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.
This description, for beauty, power of diction, and for fullness of nature, not only harmonizes with the pictures, but even rivals the finest touches of the pencils of Claude, Poussin, Salvator Rosa, or any other great master of landscape.
He makes a tour of New England, and stops at New Haven, the city of elms. He walks out from the Tontine upon the green, admires those grateful shades, their majestic form, their gracefully waving boughs, and they revive in his mind the history of the elm, its varied use for fuel, timber, and shade. He arrives at Hartford. The first object of his attention is the " Charter Oak." He hastens to visit it, stands before it, all filled with veneration, exclaims, with the bard of Manma, translated by Dryden, "Jove's own iree, That bolds the-world m sovereignty!"
He sketches it, gives you a copy of it in his " Landscape Gardening/' together with his ciassicaVand scientific account of the king of the American forest. He journeys up the beautiful valley of the Connecticut to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, whose streets are lined with the sugar maple, " clean, cool, smooth and umbrageous." He there increases his love and admiration of the American maple, the beauty of whose vernal bloom is surpassed only by the unrivalled hues of its autumnal foliage, dyed with the tints of departing day.
By scenes like these, and" by scientific reflection thereon, he prepares himself to give those last and well directed blows at the " heavenly" tree, the Ailanthus, and also at the Abele Poplar - both of which he kills off in a most celestial manner, to make room for the more deserving and truly American Maples, Oaks, Elms, and Ashes, for the Magnolia, the Tulip and others. Of the latter, how beautifully be speaks in the, last leader from his pen, in a manner so easy and flowing, and so characteristic of the man. " We mean the Tulip tree or the Liriodendron. What can be more beautiful than its trunk, finely proportioned, and smooth as a Grecian column? What more artistic than its leaf, cut like an arabesque in a Moorish palace? What more clean and lustrous than its tuft of foliage, dark green and rich as deepest emerald? What more lily-like and spacious than its blossoms, golden and brown shaded? And what fairer and more queenly than its whole figure, stately and regal as that of Zenobia?"
In the progress of his journey, he reaches the commercial metropolis of New-England. It is the annual exhibition of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Of that city. He enters its Hall, is greeted with a cordial welcome, and invited to examine its collection, particularly the extensive show of pears. In a subsequent discussion with its fruit committee, he proposes to them a question in his direct, practical and impressive manner, - " Will each of you please to give me the names of the best three varieties of the pear, together with your reasons for that preference?" He obtains their opinions, and publishes the same, puts the public at once in possession of their long and dear bought experience.
The same practical and studious habit is remarkably exemplified in his foreign travels. Unlike other tourists, who first visit the Tower of London, or Westminster Abbey, he hastens from the parks of that city to Chat worth, then to Woburn Abbey, Warwick Castle, and other places where agriculture, horticulture, architecture, and all the fine arts have for ages vied with each other in whatsoever is ornamental in embellishment and princely in wealth, and where are scenes of natural and artistic beauty and grandeur, which attract the chief masters of the world. He is received and entertained with kindness and partiality, by the Earl of Hardwicke, the Dukes of Devonshire and Bedford, and otters with whom he formed many warm friendships in the mother country. From these places, where wealth, art, nature and genius, have congregated whatever is most beautiful to the eye, most approved in taste, or most impressive to sensibility, he prosecutes his journey; everywhere observing, noting and studying the objects and scenes about him.
To him, not a tree, a plant, a leaf, a blossom, but contained a folio volume.
We have necessarily amplified this part of our subject in order to give a correct view of the manner and extent of his education, of the peculiarities of his style, and of the formation of his character, and to furnish the materials for a just appreciation of his worth, and for a philosophical judgment of himself and of his works.
Mr. Downing was just what we have represented, a self-taught man. His name will appear in all coming time, emblazoned upon the roll of fame, among such worthies of that class as Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin West, and Nathaniel Bowditch. He was not, perhaps, so profoundly scientific, yet he was well grounded in vegetable physiology, and in the first principle* of the arts to which his life was devoted. Being the sovereign of his own powers and acquisitions, he could instantly bring them to bear on the subject of his investigation or discourse.
In his character we find that assemblage of virtues commonly called amiableness. On this depended the suavity of his manners, the sincerity of his friendship, and the freedom of his hospitality. His guests always received a hearty welcome, and found at bis residence a quiet home. Here Miss Bremer, whose fame in letters is like that of the Swedish nightingale in song, wrote the introduction to one of her works; and in speaking of his kindness and hospitality, she says: " I never shall forget, nor ever be able to folly acknowledge them, feeling as I here do at this moment, all the blessings of a perfect home".
He also possessed, what is rarely found in combination with these qualities, keen perception, great energy, decision and boldness. Blessed with an almost intuitive perception of character, he read men at a glance. When he was in London, he desired an assistant who would return with him to America, and aid him in the architectural department of his business. He visits the architectural exhibition in that city, and seeks an introduction to the secretary of that association, to whom he reveals his object, and by whom he is introduced to Mr. Calvert Vaux, as a gentleman well qualified for the place. They exchange references; and so readily did he inspire confidence in this stranger, and also perceive that he might safely repose the same in him, that on their interview the next morning, he concludes a contract, agrees upon the precise time when they will start from Liverpool for America, hastens to Paris to complete his unfinished business, fulfills his engagement, and in two weeks they are unitedly prosecuting their labors at Newburgh. Such was his activity, promptness, and despatch.