocks, and succeed better than on pear stocks with us." * * * "I am no stranger to the native bread of Carolina and Virginia. It is a Tuber Terra, or earth fungus. I have it sent me, near as big as my head. In time of want it is of great importance to the Indians. They call it Tuckahoe." * * * "The StuarHa flowered for the first time at Kew, which is the paradise of our world, where all plants are found, that money or interest can procure.
When I am there, I am transported with the novelty and variety, and don't know which to admire first or most".
These few specimens, of a most interesting and curious correspondence, taken almost at random, will serve to exhibit the character of the book, and to afford the visitor of the gardens reminiscences of its occupant, and of his occupations. Young men must remember that Bartram was self-educated, and that the present times afford a thousand facilities for acquiring knowledge which were wanting to Bartram; by his knowledge he was introduced to the friendship of the greatest minds of his* day; Logan, Franklin, Jefferson, Michaux, Dillenius, Gronovius, Sir Hans Sloane, Solander, Philip Miller, Kalm, Fothergill, Catesby, etc. etc, all sought his acquaintance or correspondence, and all sought to benefit him. The whole story is to us the most interesting colonial reminiscence extant, and we again and again congratulate the gardening world that Dr. Darlington was intrusted to complete a task that will for generations afford pleasure to thousands.