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.
These institutions claim an age in the history of our country, cotemporary with that of its settlement The common schools, it seems, from authentic records, were designed for the common people, - farmers and mechanics, on whom, in those early, erring, though we doubt not, honest days, it was considered folly to expend money for an education, beyond teaching "to read, write, and cypher as far as the rule of three." If occasionally a lad broke over these bounds, after any course of perseverance, he was knighted "a smart scholar," fit to send to college; or, if he chose the less assuming path of making himself useful, he was destined to be one of the great men of the town, - selectman, or, perchance, representative to the great and general court. In those days, strong arms were considered the main essential to make a cultivator of the soil; for heavy forests were to be cleared, and when these were removed, it was only necessary to plough and sow, or plant and hoe, in order to insure great crops.
Horticulture, in those days, received but very limited attention. The emigrant took seeds of the apple, pear and peach, from the old homestead, and planted them in the virgin soil of the new one, and the trees that sprung from these, without grafting and almost without pruning, formed their early orchards, whose fruit was so superior to none at all, they did not trouble themselves to improve it. The smaller fruits were so liberally furnished through the spontaneous fertility of the soil, that, had art offered its aid in multiplying or improving them, nature perhaps would have laughed at the mockery. Consequently, the demands of horticulture as a science were not known, and its future did not enter into the calculations of the age.
Under these circumstances the educational institutions of our country were established. Probably no one anticipated, in that day, the first shadowing forth of the intellectual results that are brought into action now for the improvement and general culture of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Of course it was not strange, that in this primitive age of dark forest and fruitful fields, that the mysterious beauties of horticultural science were not unfolded in the common school.
Academies were but a stepping-stone between the common school and the college, and their students consisted mainly of those who were preparing for the latter, or, by a shorter cut, fitting themselves for the studies of what then, very mistakenly to be sure, were dubbed the learned professions." Of course they had renounced physical labor for the absorbing occupations of mind, and the ever fresh and instructive lessons of nature were, for the most part, entirely neglected for the drier, though then considered all-important and absorbing studies of ancient languages. They held no sympathy with the rural arts, and the unsophisticated charms of nature were passed by, unheeded and unknown.
Colleges were founded for the more direct and specific purpose of fitting young men for the pulpit, the bar, and the medical profession; each of which then, as now, owed an importance, from their direct relation to the wants of the masses, which could not be, and wisely was not, overlooked. Then, however, as now, it could not in ordinary cases be expected, that young men who chose an occupation in rural life, should go through a college course. An amount of time was required, and an expense, beyond the means of most young men, even if their inclination had led them to such a course.
Consequently, it appears that in the very foundation of our literary institutions, the claims of rural science were dropped, - partly, it may be, from the ignorance or apathy of the stern cultivators of the soil, - essentially, by the founders and managers of these institutions, by placing the prize of intellectual progress and intellectual honor beyond their reach.
In the progress of events we feel our wants increasing, and as the means to favor the object accumulate, a more refined and elevating study is sought after. When the forest has passed away, the log house soon disappears, and a more congenial dwelling arises on its site. The crabbed seedling apple, the choke pear, and wild plum, are soon found to be like the lean kine of old - a something that devours the land without growing fat themselves, or permitting anything else to be benefited by them. The taste, the health, and consequent comfort, then, requires something better. The apple must be firmer, and of a more delicate flavor, - the pear must be more melting, - the peach must blush deeply and drop in melting sweetness from the tree that has the place of one whose dry and tasteless fruit proclaimed the stock on which it grew a cumberer of the ground. The grape must be improved in quality, and hang its fragrant clusters along every wall and over every dwelling in the land. Flowers, too, - those beneficent gifts of the Creator, - must have a place, and be spread around to beautify the garden and the lawn.
Can all this, a moiety of man's Iegitimate wants, be accomplished without the help of science?
Where then shall we get our information? Why is horticulture not one of the branches taught in our colleges, academies, and common schools? We believe some attempts have been made in some of our colleges to have departments of this kind, but somehow they do not seem to be very successful. In fact, if the inquiry were to be made, What will our colleges do for the" benefit of horticultural science, as we need it practically demonstrated? we should have but little hope or expectation of their ever doing much. What have they ever done? We admit some of their officers have planted trees and flowers for their own gratification, and some have written beautifully in praise of these things; but who has ever seen the president or professor of an American college open its doors, and heard them say to the young cultivators of the land, We see that you admire the beauty of our fruits and fragrance of our flowers, - come in here, though ours is a different sphere; and if we cannot teach you how to raise the like ourselves, we have a brother professor of this particular department, who will teach you by illustration, and at a rate to which you cannot object; for the State aided us by her funds, in our infancy, and now, by a wise arrangement, and with all gratitude for past favors, we are willing to give her sons a more universal aid, in a high and noble profession.
And who has ever known a solitary college in all our broad republic, to confer its humblest honors on one, only one, cultivator of the soil, however learned he may have been.
Is not the why in their case sufficiently explained to allow the inquirer to imagine the rest? We fear our sons will have to draw their instruction from other sources than our colleges, in these matters, or never be very wise in them.
Seeing these things are so, the natural conclusion is, that if the cultivators of American soil are ever to enjoy the benefit of such institutions as their rightful merit demands, and as their dignity requires, they must throw themselves on their reserved and lawful rights, and establish colleges of their own. Happily the cultivators of New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, have made an earnest move in this matter, the latter State already having an Agricultural College in successful operation, and the former one nearly orquite so. Why should not every State have them? Law, medicine, and theology, have their institutions, and the public purse has been liberally opened for their endowment and support. Are agricultural and horticultural science any less important, or less intricate than these? Is the intellect of the cultivator of the soil any way inferior or more unworthy of improvement than that of other men? Will consequences less conducive to the health and comfort of the human family result from an educated and enlightened system of agriculture and horticulture, to say nothing of the luxuries these will bring, than from enlightened lawyers and physicians? Are the class engaged in earth culture born with minds less susceptible of expansion than those of other men, and are the pleasures of science less a luxury to them?
If these questions can be answered affirmatively, then we knights of the soil have stood in the back-ground long enough, and it will be to our shame to remain there another year. We must have our peculiar institutions and seminaries of learning, and the State that has taxed us so long for the support of colleges, must extend her right hand in our behalf; and the colleges that have urged their claims so long and strongly upon us, and never called in vain, must hold up until our colleges take an honorable stand by their side. Then, and not until then, will the spirit of our republican institutions be honorably sustained. Then, and not before, shall we partake of the equality and freedom to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle us.
[Mr. Bacon writes forcibly in a good cause. At present the teachers of youth, as a class, are utterly ignorant of the foundation of those sciences by which the greatness of this country is to be sustained; they teach too much by the book, cramming overnight for the lesson of the morrow, while of the natural objects around them they are as ignorant as we are of Japanese life. The tillers of the soil, the majority, if they will only use their power, may control this government, and the time is not far distant when they will do so. Naval and military expenses are necessary, but is it not equally important to defend our young agriculturists and horticulturists from their worst enemy, - ignorance, by which they lose their time and bury their talents? - Ed].