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 increasing extent of his business would have employed several common men; his correspondence alone would have occupied a private secretary; yet the number and urgency of his duties never depressed him, never confused him, never made him in a hurry, because he was always the master, never the slave of his business.
Having once thoroughly investigated a subject, he rested with confidence in his conclusions, and published the same with a boldness which arrested attention and commanded respect. Witness his just condemnation of " white houses" amidst rural beauty, a color which no master of landscape would dare to transfer to his canvass, yet which is as common in the country, as it is opposed to economy and good taste. Witness also his condemnation of the impure air of stove heated and unventilated dwellings, air which, with equal truth and propriety, he denominates " the favorite poison of America." This article, copied by numerous journals, read by thousands, and commending itself to their common sense, is fast producing a reform, conducive alike to health, comfort and long life. But his kindness and magnanimity, his freedom from envy and jealousy, enabled him to admire and commend whatever was excellent and praiseworthy, as freely and decidedly as he condemned their opposites. These characteristics are exemplified in his monthly reviews of the press, and in the notices of the works of other writers, which appear in his volumes.
In a word, Mr. Downing was in manners modest, polite and gentlemanly, - in perception of fitness and propriety intuitive, - in taste accurate and refined - in tact and practical skill remarkable - in love of country strictly national, American - in sentiment pure - in life incorrupt - in most respects a model man - in all, nature's own child. It has been justly said of him, " at whatever point of view we regard him, we are compelled to admire the symmetry of his character, the vigor of his mind, the versatility of his talents, and that healthful flow of enthusiastic feeling which marks his writings. There are those who can work out beautiful thoughts in marble, who can clothe them in the touching language of poetry, or bid them flow in the rounded periods and convincing strains of oratory; but few minds seem more fully possessed of the power to add by art to the beauty of nature, and make the dessert blossom like the rose".
His writings are a faithful transcript of his own character. If his diction sometimes contains unusual and even strange words and phrases, possibly ungrateful to some classic ears, the worst which enlightened criticism can say of them is, that they subordinate elegance to original ty and force. But his language is generally pure, chaste and refined, not unfrequently beautiful and highly ornate. His style is peculiarly his own, and rigid* ly methodic, sometimes abrubt, but always versatile and flowing. It is remarkable for that of which he was passionately fond in nature, and to which, with some latitude of expression, we will appropriate the word "picturesque".
A single quotation will truly illustrate our meaning, and also these qualities of his style. We select the words with which he introduced the Horticulturist to his readers with the first breath of summer. " Bright mid beautiful June! embroidered with clusters of odorous roses, and laden with ruddy cherries and strawberries, rich with the freshness of spring, and the luxuriance of summer - leafy June! If any one's heart does not swell with the unwritten thoughts that belong to this season, he is only fit for " treasons, stratagems and spoils." He does not practically believe that God made the country. Flora and Pomona, from amid the blossoming gardens and orchards of June, smile graciously as we write these few introductory words to their circles of devotees. * * * Angry volumes of politics have we written none, but only peaceful books, humbly aiming to weave something more into the fair garland of the beautiful and useful, that encircles this excellent old Earth." Such passages enliven and adorn his works.
Of these we can give but a brief account.
The first is his " Landscape Gardening," which introduced him to the literary and scientific world, and gave him a rank among the distinguished writers of the age. For years previous to its publication, he seemed retired from the world, abstracted and absorbed, but in reality, he was occupied in intense study of his subject. When he mastered it, and adapted its principles to American climate, scenery and people, he published it on both sides of the Atlantic.
Think of this young man, at twenty-six years of age, without the advantage of a liberal education- - with no precedents to guide him, with only a few practical hints from such men as Parmentier, seizing upon the first principles ol this science in the works of Rep ton, Price, Loudon and others, with a comprehensiveness of mind, with a power of analysis, an originality and fixedness of purpose that would have done honor to the first scholars in other departments, popularising and appropriating them to his own period and country, and actually producing a book which becomes at once a standard universally acknowledged by his own countrymen, and praised by Loudon, editor of " Rep ton's Landscape Gardening," who pronounced it "a masterly work," and after quoting ten pages, to give his English readers an idea of its excellencies, remarks, " We have quoted largely from this work, because, in so doing, we think we shall give a just idea of the great merit of the author." This work the celebrated Dr. Llndley critically reviews, in sundry articles in his Gardener's Chronicle; and while he dissents from it on some minor points, yet in respect to its cardinal excellencies, he thus remarks: "On the whole, we know of no work in which the fundamental principles of this profession are so well or so concisely expressed." And in regard to Mr. Downing'sexplanation of this science, and bis general definition of it, he adds, what is equally complimentary to our author, and to American genius, " no English Landscape Gardener has written so clearly, or with so much real intensity".