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 fruits of his labor are also gathered in thousands of gardens and conservatories. The numerous cottages and villas which have lately sprung up in the towns and villages about our commercial cities, and throughout our happy, land, evince his genius; and it is due to his worth to say that few have left a mark so deep and broad on the generation in which they lived.
In responding to the calls which have been made upon me to pronounce the eulogy of our deceased friend, I shall attempt nothing more, and certainly can do nothing better, than to articulate the language of his useful life, and to give free utterance to your own convictions of bis worth.
Mr. Downing was born in Newburgh, N. Y., on the 31st day of October, A. D., 1815. In his boyhood he manifested a fondness for botany, mineralogy, and other natural sciences, which at the age of sixteen, when he left school, he was able to prosecute without the aid of an instructor. At that period, his father having died when he was but seven years of age, his mother desired him to become a clerk in a dry goods store; but he, following the native tendencies of his mind, preferred to remain with his elder brother in the nursery and garden, whose accuracy and practical skill in horticulture gave special prominence to the same traits in the deceased, and with whom he might study the theory, and perfect himself in the practice of his favorite art.
In the formation of his character, we also recognise with gratitude the agency of Baron de iderer, the Austrian Consul, whose summer residence was in his native place, a gentleman of large endowments and attainments, of eminent purity of mind, and refinement of manners, a mineralogist and botanist, who discoved in young Downing a mind of kindred taste, who made him the frequent inmate of his family, as well as his own companion in numerous excursions for the scientific exploration of the surrounding country.
But his sensibility to artistic beauty was cultivated and developed by the lamented Raphael Hoyle, an English artist, residing in Newburgh, and who, like himself, went down to an early grave, leaving behind him specimens in landscape painting, true to nature, and of remarkable delicacy of coloring. His manners were much improved and adorned by his familiar intercourse with his neighbor, Mr. Edward Armstrong, a gentlemen of refinement and wealth, at whose fine country seat on the Hudson he was introduced to the Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, an Englishman whose book of Travels in America has been admired on both sides of the Atlantic. There he also made the acquaintance of many other distinguished men, who subsequently became his correspendents and personal friends.
These associations had, no doubt, much influence in strengthening his refined and generous nature. He devoted all the time which he could reclaim from physical labor to reading and study. In the bowers of his garden he held frequent converse with the muses, who inspired him with the poetic fire which illumes his pages, and imparts peculiar vivacity and energy to his style.
At the age of twenty-two, on the seventh of June, 1838, he married Miss Caroline Elizabeth, daughter of J. P. DeWint, Esq., of Fishkill Landing, a lady of congenial spirit, of refinement and intelligence, to whom the world is much indebted for his usefulness. In grateful return for her valuable services, she now enjoys the commiseration and condolence of his friends in America and transatlantic countries. But with all these aids, still Mr. Downing was, in the strictest sense, self-taught; a fact which deserves to be recorded, not only to his praise, but as an encouragement to thousands of aspiring youth. If he was never a pupil in the studio of an artist; if he studied natural science in the laboratory of nature more than in the school of scientific chemists; if he enjoyed not the advantages of a liberal and professional education, valuable and desirable as these means of improvement certainly are, yet he was at all times and everywhere a learner; and the lessons of wisdom which he received, be promptly reduced to practice; a circumstance which made him eminently practical and national, a man of his own age and country.
I will illustrate his habits of observation and study. In a walk he plucks from an overhanging bough a single leaf, examines its color, form and structure; inspects it with his miscroscope, and having recorded his observations, presents it to his friend, and invites him to study it, as suggestive of some of the first principles of Rural Architecture and Economy.
Does he visit a beautiful country seat, he sketches a view of it, and of the grounds about it; notes whatever is true to nature, accurate in taste, or excellent in design; and from his copy a plate is engraved, and in the next number of his Horticulturist the whole scene, with his valuable comments, is given to the lovers of the landscape and the garden.
He returns from the forest. A short extract from his journal will explain the object of his tour, and afford a fair specimen of the beauty and force of his style: - " Nature plants some trees, like the fir and the pine, in the fissures of the rock, and on the edge of the precipice; she twists their boughs, and gnarls their stems, by storms and tempests - thereby adding to their picturesque power in sublime and grand scenery. But she more often developes the beautiful in a tree of any kind, in a genial soil and clime, where it stands quite alone, stretching its boughs upward freely to the sky, and outward to the breeze, and even downward to the earth, almost touching her in her graceful sweep, till only a glimpse of the fine trunk is to be seen at its spreading base, and the whole top is one great globe of floating and waving luxuriance, giving us as perfect an idea of symmetry and proportion as can be found short of the Grecian Apollo." " One would no more wish to touch it with the pruning knife, the axe or the saw, (unless to remove a decayed branch,) than to give a nicer curve to the rainbow, or to add freshness to the dew-drops".