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.
Nature is no mere utilitarian. That so-called utility which regards only the lower half of human nature, - which cares for bodily wants and pecuniary profits, but which ignores the higher emotions from the regulated play of whose fountains proceeds all that is worthy of the name of joy, - finds nothing in the economy of nature to support its materialistic exclusiveness. If the utilitarians had had the making of our world, they would doubtless have made it very fertile and free of weeds, and Quaker-like have dressed it in shapes and hues savoring strongly of the sombre and the useful; but alas for the beautiful! That cream of life and bloom of nature, what is it to them? Working unseen upon the spirit, and only revealing itself by the lighting of the eye and the beaming of the countenance, - exciting an emotion which, though brilliant and elevating, and full of the divine, seems to produce nothing, and rather to lessen men's devotion to materialistic pursuits. Utilitarians ignore it, and in the world of their own devising, would have flung aside flowers as cumberers of the ground, and looked upon Roses as but painted weeds.
They "Could strip, for aught the prospect yields To them, their verdure from the fields, And take the radiance from the clouds With which the son his setting shrouds".
* From Blackwood's Magazine for November, we shall give another extract from this excellent article next month.
Not so, however, has acted the Divine Maker. All that is useful is indeed around us, but how much more is there beside. We stroll out of a morning, and lo! birds are singing, and waters murmuring, and the sun is rising with a cool brightness that makes everything look young, - dancing like dazzling silver on the wavelets of the brook, and filling the skies with a joyous splendor, and the heart with an ethereal merriment Who has not felt in the bright hours of all seasons, but especially in the radiant days of summer, what the poet has well called "The strange, superfluous glory of the air !" as if, beside all the combined gasses needful for our respiration, there were present some ethereal nectarine element, baffling the analysis of the chemist, yet revealing its power in the thrill of exuberant life which it excites in the human frame, - a true elixir vita, a "superfluous glory" added for the sole purpose of producing joy ? Enter the garden, and forthwith the eye is charmed with the sight of flowers, - the nostrils thrill with the scents floating on the morning air, - and Peaches and all manner of fruit are there, pleasing both eye and palate far more than utility demands.
The very hedgerows and woody dells of nature's own planting are full of beauty, - bright and sweet with the Hawthorn, the Sweetbrier, and the Honeysuckle. Hill and valley meet each other by picturesque gradation; and brooks and rivers leap and run in courses which please all the more because dissimilar from the rectilinearism of utility. All things proclaim that the Divine Architect, while amply providing for the wants, has not forgotten the enjoyment of his creatures; and having implanted in the human soul a yearning after the beautiful, has surrounded us with a thousand objects by whose presence that yearning may be gratified.
Perhaps the most striking example of this Divine care for human enjoyment is to be seen in the lovely mantle of color in which the earth is robed. Like all things very common, we do not half prize this robe of beauty which nature puts on for our gratification. It is in such complete harmony with our visual sense, that - like musical harmony also, when long continued - its sweetness fails to impress us if not broken at times by a discord. But suppose the case of a man born blind, and to whom the aspect of the outer world - nay, the very meaning of the word "color" has remained a mystery until he has reached the years of reflection. Fancy such a man's eye at length released from darkness, and endeavor to imagine his impressions. A thrill passes through him as the colored beams first rush in, and awaken the emotions of a new sense. All around he beholds a tinted mass; earth and sky, land and water, are seen by him only as expanses of varied color. Everything is colored, and the forms of nature are to him but tinted surfaces, whose outline consists simply of the bordering of one color upon another.
Below and around him is a far-reaching expanse of green, - above him, a mighty canopy of blue; and he feels that nothing could suit so well, for wide and permanent beholding, as this lively green of the earth, and the cool, calm azure of the skies,* But variegating those vast surfaces of blue and green, he sees spots and shadings of all diverse hues; the purple of the heath-clad mountains, the golden bloom of the furze upon their lower slopes, the rich mosaic of the autumnal woods, the gray of rocks and ruins, or the yellow of the waving corn-fields. Above, by night, he sees the dark-blue expanse sparkling all over with the light of stars, or decked with a silvery veil by the radiance of the moon; - by day, he sees it checkered and sailed over by clouds, ever changing in aspect, and at length bursting into the gorgeous magnificence of sunset, when clouds and sky are alike filled with richest coloring, with brilliant ever-shifting hues, which at once dazzle and mock the gaze. All this is new to him. He has walked the earth for years, tasted its fruits, felt and understood many of its forms, - he has known how useful it is, but not till now does he comprehend its beauty.
He stands amazed at the spectacle which his new-born vision reveals to him; the sights are all strange, but not so the emotion which they produce in him. The same nameless pleasure, the same indescribable sensation of enjoyment which now swells and thrills within him, he has felt before, when listening to the strains of music, or when some love-born joy has set the chords of his heart a-vibrating. It is a joyous excitement ; he nor any man can tell you more; but he knows from previous experience that it is a sign of the soul having found something in rare harmony with itself.